By Zoisa Fraser and Alva Solomon
A cellular phone recovered on one of the bullet-riddled bodies found in the Essequibo River is registered to one of four members of a missing trawler crew, who police suspect are the dead men.
But up to press time last evening there was no confirmation of the identities of the men and the trawler was still missing, while the relatives of Rickford Bannister, 46, and Titus Buckery Nascimento, 40, both of Herstelling, East Bank Demerara (EBD) feared the worst. Banister was last seen in August, while Nascimento was last in contact with relatives on Saturday.
The two other missing crew members, one who hails from Friendship, EBD and another from Parika had not been found. But boat operators at Parika told Stabroek News yesterday that after reading newspaper articles about the discovery, they believed that the dead men had been on a trawler they had observed in the Parika area last weekend. The owner of the trawler is assisting the police with the investigation.
Questions were raised yesterday about the possible reasons why the bodies were disembowelled and their faces disfigured. On Wednesday, police said that the bodies, which bore gunshot wounds to the head, washed up on beaches at Black Rock, Wakenaam and Hamburg, Essequibo River. Because of the advance state of decomposition, they were buried after on-the-spot post-mortem examinations by government pathologist Dr Nehaul Singh. One was found on Tuesday morning and the other, the following morning.
Crime Chief Seelall Persaud told Stabroek News that police have received information that
the men may be members of a trawler that has gone missing. Asked about DNA testing, he said that samples were not taken from the bodies but if identification becomes an issue, a ring, a watch, a gold cap from a tooth and a cell phone have been recovered. Persaud said that the phone is registered to a member of the trawler crew. He also explained that with advanced technology, the bodies could be exhumed and samples taken for testing.
Persaud noted that in cases where the bodies are badly decomposed, they are temporarily buried but ranks could later return to take samples.
A farmer alerted the police to the first body around 4 pm on Tuesday. The farmer reported that he had seen a body floating in the river in the vicinity of Black Rock, Wakenaam. When police investigated, they found the body, dressed in three-quarter pants and white shirt, lying face down on the beach. A hole was observed at the top of the head; the abdomen had been “cut open” and the innards removed. The other body was found face down on a beach at Hamburg, Essequibo River, dressed only in black long pants. This body, medium in build and about 5 ft 9 ins in height, bore two gunshot wounds to the head; the abdomen had also been cut open and some organs were missing.
At his home at Lot 379 Third Street, Herstelling, Nascimento’s relatives and friends were gathered awaiting word. His wife immediately fell ill yesterday morning when she opened the newspapers and read of the bullet-riddled bodies that were found. She had to be rushed to the doctor’s.
His brother-in-law, Sookcharran Rickiram said that according to the descriptions given to them, the body appeared to be that of Nascimento. However, he said information was sketchy and they are unsure what they should do since the bodies were already buried and the phone was with the police at Anna Regina. Up to when this newspaper visited them, they had not made contact with the police, nor had the police contacted them.
According to Rickiram, Nascimento worked on a “sea bob” boat and would usually be away from home days at a time.
He said that the man left home last Thursday morning for sea and told his wife that he would return on Saturday afternoon. However, Nascimento called back to say he would be returning before lunch on Sunday.
Several calls were made to his cellular phone but contact was never made. According to one relative, when they called it once, it rang twice before being cut off. Subsequent efforts yielded an out-of-service recording. A watch that was recovered from one of the bodies may belong to Nascimento and his relatives said the phone that was recovered was said to belong to him and they want to see the instrument to positively identify it.
At the Lot 218 Herstelling home of Bannister, relatives and friends had also gathered awaiting confirmation. Among them was a teary-eyed Angalene Debydial, Bannister’s wife, who said that she failed to make contact with him since he left their home around August 14. The woman called all the numbers given to her, including one for the trawler owner but to no avail.
Debydial told Stabroek News that before her husband left he told her that he was going to “watch man” a boat and would then be going on a trip to Trinidad and Tobago. Up to yesterday morning, relatives were calling his cellular phone but kept getting a voicemail recording.
The distraught woman said that on Tuesday night she managed to make contact with the trawler owner and he told her to stop worrying and that her husband would come home. According to her, the man said that he had received information that the trawler broke down and was stuck at Mahaica.
She said she called again yesterday morning and was shocked by the man’s behaviour. “He tell me that ah must check de papers and see if dat nah Titus de captain,” the woman recalled, shaking her head. She said that his attitude towards her was insensitive.
The woman said she has since learnt that four men were aboard the trawler including her husband.
Relatives said yesterday that the man behaved as though he did not care and stressed that the trawler owner is forgetting that the men have families.
Debydial is convinced that when she spoke to the trawler owner on Tuesday he knew of the discoveries but said nothing. When Stabroek News contacted the man yesterday afternoon, he said that he could not speak.
At Parika, one boat operator said that a trawler stopped at a fuel loading facility and the occupants were “trying out the vessel” at the time. He said that persons at Parika believed that the men found were a part of that crew.
Over at Wakenaam, residents were shocked when they learnt of the discovery, noting that the two men were definitely not from the island. Some residents said that often times the carcasses of animals and sea turtles would float up at Wakenaam and other nearby islands. They noted that most times these wash ashore from the nearby Atlantic Ocean, in tandem with the flow of water from the seas around the island. As such, they said that based on the areas where the two bodies were found, they may have drifted inland from the Atlantic.
A resident said that after a farmer at Black Rock, Zeelandia, located at the north of the island, noticed the first body on early Tuesday morning, he alerted the San Souci Police Station. Two ranks were dispatched to the area but the body was too far out from the nearby beach when they attempted to retrieve it.
The ranks spent Tuesday night guarding the body and continued on Wednesday morning with their efforts to retrieve the body. After the first body was retrieved and was being examined by the government pathologist, the second body was noticed around 10:30 near the Hamburg beach. Both bodies were then examined by the pathologist and then buried onshore, close to where they were found.
Some Wakenaam residents said they were concerned about criminal activities occurring in the nearby Essequibo River, stating that policing of the areas surrounding the islands needed to be improved. One resident said that river travel along the various routes within the Essequibo River has become “jittery,” and that their safety needed to be guaranteed by the relevant authorities. They also said that they will be avoiding aquatic foods, such as fish and shrimp, for the next few months until they felt such foods had become safer for human consumption.