Commentary • Number 934 • Friday, September 21, 2012

Innocent Blood?
Ask Washie By Washington Archibald
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I had two visitors last Saturday, back to back. They dropped in as usual to talk about the state of the Nation. The first one, out of the blue, asked me: “Washie, you think our country might be under some kind of curse?”

He was going to say something else but I interrupted with, “Perhaps.” And we went on to discuss what might we as a nation have done to be cursed. He asked me about the incident which occurred on Fathers’ Day 1994.

I was sitting at a card table in Cayon that Sunday afternoon when Frank Tyson entered with the dramatic announcement that Dr. Billy Herbert was missing at sea.

My young friend and I talked about this event which happened when he was still a little boy at school.

He had not left long before my next young friend came to chat with me. I told him that my earlier visitor had asked me about whether I thought a curse had settled on our land.

His immediate response was: “Washie, you think that the disappearance of Billy Herbert might have anything to do with it?”

I was a little taken aback that he would come to the same conclusion arrived at a little earlier.

Then he went on, almost apologetically, to explain that when the event occurred hehad taken a certain stand which has shifted over the years, based on what he has seen as a behavioral pattern of certain individuals in our community.

As he spoke I recalled that when the ship disappeared, it carried a total of six human beings: Dr. Herbert and his wife Cheryl, his brother-in-law Derek Menon, the Captain of his boat, Michael Blake; Blake’s six-year-old son Tristan, and Christian Stapleton, a student from England on vacation to his father’s birth place.

For many days following that dreadful Sunday, our community was in bewilderment. People walked about dazed, not knowing what to think, what to do and more importantly what to say. We spoke in whispers. We prayed: some with deep suspicion, others with reverence and passion. Some of us wept openly.

The tragedy was incomprehensible. Six souls on a fishing expedition, disappeared in our waters without a trace, without a sighting from land anywhere in the nearby islands without any signs of a shipwreck; nothing at all on the surface? People were baffled by the mystery.

I was one of those people, baffled by the mystery. I was not, however as touched by the enormity of the event as others who weremore intimately attached to the victims of this frightening occurrence. One afternoon as I walked along Central Street I was greeted by a former student. I had not seen him for many years since he had migrated to Britain, so naturally I was happy to see him and told him so.

My joy was immediately subdued however ,when he told me he was in St. Kitts about his son, Christian, aged 20, who was one of the victims of the mysterious disappearance. That was when I took the matter personally. I felt the way the father felt to have been robbed of a son in such a cruel way for no reason that he could understand. The young man had just been accepted to University.

Sometime after much of the mourning had subsided, one of the top Labor activists took me aside and tried to explain what might have happened. He said that the Americans did not like the way Billy Herbert was thumbing his nose at them after they had placed an embargo on his movement in the USA. He seemed not to care what they or the British did. He even went and sued a British newspaper for reporting that he was involved in money laundering. He sued them in a St Kitts court and was awarded some measure of damages .Such audacity, according to my comrade, did not amuse the Americans and the British. Herbert had to be dealt with once and for all; hence his disappearance without a trace.

I did not know what to make of the story. I could understand that Dr. Herbert might have been a hard nut to crack and might have made a long line of enemies who would like to take him out. I knew that the British had used their colonial authority to subpoena the records of his bank in Anguilla. He was such a thorn in their flesh that anybody would understand if they decided to take surgical action to rid themselves of this nuisance.

But his wife too? And the Captain of the boat, an easy going chap who nobody could say a bad word against? And his little six-year old son, to boot, taken in good faith on this sea-going adventure Why would Mr. Menon he taken out? Why was the young, Christian Stapleton taken? He had got into that predicament purely by accident. Somebody had mentioned the excursion the night before and he impulsively decided to join the fun. All these people for just one man? That pill was too big to swallow. After all, the British MI5 and the CIA hit squad are normally more careful, however deadly. They are not known to operate at such careless random. They plan carefully, based on intelligence and then they hit on target, without unnecessary carnage.

If they wanted to take down Billy Herbert, they could easy have tracked him down wherever he was, in Anguilla or St. Kitts. They could have taken him down in any of the hotels he over -nighted in, even in his home. An outcome of such gruesome collateral damage would be very clumsy by their standards, especially with such innocent and disconnected people including a 6 year old.

It is obvious that whoever took down Billy Herbert and his companions was desperate and in a hurry. The opportunity came at last to get him, and get him they would regardless of who happened to be in the way. Whatever benefit would accrue from his immediate disappearance from the scene was too precious to let that opportunity pass, or to even consider the wives, spouses and parents of the innocent parties on the boat, who would be bereaved for the rest of their lives.

This was one of the deepest mysteries, scary for its depth horrible for its implications. Whether the boat was boarded and the passengers and crew taken somewhere and cut up and buried and the boat also taken somewhere and disposed of is a speculation which will worry our generations until someone confesses to the crime on the high seas. That the mystery is not a regular topic of discussion or the subject of local ballads does not mean that Kittitians have forgotten. The wound was too deep to forget. The scars still ache; but we are so overwhelmed by the possibility that there could exist amongst us the demonic presence that could engineer such terror, that we choke ourselves and maintain a painful, fearful silence.

Who really planned the disappearance of Dr. Herbert and his party 18 years ago, and what really happened too them will probably never be known but the one thing we can be sure of is that, from the time this event took place, St. Kitts -Nevis has been washed in blood.

The murder statistics between 1995 and 2011 are frightening. In Dr. Douglas’ first term of office the number of homicides was 32; in his second term it was again 32; in his third term it was 45. Not to mention the deadly attempts at murder that did not succeed.

The dramatic increase in the murder rate is not the only woe that has befallen on country. The rate of incest and rape has also dramatically increased and the rate of mental illness, hypertension and other stress related diseases have also passed previous records.

Could St. Kitts be under a curse? It seems reasonable to think that if Tristan’s murder was engineered on St Kitts, there should be some kind of retribution. Commissioner Walwyn likes to say that actions bring consequences. And if we add to Tristan, Christian and the rest, the consequences could be enormous.

Is the unsolved mystery impeding our progress as a nation? Are we strangled by the guilt of this humungous crime? Keen observers of our history over the past 18 years can detect that something has gone awry in our island. Our suspicions are growing and so are our fears. And although we internalize them and employ loud music and other distractions to drown out the realities, we cannot quite escape the deepening melancholy that hangs over our nation.

The other day, when one of our prominent personalities cracked a joke on the way Noel Zambo Heath met his violent death, I revisited the Billy Herbert tragedy and searched for echoes. I thought that if we believe in what the Holy Bible says about the shedding of innocent blood, until the culprit is deep to forget exposed, the worst is yet to come for our once blessed island.