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CORONER’S FILE: Professor’s final note

rhondathompson, [email protected]

CORONER’S FILE: Professor’s final note

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OLIVER ST CLAIR HEADLEY, 59, a professor at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill, St Michael, was found hanging at his residence, No.11, Lily Drive, Wanstead Heights, St Michael, on April 9, 2002 by his son Keith Headley of the same address.
Professor Headley had been showing signs of abnormal levels of depression for several days prior to his death.
His wife Hortense, who lived in Trinidad but commuted between there and Barbados, said that although she knew him to be a person of extreme mood swings she had never seen him so depressed in their 37 years of marriage.
The couple were not estranged. They had lived in Trinidad after their return from London in 1967 where Professor Headley was a lecturer at UWI’s St Augustine Campus.
Professor Headley’s mother died in 1991 and his father was now left on his own. As a consequence Professor Headley returned to Barbados, taking up a post at the Cave Hill Campus in 1992. One son, Eric, remained with her. Another son, Keith, lived with his father in Barbados. Hortense was of the view that Professor Headley coped extremely well with this arrangement.
She was in Barbados the weekend preceding Professor Headley’s death, but left on Sunday April 7, 2002, to return to Trinidad. She observed during that last weekend with the professor that his mood was lower than ever.
She knew he had been diagnosed with a mild case of diabetes and this made him angry; then he was told he had glaucoma. Then one month before his death, his doctor informed him that he had developed hypertension. For him this was the last straw.
Hortense described Professor Headley as a health freak who was very concerned about keeping fit. Whatever he did, he did it intensely; he was a perfectionist. He was unhappy because his health was not perfect.
His mood was so altered, she drew it to the attention of their son Keith, asking him if he realised his father was very depressed. After she left for Trinidad, she rang Professor Headley 11 or 12 times during the day on the Monday because she was very concerned about him.
Keith confirmed his father’s depression and stated that he had noted this demeanour during the last few days of his life. He had never known his father to allow anything to get the better of him.
Professor Headley did not normally speak of his problems. Keith pointed out that his father was usually upbeat about 90 per cent of the time.
He had only seen him this depressed once before when he had to have surgery to remove his appendix. Keith also confirmed that the professor was very health conscious. After the diagnosis of diabetes, his father changed his diet and was exercising even more than previously.
A daily visitor to the Headley residence, almost a member of the household, was Joyanne Kinch, Keith’s girlfriend of six years whom Professor Headley affectionately referred to as his “daughter-in-law”. She told the court the professor was like a father to her.
Over the years she had known him to be fanatic about his health and fitness. He ate as many “natural foods” as possible. He used to ride from Wanstead to St Lucy’s Parish Church and back every day except Saturdays which was his Sabbath, as he was an Adventist.
She was at the residence on Monday April 8, 2002, for the entire day and noted that the professor was at home for most of the day. During the morning time he went to the doctor and then returned home.
She asked him if he was on sick leave as she had found him in his pyjamas which was very unusual for him and he replied in the affirmative.
While there that day, Professor Headley joined her from time to time in the family room where they both watched television, but she did not note any unusual mood. Meanwhile Keith was in his room sleeping, and eventually, at about 10 p.m., he woke up in order to take her home, using his father’s car.
When Keith returned home, he found his father sitting halfway up the stairs. He tried to have a conversation with him, but his father was very evasive. Keith noted that he was not his usual bubbly self and he therefore suspected something was wrong.
He remained there for about 15 minutes trying to chat with his father, with little success; so he eventually wished him goodnight.
The next day, Tuesday, April 9, 2002, Keith Headley was awakened by a phone call at about 7:30 a.m. and after that came out of his bedroom, which is on the ground floor, and called out to his father, but got no response. Then he saw his father hanging from a rope which was tied to the wrought iron rail at the top of stairs.
Keith Headley tried to untie the rope, but found the knot too tight; so he eventually had to get a knife and cut his father down.
He checked his pulse for breathing and realized there were no signs of life. He called his girlfriend Kinch to come over, as well as the police and Ambulance Service. Professor Headley was eventually pronounced dead.
Kinch came to the residence and went to the professor’s study where she found a note on the desk. She did not touch it or remove it. She went back downstairs to Keith Headley and told him what she had seen. Police took possession of the note which read: “Eric, Keith and Hortense, Goodbye. Hortense, thanks for having loved me.”
The post-mortem report found the cause of death to be due to hanging.
Professor Headley was apparently in deep despair about his declining health despite all his efforts to stay healthy and so took his own life.
Verdict: SUICIDE.

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