The killer lurking in Paradise

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The Independent Online
PARADISE ISLAND in the Bahamas merits the marketing hyperbole. It has white sand beaches as soft as icing sugar, fringed with gently swaying palm trees. Its warm seas are a dazzling azure. The seafood is fresh and plentiful, and the rum is cheap.

The island is linked by a bridge to the capital, Nassau, and its luxury resorts are popular with overseas tourists. But the brutal murders of two female holidaymakers have shattered its tranquil image. A serial killer is feared to be on the loose in paradise.

The grim discoveries were made yards apart in bushes behind Cabbage Beach, a secluded spot on the 800-acre island, last Saturday.

First, police found the body of Joanne Clarke, a missing 24-year-old primary school special needs teacher from Oxfordshire. An hour later, they came upon the decomposed remains of Lori Fogleman, 32, an American and also a teacher, who disappeared a month ago. Both had apparently been strangled; neither are believed to have been sexually assaulted.

The Bahamian authorities, mindful of the economy's dependence on foreign visitors, sought to play down safety fears yesterday while at the same time stepping up security around tourist areas with more police on patrol.

Cornelius Smith, the Minister for Tourism, said the country was still peaceful. "There is no need to be alarmed," he said.

But hotels and businesses on Paradise Island, five miles long by half a mile wide, are jittery. Until now, the place has been virtually crime- free. Tourists had no qualms about leaving valuables on the beach while taking a swim. The Bahamas has a low murder rate: fewer than 20 a year, for a population of 270,000. Most incidents are related to domestic disputes or robberies. Attacks on foreigners are relatively rare.

"This is not something that happens here," said Jessica Roberts, of the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas. "We don't have serial killers in the Bahamas. Locals are in a state of disbelief."

Unfortunately for the country's reputation, the two bodies were found on the anniversary of the murder of another British woman, Carole Leach, a teacher who had been living on the neighbouring island of Eleuthera.

That crime remains unsolved. Yesterday, the British High Commission in Nassau was urgently reviewing its advice to tourists. Phil Culligan, the Deputy High Commissioner, said more stringent precautions might be necessary. Police said it was not yet certain whether the two murders were connected.

Ms Clarke, from Banbury, was in the middle of a three-week holiday in Nassau, staying with a friend who is a nanny for a British family on the island. On Friday, Ms Clarke, her friend and the family's ten year- old-son went to Cabbage Beach. She was left alone when the other two went back to the house; when the nanny returned later, Ms Clarke was missing. Her body was found the next morning after a search.

The murders come as the Bahamas is trying to revive its flagging tourism industry in the face of competition from cheaper Caribbean destinations such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

Paradise Island and Cable Beach on Nassau are the two main destinations.It is regarded as a playground for the rich, and former residents include Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate.

With its proximity to Nassau, it also attracts locals who escape the bustle of the city for an evening walk on the sands. But that is not a popular pursuit at the moment.

"It's not somewhere that we want to walk around by ourselves right now," said Jessica Roberts, one of the locals.