For those of you who have found yourself here but have not yet read Bonnie’s book Bound to a Promise, what you are about to read was written by Detective Superintendent David Marshall of New Scotland Yard. Detective Marshall was one of the three Scotland Yard Detectives who investigated and captured the three men who murdered Bonnie’s parents. Bonnie became very close to these three detectives, but Dave had a secret that was not revealed until months after the trial came to a close. So whether you came searching for Dave’s story from within the pages of Bound to a Promise, scanning a QR Code or stumbled on it while exploring Bonnie’s Website you are in for an excellent read – Enjoy!
A Detective’s Perspective
By Dave Marshall
A pebble? Yes, consider a pebble landing in a still clear pool with a large splash. Moments later after the initial impact and sound, long after the pebble has come to rest on the bottom, the concentric ripples continue to radiate, disturbing the entire surface of the pond to various degrees, and only finally dissipating some time after that original disruption to the tranquility of the surface. What had been a beautifully clear and reflective surface is transformed into a disturbed, broken and opaque surface but whilst still managing to maintain a wonder and beauty – all be it in a completely different light. So is life I have found – with single apparently isolated events reverberating and affecting numerous people and situations for some time after the initial event, sometimes for a lifetime. On some occasions it feels like a huge boulder rather than a pebble has landed in that pool!
There are many parallels to this metaphor in my recollection of the events before and after those tragic deaths in Low Bay, Barbuda in 1994. Hopefully they will become evident as the story unfolds and illustrate that even with undeniably evil events there is an opposing power affecting and transforming the situation and circumstances to produce hope, undeniable good, justice and some comfort for the pain.
I recently retired as a police officer in 2010 with over 30 years service and struggle to remember in great detail many of those events in 1994, but there are certain memories, that although fading with time, will remain with me. I was only a minor player in this tragic tale and would not have been affected even remotely to the same extent as those who lost parents, children, family or friends but even so this event has left an indelible imprint on my life. These are my personal recollections and my own view as a private individual not as a representative of the Metropolitan Police.
On the 15th floor at New Scotland Yard in London, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police, used to be the offices of the International and Organised Crime Branch and part of the Specialist Operations Department that contained the units dealing with serious crime impacting across divisional police boundaries of a specialist or sensitive nature. SO1(1) the major enquiry team was the unit I joined in 1991 and comprised of a relatively small number of staff, the majority of whom were in one of four teams comprising a detective superintendent, detective inspector, detective sergeant and a detective constable. The team I was assigned to as a detective sergeant was led by Detective Superintendent Michael (Mick) Lawrence whom I had first worked for in 1986 as a young detective constable in Dagenham, an area to the east of London. For various reasons the detective inspector’s post was vacant for periods of my posting resulting in me often performing that role in an ‘acting’ capacity. The detective constable was a very experienced officer Jim Johnstone. Work was very interesting, exciting, challenging and varied and included investigating blackmail, kidnap, extortion, jury interference, crimes in the royal palaces, sensitive enquiries and on occasions murders abroad involving British citizens or in a British dependency. The four teams had a rota for who would deal with the next investigation that came in to the department, whilst waiting for the next enquiry the team in line to take it would be referred to as ‘being in the frame’.
So it was in January 1993, actually on my birthday, when our team was in the frame, and a whole year before the Low Bay murders, that Mick Lawrence called Jim and I into his office to tell us the news that we were to travel to Antigua in the West Indies to help the local police investigate the murder of their Comptroller of Customs, Rolston Samuel. Three days later we were in Antigua. We were sworn in as Special Constables of the State of Antigua and Barbuda so that we had police powers in that jurisdiction, as our police powers in relation to the Metropolitan Police at that time only extended to England and Wales in the UK. We then proceeded to work with the local detectives who were under the command of Superintendent Norris Airall and reported to the Police Commissioner, Edric Potter. For this and the subsequent enquiries all our wages and costs whilst deployed there were paid for by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda.
Briefly, Rolston Samuel had been murdered in his isolated house by two youths whom he had disturbed breaking into his home. They had violently assaulted him with a machete and a large rock which resulted in a very bloody crime scene. The local officers had limited resources for forensic examinations and little experience of investigating murders as Antigua and Barbuda had, to the country’s credit, a very low murder rate, often in very low single figures. Antigua (with its dependencies of Barbuda and Redonda), was a member of the Commonwealth (with full independent status since 1981), and had Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. This former British dependency, with its strong links to the UK, had requested officers from Scotland Yard to assist with the forensic examinations and provide a degree of independence in what was considered at one stage, although subsequently revised, to be a possibly politically motivated murder.
