Until Monday night, the humble cottage at Lot 243 South Road, Georgetown was a house of love, laughter and long life. Today’s column looks at how everything changed by Tuesday morning for one traumatised family, a crying congregation and two sweet old women.
The tiny, traditional white clapboard cottage with its single gabled roof and slim glass windows, one with a lone round hole left perhaps by a wandering cricket ball, hints of an artistic architecture and age that have slipped by, like many things in the once graceful Garden City.
Formerly famed as “the Venice of the West Indies” for its gentle tree-lined avenues, endless canals and grand colonial timber houses most now dismantled and discarded into disdainful dust, Georgetown seems a far different and disturbing place.
Lot 243 can hardly be classified among those magnificent mansions, but its simple, honest lines and little verandah with the decorative insert of evenly spaced small sticks is quietly charming and speaks of a precious and prudent period decades ago, when an inner stairway, locked door and added wooden horizontal bars were enough to keep out any rare intruders. Elders were respected and revered, and hearty “Good morning” greetings appeared as common as caring neighbours who thought nothing of stopping by for a visit, and everything of a society that easily encouraged honesty, diligence and fine manners.
A small fluorescent tube is attached at the front of the balcony as a security light, an afterthought and acknowledgement that all’s not what it used to be in the land of many waters. Elegant palm fronds still sway with the slightest breeze that sighs through the lower ventilation blocks, and the sprawling bougainvillea is a mass of overgrown dark green leaves sprinkled with rich red bracts, just beyond the rust-hued iron gate with the crowning heads of fleur-de-lis.
As I stare at the expanded photographs and wonder how many times I must have passed the property with its sign tucked in a corner, I think incongruously of the loved lily adornment that is symbolically depicted with the virtuous, especially St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers regarded as a model for fathers.
After all, this is a house that was built too by skilled carpenters, but to stand above floodwaters, each piece of lumber individually selected, sawed and hammered. The windows were professionally handmade by proud craftsmen, who carefully fitted the panes of plain glass into a pivoted frame decorated in the old-world cross panel style. But such fashion has long fallen out of favour with the rich and modern, who prefer soulless bulwarks of dull concrete and steel, with expensive, mass-produced, imported accents.
Some historians believe the petals of the fleur-de-lis represent the Holy Trinity including the divine mother Mary, while others maintain that the trio refers to faith, wisdom and chivalry, or the medieval social classes – those who worked, those who fought, and those who prayed. In a way, the occupants of the dwelling, including the remaining two ladies were all of these and more.
Devoted to their church, the Full Gospel Assembly, at the corner of South Road and Albert Street, white-haired retiree Constance Fraser, 88, and her niece Phyllis Caesar, 77, had served as Sunday-school teachers. Neat, cheerful and content in their comfortable and modest home, the pair of pensioners were each other’s constant companion. Enthusiastic Phyllis briskly set out last Monday, like every morning, rain or shine, bearing a bright smile and bunch of keys, to open the place of worship and help out at a nearby school.
The women said their prayers as always and went to sleep that night. By Tuesday morning, faced with locked church doors and cellphone calls that went unanswered, concerned members of their close-knit congregation rushed to the house and raised an alarm. Both women were found bound, gagged and murdered in their beds, their home completely ransacked. Thieves had broken in a few months ago but relatives told the media that Mrs. Fraser declined the offer to install an alarm and employ a night guard, insisting “No, God will protect me.”
HAPPY IN GUYANA
As news spread across the Guyana diaspora, our friend, Kamal Abdool who heads the Trinidad and Tobago Diaspora Association in Florida shared on social media, a post from Publisher of Caribbean American Passport News Magazine, and CAPRadio98.com, Guenet Gittens-Roberts who lives in Orlando, as well.
“Feeling heartbroken” she wrote. “My great aunt and my grandmother were murdered last night in Guyana. It took me all day to be able to even be able to post this. A 77-year-old and an 88-year-old. Killed in their own home. My head is bursting. Auntie Phyllis is gone and Grandma is gone. They lived for the church next door. Who? Why? My grandmother retired from America to live happily in Guyana. No big house, the house that she bought after my grandfather died leaving her with seven children to raise. Between her and Auntie Phyllis they raised those children. Then Auntie Phyllis, helped to raise us.”
“In their twilight years when they could take it lil easy, someone beat and strangled them. I cannot imagine the type of monster that could do that to two old women,” she added.
“We had plans for them…Auntie Phyllis had just gotten her visa for America and we thought we had all the time in the world for us to plan her cross country tour. Grandma had no intention of going anywhere anytime soon. She took care of her body and her mind…we had to figure out how everyone would celebrate her 90th birthday because she said she was never travelling back to America. She did what was needed for her children and stayed here when it was needed, but she was happy in Guyana.”
SLAUGHTER AND COLD CASES
This latest heartless slaughter of elderly women, follows several similar unsolved deaths of vulnerable seniors dating back years. It comes on the heels of last month’s rape and murder of 13-year-old Leonard Archibald in Berbice that stunned the country. Further afield, it featured in a shocking week that started with the mindless massacre of scores of concert-goers in Las Vegas by a wealthy man with an unknown grudge, a passion for gambling and a penchant for powerful guns.
One commentator admitted, “Very sad day in my country of birth. What could two grown women do to deserve such? I remembered the days when Guyana was a safe place and crime was considered choke and rob… It’s time Government act accordingly and consider the full economic and social impact this kind of behavior have on society in general. They need to restart hanging.”
Another contributor recalled Sister Fraser travelling with church groups to Israel, while others reiterated the call for the resumption of capital punishment and concluded that “no one seems to be safe” from criminals. The last men executed by the State, for the murder of a woman during a robbery, was 20 years ago, in 1997.
Here in Trinidad, the incessant killings like the on and off debate about the Government’s perceived inability to deal with crime, continue. Former director of the National Museum and Art Gallery Dr. Claire Broadbridge was discovered with her throat slit in her upscale residence early in September, while another grandmother and retiree Ramdevi Singh, 75, was found strangled in her home in the central town of Chaguanas. Singh’s husband, Martin, 79, a stroke victim who is unable to speak or walk properly, and who she took care of, would stumble across her nude body, lying in a pool of blood on the ground of their living room, before dragging his way to their gate and flagging down a passing vehicle for help. Residents heard a woman screaming at three a.m that morning but thought nothing of it.
Two weeks later, a joiner and his wife, a janitor were charged in the high profile homicide of Dr. Broadbridge. But Singh’s killer is still out there, another anonymous perpetrator in an untold list of hundreds of cold cases, who has really gotten away with heinous murder as the faces and names of loved victims, and so many ordinary women, eventually fade like the occasional outrage, from the mercurial public’s memory.
Hopefully, the Guyanese lawmen will do far better than their counterparts in quickly arresting those responsible for callously ending the good lives of Grandma Constance and Auntie Phyllis, for effective policing is as great a crime deterrent as hanging or lethal injection could ever be.
ID cites a 2015 psychology study, that people who believe in pure evil are more likely to support imprisonment without parole and the death penalty, for their life’s experiences more than religion influence such beliefs.