Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Caribbean Resort, the Investment Banker and the Dead Handyman

WEST END VILLAGE, Anguilla — Sunset is as much a part of the package at the Malliouhana resort hotel as the warm face towels at check-in and morning yoga on the beach. Guests gather at plush patio sofas, tented cabanas, poolside lounges, bar stools and day beds, signature Rum Punches in hand, to watch a daily natural occurrence as if it were a blockbuster show.

But a violent death at the resort has rattled its tranquil rhythms and brought unwanted scrutiny to the resort, specifically to the door marked 49 and the bathroom within.

What happened on April 13 has riled the small island’s population and has raised uncomfortable questions about class, privilege and the deference shown to tourists, who drive the local economy. At the same time, as the narrative of events unfolds, those very tourists are left reconsidering assumptions about personal safety once taken for granted in this idyllic setting.

On a Saturday afternoon in April, a maintenance worker arrived at Room 49. He had not been summoned by the guest within the suite, a trader with UBS Investment Bank from Connecticut, on vacation with his wife, Kallie, and their three young children. The worker, Kenny Mitchel, 27, said he had come to fix a sink, and the guest, Gavin Scott Hapgood, 44, let him in.

ImageCreditLeft: via Emily Garlick. Right: via the family of Gavin Scott Hapgood

The two men almost immediately engaged in a crashing, vicious brawl that left Mr. Mitchel dead. Mr. Hapgood told the police the hotel worker had tried to rob him at knife point.

Three days later, Mr. Hapgood was arrested and charged with manslaughter in the island’s tiny courthouse, then escorted next door to the squat bunker marked Her Majesty’s Prison. Anguillans, swept up by the rare drama of a homicide investigation, showed up to watch, filming with their phones.

ImageCreditDennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The New York Times

But within hours, Mr. Hapgood was flying home to Connecticut. A judge, citing among other factors the “inflamed passions of the general public” and the “almost imminent likelihood of public unrest,” released him on the equivalent of $74,000 bail and a promise to return for a court hearing on Aug. 22. He walked out of prison and onto a small airplane, trailed to the runway by more Anguillans and their cellphones.

Mr. Hapgood’s release triggered an uproar on social media and on the narrow, winding streets of the island’s weathered interior. At two crowded funerals for Mr. Mitchel, one in Anguilla and one in his nearby native island of Dominica, mourners wore commemorative T-shirts, the fronts bearing his grinning image, the backs the words “Justice for Kenny” below a raised black fist.

Officials in Anguilla, worried about the incident driving away visitors, have issued awkward public statements — one reminding that the United States’ State Department lists the island as among the world’s safest, and another asking that citizens refrain from statements that “negatively affect the amicable environment” of the place.

But at the same time, the police in Anguilla have warned Mr. Hapgood that they cannot guarantee his safety on the island, where everyone seems to know one another. (The judge who granted Mr. Hapgood’s bail noted that some guards at the prison where he was held were relatives of the dead man.)

There is much at stake for the small island that calls itself “tranquillity wrapped in blue,” a former member of Anguilla’s Parliament, Haydn Hughes, said in an interview.

“Tourism is not number one,” he said. “Tourism is the only one.”

ImageCreditDennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The New York Times‘He pulled a knife’

The fight began in the suite’s entryway, where the men crashed into a heavy table hard enough to dent a wall and spilled bright drops of blood on the tiled floor. It then moved to a large bathroom, where Mr. Hapgood, a former Dartmouth College football player, pinned the thinner Mr. Mitchel on the floor and planted a forearm to his neck.

Mr. Hapgood, who has retained a crisis-management firm to handle inquiries from reporters, declined to be interviewed, but offered his first account of the fight and its aftermath in emails to The New York Times.

Mr. Hapgood said he was relaxing in the suite, watching the Master’s golf tournament on television. His daughters, 13 and 11, returned from snorkeling in the ocean. His wife was returning the snorkeling equipment, and their son, 9, had gone to the lobby for a cookie. Mr. Mitchel knocked on the door, and Mr. Hapgood answered.

“I had not seen this man before,” Mr. Hapgood wrote. “He said he was there to fix a broken sink. I did not think a sink was broken and I had not called in any requests for maintenance. Nevertheless, as he was in uniform and being rational (after all this was an upscale hotel), I said he could come in and take a look and I let him in.”

Moments later, Mr. Hapgood wrote, Mr. Mitchel “pulled a knife on me, demanding my money and my wallet.” Though Mr. Hapgood declined to discuss the details of the fight, he said it was a “hard struggle” and he was stabbed and bitten several times.

“I feared for my life, as well as the lives of my daughters,” he wrote.

As the two men struggled, the girls ran to the front desk for help, and a bellman, Geshuane Clarke, 27, hurried to the room. He said in an interview that he saw drops of blood on the floor inside and, nearby, a partially opened Leatherman tool.

Then he heard loud thuds and found the two men on the floor in the bathroom. Mr. Mitchel, who was whippet-thin, was on his back, and the larger Mr. Hapgood was straddling his torso with his left arm leaning on Mr. Mitchel’s neck and face, Mr. Clarke said.

He said Mr. Mitchel appeared to be struggling for air. Mr. Clarke recalled Mr. Hapgood saying, “‘He came at me with a knife, threatening me, asking me for money and asking my daughters for money.’”

A “security guy” arrived and told Mr. Hapgood, “We’re here to help,” Mr. Clarke said.

ImageCreditDennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The New York Times

Then Mr. Clarke, who also has a job as a dental assistant and who has had medical training, told Mr. Hapgood that Mr. Mitchel was having trouble breathing, but the American replied, “He’s O.K. He’s breathing. I can feel him breathing.”