After 6 weeks with the additional assistance of DS James Gallagher, a crime scene manager, from London and some great team work between our small team and the local officers the two youths were identified, arrested and charged with the murder of Rolston Samuel. We returned to London in late February but were looking forward to returning to Antigua some months later to give evidence in the preliminary court proceedings and committal to the crown court for the murder trial. In Antigua at that time, unlike the UK, they still had the death penalty for murder which emphasised the need to ensure the integrity and credibility of all the evidence in the case. I mention this case as it explains how we came to be involved with the murders in Low Bay.
In the end it wasn’t until the following January in 1994 that we, (Mick, Jim Johnstone and I), returned to Antigua in order to give evidence at the Magistrates Court committal proceedings in relation to the two defendants charged with the murder of Rolston Samuel. We looked forward to returning to the Caribbean island of Antigua for many reasons including progressing our case to court, the warm weather – distinctly different to the snow and cold our families were ‘enjoying’ back in the UK, the hospitality and friendship extended by the Antiguan citizens but also one other factor. That factor was the coincidence of the English cricket team having a winter tour to the West Indies including a test match in Antigua. We hoped that having finished our work at court during the day we would find the opportunity, work permitting, to catch a couple of hours watching some cricket later in the day.
When we arrived at our hotel, the Halcyon Cove, that had been the base for our previous visit, we discovered that the English cricket team were also staying there, together with a large contingent of sports press reporters there to cover the cricket. We saw some of the famous players including a few of them playing cricket on the beach against some local boys. However, for reasons that I will explain, that would turn out to be the only cricket we would get to see.
We had an expression in the Metropolitan Police ‘on scene and dealing’ which applied when a radio call would come out to deal with an incident but a unit had already come across the incident by chance. Their response to the radio call to the control room would be we are ‘on scene and dealing’ – the incident would then be allocated to them to deal with. The reason I mention this will become clear.
On Sunday 30th January, 1994, on our weekend off we had decided to play golf at Cedar Valley Golf Club in Antigua. At the end of the round at about mid day as we approached the club house we saw the police commissioner Edric Potter in full uniform sitting at one of the tables. Somehow he knew where to find us, but he had been a detective and become the commissioner so were not surprised. He informed us of the murders of four people on a yacht in Low Bay, Barbuda and officially asked Mick for our assistance. Mick contacted London to speak to our detective chief superintendent and ask the British authorities for permission. Although another team was in the frame for the next enquiry we were definitely ‘on scene and dealing.’ This was the beginning of our involvement with the Low Bay murders.
We had not gone equipped with forensic resources but had left quite a few resources, packaging materials, forensic suits etc behind after the first murder enquiry so we managed with some local officers to pool these together. We travelled to Deep Water Harbour in Saint John’s, Antigua, where a Swan 65 yacht the ‘Computacenter Challenger’ had been brought from Low Bay in Barbuda. Barbuda is the sister island to Antigua with an area of approximately 68 square miles and about 30 miles due north of Antigua.
When we arrived there Superintendent Airall explained that the yacht had been found moored off Low Bay in Barbuda with four dead bodies on board. The decision had been made, prior to our involvement, to move the boat with the bodies still on board from its mooring in Low Bay to its current location in Deep Water Harbour. The yacht had been discovered the previous day the 29th January, 1994, and the local police and pathologist had examined the bodies and scene prior to moving the yacht to Antigua. There was also now some press and media interest so a cordon had been established keeping them and other people away from the yacht. I had recently completed a crime scene managers course so Mick gave me the task of assessing and dealing with the crime scene whilst he went with Jim to speak with a lady, Alison Elliott. Alison, we discovered, was employed as the yacht’s cook but had been given the week off to stay in Antigua instead of going on the trip to Low Bay.
I ensured no one else was on the yacht and then carried out a visual inspection of the interior of the yacht and salon area from the deck looking through the main hatch. I could see all four bodies of the following people – Ian Cridland, Thomas Williams, Kathleen Clever and William Clever. All these people had their hands tied behind their backs with cord or tape and some had tape gags over their mouths – they had all been shot. Whilst I collected my thoughts and tried to get my mind around the horrific scene I could see, I prepared a sketch plan of the main cabin area. Having completed this, I then carefully forensically packaged all the bodies and with the help of the staff from Barnes Funeral Home took them off the yacht and made arrangements for them to be securely taken to the Funeral Home.
Having seized some other items of forensic interest including a roll of tape like the tape used to tie up the people, a knife and marling spike I ensured that the yacht was secured with a police cordon and went to meet Mick and Jim to update them.
