One of Sierra Leone's most beloved comedians took refuge in Dallas from his country's civil war. What could have turned him into a killer?
Sanpha Sesay was asleep when he got the phone call, late on the night of July 18. As a reporter during the worst of Sierra Leone's civil war in the 1990s, Sesay had grown accustomed to tragic news at all hours—rebel advances into the capital city, massacred villages, mass amputations—but over the last decade in Dallas, his biggest news was the gossip he passed to other expatriates.
Tonight was something else entirely: an echo, a ghost, from his old life in Africa. "Sanpha, wake up," the voice on the phone said. "Bongo is dead. He killed his wife and he killed himself."
It was a brief call, and he made a few more that night. He didn't sleep, desperate to cobble together details to send back home. Years since his last paycheck as a reporter, he had a clear shot at the biggest story of his career: Lord Bongo Johnson—one of Sierra Leone's first comedy superstars, a satirical voice of dissent in the face of corruption, an escape from tough, everyday life in one of the world's poorest countries—had turned up dead in his suburban Dallas home, naked on the floor after hanging himself with his own pants.
His countrymen, and the far-flung Sierra Leone diaspora, knew him as Bongo, but in the local news the next day he was Godfrey Manly Spain, 52, who police suspected had beaten and strangled his common-law wife, 46-year-old Irene Claudia Haggerty. One local TV report said the "apparent murder-suicide on a quiet street" in Mesquite had been discovered by police after family members called to say they couldn't reach the couple. A neighbor called the family "pretty quiet"; another said she'd heard the couple fighting in recent weeks.
Sesay fired off his first story to a few Sierra Leonean online news sites, where the dead star's name carried the headlines: "Horror—Bongo Jonson is dead!" and "The Fatal Death of Lord Bongo Johnson and Spouse." After one turn in the news cycle, the Dallas press came and went, still captivated by another suburban murder-suicide one week earlier: that of Coppell Mayor Jayne Peters and her daughter Corinne. Sesay, however, kept after his sources—family members, friends, an old girlfriend and comedians from Bongo's troupe—searching for an answer to the question that troubled them all: What in Bongo's quiet American life could have turned one of Sierra Leone's most beloved clowns into a killer?
Some spoke of a man who'd fallen into a deep depression, tortured by a rootless life and panicked at the prospect of Haggerty leaving him, taking their children away. Sesay heard stories of a hot-tempered romantic drama that stretched back decades, from America to Sierra Leone—of emotions flaring inside his Mesquite home, hidden even from the small Sierra Leonean community in the Dallas suburbs that is, itself, easy to overlook from the outside. He heard about yelling, spousal abuse, drugs and eerie stories of premeditation in Bongo's final act. Haggerty's friends and family would offer little on the record, insisting (as they did for this story) that she was a private person.
For Bongo, though, such privacy was a reminder of all he'd left behind 20 years ago, when, amid rising violence in his native country and threats from rebel soldiers, he joined the rest of his troupe in leaving Sierra Leone for an uncertain future in America. Except for the heights of fame he reached early on, and his gruesome, tragic end, Bongo's story is a common one, familiar to millions of immigrants who give up everything—family, career, status—to start over with a new life in a foreign land.
Once he had it all—close family and friends, a girlfriend and a son. He made a good living doing what he loved, had the moral authority to talk tough to those in power, and fans so dedicated that preachers ended their Sunday sermons early to avoid the embarrassment of watching the church empty out when Bongo's radio show began. He needed a bodyguard just to walk down the street.
Then, abruptly, came the realization that in the United States no strangers recognized him, and his signature character, a sensation where he came from, meant nothing to those around him. Instead, there were years of washing dishes at Applebee's, answering phones in a cubicle farm, settling at last into a quiet suburb with two children, and all the while dealing with the creeping fear that he'd lose it all again.
Godfrey Manly Spain grew up in a small house in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, in the peaceful years before his country was riven by one of the most savage civil wars in modern history. The identity of the country, which won its independence from the British crown in 1961, three years before Bongo was born, was forged by slaves freed from Great Britain and North America, one foot still planted in Western culture as they struggled to establish a new African homeland. Descendants of those former slaves, called Creoles, are still concentrated in Freetown today. Bongo was one of them.
He grew up on the north end of Waterloo Street, in a middle-class neighborhood near the city center. His younger sister, Henrietta Coker, also known as Baby Love, recalls how he'd often attract a crowd of kids from the neighborhood to hang around him at their house, cracking jokes and dreaming up new nicknames for them. Joseph Edwin, who'd go on to found the comedy troupe that made Bongo famous, was eight years older than Bongo, and remembers him as a timid boy who'd ride his bike through the streets with his brother, but otherwise rarely left his mother's side. "He was like a mommy's pet," Edwin says. "He was a funny guy since childhood, but when he was coming up, you would never know that he would become a comedian." Coker says her brother was easily upset when small things went wrong. "He was somebody very feminine. He was just a man-boy."
