Wrong Turn, And Death Lurks In A Red Mud Lake

SUNDAY afternoon, October 18, 1992 in the garden parish of St Ann was
especially quiet. Nothing moved if it did not have to. The lazy haze
painted a disarming picture of peace. But the rustic charm of that rural
afternoon was the unheralded prelude to bloody murder.

Vic Higgs, a white expatriate executive at the Jamaica Tourist Board
(JTB), could have been forgiven for thinking that life was great and the
future bright as he drove leisurely towards Kingston, after playing in a
golf tournament at the Runaway Bay Golf Club in St Ann. 

He could not
have imagined that within hours he would be strangled by men he had
never met before and his body tossed into a flesh-melting caustic red
mud lake belched up by the Alcan Alumina Bauxite Mines in Ewarton, St
Catherine.

Charged with this crime and what was described as “a most despicable
murder” that evolved over the course of a petty robbery, were Peter
Blaine and Neville Lewis. 

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Each accused gave statements to the police
under caution. Each fingered the other as having taken the lead role in
the killing.

Defending himself from the prisoners’ dock, Blaine told the Home Circuit
Court that he had nothing to do with Higgs’ death. Lewis, on the other
hand, in sworn testimony, made what the trial judge later described as
“damaging accusations against Blaine”.

Both men were convicted on the charge of capital murder and sentenced to
“suffer death in the manner authorized by law”, after a sensational
trial.

Trial Judge was Mr Justice Neville Clarke (who was later forced by
illness to step down from the bench and died soon after in the prime of
life). 

The prosecution’s case was presented by Crown Counsel Terrence
Williams, now head of INDECOM. 

Lewis was defended by Lord Anthony
Gifford, QC, and Carlton Williams appeared on behalf of Blaine.

The prosecution’s case was that Higgs, on the afternoon in question, had
driven his grey Honda motor car into a road block. He sought advice as
to an alternative route to Kingston from the two accused who were
standing at the intersection of the Moneague and River Head roads. 

They
directed him along River Head Road, which they claimed could take him
through the Alcan mines to Ewarton, where he could rejoin the main road
into Kingston. They offered to show him the way.

It was the last time Higgs would be seen alive. Three days later his car
was found abandoned at a place called ‘Natty Farm Yard’ near Alcan’s
red mud lakes in Ewarton. The registration plates of the car had been
changed and the windows tinted.

The following day, the body of the deceased was seen floating in the mud
lake. The arms and legs had been tied with strips of grey material;
similar material forming a ligature was tightly wound around the neck
and a length of railway line was bound to the body by barbed wire.

Dr Royston Clifford, consultant forensic pathologist (now deceased),
testified that he performed a post-mortem on the decomposed body of
Higgs, described in court as a white male, 5′ 11″ tall and weighing
about 190 lbs. The cause of death was strangulation.

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The size of the victim was significant, the doctor told the court,
because: “It takes a tremendous amount of force to strangle such a male
if he is conscious, that means if he is living and if he is not
restrained because such a person would put up a tremendous defence to
try and help himself.”

In charge of this investigation was Detective Superintendent Garfield
Daley (later Senior Superintendent) who, accompanied by Detective
Inspector Kelso Small, went to Salt River in Clarendon on November 11,
1992 and took Lewis into custody.

When Lewis was told of the charge, according to the superintendent, he
said: “A di bwoy Peter (Blaine) bait me up. Carry me go to the station
let mi tell yuh how it go.”

Cautioned, Lewis said he wanted Det Inspector Small to write the
statement. He was transferred to the Lionel Town Police Station, where
the statement was dictated in the presence of Justice of the Peace E R
Bernard. 

The statement detailing what transpired from the moment Lewis
and Blaine entered Higgs’ car that afternoon up to the time of Lewis’
detention by the police, was later admitted into evidence unchallenged
by the defense.