Their meeting with Alison had gone well and as a result of this and other information we were able to ascertain some key facts. The owner of the yacht, ‘Computacenter Challenger’ (registered in the Channel Islands) was a very successful business man Peter Ogden (now Sir Peter Ogden). He with others had sailed from the UK to Antigua in a cross Atlantic race called The Arc. The permanent crew was the skipper Ian Cridland, deck hand Thomas Williams with Alison as the cook. Having arrived in Antigua, Sir Peter Ogden had subsequently returned to the UK but had invited Kathleen and William Clever, two American citizens, to come and have a holiday on the yacht. The Clever’s managed the small private island of Jethou in the Channel Islands off the island of Guernsey and south of England. Sir Peter Ogden owned Jethou and the holiday invitation was as a reward for their hard work for him. The Clever’s were experienced sailors and had accepted his offer. As Kathleen an experienced chef, gave Alison the week off whilst the other four made the short trip to Barbuda to visit the beautiful Low Bay – 10 miles of golden sand and coconut trees with a wild life sanctuary for frigate birds, a lagoon and crystal clear blue waters. They had been one of a few boats moored off Low Bay but when no activity was noticed for some time on their yacht, people from the other yachts had come alongside the yacht, discovered what had happened and raised the alarm.
The murder enquiry swiftly moved into top gear with a number of lines of enquiry and key actions identified for the team comprising of our team from Scotland Yard and the local officers, several of whom we had worked with, so successfully, the previous year on the Rolston Samuel murder investigation. Stories were rife, particularly with all the journalists on the island for the cricket and they initially focused on drugs smuggling with the suggestion that the crew of the ‘Computacenter Challenger’ had stumbled across drug dealers. There was even a suggestion that pirates had been involved.
Enquiries were initiated in relation to the owner of the yacht and the victims in England, the Channel Islands and the United States of America. Media coverage became intense with press interest from around the world but particularly the UK and USA.
Arrangements were made for the forensic post mortem examinations to prove identities, ascertain the cause of death and endeavour to retrieve as much forensic evidence as possible to establish the perpetrator’s identities. This important task was allocated to Jim Johnstone the exhibits officer, together with DS Jim Gallagher, the crime scene manager, who had assisted with the Rolston Samuel murder enquiry and recently arrived in Antigua to give evidence in the court proceedings for that case. They worked closely with the forensic pathologist, Dr Lester Simon.
Mick gave me the task of searching the scene at Low Bay in the vicinity of where the yacht had been moored. The search for me was a paradox, with the most horrific and evil crime being committed in one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.
I flew in a small 9 seater airplane with Superintendent Airall and other officers to Barbuda and after the runway had been cleared of goats, landed at Codrington Airport. From Codrington we went in a small craft that took us across the lagoon to the long strip of land separating the lagoon from the sea that formed Low Bay. We also had the assistance of the local coastguard vessel, the ‘Liberta’ that had travelled to Low Bay to meet up with us. Divers searched the sea and lagoon for shot gun cartridges and anything else that could help us build up a picture of what had occurred on the ‘Computacenter Challenger’. Its dingy had been moored some distance from the yacht itself so again questions had to be answered as to why that was the case, it also had to be forensically examined for any clues.
Whilst searching the beach area of Low Bay we made some key finds. Hidden in the bush was a stolen Alcort Sunfish dinghy that had been taken from Codrington harbour and in the branches of an adjacent grape tree and at its base we found two divers fins manufactured by ‘Squid Fin Scubapro’ that we subsequently proved had been taken from the yacht. Enquiries later in the day in Codrington led to the discovery of some cigars that had been found in a local fisherman’s Boston Whaler boat, and that had also come from the yacht.
Numerous enquiries continued over several days including a detailed examination of the yacht to look for any forensic evidence and ascertain what items were missing from the boat, a visit by officers from our team still in London to the island of Jethou, witness interviews with the owner, the victim’s relatives and the yachting community in Antigua. There was intense media interest that produced other lines of enquiry to pursue. Antigua does like its rumours and there were many to consider but no strong leads were forthcoming.
We set up our own major incident room from which to manage the investigation and record the information gathered and continued to work closely with the local officers, with whom we had an established and excellent working relationship.
The owner of the yacht, Sir Peter Ogden, agreed to offer a reward of £100,000 for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the murders and this was publicised. We also initiated approaches to individuals who might be able to provide intelligence that would lead to ascertaining the identity of the perpetrators.
It was over two weeks later, on the 16th February, 1994, that a key breakthrough came in the form of some information that the crime may have been committed by people on Barbuda and named a particular individual, Melanson Harris.
Our incident room was based at the Police HQ in Antigua so we set about establishing a satellite office and base in Barbuda. However, due to the size of the island, its location and any activity being hard to disguise this had to be carefully planned. A disused hotel, The Sunset View, was identified and a co-ordinated operation was initiated with some officers based on Barbuda to arrange this. Mick, Jim Johnstone and I flew to Barbuda on the small plane with some local officers including Superintendent Airall, whilst others travelled to Barbuda on the coast guard vessel the ‘Liberta’. Once we had arrived we quickly set up base at the disused hotel and made it suitable as a temporary police station and incident room.
