Republished by permission
A Safe Haven Turns Deadly
By JOHN SPRINGER
Hartfort Courant staff writer
February 6, 2000
TORTOLA, British Virgin Islands -- Pulling a new, white Versace blouse
her shoulder-length blonde hair, Lois Livingston McMillen was upbeat as she
dressed for a night of music and dancing on this tropical island paradise
she loved so much.
The 34-year-old daughter of affluent parents from Middlebury, Conn., Lois
was getting over the flu on the evening of Jan. 14. She looked forward to
capping a day of boutique shopping with listening to a blues band at one of
the many resort hotels near her family's villa overlooking the Caribbean
``Lois wasn't happy too often . . . That was a very happy day,'' said her
father, Russell G. McMillen, retired chairman and CEO of The Eastern Co. in
It would be her last.
Lately, Lois had become frustrated with her career as an artist. An art show
in New Milford brought in more than $10,000 in 1993, but she had trouble
selling paintings after that. At times, her mood went dark.
Lois was a paradox. She was quiet and had few friends, but she frequently
dressed in flamboyant outfits that commanded, ``Look at me!'' She once went
out wearing a tiara and a dress adorned with angel wings. A fairy godmother
wand completed the look.
``She was shy socially,'' Russell McMillen said. ``She didn't look shy
because she dressed colorfully, but she would only talk to one or two people
she knew; she didn't mix around.''
Lois' paintings showed her spirituality and her disillusionment with a world
in which she didn't quite fit. She would paint in her parents' basement in
Middlebury or on the deck of the island villa. An unfinished canvas at the
villa combined a Queen of Hearts playing card, stars and crescent moons and
a page from the Old Testament that was torn in two.
``It has something to do with death. She never got a chance to explain it to
me,'' Russell McMillen said.
Lois' art reflected her strong feelings about violence against women, a
concern that became more pronounced while she studied at the Parsons School
of Design in New York City, where she earned a degree in 1996. Her painting
``The World Is Killing Women'' is full of symbols of death, tear- filled
female eyes and a bare breast pierced by a sword.
The McMillens feared that Lois' concern about violence was growing to the
point of paranoia. Ironically, she felt safe on Tortola, her haven in a
On that mid-January night, happier than usual, Lois stepped out under the
star-filled sky and headed to the Jolly Rogers Inn on the other side of the
Sailboats And Yachts
The main road leading west out of Road Town, the British Virgin Island's
capital in the heart of Tortola, winds its way along the picturesque south
coast of the island for 10 miles before ending at the Jolly Rogers Inn.
The island has no traffic lights, but drivers are forced to slow for speed
bumps, rockslides and donkeys that nibble the grassy shoulders of the
well-worn road. First-time tourists can find themselves gazing at the cruise
ships that dot Sir Francis Drake Channel and miss seeing the bumps as they
cruise through the coastal hamlets en route to the West End ferry dock or a
resort at Soper's Hole Wharf, where sailboat charters start at $2,000 a
It's easy to get caught up in the shoreline's beauty and forget to drive on
the left side of the road, the British way. Beyond a bend in the road past
Frenchman's Cay, the location of yet another marina is betrayed by masts
that look from a distance like toothpicks.
Sailing, snorkeling, fishing and scuba diving are big draws for the British
Virgin Islands, where the Caribbean trade winds propel million-dollar yachts
and soothe the spirits of the 250,000 annual visitors not accustomed to
year-round midday temperatures in the high 80s. Lois learned to sail in 1998
and was looking forward to crewing in a regatta in April, working a
spinnaker or some such thing, her parents thought.
As is true of most any Saturday during the peak tourist month of January,
Sir Francis Drake Channel was filled with pleasure boats on the morning of
Jan. 15. A young Tortolan woman was distracted from the natural beauty
surrounding her by something truly ugly as she walked to work at Soper's
Hole Wharf about 8:30 a.m.
