The Barker Family story continues. Click here to read Chapter 9.
A Surprise Entry and Two Alien Loads
On February 7, 1994, just before midnight, a U.S. Customs Service (USCS) marine enforcement officer and special agent received information from the USCS national communications center in Orlando that Richard Barker was formally and legally entering the United States on a motor vessel at the Sailfish Marina on Singer Island. Barker was uncharacteristically adhering to federal law after a series of administrative penalties for his previous reporting failures. The marine enforcement officer immediately responded to the marina and located Barker on a gray 1986 Island Runner 31-foot go-fast motor vessel as the sole passenger. The boat, with twin 200-horsepower outboard engines, displayed a Bahamian registration number from the Abacos Islands.
While responding to the marina to assist with the formal entry inspection, the USCS special agent contacted the alien smuggling task force to advise them of the unique situation. During the inspection of the motor vessel, the USCS investigators were informed by U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) task force members that 33 Haitian illegal aliens arrived on Palm Beach Island, a short distance south of the marina and Palm Beach Inlet. The landing of the aliens was in the same time frame as Richard Barker’s arrival at the marina’s USCS private vessel reporting station. Another group of 27 Haitian aliens were located on Hutchinson Island in Martin County, well north of Singer Island, during the same time frame. USBP was responding to both alien landing sites with all of their available resources.
While the USCS marine enforcement officer was waiting for the arrival of the USCS special agent at the marina, Ronald Barker and Angela Sizemore arrived via a vehicle to pick up Richard Barker in their frequently surveilled white Chevrolet Suburban. Unbeknownst to the USCS investigators, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office had permitted Ronald Barker to postpone his incarceration until March 1994 for the previous narcotic smuggling interdiction in Boynton Beach, against the continued wishes of the USCS investigators.
During the customs inspection, the motor vessel was extremely clean with only an ice cooler with a large amount of Saltine crackers and several motor oil containers on the deck. Saltines crackers, not known as a good ocean survival food, were often utilized to assist passengers with sea sickness. It appeared to the USCS investigators that the motor vessel’s deck was rinsed prior to arrival at the official reporting station at the marina.
Richard Barker stated that he had traveled from Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama to Singer Island on the Bahamian registered motor vessel. It was approximately a 78-mile trip. The motor vessel was reportedly being brought to the United States for the repair of its malfunctioning trim tab solenoids at a local boatyard. Trim tabs provide lift for the stern (rear) of a boat to reduce water resistance and improve speed and fuel economy. The malfunctioning equipment was the stated reason why the voyage that evening reportedly took so long for Barker. His timeline did not match his story along with other inconsistencies regarding the motor vessel and his actions that night.
In the bilge area of the Bahamian motor vessel just forward of the center console on the starboard side, the USCS marine enforcement officer located a dark-colored woman’s blouse, a child’s bib, and a gold chain. Richard Barker did not know who owned the items or how they got there.
Once the inspection was completed and it was confirmed that USBP was unable to transport any witness aliens to the marina due to the magnitude of the alien landings, Richard Barker and the motor vessel were released from customs inspection. Barker departed the marina with his brother and wife in their vehicle.
Further investigation indicated that Richard Barker was involved in at least one of the alien smuggling ventures. The motor vessel likely utilized in the smuggling of the 33 Haitian illegal aliens was partially sunk in the surf on nearby Palm Beach Island. Two 66-gallon aluminum fuel tanks and three 55-gallon plastic fuel tanks were sitting on the beach near the submerged motor vessel along with various clothing items indicating a longer voyage with many subjects. It was believed that this motor vessel was also associated with Barker as a refueling and transportation boat.
The next day, USCS received information from USBP that Richard Barker and the Bahamian motor vessel were allegedly involved in the smuggling of the 27 Haitian illegal aliens to Hutchinson Island. The smuggling venture resulted in the drowning of two adults and two children in the ocean surf. Two of the apprehended Haitian aliens positively identified Richard Barker in a photographic array. Additional smuggled aliens also gave a description of the gray go-fast motor vessel that Richard Barker was operating during this entry. The aliens stated that Barker had forced the aliens to jump off the boat into the ocean outside of the surf line in the darkness, which resulted in the four deaths and other serious injuries.
