Double Dutch: The language of murder

0

Subscribe for free for twice-weekly true crime articles or become a paid subscriber to get premium content – https://totalcrime.substack.com/

By Chris Summers                                                1 June 2024

Hell, where do I start with this one?

The facts first – a Dutchman was convicted this week (May 28) of the murder of Riches Obi (pictured), whose mother Bernadette Ortet was a Nigerian case worker with a firm of immigration solicitors in London.

She returned to Nigeria before the trial and did not return to give evidence at the Old Bailey. But I have spoken to her and will tell you her version of events.

But before I tell the full story you might need to boil the kettle, brew a cup of coffee and settle down in a comfortable armchair. Because it is a long and fascinating tale.

For the sake of the narrative, let’s start on the morning of 17 November 2020.

At 11.12 am police officers responding to two 999 calls arrived at a flat in Bramwell House (pictured below) on the Rockingham estate in Kennington and found the front door ajar.

They pushed it open and discovered a man lying dead in the hallway, his blood staining the carpet and walls after what had clearly been an intense struggle.

It was 25-year-old Riches Obi.

“I’m here,” a voice called out.

In her bedroom, his mother, Bernadette Ortet, had been tied up by the assailants.

A forensics team was sent into the flat and soon found a treasure trove of evidence.

Detectives also found a pile of legal documents – which would eventually implicate the killer – but were unable to look at them because Mrs Ortet had a duty of confidentiality towards her clients, who were applying for immigration status in Britain.

But fortunately for the police they had been left a more glaring clue.

Cable ties and duct tape which had been used to tie up Mrs Ortet had been purchased at a hardware shop in Camberwell and the receipt had been left in the flat, along with most of the cable ties.

Detectives raced to the shop and recovered CCTV footage which would lead them to Suvenca Martis (pictured below).

By 2 December 2020 she had been arrested and charged with murder.

Martis, a Dutch national who ran an escort agency called Miami Dolls, had given the two men a lift on 17 November 2020, dropping them off not far from the Rockingham estate.

She had picked them up after the murder and driven them to a station, where they caught a train to Harwich and then a ferry back to Holland.

The men were Jurick Jursley Croes, 38, and Raichell Felomina, 39, both Dutch nationals.

In December 2020 Britain was about to exit the European Union and the police were concerned that without the ability to apply for an EU arrest warrant they might not be able to catch the killers.

It was months before Felomina was detained in the Netherlands and then extradited back to Britain to go on trial alongside Martis in the spring of 2023.

But the other suspect had managed to flee to Colombia, where he had significant contacts.

Croes, a money launderer and cocaine tester, was arrested by Colombian police in 2021.

The Colombian news website Semana said they had investigated Croes and discovered he was known on the darkweb as being an expert in laundering money through cryptocurrencies.

Semana also quoted the Colombian authorities as saying Croes was also employed by criminal syndicates around the world to test the purity of cocaine.

He was said to have connection in the Valle del Cauca region – one of the main cocaine-growing areas – and worked for an organisation led by a shadowy figure called Senora Cero (Mrs Zero).

Martis, Felomina and Croes were all from Curacao in the Dutch Antilles and their first tongue was the Papiamentu dialect, which is spoken on Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire.

It is a mixture of Dutch, French and Spanish words, along with some which have their origins in Africa, where the islands’ slaves originated.

Martis, Felomina and Croes used it to message each other and a Papiamentu translator had to be brought to the Old Bailey to try and explain to the jury what certain words meant.

The translator explained the language varied between Aruba – where it is spelt Papiamento and the word meanings are different- and Curacao.

Even the defendants could not agree what the Papiamentu words they used in their text messages meant.

But what connected Croes, Martis and Felomina with Bernadette Ortet?

Mrs Ortet was a caseworker working with Obadiah Rose, a firm of immigration solicitors in London.

There is no suggestion the firm was involved in any criminality.

Detectives say after her son’s murder she gave a rudimentary statement but returned home to her native Nigeria and refused to return to give evidence at the trial.

During the 2023 trial at the Old Bailey evidence emerged which suggested Mrs Ortet and her son may have been operating a sham marriage scam.

Felomina (pictured below) claimed Mrs Ortet had paid him £500 for agreeing to a sham marriage to a Nigerian woman and had offered him £1,500 for his Dutch ID card.

Among the paperwork found in the flat by murder squad detectives were documents with the names of Felomina and Croes on them.

Prosecutor Jennifer Knight KC said Croes had also been paid £500 to agree to a sham marriage to a Nigerian woman called Loretta Ojo.

She claimed Miss Ojo had spent time with Croes and had told him she had paid the organisers of the marriage scam between £12,000 and £15,000.

Cross examining Felomina, Ms Knight suggested Croes was angry when he found out about the discrepancy and had recruited Felomina to come with him and rob Mrs Ortet.

Ms Knight said they had brought knives in case her son was at the flat.

Felomina denied it but his version of events was preposterous.

During Felomina’s testimony – in which he was clearly trying to string a story together which would explain away the forensic evidence against him – he said his nickname for Croes was “Panda” because he was so big and muscular.

Felomina claimed he was sitting on the sofa waiting to sign some papers and be paid for his ID card when suddenly a “fight” broke out between Croes and Mr Obi, who was 6ft 2ins tall.

He then gave a preposterous version of events during which he cut his finger when he tried to stop the fight, then bled on several bits of paperwork which Mrs Ortet gave him while the fight was still going on.

