Travel through Inner Stanleytown, on the West Bank of Demerara, and you’ll observe the canefields, the canals and the thick vegetation. It may then dawn on you that this area would be a good hiding place for a fugitive. One man found this terrain to his liking two decades ago. He knew it like the back of his hand, and he used this knowledge to abduct, rape, and kill…
Back in 1992, no one would have given Neil Bovell a second glance. After all, he was just an ex-policeman who was living in Stanleytown. All that changed on December 22nd of that year. At that time, the then 25-year-old Bovell was ‘living home’ with a 19-year-old woman named Shondell O’Brien.
Bovell, according to reports, had never threatened or abused his reputed wife. But later that evening, he and O’Brien had a quarrel. He responded by punching out one of the woman’s front teeth. Bovell, reportedly motivated by jealousy, then stabbed O’Brien several times with a kitchen knife.
In her bid to escape, the woman leapt from a window to the ground, where she collapsed from her wounds. Some said she was stabbed 21 times, but you know Guyanese love to exaggerate.
Bovell went into hiding, but was captured a few days later at Bartica.
But the case against him fell apart when the prosecution failed to find any eyewitnesses to say that they had seen him actually stab Shondell O’Brien.
After being released from prison, Bovell started a relationship with a young woman named
Philippa Harrison. It is unclear whether she knew of his past. They lived in Stanleytown for some five years before problems developed in the relationship. In early September 2003, Harrison walked out of the home and went to stay at relatives in the East Ruimveldt area known as ‘Warlock’.
Neil Bovell bided his time, and on Saturday, September 6, 2003, he drove to the house where Philippa Harrison was staying. According to reports, he had brought a barrel containing Harrison’s clothes and other belongings. Shortly after, a neighbour heard them arguing, but paid them no mind, since “it was a man and woman story.” Bovell then left.
Later that evening, 31-year-old Philippa Harrison went to a neighbour’s house to complain about an incident involving one of her children. She was speaking to a resident when Bovell, brandishing a knife, emerged from an alleyway and pounced on her.
Screaming, “Murder! Murder!”, Harrison tried to flee, but Bovell cornered her in the alley and stabbed her repeatedly until she collapsed. Bovell then hurriedly left in his car. The following day, police recovered the suspect’s white station wagon in front of his father’s Stanleytown home.
In the vehicle, police found the blade of the knife with which Bovell had killed his second reputed wife. But of the killer, there was no trace.
All that changed on Friday, October 4, 2003. That day, Bovell sneaked into the Lot 139 Stanleytown home of 64-year-old mechanic Vernon Bernard. He killed the elderly man and then waited for Bernard’s daughter, Velda, to arrive. When she came home just before midnight, Bovell held her at knifepoint and tied her up. He then placed the dead man’s body in the two-bedroom house, doused it with kerosene and set it alight.
The killer then hoisted the diminutive Velda Bernard bodily and took her into the dense Canal Number Two backlands.
While holding her in captivity, Bovell constantly ranted about the crimes he had committed and about the persons who had incurred his wrath. He blamed the woman’s father for causing him to be incarcerated for six months.
Velda Bernard suspected that someone was supplying the fugitive with meals. Eventually, after two days in the mosquito-infested backlands, she managed to untie herself from a tree and flee while Bovell slept. She was taken to the Wales Police Station before being reunited with relieved family members. As the manhunt intensified, Bovell survived several close encounters with the police and villagers. In one case, he miraculously fled unscratched when heavily-armed police ranks had apparently cornered him behind a Stanleytown house. An elderly man, 70-year-old Eustace Small, was accidentally killed after Bovell took cover behind the pensioner who was in his yard.
The raids by police appeared to incense Bovell. He vented his rage on villagers, sneaking out at night to abduct and rape young women. One of the victims was a 32-year-old West Coast Demerara woman. She was grabbed at gunpoint from her boyfriend’s house on August 14, 2003. The outlaw held her hostage for hours before she managed to escape.
Bovell seemed to be targeting fair-complexioned women, and females of mixed ancestry. Women of Stanleytown began to avoid walking in the community after sundown. Villagers who had information about his whereabouts were afraid to inform the police, since many felt that there were people in the community who were assisting the ex-policeman to avoid capture.
One resident recalled passing Bovell smoking a cigarette on the street but said he was afraid to alert his female companion for fear that she might have looked back or screamed.
In desperation, police employed aerial patrols to fly over the community and also torched the cane fields to flush the fugitive out.
A special team was also set up to track down Bovell, and on October 2005, Police offered a $1M reward for information leading to his arrest. Then on December 27, 2006, police ranks received a call from someone in the area that Bovell was at his father’s house at Lot 137 Stanleytown.
A senior rank and a party of policemen responded in an unmarked car.
When they arrived, Bovell was reportedly preparing to cook a meal in the backyard. On spotting the ranks, the fugitive made a dash for freedom, but by then the ranks had managed to surround the area. Dodging bullets, Bovell led the ranks on a chase through a muddy track. He managed to flee as far as a few lots away before going down in a hail of bullets, which ripped open his right shoulder and left gaping holes in his body.
The heavily-muscled, dreadlocked fugitive bore little resemblance to bulletins, which police had posted of him. His healthy appearance confirmed reports that persons had been harbouring the killer, who had terrorised the community since 2003.
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