NEVER MIND THE SHARKS IN SHALLOW WATERS
As Melissa Ferguson found out the hard way, Belize can be a dangerous place to do legitimate business.
It was all going swimmingly. She and her husband Danny Mason had become residents in January of 2014; they had bought a house and a ranch; they were socializing with elite members of the governing United Democratic Party. At 48, Ferguson was a respected supplier of medical equipment to Caribbean countries. She and Danny had a track record of successful contracts with appreciative clientele.
Then her sub-tropical Nirvana was obliterated—overnight, on July, 15, 2016—when Belizean police claimed they had discovered a decapitated human head in her husband’s vehicle.
Police quickly posted a photo of a severed online and identified the victim. The media in Belize mostly reported whatever the police told them. According to the jungle telegraph of Facebook, Melissa Ferguson was not only the common-law spouse of a murderous scoundrel, she was likely the mastermind behind a horrific gang murder.
Media outside Belize barely noticed.
Full details of the arrest procedure were never disclosed, not even during the trial three years later.
The people of Belize have never learned what really happened.
IN A NUTSHELL
Police could have searched the rear portion of Mason’s pick-up anytime from about 5 pm onwards. It was always unlocked. Police had ample opportunity. Instead police waited about four hours.
First, bystanders were removed. Two potential suspects were inexplicably let go, even though police claimed they knew nothing about the crime in advance. Mason’s four co-accused were removed from Mr. Sancho’s Bar on a robbery charge.
These details would be left out of the police report–as was the vital fact that Melissa’s husband, Danny, was temporarily removed from Mr. Sancho’s Bar by a police escort for more than half an hour. For more than half an hour police therefore had unfettered access to the unlocked rear of the pick-up, unobserved.
A waitress at Mr. Santo’s Bar has corroborated the fact that an unidentified van had, at one point, pulled up and parked directly behind Mason’s black pick-up. She distinctly recalls one man came to the bar to buy two beers, while the other remained behind Danny Mason’s pick-up. This unidentified pair came and went quickly–unrecorded in the police report.
Police only “discovered” the severed head after Danny Mason had been brought back to Mr. Sancho’s Bar for a theatrical climax much later in the evening, at which time the body-less remains of Llewellyn Lucas were easily found in the still-unlocked rear of Mason’s vehicle.
Someone had gone to the effort of making certain the gruesome sight was easy viewing. The head was carefully displayed, within a black plastic pail, on ice, without a lid. The head was later removed from the bucket and perched on the back of the tailgate for a more starkly revealing image.
The official police report left out far more details than it included. For instance, police failed to mention or explain how it was that this severed head was not found in the rear tonneau area of Danny Mason’s pick-up when he had to pass through a highway checkpoint sometime between 5:00 pm and 5:45 pm.
Danny Mason claims to know the name of the police traffic officer who undertook a search of his vehicle on July 15, 2016, around 5 pm, but his defence counsel, Herbert Panton, refused to raise this matter in court or have that individual brought to the trial as a witness. Of course, such testimony could have confirmed that Danny Mason and his men were clearly innocent.
Herbert Panton chose to quit as the defence attorney for Danny Mason after two weeks of the trial. In 2019, Panton’s wife Tracy would announce she was pursuing the post of Deputy Leader of the ruling United Democratic Party.
At the time when Herbert Panton was supposed to be representing the best interests of his client during the murder trial, he was mainly working out of office space that he was sharing with his wife, a senior member of government.
When Danny Mason was considering suing the government for a Breach of Contract for his company iCloud Inc. (details provided in ACT THREE), as well as launching a slander and libel case, he made the strategic error of confiding his intentions to Herbert Panton as his potential attorney. Mason was either unaware of Tracy Panton’s senior position within the UDP hierarchy, or else unaware of the marriage, or else very naive–or perhaps all three.
Regardless, it is hard to assume that Herbert Panton would not confide in his wife regarding Mason’s intention to take the UDP government to court with viable reasons to do so.
And it is similarly hard to assume that Tracy Taeger-Panton would not have confided this information to Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
Belizean justice appears to have been bereft of analytical skills. How on earth did police in Belmopan so quickly determine it was necessary to arrest only five of the seven men who had arrived in the pick-up when police were simultaneously claiming they had absolutely no advance knowledge of the crime?
Is it credible for any murderer to place the head of a murder victim in the back of his vehicle, unlocked? And then risk going through a road check (or two) in order to go for a beer at a known hangout for police officers? Would a shrewd business such as Danny Mason sit chatting for two hours with an off-duty policeman under those circumstances?
Nobody in the media or courts, including the judge, ever asked a stunningly simple question: If, after four hours in the summer heat of Belize, how was the poor man’s head inside a bucket without a lid was NOT found floating in water instead of on ice. Fresh ice to support the head for viewing would have been required–and there was no facility for making ice at Mason’s ranch from where police claimed the vehicle had been driven around 5 pm.
Either the severed head was delivered by two unknown men in the van that was noticed by the waitress or else the severed head would have been deposited in the back of the pick-up (by the police) during that impasse when Danny Mason was removed from Mr. Santo’s Bar for at least half an hour–an impasse that was not mentioned in the official police report.
The murder weapon remains unknown. The victim’s torso, arms and legs have not been found. The scene of the murder remains alleged and not proven. There is photographic evidence [to be supplied herein] that shows the severed head of the victim was not delivered directly to a medical/forensic facility, as police claimed. Instead, the severed head of Llewellyn Lucas was first taken to the Belmopan police station where the Facebook photo was taken to incite the public.
The Belmopan police station was also where police confiscated the clothing of Mason and his four co-accused. Belmopan police therefore had ample opportunity to manipulate DNA evidence.
Belize, like many failing democracies, has legitimized murder trials under the sole discretion of a single judge, so it only took one individual to convict five individuals or murder instead of twelve. The presiding Supreme Court magistrate in Belize congratulated police for their diligent handling of this case.
Five men are now on death row in one of the fifty countries that has yet to completely abolish the death penalty.
On July 21, 2016, less than a week after arrests were made, the rival Opposition party called for the removal of John Saldivar and the GSU commander:
“Everything we know of this affair between Mr. William Mason and members of Mr. Barrow’s cabinet and, by extension, several police officers, leads us to believe that the police cannot be expected to properly and exhaustively investigate this case.
“We therefore demand that an international, impartial investigator be immediately commissioned. We also demand that a fully qualified forensic expert be brought in to gather and analyse the forensic evidence.”
With three storyline installments [ACTS ONE, TWO and THREE] and an extensive APPENDIX section for documentation, this website will enable readers to evaluate “The Decapitated Head Mystery” for themselves.
This encapsulation of facts, circumstances and conjectures—prepared without any remuneration—simultaneously enables would-be tourists to make themselves cognizant of the very real dangers that await in a country that is now hurtling towards police state status. See BEWARE section for details.
North Americans and Brits raised on the protocols common to Law and Order or Shetland will find parts of this story incredible, such as police leaving farm animals to die or forcing a suspect to kiss the dead man’s head.
The Case of the Severed Head is a true detective story that invites any independent-minded reader to ultimately come up with answers to two fundamental questions:
Who had the strongest motive for beheading the victim?
Who had the strongest motive for framing the accused?
[It is impossible to know how much of this information will come as news to Magistrate Moore, who passed her guilty verdict in December of 2019. Previously undivulged details about this case could not be sent to the presiding magistrate while she was determining her verdict. Any such intrusion could have been construed or misconstrued as tampering with justice. Hence publication has been respectfully and prudently postponed until after a verdict was rendered and until after a formal appeal had been registered.]