Into the Zombie Underworld
Credit: Photograph by Ben Lowy

Nadathe Joassaint had been, until her death at 26, a native of the village of Joseph, in the third section of the commune of Roseaux, deep in the mountains. Her father was a small farmer; her mother lived in Port-au-Prince, where she worked as a merchant. Nadathe (pronounced na-DAHT) was known for her beauty; had she not been so beautiful, she would have lived. Early in the morning of November 7, 2006, somebody called Nadathe out of her hut. Immediately thereafter, she became ill, then later that night she was dead.

Two months or so later, in mid-January of 2007, Judge Etienne was just finishing breakfast when the huissier of his court announced that a large mob – he estimated the size at more than 100 people – had assembled outside his courtroom, demanding his immediate presence. The crowd was led by Madame Zicot Joassaint, the victim's mother, who, after several weeks' manhunt, was bringing to justice the men she claimed were responsible for her daughter's death.

Judge Etienne was not alarmed by the situation: He was accustomed to crowds arriving at all hours of the day, dragging criminals caught en flagrant délit and demanding justice. The crowd was chanting "Mano, Kriminèl. Mano, Kriminèl." The mood, the judge recalled, was festive.

In front of the courthouse, two men – Neolién Frankel, known by his nickname, Mano, and Joseph Overne – were sprawled in the dirt. They had both been badly beaten. Mano was young and small, Overne older and larger. Both wore jeans and T-shirts and both had identical looks on their faces, of submission and terror. Judge Etienne opened the courthouse and proceeded to the bench. The dilapidated courtroom was small, and the crowd spilled out into the street. He organized the accused in front of his desk, to his right, and invited the accuser, Madame Zicot, to come forward.

A woman in her mid-60s, her hair in braids, dressed in a neat blue-and-white striped dress, Madame Zicot drew herself up to her full five feet, then leveled one of the few accusations in the criminal code more spectacular than murder.

"Li te mete tifi pam nan zonbi! Remèt li!"

He turned my daughter into a zombie! Give her back!