Mys­tery at LIME HALL

Fam­ily feud, gang violence, mur­ders leave Lime Hall res­i­dents shocked and un­easy

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Ti­tus Gleaner Writer

AYEAR af­ter the mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of four per­sons in Lime Hall, St Ann, the po­lice ap­pear no closer to find­ing an­swers. The four dis­ap­peared some­time be­tween Novem­ber 13 and 14, 2015.

The 10-apart­ment, two-storey dwelling that the four oc­cu­pied on the Arthurs Mount Es­tate, along with two out-houses on the prop­erty, were burned to the ground on the night the four dis­ap­peared.

While no of­fi­cial an­swers have come from the au­thor­i­ties, there is the strong be­lief among res­i­dents of the com­mu­nity that the fire and the dis­ap­pear­ance of the four per­sons were the ugly cul­mi­na­tion of years of bad blood be­tween the miss­ing per­sons and the no­to­ri­ous Af­ter Dark gang, which is based in the area.

The four per­sons, whose mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance re­mains top­i­cal in the St Ann com­mu­nity to­day, are 57-year-old farmer Joseph Lynch; his nephew, 43-year-old farmer Las­celle Lynch (pop­u­larly known as Er­rol and Kerosene); 50-year-old do­mes­tic helper Ruth Lawrence; and her adopted daugh­ter, sev­enyear-old stu­dent, Rimeka Haynes.

It was be­lieved that all four were present at the house at the time of the fire, but their re­mains were not found in the burnt-out build­ings, lead­ing to spec­u­la­tion that they were kid­napped and force­fully taken else­where.

IT IS a wind­ing, eight-minute drive up­hill from the north coast high­way through the bustling town of St Ann’s Bay un­til you reach the square of the vil­lage of Lime Hall – an elon­gated knot of a hand­ful of wooden, two-storey build­ings, a few lazy bars, and a farm store. On the left is an ap­prox­i­ma­tion of a small shop­ping plaza. About 200 me­tres be­yond the square, at the in­ter­sec­tion where there is the St Saviour’s Angli­can Church, take the right along the road, whose bar­ber green top gives way to un­paved marl af­ter 80 me­tres. On ei­ther side are large, con­crete homes, built mostly by Ja­maicans re­turned from liv­ing abroad. Maybe 450 me­tres along this stretch, on the left, is Arthurs Mount Es­tate. There used to be an im­pos­ing but ob­vi­ously time­worn, home here, a smaller ver­sion of the old plan­ta­tion great houses. Of so-called ‘stone nogg’ con­struc­tion, with stone and brick at the lower por­tion and wood at the up­per, it had five bed­rooms, a din­ing room, and sit­ting rooms. There were two outer build­ings. One was the kitchen, the other a store­house. That was up to a year ago. The build­ings don’t ex­ist any­more but for a bit of col­umn ris­ing from the rem­nants of the foun­da­tion like a sin­gle, re­main­ing, rot­ted tooth that sticks out of an oth­er­wise un­adorned gum shrouded by a shaggy face. The 60-acre prop­erty, with tow­er­ing pi­mento trees and groves of ma­hogany and cedar, is now over­grown as though in pro­tec­tion of the mys­ter­ies of the Novem­ber 2015 fire that de­stroyed the build­ings as well as the baf­fling dis­ap­pear­ance of four peo­ple: Joseph Lynch, 57; Las­celle Lynch (nephew of Joseph Lynch), 43, who was also called Er­rol and ‘Kerosene’; Ruth Lawrence, 50; and Rimeka Haynes, seven, and Lawrence’s ‘adopted’ daugh­ter. The Lynches, both of whom were farm­ers

and hig­glers, lived at Arthurs Mount Es­tate. Lawrence and her daugh­ter stayed there some­times. She had rented a room there.

This is a story that in­volves crim­i­nal gangs, tales of ex­tor­tion, pal­pa­ble com­mu­nity fear, and violence in a once quiet com­mu­nity, and, ap­par­ently, fam­ily ten­sions over a large es­tate left by a wealthy landowner. There is, how­ever, no clear ev­i­dence if, or how, they connect.

It be­gan long be­fore that fate­ful night of Novem­ber 13, 2015. It be­gan when Joseph Lynch was a boy.

