Revisiting “La Maison” – home of the dead?

Death undoubtedly leaves its mark on everything it touches including the human heart and the natural landscape. A visit to La Maison Bridge in Babonneau will prove just that. No matter how hard we try, we will never wash away the colour of violent death, its sting or its stench. It is forever etched in the memory of those who were there for the aftermath of death. A recent Facebook post which spoke of the unbelievable horror which occurred more than a decade ago in Babonneau sparked my interest and hence I write about life, violence, death and our tendency to forget.

During the holiest of weeks in 1979 and on the day held in remembrance of The Last Supper, an unimaginable crime would be revealed. A young pregnant woman (described as beautiful by all who knew her) who had been missing would be discovered stuffed under La Maison Bridge with two newborns. The crime was brutal, the grief unbearable and the identity of the perpetrators inconceivable. At nine months pregnant, she had been violently raped (in an area not very far from the bridge) by two men – one of whom was closely tied to the family (the stepfather). In the midst of her violation, labour would be triggered and she would birth twins. Did she hear them cry before her death? We will never know.

La Maison Bridge connects Des Barras to Garrand and environs in Babonneau. It was the scene of a most heinous crime in 1979.

La Maison Bridge connects Des Barras to Garrand and environs in Babonneau. It was the scene of a most heinous crime in 1979.

Witnesses at the recovery effort recall the mother and her children on the river sand appearing like angels who were asleep. Their faces were so serene that the violence they suffered did not appear apparent. But the horror was real.

In the time which followed, people would mourn, praying would be intensified and a family would struggle with grief. A funeral would eventually be held and the three precious ones would be housed together in one coffin as they were bound together by the violence which severed their connection with life. The perpetrators including Joseph Solomon Vitalis were eventually caught and sentenced. Vitalis was sentenced to death.

The famed Joseph Solomon Vitalis would later be pardoned and freed. But he would strike again – committing another brutal murder. This time, he would not escape the death that he had sent others to. He would be executed – hanged by a fellow prisoner on October 17th, 1995.

The man who had been loved by a family had betrayed their trust when he participated in the untimely death of their loved ones. He would become renowned in his mischief.

Since his death, no prisoner has been executed in Saint Lucia.

But many have died brutally after 1979 and many more have been raped.

In memory of those such as Valerie Lords, Giselle Georges, Tricia Dennis, Verlinda Joseph, and the silent rape victims, we must unite in keeping their memories alive. We forget and bury brutality too quickly. We attempt too often to stitch wounds which cannot be healed with surgical thread or tape. We have seen much violence and suffered much lost but we are yet to understand that silence does not erase history. We should now seek to build homes of joy and bridges leading to prosperity and not to death and doom!

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One Response to Revisiting “La Maison” – home of the dead?

  1. DG says:

    You mentioned JS. He was charged in 1979 for a murder ( occurred in Bouton, Soufriere ). He was subsequently tried and sentenced to death as per the Criminal Code as it then existed -mandatory sentence of death upon conviction for murder-the judge had no discretion. On appeal, his conviction was overturned and sentence quashed. He was retried ( October 1979 Assizes ) and he was once again convicted and sentenced . His appeal was dismissed in 1981 and a death warrant issued ( as required ). At that time, the Government (of the SLP) was in chaos so nothing was done.

    The young lady’s demise (so sad) occurred at Garrand . Two individuals were convicted in 1981 and sentenced accordingly. There were very angry scenes outside the courthouse during their trial-they were verbally abused and objects were thrown at them. They lost their appeals and death warrants were issued ( as is customary when final appeals are exhausted ). At that time, the Government (of the SLP) was in chaos so nothing was done. There were now three individuals on death row. The government collapsed in early 1982, a new government was installed and one of its first acts was to let the law take its course-3 death warrants were sent to the Governor for his signature however as per the Constitution, before sentence was carried out, The Committee for the Prerogative of Mercy had to consider the question of clemency and to make recommendations to the Governor General. That body met and recommended clemency for the first Prisoner (JS). By then he had been on death row for quite some time. Up to that time, no one had ever been held on death row for such a long time-that may have played a big part in the committee’s decision to recommend a pardon. The committee declined clemency for the other two individuals and sentence was thus carried out . The Princess or Independence had nothing to do the pardon granted to JS


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