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Barbara McClatchie: the murder of a globetrotting artist in Mexico

Photographer killed in retirement paradise in Yucatán Peninsula, a peaceful tourist region

Pablo de Llano Neira

After a life full of travels and adventures through half the world, 74-year-old photographer Barbara McClatchie met a tragic death in her retirement paradise in the Yucatán Peninsula, a treasure trove of Mayan culture and breathtaking natural beauty. Her body was found on Friday on the side of the highway that connects Cancún and Mérida, the city where she lived. McClatchie was strangled. Authorities believe her taxi driver, who has been detained, killed her in order to rob her.

Barbara McClatchie inside her Mérida gallery in 2015.
Barbara McClatchie inside her Mérida gallery in 2015.EFE
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Barbara McClatchie, asesinato de una artista trotamundos en México

“We are horrified. I can’t image how that could happen. Taxi drivers don’t kill people. Taxi drivers don’t kill people here!” said Paula Sievert, her friend and a New Yorker who runs an art gallery in Mérida, a quiet city that has been spared much of the crime seen in other parts of Mexico. “We are all in shock, foreigners as well as Mexicans,” Sievert said on Friday over the phone on behalf of the expat community in Mérida.

We are all in shock, foreigners as well as Mexicans Friend Paula Sievert

McClatchie, raised in a well-to-do family in Vancouver, was a veteran photojournalist whose work has been published in National Geographic. She was a well-loved figure in the city’s cultural circles. She settled in Mérida in 2004 and, a year later, she opened a gallery that she named La’Kech or “The Other Me” in Maya. The gallery showed works by local artists, especially young newcomers.

The photographer was also the divorced mother of a son who lives in the United States. McClatchie had her main residence in Mérida and another near the beach. She lived alone with her two dogs and a growing clowder of cats, since she was very active in animal-rescue efforts. “Barbara was sociable, friendly, she knew a lot of people and her gallery was always open to artists who wanted to show their work,” Sievert said.

Barbara McClatchie in 2014.
Barbara McClatchie in 2014.AP

McClatchie dedicated most of her career to travel photography, capturing different cultures around the world. At 74 years old, she was still a fearless traveler. She had journeyed around much of Mexico and, every summer, she chose a special destination. The last one, Sievert said, was Turkey. Upon settling in Mérida, McClatchie began to experiment with abstract photography. “She was now trying underwater photography. She would dive in and take blurry images.”

Besides her native English, McClatchie spoke French and Spanish well. Her friends say she had a full life and that she handled herself perfectly well in Mexico. They do not believe she exposed herself to an obviously risky situation and cannot understand how this tragedy took place. McClatchie had just returned from a trip to Vancouver this week. Mexico, “a country she loved,” her friend said, was Barbara McClatchie’s tragic final journey.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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