Twelve days after Shannon Banfield’s decomposing body was found on the third floor of IAM and Company store on Charlotte Street, Port-of-Spain, one man has been charged with her murder.
Social media pressure and a march through Port-of-Spain demanding justice, led police to bring the murder charge against Dale Seecharan, 38.
Time will tell whether the police are to be commended or not for this investigation. Time will tell if this investigation was properly done, and the right suspect was charged.
But what about all the other unsolved murders? Today, we deal with one unsolved murder.
What about justice for Akiel Chambers, an 11-year-old boy who was buggered and smothered to death in an upscale area of Maraval? Why haven’t the police arrested and charged the suspect who is walking free and allowed to enjoy life?
If Akiel was alive today, he would have been 29 years old. Maybe, he would have been a lawyer, a doctor, or even a policeman. But some sick man, with the assistance of others, killed Akiel and threw his body in a swimming pool to make it look like he drowned.
And what made matters worse, was that a serving Commissioner of Police, instead of ensuring that a suspect was made to pay, attended a party around the same pool where Akiel’s body was found.
Akiel was smothered to death on May 23, 1998 when he went to a birthday party at the home of Charles and Annelore James at Balata Trace, Haleland Park, Maraval. A post-mortem also revealed he was sexually assaulted and his body thrown in a pool more than 12 hours after he was reported missing.
More than that, all the DNA evidence, a red bathing trunk, and other items have been destroyed because of the age of the case. In other words, there is no DNA evidence in this case.
Fact: Apart from the man who killed Akiel, there is one person who knows about the matter. That person may have assisted in hiding Akiel’s body in a bedroom of that house. That person may have assisted the killer in throwing Akiel’s body in the pool 12 hours after he went missing. That person should be the prosecution’s main witness. That person can be described as an accomplice after the fact.
Eighteen years have gone since Akiel was killed, and according to the Homicide Bureau, that case is closed. Yet that same Bureau has established a Cold Case Unit to deal with old murder cases. So what happened to Akiel’s case? Is that not an important case for his family, to know who did that gruesome act, and to bring closure?
Akiel went to Haleland Park to attend a birthday party for Carrie James, his classmate. What happened next was bizarre.
Days before the incident, Charles James turned down a request from his daughter to hold a pool party at Haleland Park. On the day of the incident, James left for races at Santa Rosa Park, unaware that the pool party was still organized.
James returned home later that day and went to sleep. He awoke early next morning and left around 6 am for Santa Rosa, unaware of the events at his home.
WHAT WITNESSES SAID
In her testimony before Coroner Sherman McNicolls, Carrie James said there were about 25 to 30 children, including Akiel Chambers, her classmate. Carrie told the Coroner that her friends started arriving at midday, but she could not say for sure when Akiel arrived.
There were also six parents at the party supervising the children who were bathing in the pool at the back of the house. Among the parents was Patrick Young who was there with his son Mikhail, and Trevor Craigwell who attended with his sons Christopher and Anthony.
Carrie: “I asked him if he was going to swim. He told me no because his aunt said he could not go swimming and that he could not swim.” Half an hour later, some of the children went to the toy room by the play station.
Carrie said Akiel was one of the children whom she left in that room. She went with other friends to bathe in the pool. Around 4 pm, the children were coming out of the pool to eat near the bar area around the pool.
Carrie said she went to get Akiel. But when they went out to the pool area, the tables and chairs were filled, so they returned to the kitchen area to eat barbeque. After eating, Akiel returned to the toy room. Some time later, Carrie went to the toy room only to find that the children were ”making mess.”
She ordered them out. “Akiel came outside near the pool area. That was the last time I saw Akiel alive,” Carrie added. She was certain that Akiel was not in the pool at any time that day. The pool, she added, was cloudy, describing it as choppy because of the number of children using it.
Around 5 pm, Carrie said she got out of the pool to cut her birthday cake. After cutting the cake, children continued bathing in the pool, but were told to get out by 5.30 pm because the party was ending at 6 pm. Around that time, Akiel’s aunt Valerie Pascall turned up to collect Akiel. “We started to look for Akiel. We were shouting his name. I did not look in the pool because he said he couldn’t swim. The pool started to turn ”milky.”
