Republished by permission
Trouble in Paradise
By ADAM GOLDMAN
Daily Progress staff writer
February 20th, 2000
Not a bad winter vacation: soaking up the sun and the
nightlife on Tortola
in the British Virgin Islands.
And it was all very familiar to Michael Spicer.
A 36-year-old law school graduate who didn't practice law,
spent time at the villa his family owns on Tortola. When not
on the upscale
resort island, or jet-setting around the world, he would
divide his time
between his condo in Washington and his mother's $600,000 home
But within weeks of his Jan. 3 arrival on Tortola, Spicer's
life took a
Spicer and three other men were charged by British Virgin
authorities with the murder of 34-year-old Lois Livingston
struggling artist from Connecticut.
McMillen's body was discovered on the morning of Jan. 15,
draped over a
beach rock. An autopsy report said the cause of death was
The four men, all of whom were staying at the Spicer villa,
by police and detained that same day. They were charged with
murder on Jan. 19.
Spicer; Evan S. George, 22, a native of Santa Clara, Calif.;
and William J.
Labrador, 36, and Alexander S. Benedetto, 34, both of New
York, are being
held without bond at the prison in Road Town, capital of the
They are scheduled to appear at a preliminary inquiry
Wednesday. At that
time, crown prosecutors will present forensic evidence that,
they say, will
link the men to McMillen's killing.
Authorities have yet to offer a motive for the killing, but
have hinted that
it probably was not premeditated.
"Everything we have, we will produce at the preliminary
Terrence Williams, senior crown counsel with the Tortola
Chambers. "There is a responsibility to disclose what we
have. There's no
reservation to show our evidence. There's no ambush."
Spicer's Road Town lawyer, Joseph Archibald, has declined to
Spicer's brother, speaking from his home in Watertown, N.Y.,
believed the men would be treated fairly by the British Virgin
"We have the expectation that the Tortolan judicial
system will work," said
Lewis "Casey" Spicer III. "We've come to have
every confidence in the
Tortolans' handling of the case."
David A. Martin, former general counsel to the U.S.
Naturalization Service and a professor at the University of
School of Law, explained that the four are presumed innocent
"This is a British system with a full range of
protections," Martin said.
"Whatever wrinkles there may be in procedure, [Spicer]
should have all the
basic safeguards we would expect in an American trial."
A territory of the United Kingdom, the British Virgin Islands
does not have
capital punishment. If convicted, Spicer and the three other
men could face
life in prison, with the possibility of parole.
Despite their dire situation, the men's spirits aren't
"They are quite relaxed," said Chris Matthews, also
of Watertown, who
recently visited her youngest brother in Road Town. "The
guys all have
Matthews said her brother has access to a fax machine and
telephone and that
the four men were wearing their own clothes when she visited
them in prison.
Meanwhile, word of Spicer's plight has reached the
prompting talk about a man many people frequently saw but knew
A former employee at a Downtown Mall coffee shop, for example,
Spicer was a regular customer from 1994 to 1997, always
double-tall skinny latte.
"Everybody assumed he was independently wealthy,"
the woman said. "Everybody
kind of thought he was mysterious. Stories flew around town
about him and
In the beginning
Raised in Watertown in upstate New York near the eastern shore
Ontario, Michael Graves Spicer attended the local high school.
Lewis Spicer, had been co-captain of the Syracuse University
in the mid-1940s and played professionally for the Syracuse
becoming a lawyer.
Lewis Spicer died in 1981 - two days after Michael graduated
school - following an 18-year battle with Parkinson's disease.
He left his
family a sizeable estate.
Michael Spicer graduated from Syracuse in 1986 with a
bachelor's degree in
history. He moved to the West Coast and attended law school at
University of California-San Francisco for a year. He then
enrolled as a
first-year student at the Georgetown University Law Center,
where he had
originally been placed on the waiting list.
"I just thought he was a great guy, but he was a little
bit wild by my
standards," said Justin Cohen, a San Francisco resident
who met Spicer
during the year Spicer lived in California. "He was very
complex. His energy
level was very high. Some of us felt he had a little too much
time on his
Spicer earned his law degree from Georgetown in 1990, yet he
practiced law. "He has taken the bar [exam]
Spicer's occupation, one family member said, is "managing
his own assets."
Shortly after finishing law school, Spicer moved his mother,
Watertown to a newly purchased house on Lake Road near the
Farmington Country Club in Albemarle County.
Casey Spicer said that his paternal great-grandfather had been
minister in Charlottesville and that the family considered
Since then, his brother and sister said, Michael Spicer has
taken care of
their mother, who exhibits early signs of Alzheimer's disease.
While staying with his mother in Albemarle, Spicer often went
Charlottesville nightspots such as Escafe and Club 216.
"He used to come all the time . but never caused any
trouble at the club,"
said Clyde Cooper, a co-founder of Club 216 and its manager
Carlos Pezua, a former bartender at Escafe, said that Spicer,
whom he met
six years ago, came across as "aloof."
"He didn't interact with anyone specifically. He didn't
have one set group
of friends," Pezua said. "He was definitely part of
Others described the 6-foot-tall, brown-haired Spicer as
well-read and perpetually tan.
When not living at his mother's house, he was always
"just a phone call
away" in Washington, family members said.