There, on the large rocks that had been trucked in to curb erosion, lay Lois
McMillen's battered, lifeless body.
A restless night at the villa worrying about their long-overdue daughter
turned into day before Russell and Josephine McMillen finally reported her
missing. They called the Royal Virgin Islands police at 10 a.m. on Jan. 15.
It was rare for Lois to stay out much later than she told them she would,
even rarer not to call if her plans changed.
Lois had lived with her parents for the last couple of years in Middlebury,
having suspended her pursuit of an acting and modeling career in favor of
cultivating her artistic talent. Lois and her parents went to Tortola on
Dec. 30 aboard a flight from Windsor Locks to San Juan and on to St. Thomas, where a ferry
took them to the West End dock.
The McMillens told police that Lois left the Belmont Grove Villas in a
rental car at 9 p.m. the night before and that they had not heard from her
``We started thinking maybe she was in a car accident, that she was lying in
a ditch somewhere,'' Josephine McMillen said. ``We were getting worried.''
Meanwhile, officers were busy 2 1/2 miles away, taking statements and
photographing the body. They were not too busy to dispatch someone to the
McMillens' home. Ten minutes after the parents called, police officers were
inside Belmont Grove Villa No. 4.
In the days after their daughter's death, the McMillens learned little from
investigators. They knew that suspects were being detained and that their
daughter had been beaten severely on the head and face and left on the
rocks, a few hundred yards from a police substation. An autopsy revealed she
Forensic evidence recovered from Lois' rented four-door car, found parked at
the taxi-ferry terminal a mile from her body, was carefully collected by
major crime squad inspectors, who quickly focused on four men staying in a
villa near the McMillens.
On Jan. 19, police filed murder charges against 36-year-old law student
Michael Spicer of Charlottesville, Va., whose family owns the villa where he
was staying, and three of his American houseguests. Also charged with murder
are Evan S. George, a 22-year-old construction worker from Washington, D.C.; William
Labrador, 36, a businessman from New York; and Alexander Benedetto, 34, an ex-U.S. Navy
Seal who worked at a New York children's book publishing company. Spicer's Road Town
lawyer and family refused comment.
Other than disclosing that Lois was neither sexually assaulted nor
apparently the victim of a robbery, investigators would not share with the
McMillens what they believe prompted the killing.
``I really cannot tell you much. We operate under the English legal system
here,'' said John Johnston, deputy commissioner of the 177-officer Royal
Virgin Islands Police Department. ``Our legal system doesn't allow us, the
police, to make comments on evidence or investigations, other than bland
statements that something happened and someone was arrested. The theory
behind it is that a person is innocent until proven guilty.''
The McMillens hope to learn more about possible motives during the British
equivalent of a probable cause hearing before Magistrate Gail Charles on
In the meantime, the tight clamp on official information has not stopped
locals and visitors from speculating over rum-rich island cocktails called
Fast-driving taxi cab operators spread rumors about what happened, from the
Beef Island airport to the West End spots Lois frequented. Some of the
rumors are true, most wild speculation. Stories about Lois having been the
victim of rape or a lovers' spat or being robbed of $5,000 before she died
are simply not true, her parents say.
The territory, made up of some 60 islands, had only four homicides during
the past five years, most attributed to domestic disputes. Tourists turn up
dead on the U.S. Virgin Islands from time to time, but rarely in the British
Virgin Islands, which bills itself as ``Nature's Little Secrets.''
``I've been trying to figure this thing out ever since it happened. It
doesn't make any sense,'' said Christopher Crawford, an American whose
self-described ``low overhead'' lifestyle enables him to split his time
between Martha's Vineyard and Tortola.
``Why would four guys want to kill Lois? There is no indication of rape or
robbery that we know of,'' Crawford said. ``It's strange.''