That afternoon Jim and I, with Superintendent Airall and other officers went to the address of Melanson Harris in Codrington Village, Barbuda. During a search of his premises we found some English currency but also more importantly a number of notes from the Bank Of Guernsey, an island in the Channel Islands, adjacent to Jethou where the Clevers had worked and where the ‘Computacenter Challenger’ vessel was registered. Harris was unable to give a valid explanation for his possession of this money stating that his aunty in Leicester, England had sent him it. We also found some jeans that had had the legs shortened and the cut off sections dumped outside – it appeared that these cut off sections may have had blood on them. In the house were also numerous small shot gun type pellets that we subsequently established were ammunition for a BB gun that had been stolen from the yacht.
Harris was taken to our temporary base at the Sunset View hotel where he was briefly interviewed by Mick and Superintendent Airall before being allowed a period of rest whilst we reviewed the situation. The local people were all aware we were on the island and monitoring our every move. It was an exciting development but a nervous night’s sleep with Harris detained in the same building under police guard.
The following day, 17th February, Harris was interviewed by Mick, Superintendent Airall and myself. In this interview Harris made certain admissions including that on the 27th January with others he had boarded the ‘Computacenter Challenger’ to rob the occupants but that he had not intended to kill anyone.
Following the interview Jim and I, with Superintendent Airall and other officers were taken to a number of locations by Harris who indicated where he had hidden the items they had stolen from the yacht, but when we looked could find nothing. However, whilst we were doing this the crowd of local people who were following our progress was increasing in size and being quite vocal in assuring us of Harris’ innocence. However, Harris finally led us to a sandpit with two twigs stuck in it in the form of a cross in an area known as the racetrack. With a large crowd surrounding us as we excavated the sandpit we unearthed a ‘Henri Lloyd’ ‘Round the World Race’ bag showing the inscription, ‘Capt Clever the island of Jethu 0481 723844’. In it was a large quantity of stolen property from the yacht. This was a turning point for us and certainly for the crowd who had been following us, one lady who had been particularly vocal in support of Harris fainted when the bag’s owner’s name and origin was revealed.
Events snowballed and two further perpetrators were identified, they were Marvin Joseph who was detained whilst we were still on Barbuda and Donaldson Samuel who was detained a few days later during a return visit to Barbuda. Harris had provided the names of his accomplices but would change his mind in different interviews as to who was actually involved. We moved our base back to Antigua Police HQ and experienced an interesting flight back on the nine seater plane with two of the seats occupied by our suspected murderers, Harris and Joseph.
Further interviews were conducted, including those of Samuel and Joseph, and an additional search in Barbuda, led by Superintendent Airall and Jim Johnstone, resulted in the stolen shot gun used in the murders being recovered. On the 22nd February, 1994, all three men, Melanson Harris, Donaldson Samuel and Marvin Joseph were charged with the murders of Ian Cridland, Thomas Williams, William Clever and Kathleen Clever. After the charges were read over and they were further cautioned by Mick, they made the following replies. Harris said “No Sir”, Samuel said “All I want to say but me nah kill anybody, I was there but me nah kill anyone”. Joseph made no reply.
The sequence of events that the team had established was that on the night of January 27th 1994 Kathleen Clever, William Clever, Ian Cridland and Thomas Williams had been asleep on the ‘Computacenter Challenger’ moored off Low Bay. The outboard on the dinghy had broken down which explained why the dinghy had been left moored a distance from the boat. The three perpetrators had armed themselves with a twelve gauge pump action shotgun they had previously stolen in a burglary on Barbuda and taking a Fisherman’s Boston Whaler boat (the one the cigars had been left in), towing a stolen sunfish dinghy behind them, travelled across Codrington lagoon out to Low Bay. There using the Sunfish dingy, they had to carry across the beach (that separated the lagoon from the sea), all three paddled out to the nearest yacht moored in Low Bay, the ‘Computacenter Challenger’, where all three boarded the yacht. On board the yacht, at gun point they manoeuvred the four victims into the yacht’s salon where with rope and tape they had tied and taped the hands of the victims, taped their mouths and forced them to sit. They then stole a number of items including Guernsey currency, $1,000 US, a BB gun, a scarf and other items. Having completed the robbery, with the use of the words ‘no witnesses’ they then proceeded to shoot all of the victims. It appears that Donaldson Samuel did not shoot anyone having just intended to be party to the robbery, whilst Melanson Harris and Marvin Joseph between them shot all four victims. Depending on varying accounts, one shot three and the other one, but it is uncertain as to who shot which number. Harris and Samuel provided limited admissions of their roles in the offence within their signed interviews but Joseph continued to deny any involvement.
As any experienced investigator will inform you, the stage when perpetrators are charged with an offence is not the end but a new intensive phase in the enquiry. All the evidence has to be scrutinised, corroborated where possible, inconsistencies examined and resolved and additional evidence obtained where ever possible. This is true and essential for any criminal investigation, but particularly where anyone convicted of the offence faces the death penalty.
