The Other Side of Paradise

The Bahamas. Sun, fun, and upscale resorts, right? Add murder to the mix, and throw in a Third World-style underclass.

Anton McIntosh slept curled beneath a palm tree as policemen tromped from the overgrown foliage at the edge of the beach, their white uniforms glowing against the dark night of their skin. It was a Saturday afternoon in August, and the beach was overrun with young families nibbling from picnic baskets and sprinting toward the crisp blue of the ocean. The drone from miniature propeller planes bringing pasty-faced tourists to the airport behind the golf course disturbed the whoosh of the surf and the rustling of palm fronds but had little effect on Anton's slumber.

He had come to Cabbage Beach, the last placid, undeveloped strip on Paradise Island, not to toss a Frisbee or don a snorkel. He hadn't come to frolic among the mostly white crowd of Bahamians that on weekends gathers on the pleasant arc of sea and sand that stretches along the far eastern end of the island, away from the tourist congestion at the big hotels. Anton had come to the beach on August 22 to collect money from his half-brother Patrick. Until last year Patrick had been in prison, serving seven years for raping a girlfriend's 15-year-old daughter, but now he spent his days on the beach outside the big hotels -- Atlantis, the Sheraton -- renting Jet Skis to tourists.

Anton didn't see Patrick that afternoon, so he lay down beneath the long shadow of a bent palm and fell asleep. A policeman woke him up and corralled him, along with more than a dozen other young black men picked up in the area, into a long bus inscribed with the words Royal Bahamas Police Force. Anton thought he knew the drill; he had been arrested for vagrancy on Paradise Island the year before. But things were different this time. This time everything was different.

That afternoon at the headquarters of the Criminal Investigative Department, the Bahamian equivalent of the FBI, detectives drew blood and asked Anton all sorts of strange questions. What did he know about the corpses found earlier that day in the overgrown bramble stretching along the edge of the golf course to the beach? Had he been on the beach the day before, when a 24-year-old British tourist named Joanne Clarke went missing? Had he been there a month earlier, when a 32-year-old American schoolteacher named Lori Fogleman vanished? What was he doing there at all when he knew he didn't belong?

Anton lived across the bridge from Paradise Island in Nassau Village, one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the low-income "Over the Hill" section of Nassau, a sprawling slum behind the city's business and tourist districts that is home to the majority of Nassau's 170,000 residents, most of whom are poor and black. Four generations of McIntoshes lived on the property. Anton, his maternal grandparents, an aunt, an uncle, six cousins, and a niece shared a little yellow house while Anton's mother and 13 other family members were crammed into a wooden shack in the back yard. As depressed as it is, Nassau Village, a place where young men sit idle in the daytime, sipping from beer bottles in brown bags, and where it is not unusual to spot a stolen car stripped of its tires, is not the most squalid of Nassau's slums. There are neighborhoods without running water, where unpaved roads are lined with wooden shacks doused in Caribbean shades of red and green and machine-gunned with graffiti.

Such living conditions hardly call to mind the glossy ad campaigns that last year lured 2.5 million Americans, including 400,000 South Floridians, to the Bahamas. Nor do they jibe with the image of a paradise on Earth being hyped in the colorful ads and overblown TV commercials promoting the $450 million expansion of the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island, scheduled to open December 12. Sol Kerzner, the developer behind Atlantis, cut a sweet deal with the government of Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, acquiring millions of dollars in tax breaks by promising to employ thousands of Bahamians and to reinvigorate the tourist economy upon which the Bahamas has long depended. But what would be the real impact of so much development on poor families like the McIntoshes? And how would the murders of two tourists this summer feed into isolationist fears of the rampant crime across the bridge in Nassau, fears that were already turning Paradise Island into the world's largest gated community?

After being picked up on the beach on Paradise Island on August 22, Anton was again charged with vagrancy and held for three days in the central police station in Nassau. His mother, Carolyn, went to see him at the station and saw the word "murder" scribbled in the logbook beside his name. Why would they be questioning my boy for murder? she wondered. She had heard about the dead tourists on the radio but hadn't made the connection. "He's not like other boys," she says. "He is slow. He is not the kind of boy who does violence." When Anton was a baby, he had seen a government doctor, but the McIntoshes never understood the diagnosis; all they knew was that he was "slow," a "little funny in the head." Doctors blamed Carolyn's syphilis for Anton's affliction and for the blindness in his right eye.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jay Cheshes