Looking back at the activities of the ‘phantom killers’ By Kim Lucas
August 10, 2003
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On that day, seven men, including three Mash Day prison escapees, were shot dead and another was burnt to death in a car. There were subsequent fatal shooting incidents in the city wards of Alberttown, Albouystown and Charlestown, as well as along the East Coast Demerara at Melanie, Friendship and Buxton, by perpetrators whose identities are still unknown.
In some instances, relatives of the victims claimed that the dead men knew the perpetrators and that the motive for the murders was robbery. But to date, it is still unclear who carried out most of those executions. What seems clear, though, is that there is a notable pattern of close friends and relatives meeting a bloody end, either together, or months apart.
Close friends, relatives share same fate
For a while, since June when the police and army shot dead several criminals, the ‘phantom’ shootings had ceased; however, fresh concerns have resurfaced following the still unexplained killings of brothers Ron and Lennox Baker at Vergenoegen, East Bank Essequibo on Friday last, and that of two close friends - Clive Trim and Edward Bruce - on Monday night at Graham’s Hall, East Coast Demerara.
Some are of the opinion that the background of the victims might give an insight into who might have murdered them and a possible motive for the executions. But a senior police source told Stabroek News that the Baker brothers were “not known to be thieves.” At the time of the incident, one brother was driving a minibus that plied the Georgetown/Parika route, while the other was working as conductor.
However, the deaths of Trim and Bruce continue to puzzle both relatives of the deceased and the police. Trim called ‘Dougla,’ 45, of Plaisance, East Coast Demerara and Bruce, 50, of Ganges Street, Prashad Nagar, Georgetown, were gunned down as they rode their individual motor scooters along the East Coast railway embankment.
According to reports, Trim was “known” for years in the 1980s when he drove a red Mazda ‘RX’ motorcar. One police source recalled an incident back in those years when Trim and the now deceased Errol ‘Taps’ Butcher literally clashed head on by colliding their cars in the Stabroek Market area.
Butcher himself was killed during the crime spree last year, while two of his sons - Shawn and Oyama Butcher - were also shot. While Shawn survived his wounds, Oyama was mortally wounded when standing outside his Albouystown home in July last year.
The killings in Albouystown continued and in September 2002, Tony Evans, 37 called ‘Buns I’ of 55 Orealla Avenue, South Ruimveldt Gardens, and Michael Allen, 20, of 212 Charlotte Street were gunned down while sitting on a street corner with some of their friends. Evans’s relatives maintained that the motive of that attack was robbery “plain and simple.” The shooters, whom relatives said were known to the victims, reportedly fled with all of the dead men’s gold jewellery.
But the tragedy did not end there for the Evans family, and two months later in November, Evans’s nephew, Joel Evans, 30, of 37 Norton Street, Bagotstown, East Bank Demerara, was chased and shot dead in Charlestown. The “unidentified” gunman calmly walked away after the shooting.
Sources had claimed that the younger Evans, along with another relative, had received death threats following his uncle’s murder.
Intelligence unit looking at ‘phantom force’
Close to the end of 2002, after more than two dozen unexplained shooting deaths, Dr Luncheon was quoted as saying that the activities of a ‘phantom force’ were engaging the attention of the intelligence unit.
This disclosure came at one of his weekly press briefings, and according to the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, the intelligence unit, which had previously worked on recapturing the February 23 escapees and their criminal cohorts, was then extending their focus to the ‘phantom force,’ since that body too was responsible for the upsurge in crime.
“There seems to be reasonably plausible evidence to suggest that there is a body out there that is involved in criminal activities and it is not the escapees and those who have been associated with the escapees,” the Government Information Agency (GINA) had reported.
At that time, too, the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) launched a call for an immediate investigation of the “phantom force,” in response to the high incidence of shooting attacks in Buxton. ACDA had claimed that since the bloody shoot-out of October 28, a “dark new dimension with evidence of improper collaborations have been exposed to the observing public.” The police have always maintained that these apparition killers were not any of their members, or those of the Guyana Defence Force.
To date, there have been no findings from the intelligence unit on the ‘phantom force’ and President Bharrat Jagdeo has openly stated that he was unaware of the existence of such a group.
To date, no one can definitively say who killed five of the eight men shot last year on October 28. The men were suspected to have been involved in the kidnapping of businessman Bramanand Nandalall. Later at a press conference, the police said Nandalall had managed to escape from his captives prior to the shooting incidents. Michael Singh, 28, a US citizen, found executed in Le Repentir cemetery, was reportedly left to guard the businessman. Prior to the discovery of Singh’s body, a man identified as prison escapee Dale Moore and another man were shot dead in Lamaha Gardens, near the residence of Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj. Almost simultaneously, businessman Frank Solomon, other prison escapee Mark Fraser and city businessman Lancelot Roach were gunned down in separate cars on the East Coast Demerara. Fraser and Roach were in the latter’s car.
