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CASE NOT CLOSED: Path of death


ANTOINETTE CONNELL

CASE NOT CLOSED: Path of death

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Each week the Case Not Closed desk will revisit some of the most intriguing cold  cases that continue to baffle investigators. This week we examine the murder of Esther Skeete.Anyone with information on this or any other case should contact the Crime Desk at 253-4871 or the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-TIPS (8477). A reward is given for information that leads to the solving of a crime.
The villagers in a remote area of Upper Carlton, St James, once knew no fear.There was lots of foliage but hardly any streetlights along the twisting, up and down network of roads, but residents made their way along them without a second thought, day or night.But that carefree approach changed after one brutal night in September 1984. A long stretch of deserted road separates Upper Carlton from Lower Carlton and it might have been even more desolate back in 1984 when Esther Skeete set out to go church visiting on a cool night.Neighbours knew the 21-year-old well. The easy-going Esther was a member of the Community Bethel Pentecostal Church and a no-nonsense person. Church was her passion and on the night she disappeared the plan was to go with two friends, one of them Evelyn Hippolite, to a Seventh Day Adventist church in the neighbouring The Garden, St James.Esther lived between the house of her boyfriend’s mother at Lower Carlton and her grandmother Millicent Russell’s family home. A dutiful daughter, Esther returned home to cook for her mother and grandmother but declined her grandmother’s invitation to stay and eat.  She was running late for the church date and wanted to beat the approaching cloak of darkness and any evil that lurked within.Esther was safety-conscious. She was not a party person, didn’t accept rides or favours from strangers, went where she said she was going and was in the habit of telling her family about any experience she had, no matter how small. One such incident was when someone pinched the back of her jeans as she boarded a bus in Bridgetown. The protestations of an upset Esther delayed the bus.But despite all her precautions on this night, the Grim Reaper had already mapped out Esther’s brutal end and, in a further cruel twist, fate had determined that her father Harold Skeete would be the one to discover the body.At the Seventh Day Adventist Church Esther’s friend realised she had not turned up and was concerned upon returning home and not hearing from Esther. The alarm was instantly raised. It was followed by a report to the Holetown Police Station.Relatives began, with trepidation, the task of searching for Esther.Throat cutAround 6:30 a.m. the next day Harold Skeete, following the path of footsteps and broken canes leading into the canefield of Westmoreland Plantation, St James, discovered his daughter. Her throat had been slashed, she had a head wound and her underclothes were missing, raising suspicion that she might have been raped. A later post mortem confirmed this.Because of the location of the body, the island was gripped initially by a wave of fear that the dreaded “canefield” murders had returned. It was worse for Upper Carlton residents.No longer were wives willing to be alone while their husbands hung out with their drinking buddies.“Beneath the shade of trees along the Upper Carlton Road, village folk gathered this week in the usual small groups to trade news . . . They tell you what Esther Skeete’s grandmother tells you; that the 21-year-old girl was sweet, unspoiled and pleasant-natured. And if that girl could be snatched from the road on her way to church and slashed by a murderer, they now fear it could happen to them.”– Weekend Nation, September 28, 1984With each passing day that the murder remained unsolved the community was equally unsettled. Police appealed for help in solving the case, beseeching those with information, no matter how insignificant, to come forward. Cases, the police said, were sometimes solved on the tiniest bit of information.Lawmen later confirmed that they were getting the tips but still no arrests. Then strangely at a Press conference then Senior Superintendent Sylvester Williams admitted the police had a strong hunch as to the killer’s identity. A lack of evidence, however, prevented them from making an arrest.In whispers, people “in the know” began to name a particular man as the killer. When the whispers got louder and louder until some outright labelled a man of the cloth as the killer, the suspect fled the island.As the weeks and years rolled on, bit by bit the community returned to normal. But the fear visited upon the village lingers to this day.

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