He grew to a lanky six-foot-three, and carried his easy-going, quick-witted demeanor through childhood and into a job at the government printing press where his stepfather worked. In his spare time, he acted with a local group called the Chigura Theater. Donald Nat-George, another member of the troupe who played in community theater back then, says there was no established path for an acting career in Freetown. "It wasn't professional at all, really. All the actors were amateurs," he recalls. Edwin approached Nat-George first, and then Bongo and two others, about forming a comedy troupe, the first of its kind in Sierra Leone. "We all had the same goal, so we quit our jobs," Nat-George says. The five called themselves The Professionals.
They'd find a busy bar full of drinkers, muscle their way into the middle of the crowd and begin an improvised bit, with no drum roll or introduction, playing for tips. "When we just started things were very hard," Edwin remembers. Bongo was "very ambitious," he says, but easygoing through their early struggles. From the beginning, Nat-George says the group helped give Bongo's life the sort of focus and direction it had been missing. "Being part of The Professionals was a big change for him," he says.
As a traveling singer and conga drummer, Edwin had earlier picked up the nuances of the cocktail of cultures in Sierra Leone, both tribal and Western, and when he founded The Professionals, he says he mined that experience for comedy. Each of the characters they created played off of cultural stereotypes; Lord Bongo was a stodgy Creole elder, whose aspirations to the refined pleasantries of the colonial British undermined his attempts to function in a tribal society. Nat-George took the role of Dandogo, Bongo's nephew or son, a dunce with a limp and a twisted face—"you look like somebody who's suffered from a stroke," he explains—who always found a way to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. "Now people mimic Bongo in Sierra Leone," Nat-George says. "[But] there will never be another Dandogo."
In one old photograph from their routine, Dandogo stands slumped to one side, barefoot with his pants rolled up to his knees; Bongo, wearing a green button-down shirt and a pink bucket hat, is smoking a big white pipe and has his fighting dukes up, grabbing the shorter, chubbier Dandogo by the shirt. Their faces are painted with white mustaches and beards.
After four months of doing their act in bars, The Professionals made good on their name. At a Freetown bar called Sonny Mark, they performed in front of the director of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, the country's only radio station. The man liked The Professionals' act and suggested they come to his office the next day.
Their salaries from the government-run station weren't much, but the advertisers on their show paid them as well, giving them an income Nat-George says was "better than a member of parliament." In a land where radio was king, their twice-a-week show was the biggest thing on the country's only radio station.
"[Bongo] came at the right time, when the economy was so bad around the country," Sesay recalls. Along with Dandogo, he says Bongo was the most popular among the group; his befuddled rich-guy act became a phenomenon around the country. To this day, Sesay says, it's a regular joke in Sierra Leone to knock on a door and announce your presence by declaring, grandly, that Lord Bongo has arrived.
They gave live performances at schools and rich folks' parties, performing for visiting dignitaries like Colin Powell and Sierra Leone's president, Joseph Momoh.
Momoh had taken power in 1985, promising a change from the authoritarian rule of his predecessor, Siaka Stevens. Both were members of the All People's Congress, which was, at the time, the only party in the country. Profits from the lucrative diamond trade that had once filled the national coffers were instead funneled to high-ranking officials in the Momoh government. This corruption led to a coup attempt in 1987, which Momoh put down by executing six of the plotters, including his vice president.
"In those days, we were the only government opposition," Edwin says. "When you do that, it's a crime. For us, we did it in comedy." While he and Nat-George relished the chance to stir up trouble, Edwin says Bongo just wasn't into politics. "We dragged him into it, and not very much." The troupe avoided calling out any politician by name, but told parables and referenced current events for "social-political commentary," Nat-George says. At the peak of official corruption, as Sierra Leone's education and health systems were falling apart, The Professionals played lavish parties and saw how the other half lived. "When you're with them, you see the riches we've got in our country, how they're manipulating them for themselves," he says.
Anger at the government sparked a rural rebellion, bankrolled by the Liberian president and war criminal Charles Taylor. In April 1992, with the country's institutions crumbling and the rebellion gaining strength, a handful of army officers forced President Momoh into exile, installing a 25-year-old army captain named Valentine Strasser to run the country.