Justin Jean-Baptiste (age 7), Kenol Louis (age 6), Ermanite Joseph (age 42), and Rene Chauvette (age 28) lost their lives in the surf that fateful night.
The Smuggling Death Investigation
Upon receiving confirmation of the death of the four Haitian aliens and that Richard Barker was the suspect captain, a USCS special agent started searching for the smuggling boat. The Bahamian registered motor vessel was finally located at a busy boatyard and marina in Riviera Beach, just west of Sailfish Marina. The motor vessel was in the process of having the below-the-waterline portion of the hull repainted in a rush request by Barker. The boatyard employee was instructed to immediately complete this request. According to the boatyard worker, the boat’s trim tabs did not require repair as Barker reported as malfunctioning while clearing customs several hours before.
The USCS special agent photographed and documented the numerous scratch marks on the hull, many consistent with fingernails clawing at the sides, prior to the repainting of the bottom by the boatyard employee. The USCS special agent maintained a surveillance of the motor vessel for several hours until USBP obtained sufficient probable cause for USCS to seize it for them. The go-fast was impounded and transported to the main USBP station in Miami for evidence processing.
Further investigation revealed that the smuggling go-fast, seized as evidence, displayed a fraudulent Bahamian registration number and an altered hull identification number. The motor vessel was most likely stolen from the United States and altered in the Bahamians, a fairly common practice at the time for smugglers and other criminals looking for a bargain. When the outboard engine serial numbers or other linked equipment cannot be traced to a specific motor vessel, an altered motor vessel often becomes difficult to fully identify – as in this case.
After the two alien landings, the Boynton Beach Police Department received an anonymous telephone call from a male with a Creole accent that appeared to be a long-distance telephone call due to the static on the telephone line. The unknown individual stated that Richard Barker and another known Bahamian suspect were responsible for the deaths of the Haitian illegal aliens at Hutchinson Island on February 7, 1994. The individual additionally stated that Barker was “killing his people” and that Barker owed him money. The individual stated that he would come forward and testify against Barker after the individual reads about the arrests in the newspapers. The caller never did.
The Martin County Sheriff’s Office, after obtaining a state search warrant, processed the suspect Bahamian motor vessel for USBP and recovered various types of evidence including hair, jewelry, and fingerprints. The State of Florida requested primary jurisdiction in the prosecution of any and all suspects involved in the death of the four Haitian aliens. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Fort Pierce planned to prosecute the alien smuggling venture.
State investigators interviewed more than 20 of the Haitian aliens arrested on the beach the night of the incident. All but one of the aliens denied that they were on Barker’s boat. The Martin County State Attorney’s Office later decided to not prosecute Richard Barker for murder, homicide, or manslaughter. The prosecutors did not believe that they possessed sufficient evidence to move forward with their state case. Upon this state declination, the U.S. Attorney’s Office began evaluating other options such as culpable negligent homicide.
A later newspaper article provided a detailed description of the Haitian aliens’ journey, alien smuggling venture by Barker, and death of the four aliens. The interviews documented Barker’s actions and that the aliens were smuggled into the United States from the Bahamas.
In the next chapter, read about the federal indictment and arrest of Richard Barker followed by the murder of his wife.
Robert C. Hutchinson
Robert C. Hutchinson was a former police chief and deputy special agent in charge with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Homeland Security Investigations in Miami, Florida. He retired in 2016 after more than 28 years as a special agent with DHS and the legacy U.S. Customs Service. He was previously the deputy director of the agency’s national emergency preparedness division and assistant director for its national firearms and tactical training division. His numerous writings and presentations often address the critical need for cooperation, coordination, and collaboration between public health, emergency management, and law enforcement, especially in the area of pandemic preparedness. He received his graduate degrees at the University of Delaware in public administration and Naval Postgraduate School in homeland security studies. He is a long-time contributor to Domestic Preparedness and serves on the Advisory Board.