Murder In Paradise

February 10, 1994|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Sun Staff Correspondent

ST. JOHN'S, Antigua -- Nobody here wants to talk to strangers about the yacht that was towed into the harbor 10 days ago with four cadavers aboard, seated as they were when they were murdered -- an American couple and two English crewmen.

This is the height of the tourist season. Images are important.

The England vs. Leeward Islands cricket matches. The harbors that attract some of the world's most expensive sailing yachts. The hundreds of soft, white-sand beaches.

Those are the images they want.

This place depends on well-heeled visitors for nearly 70 percent of its domestic income. It can hardly afford to let the first multiple slaying in its modern history tarnish its reputation as a carefree tropical paradise.

But like the perfumed chemicals used liberally here to rid hotels and gambling casinos of roaches and tobacco odors, an air of contrived innocence hangs over Antigua.

Nearly two weeks have passed since a curious sailor stopped by the 65-foot racing ketch Computacenter Challenger as it lay silently anchored in the blue waters off Antigua's sister island of Barbuda. When the sailor climbed aboard and peered below decks, he discovered four decomposing bodies.

William Norman Clever, 58, was shot in the back and in his right side. His wife, Kathleen Marie, 50, had been shot once in the back. Skipper Ian Trevor "Criddy" Cridland, 33, had a gunshot wound in his chest. Deckhand Thomas Williams, 22, was shot in the head and in the back.

These were clean livers, not underworld characters from what anyone can tell. The Clevers were the parents of five grown children in California. The yacht cruise was a gift from a grateful British employer. The English crewmen were the kind of young men that make their mothers proud.

There was no apparent motive for the slayings.

Sketchy and often contradictory news of the killings raced around the world, fed mainly by the British tabloid press that happened to be here to cover the international cricket matches. Anxious inquiries came from as far away as Australia and Thailand.

On the island, friends of the murdered crew got drunk and cried. A few put on black armbands. Somebody chipped in a few dollars to start a reward fund to find the killers. With the help of an anonymous yacht owner, the fund quickly grew to $150,000.

Yet within the closed circles of Antiguan power and influence, the subject of the killings has been treated as if it were a whiff of the island's raw sewage. Give it time and the Trade Winds will blow this nasty business out to sea.

No island official has publicly denounced the murders. None has offered condolences to the victims' families.

Asked if he had anything to say about the killings, Prime Minister Vere C. Bird was abrupt. "Not a thing," says the 83-year-old island patriarch. "Let the police handle it."

Local police handled the matter by turning it over to Scotland Yard investigators, who were coincidentally on the island looking into last year's slaying of a customs official who came upon some thieves in his house. They had the boat towed over.

Upset over the treatment of the yacht murders in the British press, Antigua Police Commissioner Edric K. Potter issued an official directive calling upon residents of Antigua and Barbuda not to jeopardize the tourist industry by sensationalizing the incident.

If locals were puzzled by the police commissioner's demand, it may have been because they knew so little about the crime. The government-managed television and radio station paid little attention to the murders. Two weeks after the bodies were found and brought here to the capital, only one of the island's two newspapers had published anything about the deaths.

"It does seem rather callous," said editor Tim Hector, whose newspaper Outlet carried the story last week on the front page.

Lester Bird, son of the prime minister and the Labor Party candidate likely to take over "Papa's" parliamentary position in the March election, took pains to play down the slayings.

"There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans who come to Antigua," he said. "The Mellons, the Kennedys, they all feel safe."

Tourism officials are quick to point out that as Caribbean crime goes, Antigua and Barbuda are among the safest vacation islands in the West Indies. Firearms are forbidden, except for wealthy businessmen. Local police handle one or two murders a year and spend the rest of their time looking into domestic quarrels and petty theft.

Few candidates for the country's 17-member Parliament raise crime as an important issue.

Everyone knows what happened aboard the yacht. But no one seems to have a clue to why it happened. Speculation has wandered from piracy to drug smuggling, both common in the Caribbean. But there was no real reason to link the murders to drugs, and the piracy theory is weakened by the fact that valuables on the yacht were left behind.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.