Keith Bell's Deafening Silence
By John Marquis
Keith Bell's outburst against the judicial system, remarkable though it was, was more astounding for what he didn't say. When asked whether political pressure had ever been applied on police intelligence investigators, he declined to answer.
The silence which followed was a more eloquent condemnation of the Bahamas political and legal fraternity - the real culprits behind the nation's decline into chaos - than a million words could ever have achieved.
Mr Bell's damning silence in response to a penetrating question put to him by College of the Bahamas lecturer Michael Stevenson at a public forum last week said everything we need to know about the country's current woes.
It said very powerfully that not only had some politicians put pressure on the police, and thus hampered their ability to do their job, they had also used the kind of intimidatory tactics that had plunged even a man of Mr Bell's intelligence into frightened silence.
Mr Bell's outspoken assessment of the country's crime crisis was welcome because it helped to put flesh on bones already uncovered by several local justice campaigners, including The Tribune itself. But his refusal to answer Mr Stevenson's question publicly confirmed what I among others already knew - that political interference in the law enforcement and judicial process has done much to inflict virtually irreparable damage to law and order in this country.
The case of Barrie Best was not, of course, the first high-profile murder to fall foul of selective justice and political interference. That dubious honour fell to the Sir Harry Oakes case of 1943, when powerful local interests - namely, the ruling white oligarchy of the day - conspired to corrupt justice to such an extent that an innocent man was almost sent to the gallows.
Best, however, was in at the beginning of the modern era of selective justice. And his brutal murder in 1979 set the pattern for much of what is happening today.
When Best was savaged to death, presumably by a gay lover, though that was never proved, nearly three decades ago police were told bluntly that the investigation must not be allowed to run its course, The reason: the flamboyant music teacher was involved in a gay sex, ring which included several prominent and influential people.
Arrest of his killer would have resulted in potentially embarrassing disclosures from the witness-box. Names would have been called, reputations would have been ruined, and society itself would have been rocked to its base.
This information has reached me from good sources and, in the light of everything that has happened since, is almost certain to be true.
There is no doubt that many senior figures in Nassau - from politics, business, the law, the church, and even law enforcement agencies - are heavily engaged in covert homosexual activity which is having a direct impact on law and order.
Best's killer, along with the killer or killers of handbag designer Harl Taylor, academic Dr Thaddeus McDonald, AIDS activist Wellington Adderley and Jamaican waiter Marvin Wilson, presumably continues to walk around Nassau to this day, immune to due process because of his gay connections, though two prominent suspects are already dead.
Lump him in with the suspected killer of nightclub manager Joy Cartwright, the suspected killer of Sgt Kevin Williams, and the many other suspected killers with gay or political connections who are still on the loose and an alarming picture begins to emerge.
This is especially so when you count in suspected murderers out on bail because of official inability or unwillingness to process them and an unfortunate precedent set by the courts some years ago when a wealthy, white Bahamian was allowed bail in a murder case. Nassau is crawling with killers.
Little wonder, then, that violent crime is soaring to unacceptable new levels, and that the city's lowlife is beginning to see itself as untouchable. Mr Bell compounded that unpalatable reality by revealing that police have stopped shipments of heavy weaponry, including grenades and explosives, coming into the country, presumably for use by local drug gangs.
The villains are becoming so cocky that they are preparing for war on their own terms, with the kind of hardware that is familiar on the streets of Gaza, Mogadishu or Baghdad, but has not until recent years been a feature of Nassau life - or death.
In fact, Trinidad and Jamaica, countries laid low by crime, are now being cited as the kind of societies the Bahamas is destined to become within a few-years if nothing is done to arrest the current decline.
That is a terrifying thought because, unlike them, the Bahamas has only one industry to speak of - the notoriously fragile tourism business, which will disappear literally overnight if a full-scale gunfight ever breaks out in Bay Street. It requires only one AK-47, one rocketlauncher or one hand-grenade to be used in the wrong place, and the Bahamas can say goodbye to its primary breadwinner. As Mr Bell rightly pointed out, the talking must stop. Action is overdue.
The belief that the entire legal system is at breaking point is reaffirmed more or less continually by the lone voices in Nassau society that report the ghastly truth from street level.
The names Greg and Tanya Cash, Clever Duncombe, Felix Bethel, Harald Fuhrmann and Rodney Moncur are all too familiar to readers of the Bahamian press as justice campaigners who are willing to go on the record with their complaints.
