Former boxer burnt to death in suspected arson

A former boxer was early yesterday morning burnt to death when fire ravaged his home at Farm, East Bank Essequibo, in what authorities suspect was an arson attack.

The charred remains of Godfrey Alexander, 72, known as ‘Hellfire,’ were discovered in the upper flat of the house by firefighters. He was popular for playing the Congo drum and singing calypso under the name ‘Angel Gabriel.’ Another house in the yard was also burnt separately.

According to neighbours, they were awakened by an alarm raised by a resident sometime around 4:30am yesterday.

Police remove crime scene tape from the property. In the background is what is left of the house at back of the yard where Godfrey Alexander lived. (Photo by Anjuli Persaud)

Speaking with this newspaper, neighbour Richard Waddell recalled that it was around quarter to five that his daughter-in-law, who was preparing to leave for work at Parika, woke him, informing that the abandoned cottage at the front of the yard, about 20 yards from Alexander’s home, was engulfed in flames. He said they both raised an alarm and began calling from the road for Alexander, who lived in the rear building.

Waddell said that to his surprise, his daughter-in-law, who went into the yard of Alexander’s next-door neighbour to alert him, returned shouting that the rear of the bottom floor of his house was also engulfed.

He said that due to the fact that the building was an old wooden one, the fire spread rapidly. In addition to Alexander, Waddell said he was concerned about two persons who sometimes slept in the lower flat. “…So we all rush in de yard and start to call to see if the people home downstairs and I run up his steps to get he,” he said. It was later discovered that the other two occupants were not at home.

What remains of the old wooden cottage located at the front of Godfrey Alexander’s yard.

Waddell said that the speed at which the fire consumed the building left him in shock, since by the time he climbed the steps to the upper flat, the flames were so intense he had to turn back. He added that he was fortunate, since the steps soon became engulfed by flames and collapsed. In less than half an hour, he said, the building was destroyed.

Firefighters from the Leonora Fire Station responded to calls and neighbours expressed satisfaction at their response time and the efforts made to save their homes, which were threatened by the flames. When the flames were extinguished, Alexander’s charred body was found in a slumped position, near to a generator, clutching cash he apparently tried to save.

What villagers found perplexing was that it appeared that the two buildings were deliberately set on fire, since there was no visible evidence of how the fire from the front building spread to the building at the rear. Alexander’s neighbour, somewhat puzzled, said, “Look, there is no way that fire could have moved from the front side building all the way to the back and not even scorch a tree… not even leave a trace of burning, not one trace. Something happen here. What? Only God knows.”  She described her neighbour as “a jovial old soul” who would leave at weekends to sell popcorn and peanuts at Bartica and on the Essequibo Coast.

The man’s granddaughter, Esther Gaskin, daughter to one of Alexander’s six children, said that they received word of his demise at around 7am yesterday and rushed to scene. But they only found the burnt remains of the house and the man’s bicycle in the yard.

Questioned as to a motive for a suspected arson, the woman said that she could not think of any but referred to a court matter that her grandfather was involved in sometime back. Neighbours also stated that they could not think of a reason why anyone would want to destroy the pensioner’s property, since he was not the type to be involved in any disputes and he was very friendly.

Police and fire service officials told Stabroek News that it did appear that the fire was deliberately set, but they would have to await the findings of their respective investigations. After taking samples from the site and speaking to eyewitnesses, they removed their barricades and turned the yard over to the man’s granddaughter.

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