Teen's body found buried at Valsayn House of Horrors

The area where the skeletal remains of Hannah Mathura were found by police on March 12 at her Butu Road, Valsayn home.  - Photo by Angelo Marcelle
The area where the skeletal remains of Hannah Mathura were found by police on March 12 at her Butu Road, Valsayn home. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

The police are trying to ascertain the identity of the remains found buried in the backyard of a house in Valsayn on Tuesday.

But it is believed the bones were that of 18-year-old Hannah Mathura, who was never reported missing. The remains were said to have been buried near a tree in a shallow grave behind the family home in Butu Road, South Valsayn, in 2017.

The police were tipped off by a male relative, who showed them the location of the grave. An excavator was used to dig up the body.

Eight other children were found locked in the house at the time. A male relative who police believe was responsible for burying the teen's body was on the run up until press time.

One neighbour told Newsday she was shocked by the find.

“I feel as if I’m living next to a serial killer.”

She said she would often hear fighting, screaming, cursing and even blows and would sometimes see the abuse through a window of the house. She said before the pandemic, she called the police and the Children’s Authority several times to report the abuse, but nothing came of it.

She said the children appeared to be afraid and were often heard crying. She did not know exactly how many children lived in the house. She said some had received scholarships and went to university.

She said the children were not allowed to be outside or in the road. The older children were allowed to go to work to bring money into the home but she was told they were closely monitored.

She could not say if the suspect also worked.

She said the compound was divided into three sections and the one where the family lived had not had electricity for about five years.

She told Newsday Mathura was pretty, had long hair and had a disability. She had seen Mathura being beaten by a relative with a piece of wood on several occasions.

At one point a few years ago, she said she asked a relative about the whereabouts of the girl but he claimed not to know.

A worker at the home of a neighbour said the excavators came to the house around 2 pm but it was not until hours later, when she saw a news report, that she realised police were looking for a body.

Supt Claire Guy-Alleyne, head of the TTPS Gender Based Violence Unit, said, “In my career, I have never seen anything like this before.”

That was not the first time there has been an incident at the house. In 2015 an alleged bandit was killed there during an attempted robbery.

According to reports, on November 25, 2015, a bandit armed with a piece of iron broke into the home and approached a husband and wife. The man fought the bandit, who was pushed against a window. The window shattered and killed the intruder.

The investigation into the remains is being led by Snr Supt Smith and ASP Ramharack.

Benjamin: Victims need psychological intervention

People who are locked away from society for long periods could be victims of significant trauma and possibly Stockholm syndrome.

So said president and CEO of the Centre for Human Development Ltd Hanif Benjamin.

He spoke to Newsday in the wake of the discovery of skeletal remains at a house in Valsayn on Tuesday. Police said eight children were also found locked in the house.

Benjamin, a clinical therapist, clinical traumatologist and forensic traumatologist, said if the people found in the house were held against their will, they would be suffering from significant mental issues.

He said early psychological intervention would be critical to their treatment.

“There would be a state of confusion and trauma that these people would have been living in for a number of years. We still do not know the details, but what we do know is that we have eight people locked in a house away from socialisation...the first thing that comes to mind is whether or not these people as children were conditioned into believing that this is what is supposed to happen.”

He brought up the Bandura theory, which suggests that observation and modelling play a primary role in how and why people learn. He said isolation could teach victims that what they were experiencing was normal. If victims face abuse – physically, sexually or emotionally – this may have also been viewed as normal and they would not break ranks to speak out against the abuse.

He said if victims are locked away, they may miss certain developmental milestones learned through interactions in normal social settings.

On reports that some of the children were students, he said that based on the history of trauma, in many cases, children experiencing trauma and abuse will speak about it in the school system.

Benjamin said the body found buried in the yard could also cause trauma and fear in the victims.

“You also have to pay attention to Stockholm syndrome, where they are tied to the abuser and feel the need to protect that person. You don’t know the level of threat in the environment that would have kept them together for this long.”

While he had never seen a situation such as this one locally, when he worked in the US, he had experiences with children being held at home against their will for long periods.

“What you saw was a lot of serious mental conditioning,” he said.

“Even when we rescued some of those children, they were still of the view that we were the bad people. They were conditioned in such a way to believe that what was going on in the home was, in fact, correct. A lot of trauma work had to go into getting these children’s minds right again and to help them understand the difference between right and wrong.”

Valsayn Residents' Assoc: 'Someone must do something'

Valsayn Residents' Association president Bijili Lalla said Valsayn residents, as well as people all over the country, are still trying to wrap their minds around the details of Tuesday’s grisly discovery.

Despite only receiving fragments of information from WhatsApp and social media posts, Lalla said it was worrying that situations such as these things keep happening. She called on the authorities to do something to protect children.

“We need to say how hurt, upset and angry we are as citizens that this is continuing to happen. It is happening to so many communities and it shouldn’t be that only when a tragedy like this happens, that is when we say something.

“I am very disheartened that this keeps going on.”

She said citizens need to stand up and do something different.

“I don’t know who we could turn to, I don’t know who is responsible.

"I am not blaming anyone, government or individual, but it is not just one child, it is happening everywhere. The question is what are we going to do about it?”

MP questions police capacity

St Augustine MP Khadijah Ameen said the situation brings to the fore questions on whether law enforcement is truly up to the task of identifying situations where people are being held against their will.

“We don’t know exactly what the situation is until we get further details, but the question is, are police officers suitably equipped to detect when these situations are happening?”

Based on information that one of the people kept at the home was the one who signalled to the police what was going on, Ameen said had that not happened, there might have been no way the police could have detected any suspicious activity. She also questioned the units in the police service that would deal with people who have experienced extreme trauma.

“I don’t know how well established or well resourced the unit that takes care of counselling victims of crime is, but I trust that their intervention would be sufficient to help them lead somewhat of a normal life.”

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