But they actually represent a much wider public, people who are less bold but no less disgruntled in their battles with the courts and the legal system in general. In their own way, the campaigners are the Bahamas' counterparts of the pressure groups you find in first world societies, and are therefore crucial to the process. Constantly, insistently, ordinary Bahamians urge them to continue the fight on their behalf.
Among Mr Bell's disclosures was that 11,000 criminal cases are caught up in the judicial backlog, along with 48,000 traffic offences. A grand total of 100,000 cases await resolution.
Among them are some of particular interest to those who keep a close watch on the courts, and wonder whether the judicial process will be thwarted by outside interference.
These observers are especially keen to know when the retrial will occur of the man accused of murdering the aforementioned Joy Cartwright. At the moment, he is out on bail.
Ms Cartwright died in a hail of bullets inside her Nassau apartment around 12 years ago. A man was tried and convicted of her murder, sentenced to death, but was then freed on appeal to await a retrial.
The case is of interest because of Ms Cartwright's high-level political connections. She was known to have been "emotionally involved" with at least one senior politician and the son of a prominent legal family, among others.
Ms Cartwright, an ambitious woman who liked wealthy men who could gratify her materialistic instincts, was described to me as "into jewellery and big cars" with a voracious appetite for money.
That appetite allegedly led to her demise, because she was suspected - according to accusations in a US court - of misappropriating nearly two million dollars belonging to the Boston mafia. Nine bullets were allegedly fired into her upper body as she entered her apartment after returning from work.
Another case of concern involves several Defence Force marines accused of a brutal beating incident in Inagua. There was a suggestion at the time that a political cover-up was underway. The case is now being watched closely by those who are anxious to see it reach court.
A case of arms smuggling, when ammunition was found wrapped in baby clothes being shipped into Nassau, is another under close scrutiny, along with a police shooting in Bimini, and a sexual assault case involving minors in Freeport. A source said: "These cases are being tracked to ensure they don't disappear. If they don't come up for hearing soon, we shall be asking some awkward questions."
Mr Bell is not alone among ex-policemen in expressing concern about the massive case backlog and the upsurge-in violent crime.
Former assistant police commissioner Paul Thompson is appalled at long court delays, some stretching to five years or more, and the effect they are having on police morale.
Not only have these delays led to murder suspects being freed on bail, because the courts did not feel justified in holding them in custody any longer, they have also been weakened by loss of witnesses, who die or disappear while waiting to give evidence.
Mr Thompson is now advocating importation of foreign judges on short fixed-term contracts who can relieve existing judges of the case backlog. "I just can't understand why it takes so long to get these cases before the courts," he said.
Hardline foreign judges who would take no nonsense from local attorneys who use unwarranted adjournments to thwart the legal process are desperately needed to help the Bahamas regain control, he said.
"This deterioration in the judicial system began about 30 years ago," he said, "that's when the backlog began to build up. Now it's reached a point where it is unacceptable."
As the debate over unresolved crimes rages on, the gay murder saga continues to cause both disquiet and disenchantment.
Echoes of Barrie Best and Sgt Williams are inevitable as detectives fail to produce a culprit or culprits in the Taylor, McDonald, Adderley and Wilson murders. Sgt Williams, an acknowledged homosexual, was shot dead at his Bernard Road home seven years ago. His killer is widely thought to have been a police colleague. An arrest is considered unlikely.
Unless someone is exerting undue pressure on the current inquiry, it is hard to understand why police are making such hard work of it on an island only 21 miles by seven with a known gay scene and an extensive bi-sexual underground fraternity.
Though investigators are reluctant to link the four murders, there are several similarities which point to such a conclusion.
Firstly, all the victims were killed in their own homes by people who, it seems, were known to them.
All died in extremely bloody circumstances, with McDonald pummelled by a clothing iron to the point where his features were no longer recognisable, Taylor knifed repeatedly in his upperbody, Adderley slashed across his throat in a virtual beheading, and Wilson run through with a dagger from his own ornamental arms collection.
Each scene, it appears, was awash with blood, with powerful forensic evidence readily available, including palm prints and footprints in at least two of the incidents.
These killings bore all the, hallmarks of homosexual rage, possibly the result of emotions running high over relationships or liaisons gone wrong, or revenge resulting from disease transmission.
For what it's worth, a source close to Nassau's gay community told me last week that these were the two likeliest explanations for all four killings, with the "spurned lover" scenario being the preferred option.
