Who killed John Edward Garner, found floating in the Caribbean?

Mar 28, 2014
Jack Bremer

Norwegian Heidi Hukkelaas is 'person of interest' as St Vincent police investigate Briton's death

IT WAS a scene straight out of a Hollywood thriller: the body of an Englishman is found floating in the Caribbean Sea, 15 miles off the island of St Vincent, close by his burning yacht. He has severe lacerations to the face and legs. There is no other sign of human life. 

The woman who found him on Wednesday this week, Kay Wilson, owner of a watersports company on the island, went to the scene after seeing smoke on the horizon and deciding to investigate. 

"There was a lot of debris in the water," she said, which she felt pointed to there having been an explosion. He was "free-floating" in the water, close by a still burning life raft.

By the time the police arrived, the 49ft ocean-going Asante, registered in Gibraltar, had sunk beneath the waves. But officers were able to recover a waterproof grab-bag containing the man's passport and personal documents identifying him as John Edward Garner, 53.

At which point the mystery deepened – because Garner was holidaying with his Norwegian wife/partner (the exact nature of their relationship is not yet clear) called Heidi Hukkelaas. According to the Jamaica Observer, they had arrived from Norway by air on 19 January and had papers allowing them to stay until 19 April.

Where is Miss Hukkelaas? It's a mystery. Friends of the couple have told police that she left St Vincent on Monday to return home to look after her children. Apparently, she normally left first at the end of the couple's Caribbean holidays.

But there is no record of her leaving the island by air or sea.

So the question is – picking up the Hollywood movie theme – was this a crime? Is it perhaps a version of Dead Calm, in which the young Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill are attacked by a spooky Billy Zane, who creeps aboard their yacht, intent on slaughter? 

Or was it an accident? Like Open Water, the one where Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan play the couple accidentally left behind by a diving party, forced to fight for their lives in shark-infested waters? After watching her husband die, she chooses to drown herself rather than go the same way.

St Vincent's police chief, Michael Charles, is clear – he suspects foul play. And until he can establish the whereabouts of Garner's partner, she is a suspect.

"Miss Hukkelaas is a person of interest and as with every murder investigation we have to look at everyone and everything and will leave no stones unturned," the Daily Mail quotes him as saying.

If Garner is the victim of theft and/or murder by a stranger, then there is a recent precedent. 

It is just two months since another Englishman, 62-year-old retired management consultant Roger Pratt, was murdered when thieves attacked his yacht, moored off the island of St Lucia, 50 miles north of St Vincent. Four men are charged with killing Pratt and injuring his wife Margaret and await trial.

But friends of Garner have told the press that he was a former physical trainer of British special forces – a man who could look after himself.

Garner's daughter, Elisabeth Wilson,approached by the Mail, believes there may be an innocent explanation. "It was lunchtime," she said. "I think he may have gone to the galley to make himself something to eat and the lacerations on his face and legs lead me to believe he was bending over a gas canister.

"If someone had killed him on board, he wouldn't have been able to try and deploy his life raft."

Until Ms Hukkelaas is found, the speculation will continue.

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