FOR NON-BELIZEANS — TEN RECENT MURDER VICTIMS
The Central American country of Belize with its coral reefs, Mayan temples and jaguars can look like a sub-tropical paradise to shivering Canadians and Trump-weary Americans. English is the official language.
There are manatees and parakeets. Madonna’s song ‘Isla Bonita’ was written there. You can snorkel at the Blue Hole or have a destination wedding at the jungle resort owned by Francis Ford Coppola.
There is only one drawback. With only 390,000 people, Belize currently has the sixth-highest murder rate per capita on earth. The previous year, according to WorldAtlas.com, Belize was the fourth-deadliest nation with a murder rate of 44.7 per one thousand. Ranking homicides per thousand, the most recent stats from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, are:
El Salvador (61.8), Jamaica (57), Venezuela (56.3), Honduras (41.7), Lesotho (41.2) and Belize (37.9). South Africa, Saint Vincent & Grenadines, Saint Kits & Nevis, Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago, and Saint Lucia complete the deadly dozen, in that order. The rate for USA is 5.3. Canada is 1.8.
If you call a cab in Belize City, it’s not unusual for your driver to first take you to a gas station to get one gallon of gas. That way, when hoodlums hi-jack his car and the tank is near-empty, the driver can hope to get his vehicle back.
Officially Belize City alone recorded 142 murders in 2017 and 143 murders in 2018. Murders are not good for tourism, so it is likely many people officially listed as missing are, in fact, murder victims. In the first six months of 2019, seventy murders were officially recorded in Belize overall, so it is safe to conclude the actual rate is approximately one murder every second day.
A machete is often the weapon of choice. Julian Christopher Jones, 46, an American, was chopped to death in his home at Teakettle Village, in May of 2015. His rifle and pistol were stolen.
Indiana-born Paul David Signorino, 61, was simultaneously shot twice in the face and killed while he was visiting Jones to help with a plumbing job. He lived nearby on Valley of Peace Road.
On January 4, 2016, the body of film director Matthew Klinck, 37, of Gatineau, Quebec, was found decomposing, with 14 stab wounds, fifteen feet away from his home, in Selena Village, also in Cayo district, after another suspected burglary.
Ten days later, the body of vacationing Anne Swaney, a TV producer from Chicago, was found in the Mopan River near San Jose Succotz Village, in Cayo, after she was attacked while doing her yoga exercises on a riverside platform of a jungle lodge.
The body of Francesca Matus, 52, was found alongside that of her American boyfriend, Drew DeVoursney, 36, a former U.S. Marine from Georgia. As a six-foot-six, PTSD-recovering ex-soldier, DeVoursney had served in Afghanistan and done two tours of duty in Iraq. The photogenic lovers were discovered with duct-taped wrists in a sugar cane field soon to be burned in the village of Chan Chen in Corozal. They were last seen at Scotty’s Bar in Corozal Town, on April 25, while celebrating her forthcoming flight to Canada the next day to be reunited with her twin sons.
There was no indication of a robbery. Their vehicle was found ten miles away. The FBI, from Miami, posted a $10,000 reward for information. In a People magazine interview, DeVoursney’s mother, Char DeVoursney, reported that an America federal agent was continuing to travel to and from Belize to conduct investigations into her son’s murder. The murder of Francesca Matus, who lived part-time in Belize, remains unsolved, like most homicides in Belize. Canada has yet to red-flag the proliferation of violence against its citizens in Belize beyond a travel advisory suggesting tourists should exercise a high degree of caution.
On October 4, 2017, Canadian Gabriel Bochnia, 38, of Toronto was returning to his new home in Corozal, Belize, with his wife and three children, when he was fatally shot in the abdomen by a masked gunman who came out of the bushes, with a rag over his face, as Bochnia got out of his vehicle to open the gate to his yard in the Chula Vista neighborhood.
The victim called out the shooter’s nickname, “Polo,” referring to Apolonio Kiou, 52, who had already been implicated in a 2005 homicide as an accessory, therefore, a rare arrest was made. According to neighbours, Kiou had also tried to kill Bochnia’s wife but his gun jammed. Bochnia owned a local construction company and he was well-liked as an employer and a member of the city’s basketball team.
Understanding that the homicide rate could be deadly for tourism revenues—if unsuspecting tourists had any clue about the statistics—Commissioner of Police Chester Williams went on record with a vow to put special emphasis on somehow reducing the murder rate in 2019.
A Virginia cardiologist named Dr. Gary Swank, 53,was gunned down on June 23, 2019 along with his tour guide. Their bodies were found floating in the San Pedro town lagoon.
There were nine murders that week.
No particular attention seems to be paid to murders of foreigners, possibly as a matter of principle. All murders are given equal treatment. That is, almost none of them will get solved.
A week later, 58-year-old Philip Norman Crabtree from West Yorkshire in Britain was found floating face up in the waters of the seemingly benign tourism enclave of Placencia. His wallet and phone were missing. He had had his organs harvested. The Belizean coroner officially declared that Crabtree had drowned. A cut above his eye, according to the official report on the matter, was “consistent with a fall into the water.”
In December of 2019, Canadian Michael Beckett went to Belize for the purpose of buying property and becoming a part-time resident. He was told to bring enough cash for a down payment. Beckett was promptly mugged by police who beat him. After they took his money, police forced him onto a plane back to Canada. Weeks later, he is still suffering from shock and PTSD.
In mid-January, 2020, Alison MacKenzie, 43, from Arizona, took a Raggamuffin catamaran tour from Caye Caulker to nearby Rendezvous Caye, for a two-night, 3-day adventure, with her American companion Paige Rote, also from Arizona. They camped Friday night on the romantic “desert island.” At around 6 am on Saturday, Rote woke up and discovered his girlfriend had completely disappeared from the tiny island. While noting that it was the job of tour operators to provide proper security, Coast Guard and police have done their part by confirming MacKenzie “has not yet been found.” The missing American’s family are devastated. Again, aggrieved loved ones who are foreigners are mystified as to why Belizean officials seem so to be so inept and unconcerned.
On February 8, 2020, American national Ariana Jones Bejerano, 31, was found stabbed to death with multiple stab wounds in her home in San Ignacio. Her 23-year-old Belizean boyfriend who reported the crime was charged with murder.
Meanwhile, overt pressure on newly nationalized ex-pats to support the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) government has become a growing problem under three-time Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
The long-in-the-works biopic, King of the Jungle, starring Michael Keaton as John McAfee, and Zac Efron as a Wired magazine reporter, will recall how the eccentric and foul-mouthed libertarian was harassed in Belize after refusing to pay kickbacks to politicians. When McAfee would not fork over donations to UDP, the Gang Suppression Unit shot his dog and suspected him of murdering his neighbour. He will get his revenge if a movie is seen around the world.
If Hollywood ever wants to make a second movie about corruption in Belize, Canadian Melissa Ferguson has a much better—or worse—story. Amid a web of lies from government officials, she has endured a litany of perils including detention in prison, character assassination, robberies, deaths (of animals), ever-soaring legal costs, untrustworthy legal counsel and ongoing harassment.
Sandra Bullock is just about the right age and temperament.