You might recall reading last month about the Mesquite couple found dead in their home, in what police suspected was a murder-suicide. Police found Irene Haggerty, 46, beaten to death at the foot of the steps, while her 52-year-old husband Godfrey Spain was found upstairs where he'd hanged himself. Both were from Sierra Leone. Their 15- and 7-year-old children had been away at church camp and with family.
Brutal as it was, the news was well overshadowed in the press by the murder-suicide of Coppell Mayor Jayne Peters and her daughter one week earlier. Within the Sierra Leonean community, though, the crime in Mesquite sent shock waves across the world as word spread that the killer, Spain, had been one of the country's biggest pop culture icons of the '80s and '90s, known within the community as "Lord Bongo Johnson."
As part of a six-member comedy troupe called "The Professionals," Lord Bongo and crew delivered a surefire diversion from the country's corrupt politics and stagnant economy, with their Sunday afternoon radio show of oddball comedy. Performing in clown suits for visiting dignitaries, The Professionals were some of the biggest celebrities in the country in the mid-80s. After civil war broke out in 1991, the troupe defected to the U.S. together during a comedy tour stop in Washington.
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In the weeks since Spain and Haggerty's deaths, Sierra Leonean community news sites have recounted his fall from fame, with family members and friends describing his long struggle to find work in the U.S., his recent trouble with drug abuse and his crumbling marriage. Under a series of stories by reporters Christian and S.B. Sesay, comment threads have filled with sparring among Johnson's fans, ex-girlfriends and family members, while a handful of folks in Dallas took donations from Sierra Leonean expats around the U.S. to help bury Lord Bongo.
"I was shocked because when I saw them last year, the entire family, it was like everything was perfect, everything was normal, not knowing there were any undercurrents," says Nanette Thomas, who helped gather donations for the $5,000 funeral.
Thomas, who fled Sierra Leone after speaking out against the government during the civil war, works at an asylum aid group for torture victims in Dallas. She only felt compelled to raise the money, she says, when she heard Bongo was going to be cremated, which she was sure wouldn't have been his or his wishes. "It's not part of our culture," Thomas says. "The few that I called in Dallas, they had mixed feelings," she says, but with the help of other scattered Professionals alumni, Sierra Leonean communities around the country helped cover the cost. "[Bongo] put laughter on the faces of people, but he was not able to do it for himself. It was so sad."
Rowlett Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Jackson also helped Thomas raise money for the funeral. Jackson, who's president of one local Sierra Leonean group, tells Unfair Park the crime was a total shock to the tight-knit local community. "It was a coming together for everybody -- it had been a while since we had this kind of incident," Jackson says, " and the first time around Dallas."