Carrie said she retired to bed around 9 pm, but was awakened by her mother around midnight. The police had visited her home. Carrie’s mother asked her to supply the police with a list of the people who attended the party. The policemen went by the pool with Valerie Pascall. One of the officers used a pool stick and dragged it around the pool to see if anything was there. Carrie then went inside.
The following morning, Carrie said she went into the pool with two of her friends. The police returned to the house and went to the pool area. Carrie, who accompanied the police, said one of the officers shouted “Look, look, it right there.” When Carrie looked, she saw a body clad in a red trunks, floating in the pool.
Carrie described Akiel as quiet. Carrie said she did not see Akiel at the cake-cutting session. Asked about her swim the following morning, Carrie said, “If there was a body in that pool at that time, I would have seen it. That body was not in that pool when I was swimming. If that body was there, I would have seen a shadow. If the body was at the bottom of the pool, I would have seen it.”
Carrie said that on the morning that the body was found, she saw parent Trevor Craigwell at her home. He asked if Akiel’s body was found. He was speaking to Carrie’s mother at the front gate. She could not remember if her mother gave a response. Questioned by the Coroner, Carrie said when she was swimming the following morning, she was not looking for a body. It never occurred to her that Akiel drowned and was in her pool.
Charles James testified that he was not trying to incriminate anybody in the death of Akiel Chambers, including “my wife”, but somebody knew something and was not talking.
He also said he was convinced Akiel did not drown at the pool party and that he was ignorant of his daughter’s Saturday party until he met police officers at his home with his wife the following day.
When he returned home and was informed by his wife that a young boy’s dead body had been retrieved from his pool earlier that Sunday, he even suggested to one of the two officers sitting in his kitchen that they take a sample of water from the “clear” pool and see if it matched that in the boy’s lungs.
After returning home around 2.45 p.m. and being brought up to speed about the discovery of the body, he said he became very angry with Annelore, his wife, and went to the pool.
He said it was “clear as day” and “you could find a pin at the bottom of the pool”.
James told the Coroner he returned home between 7.45 and 8 p.m. the Saturday evening.
When he arrived, a “lady sat in the entrance of driveway” to whom he extended good evening greetings.
He opened the door and went straight to his room (which was downstairs).
Three to four minutes later, Annelore entered and offered him something to eat, which he refused, James said. He afterward asked her to close the door. He said he knew nothing about a missing person.
James said he went to sleep and was sure his wife did not sleep on the bed with him, something she usually did.
James, a racehorse enthusiast, said he never came out during the night and that he awoke the Sunday morning around 5 o’clock.
He said he and his wife, Annelore, from whom he is now separated, had a “strange way of living” and he told the coroner they had no conversation the Saturday night or Sunday morning.
He was shocked to learn that officers had come to his house late Saturday night and searched his swimming pool.
He said when he left home Saturday, around 10.30 a.m. to go to the Arima Race Club, the pool was clear and there was no need to put chlorine in it. If the water was chlorinated, James said, after 9 p.m. Saturday, the pool would have been clear.
He did say, however, that it took at least 48 hours for the chlorine to be well circulated and for the filtering process to take place.
He did not look at the 25 by 48-foot pool when he left Sunday morning, though because he was never really told what had happened, James said.
The four dusk/dawn lights available to the pool were “very bright” and there were two lights on opposite sides at the base of the pool, he continued.
James described his wife as “a very smart woman…cunning”, who, he claimed, “lies a lot” and “this whole thing” had led to their separation.
He said there were a lot of “unanswered questions” and “something was not right”, adding that “a body appearing in a pool just like that is not right”.
He said after Akiel’s death, Annelore would tell him certain things, like the lights and television, would “go on and off” and that the house was “haunted”.
Darnell Riley said that he saw Akiel in the swimming pool wearing a red and white swim trunks. He said Akiel had earlier told him that he was not allowed to bathe in the pool that day. Although Akiel was his best friend, Riley said he never asked him what he was doing in the pool. They were about two feet apart in the shallow end of the pool.
Riley who was a classmate of Akiel at Blackman’s Private School at the time, also stated that he saw Akiel arriving at school on two occasions with another student Mikhail Young in a car driven by Patrick Young.
In 1998, Riley attended Blackman’s Private School, Saddle Road, Maraval. He considered Akiel his best friend, although he did not know where Akiel lived. He said Akiel used to travel to and from school every day.
