By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
These were the years of outward tranquility, the ones friends and fans have been mining for clues about what led to that grisly day this past July. Bongo's family is reluctant to discuss details of his personal life, and much of Sesay's second story about the murders—published on Sierra Express Media and Cocorioko, a pair of websites for Sierra Leoneans—seeks answers to Bongo's motivation. Based largely on unnamed sources, the story suggests Haggerty was preparing to leave him for a man she'd known back in Sierra Leone, fed up after enduring years of physical abuse from Bongo, a serial womanizer.
Yet the people who grew up with Bongo say they never knew him to be a violent man, or even one with a hot temper. When Haggerty flew to visit her family, Baby Love says Bongo wouldn't let the children go along—that's how afraid he was of being left alone. "If we had known this would be the tragic end of the story, I would have asked him to come back," Baby Love says from Freetown today. "There was no threat to him. I stayed in this house throughout the war and nothing happened to any of my family members." She says Bongo only left because the rest of the troupe wanted to continue their act in America. "It was not a thing that he was planning or yearning for. We were comfortable here and I regretted him going."
As the oldest one in the troupe, Edwin says he knew each member best. "This was a surprise for us. Pa Bongo, he was one of the most weak," says Edwin, who didn't believe it when he heard what Bongo had done. "That man is so scared of everything. If Bongo was here, you shoot a gun up in the sky here, you'll never find Bongo in that place again. You rough your woman in front of Bongo, he'll say that's not the way."
Bongo's ex-wife Joan had an altogether different reaction when she heard of the murder-suicide. "It could've been me," she says.
They had met over the phone when they both worked at Cingular Wireless; he in Dallas, she in Nashville. It was 2004 and Bongo left Anderson as well as Haggerty and their two children, to start over with a woman he had only spoken to over the phone.
Bongo and Joan (she's asked that her maiden name not be used) were married in February that year, remaining together for nine months. "We'd go to the grocery store and look like the happiest couple in the world," Joan says. But if another man looked at her in the aisle, she says, he'd explode. "Everybody loved him, but he had a dark side."
She'd bring Bongo to family gatherings and he'd fix an African gumbo for the whole party. "He'd crack jokes," she says. "I didn't think his jokes were that funny, I guess, because I lived with him."
At home, she says they'd get calls from Haggerty, sometimes asking about money for the kids, other times just "messing with him," calling Bongo a bad man, a terrible father. Some nights they just unplugged the phone. "He worshiped the ground that little Godfrey and Elizabeth walked on. That's one thing I can truly say, is that he truly loved his babies."
Of course, that love wasn't enough to keep Bongo from making orphans of his children years later.
Joan says only rarely would Bongo mention his old life in comedy, and he never spoke of the civil war in his home country. As the summer wore on, though, Bongo grew more intense—worst of all, Joan says, were the nights he'd smoke pot at home. She called the police to their apartment at least three times, and she vividly recalls the final time, a night in November 2004, when "his eyes were just red, fiery like a bull," Joan says. "He pushed me, and I said, 'Godfrey, please don't get started.'" When she went into the bedroom to shut herself inside, Bongo slammed the door against her arm hard enough to bruise. "That's the only way they arrested him —because of that mark." When he was released from jail a few days later, she'd already loaded his things into his car. Bongo drove back to Dallas.
"I wouldn't look at him, because I knew he was going to look at me with those big eyes, and I was determined I wasn't going to fall for it anymore." After all those years with him, Joan adds, Haggerty surely must have been even better at reading Bongo's mood. "When I saw his eyes change, I knew to get away from him. She knew him longer than I did, so you know she knew the secrets of him."
When he returned to Dallas, Bongo signed up for anger management classes—Anderson remembers, she says, because she paid for them. After leaving Cingular in Dallas, though, Bongo couldn't get hired back on, and never worked again. "We're complete opposites. He's carefree and I'm careful," Anderson says, but as the years went on, "He changed. He started losing confidence in himself." She says the needs of his sister and his son in Sierra Leone weighed on him, and toward the end, his fights with Haggerty grew more intense. On top of that, Anderson says, "He'd overstayed his visa. He'd been extending it, but he never got the clearance to stay."