Maureen Villaruel spent 57 relentless days searching for her common-law husband, Leon Seemungal, who went to the bank to cash a $73,500 lump sum pension cheque and then mysteriously disappeared.
In Villaruel’s quest to find Seemungal, she knocked on every neighbour’s door in her Arima community, called friends and family, turned to the Hunters Search and Rescue Team for help and also made a missing person’s report at two police stations.
Refusing to give up, she travelled to the far-flung community of Blanchisseuse where she believed Seemungal, a jack of all trades, had been held captive against his will in a hut for his “big money”.
However, after six Arima CID officers investigated Villaruel’s report on Monday, the police found Seemungal, 68, living comfortably in a furnished apartment.
Their investigations brought closure to Villaruel’s persistent hunt for Seemungal who told police he had ended the 20-year relationship with Villaruel and had no desire to return home.
Villaruel was shattered and left in denial after the man she loved dearly rejected her.
Seemungal went missing
On Monday, Villaruel went to a social worker for help, claiming she was going around in circles looking for Seemungal and wanted the media to publish his disappearance.
This reporter was contacted and met Villaruel outside the Arima Police Station where she related the story about her two months of persistent search for Seemungal and the police’s unwillingness to help.
On September 30, Villaruel said Seemungal collected a lump sum “pension cheque of $73,500” at TTPost and went with a villager to cash it at First Citizens Bank in Arima on October 2 but never returned home, while repeated calls to his cellphone went unanswered.
She told the Sunday Guardian that neighbours, family and friends of Seemungal had not seen or heard from him.
She insisted that the villager who transported Seemungal had been eyeing Seemungal’s money and felt something bad had happened to him.
This worried Villaruel to no end.
Deep down in her heart, Villaruel had one feeling: “I thought he had been kidnapped for his money and was being ill-treated,” the mother of three admitted.
“I didn’t go with him to the bank because that same day I had to do eye surgery at the Arima hospital,” Villaruel began explaining.
“Leon had plans for his money ... he wanted to buy a vehicle and remove the cataract from his right eye.”
Villaruel and Seemungal have no children together.
Two days after Seemungal’s strange disappearance, Villaruel said her curiosity peaked when her home was broken into and three weed whackers and Seemungal’s passport were stolen.
There she began seeking help to find him.
First, she sought assistance from the Hunters Search and Rescue Team who in turn passed on the information to the Anti-Kidnapping Unit.
On November 4, she made a report at the Arima Municipal Police Station where officers advised her to lodge a missing person’s report at the Arima Police Station which she did on November 7, but this was not documented on the police’s end.
Instead, two officers visited the villager’s home and questioned him about Seemungal’s whereabouts.
“He told the police he doh know where Leon was,” Villaruel said.
The police, she said, never pursued her report further.
“I was left feeling helpless and hopeless.”
After weeks of no feedback, on November 22, Villaruel hired a taxi and went to Blanchisseuse, a community Seemungal had frequented with the villager to get produce on a farm.
Behind the farm, she noticed a newly built hut which led her to believe that Seemungal was staying there against his wishes.
After showing residents a snapshot of Seemungal’s ID card, Villaruel said one woman said his face looked familiar.
“If I had back up I would ah check the inside of the hut,” she said.
Eventually, Villaruel aborted her probing.
Unable to eat and sleep, Villaruel thought the worst had happened to Seemungal after weeks of not hearing from him.
“I say, well, they kill him.”
Then she got an unexpected telephone call from Seemungal on Sunday.
“He was crying and saying he wanted help. He was talking hoarse ... sounding weak.”
That call left Villaruel in tears.
“I kept wondering if he was getting medication for his high blood pressure and diabetes. Leon was sounding so down ... He made tears come out of meh eyes. I feel hurt because he was calling for help and I couldn’t help him.”
Before Villaruel could ask Seemungal where he was, she said a woman grabbed the phone and told her he was not coming back home.
Villaruel said she recognised the woman’s voice to be another resident in her community.
She said people in the area where they live saw two villagers buying appliances and furniture.
Villaruel concluded that the villagers were using Seemungal’s bank card to purchase the items to furnish the hut.
How Villaruel found out
On Monday, Villaruel asked the social worker to accompany her to the Arima Police Station to make another missing person’s report but, again, she left disappointed.
The officer who took the report wrote on Villaruel’s receipt “information” and not “missing person”.
“I felt like I was being bounced around and the police was showing no interest,” she complained.
From the station, Villaruel went to First Citizens Bank to find out if Seemungal had cashed the cheque but a supervisor told her only the police could request that information as she did not have a joint account with him.
Refusing to give up, Villaruel went to the Municipal Police Station seeking help, where two officers took her back to the Arima Police Station to make another complaint.
This time the matter was put into the hands of PC Kemuel McDowell of the CID department who began conducting investigations with Cpl Shawn Gordon and PCs Singh, Jones and Punter headed by Sgt Sherwin Haynes after learning that Seemungal had been missing 57 days and reached out to Villaruel for help hours before.
The police immediately accompanied Villaruel back to her community where they began conducting investigations.
“We got certain information and we were able to locate the man (Seemungal) who we had a conversation with to find out what transpired to ensure he was not kidnapped, missing or being used for his pension money,” Mc Dowell told the Sunday Guardian in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Seemungal told the investigators that he was safe and living comfortably in an apartment he had furnished utilising his pension money.
Seemungal invited the officers to his new home where he was interviewed.
“We saw his living conditions and he has everything. He is in contact with his family. He used his money to buy a stove, fridge, microwave and washing machine. Is a real bachelor set-up,” McDowell said.
Opting not to disclose Seemungal’s new address, McDowell said it was nowhere close to Blanchisseuse.
McDowell said, “The man basically moved away for his peace of mind because he was having issues with the woman.”
Asked how Villaruel took the news, Mc Dowell said “She is still in denial.”
“It’s not like he ups and went. He informed the neighbours in the area what he was doing. So they know where he was located. She (Villaruel) was the only person who did not know. We empathise and sympathise with her when we heard the story.”
McDowell said what was shocking was that the residents had kept this a secret from Villaruel.
“She was the last to find out.”
Several calls to Seemungal’s cellphone went unanswered on Monday.