He never told me where he lived and I never asked him. Riley said Akiel used to arrive at school with the Youngs. When asked by the Coroner how he came to know that, the schoolboy said he used to be in the schoolyard when the Youngs arrived. Both Mikhail and Akiel sat in the back seat, he added.
CORONER: As best friends, what did you talk about?
RILEY: We used to speak about television shows.
CORONER: Did Akiel ever tell you about anybody in particular?
Riley said he received an invitation from Carrie James for her 11th birthday party at Maraval.
He said Akiel also got an invitation because they spoke about it. Riley went to the party with his father Terrence Mc Clean. They got there around 3.30 pm.
“As I entered, I saw Akiel close to the kitchen door. He was just standing there. I spoke to him. I told him that I was going to change my clothes. He said his aunt told him that he was not to go into the pool. I went to the changing room to the back of the house near the swimming pool.”
Riley said he saw some of his classmates. He remembered seeing about 10 of them with about three to four adults. He recognized Patrick Young, Trevor Craigwell, and Mrs. James. He continued, “As I was about to enter the pool, I noticed Akiel walking around the pool. He appeared to be sad. You see, everybody was having fun and he wasn’t. I did not ask him anything. He was wearing green pants, rolled up to the knees.”
Riley told the Coroner that the pool was very clear and that he was able to see the bottom. When he came out of the pool for the sticking of the cake, he did not see Akiel. The other children also came out for the cake sticking ceremony. The parents had been supervising the children. They were also talking, but Riley could not say if they were drinking. After the cake was stuck, the children returned to the pool.
“I saw Akiel enter the pool. He had on a red and white swim trunks. That was around 5 to 5.30. I did not see him during the sticking of the cake. We did not speak in the pool. I did not ask him anything. He was about two feet away from me. He was just standing around. I know it is very unusual for someone to be just standing in the pool doing nothing. I couldn’t swim too well, I don’t know if Akiel could have.”
Riley said he came out of the pool, leaving Akiel and some other children behind. Riley dried himself and changed his clothes. He then went into the games room where he saw Carrie James and other children.
Some time later, some of the people were enquiring about Akiel. “I went outside and I looked into the pool. I could not see the bottom because it was cloudy. I looked to see if Akiel was in the pool because that was the last place I saw him. My father and I waited for a while before we left.”
‘Akiel was not in the pool’
Former classmate Ramiese Mahadeo said that he missed Akiel during the sticking of the cake. But he was certain that Akiel was not in the swimming pool. He said the pool was clear and if there was anything at the bottom, he would have seen it.
CORONER: Did you know Akiel well?
RAMIESE: Yes, we used to sing a lot in school. I was into music, Akiel was into music. We used to sing Bob Marley tunes. I did not know much about him. I knew his mother lived abroad. I knew he was staying with his aunt.
Ramiese said he received an invitation to attend Carrie James’ birthday party. This was the third invitation he received, but the first he accepted. On May 23, 1998, his mother Eichelle took him and his six-year-old sister Paige to the party. On arrival, Ramiese said he saw his class mates. He went straight to the living room where Carrie showed him the big screen television.
“I changed my clothes and went into the pool. There were other children in the pool. There were other children out of the pool. I saw Akiel near the bar close to the pool. He was sitting down. I swam to the deep end of the pool and I gave him a bounce. He came to the pool. I asked him if he was coming in. I told him to hurry up and change his clothes and come in. He said he couldn’t come in. He did not say why. He moved from the bar and sat on a table by the parents.”
Ramiese said some time later, everyone was eating barbecue. “I saw Akiel sitting close to the edge of the pool. That was the last time I saw him. He was watching everybody. It was obvious that he was disappointed that he couldn’t swim.”
CORONER: Did you know how Akiel got to school?
RAMIESE: I don’t know how he got there on mornings, but he travelled on evenings. I cannot say if anyone gave him a lift. Ramiese said some time later, the children were summoned from the pool to cut the cake. That is when I realized that Akiel was missing. I asked, ‘where’s Akiel? Go and find him.’
