It was three days later that some facts of the case began to emerge. A man named Ramiro Inestiosa had been living on the island for about a year and a half. He came from a well-known criminal family from Olancho on the mainland. He'd had some trouble with the law, but maintained to his acquaintances that he wanted to go straight and a life on the island was his best bet to stay beyond the reach of bad influences. He never found steady work on the island, but made friends with Mr. Clifford and often played a game of dominos with him in the afternoons at the Bucket of Blood. I'd seen him in the bar several times. He was a thin, hard man with a large moustache and a habit of looking at the floor anytime someone looked in his direction. He usually sat by himself in the bar and didn't appear to mix with any of the habitues such as the Pirate Crew. In short, he kept to himself and cultivated no other friends than Mr. Clifford.For a week before Mr. Clifford's murder, he'd been asking the old man for some money to get back to the mainland. He was suspected of some petty thefts around the island and couldn't get work. Mr. Clifford, of course, flatly refused. I could imagine the contempt in Mr. Clifford's refusal. "Silencio, Ramiro! Vamos! Necessito los empties!" The morning of the murder Ramiro had walked with Mr. Clifford to the vegetable patch in the bush where he went every morning before the bar opened. Everyone knew Mr. Clifford always carried the bar's receipts in a plastic bag inside his pants next to his gun. There were no signs of a protracted struggle, so Ramiro had probably already made up his mind about how he was going to get the money when they went to the bush. Ramiro had stabbed Mr. Clifford several times in the side and legs before the old man dropped. He then stripped him to get at the money bag. Before leaving he slit the old man's throat and then picked up the small body and tossed it into the dense underbrush. Splattered with blood he ran into town and bought the last seat on the afternoon plane to La Cieba. He'd used every cent he'd stolen to buy the ticket. $24.
"My father was a friend to that man Ramiro, probably one of the few people on the island friendly to him…and this was how he repaid that friendship," Morris told me later. "I know now that it's a good thing my brothers and I did not find Ramiro on the island when we got there. We were raised to be good Christians and that means killing a man is the worst sin of all in the sight of God. But if we'd found Ramiro, he would've never left Utila."
A couple months later I called Brooks in New York where he'd just gotten off a night shift. "Yeah, I heard they had the guy's name, a picture from his girlfriend, all kinds of leads, but nothing happened. My uncle Morris heard they'd arrested a guy, but then let him go. He says the Hondurans are going to let the whole thing just go away."
"So, is the Bucket of Blood still closed?"
"No, Uncle Morris leased it out. A couple of nerdy English guys I heard."
There were other changes as well. The island had received a $5 million grant to create a garbage collection and disposal system, a desalinization plant and wind machines for generating additional power. Still, few islanders believe their island will ever be over run with developers. "The first day your man is here when the wind dies and the mosquitos and sand flies start biting," Mr. Clifford had told me, "he is down at Morgan's store getting his plane ticket back to Miami."
A year later, Ramiro Inestiosa had still not been picked up. Morris Woods felt the Honduran police on the mainland were not willing to risk the wrath of Ramiro's criminal family by picking him up. Instead, they hinted that if Morris and his brothers were willing to pay, then the case might be solved to everyone's satisfaction. "It's a common trick down here," Morris said from his home in Coxen's Hole on Rhoatan. "They don't want to take any risks arresting a murderer, so they find someone else, make him sign a confession, then shoot him trying to escape. This way they get paid but don't have to worry about a relative coming to their house at night looking for revenge."
All too used to the vagaries of Honduran justice, Morris began his own investigation. "My brothers and I have his picture and we've been quietly asking questions. It turns out that at this minute he's rumored to be hiding on Rhoatan, on my island. If I find him, I honestly don't know what I'll do. I want to do the right thing, to turn him in to the authorities. But he murdered a man who did him no harm. He murdered my father. If I killed him, I'd be looking over my shoulder the rest of my life. Eventually, someone from his family would come looking for me. That's their way. But we Utilans have our way as well."
It was Friday night when I decided to leave, only ten days since the last rave at the Bucket of Blood. It'd been time enough for one mass of backpackers and economy divers to exit and another to come and take their place. I met a couple Dutch girls out at the Blue Bayou, one of the only decent beaches on the island, and was vainly hoping their light hearts would rub off. As we walked along Main towards Sea Breakers they talked excitedly of their diving class the next day. "Who will you take your class with?" asked Woulke.
Class? Oh, right, a PADI course. When I'd come to the island almost two weeks before, I had toyed with the idea of getting certified. I'd forgotten about it; it was out of the question now. I needed to get to the Pacific where the water gets rough. I wanted to buy a cheap, used board and sit out beyond the break for a week.
It was sunset, the sky just beginning its nightly show. I told the Dutch women I'd meet them at Sea Breakers later on. I went back to my room at the Seaview, poured a stiff rum and sat out on the jetty. I watched the colors and thought of Mr. Clifford. I thought about the stories he'd shared: of Jimmy Jackson's final swim and Bob McField's fancy accordian playing and Elsa Thompson's desperate run through the alligator swamp; of Henry Morgan's lost treasure and haunted Water Cay where the ghosts of Indians annihilated by progress are trapped in limbo. I thought about how it was not only places, but people, who are crushed by change. By my third rum all I could think about was the waste; the stupid fucking waste.
Down at Sea Breakers, the deck would be packed, everyone oohing and ahhing the colors of sunset, drinking cuba libres. They'd remark in a half dozen languages that if it weren't for the sandflies, Utila would be paradise.
Written by Kent Black
Photography by Mark Smith of AboutUtila.com
This story is over eight years old and was originally sold to a national magazine. Its delayed publication is due to a runaway photographer and forces beyond logic. Although Utila has changed since this stories first telling, it remains a wonderful tale. Enjoy the story. – the Editor –