Vicious murder shakes Cayo community
Testimony to the increased level of violence in the western area of Belize came in the form of another senseless murder reported last night, Wednesday, November 9, 2011 in Ontario Village, Cayo District.
Dr. Lawrence Allan Johnson, 68, a native of New Mexico, United States, who is a certified chiropractor and permanent resident of Belize, was found dead, his body doused in gasoline.
Julio Funes, a Guatemalan employee of Johnson, told police that both he and Johnson were tied up and put inside Johnson’s van by six men who invaded the home that he and Johnson were in.
Funes survived but Johnson was pronounced dead upon arrival at the Western Regional Hospital.
According to police, the incident unfolded at Johnson’s residence in Ontario Village at approximately 7:30 p.m. Johnson was upstairs at his residence, which was used as a hotel for his invited foreign guests.
Funes was downstairs.
Funes told police that he suddenly heard Johnson calling for help, and when he ran upstairs, he saw six masked men beating Johnson on the floor.
“The men then caught Funes and started to beat him, whipping him with machetes over the back and leg. The attackers then tied up Funes and Johnson and stole assorted items from the house, value unknown,” said a police report.
The police then added that the attackers then took both Johnson and Funes and put them inside Johnson’s van, doused both men in gasoline, and then fled.
The circumstances were horrifying and the general manager of Johnson’s home, which includes a part-time hotel and a farm, told us today during an interview that Funes had recounted to him as much of the details of the incident as he could recall.
It was not explained by Funes why the men did not set them ablaze.
Another source, the property manager, told us that he was called by other workers to come to Johnson’s home last night: “They told me the man dead; when I came I saw him lying down on the ground.”
Funes, he said, was making tortillas in the bottom flat of the residence when he heard Johnson screaming for help and calling Funes’ name, along with the names of other workers who were not present at the time.
The manager told us that Funes, upon seeing the six masked attackers, tried to see if he could identify them before he himself was attacked.
He told us that when he saw Johnson, “The throat was swelling up and his head was swelling up so it looked like he got hit with something”.
Johnson was not a troublesome person, and had been planning on investing in medicinal farming, he said, adding that a team of medicine practitioners were scheduled to arrive in Belize within the next month and a half.
We were able to find out that Johnson has a wife in New Mexico, along with about ten children. He does not live in Belize fulltime, but travels back and forth, working in New Mexico during the summer and retreating to Belize for winter.
We also spoke with two of Johnson’s colleagues and close friends, John Carr and Dr. Errol Vanzie.
According to Carr and Vanzie, all three of them were members of the Landowners Association, which oversees environmental, petroleum and logging matters.
Carr, a resident of Belmopan, told us today that Johnson was, “a very good friend. I’ve known Mr. Johnson for over fifteen years or longer; we spent a lot of time together and the three of us [Vanzie, himself and Johnson] were very active in the Landowners Association.””
Apparently, Johnson had just returned to Belize this week. “I saw him about four months ago; we used to meet at his place for our monthly meetings. I communicated with him on Monday through email because he told us that he was coming to Belize and we would organize a meeting. That’s the last I heard of him,” Vanzie told us.
When asked whether he is now concerned about his own safety in this community, Carr said that because he is the president of the Livestock Association, he is very concerned. He said the matter of safety was discussed during a meeting of the Livestock Association today, and they have resolved to become more aware of the dangers to which they are exposed and their vulnerability in deserted areas.
Carr said, “We feel very insecure and we are trying to think of how we can get hope, and we think we will get hope when some justice happens, when they catch people that commit crimes. Until that happens we are very worried.”
Vanzie ended by saying, “I am shocked; I am still shocked; we miss him because he was the engine behind most of the activities we did in this association.”
Carr told us, “I am amazed at how life can change in such a short time; I can’t think of a reason why this should have happened.”
This reporter asked the two men whether a dispute could have erupted between Johnson and other persons involving issues over land. They told us that in the past, there have been minor disputes, but “nothing that would result in this”.
So far police have not detained anyone for this murder.