Ramiese said the search started after the sticking of the cake. He remembered Carrie’s mother saying that no one is to go into the pool. “Some of the children went next door. Carrie said Akiel was talking to the neighbor’s grandchildren. I went with some of the children next door but we did not find him. We came back. My mother spoke to Mr. Craigwell. The parents were looking into the pool. The pool appeared to be clear, I was able to see the bottom. There was nothing in the pool. If Akiel was in the pool, I would have seen him.”
Ramiese said when he was in the pool, he was diving all around and if there was anything there, he would have seen it. He searched the changing room, next door, inside the house, and down the road, but found nothing.
Parent Patrick Young told the Coroner’s Inquest that he did not leave Maraval on May 23, 1998, with 11-year-old Akiel James.
The Coroner asked, “Did Akiel leave with you?” Young’s reply was “no, certainly not.” Young, an accounts executive, accompanied his son Mikhail and daughter to a party for Carrie James at Haleland Park on May 23, 1998. He did admit lending his son’s bathing trunk to Akiel before he left the party.
He admitted giving Akiel a drop from school on three occasions in the same month in which Akiel died. But he denied ever dropping Akiel to school on mornings. Although he worked at 119 Henry Street, Port-of-Spain, Young said he never knew that Akiel lived at 80-82 Henry Street.
He said on May 23, 1998, he took his son Mikhail and daughter to a birthday party for Carrie James at Haleland Park, Maraval. Young said he arrived there at 2.30 pm. They were greeted by party hostess Annelore James. At that time, there were about 25 to 30 children, some of whom were already in the swimming pool.
He sat at the side of the pool and supervised the children. The Coroner wanted to know who asked Young to supervise the children. Young’s reply was “nobody gave me that responsibility. My responsibility was for my children and the other children. There were no lifeguards available. Common sense told me to supervise the children. It was risky having children there unsupervised.”
Young said he was introduced to Akiel at his son’s school some time before the party. On May 23, 1998, Young admitted speaking to Akiel on that day. He said Akiel approached his son and asked if he had a spare swim trunk. When told there was none, Akiel walked off.
Young remembered seeing Akiel around the pool but was sure that the boy was never in the water. By 5 pm, Mrs. James was ready to stick the cake. By that time, Young said there were about 50 children and six parents, including Trevor Craigwell and Terrence Mc Clean.
After the cake was stuck, Young said most of the children returned to the pool. “Mrs. James was in the kitchen. She told me that she did not prepare for so many children and parents. She remained in the kitchen for most of the time. I can’t recall seeing her around the pool.”
Young said when the cake was stuck, he did not see Akiel.
About 5.30 pm, Young told his son to come out of the pool as it was time to leave. “I telephoned my wife to tell her what time we would be coming. My wife was concerned that my children were at the pool party and that they could not swim. My children changed their clothes. Akiel came over to where we were sitting at the side of the pool and asked my son to use his swim trunk. Mikhail told him “you will have to ask my dad.”
Young said okay to which Akiel promised to return it the following Monday. He said Akiel took the trunk and walked across the pool to the changing room area. Young then told Mrs. James that they were leaving. He said that around 6.30 pm, he received a call from Mrs. James asking if Akiel left with him. “I said no.
She said they were searching and they couldn’t find him.” Around 12.30 am, Young said someone from the Maraval Police Station called and asked him some “random” questions. When asked by the Coroner what were the questions, Young said he could not remember. “How could you not remember what the police asked you? McNicolls asked. Young replied, “My father was killed two days before on the 21st by a maxi-taxi. An ex-con ran into my car. I had a lot on my mind to be remembering the questions.”
But McNicolls was not impressed. He called on Young to try and remember the questions. Young said questions which the police asked were like, “what time he left the party, what time he reached home etc.” Young said the police asked those questions because they were searching for Akiel.
The following day, Young said Craigwell called him to say that they found Akiel at the bottom of the pool. “My wife answered the phone and passed it to me. I turned pale.” Young said the water in the swimming pool on May 23, 1998, was clear. He could have seen the bottom of the pool.
The witness said he gave two statements to the police. On August 13, 1998, Young said PC Clive Alvarez came to his office with the swim trunks. “He asked me if this was the pants my son had on. I said yes. The conversation was short. That was it, really.” Questioned by the court prosecutor, Young said he never asked Akiel if he could swim. He said there were at least 20 children in the pool who could not swim, including his son and daughter.
