Lindsay de Feliz went to the Caribbean, she said, in ‘search of a dream’. She thought she’d found it in the miles of unspoilt beaches, spectacular waterfalls and breathtaking tropical rainforests of the Dominican Republic.
So, nearly 20 years ago, in her 40s, she turned her back on the rat race in Britain and emigrated to this less heralded corner of paradise — which meant giving up her six-figure salary in marketing, her sports car and the ‘small fortune’ she spent at the hair salon. It also meant walking out on her first marriage.
Many people will be familiar with her journey, chronicled in two successful memoirs, What About Your Saucepans? (the title is a quote from her mother, who was aghast to learn that her daughter wasn’t taking the ‘beautiful saucepans’ she had bought her one Christmas with her on her travels).
The sequel, Life After My Saucepans, was published in 2017. The books occupy the two top spots in Amazon’s Kindle-edition bestseller chart for Caribbean travel, ahead of publications such as the Lonely Planet guides.
‘I was used to a life of pessimism and moaning,’ Lindsay wrote, explaining her momentous decision to leave behind her enviable lifestyle. ‘Moaning about the weather, taxes and house prices, work or transport. Here, everyone seemed to look on the bright side. I’d at last found what I was looking for.’
How unbearably poignant those words seem today. Lindsay was in the process of writing her third ‘saucepan’ instalment, but will now never finish it.
Nine days ago, she was found strangled and buried in a shallow grave, with a plastic bag taped around her head, in woods a few hundred yards from her secluded mountainside home in the north-west of the Dominican Republic. Her family, as well as her many fans around the world, are in shock. Lindsay was in regular contact with her elderly mother in Cambridgeshire and her three siblings.
The murder of Lindsay de Feliz, in such brutal circumstances, has been compounded by another revelation that four suspects have been arrested. They appeared, in handcuffs, before a court a few days ago and are being held in custody while the investigation continues.
One of them is Danilo Feliz Torres — Lindsay’s husband, the local man she married shortly after starting her new life. Her stepsons — his two sons from a previous relationship — are also being detained, along with a fourth islander.
Danilo Feliz would not be the first suspect to be locked up in the Dominican Republic only to be released months later without ever being charged or prosecuted; the criminal justice system there has been widely condemned for human rights violations and corruption.
Nevertheless, the question is bound to be asked whether his arrest is the culmination of a much darker age-old story. The beaches of the Caribbean, especially the Dominican Republic, are populated with young men who target single, middle-aged or older ladies looking for a holiday romance.
Such predators are known colloquially as Sanky Pankies; a term which derives, apparently, from the Spanish expression ‘saca panty’, meaning to ‘achieve a sexual contest’. The ultimate goal, for many of these young men, is to obtain a visa to the woman’s native country, then marry, fleece and abandon her.
On the face of it, Danilo Feliz does not fit this popular stereotype. He is a lawyer who stood for political office in the Dominican Republic.
He and Lindsay were married in 2005 — pictures of the bride in a white strapless gown and the groom in his morning suit have been posted on Facebook — and they were still together after more than 14 years.
She had just celebrated her 64th birthday; he is now 50. ‘Mrs Happy’, Lindsay called herself. Feliz is Spanish for ‘happy’.
But there are different kinds of Sanky Pankies. Few could deny that Lindsay supported Danilo financially throughout their relationship. She bankrolled his failed attempt to become mayor, for example, to the tune of many thousands of pounds, often with donations from friends and relatives at home in the UK.
The episode is documented, in eye-watering detail, in her ‘saucepan series’. Not once, though, does she doubt her husband’s motives or express bitterness or regret about the money she gave him.
Until recently, it seems.
According to Nathaniel Sotero Peralta, the lawyer appointed by the court to look after Lindsay’s ‘interests’, standard practice in these circumstances, the author owned a piece of land worth $500,000 (£375,000), incorporating a small supermarket and adjoining property, in the southern coastal resort of Juan Dolio, which she was in the process of selling.
There was a buyer, he said, with the sale due to be finalised on January 12. But Mr Peralta told us: ‘Lindsay wanted to take the money from the sale out of the country. I believe there was tension over that with Danilo.’
There was something else he brought to the attention of the authorities as well. ‘She [Lindsay] was worried that something might happen to her,’ he said.
Friends, he claimed, had sent him texts from Lindsay in which she says that, after drinking from a bottle of rum at home recently, she had to be treated in a clinic.
Laboratory tests, the texts alleged, showed the drink had been contaminated.
‘I don’t have the paperwork yet,’ Mr Peralta stressed, ‘so I don’t know what was in the rum.’
Were those texts, which have now been passed to the police, as sinister as they seem with hindsight? Either way, there were surely times when Lindsay de Feliz, or Lindsay Firth as she was, must have thought about what she’d left behind in Britain.