"Within our plays somebody would complain about not having money, and the government folks would build a huge house," Nat-George says. "It's no wonder the military took over." Even after the successful coup, the military leaders faced a monumental challenge trying to correct the country's course—so, as Nat-George recalls, "It was a shock when the first thing they thought about...was to invite us [to perform]."
Nat-George says one of the military leaders told him, "'We need you to explain to the people in your shows why we did this.'" Soon enough, though, their shows took on a familiar tone lampooning the privileges claimed by those in power. When one of the top military leaders had traffic blocked off so he could visit a girlfriend, the rest of the country heard about it from The Professionals. In another skit, a plane caught in a steep descent swaps pilots halfway down, and keeps falling, taking all of its passengers—the people of Sierra Leone—down with it.
Nat-George says the troupe was summoned to the State House to explain themselves, but their celebrity saved them from being punished. Instead leaders decided to put the group's talents to use: "The government asked us if we could go up-country in the war zone to entertain the soldiers," Nat-George says. "We couldn't say no," Edwin remembers. "It was everything by force."
From the relative calm of Freetown, they traveled with government troops into the thick rainforest to the east, where the rebel armies of the Revolutionary United Front were using mass killings and amputations to create chaos. Into that lawless rainforest, conscripted into propaganda service, marched mild-mannered Bongo. "He was scared," Nat-George says. "Let me tell you something about Godfrey, that's why it's hard to believe he killed somebody. Godfrey could not handle guns around him. He'd keep close by me whenever we went on those trips."
"The rebels knew us by name, because we were on the radio," Nat-George adds. "They would be up on top of a tree and they'd be shouting, 'You wait till we take power, we'll come get you.'" Back in Freetown, Edwin says he'd been threatened by a lieutenant with the Sierra Leonean army too, that he was afraid to leave his house for days. Boxed in between two warring factions, "We were very much scared for our lives," Edwin says.
By September 1992, the rebel army was advancing swiftly toward Freetown. These were the early years of the RUF's decade-long civil war, one that only kept getting more intense, more grotesque. As many as 50,000 Sierra Leoneans were killed, but many more were mutilated by rebel armies filled with child soldiers that roamed the country spreading a reputation for torture and amputations. It was the beginning of a diaspora that scattered a third of the country's population into refugee camps and foreign cities.
That same September, a Freetown singing group was heading to the United States to perform for a gathering of slave descendants in North Carolina. Nat-George knew it was time to leave. "I saw that as an opportunity," Nat-George says. "We never discussed it. It was just an impromptu thing."
As Edwin recalls, it all happened very fast, over four or five days. "I didn't even make any arrangements for our kids," he says. Bongo's girlfriend had just given birth to a son, Godfrey Jr., and while Bongo was "broken up" to leave him behind, says Edwin, they were all in the same situation. Edwin had three children at the time; Nat-George left behind a five-year-old daughter he hasn't seen since. "We didn't intend to stay [in the U.S] for too long. We will be going back and forth," Nat-George recalls thinking. "We had big plans. They were dreams, actually."
On the plane across the Atlantic, the troupe cemented their plans for the future—performances for local Sierra Leonean groups, recordings they'd sell back home, completing a half-finished video they'd brought along. Looking back, Nat-George says they just weren't prepared for the life that came next, finding themselves on a vast new stage before an audience that couldn't hope to get a joke about tribal drama between the Mende and the Limba. "This is a different world. I looked at it in that light—our comedy is different from comedy over here."
At first, they settled in with friends in Maryland, struggling to find fast food or home health care jobs within walking distance of their apartments. Nat-George says they hadn't made any plans for Social Security or green cards, hadn't even heard of those before. Edwin and Nat-George received political asylum, but Bongo never applied, choosing instead to keep extending his visitor's visa as long as he could.
Just like he was never fully able to commit to citizenship, he was never able to commit to his life here, floating between jobs and relationships, lacking any real direction, acting as if nothing could compete with the adoration he once knew in Sierra Leone but then taking no steps on his own to regain it.
As the group focused on survival, plans to record new Professionals material and line up performances were put on hold. "We tried to get people to promote us, but nothing. Our community is very, very weak here," Edwin says. "When I came here, those that I thought would help, they just disappointed me."
After a year in Maryland, Bongo came to Nat-George and told him a singer from Freetown had agreed to give him a ride to Atlanta where he had a line on a home health care job. He asked Nat-George if he wanted to come, but he stayed behind with the others. Edwin was shocked when Bongo left—he still thought they'd continue their Professionals act, maybe even help draw American attention to the crisis in Sierra Leone. "We should have done a whole lot of things to help those that we left behind," he says. "It was our aim to do all these things—but we split up."
