Four years on… Family still awaiting justice for slain shopkeeper

When the relatives of slain shopkeeper Bibi Sheniza Khan-Bhola handed over surveillance footage which they believed had a vital lead, they were sure that justice would soon come. More than four years after, they are still waiting.

“To me they [the police] did a sloppy investigation. Nothing we ain’t hear back… What I want is to get justice for my grandchildren,” a still grief-stricken Namawatti Khan told Sunday Stabroek recently.

Khan-Bhola, a 34-year-old mother of two, was found stabbed to death in her shop at Rock Creek, Cuyuni River, in February, 2014. On the day before she was found dead, she had a heated argument with two men over a pump she had given them for mining.

Afterward, police had issued a wanted bulletin for Natton Anthony Stoute, of Helena No. 2 Mahaica, East Coast Demerara. He was one of two men who had been staying with the woman around the time she was killed and who police were treating as the prime suspects. The force has never released the identity of the second man.

Khan-Bhola’s family believes that the two suspects hatched a plan to murder her because she wanted to take back the pump she had loaned them. They had said the two suspects were fired by their employer and had no job.

Khan-Bhola subsequently decided to loan a pump to them with the expectation that they would pay her for it. Things turned sour when the duo decided that they wanted to take the pump to another location even though they had given her no money.

Khan told this newspaper that since her daughter’s death, she has been single-handedly caring for her children; one is 18 and the other is almost 19-years-old. The woman said that taking on this role has been rough.

She expressed frustration that to date there has been no justice. She recalled that about two years ago family members had visited the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) looking for help. She claimed that an investigator told them that the family had to help to investigate the murder.

The woman stressed though that it was through the family’s efforts that vital information was retrieved and handed over to the police.

“The police at that time had a lot of information about those involved but they did nothing with that information,” she charged.

Included in the information handed over to the police was video footage showing the two suspects selling the woman’s jewellery in a shop in Bartica.

According to Khan, though this was “incriminating evidence,” the police had said that the type of equipment needed to clear up the footage to get a good look at the faces of the men was not available in Guyana.

She recalled that between November, 2016 and January, 2017, a man kept calling from Suriname, claiming to know where the suspects were. She said that during one of those calls the man instructed her son to make his way to Suriname alone. “He tell he don’t bring no body and don’t inform nobody and he will pick him up,” she recalled, while noting that the man called them about four times in total and even texted.

Khan said that she had pleaded with the man to do the right thing and hand the men over to the police.

The dead woman’s aunt, Bibi Hodge Shaw, a journalist in St. Maarten, told this newspaper that from the beginning the police had shown disinterest in the case.

She is convinced that the suspects were behind the calls being made to Khan and her son. “I believe the suspect is having people contacting them,” she said, while adding that these “bounty hunters” and asking for “ransom” to turn in the suspects.

Shaw, who has been very outspoken since the killing, recalled that it was through her efforts that a wanted bulletin was issued for Stoute. “It was me who had to tell them that Natton is a convict and served time in prison and that it how they were able to get the pic,” she said, while pointing out that the police made no attempt to get a photo of the second suspect.

The woman charged that the suspects appear have police contacts and are utilising them to evade capture.

In 2015, while calling for an inquiry, Shaw had explained that family members had to do a lot of digging on their own. Their persistence, she said, is what led to the two suspects.

Shaw had explained that Khan-Bhola had a connection with the Bartica community as her parents had a butcher shop there and were well known. She said that because of that connection, their relatives were able to track down the two suspects to that community. She said that through their own investigation, they were also able to ascertain when the men travelled out, by what means and what colour clothing they wore. All of this information was handed over to the police, she said, while adding that they eventually received information that the duo had visited a pawn shop in Bartica. It was from this location, that they got surveillance footage of the men selling Bhola’s gold jewellery. According to her, the owner of the establishment later returned the pieces of jewellery to them.

In the footage, both men are wearing black t shirts with haversacks on their backs. “That woman was a hard working woman and mother. Since her passing, the children were robbed not only of a mother but everything. Their lives have gone completely chaotic,” she told Sunday Stabroek.

She said that she has taken note of government’s promise to open cold cases and said that her niece’s killing ought to be on the list. “I think the two suspects have contacts and they (the police) are ducking the case. The police had phone numbers of the relatives of the suspects but were never able to contact or arrest these men,” she pointed out.

Shaw stated that all she wants is for the police to investigate properly and for the relevant minister to take action against the “incompetent and corrupt police” who have “ducked” the case.

In the months after the killing, she had made telephone contacted with the then Police Commissioner Leroy Brummell and then Crime Chief Seelall Persaud but didn’t get much assistance from them.

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