John Panoutsopoulos loved Cuba, its people and culture.
That one-sided love affair may have gotten the retired Niagara-on-the-Lake businessman murdered.
His family told The Toronto Sun that his friends on the island believed the 70-year-old Panoutsopoulos was murdered in his two-bedroom apartment east of Havana sometime between Dec. 12 and 15.
And in their grief, the close-knit family are desperate for answers and help from the Canadian and Cuban governments. But they may be out of luck on all counts.
“A Canadian who was friends with my dad and is also a snowbird and living in Cuba told me that my father had told one of the locals that he took out some cash and was going to purchase another scooter or vehicle for convenience,” the dead man’s daughter, Demi Panoutsopoulos, told The Toronto Sun.
Word apparently got around that the retiree was carrying big dough.
“This information got into the hands of some dangerous men who ultimately found my father, murdered him and stole the cash,” Demi said.
Four men have reportedly “confessed,” but that too may be a stretch.
Adding to their heartache, the family is being fleeced by the Cuban government.
Already they’ve paid $6,500 for their father to be cremated and for his ashes to be shipped home.
Oh, that includes a daily fee of $60 for keeping the body at the morgue. And now, the Cubans are holding out for still more cash.
“The Cuban government is asking for more money before they will consider cremating him and shipping his ashes,” Demi said.
A missive from Global Affairs claims personnel tried to get Cuba to wave the fees but no dice.
All the red tape and requests for cash are compounding this family’s agony. It is not helping their healing journey.
“This is the most frustrating process anyone should ever have to go through considering what has happened,” Demi said.
“It’s almost borderline corrupt. My entire family have come to the decision that they do not trust the Cuban government and are refusing to pay the additional fees and we are trying to get our money back … which means we won’t have his ashes sent to us.”
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Cuban authorities have been opaque.
What the family does know has been pieced together in a cruel mosaic provided by John Panoutsopoulos’ friends and neighbours on the island.
As we’ve pointed out, John Panoutsopoulos adored Cuba and spent many months of the year on the island. He knew it inside and out.
A lot like Francesca Matus, except her poison was Belize.
The 52-year-old Keswick woman and her boyfriend, Drew DeVoursney, 36, of Georgia, were strangled to death in a sugar cane field in 2017 after goodbye drinks with pals at a local watering hole.
Nearly four years later the investigation is at a standstill and remains unsolved.
But what interested me was that her family told the same dreary tale of dealing with Global Affairs. Red tape, runarounds, scream-invoking frustration.
And the Americans?
They dispatched a team of FBI agents to Belize to assist local cops in the investigation.
So far, the probe has landed in Nowheresville but at least the U.S. was cognizant that, yes, one of its citizens had been violently murdered and maybe something should be done.
John Panoutsopoulos’ family is devastated.
And adding to the horror is that their government doesn’t seem to care.
You can help bring John Panoutsopoulos home by donating here.