Bongo drifted, in a way that Edwin and Nat-George didn't, down to Atlanta for a few months, before ending up in Dallas in early 1994. He'd found a job as a prep cook at an Applebee's at Coit and Belt Line Road, and again invited Nat-George to join him. Out of work, Nat-George took a two-day Greyhound ride to Dallas and got hired to wash dishes for $4.50 an hour. They stayed in an apartment together, walked to the same restaurant for work each day, and found new friends who'd also emigrated from Sierra Leone. But the similarities didn't last long.
While Nat-George was ambitious enough to get higher-paying jobs, Bongo seemed happy to hang around at home or head to nightclubs with friends, and things grew tense as their paths diverged. Nat-George became active in the local chapter of the All People's Congress, one of a handful of local Sierra Leonean groups in the United States, and got a student loan to study management at DeVry University. He says he'd come home to a loud apartment, full of Bongo's friends, with the music blaring. "Instead of coming home and having a beer, I'd lock myself in the bathroom to study," Nat-George says. "I came home from work one day and my stuff was all outside the apartment."
After the split, Nat-George says he and Bongo lost touch—until recently when Bongo's depression was at its peak. Bongo had called him once in 2004, after three years of silence, reluctantly telling Nat-George that his mother had died. He needed money for her burial. Nat-George says the other Professionals had heard even less from Bongo and would be in no mood to help after he'd scuttled their plans to continue their act. "I called them all, let them know they were doing it for the old lady, not for him. We put some money together, sent it directly to his sister."
Shortly after Nat-George came to Dallas, Bongo met Claudia, a nursing student who'd only recently arrived from Sierra Leone. In a macabre twist, Claudia's brother had been killed along with one of Nat-George's cousins in a double-murder in Maryland in the mid-1990s. Visiting the U.S. for her brother's funeral, with the civil war still raging back home, Claudia decided to remain here. In March 1994, just after arriving, she married a man named Leon Haggerty, with whom she lived for less than a year. The two remained married, though, until she filed for divorce in 2008.
In 1995, Bongo and Haggerty had a son, whom Bongo once again named Godfrey Jr. Edwin recalls this was right around the time he heard that Bongo's old girlfriend in Sierra Leone, the mother of the first Godfrey Jr., had found a new man to help raise Bongo's son back home. Though Bongo and Haggerty never married, the two lived together, on and off for 15 years, raising Godfrey Jr. and a daughter, Elizabeth, born in 2003. They nicknamed her Baby Love, after Bongo's sister back home.
In the late 1990s, Bongo landed a customer service job at Cingular Wireless, where he met Cheryl Anderson, who also worked in his department. "He was my boyfriend for many years," Anderson says. "No matter what, I always knew that Godfrey was like my protector." Her children were close enough to him that they'd often call Bongo for help before they'd call her. She says her relationship was no secret, and that she'd occasionally call Haggerty, a registered nurse, for medical advice. "It was always an understanding," Anderson says.
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."
He remained married to Joan five years after she threw him out, but in July 2009 he finally filed for divorce in Dallas.
Anderson says they had plans to move in together, and that he'd already moved his things to her home. Beneath one of Sesay's stories, Anderson added a comment quoting what she says is one of Bongo's last text messages: "Am just patiently waiting for her damn car to get out of Toyota so she can give me the green car. I've been here forever doing all type of house work. I deserve something when am leaving. Knowing her if I leave she won't give Me a damn thing."
Anderson says near the end, Bongo would spend whole days crying. "He would say, 'Cheryl, I'm just confused.' He wanted me and him to just move and go to a different city, but as I told him, we're too old to start over."
Nat-George says that he and his old partner reconnected over the last year; with Haggerty finally leaving him, Bongo was frantic about losing his kids. "He would cry. I've never seen him like that," says Nat-George who offered to speak with Haggerty for him. But Bongo said she had already spoken with her pastor—her mind was made up.
Bongo's calls grew more desperate, Nat-George says, complaining he'd been given a 30-day deadline to move out of the house, and that he'd been getting calls from the man Haggerty had picked to replace him, calling him lazy, telling him to go get a job. "This guy would call Godfrey and ask, 'When are you leaving? I'm getting ready to move in.'" Nat-George says Haggerty had told him that was the plan, too. "Let's say she doesn't want to be with Godfrey, she has the right to do it. But I don't think that's the way," Nat-George says. "It was too much in his face."
Rosemarie Percy, an aunt who was close to Haggerty in Dallas, says Haggerty was planning to leave Bongo, but denies she was leaving him for another man. "She was just tired." Haggerty took care of the kids and the housework, on top of her nursing job and the home health care service she ran on the side. Percy says all Bongo did was remain unemployed and hang around the house. Yes, there was a time when Haggerty wanted to marry him, but Bongo only strung her along, she says. Haggerty would often tell her about fights when Bongo hit her, but she'd put off leaving. "She was always trying to protect him because of the kids."