Young said the parents at the party were drinking beer and Johnny Walker Black whiskey, Young said he did not find it odd that Akiel asked his son for his swim trunks. He said he left the party before Akiel was discovered missing. He said it was a surprise to hear that Mrs. James stated that he (Young) was present when Akiel went missing.
Young denied telling Mrs. James that he lent his son’s swim trunks to Akiel. “I don’t know why Mrs. James would invent that.” He also denied assisting in the search for the missing boy. Before he completed his testimony, Young wanted one question answered. “Did Mrs. James say what time I left the party?”
Trevor Craigwell cried, his voice cracked and he asked for a glass of water as he recounted the events surrounding the disappearance and death of Akiel Chambers.
“It was very sad for my wife and I. It is very emotional for me to relive it. A child died in a pool when I was supervising. It is very emotional, I know how precious they are, I have four kids, it is a very difficult time,” Craigwell said as he wiped his eyes with a handkerchief.
Craigwell insisted that he and Mrs. Annelore James were not friends, although his statement to the police on May 23, 1998, stated otherwise. “That is a mistake, we are not friends,” Craigwell told the court.
Craigwell said he went to the James’ residence around 3.20 pm on May 23, 1998, to attend a birthday party for Carrie James. He went there with his three sons, Christopher ten, Anthony, seven, and Nathaniel, five. He said when he arrived at the James’ residence, he saw children bathing in the pool. “I took the responsibility of supervising the kids. There was no prior arrangement for the supervision of the kids There were about 25 to 28 kids, while there were three parents — Mr. Young, Mr. Riley, and Mrs. Romany.”
Craigwell said he sat on a chair at the side of the pool, which he described as dirty. He said he was unable to see the bottom of the pool. He insisted there were no alcoholic beverages at the party. He said that around 5 pm, the children were called out of the pool to stick the cake. He remained outside as parents started arriving to collect their children.
He said one parent, a lady, came and asked for Akiel. “I did not observe Akiel for the entire afternoon. There were about 28 kids in the pool. I agree there was not proper supervision. But priority began with my kids. The supervision wasn’t done properly because a child went missing.” Craigwell said everyone started asking for Akiel. “When he wasn’t found, I looked into the pool. I looked with my eyes…”
CORONER: “You could only look with your eyes.”
Craigwell said a search was carried out by the children and parents, including Young, for Akiel. Asked by the Coroner of his relationship with Young, Craigwell replied, “he was not a good friend. He was a customer in my store. He loved my ties, but I can’t remember how many he bought. I can’t say if he bought other items.”
Craigwell said while the children were searching for Akiel, Mrs. James called parents who had left to find out if Akiel left with them. Craigwell said he eventually left around 7.45 pm, leaving behind his home telephone number in the event that Akiel was found. He said he received a call around midnight from the Maraval police who wanted to know if he knew anything about the missing boy.
“As a concerned parent, it was hard for me to sleep that night. It was difficult.” The following day, around 6.15 am, he returned to Haleland Park. “My wife told me to go and look in the bushes opposite the James’ residence. She told me to go and see if something had happened. I searched the bushes, there is a mountain area. After half an hour, I went to the market and then I went home. When I got home, my wife told me that Mrs. James had called and said they found a body.”
Craigwell said he and his wife went to the James’ residence. On their arrival, Craigwell said he saw the police. He saw something red in the pool and then the police retrieved a body. “Mrs. James was crying, she was totally traumatised. She kept saying “Akiel is in the pool, Akiel is in the pool.”
CORONER: Mrs. James had a right to be traumatised. She put nothing proper in place, don’t you think so? Craigwell did not answer. Craigwell said he gave a statement to the police on May 23, 1998.
Questioned by the prosecutor, Craigwell said he did not know Charles James personally, but knew he was a prominent horse owner who was always in the newspapers. He did not see James that day. Craigwell said he did not see Young give any swim trunks to Akiel that day. He did not see Akiel walking around the pool.
During his testimony, Craigwell said he was a swimmer. When asked by the prosecutor why he did not dive in the pool to search for Akiel, Craigwell responded, “I didn’t think of diving because as far as I was concerned, there was nobody there.”
The coroner told Craigwell he was not speaking the truth to which the witness replied, “I am speaking the truth, nothing but the truth.”
