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The mystery of the missing


Kirschhoch

Lloyd Williams, Senior Associate Editor

REPORTS OF people who go missing in Jamaica embrace all age groups and social classes and average several a month.

The following examples confirm this:

  • A brand new bride goes missing on the way from the church to a house a few minutes away, to change her clothes before going on to the wedding reception venue.

  • A baby goes missing from her hospital crib.

  • A Kingston couple drive their pick-up truck to keep an appointment with a prospective buyer, and simply vanish into thin air.

  • A child goes missing while walking home from school.

  • And of course there is the perennial - fishermen go missing on the way back from sea, seemingly every few days.

    Claudia Kirschhoch

    The current case of Miss Claudia Kirschhoch, 29, a New York-based writer for Frommer's Travel Guides, who disappeared on May 28, 2000 from Beaches Negril hotel in western Jamaica, highlights the mystery of the missing.

    Miss Kirschhoch and three other travel writers arrived in Jamaica on May 24 on their way to an assignment at the Sandals Resort, Cuba.

    The Cuban Government denied them entry, and Sandals offered to put them up in Jamaica, before they return to the United States. Miss Kirschhoch and a female colleague decided to stay at the hotel chain's Beaches resort, Negril, near the western end of Jamaica.

    Miss Kirschhoch, who was scheduled to check out of the hotel on June 1, was last seen on May 27, police said.

    Her travel documents and other personal items were found intact in her hotel room.

    The police distributed posters with Miss Kirschhoch's photo throughout the island, but to date there has been no sign of her.

    Her family has offered a J$2 million (US$50,000) reward for information leading to her whereabouts, but almost three months later there still isn't any trace of her.

    To throw in my two cents worth, I don't believe Miss Kirschhoch was done in by anybody, despite the image we have as the crime centre of this region.

    My opinion, going by news reports that all that was missing from her room were her swimsuit and a small radio, and the so far - fruitless search for her, despite the skills and tenacity of the six-year-old border collie sniffer, Valerie, and her FBI handler, is that Miss Kirschhoch went missing at sea.

    My theory is that she went for a dip in the sea near to her hotel. She probably walked along the beach a bit then waded out too far, although she thought it was safe so to do, and got swept away by some erratic wave. Strong swimmer though she was, she probably became disorientated and swam the wrong way until she simply tired.

    Or, as has happened at some Jamaican beaches, she waded out a great distance with the water barely reaching her knees. But she had the misfortune to step just a few inches left or right of her random path, ending up in a deep hole on the sea floor, the strong currents overpowering her within seconds.

    If there was anybody with her, he simply panicked and fled. Which policeman was going to believe him, that she died accidentally and in those circumstances?

    Her radio? Somebody "found" it while walking along the beach, and hasn't even related it to the visitor's disappearance.

    Meanwhile, the search goes on.

    Wilhem Hojan

    On Sunday, January 23, 1972 Wilhem Hojan, a 27-year-old Negril hotelier, went missing at sea off the seven-mile Negril beach. Mr. Hojan, with his brother, Jerry, owned and operated the Sundowner Hotel on Negril Beach. The two Hojans and Wilhem's son went fishing in a boat on Salt Creek but caught nothing. About 6:25 p.m., they parted company to return to their hotel, Jerry and his nephew by car, and Wilhem by the sleek, powerful 17-foot fibreglass boat in which they had gone fishing.

    That was the last anybody saw of Wilhem, despite searches for him by land, air and sea. The trip back to the hotel by boat should have taken about seven minutes.

    His boat was found the Monday morning four to seven miles offshore without a trace of Wilhem Hojan. The steering was defective and both the main 12-gallon fuel tank and the five-gallon spare tank were empty, and the battery was dead. Wilhem Hojan, a German national who came to Jamaica about a year before, was described as "a big strong man and an excellent swimmer" who had worked with a life-saving company in Germany.

    Julie Stefanek

    On February 26, 1989, Julie Stefanek, 26, a tall healthy 26-year-old American, went for a swim at a beach in Port Antonio, Portland, leaving behind her eye-glasses and her clothes neatly folded on the sands. This was just a few metres from the mercy ship Anastasis on which she worked. She hasn't been seen since. She was said to have been a strong swimmer.

    Terrence Runte

    Then there was the case of Terrence Runte, 34, the American scriptwriter from Chicago who came here in October 1994 to write a movie script. He headed for the scenic north-eastern parish of Portland. On the night of October 16, a few days after he arrived in Jamaica, he went night-clubbing with two expatriate women and a local man. He went missing on the morning of October 17 after dropping them home at Happy Grove in his rented car.

    The burnt-out car was found near the guest house at which he was staying. The clothes he had been wearing, his wallet and his watch were found in the sea at Sharks Rock, Hector's River, tied to a concrete column. He was never found.

    After three trials, Elvis Martin, 39, carpenter of Olympic Gardens, Kingston 11, and Hectors River, Portland, was in 1997 convicted of manslaughter arising from his death and was sentenced to life imprisonment with the recommendation that he serves 25 years before being eligible for parole.

    Daniel
    Zogbi

    One of the most intriguing missing person cases to have hit the headlines in recent years was that of Daniel Paul Zogbi, 29, a Canadian national who operated a computer business, Microcom Ltd., on Haining Crescent, Kingston 5, where he lived.