Lewis’ story was that after he asked Higgs for a lift, he borrowed $100
from one Wayne Hunter to make up his “liquor money”, then he and Blaine
went into the back seat of the car. The passenger seat in front had
baggage. The three chatted on the way.

Blaine wanted to urinate and Higgs stopped the car. When he returned,
according to Lewis’ statement, Blaine put a knife to Higgs’ neck. He
(Lewis) protested but Blaine ignored him and ordered the victim to open
the car trunk. 

He asked Higgs for his gun and assured the expatriate
that he would not be killed. Higgs indicated that the gun was in a bag
on the front seat. Blaine took $600 from Higgs, locked him in the trunk
of the car and ordered him (Lewis) to drive. He obeyed.

At a point near Faith’s Pen, Lewis claimed, he told Blaine he was known
in the area and didn’t want to be seen so he turned off the main road.
He got lost but found his way back to the main road. Higgs began to make
noise in the trunk. Blaine told Lewis to return to the bypass road. He
did so, and asked Blaine what was the next move, to which he responded:
“Wait until nightfall.”

Higgs takes his last breath at nightfall, the court heard, Blaine told Lewis to open the car trunk.
Blaine instructed Higgs to push his head out in order to take some fresh
air. Higgs complied. 


Blaine demanded more money and threatened to shoot
him.

Lewis said Blaine told him to hand him a jacket from the front of the
car. He complied and watched Blaine cut it up into strips. Blaine forced
one of the strips into Higgs’ mouth to stem the cries of “murder!”.
Blaine then squeezed the lid of the trunk down on Higgs’ neck and sat on
it.


“The man sound like him was dying,”
Lewis said in his statement.

When Higgs finally grew silent, he (Lewis) tied his hands at Blaine’s
command. Blaine then pushed Higgs’ body into the trunk and closed it.

Lewis admitted he gave advice in relation to disposal of the body and
the route to be taken to avoid detection by the police. It was he who
obtained gas for the car from a source known to him in Linstead; then
they returned to River Head and collected two friends — Gary and
Garfield — who were told that the car was stolen. They headed for
Kingston.

On the way, Lewis said he expressed concern as to what he would do as
the driver of the stolen vehicle, should the police intercept them.
Garfield, who had in his possession his Customs employee identification,
suggested Lewis use the name of a Customs officer.

As fate would have it, the car was stopped by two cops at the Three
Miles roundabout now Portia Simpson Miller Square and Lewis did as
Garfield instructed. The sergeant was unconvinced and dispatched two
policemen to accompany Lewis to locate the so-called owner of the car,
who lived somewhere off Red Hills Road.

Along the way, Lewis, according to his statement, gave the two policemen
$200 out of the $300 he had, to turn a blind eye to the fact that the
car “was not straight”. On their return, the sergeant said “he did not
believe that the car was straight” but one of the corrupt constables
assured the sergeant that he knew the men. The obviously reluctant
sergeant allowed them to go.

Lewis’s narrative related how they then drove around drinking beer and
visiting with friends. Then Blaine arranged to have the car windows
tinted and the registration plates changed. After sleeping at Gary’s
house that night, they went to Moneague, then back to Kingston.

Lewis claimed that he slipped away and went home by bus but on
discovering that the police had visited, he “quickly left the area on
foot”. While he was at the home of relatives in Clarendon, the police
came knocking and he decided to tell them everything.

In his sworn testimony, however, Lewis stated that after Blaine got hold
of Higgs’ gun, Blaine turned on him, aiming the muzzle of the gun at
him (Lewis), commanding him to drive and giving him additional
instructions at gunpoint along the way.

Blaine was taken into custody by Detective Deputy Superintendent
Reginald Grant some two years after the murder in July 1994, and that
same month was pointed out at an identification parade by Wayne Hunter.
He gave a cautioned statement to DSP Grant, which the defence objected
to being admitted in evidence, on the grounds that it was only obtained
after beatings and cohersion of the accused.

This led to a voire dire or in-camera trial, during which the judge
ruled that the statement was admissible and it was tendered in evidence.