Ten weeks after originally arriving in Antigua to give evidence in the Rolston Samuel murder proceedings and having investigated the Low Bay murders the Scotland Yard team returned to the UK taking with us many exhibits for forensic examination. These included the shot gun, BB gun, clothing, tape used to constrain the victims and boards from the vessel. Enquiries continued in relation to the Low Bay murders in parallel with new and existing investigations our team was managing back in London and around the world. Officers in Antigua and Barbuda also carried on working on the case in tandem with us.
Forensic evidence included evidence supporting the use of the seized shotgun in the murders, some of the perpetrators fingerprints were found between stuck together layers of the tape used to restrain the victims, a footmark was identified on some decking and evidence regarding possibly blood stained clothing.
A key piece of new evidence came from Antigua, where officers had identified a twelve year old boy, a relative of Joseph, to whom Joseph had made certain admissions regarding the Low Bay murders. He stated that in early February, 1994, he had seen that “Marvin had a gun in his waist” and that “Marvin” told him that he “got the gun off the yacht down by Low Bay and that he killed three people and somebody else killed one”. This we assumed referred to the BB gun stolen from the yacht and for which pellets from it were found all over Harris’ house.
The culmination of our efforts, including these further developments, illustrate the wonderful way the Scotland Yard team based in Antigua and in London, the local officers in Antigua and Barbuda, and our forensic experts worked together to establish a case. This case was strengthened and supported by individuals in Antigua and Barbuda, like the 12 year old boy, who were courageous enough to give evidence. Another key and crucial element of the investigation was the co-operation, patience and courage of the families of the victims and their friends. They were experiencing unbelievable heart ache and pain, with additional stressors including the crime being committed in Barbuda, miles away from home and associated logistics for communication and travelling, compounded by the different legal jurisdictions, processes and procedures. It would be another two years before the trial was heard in the High Court in Antigua and not until after 2000 that all the related court proceedings would be completed.
As time passes previous years tend to blend together the further you get away from them, so these are my current recollections. Some are based on limited notes I have, but the remainder from memory. I remember certain events, whilst I imagine Mick and the two Jims will remember events slightly differently and perhaps some I have forgotten about altogether. This facet of explaining my perspective becomes more pertinent for some of the remainder of the story where it is told nearly completely from memory – so please forgive me if I forget that people were there or get the chronology a little mixed up.
The Low Bay murders had been committed in January, 1994, and after 10 weeks we had left Antigua but did return later again that year for court appearances and work related to both the Rolston Samuel murder from 1993 and the four Low Bay murders. Two more visits were made in the subsequent years of 1995 and 1996 in relation to court proceedings for both cases, culminating with the Low Bay murder trial in January 1996.
The delay in the trials starting was affected by many factors but the main one being that the High Court in Antigua only sat at certain times of the year and there were competing demands on court time. A delay in the Rolston Samuel case arose when there was a prison escape in which a number of defendants on remand escaped, including one of our two defendants. Although it had meant that the court case had to be rescheduled, the escape did actually produce additional evidence for the trial. Our defendant whilst on the run had retrieved the gun he had stolen from Rolston Samuel’s house at the time of the murder and had never been recovered, that was until he was finally recaptured after a shoot out, where one of the other escaped prisoners was shot dead by the police in a gun battle.
Both of the defendants in the Rolston Samuel murder case were convicted of murder but narrowly escaped the death penalty by virtue of their ages, being just under 18 years at the time of the offence.
The events so far I think illustrate how no single event really operates in isolation but is impacted by other events and the choices people make. Our involvement with the Rolston Samuel murder, Alison given the week off to stay in Antigua instead of visiting Low Bay, the Clever’s acceptance of the offer of a holiday on the ‘Computacenter Challenger’, the ‘Computacenter Challenger’ visiting Low Bay on that day and being the closest to the shore out of all the other yachts moored there, Harris keeping hold of the Bank of Guernsey currency and Harris and Samuel choosing to answer our questions in interview are just some of the aspects of this story that illustrate the point.
Those more deeply impacted by the Low Bay murders will probably have identified additional factors in the sequence of events and how the story played out on a wider scale within their families and lives.
In completing my recollection of this story I will attempt to highlight some key events as they affected me. As I previously explained I only had a minor role in these events and didn’t suffer the loss of a family member or friend so I readily accept that they should be seen in that context. However, they are given in response to a request from Bonnie, the daughter of the Clever’s, who knowing them has asked me to share them with you. She did experience a real loss so if I can help in some way by sharing them again I am very happy to do so.