Then – with the “fight” apparently still raging – he tried to bandage his hand with the duct tape, which had rolled out of Croes’ bag, and he also touched the cable ties with his bloody hand before realising they could help him staunch the blood.

Felomina then claimed he ran outside and shouted “Help!” before Croes arrived and angrily slapped him around the head and told him to shut up.

The pair then left together and eventually returned to Holland.

Martis was not in the flat during the fatal altercation and her barrister at the 2023 trial, Vanessa Marshall KC, said the Crown had not been able to prove she was involved in a “joint enterprise” with Croes and Felomina.

But the 2023 trial collapsed when Martis indicated she wanted to sack her legal team.

In December 2023 Croes was extradited to the UK from Colombia, only the second time that has happened.

Under the legal rules, the British police do not have the right to interview someone who has been extradited from another country.

So neither Felomina or Croes were interviewed by police prior to their trials.

The second trial began in April 2024.

It barely registered as a news story but I for one was gripped and desperate to know what would happen.

In the first trial Martis and Felomina clearly pointed the finger of blame at the conveniently absent Croes.

That option was not available in the second trial and I fully expected a cut-throat defence, where each defendant tries to blame the other.

But that is not what happened.

Martis and Felomina chose not to give evidence this time, but Croes did step into the witness box and was there for a number of days.

He claimed he had been offered £50,000 to go through with the sham marriage and said he went to the flat to discuss the payment.

I had painted a picture in my mind of Croes being an ice cold killer, bereft of emotion but full of cunning.

But he was quite the opposite on the day I watched him being cross examined by Ms Knight.

He appeared emotional and highly strung and had a strange high-pitched voice, which exaggerated the effect.

The courts could not find a Papiamento interpreter – his first language – so he conversed in Spanish, a tongue he was familiar with and which he had spoken every day while in prison in Colombia.

But he would occasionally break into a heavily-accented English to try to make his point.

Croes (pictured below) would also – and this was quite comical – call Ms Knight “Mama”.

I believe he was trying to call her “ma’am” – a polite term often used in courtrooms when addressing women barristers and judges.

This is an excerpt of one of their exchanges.

Ms Knight: “You planned the false imprisonment of Ms Ortet?”

Croes: “That’s not right mama.”

Ms Knight: “You planned to tie her up and demand money?”

Croes: “No mama.”

Ms Knight: “And you were prepared to use force against her and anyone who got in your way?”

Croes: “No mama!”

At several points Croes became hysterical and his answers were screamed at high volume and completely inaudible to me, the barristers or the jury.

But was it a ruse? Was it all an act?

Bernadette Ortet suspects so.

During the trial I made contact with her via social media.

She then gave me her phone number and on May 7, I called her and spoke to her for about 35 minutes.

Mrs Ortet is clearly heartbroken at the loss of her son.

She said his death had come as such a shock that it had also claimed the lives of his maternal grandmother and his paternal uncle.

Mrs Ortet is from Nigeria’s famous Ibo ethnic group, who fought a bloody and ultimately unsuccessful war in 1967-70 to create a separate country, Biafra, in south-east Nigeria.

She said she brought her son’s body back from London to bury in her homeland.

Then the conversation turned to the events of 17 November 2020.

She denied she was involved in a sham marriage scam and said she was working hard trying to process applications from EU nationals in order to meet the post-Brexit deadline.

“On that fateful day I was working very later and I can remember it vividly,” she told me.

She said she worked until 6am and then went to bed.

Just before she went to bed, she said, she got some smoked turkey and jollof rice out of the freezer, because she knew her son loved it.

A few hours later she said she suffered a “massive shock.”

She told me: “My beloved Riches knocked on my door. I was still sleeping. The knock woke me but not completely. He said ‘Mum, this guy said you were doing his application, he’s here now’.”

Ms Ortet went on: “So I woke up. I opened the door and came out and by that time they were in my son’s room. They were fighting my son. I tried to run back to my room to get the phone to call the police. Jurick pursued me. He broke into the bedroom. He was hitting me.”

She said Croes had a knife which was dripping with blood.

“He stabbed my bed. He was suffocating me with a pillow. He kept saying ‘Where’s the money, where’s the money?’”

She said they tied her to the bed and blindfolded her and then left.

But they returned, she said, and Croes leaned over her and said: “Do you want to tell us where the money is? Because your son is dying and will also die. I said I didn’t have any money. Only £1,000.”

She said they searched the whole flat and at one point Croes videocalled someone and told them they could not find any money.

“He said ‘there’s no money, her son is dying’,” she recalled.

Ms Ortet now thinks the person on the end of the phone was Martis.

When I told her what Croes said in his evidence to the jury, she said: “He said he’d been offered £50,000? I’ve never seen £50,000 in my life.”

The jury also did not believe Croes.

On Tuesday (28 May) the jury found him guilty of murder and false imprisonment.

But Felomina and Martis were both acquitted of murder and an alternative charge of manslaughter.

They were both convicted of false imprisonment and Martis alone was convicted of perverting the course of justice.

All three will be sentenced in July, but Croes faces a mandatory life sentence.

As for Ms Ortet, she told me yesterday (30 May): “I am totally shut down and worse after seeing different publications suggest that my beloved innocent son and saint, Riches Munachi, was an associate of murderers.”

The Metropolitan Police focused on the murder investigation and there was no separate inquiry into the sham marriage allegations.

About Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *