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CASE NOT CLOSED: The killing fields


CASE NOT CLOSED: The killing fields

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The canefield, once a majestic symbol of the island’s prosperity, took on a more sinister reputation in the early 1980s.Apart from yielding the world famous muscovado sugar and being at the heart of the national celebration of the Crop-Over Festival, the fields were being the temporary graves of a number of murdered young women. The island, it seemed, was cursed with its own Jack the Ripper, the notorious English serial killer who cast a shadow of fear over old London Town in 1888 when he gutted five women.But unlike the Ripper, over whom after more than a 100 years there remains speculation as to his identity, local authorities believed they knew who was responsible for discarding the bodies after the cold-blooded murders. The unsolved cases continue to fascinate – and in some instances are tormenting – since the police refused to publicly name the suspect. They conceded back then that they had him and were minutes away from arresting him before he slipped from their grasp. In fact, a meticulous search of police records would turn up a rather tattered arrest warrant for nothing more than an assault allegation, but the name on the document is that of the man who terrified and murdered Barbadian women back then. The first recorded death was that of Golda Dash, 17, found in a canefield at Applewaites, St Thomas, March 28, 1973. Then there were Cheryl McCollin, 15, found at Belle Plantation, St Michael, April 4, 1982; Margaret Turton, 23, in Kent, Christ Church, on May 19, 1982; Sandra Robinson, 23, at Vaucluse, St Thomas, on June 5, 1982; and Janet Smith, whose body was found under a bush at Sandy Lane, St James, on October 18, 1980. Police theorised that the job-hunting women were lured to their deaths by influential people through fictitious wanted ads in the Press. Retired Assistant Commissioner of Police Sylvester Williams, who led the hunt for the killer, in a post retirement interview confirmed the premise on which the police based their investigation.“We had a suspect and I believed he was the man; there was too much [evidence]. I spoke with the superintendent of the Psychiatric Hospital back then and she had a dossier on him. She gave me a whole rundown on him. “I decided at one stage to put a tail on him: a rough shadow to force him into a mistake,” Williams, a 40-year veteran, had recalled. The detectives had a break with the tracing of a newspaper advertisement that Sandra responded to just before she turned up dead. The women were tricked into attending fake job interviews at which could be found members of the so-called elite with a taste for the seedier side of life. Police narrowed the field of suspects after a young woman escaped an attacker who took her almost to the exact point in the canefield where Sandra was found. The incident went beyond mere coincidence, the police felt. A special unit was selected and at one of the briefings it was revealed that the suspect had escaped arrest because he had a child with him. The directive went out, arrest him at all cost on the next occasion. But there was never a next time. Tipped off by Press reports the target fled the island. Still, police tracked the man all the way to the United States, turning up at his sister’s door.“He is still out there,” said Williams in that interview.The conviction that police knew for sure the killer was also confirmed by Retired Deputy Commissioner Keith Whittaker. “There was a suspect. He had left the island and gone overseas and he was moving all the time. There was a proper suspect. When I left the force he was still overseas, but [Sylvester] Williams was on the trail of that one,” Whittaker had stated in an interview after he left the Royal Barbados Police Force.Over the last 30 years there have been moments of hope when it looked as though the mystery would be put to rest. One such time was in 2007 when Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin announced the setting up of a cold case squad to review unsolved murders. The reach of the unit however, apparently did not extend to the terrifying period. Thirty years after the murder spree there are still side effects. The fields are now disappearing from the landscape to be replaced by some of the most luxurious houses. But the mention of the canefield murders still chills the blood.Those who lived through the experience remember when women rushed home before dark and avoided lonely areas, and girls were warned against accepting rides from strangers.  For the residents of St Thomas where two of the bodies were found and one of the deceased once resided, it was particularly distressing. Someone had made their idyllic parish a killing field almost destroying the nerve of the community. Visits to the parish years later were still met with lingering fear. “I remember they also found a Golda Dash in Applewhaites. That was another stain on St Thomas. We [residents] used to be frightened. We didn’t walk ’bout at night. Nothing! We kept close to home. “Even the people who lived down where they found the body in Applewhaites used to go and collect their relatives in cars. They waited until whenever they came up in the bus and drove them home,” Shop Hill Tenantry, St Thomas resident Monica Drakes-Byer had stated.Applewhaites resident Orene Wilkinson is cautious to this day about opening her doors to strangers. She recalled the day Golda’s body was found.“When they found the body, I had just had twins. I heard about it and went to the scene; but all I saw were her feet covered in stockings. I remembered a dog carried the bones into Applewhaites Plantation, and that was how they found out it was somebody’s body in the canefield . . . .“That was something! Upwards to now, I still get scared at night, and I don’t really go out. “But I think what they’re doing [opening up the old cases] is good. I’m very, very happy; and I wouldn’t mind if they hold the killer even after all these years,” Wilkinson said.
Each week the Case Not Closed desk will revisit some of the most intriguing cold cases that continue to baffle investigators. Anyone with information on this week’s or any other case should contact the Crime Desk at 253-4871 or the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-TIPS (8477).A reward is given for information that leads to the solving of a crime.