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Published: Monday, May 28, 2018 @ 3:08 AM
— Brandon Barfield has kept his best friend’s room just the way he left it. Drew DeVoursney’s black suit still hangs in the closet of the West Palm Beach home they shared. And his guitar — the one he used to perform Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers songs while they were both deployed in Iraq — rests beside the bed he slept in. To Barfield, it feels fitting to keep everything in place, including DeVoursney’s poster of “Jeremiah Johnson,” their favorite movie.
The two became fast friends serving alongside one another with the U.S. Marine Corps in Fallujah in 2004, then a dark and violent battleground where both men narrowly survived rocket-propelled grenade attacks. When they returned home from the war, they bought five acres near Corozal Bay, planning to develop a vacation home on it.
And then Drew disappeared.
A year ago this month in a remote sugar cane field near the Mexican border, a farmer found the bodies of Drew, 36, and his Canadian girlfriend, Francesca Matus, 52, a mother of two. They had been missing for nearly a week. Both had been strangled. Tape was found on their wrists. The killings — which have drawn international media attention — remain unsolved.
“He was my brother,” said Barfield, 36, a commercial fisherman who, like DeVoursney, once lived in Georgia and still has family in the Peach State. “I think about him every day.”
The U.S. State Department referred questions about the investigation to Belizean authorities. Belize’s police department and the prime minister’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The FBI confirmed it is still assisting with the investigation, but declined to comment further.
‘No closure for the families’
The same week they recovered the bodies, Belize police confirmed they had detained a Canadian man, John Deshaies, calling him a person of interest in the double-murder investigation. He was accused of stealing from a local casino but has not been charged in connection with the killings.
Deshaies, who rented space on the ground floor of Matus’ seaside home in Belize, denied involvement in the murders, telling local television reporters, “Not at all. She is a very good friend of mine. Absolutely not.” Deshaies pleaded not guilty to the theft and handling stolen goods charges and was released on bail the same month he was arrested. Reached by email this month, his attorney, Estevan Perera, said there were no new developments in Deshaies’ legal case.
Meanwhile, DeVoursney’s mother, Char, said her family has not heard any news from the U.S. government about the hunt for her son’s killers over the past few months.
“It’s been real, real quiet and frustrating,” said the divorcée, who lives in the Atlanta area.
Colin McGowan, a Scottish expatriate who helped coordinate an extensive search for DeVoursney and Matus before their bodies were found north of Corozal, is also frustrated.
“It is a year later,” said McGowan, co-owner of Scotty’s Bar and Grill, where the couple were last seen before they disappeared. “There has been nothing — no closure for the families.”
Bringing Drew home
Barfield remembers the day he met DeVoursney in Fallujah in late 2004, when U.S. troops were battling a robust insurgency in the city. DeVoursney walked into the communication shop where Barfield worked and asked for help with an equipment repair job. Striking up a conversation, they realized they were both Southerners and huge Florida State University football fans.
The oldest of two sons, DeVoursney was born in Thomasville, Ga., less than 40 miles north of Tallahassee, where Barfield grew up. They also had their differences. Barfield is extremely outgoing, while DeVoursney could enjoy spending time by himself. And while Barfield plays golf, DeVoursney was into soccer.
“Totally opposite of me,” Barfield said. “We battled all the time about soccer and golf. I thought soccer was stupid. He thought golf was stupid.”
Last year, Barfield sprang into action after learning DeVoursney was missing in Belize. Barfield alerted the FBI. He started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for hiring a private investigator. And he traveled to Belize, transforming himself into an amateur detective and interviewing dozens of people about what happened.
Those in Corozal who knew of DeVoursney and his bigheartedness went out of their way to help him, Barfield said, generously discounting Barfield’s hotel room and loaning him a truck while he was in town. Barfield found himself enjoying the benefits of the goodwill DeVoursney had sowed in Corozal.
“When we went there to try to get answers, the town was nothing but helpful,” Barfield said.
Barfield returned with DeVoursney’s remains to the United States, calling the experience “crushing.” He later shared his notes with the FBI.