Part 1 of 4 in a series: A Senseless Crime.
Former residents of Town Hill in Montserrat still proudly refer to themselves as the “Over the Bridge” crew. Town Hill, now relegated to remnants due to the destructive Soufriere Hills volcano, was located slightly southeast of Plymouth – near the southern end of the Fort Ghaut Bridge that connected downtown to several villages on the outskirts.
Montserrat’s real estate boom in the 1960s and ’70s introduced ritzy communities such as Old Towne, Isles Bay and Richmond Hill. Before that, Town Hill was Montserrat’s Beverly Hills – home to Government House, the Coconut Hill Hotel and business families such as the Walls and Osbornes. Policemen, doctors and attorneys lived there. It was where soca legend Alphonsus “Arrow” Cassell grew up. And in 1978 it became home to the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC). The street names – Peebles, Howes, Mercer, Meade, Taylor – honored the luminaries who resided there.
Town Hill was not just a haven for the affluent, however. It featured residents of all rungs on the socio-economic ladder. The greater Town Hill area included Amersham, Jubilee Town, Fort Barrington, Tom Beth and Parsons.
Another section was Victoria Village, located in the southwestern flank of Town Hill. In 1972, it was the home of a petite 16-year-old named Sarah Meade. Everyone called her “Mon” – a once-popular “pet” name in Montserrat. “Mon” is normally reserved for women named Mary but is sometimes a “jumbie” name – a traditional practice of naming a child after a deceased person for protection. Sarah “Mon” Meade lived with her mother and stepfather – Sarah and John Dyett – and her 10-year-old sister Rachael.
Mon first attended the St. Augustine Catholic School in George Street, then Plymouth Primary – a school also known as “Maple Leaf” because it was built by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Mon was a talented runner who was especially strong in the distance events – 400 meters, 800 meters and mile.
In April of 1972, Montserrat sent a contingent of athletes to St. Kitts for the inaugural Leeward Islands Track and Field Championships. Among them were two runners from the Montserrat Secondary School – Franklyn Dyer, who would later be known as calypso singer “Mighty Falcon” – and Magdalene O’Brien. Mon also competed at the meet, which was held at Basseterre High School. Running barefoot, she outclassed her rivals to win the junior mile race. Montserrat finished third at the event, behind Antigua and St. Kitts but ahead of Nevis.
By September of 1972, Mon was now out of school. She was not working, however she was taking typing lessons and she would also assist her stepfather each morning by accompanying him to the hills of Amersham, where he would milk his cows. Mon would carry the milk back down to the home as Mr. Dyett continued his farm work.
On the evening of Sunday, September 24, 1972, Mon walked from Victoria Village to attend choir practice at the Roman Catholic Church on George Street. The 1.5-mile walk took about a half-hour. Afterward, she went to the home of her great-aunt, Charlotte Lynch, who lived near the church. Mon often slept there, then walked back to Victoria Village in the morning to help her stepfather. George Street was almost a second home to Mon because her mother also worked there as a domestic for Miss Alma Ryan, a well-known woman in the community who owned a shop on Old Chapel Street.
The following morning – Monday, September 25 – Mon left her great-aunt’s home and began her customary commute back home. She never arrived. When her parents awoke around 6 a.m. and didn’t see Mon, they weren’t alarmed. They figured she was simply running late. Mr. Dyett left for the mountain, and Mrs. Dyett made breakfast for Mon and went to work at Miss Alma.
When Mrs. Dyett returned home in the early afternoon, she was stunned to see the breakfast she left for Mon was untouched. Mr. Dyett was also surprised that Mon didn’t meet him at the mountain to pick up the milk, which she always did even if she returned home after he left. Something was amiss. Mon’s parents contacted the family in George Street and questioned neighbors in Town Hill. No one had seen Mon. At around 6 p.m., they decided to file a police report.
On their way to the police station in Plymouth, they saw Joe-Joe Buffonge, who lived in Tom Beth near Victoria Village. Buffonge – a well-known stone mason who went by the nickname “Look and Laugh” – was small in stature, bow-legged and rode a donkey.
“He asked me where I was going,” said Sarah Dyett, now 84 and still living in Montserrat. “I told him I’m going to the station to file a report because my daughter never came home. He said to me, ‘She a go come home man, she a go come home.’ ”
That brief exchange would replay in the mind of Sarah Dyett as the sad events unfolded.