Spicer recorded a message on the answering machine of his
before he left for Tortola: "Thank you for calling. I'm
either at the farm
in Virginia until Jan. 3, or from Jan. 3 till at least Feb. 12
I will be at
Zebra House on Tortola."
With him there would be Labrador, a friend for about 10 years
worked at a top modeling agency in New York; Benedetto, a
former Navy Seal
who is employed at his father's New York publishing house; and
met Spicer in San Francisco in 1998 and later moved to
his last known address is a homeless shelter in Portland,
Ore., where he is
wanted on drug charges.
Lay of the land
Homicide is far from common in the British Virgin Islands. The
islands - located east of Puerto Rico between the Atlantic
Ocean and the
Caribbean Sea - have seen only six murders since 1996, and
none of those
involved a visitor until McMillen's killing, said John
commissioner of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force.
"We don't use the terminology 'zero tolerance,' but it is
a very law-abiding
community," Johnston said. "I think that [the crime
rate] is indicative that
this is a very peaceful part of the world.
"One of the mainstays of the economy is tourism, and we
want tourists to
feel safe on the island. And given the statistics, we feel we
"Despite this having happened, it is still one of the
safest havens in the
Caribbean. I would certainly hope it wouldn't put people off
Nevertheless, the killing of McMillen has Tortola talking.
"Everybody know about it," said Charles
"Bomba" Smith, owner of Bomba's
Shack, a bar that McMillen frequented. "It shakes the
island a little bit
because a lot of people know the girl."
Those who know Spicer, while stunned by the charges, maintain
that he could
not have been involved in such a brutal crime.
Matthews said she is convinced that there is "absolutely
no evidence that
could link them with [the crime]."
The arrest, Matthews said, was merely a precaution meant to
island's main industry, tourism. "My thought all along
has been that you
have to stop [the fear] fast so people aren't afraid to walk
The police don't agree.
"We wouldn't have them in the prison if we weren't
confident that they were
involved," Johnston said.
Lois McMillen arrived on Tortola Dec. 30. Spicer and his
friends got there
four days later.
Though the woman was, according to her father, Russell G.
chairman and CEO of the Eastern Co. of Naugatuck, Conn.,
"shy socially" and
"didn't mix around," it would have been natural for
McMillen to see Spicer,
considering they had known each other for about 20 years.
The Spicers built their Tortola villa in the late 1970s.
the McMillens moved into a neighboring house and the families
Lois McMillen also knew Benedetto from a past fling on the
to Spicer's sister.
But McMillen didn't do much socializing upon arriving in
she became ill, according to her mother, Josephine McMillen.
The young woman
wouldn't meet up with Spicer and his pals until the night of
"[Lois] ran into them at Bomba's Shack on Wednesday night
and drove them
home," Josephine McMillen said.
The next afternoon, "Michael called . and Lois took them
to a local
restaurant," the mother said. "Then she took them to
Road Town, a half an
hour away, to another bar for another drink."
Chris Matthews said her brother and his friends likely did not
want to drive
on Tortola because of the island's strict drunken-driving
On the evening of Jan. 14, the McMillens had supper at their
Lois went alone to a blues bar called the Jolly Roger. That,
McMillen said, was the last time she saw her daughter alive.
Spicer and his three friends also went out that evening. At
during the night, Labrador left his friends and went back to
It remains unclear where Spicer, Benedetto and George went and
what they did
the rest of that night. However, a witness told police he had
seen three men
following McMillen on the beach in the early hours of Jan. 15.
He did not
see their faces.
At about 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15, a passerby discovered
clothed body of a white woman on the beach near the Sir
Highway on the west end of the island.
Near the scene, detectives found "female accessories
strewn from the road to
the sea and some blood stains," according to an affidavit
filed by Jacob
George, a chief inspector with the Royal Virgin Islands Police
"Before leaving the scene, I formed the suspicion that
the deceased had been
involved in a struggle and had died through foul play,"
The woman had neither been robbed nor raped, police
determined. The time of
death has been established, prosecutor Williams said, but he
That same day, the McMillens reported that their daughter was
on the family's description, the police deduced that the dead
woman was Lois
McMillen. The parents later confirmed the identity of the
Police recovered Lois McMillen's rental car about a mile away
from where her
body was found. The car's interior showed signs of a violent
according to McMillen's mother.
It didn't take very long for police to turn to Spicer and his
they got reports that the men and McMillen had been seen
George, the chief inspector, interviewed Spicer and the other
after noon at Zebra House.
Justin Cohen, in San Francisco, said he spoke with Spicer on
that day. "He sounded a little down," Cohen
recalled. "He was upset that
this beautiful young girl was dead. They had been spending
Spicer, he said, also related that "the police have just
By 6 p.m., Spicer, Labrador, Benedetto and George were
detained on suspicion
The police also obtained a search warrant for Zebra House,
identified the clothing the men had been wearing the night
"Michael Spicer admitted to having been wearing a
blood-stained shirt," the
chief inspector wrote. "He was not able to account for
The four men were formally charged Jan. 19. They have been in
the Road Town
prison ever since.
Michael Spicer, however, has not lost hope. He ended a fax to
Friday the same way he has ended previous messages from
prison: "I am
resigned to the fact that our innocence will prevail."