In the post-slavery history of Montserrat since 1834, murders have been rare. The island’s small population, close family ties and general non-violent nature are a few factors. But there was another deterrent: For more than a century the penalty for murder was execution by hanging.
On Wednesday morning, April 6, 1960, Montserrat carried out what turned out to be its final hanging. And as incredible as it sounds, the crime that led to that execution occurred due to a dispute over a dog.
Montserrat Spotlight interviewed several people familiar with the incident, including current and former residents of St. John’s Village, the site of the crime. They helped piece together details of the tragedy, which became a watershed mark in Montserrat’s legal history.
St. John’s Village, located in the north of Montserrat, was a close-knit community in 1960. Most of the residents were related, and the surnames Allen, Fenton and Weekes dominated. The family bonds went back generations. Many members of the Allen family inherited the nickname “Bull” – which was added to their first name, such as “John Bull” for instance. Legend has it that the original “Bull” Allen got the name because he rode a bull while herding cattle for a wealthy estate owner around the turn of the 20th century.
William “Willie Bull” Allen, son of the original “Bull” Allen, was a farmer who lived in St. John’s. In early 1960 he was 37 years old and married to the former Sally Ryan. He was once a minister at the Emmanuel Apostolic (Jesus Only) church in the village. But he had apparently back-slid and reverted to his affinity for the grape.
Samuel Weekes hailed from the Dick Hill area of St. John’s. He earned the nickname “Lucky Sam” when he came away unscathed after being a passenger in a truck that overturned down a hillside in the village. Weekes, 29, worked as a laborer for Peter and “Miss Lou” Greenaway of Yellow Hill, near St. John’s center. The couple owned a shop that also featured a bar. Miss Lou was Weekes’ aunt.
By all accounts Weekes had never been in trouble with the law, although a former neighbor said he sometimes displayed a quick temper. He was a reserved man, slight in stature and fair-skinned.
On Saturday night, January 30, 1960, Weekes entered the Greenaways’ bar with a small dog on a leash. The dog was somewhat emaciated, and Weekes had apparently taken on the task of nursing the pup back to health. Unlike some more pet-friendly cultures, Montserratians have a general aversion to dogs being allowed indoors. “Willie Bull” Allen, who was also in the bar, made some snide remarks about Weekes’ dog, then kicked the animal. According to witnesses, Allen had been bar-hopping for much of the night, drinking heavily and singing a refrain: “I’m feeling fine with good wine.”
An irate Weekes warned Allen that if he kicked the dog again he would stab him. Calling his bluff, Allen repeated the act. There was reportedly a knife laying on the shop counter that was used to slice cheese. Weekes grabbed it and stabbed Allen in the upper chest near his left armpit. The stab missed Allen’s heart but severed his “left subclavian artery and vein” and punctured his left lung, medical records stated.
A panicked and bleeding Allen ran to another nearby bar that was operated by his cousin, “Miss Daughter” Daly, and her husband Nixon. It was between 11 p.m. and midnight. A few people inside Miss Daughter’s bar tried to help Allen but couldn’t get the bleeding under control. There was only one phone in the village and it was inside the St. John’s clinic, which was almost a mile away and also closed. The island’s only hospital was in Plymouth – 10 miles of winding roads away.
Allen got up and tried to walk out of the bar. He reached as far as the entrance, collapsed on the pavement outside and died.
As news spread about the incident, sleep-addled villagers slowly emerged from their homes and walked to the crime scene. It was late and dark. St. John’s Village had no electricity at the time as most families used kerosene lamps. Some businesses used gas lamps, which were more luminous and more expensive.
Hensey Fenton, Willie Bull’s nephew, was a 13-year-old student at the Montserrat Secondary School and living in Peaceful Cottage Village, about a half-mile east of St. John’s. He remembers being awakened after midnight and accompanying his mother Emily to the scene.
“I saw my uncle lying there with blood running out,” says Fenton, who founded the Bank of Montserrat in 1988. “I can remember my aunt Eve screaming. For about a week or two I was in shock.”
“I saw my uncle lying there with blood running out. I can remember my aunt Eve screaming. For about a week or two I was in shock.”Hensey Fenton, “Willie Bull” Allen’s nephew
ARREST AND TRIAL
The following morning the police arrived and took statements from witnesses. Weekes never tried to evade authorities. He was arrested without incident and charged with murder. Although the crime was not premeditated, it was deemed intentional and could not be classified as manslaughter. Weekes faced the automatic death penalty.
Montserrat attorney Kenneth Allen, Q.C., who was in his first full year of practice, was Weekes’ state-appointed lawyer. Allen (no relation to the decedent) argued that Weekes was provoked, but, “I could not convince the jury,” he says. “The laws of provocation evolved over the years. I’m sure if that trial was 10 years later I would have been able to argue provocation successfully based on animal abuse.”
Kenneth Allen then petitioned Montserrat Administrator (Governor) Sir Donald Wiles for leniency but was turned down, and Weekes’ hanging was scheduled for April 6.