In a last ditch effort to shake Bongo out of his depression, Nat-George invited Bongo to join him for a pair of performances last December, at fundraisers for Sierra Leonean aid groups in Dallas. He says he hoped Bongo would find some comfort, a reminder of the old days. Bongo showed up late for one performance, and said he wouldn't be able to stay long afterward. "He said, 'You know what, it's been so long, I depend on you to direct me.'" Nat-George reprised his old Dandogo act and Bongo got back into character with a corduroy suit and a big pipe; together they improvised a 20-minute sketch. "It turned out good, but he was kind of rusty," Nat-George says. Bongo stuck around talking with fans long after the show. "I think he was excited."
Despite the performances, Bongo's frantic phone calls continued throughout the spring and summer. "One day," Nat-George says, "he asked me a question that always haunts me." It was early July, two weeks before the murders. "He asked me, 'Did you know that Claudia's brother was murdered in Maryland?' I said, 'Yeah, I know, the other lady was a first-cousin of mine,'" Nat-George recalls. "He said, 'I heard that her brother was beaten on the head until he passed.' I said, 'That's what I heard.' And he said, 'Maybe that's how she'll go.'"
On Saturday night, July 17, Haggerty's aunt received a call from her niece around 9:15. She'd given Bongo until Sunday to move out, but Haggerty said "things were getting too tense," and asked to come over for the night. Percy, a nurse, was working the late shift and told Haggerty to call her cousin Joseph, who told investigators he'd never heard from her that night. Percy later noticed a missed call from Haggerty at around 11:40, but there was no answer when she returned the call.
Percy called police the next day, concerned that she still hadn't heard anything from Haggerty, and around 9:30 Sunday night, officers arrived at the couple's two-story brick home in southern Mesquite. Officers reached Godfrey Jr. at his sleepaway church camp (Elizabeth had been staying with family), who told them his parents had been arguing but, according to the police report, said he "was unaware of any physical violence."
Officers busted open the front door to find Haggerty's body at the foot of the stairs. In an orange top and a festive white skirt, she was wrapped in a comforter, her face swollen, bruised and covered in bloody shoe prints. There was a pool of blood under her head, and officers reported she looked as though she had been dead "for several hours." Claudia's purse had been emptied onto the floor downstairs; upstairs, there was blood smeared inside the master bedroom doorway.
At the end of the upstairs hall, officers noticed a rope of clothes tied together and hanging from a support beam. A shattered pane of glass and pieces of a nightstand surrounded Bongo, lying naked on the floor, dead.
Nat-George recalls feeling angry when he learned what had happened, he swore he would have nothing to do with burying Bongo. "Just let the government get rid of him," he thought. But then he grew concerned that Bongo's children would grow up wondering where their father had been buried and he wanted them to know.
At a meeting of the All People's Congress, Nat-George suggested raising money for a funeral, and members, including two of Bongo's Dallas cousins, took up a collection. Funds also came from fans spread across the U.S. and overseas. "If he had died under any other circumstance," Nate-George says, "he would have had a state funeral back in Sierra Leone." Instead on August 14, after a brief ceremony, friends and family buried Bongo at Golden Gate Funeral Home in southern Dallas.
Like others in the local Sierra Leone community, Sanpha Sesay is still trying to make sense of the crime, trying to figure out just what pushed Bongo over the edge. The prospect of again losing his children, of an uncertain future without Haggerty, of facing deportation, must have weighed heavily on him, Sesay says. And yet he can't discount the despair Bongo felt at the loss of his celebrity, which resulted in him "living in this country hopelessly." Sesay plans to continue his investigation, hoping to interview more sources for his stories, when he travels this winter to Sierra Leone, his first trip back since he fled the civil war in the mid-'90s.
In April, Nat-George says, The Professionals will reunite in Freetown for a show commemorating the 50th anniversary of Sierra Leone, which has been at peace since 2002 after the government and the rebels put down their weapons.
Joseph Edwin, The Professionals' founder, now 60, who has been working in restaurants since coming to America, says it's still hard to reconcile his old life with this one. He has trouble getting past the disappointment lingering from the way The Professionals fell apart, the gift for comedy he and Bongo shared, the way they once helped lift the spirits of a troubled nation. "I think about him every second. I see a little bit of him in me," Edwin says. "I'm still searching for help anywhere I can get it."
If only that kind of help could have found its way to Lord Bongo.
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