I first heard about Bonnie Floyd, the daughter of William and Kathleen Clever, in any detail, from Mick and Jim who had met her and her sister at New Scotland Yard when they had visited London. For some reason I didn’t get to meet them on this occasion as I had been engaged on another criminal investigation. However, I did hear from Mick and Jim about their meeting and that a key point they had picked up was that Bonnie was a committed Christian and wanted to talk to them about Jesus. I was interested by this news as I am a Christian but didn’t comment any further as I had never openly acknowledged this fact to either Mick or Jim.
Some people have difficulty equating their image of the Christian God and Jesus with the pain and suffering in the world, compounded by the evil people are capable of inflicting on each other, something we would witness on a regular basis working in London as police officers. However, it is my Christian beliefs which help me deal with life and give me some understanding of the evil in this world, but more importantly real and tangible hope in an eternal future. Without this hope I don’t personally see any answers for who we are, why we are here and what is life all about? I found in my police career that I couldn’t always understand why God allowed things to happen but when I put that unknown question alongside what I did know about God, what I knew and experienced of God was such, that the confidence that knowledge provided, allowed me to trust God about those things I didn’t understand.
Why did God allow those three men to kill those four people in that fantastic location, a truly beautiful location illustrating the majesty of God’s creation? A question I am sure many of those involved would have asked and even been understandably angry with God about. I don’t believe God minds when we ask Him difficult questions or let our emotions speak angrily and frustratingly at or to Him. In the Bible is a book named ‘Psalms’, a collection of poems, songs and prayers from people to God and several written by King David of David and Goliath fame. He often got very angry with God, as did several of the Old Testament prophets, and repeatedly asked the question ‘Why do you let the wicked prosper?’ More recently, Billy Joel expressed a similar frustration in a song with the lyric ‘Only the good die young’.
If life ends when you die and that is it, then the question is more pertinent than if there is life after death, a life forever. The Bible describes it in the following promise;
‘God Himself will be with them; He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away’. Revelation 21:1-5.
If there is life after death then that fact must put a different perspective on death. The Bible doesn’t promise an absence of suffering or pain on this earth, in fact it assures us life will feature these. It also shows us that God in the person of Jesus, 2,000 years ago, experienced not only the horrific death of crucifixion but also the psychological suffering of separation from God Himself to pay the punishment for all the wrong stuff in our lives, that God calls ‘sin’. He then proved that He was who He claimed to be and demonstrated that His promises and words could be trusted by rising from the dead, conquering death. This is the hope that enables me to deal with situations like the Low Bay murders. I certainly don’t know all the answers, I don’t always like what happens but I do know and believe sufficiently to trust God in my uncertainty and weakness, although admittedly it can be very difficult at times.
We live in an imperfect world, bad stuff happens to good people, there are truly evil forces at work in this world. People are not machines, robots to be manipulated by a superior being but unique individuals with the gift of free will to make decisions, the power to think and choose for themselves. Without freewill there would be no love, without love what would the world and life be like? With freewill there are endless permutations of possibilities for the eventual outcome of events as people’s lives and decisions interact. The effect can even sometimes be experienced centuries later.
I digress, if I feel this strongly now about my Christian beliefs why would the fact that I was Christian probably come as a surprise to Mick or Jim? Things are different now, for a reason I will answer shortly but first I will try and explain, but not excuse, why I didn’t openly share my Christian beliefs with my colleagues and others.
As a teenager I was a mixed up kid and involved with all sorts of behaviour I would be really ashamed of now. I had been brought up in a Christian home, but up to the age of 15 years really had decided to go my own way. In 1975, at my secondary school, the Christian Union ran a series of meetings to explain what Christianity was all about and what it meant to be a Christian. I went to one of these meetings and took a booklet entitled ‘Journey into Life’ that explained in a simple way what it was to be a Christian. It contained a simple prayer to pray if you decided that you wanted to become a Christian. In May 1975, having read and considered what this booklet had to say, I decided to become a Christian and prayed that simple prayer. In that prayer I acknowledged who Jesus was, the Son of God, and that because He loved me He had paid the punishment for all my sin by dying in my place on the cross. I asked Him to forgive me for all the sin in my life, accepting that I didn’t deserve to be forgiven but that His forgiveness was a wonderful gift, given in love, but one that had to be accepted. In response to this gift of forgiveness I asked Him into my life to take charge, promising to follow Him from then on.
Something the booklet suggested was good to do was to tell someone what you had done, so the following day I told one of the Christians at school that I had become a Christian. His reaction “No, not you Dave, I don’t believe you!” or words similar to that, perhaps indicating the kind of person I had been. After some time he did accept my claim when he saw the changes in my life and we became good friends.
I was a very outspoken and committed Christian at school and continued to be so. I even had a place at the London Bible College although, I decided in September 1978, instead to join the police in the south west of England. I was successful in all the selection procedures and did well at training school before being posted to a small town in a rural area. Here I encountered conflict from colleagues who didn’t agree with my Christian views and particularly saw my honesty as a threat and risk to how some of them operated. After 10 months it culminated in my ‘forced’ resignation and for the following two years jobs in the sports department at Bath University and also as a student radiographer.