He was born in Rivers­dale, St Cather­ine, but moved to Moneague, St Ann, when he was eight, hav­ing been adopted by a well-to-do landowner and farmer, Vic­tor Scott, and Scott’s wife. The Scotts later moved to Arthurs Mount, hav­ing bought the prop­erty from an­other big land owner, Ernest Harker.

LYNCH REARED CAT­TLE

Over the years, as the Scotts’ bi­o­log­i­cal chil­dren grew up and moved away, Joseph Lynch stayed, help­ing ‘Papa’ on the prop­erty, over­see­ing the har­vest­ing of pi­mento, set­ting up char­coal kilns and plant­ing root crops and veg­eta­bles. They also reared cat­tle, pigs, and goats. When Mrs Scott died in the early 1990s, Joseph grew closer to Papa.

Peo­ple in Lime Hall and the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties re­mem­ber him as a de­voted ‘son’, also hur­ry­ing to re­turn home from any busi­ness be­cause to one, “he didn’t want to leave Papa by him­self”. Though a re­served and pri­vate in­di­vid­ual, he was a com­mu­nity per­son. He was a mem­ber of the Lime Hall Bap­tist Church, and at the time of his dis­ap­pear­ance, pres­i­dent of the church’s men’s fel­low­ship.

It is around the time of Mrs Scott’s death that Las­celle Lynch joined his un­cle at Arthurs Mount. He had been a trou­bled youth. Like Joseph Lynch, Las­celle was born in Riverdale, St Cather­ine, but at an early age, he was sent to live with a rel­a­tive called ‘Un­cle Man-Man’ in Is­ling­ton, St Mary.

Ac­cord­ing to peo­ple who knew him, lack­ing parental di­rec­tion,

Las­celle was of­ten ab­sent from school and got him­self into all kinds of scrapes. A move to an­other rel­a­tive didn’t help too much. He ap­peared to pull his life to­gether af­ter the re­lo­ca­tion to Arthurs Mount, Lime Hall.

In Lime Hall, he is re­mem­bered as an out­go­ing, jovial chap who liked a good joke, a far cry from his ear­lier years when he painted and sculpted. He baked, too, and his pud­dings and art works were among an eclec­tic mix of prod­ucts he sold at the Lime Hall Square. In fact, the nick­name ‘Kerosene’ was the result of his sale of that prod­uct.

Orig­i­nally, Ruth Lawrence is from a place called Philadel­phia, a com­mu­nity ap­prox­i­mately six kilo­me­tres from Brown’s Town, high in the hills of St Ann, west of Lime Hall. She worked as a do­mes­tic helper. In 1999, she landed a job with a United States­based Ja­maican as a live-in care­taker for his Ja­maican home near Arthurs Mount Es­tate. She worked for this ex­ec­u­tive for 15 years but was fired in 2014, a dis­missal that re­sulted in a court battle, over her sev­er­ance pack­age, which Lawrence lost.

It was dur­ing her time work­ing for the US-based Ja­maican that Lawrence in­for­mally adopted lit­tle Rimeka, whose mother,

Tameka Lawrence, was hav­ing prob­lems with the child’s fa­ther over fi­nan­cial sup­port.

Hav­ing lost her job and a place to live, Lawrence ap­proached Lynch about rent­ing space at the Arthurs Mount prop­erty. She told Lynch that her pri­mary aim was to store fur­ni­ture at the es­tate un­til a home she was build­ing in Lime Hall was com­pleted.

This de­vel­op­ment brings into the pic­ture an­other of the pri­mary char­ac­ters of this story, Joseph Lynch’s adopted daugh­ter, Vilma Grant, who is the wife of retired As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice Reg­gie Grant. She was one of the Scott chil­dren who had moved away from Arthurs Mount and with whom Lynch was clos­est.

Lynch ap­proached Scott-Grant about the rental. She agreed.

Lawrence sub­se­quently got a live-in job in a district called Ep­worth and left Rimeka with a friend so that the child’s ed­u­ca­tion at Lime Hall Pri­mary School would not be af­fected. Lawrence would re­turn to Lime Hall on week­ends but not al­ways stay at the Arthurs Mount prop­erty. In any event, her re­la­tion­ship with Lynch had grown strained. He was press­ing her to sort out her liv­ing ar­range­ments and move her be­long­ings from the es­tate.

