Man with Aspen ties killed in Jamaican land dispute
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A man who began visiting Aspen about 30 years ago pedaling antique furniture and photographs was shot and killed last week in Jamaica.
John Eugster, 49, was a resident of Presque Isle, Wis., and owned a small resort in Little Bay, Jamaica. According to Jamaican police, he was shot last Monday by squatters on land alongside his resort that he had bought and was subdividing.
Eugster is remembered by friends in Aspen as a likable guy who first came to town years ago to sell oak furniture antiques at one of Aspen’s first consignment shops, Cheap Shots. Steve DeGouveia, owner of Footloose and Fancy Things, first met Eugster when he stopped by DeGouveia’s then Footloose Moccasin Makers to borrow some tools.
DeGouveia eventually carried Edward S. Curtis photographs that Eugster regularly brought from him, prints that eventually evolved into a permanent display in DeGouveia’s store.
“He made a lot of friends in Aspen and in the valley ” people who initially may have been his customers became his friend because he was such a friendly and gregarious guy,” DeGouveia said. “His death was a shock to everybody.”
He was apparently killed in a long-running land dispute. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing police, reported that Eugster was working on land alongside his resort that he had bought when three men drove up and opened fire, hitting him in the head and chest.
One of Eugster’s employees who was working alongside him was also shot, but his wounds are not considered life threatening. The attackers robbed Eugster and his employee of cash, a cellular phone and the employee’s handgun. Police have not identified suspects in the incident.
“He bought a piece of property near the resort, and nothing had been done with the land for years, so he was going to subdivide it,” DeGouveia said. “He had problems with squatters who had been living there, even though he offered them other land to live on.”
Eugster is survived by his wife, Kathleen, and three sons, ages 17, 14 and 12.
They bought their first parcel of land in Jamaica in 1986, according to an article in the Capital Times of Madison, Wis. Eventually they created Coconuts, a 10-cottage resort in the small fishing village of Little Bay, 15 miles from tourist traffic in Negril.
Coconuts was known as a place to get away from it all ” a quiet, intimate resort run by the villages’ locals. DeGouveia stayed there on his honeymoon for a week and said it wasn’t a place for noise and speedboats.
According to the Capital Times, the resort was named “Jamaica’s No. 1 honeymoon spot” by Frommer’s guidebooks.
And it was extremely important for Eugster to help the locals who ran his resort, DeGouveia said.
“When he was setting the resort up, he came through Cheap Shots buying second-hand shoes and getting donated clothes to give them away to local villagers,” DeGouveia said. “He wanted to improve their lot in life as well, and they loved him. They called him ‘Big John.'”
According to the Capital Times, Eugster also tried to contribute ecologically to the fishing village, teaching staff how to manage insects without chemicals and making sure guests learned about the area’s agriculture, culture and ocean reefs.
DeGouveia said he is working to arrange a local memorial for Eugster and will notify the media when arrangements are made.
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The Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain is currently closed. Mechanics are looking into it now and more information will come in the next hour, Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of communications said.