Having invested so much in the police it was hard to accept but easier than I had anticipated, as God I believe did look after me. One example was when I was driving a car, probably too fast, and fell asleep negotiating a bend, I woke up and braked sending the car into a four wheel skid and hitting a huge telegraph pole at the side of the road. The impact created a crater by the pole and the car was so crushed that the front nearside wheel was where the front passenger seat was. The only space in the car was where I was sitting in the driver’s seat. I had a gash to my head and my watch went through the windscreen and ended up yards down the road. I staggered out of the car and sat by the road side. When the ambulance arrived and I was in the back of it on route to hospital the cheerful ambulance attendant said “Having seen your car I thought we would be taking you to the morgue not the hospital”.
Moving swiftly on, in 1981 I applied to join the Metropolitan Police in London and was accepted. Having repeated the initial training at Hendon Police Training school I was posted to West End Central in London, soon entered the criminal investigation department, moved to Dagenham where I first met Mick and then after some other postings was posted to the International and Organised Crime Branch, SO1(1), where our story started. However, in relation to Christian things, whilst not openly discussing my beliefs I would never actively deny them and always endeavoured to do the right thing. In 1984 God introduced me to my wonderful wife, within 5 months we had married, and by 1994 had two great children. I had stopped going to church, was drinking too much but was really enjoying the excitement and companionship of my fellow detectives. The ‘job’ as police officers often refer to police service, was central in my life, my family second and God lower in my priorities. Yet I look back now and see that despite my unfaithfulness God continued to provide for me and our family, He had his hand on my career and provided wonderful opportunities for me. Amongst those I must include the posting to the International and Organised Crime Branch and the investigations in Antigua and Barbuda and several other countries around the world.
I think that it was in 1996 that I actually first met Bonnie and her husband Donnie in Antigua just prior to the commencement of the trial. They were staying at the same hotel as us and so we regularly met up. It was during this time that I witnessed their Christian faith first hand in the way they conducted themselves and spoke to others, with never any hesitation in mentioning the relevance of Jesus in their conversations. As someone who had lost her parents in a horrific crime, her unwavering reliance on God and His promises was inspiring and very humbling. Others may make light of comments Bonnie and Donnie made, I would never openly agree but never join in questioning the relevance of their beliefs. That was how it would stay for another two years.
After some worrying delays, including whether some key witnesses would give evidence, the trial commenced on the 29th January, 1996. Samuel pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds that he had been part of the robbery but had no intention to kill anyone on the yacht. He gave evidence for the Crown against his two co-defendants, Harris and Joseph, who had pleaded ‘not guilty’. Other victims’ family members attended for periods of the trial including Tom Williams’ parents and Bonnie’s brother, Steve, and his wife Cyndi.
Lots of harrowing details came out during the trial but I was impressed with the dignity and composure the victims’ families demonstrated throughout the process. Despite the seriousness of the situation, I remember two instances which relieved the tension in court. The first was when David Pryor, the firearms expert, was concluding giving truly outstanding evidence and having been thanked and released by the Judge, a short lived round of applause was initiated by Bonnie! He did deserve it but it is not quite the way to behave in a British style court, although, there must have been several who would have liked to join in.
The other was later in the trial, when one of the defendants was being cross examined by the prosecution and had been given the shot gun to hold in order to illustrate how he had done something with it. At the point he was holding the gun there was a sharp crack like a rifle shot which sent several people diving for cover, only to discover that the plastic leg of a chair one of my colleagues had been sitting on had snapped – causing the cracking sound, and for my colleague to embarrassingly end up on the floor. No round of applause but instead laughter to relieve the tension.
In the evenings we would meet up with the victims’ families and go out for a meal together. Mick also arranged for Bonnie and the Williams to visit Low Bay during the day and see the beautiful location where their loved ones had spent their last days. I’m not sure that everyone felt able to visit Low Bay, but for those who did, I know they really appreciated the opportunity and that it helped them in some way towards coping with their tragic loss. I remember one very touching account from a parent of a victim recalling to me how he had swam in Low Bay out to where the ‘Computacenter Challenger’ had been moored, and that had made him feel very close to his son.
It was interesting to see that even in the darkness of the situation, still very real, two years on from the murders, that some light was able to permeate the sadness and feeling of loss. Again, I speak as an observer who could empathise but never truly appreciate what the victims’ families must have been going through.