    He disappeared on January 3, 1986, the day he was seen leaving a New Kingston restaurant. It was reported that he went with a man to Pinto district, in the St. Andrew hills.

    Detectives investigating his disappearance, reported finding there, his eye-glasses which he could not do without, but said they found no other clue to his fate or his whereabouts.

    His house, where he operated his business, was found open, his briefcase had been forced open and his three licensed handguns, including a .357 calibre Magnum revolver, were missing.

    Mr. Zogbi was deemed missing, and presumed dead. Three men were later put on trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder him, but they were acquitted. At the trial one said Mr. Zogbi had flown out of Jamaica to Central or South America on a ganja plane. He has not been seen since.

    Jamaicans

    But foreigners are not the only people to go missing in Jamaica. Every year the police get scores of reports of Jamaicans being missing. Many are fishermen lost at sea; some come home eventually, are rescued at sea, or turn up in places like Cuba, or Colombia or Honduras. Every so often, hikers in the Blue Mountains go missing; invariably they turn up after much search and anxiety. Others are never seen again. Spouses leave home to avoid being battered, or for warmer arms; for more alluring charms. Then there are teenagers and other children who run away from home after spats with their parents or guardians. Usually they turn up after a few days. Then there are the real case of grief ­ missing men, women and children on their way to school, home and work; later found murdered.

    But no less tragic are cases in which the missing were never found. It's as if they simply vanished into thin air.

    In March 1967 Earl Donaldson, a Supreme Court reporter, left his home on Shortwood Road, Kingston 8, to visit a friend at Quick Step in Cockpit country of St. Elizabeth, on a preaching mission. He did not turn up there and has not been seen since.

    But easily one of the most puzzling missing-person cases ever to hit the news was that of Joseph Nam, businessman of Clark's Town, Trelawny.

    He disappeared on May 29, 1976 with his son, George, 12, and their 14-year-old cousin Sharon Bashford.

    Mr. Nam and the two youngsters left that Saturday afternoon to visit his daughter at Mount Alvernia High School, Montego Bay, but they never reached. His station wagon was later found scrapped and burnt out, on the Llandovery Estate. A labourer of Salem, St. Ann, was later convicted of stealing the engine of Mr. Nam's station wagon. At his trial he told Resident Magistrate Ian Forte, (now President of the Court of Appeal), that Mr. Nam had left the vehicle "with us", having told him that he was going back to Hong Kong. He said that Mr. Nam left by plane.

    On March 30, 1991, Dr. Garfield Saddler, 33, lecturer in the Department of Chemistry, UWI, Mona, and Ann Marie Stewart, 30, a Jamaican living in the U.S., were abducted by two gunmen on Red Hills Road, Kingston, and driven away in Dr. Saddler's grey Hyundai car. The locked car was found at Four Paths, Clarendon, a few days later, but neither Dr. Saddler nor Miss Stewart was ever found. They were believed to have been killed by the Natty Morgan gang from Riverton City.

    On November 13, 1997, Robert Graham and his sister-in-law, Icylyn, both returning residents, living in Kingston, drove in their Toyota pick-up truck to meet at a store on Marcus Garvey Drive, Kingston, a man who had displayed an interest in buying the vehicle Mr. Graham had advertised.

    The pick-up, the interior burnt, was found in a canefield in the Caymanas area, near to Ferry, St. Catherine. The Grahams did not return home and have not been seen since.

    Two men and a woman went missing in August 1997 after they went to premises on Skibo Avenue, Half-way Tree, Kingston, to collect money allegedly on behalf of a Kingston don. They are UTech student Stephanie Douglas, 33, said to be the wife of a Trinidadian consultant to the United Nations Development Programme in Kingston; Roger Henry and Fitzroy Walker.

    They haven't been seen since.

    In 1997 detectives spent weeks scouring the island for Georgiana Hermon-Taylor, 58, an Australian national living in Miami, Florida, United States, and a regular visitor to Jamaica. She arrived in the island on October 2 to get back the $17 million she had reportedly paid on a house in St. Ann, having decided not to go through with the purchase. She went missing the following day.

    The police later questioned a Kingston lawyer and a male Jamaican friend of the woman about her disappearance, and to determine whether fraud was committed, but released them.

    A man named Larkland Joseph "Teddy" McNeil, arrived in Jamaica on or about March 3, 1997 and was reported to have been seen by two of his closest friends the following day. He is said to have promised to visit the friends, but has not been seen by them since or by his family in the United States.

    But not all reports of the missing have tragic undertones.

    In November 1995 a television crew from the Danish Broadcasting Corporation came here looking for a Norwegian physician, Dr. Per Magnus Tengesdal, 40, who they said had been missing from his home in Oslo since 1987 and who stood to inherit US$1 million following the death of his maternal grandmother.

    He reportedly disappeared after withdrawing money from his bank account, taking his passport and medical certification and leaving a note for his girlfriend stating: "I need to go away for a few days to think."

    There was no indication that he had visited Jamaica at all and the suggestion was that he might have gone instead to Jamaica, New York.

    In October 1996 a man drops off his two daughters, ages 8 and 10 years, at the address of their mother (his estranged wife), for them to spend the weekend with her. They are reported missing but are later discovered to have been taken to the United States, where the mother has residency status.

    The case of the missing bride? Oh, it turned out that she did the wedding march to the tune of her parents' coercion, so having satisfied their wishes, she decided she would go her way without as much as consummating the marriage.

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