IMPERIO email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-01-24 published
Truth is emerging in Trinidad deaths
By Colin FREEZE Crime Reporter; With a report from Ken THOMAS in Port of Spain. Friday, January 24, 2003, Page A5
The bruised and bloated bodies of the young newlyweds washed ashore on a remote beach in Trinidad.
Even in death, they lay close together. Inside the woman's belly was their unborn baby. A suspicious double drowning cruelly ended the promise of a new family.
Today, one veteran homicide investigator says that the 1994 honeymoon deaths of Geoff BARNES, 23, and Sherelle Ann IMPERIO- BARNES, 22, are the result of one of the most elaborate conspiracies he has witnessed. Yet another theory calls the tragedy an accident. Only now is the truth beginning to surface in court.
For years, criminal investigators have believed that the vacationing Toronto couple was drugged and drowned in a scheme hatched by conspirators intent on collecting life-insurance money.
Yet only one man has ever been formally accused of murder: Roland (Bobby) DOORGADEEN, whose trial has begun in the capital of the Caribbean island nation of 1.5 million people.
After a lengthy investigation by Trinidadian authorities, Mr. DOORGADEEN was charged with the murders in 1998. The former Trinidadian police officer and convicted car thief has pleaded not guilty. But he will be hanged if a jury finds him guilty.
On the witness stand yesterday was the prosecution's star witness his estranged wife.
Nicole DOORGADEEN testified that in May, 1994, two men in a rental car came to pick up her husband. She said he returned much later in the evening, bellowing from the car: "Don't come outside. Send a scrubbing brush for me."
After the two men drove away, Mr. DOORGADEEN came into the house in his underwear, Mrs. DOORGADEEN testified. He held a bottle of chloroform, she said, adding that she later found his clothes covered with sand.
She also testified that her husband later said he was expecting a "large sum" of about $50,000. And that "one day, while looking at television, he told me that he killed the Canadians and explained how he did it," she told the court.
Her husband said he and two other men drugged the couple and dragged them into the sea, she said. A previous witness has testified he saw Mr. DOORGADEEN with the Canadian couple at a beach house.
Next week, the jury is expected to hear from former Toronto homicide detective Tom KLATT. "I had given my word to the family that I would follow this through to the end," Mr. KLATT said a few hours before boarding his flight to Trinidad yesterday.
Working with insurance adjusters and Trinidad police, Mr. KLATT said he discovered that a former boyfriend of Sherelle-Ann IMPERIO- BARNES had taken out a $100,000 life-insurance policy on her. The insurance, which would have paid double if her death was ruled accidental, survived the relationship.
Despite the breakup and Ms. IMPERIO's marriage, the ex-boyfriend didn't sever his ties. In fact, Mr. KLATT said, he bought the newlyweds tickets to his home country -- Trinidad.
The ex-boyfriend still lives in Canada and has not been charged in connection with the deaths.
"There's a simple explanation," he told a Toronto Star reporter a year after the killings. He then referred questions to his lawyer, who refused to say anything more.
With matters still before the courts, Mr. KLATT did not want to discuss the investigation further, except to say the insurance was never collected. But the veteran of 70 homicide investigations called the Barnes' case "one of the most complete conspiracies that I've ever been involved in."
The nine-year wait for justice has been excruciating for the victims' families.
"From the day it happened we said it would take a long time," Tom BARNES, Geoff's 60-year-old father, said in an interview from his home in Georgetown, Ontario
The court has already heard that autopsies uncovered traces of cocaine in the dead couple's systems. The judge has asked the jury to consider whether the couple might have accidentally drowned.
But Mr. KLATT, who once investigated international drug networks, said this theory is inconsistent with his investigation.
"There was zero information, evidence, hearsay, assumption or guesses that would suggest that either one of these two had ever been involved with drugs, or alcohol for that matter," he said.
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