Her story is a cautionary tale in so many ways for other women thinking of going in search of ‘sun, sand and sea’ — and, in some cases, sex — in exotic, faraway places.
Lindsay, whose CV included a senior position with the Bradford & Bingley building society, was married to an architect and living in leafy Twickenham, South-West London, back then.
‘I knew that I had what everybody would want,’ she said in a YouTube interview following the publication of What About Your Saucepans? ‘I had so much money I didn’t know what to do with it.’
Yet she gave it all up in 2002 to become a scuba diving instructor, initially in the Maldives, then the Dominican Republic.
The daughter of a former RAF squadron leader, Lindsay insisted she was not ‘looking for a relationship’. On a night out in Juan Dolio during her first few months in the Caribbean, however, she met Danilo in a bar. Not long afterwards, he moved into Lindsay’s apartment. Less than three years later, as we know, they were married.
With his wife’s help, naturally, Danilo — who worked for an insurance company and was also the caretaker of some holiday flats — studied to become a lawyer. In 2010, he ran for mayor in a small town near Juan Dolio.
What followed almost defies belief. Lindsay would withdraw money for the ‘campaign’ from ATM machines, often ‘maxing out’ — exceeding, in other words — her daily limit, which the bank would not increase ‘however much I begged them to’.
At one point, she recalls in What About The Saucepans?, she received a call at 4am from Danilo, who was working on the campaign. Yes, at 4am. ‘Lindsay,’ he told her, ‘we need today’s money. Please get money out of machine.’
The money was never enough.
‘I phoned my mum,’ she revealed on another occasion, ‘and as usual she came to the rescue and went off to Western Union [the money transfer service] and sent him cash.’
Lindsay cashed in her pension and borrowed money from friends in the UK, among them her first husband. He loaned her £5,000.
During the ‘campaign’, Danilo even boasted he was ‘more famous than Tiger Woods’. ‘As I looked at him standing next to me, I marvelled at the change in the man I had married,’ Lindsay informed her readers. ‘No more jeans, T-shirts and baseball caps.
‘Now he always wore a suit and one of my father’s shirts. No more trainers; instead, polished shoes.’
Lindsay was not a naive woman. She was highly intelligent. She was fluent in French and German. She enjoyed a successful career. The fact that someone as capable as Lindsay allowed herself to be treated in this way is troubling but not uncommon, as other women have discovered.
Lindsay’s laissez fair attitude was not just confined to money. A recent post on a local website from someone who knew Lindsay well alludes to this.
‘Without divulging too much about my conversations with Lindsay, but to maybe put some light on if she was in denial or not, I shall say this,’ the friend wrote.
‘In short, she told me that she would be foolish to think that Danilo had been an angel in regards to other women and other relationship issues, but that she chose to believe him.’
Might Lindsay be still alive today if she hadn’t?
The mayoral debacle left her heavily in debt. Unable to afford to live in Juan Dolio, the couple moved to a smallholding in Cacique, a village in the hills of the Moncion region, where Lindsay began writing her ‘saucepan’ books and a widely read blog, working as a translator, and, of course, assisting her husband with his legal work.
On Tuesday of last week, she was returning on the bus from the seaside resort of Puerto Plata. The driver recalls dropping her outside her home at around 3.30pm. She was never seen alive again.
During that last fateful journey, it transpires, Lindsay exchanged texts with her two best friends but suddenly stopped replying. Even though it was only 4pm, the friends became instantly worried and put out an initial alert on social media.
Their response adds credence to what lawyer Mr Peralta told us: that Lindsay had in fact been fearful for some time and had confided in friends about her fears.
Two days after her last text on the bus, police discovered Lindsay’s body in woods at the back of her two-storey farmhouse.
‘We are all just so shocked by what has happened,’ said a member of her family in the UK, who spoke to Lindsay on the phone ‘once or twice’ a week. ‘She didn’t talk about any problems in her life.’ The esteem in which Lindsay was held in her adopted home is evident from the outpourings on the website DR1 (Dominican Republic 1), where there are 92 pages of tributes and theories about her death.
One post summed up the feelings towards her: ‘I would like to honour my long-standing and dearest friend Lindsay, who over the years helped me through many traumas of my own and would always make me laugh! The cruel ending to her life I find despicable to say the least, and it is sad beyond belief.’
Her publisher, Springtime Books (‘publisher of books by expats for expats’) said Lindsay ‘led a life less ordinary’ and was one of ‘our most treasured authors’.
All the suspects, including Lindsay’s husband, were remanded in custody for three months. This could be extended later or they could be released.
‘They are accused of the murder of Lindsay de Feliz,’ said National police colonel Joselito Alonso.
Life After My Saucepans, published three years ago, ends: ‘Do I regret my choice to come to the RD? ‘No, never.’ Do I regret staying and marrying Danilo? ‘No, never.’
But, at the time of death, had she begun to change her mind?
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Paul Bracchi and Greg Woodfield