Exotic bird importers vanish and may have been kidnapped.
On June 7th, 1994, in Richland Hills, Georgia, a state trooper came across a man changing a tire. The license identified the stranded motorist as Moses Lall. But it was a lie. The real Moses Lall was an importer and breeder of exotic birds who owned a ranch 400 miles away in Florida. The man's real name was Hari Gobin, and he worked for Moses Lall.
If you asked ten people who Moses Hall was, you were likely to get ten different answers; reputable businessman, international smuggler, animal lover, business failure. Whoever he was, he is now missing.
Three days before Hari Gobin was seen in Georgia, a feed company delivery man named Daryl Crewe made a routine stop at Moses Lall's ranch in Florida. When no one came to meet him at the gate, Daryl hopped the fence.
The ranch was deserted. Hundreds of exotic birds had been left unattended, everything from yellow-headed Amazon parrots to rare, brilliantly colored Macaws. They were valued at $700,000.
Daryl had expected to run into either Moses Lall and his aunt Lila Buerattan, or the ranch hands, Hari Gobin and Roland Felix Eyoum. But Daryl said the ranch was abandoned:
"It wasn't right nobody being around, and the birds were too noisy. You know birds are noisy, but when they're hungry for a couple of days they're real noisy, so I knew something was up. I just decided I'd better leave the feed in case maybe they did go out for the day. But nobody ever did there. There was always somebody there. So then I just climbed back over the gate, threw the feed down and left."
The next day, Daryl returned to find the feed still there and the birds even louder. The authorities were notified, but a bureaucratic slip-up delayed an investigation for ten days.
Eventually, Palm Beach County animal control officers arrived on scene. Lance McLellan was among them:
"It was worse than you can imagine. The smell was really, really bad and the sight was even worse than that, to see all those beautiful birds laying dead in the bottom of the cages, literally hundreds of them. Some cages had up to 30 and 40 exotic birds dead in the bottom of the cages."
The birds that had survived were near death. Bird expert Howard Voren helped to revive them:
"We started force-feeding those that were too weak to eat, injecting them with fluids in order to combat the dehydration they suffered. And, of course, filling all the cages with food and water if there were birds left alive in them. It was tough but it was worthwhile. I think a very small percentage of the birds died after that."
Animal control experts took charge of the birds, and sheriff's deputies investigated the puzzling disappearance of caretakers Moses and Lila. Howard Voren said that the pair came from Guyana, South America:
"She was the caregiver, she was the bird lady. She was the one that looked after all their needs, drove them to the hospital when they needed hospitalization or care, and she was the one that was the professional bird worry person."
Palm Beach County Sheriffs Det. Glenn Wescott described Lila's role:
"Lila was very quiet, very dedicated to the birds. You could tell from going into the house the amount of care that this woman took. She fed them, she weaned them. She took care of them when they were in the incubator. Basically, she took care of the entire thing."
Moses generally handled the business end. He delegated most of the daily chores to Hari Gobin, who was also from Guyana.
Prior to his disappearance, Moses had been working with his ranch hand, Roland Eyoum, on a plan to import reptiles from Africa. Moses had apparently hit a cash crunch and decided to diversify. Rumor has it that to finance the scheme, Moses borrowed money from underworld figures.
Two days after sheriff's deputies discovered the dying birds, they tracked Roland Eyoum to New York City. But Eyoum had a solid alibi; he proved he had been in New York since before Moses and Lila disappeared. However, Eyoum did tell Det. Wescott a bizarre story by phone that Eyoum said was told to him by his co-worker, Hari Gobin.
"During our conversation on the phone, he told me a story that he had been contacted by Hari, some time on June the 4th or June the 5th, he wasn't exactly sure, and that Hari had told him that two men in a white van came and took Moses and Lila and some birds away at gunpoint."
If Lila and Moses had been kidnapped, what was the motive? Det. Westcott offered possible scenarios:
"It may not have started out to be an abduction. It may have started out as a collection, if those stories are true. It could've been revenge for some of the other business dealings that he's reportedly been involved in that weren't exactly on the up and up. The problem is, we don't know. We're hearing stories about all these things and none of them are substantiated."
What they needed was Hari Gobin's eyewitness account. But according to Det. Wescott, Gobin had disappeared after his encounter with the police in Georgia:
"My speculation is that the story that he told to Roland Felix Eyoum scared him so bad that he knew that he had to get out of town somehow. I believe that Hari used Moses' driver's license and took his van so he could get away and have a type of collateral."
Did Moses Lall's questionable business dealings come back to haunt him? Or was someone after the rare, expensive birds? Howard Voren discounts the bird theory:
"If someone had, in fact, killed them for birds, the birds that were missing were not the right birds. Birds that were worth $2,000 in adjoining cages were left behind. If they met with foul play because people wanted to take the birds, they took the wrong birds."
If Moses' business dealings did go awry, Det. Wescott wondered why Lila was also targeted:
"The question remains who and why, because it seemed that Moses had several people that he was involved with and things that were either legal, illegal or borderline. And Lila is not explained because nobody seems to have anything bad to say about her whatsoever. She seemed to be very happy in her solitude. The birds were her world. She didn't much care for anything outside of that world."
Police believe that Hari Gobin is crucial to the investigation. If he indeed witnessed a kidnapping, he undoubtedly knows vital details that could solve the case.