"I think these killings were definitely committed by a gay or gays," he said, claiming that homosexuals were particularly dangerous when sexual liaisons went wrong.
"You don't ever want to get beaten by a sissy," he said, "They don't ever accept the word 'No'. If they are in love with you, they will kill you."
All four murders suggested vicious spats; probably spontaneous rather than calculated, with no signs of forced entry at any of the premises involved.
In each case, the killer or killers must have been blood-spattered because of the sheer quantity of gore found at the scene. It is hard to believe, therefore, that no-one in Nassau knows who the culprit or culprits are, which suggests they are being protected.
"It's likely this is the work of a serial killer," the source told INSIGHT, "He was probably picked up for sex in each case, then turned against the victim for whatever reason."
In the Wilson murder, a condom and lubricant were reportedly found on the victim's bed, suggesting that the attack occurred during preparations for, or after, sex. "Don't rule out the possibility of a foreigner," said the source, "black guys are keen on white guys or anyone who can help them with their finances. "All gay men need to be doubly vigilant now. They need to know who they are picking up and being picked up by. They need to be careful who they let into their house or into their car."
In a notoriously promiscuous homosexual environment, this is easier said than done. Multiple partners are commonplace in gay circles, and 'rent boys' add another dimension to the problem. But there is no doubt that gays are now concerned about where the killer will strike next, and whether they will be the ones with the knife at their necks.
Inevitably, the net result of a malfunctioning judicial system is vigilante justice. Exasperated Bahamian families are being driven to revenge attacks, according to fathers' rights crusader Clever Duncombe.
His group, he says, counsels and mediates in situations where desperate men arm themselves to get even, having been victims of crime. "There would be more vigilante crime in this country if it weren't for groups like ours," he told INSIGHT.
Tanya Cash also fears an upsurge in revenge crime which, she says, is "all the talk" in the communities.
Mr Bell's strictures on the crime crisis are important because it is unusual for anyone so recently connected with the upper reaches of the police force to be so candid.
What he said surprised no-one who has been studying the subject in recent years, and certainly, came as no shock to INSIGHT readers, but his words - the products of many years in the force - carry an authority others often don't.
As the economy slows down, and jobs become scarcer, Mr Bell's gloomy assessment of Nassau's crime problems is likely to become gloomier still, with more and more youngsters seeing crime as their only career option.
"It's going to get a lot worse unless we take the bull by the horns and make some very tough decisions," said Mr Bell. But it's that studied silence that will reverberate most in the minds of those who really know what this society is all about, where the real problem lies, and why there is so little apparent will to tackle crime.
Last week, former Cabinet minister Dr Bernard Nottage at last acknowledged in parliament the role of politicians in the nation's plight. A failure to provide leadership, and an example others could follow, were at its root, he said.
"This is not the Bahamas I know and love. Something has gone terribly wrong and we in the House have to accept a large part of the blame for this sad state of affairs."
Then he said all plans for improving the economy will come to nought if nothing was done to get a handle on criminality. And he decried as "disgraceful" the extent to which national institutions like parliament and the judicial system had been allowed to sink.
What we are witnessing now, in fact, is the cumulative effect of decades of slackness in which political, religious, familial and sometimes professional affiliations have been allowed to interfere with the legal process.
It began under the UBP, accelerated rapidly under the Pindling regime, and is now so much part of the Bahamian way of life that even senior politicians themselves are unable to discern where right ends and wrong begins.
Political expediency, and a desire to protect certain sections of society, have been allowed to intrude all too often in criminal investigations. Barrie Best was a case in point, and so was the failure to prosecute certain figures involved in the 1984 Commission of Inquiry into drug-trafficking.
More blatant still was the failure - for purely political reasons - to take the right course in the Joy Cartwright murder inquiry.
In all these cases, police were left impotent, having been scuppered by political interference.
No senior politician need express surprise when confronted by the dire circumstances now facing the Bahamas. Many of them, to their eternal shame have been direct contributors to the problem. The law has been the plaything of the privileged. Now it's time to count the cost.
When Mr Stevenson asked the question about political interference, Mr Bell indicated that he would talk to him privately after the meeting. We were not privy to that conversa- tion, but it takes little by way of genius to guess what might have been said.
Dr Nottage claimed "a very dangerous state of affairs" would result if politicians failed to command the respect of the people. What he didn't say was that such a situation is already at hand, and that cynicism and mistrust are running so deep that do-it-yourself justice is already a reality.
By JOHN MARQUIS, Managing Editor
June 16, 2008