Mr. Hapgood was adamant that he would not let Mr. Mitchel up until the police arrived or the hotel security guards put him in handcuffs, Mr. Clarke said. About a half-hour passed this way. To try to appease him, Mr. Clarke said he looked around in vain for duct tape to bind his friend.

More employees arrived at the room, including a supervisor. Mr. Hapgood said they were wearing hotel uniforms and addressed Mr. Mitchel by name. “I was afraid they were part of the plan to continue to attack me and frankly I did not trust them,” he wrote.

Mr. Mitchel was fading, Mr. Clarke recalled. “From the way he was breathing, you could hear there was fluid in his throat,” he said. Then, he added, Mr. Mitchel managed to whisper, “Can I speak?”

“Hapgood said, ‘You don’t have a thing to say,’” adding an expletive, Mr. Clarke recalled.

Mr. Hapgood’s wife arrived, and Mr. Clarke said he saw her filming the scene with her phone. The Hapgoods, however, said she did not film the incident.

The police and paramedics arrived and took Mr. Mitchel away on a gurney. Mr. Clarke accompanied them.

“He had a very weak pulse,” Mr. Clarke said.

In the ambulance, Mr. Clarke placed an oxygen mask over Mr. Mitchel’s face. “You know how when you breathe out, it fogs up?” he said. “Nothing happened.”

He spoke to his unconscious friend. “I told Kenny, ‘I’m waiting to hear your story, because something happened,’” he said.

After the suite was empty of employees and the police, Mr. Hapgood said he discovered $200 was missing from his money clip on a bedside table.

His lawyers said the police found more than $600 in various currencies on Mr. Mitchel, and it was unclear where the money came from. Mr. Mitchel’s father, Neville, however, told the police he had given it to his son the night before.

Days later, Mr. Mitchel’s cause of death was listed as “positional asphyxia,” or suffocation in a prone restraint.

ImageCreditDennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The New York Times‘This was strange and unusual’

Since Mr. Mitchel’s death, his friends and family have said Mr. Hapgood’s account seems implausible. Mr. Mitchel was a good-natured joker, they said, and, in the words of one friend, an “ambassador for Anguilla.”

He doted on his 2-year-old daughter, they said, and enjoyed his work at Malliouhana. It was a good job on an island where the per capita income is about $29,000 a year. The idea that he would try to rob a guest — while in uniform, during his shift — did not make sense, they argued.

“Once you’ve got a job, you’re going to keep that job,” Mr. Clarke said.

But revelations suggest that perhaps Mr. Mitchel was anticipating losing his job after an incident that complicates the sunny portrait.

On March 25, less than three weeks before the fight with Mr. Hapgood, Mr. Mitchel was arrested and, the next day, charged with rape, according to police correspondence obtained by The Times. He spent a night in jail before being released on bail, and the case was pending when he died, with a court hearing scheduled for July.

A criminal conviction would have surely cost him his position at the resort and would have likely caused him, a nonnative, to lose his permit to work in Anguilla. Without the permit, he would have been forced to leave the island, and his father and daughter.

ImageCreditDennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The New York Times

The person who accused him of rape was his former live-in girlfriend, Emily Garlick, the mother of their daughter. They had separated and Ms. Garlick had moved out, but the two remained close, she said.

Ms. Garlick declined to discuss the rape allegation in recent interviews, writing it off as a nonevent.

“It wasn’t a rape,” Ms. Garlick said. “It was a misunderstanding. We had a spat. We had a disagreement. That was it.” She said Mr. Mitchel was not overly preoccupied by the arrest.

Mr. Clarke, the resort bellman, also said Mr. Mitchel did not seem anxious about his job. “He did not show any concern, any worry,” he said.

On a recent visit to Anguilla, an island of 15,000 people where a typical breaking news story might be about a farmer’s missing goats, the death of Mr. Mitchel was still front and center in conversations. His friends spoke of it in hushed tones within the halls of the Malliouhana and, miles away in The Valley, the island’s interior town where Mr. Mitchel lived.

“I’ve never seen Kenny angry,” said the owner of a nearby store, Neville Richardson, 63. “His friendliness is what attracts you to him.”

Mr. Hapgood, a coach for his daughter’s lacrosse team who last made news for winning a platform tennis tournament with his wife, has become a reviled household name in Anguilla, which is only 35 square miles.

What was supposed to be the Hapgood family’s first vacation abroad — “We just wanted to get some sun over Spring Break,” he wrote — has become a fight to stay out of prison on foreign soil. He was placed on leave from UBS pending the outcome of the case.

ImageCreditDennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The New York Times

Many residents assume he will not return for this month’s court date — he has said he will — and deeply resent that he was allowed to leave in the first place.

“Anguillans caught with weed have much stiffer penalties,” Mr. Hughes, the former government official, said. “This was strange and unusual.”

In recent weeks, the police have issued an Osman warning to Mr. Hapgood, a formal notice that officers cannot guarantee his safety, said one of his lawyers, Tim Prudhoe. Mr. Hapgood’s lawyers are trying to allow him to attend the hearing remotely without returning to the island, Mr. Prudhoe said.

Some wonder whether the case will deter tourists from visiting — and whether, at least in the short term, that is an altogether bad thing.

“The tourists who querulously inquire about the ‘atmosphere on the island’ give me cause to shake my head,” Vanessa Croft Thompson, a 34-year-old teacher on the island, posted on her Facebook page. “We are suddenly scared, like a dog who was never hit before.”


Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.