Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Burying Larry Dale Lee

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Burying Larry Dale Lee

Article excerpt

Eighteen months after the American journalist was murdered in Guatemala, does anyone care enough to find out why?

Latin American journalists are often murdered in public, but die in obscurity. Their brave work is quickly forgotten, their murders barely noted and rarely solved.

U.S. journalists would probably be surprised to learn one of their own could suffer a similar fate. But that's exactly what's happening in the case of Larry Lee, who was murdered in his Guatemala City apartment in December 1999. Eighteen months later, the details of this botched and stalled case are finally emerging, thanks to an extraordinary investigation by St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters Jon Sawyer and Karen Branch-Brioso. Their July 13 article portrays an investigation sputtering to a standstill while Guatemalan authorities, Lee's news organization, and U.S. Embassy personnel shrug their shoulders in apathy.

A veteran of half a dozen daily newspapers, Lee was in Guatemala reporting for the BridgeNews financial wire service, but growing weary of business news. Professional that he was, Lee must have known that BridgeNews had no market for one of the last stories he filed: an apparently harsh exposE -- which has now disappeared -- of the thuggish figures who were supporting Alfonso Portillo for president of Guatemala.

Two days after Portillo was elected, Lee was discovered naked and dead on his bed. His throat had been slashed twice, and there were deep stab wounds in his chest, back, and wrists.

As shocking as the murder itself is what happened next: Guatemalan police and prosecutors conducted an investigation so dilatory and dim- witted that they have yet to check fingerprints from the scene and didn't notice a blood-soaked towel that lay in Lee's apartment for four months. …

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