A GRUESOME END
Although no form of execution is pleasant, hanging was especially unsettling. An expert was brought in from another island just to prepare the noose. The rope had to be the proper length, accounting for the weight of the prisoner. If the hanging was not carried out properly, the prisoner could suffer severe torture before dying. If the hanging fails, by law the prisoner cannot be hanged twice.
The job of hangman was not a coveted one, and prison officers wanted no part in taking a life, even that of a convicted murderer. So volunteers would be sought, and the first one in line was usually Lazarus “Laddie” Cabey of Long Ground. The tall, slim, dark-skinned Cabey was a farmer by trade, but in the rare instances when someone was convicted of murder, he would travel to Plymouth clad in a black suit and ready to apply for hangman duty. He almost seemed to relish the opportunity despite the meager hangman’s fee.
A former Montserrat prison officer from the 1960s described the hanging process:
On the morning of execution the prisoner would be administered last rites by a priest, then led to the gallows. His hands would be tied and a hood placed over his head. He would stand on a platform featuring a trap door that was released by a lever. A magistrate would also be present.
When the noose was placed over the prisoner’s head and secured, the magistrate would ask the prisoner: “Do you have any final words?” Before he could answer, the magistrate would give a signal to the hangman to release the lever. In order to assure the hanging was as humane as possible, it would be done in a surprise manner because some prisoners tense up their neck muscles in anticipation of the drop.
Her Majesty’s Prison was located on the southern end of Parliament Street in Plymouth, just before the Fort Ghaut bridge and a little south of the Public Market. As the execution prepared to commence that early Wednesday morning, there weren’t many shoppers in town yet. However, a few former prisoners – including well-known town character Charles “Dopey” Osborne – were seen cupping their ears against a wall outside. They knew the exact location of the gallows inside. When they heard the trap door open, one ex-prisoner remarked, “Ee gan” (He’s gone).
The prison officers who were tasked with cutting the suspended rope in order to retrieve Weekes’ corpse said when they entered the gallows several minutes later his body was still spinning “like a top”.
Weekes’ body was not released to his family. He was buried in the prison yard. Murderers were not deemed worthy of being buried in a public cemetery.
As for Cabey, the hangman, he apparently had to wait some time before he collected his payment voucher from the treasury department. Unlike today when a person can make a simple call to ask if their payment is ready, in those days very few people had house phones. They had to travel to town.
After making several trips in vain from Long Ground to Plymouth, a frustrated Cabey was overheard saying: “If I don’t get paid soon I’m going to kill somebody.”
A VILLAGE DEVASTATED
The unfortunate events of early 1960 left St. John’s reeling. Two young men whom villagers saw every day were now dead – one murdered, the other hanged. Making matters more tragic, the men were second cousins (Weekes’ grandmother was Allen’s aunt). Former calypso star Kenneth “Fisher” Fenton, who is Allen’s grand-nephew, said Allen’s widow, Sally, grieved deeply and was never the same up to the time of her own passing just a few years later.
“The whole thing really hurt,” said longtime St. John’s resident Eleanor Silcott, who remembers the murder very well because it occurred on the eve of her 21st birthday. Also, her mother and two brothers were in the bar when the stabbing occurred.
“It was a shock,” Silcott continued. “No one expected that to happen. The night of the murder I don’t think any of us slept. For days some of us didn’t eat and some didn’t even want to leave their homes.”
“The night of the murder I don’t think any of us slept. For days some of us didn’t eat and some didn’t even want to leave their homes.”Eleanor Silcott, longtime St. John’s resident
In the 60 years since the Lucky Sam case, there have been fewer than 20 murder cases in Montserrat. Some initial murder charges were later reduced to manslaughter. Lucky Sam was quite unlucky that his crime happened when it did. Some later murder cases in Montserrat – including the 1972 rape and killing of Sarah “Mon” Meade and the 1985 slaying of Lillian Puckey – were profoundly heinous and arguably warranted executions. But the defendants in those cases simply served prison time because hanging had been unofficially abolished.
Great Britain carried out its last hanging in 1964, then outlawed capital punishment overall in 1969. In 1991, Britain implemented the Caribbean Territories Abolition of Death Penalty for Murder Order. That applied to Montserrat, Anguilla, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos.
The most recent hanging in the Leeward Islands occurred in 2008 when Charles Laplace was executed in St. Kitts after being convicted of murdering his wife.
Murder cases appealed since 1960Five murder convictions in Montserrat have been appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court since Samuel Weekes' hanging on April 6, 1960. Below are the results:
|1965||James Ryner||John Meade||Conviction quashed|
|1972||Sarah Meade||Joseph "Midda" Buffonge|
and George "Fowl" Lee
|1977||Vernon Greer||Samuel Greenaway||Conviction upheld|
|1985||Lillian Puckey||James Browne||Conviction upheld|
|2002||Simeon Sealy||Steve Molyneaux||Conviction upheld|