Like other pre­vi­ously quiet ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in Ja­maica, crim­i­nal gangs, be­fore the Arthurs Mount fire and dis­ap­pear­ances, had found their way to Lime Hall and nearby com­mu­ni­ties. They in­tim­i­dated res­i­dents, stole from farms, and ex­torted busi­nesses, in­clud­ing hig­glers.

Among the most prom­i­nent of these gangs, ini­tially, was the Clam­stead gang, which got its name from the com­mu­nity from which it evolved and grew. In time, the Clam­stead gang joined with the rem­nant of the Fire Links gang, which the po­lice had sub­stan­tially dis­man­tled by 2014. The new, ex­panded group changed its name to the Af­ter Dark gang un­der the al­leged lead­er­ship of Roshad Moss, also called Shut.

VIC­TIMS OF GANG VIOLENCE

The Lynches, Joseph and Las­celle, de­spite their gen­eros­ity, were of­ten vic­tims of the gang in­trud­ers, who raided their prop­erty of crops and live­stock and threat­ened their lives, which res­i­dents in­sist was re­ported to the po­lice. The po­lice say they have no record of these re­ports.

Res­i­dents re­main shy of speak­ing openly about these gangs for fear of pro­vok­ing them.

Nonethe­less, in­so­far as The Gleaner has been able to piece to­gether, on the night be­fore the fire and the dis­ap­pear­ances, there was an ar­gu­ment be­tween Las­celle and Af­ter Dark’s mem­bers, who had threat­ened his life. Res­i­dents claim that the threat was re­ported to the po­lice. Hours be­fore the fire, Las­celle came out as usual to sell his prod­ucts. Busi­ness was slow that night. Lime Hall was quiet. A lot of peo­ple were at­tend­ing a wake in the ad­join­ing com­mu­nity of Lums­den, where a pop­u­lar funeral band was per­form­ing.

Some­time af­ter 9:30 p.m., Las­celle no­ticed a group of more than a dozen per­sons walk­ing along the road that leads to the Arthurs Mount Es­tate. A few min­utes later, Las­celle told his friends good­bye and left for home.

He was never seen or heard from again.

Ruth Lawrence was in Lime Hall for the week­end. She picked up Rimeka and made an ap­point­ment with her hair­dresser for the fol­low­ing day, Satur­day.

She planned to sleep at Arthurs Mount Es­tate. But given the tense sit­u­a­tion be­tween her­self and Lynch over her liv­ing ar­range­ments, she did not want to turn up there too early. She had din­ner at a male friend’s home. He urged her to stay the night. She de­clined.

In­stead, around 10:45 p.m., Lawrence left for Arthurs Mount. She had Rimeka with her. Nei­ther has been seen since.

That time of year was usu­ally busy for Arthurs Mount and Joseph Lynch. It is peak pi­mento reap­ing sea­son. For the 2015 sea­son, he had hired two of his bi­o­log­i­cal brothers to help with the crop. Now, more than three hun­dred 509-kilo bags of dried pi­mento were in the store­house. Those were to be sold the week af­ter the fire. Ad­di­tion­ally, he had sev­eral hun­dred feet of freshly cut lum­ber and 25 bags of char­coal ready for mar­ket.

But de­spite the seem­ingly good com­mer­cial prospects, all was ap­par­ently not well with Joseph Lynch.

Ac­cord­ing to a source with whom The Gleaner spoke, who wishes to re­main anony­mous, Lynch was com­plain­ing of be­ing ‘bossed around’, which started af­ter his adopted fa­ther’s death. Days be­fore his dis­ap­pear­ance, this source said, Lynch had made ar­range­ments with a taxi op­er­a­tor to trans­port 15 bags of coal to his church, con­cerned that if the in­di­vid­ual, about whom he had com­plained, came to Arthurs Mount and saw them, he would want them all for him­self. Lynch was known, over the years, to make gifts of coal and other pro­duce to the church.

Noth­ing has emerged about Joseph Lynch’s move­ments on the night of the fire ex­cept that he had spo­ken about plans to turn in early. He had an im­por­tant meet­ing at his church the next day and wanted to be early.

Like his nephew, Las­celle, Ruth Lawrence and lit­tle Rimeka, Joseph has not been seen or heard from since.

