Saturday 15th December, 2007


A year after kidnapping, Vindra Naipaul-Coolman’s husband says he’s still

Unfairly targeted

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The tragedy

On December 19, 2006, Vindra was kidnapped, by armed gunmen in her driveway of her Lange Park, Chaguanas, home.

Based on the pattern of blood left behind, police said that Vindra fought with her kidnappers.

Crime stoppers had posted a $100,000 reward for information leading to whereabouts. Also Lange Park residents and Chaguanas Crime Watch offered $25,000 and $10,000 respectively for any information.

The search

January 6- The search begins at Upper La Puerta Avenue, Diego Martin- Cops come up empty handed.

January 19- Pond searched at Depot Road in Longdenville. After five days of dredging and pumping of the 60-foot-deep caiman-infested pond, police called off the search.

March 2- Lawmen went to the home of attorney Odai Ramischand, who had claimed that three men confessed to him that Vindra had been shot, raped and dismembered.

May 9-Investigators returned to Upper La Puerta Avenue where they interviewed several suspects. Used liminol to find traces of blood not visible to the naked eye.

May 13- Murder charges laid against nine men for Vindra’s murder.

May 15- Tenth man charged.

May 18- Eleventh man in court.

July 13- Twelfth man in court

The accused

Shevon Peters, his twin brother Devon, Allan Martin, Earl Tremmingham and his younger brother Marlon Tremmingham, Ronald Armstrong, Joel Fraser, Keidan Garcia, Antonio Charles and Lydon James all of Upper La Puerta Avenue, Diego Martin.

Two others, Akiel Gloster and Josey Ogiste were freed on August 7 after the Director Public Prosecutions discontinued the proceedings against them on August 3.

Approximately 37 witnesses are expected to testify.

Hearing continues on December 18 and 19.

Rennie Coolman in a pensive mood as he speaks to the Trinidad Guardian at his new home in central on Wednesday. Photo: Karla Ramoo

By Shaliza Hassanali

A year after 51-year-old Xtra Food CEO Vindra Naipaul-Coolman was kidnapped and killed, her second husband Rennie Coolman, of two and half years, feels he would be unfairly targeted to bring a speedy end to his wife’s inquiry, which is before the court.

And although Coolman said he was never questioned as a suspect by the police during their investigations, society continues to accuse him of “being implicated” in some way.

Coolman, 56, a campus co-ordinator at the University of T&T (UTT), on Wednesday dismissed rumours that Vindra was kidnapped and her body dumped because she had a large saving account and a million-dollar life insurance policy, which he was after.

“Let me put that to rest...Vindra had no life insurance and that can be verified,” he said.

“She also had no significant life savings because she was the type who gave generously.

“There were days when she emptied her purse to help others and did not even have money to buy lunch.

“She was so unselfish...always putting people first.

“She worked hard for what she had.”

All that he would cherish of Vindra, he said, are fond memories and a lifetime of pictures, which he safely keeps.

Almost everywhere he turned, Coolman said, someone of stature made pronouncements, linking him to the kidnapping.

Among those were a pundit and a retired police officer, he added.

“There will always be a lot of speculations,” he said.

“All I could ask is for people to understand and try to know before they talk...If they can’t talk to me they can ask people of me.”

He also denied reports that he had an intimate relationship with another woman before Vindra was kidnapped.

“I can’t respond to that because there was nobody else,” he said.

“I don’t know where that rumour came from...but it’s pure speculation.

“As any matter of this type, the spouse is always the number one suspect, and even though I was never questioned by the police as a suspect.

“I always had a concern that I will be targeted in an unfair manner for political or other reasons.”

Contacted yesterday, Supt Nadir Khan, who investigated Vindra’s killing, said Coolman was not questioned as a suspect.

“But he was interviewed by the police.”

Khan laid the charges against the men accused of killing Vindra.

Though Vindra’s body was not found, Coolman said the things that happened in their lives had prepared them for this juncture.

People want justice

Sitting in the porch of his central-based home, located in a gated community, which he described as their “love nest,” an emotional Coolman in a candid interview said they both loved each other unconditionally, having tied the knot on July 10, 2005, in a simple ceremony at her parents’ home in Valsayn.

Stating that Vindra’s case was high profiled, Coolman said:

“We all know that people talk at the highest level and there were times when I was targeted.

“They have to look for a outcome,” he said.

“It would be from a political point of view...I don’t want to say that I don’t trust the court.”

Coolman said people want to see justice.

“A lot of people are angry by this and they are looking for results or someone to be held responsible and accountable,” he said.

“I fear that if that is taken to the extreme, I would hope that the right thing is done and is not influenced by the need for a solution...and that true justice is done.”

Time to move on

Next Wednesday, on the first anniversary of her kidnapping, a memorial service and the launch of a book, entitled Vindra—Her Legacy of Love and Goodness, will be published by Blue Stars, an organisation based in Claxton Bay, where she served as a member of the board.

The 200-page book contains 40 photographs of Vindra, quotations of people, whose life she had touched doing humanitarian and charitable work, and her biography from her husband.

Though he admitted he was disturbed by the kidnapping, he felt it was time to move on with his life.

Coolman has since moved out of the Lange Park home where he and Vindra had lived.

He now lives the life of a bachelor in their love nest.

The upscale property at Lange Park is now occupied by one of Vindra’s three children.

“When I say move on, I know we can never forget the past...but we can’t continue to live in the past,” Coolman said.

“Her family has been doing things the way she would have wanted…not to be grieving and sorrowful.

“She would have wanted us to carry on with her principles and turn her ideas in a positive way for everyone.”