The police only claimed responsibility for the deaths of Moore and the other man shot in Lamaha Gardens, but the gunmen in the East Coast Demerara and Le Repentir executions remain anonymous to this day.
A week later, in November, six more men were shot dead in two separate incidents. Five of the persons were shot execution style at the corner of Robb and Light Streets, Georgetown, while one man, said to have been a would-be bandit, was shot dead in Middle Road, La Penitence, when he and his accomplices attempted to rob a resident in the street.
Like the October killings, no perpetrator has been identified, nor has any clear motive been given for the murders of Andrew McPherson, of Toucan Drive, South Ruimveldt; Derrick Torrington called ‘Jack About’; O’Neil Embrock called ‘Agouti’, of Charlotte Street; and two of the three others killed that night.
With those killings, the death toll rose to 18 persons killed in eight days - 17 by way of gunshots and one burnt to death in a car in Buxton.
By the end of April, there were more than 36 unexplained murders, most notable among them were that of Gavin Sobers killed by channa bomb; Melroy Goodman shot by unknown gunmen at Church Road, Bachelor’s Adventure; US-based Guyanese Mark Anthony Sancho shot dead in a drive-by shooting; Claudius Sam also known as ‘Samo,’ who as shot dead while repairing his car in front of his First Street, Alberttown home; Orin Shultz, 29, of Joseph Pollydore Street, Lodge and Gladwin Fecker, both employees of a prominent lawyer were gunned down not far from Shultz’s home; Albert Crandon was shot dead on the East Coast Demerara; Shawn Forde, of Howes Street and Selwyn Pollydore, of 33 Middle Road, La Penitence, both of whom were shot dead in Albouystown; Randolph Chapman called ‘Super Cat,’ 35, whose body was found in Buxton after a shootout; Junior Dennis, 23, of 147 Buxton, whose body was discovered on the Annandale Sideline Dam; Hans Wilson, 29 years old of Toevlugt, West Bank Demerara; and David Dookie, 29, of `M’ Farm Mahaicony, both found in Buxton.
Two years prior to his death, Sam and another man were freed of the charge of murdering cambio dealer Neville Sarjoo on May 30, 1998. Although Sam was never convicted of an offence, he had several brushes with the law and was believed to have known his killer.
A year after he was freed of the murder charge, Sam was again picked up by the police in connection with a robbery at Linden but was released four days later by an order from Justice Claudette La Bennett after his attorney had filed a habeas corpus writ.
Prior to these two incidents the police had held the man in connection with another murder committed in 1996, as well as a robbery committed some time after, but later released him without laying any charges.
Meanwhile, Chapman was killed in Buxton because some claimed that he was an “outsider” with ulterior motives. Some said his death was related to the October 28 bloodbath, as well as the torching death of a man on the Buxton embankment the same night. That man was an overseas-based Guyanese who was friendly with a man from Friendship. That man had subsequently fled the village and some months later, his home was torched.
Just a few months ago, in March, the shooting death of Buxton gas station owner Brian Hamilton sent shock waves across the country. Two men who were caught on the surveillence tape killed Hamilton, a prominent Lion, at the depot. Four days later, on March 25, a man from the adjoining village of Friendship, Mark McKenzie, was executed at Bel Air. His bound body was later fished out of the trench.
By the end of March, two more men were found executed - one aback of the Botanic Gardens in Georgetown and another aback of Eastville Housing Scheme, Annandale. Both men - Winston Burrowes and Buxtonian Shelton Bacchus - were reportedly tortured before meeting their end.
One week later, four more bodies were picked up from within the Friendship/Buxton and Annandale villages as what was believed to be a turf war erupted on the East Coast Demerara. Two of the men - Imtiaz and Hasraf Ally (cousins) - were executed and their bodies dumped near Hamilton’s gas station. They were reportedly friends of the now deceased Dillon George who was later shot dead in a police confrontation.
Both cousins, as well as Hasraf’s father, Hasrat, were accused of the 1999 murder of Vishnu Singh called ‘Cow.’ Hasrat Ally is still in jail pending trial.
When questioned about the “phantom” killings, one senior authority told Stabroek News that the “phantom force came out of a... perception of insecurity, so [a certain section of people] put money together to pay a particular group.” Most of the unexplained killings, the source said, fall into two categories - acts by members of the “phantom” who wanted to minimize the threat against them and, acts committed by escapees and their cohorts who had their own interest to preserve and protect.