Police searched in vain for the missing teen from Monday evening through Tuesday. As is customary in Montserrat, news spread quickly by word of mouth. Reticent to assume the worst, locals began conjuring theories. Some jokingly speculated that Mon had run away from home to join a boyfriend.
Early Wednesday, a young girl named Glendora King visited the Dyett home to inform that a shoe was found near the junction of Wall and Osborne streets in Town Hill. John Dyett visited the area and saw a left-foot navy blue leather slipper, which he identified as belonging to his stepdaughter. He took the shoe to the police, who commenced a search of the area.
At around 10 a.m., in a bushy area off Peebles Street between the Coconut Hill Hotel and the home of the Wall family, the lifeless body of Sarah “Mon” Meade was found.
In short time, the scene became a mini-spectacle. An ambulance arrived. Police took photos of the corpse and surroundings. Folks from the area began to converge as word of the grim discovery made the rounds. At 10:30 a.m., Philip W. Bailey, a Medical Practitioner with the Ministry of Health, arrived and conducted an investigation of the scene.
At 11 a.m., the body was transported to Glendon Hospital, where Bailey conducted a postmortem at 1 p.m. The report was brutal. Sarah Meade’s internal organs were partly decomposed. Rigor mortis had set in. Maggots and grubs were present under and atop her skin. In her mouth was a clump of grass that had pushed her tongue to the side. Her skull and left eye socket were fractured, likely from being struck with a rock. She was wearing a mini-dress that was pulled up to her chest, and she was naked from the waist down. “The state of undress and the attitude of the body suggested that sexual interference had occurred,” the report said.
Due to the state of decomposition, Mon’s body was prepared for burial immediately following the postmortem. “They wouldn’t let me see the body,” Sarah Dyett said.
At the time, Montserrat did not have facilities for long-term storage of the dead. Most funerals took place within one or two days after death, with some held the same day. After a short service, Mon was interred at the public cemetery just below St. Anthony’s Church.
STATE OF SHOCK
Before the death of Sarah “Mon” Meade, murders in Montserrat were few and far between, and those incidents were not particularly a mystery. They were mostly committed during angry disputes, and the perpetrators were summarily arrested and punished.
The island had never experienced anything this heinous. Montserrat has endured more death from natural disasters than homicides: the devastating hurricanes of 1924 and 1928, Hugo in 1989, and the transformational volcanic eruption of 1997. Like the terrifying earthquakes of 1934 and ’35, the murder of Sarah Meade rocked Montserrat to its core.
The ripple effect was felt island-wide. Young girls were now afraid to walk alone at night. At the time, the Shamrock Cinema in Plymouth was the hot spot. Young ladies who once spurned offers from young men to escort them home now happily obliged.
Myrle Roach, who was 12 years old at the time and lived in Town Hill, recalls the anxiety that permeated the otherwise tranquil Emerald Isle.
“Everyone was scared,” she says. “When we walked home from school we would avoid passing by the area where the body was found . . . even though it was high day.”
Carlton “Funkyman” Allen, whose annual awards show was once a staple of Montserrat Festival, lived in Boston Village near Parsons at the time. He says walking home from Plymouth at night presented a quandary.
“It was scary because I didn’t want to go down Peebles Street [where the body was found], I didn’t want to go up Wall Street because the Masonic Lodge was there and a lot of people were scared of that place, and I didn’t want to pass through Jubilee because it was dark.”
Montserrat, like much of the Caribbean, has an abundance of ghost stories. Tales of the occult – along with the “jumbie dance” and “jumbie table” – are tethered to the culture. In the easygoing and safe Emerald Isle, it was even said that locals are more afraid of the dead than the living. But in 1972, there was a killer in their midst.
Now, they were afraid of both.
Montserrat tragedies in September
|Sept. 12, 1928||42 people killed in hurricane|
|Sept. 17, 1965||Pan Am crash kills 30|
|Sept. 27, 1972||Body of Sarah "Mon" Meade found|
|Sept. 3, 1981||Flood kills two|
|Sept. 17, 1989||Hurricane Hugo kills 10|
|Sept. 15, 2010||Death of Alphonsus "Arrow" Cassell|