Praising God, and a therapist from Ireland for giving him the strength and courage to move forward, Coolman said the healing process has begun.

With leg crossed, fingers interlocked and the sun falling behind the horizon, Coolman, a father of two from a previous marriage, said it was Vindra’s wish to move into “this new house.”

“This was supposed to be our love nest following our retirement.,” he said.

Vindra, who worked at Scotiabank before joining the family’s Xtra Foods Supermarket would have retired in three years.

However, their plans never materialised.

Losing hope

Last year, there was no Christmas cheer and celebration at the Lange Park home.

“We were hoping that she would have been home before Christmas…no actually, on December 20. But that did not happen.”

This year, Coolman will be spending the second Christmas without Vindra at his side.

He plans to enjoy the holidays with close friends and family.

“Vindra would be here in spirit this Christmas,” he sighed.

His hopes of finding Vindra started to diminish after the third week, knowing that the longer the police took to find his wife, there was a slimmer chance of her not coming out alive.

“We did not have any proof that she was alive after three weeks had passed...And the nation questioned why” he said.

Two months before Vindra was snatched, Coolman returned home from Toronto after studying for a year.

Though separated, Coolman said, they communicated everyday on the Internet.

“We used to talk for hours, which I miss a lot,” he added.

Disappointed with the police

Clearing his throat, Coolman expressed disappointment with the failure of the police to make a breakthrough with investigations in the early stages of the kidnapping.

He said it was only after people started to apply pressure on the police an effort was made.

“My disappointment was that significant effort was made by the police only after the third week,” he said.

“I think the authorities should be more pro-active in addressing crime.”

Though kidnappings and crime had decreased before the November 5 general election, Coolman said, “and then it suddenly spiralled after elections.”

Coolman said too many times we read in the newspapers “where situations are treated without significance.”

“It is put down as minor situation...All matters should be treated in the same way and with urgency,” he said.

“We don’t know of a report until we act.”

Asked if he felt safe in light of what has happened, Coolman curtly replied:

“Nobody feels safe in T&T except those who have security with them.”

Questioned if he had faith in the country’s judicial system, Coolman said he had concerns about it.

“I am disappointed in the way some matters were dealt with,” he said.

He also confessed that his emotions got the better of him when he paid $165,000 to Alisha Chunu, of Richplain Road in Diego Martin.

Chunu also faces charges of soliciting a total of $175,000 for the forbearance of the charges against Coolman for his wife’s kidnapping and murder.

The charges were laid in April 2007.

Bending his head, Coolman said, “I messed up. It’s the worst thing I ever did in my life…falling for that prank.”

Last conversation with Vindra

As customary, Coolman would walk Vindra, who he affectionately called Wifey to the van every morning and kiss her goodbye before leaving for work.

However, on December 19, Coolman admitted he had to take up duty earlier than usual and bid farewell to Vindra who was in the shower.

“I did not get an opportunity to embrace her...And thinking about it, I feel really sad and hurt,” he said.

While on his way to his workplace, Coolman said, he felt a sweetness he never felt before in terms of the love he had for Vindra.

During that day, Coolman said, he did not call Vindra, nor did his wife call him because they knew that they were going to see each other at home that evening.

“That morning was the last time I saw her,” his voice trembling as he spoke.

Asked if Vindra’s kidnappers had allowed him to speak to his wife, Coolman did not dwell further.

Reflecting on his relationship, Coolman said the last year they spent together was the best time of his life.

How they met

After the death of his father in 1991, Coolman migrated from Canada to restart his life in Trinidad.

After searching for an apartment, he found one in Lange Park, next door to where Vindra was living with her children, dog and maid.

Of the three areas in Lange Park Vindra lived, this was her first.

At that time, both Vindra and Coolman had been separated from their spouses.

For three months, Coolman said he had never spoken to any of his neighbours and decided to introduce himself one Friday evening.

“I saw Vindra in her driveway...We had just come home and were at our gates when we spoke to each other,” he said.

Not long after, Coolman said, he took Vindra for a drive to Blanchisseuse.

“Our friendship grew...Then we started living together,” he said.

Back then, Vindra worked weekends at the bank.

That, however, changed after they got married.

“I saw a different side of her…she became more spiritual,” Coolman said.

“Of all her characteristic, one thing I will always remember was how she changed after we got married in terms of caring and showing her undying love.

“This is what I will forever cherish...There were no regrets in our marriage.”

Their marriage

Given the fact that they were married and had been separated from their spouses, Coolman said, marriage was never on the cards.

But as their love and friendship grew, marriage was discussed in 2004.

Having planned a Caribbean cruise for Christmas with Vindra and his two children, Coolman broke the news to them at their breakfast table, while sailing the blue seas.

“My kids told us that it was about time we got married...They were happy and excited and so was Vindra,” he said.`

Coolman said Vindra chose their wedding date, not out of a hat, but based on numerology, which she carefully studied.

On July 10, 2005, wedding rings and vows were exchanged in the presence of family and friends.

“I almost did not recognise her...Vindra had a radiance and sparkle on her wedding,” Coolman said.

“I must say we both looked regal.”

Discussing death

At the Blue Star, death and dying were topics that often came up among its members and guru.

“It was one way of handling death after life,” Coolman said.

“Vindra always used to tell people that she was a target in Trinidad and talked about the concept of death...saying she was ready to be an angel.”

Coolman said Vindra often told people that she was a spiritual being, who was having an experience in the physical world and she was not worried about dying.

“She talked about it a lot...It was part of our teaching,” he said.

She knew one day she had to go, but we were not expecting it to be this way.”

With Vindra no longer part of his life, Coolman said he had no plans for migrating.