DNA evidence, camera footage may help crack businesswoman’s murder

Investigators seem to have hit a brick wall in the search for the killer of Diamond businesswoman Sirmattie Ramnaress but DNA testing, surveillance footage and the establishment of a motive may still offer hope for them cracking the two-week-old case.

Crime Chief Seelall Persaud told Stabroek News recently that there is not much progress in the investigations. He said investigators will have to work with DNA analysis.

A number of bottles were found in the woman’s house that could possibly yield some DNA evidence as they are believed to have been left there by the person(s) who murdered her. More evidence can also be gathered from her vehicle. After Ramnaress was killed, the perpetrator left her Lot 2430 21st Avenue, Diamond, East Bank Demerara property in her vehicle, which was later abandoned on the Liliendaal Public Road, East Coast Demerara. There are suspicions that more than one person might have been involved.

Sirmattie Ramnaress
Sirmattie Ramnaress

Persaud said at the moment the case is “wide open” as there are several persons who would have had a motive to kill Ramnaress. Asked whether robbery could have been a motive as the woman’s house had been ransacked and money was said to be missing, Persaud replied in the negative, while stating that things were staged as part of an effort to cover up what had happened.

The businesswoman’s body was discovered by firemen in the garage area moments after they arrived to respond to a report of a fire at the house.

Police had said that the woman’s body, which was found around 10am, bore injuries to the head and left hip. They said too that her house was ransacked and drenched with a flammable liquid and a storage bond at the rear of the building was destroyed by fire.

Asked about possible suspects, Persaud said investigators were still “looking at persons close to her.”

Ramnaress was very security conscious and had surveillance cameras all around her home. Based on what this newspaper was told, before she opened her electronic gate, she first checked closed-circuit cameras to see who was there. It is suspected that she must have known her killer(s) and let the person(s) in. What adds to the mystery is missing surveillance footage from her master bedroom. Whoever stole that would have had intimate knowledge of its location as it was kept in a secure location.

‘Fine teeth comb’
At a press conference last Thursday, acting Police Commissioner Leroy Brumell stressed that investigators were looking at all the circumstances in the case. “The reputed husband, who is a member of the force, we started investigating from him because we want to comb it with a fine teeth comb,” he said.

Brumell was referring to police Sergeant Colin Bailey, who is stationed at the Vigilance Police Station and who shared a 21-year, common-law relationship with the woman.

Police have, however, said nothing about another man who the woman’s family had identified as her fiancé. That man, who lives in the United States, indicated that he could have a copy of the surveillance recording, which was sent via a feed to his home. Bailey said that the man should have had a digital backup of the surveillance footage from the businesswoman’s property, but he failed to produce it. It is unclear if police had questioned the man, who travelled to Guyana following the woman’s death.

According to Brumell, a file was being prepared to be sent to the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). “I can assure you that very shortly that file will be going to the DPP for some advice,” he said. Up to late Friday afternoon, the file had not reached the DPP.

Persons close to the case told Stabroek News that police seem to be dragging their feet on several key elements that could be potential leads. One source said that from the very beginning, police should have started looking at all persons–whether family, friends, business associates or workers—who could have been potential suspects. The source said that getting that information within the first few days is very important as after that the trail would go cold.

The source questioned why the killer would escape in the woman’s car. “Yeah, it might have been because they did not want to raise suspicions but then I can’t understand how they moved so swift and nobody in Diamond ain’t see when this car drive out that yard,” the source said. It was also pointed out that the killer/s would have had to spend at least ten minutes in the house. The source said that because of all that was done “the killing of the woman, the burning of the bond, the ransacking of the house, the planting of the drink bottles, plus stealing the tapes,” there must have been about three persons in the house. The source questioned whether the woman had these persons there for a business transaction and they used the opportunity to kill her.

To drive away from Ramnaress’s home the killer(s) had three options – driving left or right or turning through a side street very close to the house. “There are too many houses ’round there man. Somebody must have seen something… Something in this case just does not smell right,” the source said. Reports are that neighbours saw the woman sweeping the yard some time before her body was found. They were adamant that it was her.

The source also questioned why the car was driven to the East Coast rather than taken further up the East Bank. “That is the strangest thing. I can’t understand who would want to drive towards them cameras instead of away from them. The East Bank got nuff nuff lil street that they coulda hide that car without nobody seeing,” the source said, referring to the state-installed CCTV cameras.

There are dozens of them installed throughout the city and there are suggestions that even though there are many side streets that could be taken to avoid them, the killer(s) must have passed at least one.

The source noted that with little time to spare, the killer(s) would have had to have abandoned the vehicle as soon as possible.

When asked if police had received anything useful from the cameras, Brumell said “they have looked but I have not received any info that they got any kind of footage as it relates to that.” He insisted that the cameras are working.“They are working (the camera). They should be working,” he added.

At this point, Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee, also present at the news conference, interjected: “all the cameras are working.” When asked how many cameras, he responded “all” but could not give a number. “Number is relative. All are working,” he said.

Government has been heavily criticised for releasing very little information on the cameras and their purpose. There have also been suggestions that the cameras, which costs millions to install, were not working as they have not been successfully used in any investigation, including the murder of policeman Romein Cleto, which occurred in front of one of the cameras. The only image the camera picked up was of people running.

Forensic evidence
The source said it would make sense that all the persons who committed the crime escaped in the car. The source said that in this regard there could be lots for forensic evidence in the car to narrow down the suspects’ list.

“You see the difficulty here is that we don’t have the capacity to do DNA testing and our forensic capability is poor. So, even if we have something in there, it’s just like if we don’t have anything,” the source said. It was noted that while forensics plays a very important role in every investigation, most of the time investigators have to depend on intelligence gathering and foot work.

It is unclear what, if anything, investigators have been able to get from the woman’s car. The source noted that there might have been traces of blood there. “Let’s say that they washed off the blood… did they check the sinks and bathrooms? Did they check the car for traces of blood? Because some of her blood could have gotten on their shoes and they could have gotten cut if she fought back,” the source said.

To date, no one has come forward saying that they saw persons fleeing from the car. The area where it was found is public and dozens of vehicles would have been passing. There are also houses in that area. The source questioned if ranks spoke with residents in the area to ascertain if anyone saw anything. “You see this is all part of being an investigator. You can’t sit in your offices and expect the information to come to you. The police depend too much on the crime lab. They have to go out there and do their ground work,” the source stressed.

There has been no mention of if the police were able to find the murder weapon. Based on what has been gathered the woman was beaten and stabbed.

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