Lois was seated at the outdoor bar at Jolly Rogers Inn when Crawford sat
down next to her. She seemed her usual self that evening, he said, a little
pale perhaps from her recent bout with the flu. Nothing appeared to be
bothering her. On this occasion, she was not giving anyone an earful about
any of the causes she felt passionately about, typically the only time she
opened up to anyone outside the zone of safety she let few enter.
When Crawford last saw Lois, she did not have a lot to say or drink; the
occasional wine or beer was all. She never took drugs or drank to excess,
her parents and Tortolan acquaintances said.
``Everyone local here knew Lois real well. She came off as self-centered,
but I think she was misunderstood,'' said Crawford, an acquaintance of 10
years. ``Lois was a loner, but she craved recognition. She dressed
flamboyantly, but she wasn't good in one- on-one social situations.''
`It's Weird, Very Sad'
Lois felt really safe from unwanted attention only at Bomba's Shack, a
beachfront watering hole featured in Sports Illustrated and international
magazines. At Bomba's, women get free rum punches for baring their breasts
and autographed T-shirts in exchange for their panties, which are hung
throughout the establishment like trophies.
That Lois would frequent a place where women are encouraged to degrade
themselves in such ways is yet another unaligned square in the Rubik's Cube
that was her life.
Owner and chief bouncer Charles ``Bomba'' Wellington Callwood Smith, a 54-
year-old Tortolan with a large frame and straightforward manner, said he
looked after Lois. She often visited his ramshackle bar, made of wood
scavenged from a variety of places, for the regular Wednesday and Sunday
barbecues or famous ``Full Moon'' parties each month that drew locals and
``We understand each other pretty clear, you know? She was real close to me.
I was like her big brother,'' said Bomba, who gives a different surname if
asked twice. ``What I liked about Lois was she wasn't looking for a guy when
she come here. She was looking for someone to talk to.''
Bomba added: ``I knew her when she wore braces on her mouth; she was 17. I have always
looked out for her since. I'm sorry something like this happened
Bomba last saw Lois at the Wednesday barbecue on Jan. 12. A reggae/calypso band was
playing and patrons enjoyed as much ribs, chicken and rice as they could pile on a plate
for $10. It was at the barbecue that she ran into Spicer, an investment property manager
whom she knew from visiting the island for many years. Lois' parents said Spicer
introduced her at Bomba's
to Labrador, George and Benedetto, Spicer's friends and now co-defendants.
The foursome and Lois went to a popular Road Town pub called Pusser's for
chicken wings the next night, a Thursday, but the McMillens heard little
about the evening. They knew of no plans by her to see Spicer or his
houseguests on the night she was killed, and no messages were left for Lois
when she returned from the day trip to St. John with her mother, who paid
$300 at a Caneel Bay shop for the Versace blouse, slacks and wide-brimmed
hat that made her daughter so happy.
``It's weird, very sad. Who would want to kill a pretty girl like that?''
said a Tortolan acquaintance who was interviewed by police and who was shown photos of
white male suspects whom he had never seen before.
The man, a Soper's Hole Wharf marina worker who would confirm only that his nickname is
``Moon,'' said he last saw Lois in the wee hours of Jan. 15 at a
beachfront restaurant and bar called Quito's Gazebo on Tortola's north
Quito's is a popular place where patrons enjoy a daily all-you-can-eat
buffet lunch of grilled swordfish, chicken, seafood salads and lots more for
$17 while watching pelicans torpedo-dive beneath the warm aqua- blue waves
of Cane Garden Bay for their own seafood lunch.
At night, Quito's bar comes alive and people dance to calypso and other
music that drifts down the white, sandy beach lined with outdoor bars.
Lois appeared to be enjoying herself and wanted to dance with Moon that
night. Moon, a thin, fortyish man with dreadlocks usually tucked under a
cap, declined to dance; he was with someone.
She was last seen alive about 1:00 or 1:30 a.m., walking west along the
beach at Cane Garden Bay. Three men whose faces Moon did not see followed single file.
Lois was buried Friday at the family plot in Port Washington, N.Y.