Former Venezuelan beauty queen Monica Spears and her British husband Thomas Berry had been returning from a holiday to rekindle their relationship when they were shot dead during a roadside robbery, friends have told the Daily Telegraph.
The couple, who were never formally divorced despite previous reports, were often apart for long periods, separated by work commitments abroad.
The reunion over the New Year holiday was seen by friends and family as a reconciliation between the pair.
“It had been over a year since I had seen them together”, said Mariela Mootz, Miss Spear’s aunt, after she had seen their bodies lying in state in Caracas’s East Cemetery.
“They were trying to work it out, they loved each other so much”, said Luis Navarra, a friend of the Berrys who describes himself as “like a brother” to the murdered Brit.
“We were expecting their arrival in Caracas to bring the news that they were getting back together, instead it brought tragedy”.
“We have been truly devastated by our son’s loss”, Professor Tom Berry told the paper as he received condolences at the pair’s lying in state ceremony in Caracas’ East Cemetery.
“Our granddaughter Maya is currently staying with cousins of Monica’s here in Caracas”, he said. “Whether or not she will remain with us or move to Orlando to be with Monica’s parents remains to be discussed. For the moment the most important thing is that she is safe”.
The couple were killed in front of their five-year-old daughter Maya Feliz after their car hit a sharp object believed to have been deliberately left on a highway 200 miles west of the capital Caracas on Monday night.
They were shot after locking themselves in their car when a group surrounded them as their vehicle was loaded onto a tow truck they had stopped.
The gang suspected of committing the murders are well-known for their robberies in the area. The 'Los Rapidito’ (the Quick Ones) gang are squatters of an invaded government housing project close to the village of El Cambur.
Local residents have told how the gang terrorised the area after making their den in the building, using the dark and mountainous highway as hunting ground for their robberies.
Eva “Guns” Mejias, the only female gang member arrested in connection with the murders, was Tuesday found in possession of a camera bag belonging to Miss Spear. Six other men have been arrested, all of them Los Rapidito members.
“Life was peaceful here before the squatters moved in nearby, we could go wherever we want”, one resident of El Cambur told El Nacional. “But they established a Red Zone where they committed their crimes. Since then I’ve had to take a different way home at night”.
“We’ve suffered under them for years, and the authorities always knew where they were”, said María Gonzalez, another local resident. “It’s only now that this awful tragedy has happened that the police have been forced into dealing with them”.