Two other incidents I remember perhaps illustrate the way life can produce interesting interludes of various intensities in sad times as many were experiencing during the trial. One occurred about half way through the trial. Several of us, including Bonnie were invited out for the evening on a boat moored in a resort harbour. We were welcomed on board by a steel band and felt quite privileged as passersby watched on. Drinks and canapés were provided and the band continued to play. Later on into the evening the owner of the boat suggested he take the boat out of the harbour so that we could see the harbour lights and sunset from the sea. We set off using the sailing boat’s engine and went out to sea. After a while the engine spluttered and I jokingly suggested the engine had run out of fuel to be met by the captains reply that he had two fuel tanks and just had to switch the supply. However, the second tank contained contaminated fuel and so we were without an engine, at sea and it was getting dark. Fortunately it was a large sailing boat, with some experienced sailors on board, they were able to set a sail and began making our way back to the harbour. Things were looking good until we ran aground on a sandbank at the entrance to the harbour. Still, no problem, the experienced sailors instructed everyone to run up and down the boat to try and rock it free. Some small movement but we were still well and truly stuck. The final plan was for a reluctant Superintendent Airall to contact the coastguard, who were a branch of the police, to ask them to come and rescue us. The coastguard appeared to be very engrossed in a dominoes game and initially refused to believe that it was Superintendent Airall on the radio. However, utilising his powers of persuasion and by raising his voice (very unlike Superintendent Airall) he instilled some urgency into their response and about an hour later two coast guard boats arrived. Stifling their amusement, one boat was quickly filled with the members of the steel band leaving us on board the broken down vessel. The second coast guard boat towed us back into the harbour and allowed us to sheepishly disembark into the night.
The far more poignant second incident was when the Royal Navy Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda, a group of yachting people, whose core membership is based in English Harbour, Antigua, and who maintain the Royal Navy tradition of toasting the Queen every evening, invited us out for a BBQ on a small isolated beach accessible by boat. We had a very pleasant but quiet evening lying back contemplating events and looking up at the star covered sky. With no artificial lighting the sky was amazing. I know that several felt very moved by that experience, overawed by the enormous and wonderful expanse of the night sky, a view regularly witnessed by sailors and perhaps one of the many reasons the victims enjoyed their passion for sailing.
On February 28th, 1996, the jury convicted the two defendants, Harris and Joseph of murder and they were both sentenced to die by hanging. neither of them appeared to show any remorse and one even appeared to smile. Samuel was sentenced to 15 years with hard labour for the offence of manslaughter.
Everyone appeared to be happy with the result but there were mixed views from the victims’ families in relation to the death penalty sentence. Again, it is interesting to see how even those who have had a family member murdered are prepared to show some mercy to the perpetrators.
One family member went even further and Bonnie wanted to make contact with Samuel and I know ended up writing several letters to him and even visited him. I could see how someone not personally involved may want to have some involvement with persons in prison, but what spoke volumes was that Bonnie was prepared and even instigated contact with someone who had been involved in the death of both her parents and two of their friends.
On return to the UK, I maintained some interest in the eventual outcome of the sentences but had no further contact with the defendants. I did however, maintain contact with Sir Peter Ogden and some of the victims’ families, including Bonnie and Donnie, Steve and Cyndi and Tom Williams’ parents. For some years I regularly sent these people Christmas cards but, there came a time when I considered my continued contact with them may hinder the healing process if I kept reminding them of the criminal investigation simply by who I was, so I stopped sending them.
In 2000, after execution warrants had been read to the condemned prisoners, with the dates of execution only days away, late appeals resulted in a stay of execution for Harris and Joseph and subsequently the death sentences were commuted to life in prison.
I am now approaching the end of my account and the reason why Bonnie has asked me to write this chapter. The Low Bay murders and the whole experience of investigating them and being involved with so many wonderful people had a huge effect on me. I looked at the horrific crime and its impact on so many people, I questioned why God allowed it to happen but also acknowledged the ways things came together to establish who had committed the murders and ensure they were convicted. More than anything else I looked at my personal relationship with God and how far I had drifted away from Him despite the wonderful way He continued to provide and look after me and my family. I then compared my pathetic response against that of Bonnie, who had lost so much, and yet was still hanging onto God and sharing her knowledge of Jesus at every opportunity.
Slowly but surely, as a result of this challenging review of my life, I turned back to God, started going to church again and became actively involved in Christian things. In 1998, I wrote to Bonnie to explain the impact her response to her parents death had had on my life and shared my testimony with her from beginning to end. I explained that she was now part of my testimony and that she will always be mentioned when I give it because of the importance and significance of those murders in Low Bay and crucially her own response to them. The ripples continue to reverberate in that pool of life!
What I am up to now is another story but one that God continues to bless!
‘Oh, what a wonderful God we have! How great are His riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His methods! For who can know what the Lord is thinking? Who knows enough to be His counsellor? And who could ever give Him so much that He would have to pay it back? For everything comes from Him; everything exists by His power and is intended for His glory. To Him be glory evermore. Amen.’
Romans 11:33-36 NLT