Part 4 of 4 in a series: Reflection and Redemption.
In the Spring of 1973, the second annual Leeward Islands Track and Field Championships were held in Antigua. As the event got underway at the Antigua Recreation Ground in the heart of downtown St. John’s, competitors and spectators began inquiring about the little girl from Montserrat who ran barefoot and won the Juniors mile race the previous year in St. Kitts.
Sarah “Mon” Meade didn’t just win in Basseterre in April of 1972, she “licked” the field, according to a newspaper report. Although she had just turned 16, she stood out because of her petite stature. Some thought she was 13 or 14. She not only left an impression with her stunning victory, she got acquainted with some of her rivals. One of her new friends was 14-year-old Theodora Newton of Nevis. After the competition, the two became pen pals. But for tragic reasons, that correspondence lasted only a few months.
A year later, Newton represented Nevis at the competition in Antigua. She says that Mon became the topic of conversation. Everyone was shocked to learn that her life had been cut short, especially in such as gruesome manner. To this day, they wonder what could have been possible with her immense running talent.
A TIME WARP
Like beauty, time is squarely in the eye of the beholder. Although measured in intervals, time is ultimately defined by perspective. Fifty years is an eternity if one is serving a prison sentence. But it can feel like a snapshot when grieving an unspeakable loss. Wounds might heal with time, but scars are much more resilient – especially the ones we can’t see.
For many, the events in the Fall of 1972 still feel as raw as they did a half century ago. Folks now in their 60s and 70s vividly recall the emotional trauma, fear, uncertainty and gloom that descended on Montserrat. Younger ones who were not aware of the incident find it difficult to fathom that such an event could occur on the serene Emerald Isle.
The heinous murder petrified and paralyzed the island. But it also taught some harsh lessons. For one, evil can permeate any society, no matter how peaceful or God-fearing. Also, one of the endearing qualities of Montserrat is its quaint, laid-back existence. But sadly, being quaint also means being vulnerable.
Before the grisly crime, Montserrat had been undergoing a cultural revolution. In 1971, the Shamrock Cinema opened, giving Montserrat a feeling of modern inclusion. In 1972, Chase Manhattan Bank set up a branch just yards from “Roundabout” and the hallowed Evergreen Tree in Plymouth. Montserrat already had Barclays Bank (UK) and Royal Bank of Canada, and now the Americans had joined the local market, luring new customers with their “Christmas Club” and other promotions.
After the much-publicized murder trial in 1973, Montserrat was in recovery mode. A national election was contested in which Austin Bramble’s Progressive Democratic Party retained power. Jim Allen and Alford Corriette were regional cricket stars, and Alphonsus “Arrow” Cassell was on his way to musical stardom.
In 1974, however, Montserrat was again rattled by a perpetrator on the loose. Joseph “Fine Twine” Bramble – a convicted rapist – escaped from prison, prompting an all-out island search. Folks again began locking up their homes early, and women traveled with caution. Fine Twine was a habitual lawbreaker and peripheral character but he was not a killer. So the atmosphere was a bit different than 1972. Fine Twine was eventually captured.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Most of the central figures from the Sarah “Mon” Meade case have died, including defendant George “Fowl” Lee, star witness Joseph “Asia Blood” Buffonge, and Joe-Joe Buffonge (alias “Look and Laugh”). Police officers Sydney Charles Sr., Paddy Lee and Winfield Griffith have also passed on, as have attorneys Claude Earl Francis and Desmond Christian. John “Darda” Dyett, Mon’s stepfather, passed away in 2008.
One of the surviving jurors is Joseph Galloway, who still lives in Montserrat. He recalls being sequestered for about two weeks at the Coconut Hill Hotel in Town Hill. He and colleagues realized they were part of history in what turned out to be the most famous case in Montserrat. He says the jurors formed a kinship that lasted for years.
“During the trial, we used to deliberate at the end of the day,” says Galloway, who hails from St. John’s in northern Montserrat. “The jury foreman was a guy named Mulcare. He used to say to us, ‘You guys were dynamite today!’ Years later, every time we [the jurors] saw each other we would greet each other by just saying, ‘Dynamite!’ “
Convicted murderer Joseph “Midda” Buffonge – originally sentenced to life in prison – ended up serving about 18 years. While incarcerated, he was counseled by a Prison Ministry. In the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, he was granted work release as Montserrat rebuilt from the category 5 storm. He eventually earned full release, thanks to a petition that was approved by Montserrat’s Governor. Several factors were reportedly considered, including time served, his counseling by the Ministry, plus good behavior. Upon release, Buffonge worked at Romeo’s Wayside, a family hardware store.
“He was a very intelligent guy, a great repair man . . . but he loved money,” says Julian Romeo, one of his supervisors. “He never spoke about the case – and I didn’t ask.”
Despite his release back into society, Buffonge couldn’t eradicate the stigma surrounding the murder, and many in Montserrat were upset that he had gotten a new lease on life after ending someone else’s. A nurse who treated him at Glendon Hospital in 1995 says she was still afraid of him even though he was prone and much older.
During the height of the volcanic crisis in the late 1990s, Buffonge relocated to Tortola. He eventually suffered a stroke and died on June 3, 2004.
Dr. Clarice Barnes, a Montserrat-born educator and curator who hosts the Under The Tamarind Tree show on Radio Montserrat, shared a story about meeting Midda in 2001.
“I was working in the BVI and was introduced to him as a Montserratian. I did not recognize who he was. He was a skilled plumber receiving great respect on Tortola. I treated him as my man of business.
“Other Montserrat men who were helping me move into my apartment were not impressed with my insistence that he should be included in the group. Eventually, one told me that he was a bad man and I should not let him near my apartment.
“The man I met was a Christian doing evangelical work with the down and out. He had two young children and seemed to be a caring father. I was more than surprised when a Tortolian told me the story of the murder and asked me if it was true.
“The name Buffonge caused things to click. I was traumatized for days after coming to this realization. I reflected deeply on our God who forgives all things. I concluded that I should do the same but I stopped talking to him and kept him at a distance!
“I now wish I had the courage then to have asked him about the murder. He fell ill and died. I believed like others that he got what was due to him. I am still pondering our call as Christians to forgive.”
MEMORIES OF “MON”
Since the Terror In Town Hill series began on September 27, 2022, there has been a great volume of feedback from those who lived through the incident. Many shared their memories of Sarah “Mon” Meade. Here are a few:
▪ Glendora King, friend: “She was a quiet person, but jovial. She was a homebody. She didn’t even have a boyfriend. We both went to Maple Leaf school. I used to race her but I could never beat her. She used to come to our house all the time. I was the one who found her shoe when she was missing and took it to her parents. I cried when they found her body. I can imagine the pain she went through.”
▪ Mervin Browne, friend: “I grew up in George Street. We played together as kids. I remember we were playing hide and seek behind the Catholic church. I hid on top of the roof of the church building. When I jumped down I landed on a piece of board and a nail went through my foot. Mon yanked it out of my foot. She seemed like a fearless young lady. I cannot recall us ever having a disagreement.”
▪ Imelda “Mel” Greenaway, friend: “Mon had a dry sense of humor. She would quietly listen to a conversation and then all of a sudden make a funny comment.”
▪ Sarah Dyett, mother: “She was a nice girl. She was involved with the church and sang in the choir. I was saying to myself the other day that if she was still here she would be 66 years old now. I still think about her.”
▪ Rachael Dyett, sister: “Although so many years have passed, we do forgive . . . but we can never forget.”