Murdering the elderly

At 84 years and frail of frame Mr Harold Rachpaul posed a threat to no one. It is therefore hard to even imagine why anyone would want him dead. Yet, he was murdered; his life was cruelly snuffed out possibly by a common thief or thieves who targeted his business and him because it was easy to do so.

Rachpaul’s Drugstore is an institution in Robb Street. The average city resident knew it or knew of it. Old Mr Rachpaul was an institution also. His son and whichever pharmacist he employed worked the counter while Mr Rachpaul stood or sat at his ancient cash register. He had no computer, but Mr Rachpaul knew the prices of practically every item in his store; remarkable at his age. In fact, most people would never have guessed that he was over the age of 80. He looked well and was at his register every day, working.

Over the years, many of the drug stores in the city that might be as old as Rachpaul’s were modernized. But that Robb Street fixture basically remained the same; a sort of Mom and Pop store that served many of the city’s poorest residents. Rachpaul met his customers’ needs, particularly those whose pockets were not deep. His kindness and mild-mannered attitude drew people back to the drugstore. His reputation for helping is what makes his murder that much more sickening. Who would want to rob a man who was so kind? And who would want to kill an old man, who most likely would have been unable to defend himself? Only the lowest of the low.

Criminal acts are naturally frowned on, but crimes of this nature point to a real sickness in our society that desperately need addressing.

Prior to Mr Rachpaul’s murder, several seniors met their end in a similar despicable fashion in communities across the country. In February this year, Rhampattie Ramsundar was found dead in her Enmore, East Coast Demerara home.

The 64-year-old woman had been tied up, strangled and hit in the head. More than half a million dollars which the woman had collected several days before her death, was missing.

At the end of June, 72-year-old Clementine Parris was shot dead at her Robb Street home, moments after two men showed up asking for “auntie.”

In March 2009, an elderly UK-based Guyanese was found dead in his D‘Urban Backlands house. George Cadogan was found lying on the floor of the house with his hands and feet bound and his mouth gagged with a bed sheet. The bedroom was ransacked and a laptop computer was missing.

There have also been several other similar murders. In each case the elderly man or woman lived alone, was healthy enough to do so and might have lived much longer had his/her life not been taken. In the majority of the cases, robbery was or appeared to be the motive. The few that saw defendants being brought to justice, indicate that these might not have been random acts by person or persons unknown who might have been passing through. They were very likely carefully planned by cowardly murdering thieves who knew that these elderly people would be alone at a particular time of day or night and preyed on them because they were old. Not all of them had any particularly significant assets. In fact, Mr Rachpaul might have been the only one who was a businessman.

Our society never used to be one where our elderly folk lived alone. Old parents and grandparents lived with their children or were placed in old folks’ homes. Migration was probably one of the main reasons why this changed. Children, seeking greener pastures, left their parents behind. In some cases pensioners who might have been living overseas chose to return ‘home’ after they retired and found themselves alone as their offspring remained in their adopted countries, visiting their parents for weeks at a time during holiday periods or if they fell ill.

The frightening rate at which murders of the elderly seems to be escalating might force some rethinking by children of their parents’ independence. Seniors living alone appear to be a magnet for undesirables and the almost complete lack of security – policing being what it is – allows for live-alone seniors to be targeted almost with impunity.  Children will now have to be more vigilant as regards the safety of their elderly parents, even if the parents do not like it.

The modus operandi of the killers of the elderly suggests that they would be less likely to strike if these old folks lived with their offspring, or younger able-bodied persons. Systems should be put in place that allow for the people who have served this nation to live out their twilight years in peace. However, since we are all aware that this will not happen in a hurry, if at all, it falls to all of us to be our parents’ keepers, even when they have not mothered or fathered us. It is time for communities to start living as communities again. When we see something, or if anything appears to be amiss we have to stop minding our own business and say something. Posterity will deal harshly with any nation that fails to protect its most vulnerable – children and the elderly. And those of us who think we will manage to live long enough to become elders ought to be also thinking of our own old age.

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