The idyllic island reeling from a mysterious hotel room death
A horror death has changed this tiny island forever. This is the story of a luxurious resort, an investment banker and a dead handyman. WARNING: Graphic
A wealthy American and a hotel handyman.
A struggle in room 49 that ended with a violent death.
And two very different explanations for what went wrong.
What happened in the guest room of an upscale resort hotel has sent shockwaves of outrage through the otherwise quiet holiday island of Anguilla.
The small Caribbean island, a self-governing British territory with 20,000 residents, is reeling from the death of hotel worker Kenny Mitchel, 27, in the guest room of an American family at the Malliouhana Resort hotel in April.
But with a knock on the door of room 49, the idyllic holiday turned to a nightmare. Mr Hapgood has been charged with the manslaughter of Mr Mitchel but says he is innocent.
Currently back home in the United States, Mr Hapgood is soon to face court in Anguilla, where local authorities cannot guarantee his safety from outraged locals.
Such is how the events in room 49 have enraged locals on this idyllic holiday island.
WHAT HAPPENED IN ROOM 49
Kenny Mitchel, a maintenance worker and single father of a young daughter, arrived at Hapgoods’ suite to fix a broken sink on the afternoon of April 13.
The Hapgoods had not requested maintenance, and were not expecting him. Mr Mitchel was wearing his uniform, and Gavin Hapgood — who was minding the children while his wife, Kellie, returned snorkelling equipment — let him in.
There was a violent, bloody struggle that started in the entrance of the room and spilt into the bathroom. Mr Hapgood’s two daughters ran to get help.
Mr Clarke said he saw drops of blood on the floor and a partially opened Leatherman tool — a multi-tool, similar to a Swiss Army knife, that includes a blade.
More hotel staff arrived, along with Mrs Hapgood. Then came police and paramedics, who took Mr Mitchel away on a stretcher.
Mr Mitchel never regained consciousness. His cause of death was recorded as “prone restraint, positional asphyxia and blunt-force trauma to the head, neck and torso.”
So what happened between these two men?
THE AMERICAN’S STORY
According to Mr Hapgood’s version of events, which he provided to the New York Times, he was acting in self-defence.
He claimed after he let Mr Mitchel into room 49, the maintenance worker “pulled a knife on me, demanding my money and my wallet.”
“I feared for my life, as well as the lives of my daughters,” he said.
Mr Clarke, the bellman, said when he ran into the room after the struggle, Mr Hapgood was saying, “‘He came at me with a knife, threatening me, asking me for money and asking my daughters for money’.”
Mr Hapgood was arrested and charged with manslaughter and is currently home in the United States awaiting trial.
His lawyers on the Caribbean island said their client was innocent, and had to seek treatment for cuts from Mr Mitchel’s knife.
“Attacked without warning in his family’s hotel room by a maintenance worker who was armed and demanding money, Scott Hapgood acted in self-defence to protect the lives of his young daughters and himself,” a spokeswoman for Mr Hapgood said in a statement in April.
“Despite false reports to the contrary, the Hapgoods never called maintenance. Neither invited nor expected, the worker showed up unannounced in uniform at the hotel room.”
‘IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE’
But those close to Mr Mitchel said that version of events didn’t add up. His brother, Kimon Mitchel, 26, said he would never have risked his job at the hotel — much less attempt to rob a guest wearing his employee uniform and name badge.
“He would never try something that dumb. Even if it was possible, he would not,” Kimon said, according to NBC News.
“Why would someone try to do something like that? It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make sense.”
Mr Hapgood said he discovered $US200 missing from his bedside table after the hotel workers and police left. His lawyers said more than $US600 in multiple currencies was found on Mr Mitchel, but Mr Mitchel’s father told police he’d given that money to his son the previous night.
Friends said Mr Mitchel was well-liked and devoted to his two-year-old daughter.
“Everyone on the island can vouch for him,” former member of parliament Haydn Hughes told The Root.
“He is a hard worker; he did a lot of jobs at the hotel, he comes from a very good family, his father has a stellar record, brother has an unblemished record.
“So nobody can say that he was the type of person who would try to rip off someone or try to steal.”
Mr Mitchel appeared to have enjoyed his job, which was a particularly important source of income for the young single father on an island where the average annual income is about $43,000.
According to a New York Times report, less than month before his death, Mr Mitchel had been arrested and charged with the rape of his ex-partner, Emily Garlick. Ms Garlick told the newspaper the incident was a “misunderstanding”.
“It wasn’t a rape,” Ms Garlick said. “It was a misunderstanding. We had a spat. We had a disagreement. That was it.” Mr Mitchel was “not overly preoccupied by the arrest”, the paper reported. The case was pending when he died.
Mr Hapgood said he would return to Anguilla for pre-trial hearing this month. But police have warned him they could not guarantee his safety should he return.
Mr Mitchel’s death has sparked outrage among Anguillans and raised uncomfortable issues of class and the special privileges of tourists in a destination reliant on their holiday spending.
Mr Hapgood was initially denied bail after being charged with manslaughter — three days after the death — but the next day he was allowed to fly home to Connecticut on a $110,000 bond, with the judge citing the “inflamed passions of the general public” and the “almost imminent likelihood of public unrest” in making his decision.
Locals, already stirred by the major news of a murder on their idyllic island, were outraged. Many of them followed Mr Hapgood to the airport to watch him being flown away by private jet.
“Anguillans caught with weed have much stiffer penalties,” the former MP, Haydn Hughes, told The Times. “This was strange and unusual.”
Meanwhile, the death of Mr Mitchel and the involvement of a wealthy American tourist has created doubt about the future of tourism in Anguilla, which relies heavily on it.
The island draws luxury tourists with its immaculate beaches — many of them named among the world’s best — and relative safety.
“It is a place that is known and loved for its quiet seclusion and safety,” former Anguilla brand strategist Marvet Britto told The Root. “It is not a party island, there are no nightclubs.
“It’s a place where people don’t lock their doors, everyone knows each other, and it has very low crime.”
Authorities have expressed concern it could drive tourists away.
“With things that happen in the Caribbean islands, there’s always a desire to bury stories, because of the notion that it could be bad for tourism,” Mr Britto said.
“And I would agree that happens when you have locals that kill a tourist. But I can tell you that that rarely happens. And that has never happened in Anguilla.”