Larry Lee

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Lee, Guatemala correspondent for the financial wire BridgeNews, was found stabbed to death in his Guatemala City apartment.

Early in the afternoon, a friend found Lee’s body on the bed of his apartment in the downtown area Zone One. Lee had been stabbed in the throat, back, and side, and the apartment door was open. According to local press reports December 26 newspapers were strewn on the floor of his apartment, suggesting that a scuffle had taken place.

A financial and economic reporter, Lee started freelancing for BridgeNews in August 1998, and became a full time reporter five months later. Born in 1958, he had worked as a freelance and staff reporter and editor for several U.S. newspapers, including the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Knoxville News-Sentinel, the El Paso Herald-Post, the San Antonio Express-News, and the Dallas Morning News.

Lee had recently covered the December 26 presidential elections in Guatemala, and was not known to have received threats for his work.

Colleagues at the Foreign Press Club in Guatemala said Lee had been planning to move to Mexico and had recently put adds in Guatemalan newspapers offering some of his possessions for sale. One add reportedly was found in the doorway of his apartment, but no valuables had been taken.

On November 9, 2001, CPJ wrote a letter to Guatemala’s Attorney General Adolfo González Rodas, expressing its deep concern about the lack of progress in the investigation. “While the motive for Lee’s killing is unknown, it is quite clear that the murder investigation has been deeply flawed. Because Guatemalan authorities have not determined who killed Lee, or why he was killed, CPJ cannot rule out the journalist’s work as a motive,” CPJ wrote.

“The investigation into Lee’s killing has been a tragedy of errors,” the letter continued, “and would probably have stalled completely had the journalist’s family not fought to keep the limping inquiry alive. Fingerprints taken from the crime scene were never identified. Police conducted only cursory interviews with Lee’s friends and quickly lost touch with at least one individual who had been identified as a potential suspect. It took nearly two months for an autopsy report to be issued.”

Among the flaws the letter highlighted, was the fact that Guatemalan authorities kept Lee’s apartment sealed for nearly four months. When Lee’s brother Scott finally gained entry, he found a towel with bloodstains that did not match Lee’s blood type. Only three months later was the blood shipped to Colombia for DNA tests. The results have still not been received in Guatemala.

Whoever murdered Lee apparently stole his cell phone and used it to make calls, but authorities have made no effort to obtain a record of calls that might have been made after his death. Lee’s family acquired a copy of Lee’s phone bill from BridgeNews and had a private investigator make a cursory check of several of the numbers called, but Guatemalan police have not followed up this lead, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.