In the statement, Blaine claimed that as soon as Higgs’ car entered the
bypass road, Lewis asked the expatriate to stop and pick up two young
men. 

These men had visited Lewis at his home earlier that morning. He
(Blaine) said he saw Lewis signal the two young men, indicating an
intention to steal Higgs’ motor car. 

Taking his cue from Lewis, he left
the car to urinate and one of the young men accompanied him.

On their return to the car, he said this young man robbed the driver at
knife point. Higgs offered what he had and promised to get more. The
statement continued.


“Him began to tremble and we put him fi lie down and John (Lewis) start
shake out de bag and a small gun drop out and mi grab it up and John tek
it and put it inna him waist. John say: ‘Put the man inna de car trunk’
and mi dweet.”

On the lonely road by the mud lake, according to the statement, Higgs
asked for medication, which he travelled with, and it was given to him
before he was tied up.

“We tek him out and tie up him hand and him foot wid de bag strap dem.
We decide fi shoot him and John seh him nuh want no blood. De fat youth
say, ‘just low de man, nuh kill him’, and we seh it better fi kill him,
fah him wi give we weh fah police a go invalve. We tek off one strap off
a di golf bag and put it round him neck and de brown slim youth and me
put we foot a him neck and draw de strap and strangle him. When him dead
we kinda left him pon spot.”

Adding to this graphic detail, the statement disclosed how a piece of
barbed wire was obtained and the body was dropped in the mud lake.
Blaine said he got about $500 from the money taken from the dead man
after it was shared.

Blaine’s statement fingered Lewis as the person who played the main role
in getting new registration plates for the car as well as having the
windows tinted. He said he (Blaine) was arrested in St Elizabeth where:
“Mi go pon one ID parade today and two summady (persons) point me out,
so mi decide fi tell the truth.”

But in his unsworn statement from the dock, Blaine agreed with only
portions of the cautioned statement. He told the court that after the
youth put the knife to Higgs’ neck and they got out of the car and
started to search him; Higgs ran off. The youths gave chase. 

Lewis, he
said, took a bag from the car and joined the chase. Later, Lewis
returned to the car and called Blaine “chicken”. Lewis then drove to
Moneague, then to Kingston and back to Moneague, where he (Blaine)
parted company with them.

He was farming in St Elizabeth when the police held him.

The court heard testimony from Sergeant Maurice Haughton, who had been
in charge of the police spot check which stopped Higgs’ car at the Three
Miles roundabout about 4 o’clock on the morning of Monday, October 19,
1992.

Four men, including the two accused, were in the car which was being
driven by Lewis, who gave his name as Michael Stamp of 2 Cedar Valley
Road. Garfield Solomon, who was a passenger in the car, and who had an
identification card, assured the cop that ‘Stamp’ was speaking the
truth.

Because Lewis had no papers for the car and claimed that the owner was
at a Red Hills Road, St Andrew address, Haughton said he dispatched two
constables to accompany Lewis to retrieve the documents from the owner.
Over 30 minutes later, they returned, reporting a failure to arouse the
occupants at the address. 

After searching the car and finding nothing
incriminating, Sgt Haughton testified further, he warned Lewis to
produce his driver’s licence and documents for the car within five days,
then allowed the men to go.

Michael Benjamin, of an Arnett Gardens, Kingston address, gave evidence
that about 7:30 am on Monday, October 19, 1992, Lewis, accompanied by
Blaine and two other men Gary and Garfield came to his home. Lewis,
who was driving Higgs’ motorcar, asked him to assist in obtaining the
services of an expert to tint the windows of the car. Lewis claimed that
the car belonged to his uncle.

The jury brought in unanimous verdicts of guilty of the capital charge
of murder and the judge pronounced the death sentences. The Court of
Appeal later dismissed their appeal.

Next week: Linton Berry, Paulette Zaidie and a deadly love triangle
www.jamaicaobserver.com 

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