CORONER: When I ask you about Mrs. James, there is a smirk on your face. CRAIGWELL: You are suggesting that I and Mrs. James were closer than you think, it is not true. Craigwell said his entire family left on vacation in July 1998 and never returned. He said his wife was a resident of the United States while three of his children were born there. He said the family took a decision to stay in the US. Craigwell said he left about a year. Since he migrated to the US, he said he has been back in Trinidad more than 20 times.
Anthony Craigwell was just seven years old when Akiel Chambers died. At the inquest, Anthony could not remember giving a statement to the police in 1998. He identified his signature on the document but said he could not recall going to the Maraval Police Station and giving a statement in the presence of his mother and father.
Anthony said he looked over the statement after it was brought to him by the investigator. But he told the court that he saw Patrick Young give a pair of the red bathing trunk to Akiel on the day of the party, although that information is not in the statement he gave to the police two days after Akiel disappeared. Anthony said he attended the birthday party for Carrie James in Maraval on May 23, 1998. When he got there, there were children bathing in the pool. He said most of the children there were classmates of his brother Christopher. He could not recall the names of these children.
Anthony told the Coroner that there could have been 25 children in the pool at any one time. He came out of the pool around 5 pm when it was time to stick the cake. “I looked at the side and I saw Mr. Young hand Akiel a pair of red shorts. I knew he was Akiel because when he entered the premises, I heard other kids saying this is Akiel. After Akiel got the shorts, I did not see him again.”
After the sticking of the cake, Anthony said a woman arrived to pick up Akiel. “When the lady asked for Akiel, everybody was asking ‘where is Akiel, where is Akiel?’” Anthony said Akiel was not around. His father Trevor Craigwell was also looking for Akiel around the pool area. He described the pool as foggy as he was not able to see the bottom at the deep end.
Anthony was certain that Akiel was never in the pool that day. He denied telling the police that he saw Akiel in the pool in a pair of red trunks. During the stacking of the cake, Akiel was not around either. Although he saw Young hand Akiel the red trunks, he did not see Akiel put them on.
The Mystery parent
A parent who was present at the party when Akiel Chambers disappeared and later turned up dead, has come forward, saying she no longer sleeps properly and hopes that the boy’s killer will be found.
She never wanted to get involved, even though she saw some strange things on that fateful evening at Haleland Park, Maraval.
The woman wants to remain anonymous, but she wants to say something against the wishes of her husband.
The woman’s story goes like this:
“I attended that party at the James’ house because my son was a friend of Carrie James. I had originally planned on leaving my son there, but I have this weird thing about pool parties. I had to go to the mall for something, but as if God was telling me something, I stayed at the house for the entire evening.
“I mingled with the other parents and I assisted Mrs. James, the hostess. I did not know the boy who was called Akiel. It was after he died and his picture appeared in the newspapers, that I remembered him. How did I remember him?
“There was this boy, looking somewhat frustrated at not being able to bathe in the pool. I remember asking him why he was not bathing. He said he was given strict instructions from his aunt that he was not to bathe. You know how boys are? He was looking at the other children in the pool who were having a good time.
“I never knew his name, but he seemed shy and you had to literally beg him to eat and drink something near the pool. As I look back ten years, I remember this guest was showing particular interest in the boy. It was obvious to all that they were not related, but this man was behind this little boy. If the boy went inside to use the washroom, this man was following him. I thought nothing about it until everything started to unfold. If I had only known, I may have intervened, but there was nothing strange at the time.
“There was a time when the boy went inside and never came back out. I was there when his aunt returned to him and he was nowhere to be found. I was there when everyone was searching. I knew for a fact there was no one in the pool that night. How in heaven’s name the boy was found in the pool the next morning?
“Even the man who was following the boy was searching too. But you know something, no one searched the house, they searched around the house, next door, down the road, and even made calls to others who had left. Why didn’t anyone search upstairs the house, not even the police went upstairs when they came that night.”
Today, 18 years later, it remains a mystery. Who killed Akiel? Who is covering up his death?
THE POOL WHERE AKIEL’S BODY WAS FOUND
THE HOUSE AT HALELAND PARK, MARAVAL WHERE AKIEL DIED
THIS AREA WAS SEARCHED FOR AKIEL’S BODY