EARLY-MORN­ING FIRE

Ex­actly when, or how, the fire started at the Arthurs Mount prop­erty, no one is cer­tain. But at least one per­son liv­ing as far as three miles away said that around 3 a.m., he saw the flames in the vicin­ity of the Arthurs Mount Es­tate lick­ing the night sky. But in a com­mu­nity where the houses are on large lots of land that are good dis­tances apart, no one called the fire brigade in St Ann’s Bay un­til 10:50 a.m. The fire­fight­ers ar­rived at the prop­erty 22 min­utes later, en­coun­ter­ing the smoul­der­ing re­mains of the for­mer two-storey build­ing.

Theirs, es­sen­tially, was a cool­ing-down op­er­a­tion, un­til, ac­cord­ing to the brigade’s re­port, fire­fight­ers at the scene were in­formed by some­one who claimed to work on the prop­erty that four per­sons who were sup­posed to be in the house could not be ac­counted for.

The re­port didn’t say what might have ig­nited the blaze and named the owner of the prop­erty as Vilma Scott-Ewart, an ob­vi­ous ref­er­ence to Vilma Scott-Grant, and gave the Grants a Kingston ad­dress, rather than Wil­low­dene, St Cather­ine, where they had resided for decades. Se­nior Deputy Su­per­in­ten­dent An­thony Hinds, of the St Ann fire brigade, blames Mr Grant for that in­ac­cu­racy, say­ing that it was based on in­for­ma­tion he pro­vided at the scene.

The Grants were at the scene that day and were vis­i­bly up­set by the tragedy. In­deed, friends say that Joseph Lynch was close to Mrs Grant and of­ten spoke pas­sion­ately about the cou­ple, whose home he vis­ited per­haps once a month.

How­ever, there were com­plaints about a man to whom he re­ferred as ‘Nuh Linga’. In­vari­ably, he would end any ob­ser­va­tion about that per­son with the com­ment: “Mi nuh like trou­ble.”

Joseph Lynch’s rel­a­tives de­clined to be in­ter­viewed for this story, but a close con­fi­dant of Lynch’s said they tried un­suc­cess­fully to get him to leave the St Ann prop­erty and re­turn to St Cather­ine. Lynch’s po­si­tion was that he had made a prom­ise to his fos­ter fa­ther to pro­tect the prop­erty. In any event, he ar­gued, he was a ben­e­fi­ciary on his fos­ter fa­ther’s will, which jus­ti­fied his de­ci­sion to stay at Arthurs Mount.

Af­ter the ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Arthurs Mount af­fair, nine men al­legedly af­fil­i­ated with the Af­ter Dark gang, in­clud­ing its re­ported leader Richard ‘Shut’ Moss – who was al­ready fac­ing a mur­der charge in a sep­a­rate case – were ar­rested in con­nec­tion with the in­ci­dent.

On De­cem­ber 10, 2015, then head of the St Ann po­lice, Su­per­in­ten­dent Wayne Cameron, an­nounced that two of the men who were in cus­tody – brothers, 27-year-old Ju­nior Camp­bell and 23-year-old Shawn Nel­son of Clam­stead – were be­ing charged for ar­son. The other men were all re­leased.

A slip­per be­long­ing to one of the brothers was re­port­edly found at the scene of the fire, while a bag con­tain­ing per­sonal doc­u­ments be­long­ing to Joseph Lynch was re­port­edly dis­cov­ered in a pit la­trine at the ten­e­ment yard where they lived. At the time of his ar­rest, Camp­bell had cases pend­ing in court for rob­bery with ag­gra­va­tion and wound­ing with in­tent.

When the two brothers ap­peared in the St Ann’s Bay Res­i­dent Mag­is­trate’s Court on Wed­nes­day, De­cem­ber 23, 2015, Se­nior Res­i­dent Mag­is­trate An­drea Thomas pointed out weak­nesses in the case, not­ing that there was no proof that the owner of the slip­per had lit the fire. Fur­ther, with sev­eral houses in the yard where the pit la­trine was lo­cated, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors would need to link the men to the bag found in it.

Their case, how­ever, is still pend­ing. At their last ap­pear­ance in the St Ann Parish Court on Oc­to­ber 7, 2016, the mat­ter was set for com­mit­tal hear­ing on Jan­uary 6, 2017. At that time, a de­ci­sion will be taken as to whether the case will be trans­ferred to the Cir­cuit Court for trial.

But there are also other twists in this case.

PHOTO BY SUGAR RAY

CON­TRIB­UTED

Joseph Lynch

PHOTO BY SUGAR RAY THOMAS

Po­lice con­duct a search of the prop­erty in Lime Hall, St Ann.

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