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Bloody rampage in Cherry Gardens

Enraged gardener kills Jennifer Cox, her aunt and helper

Sybil E Hibbert

Sunday, September 16, 2012    

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ON April 6, 1993, a live-in gardener went on a murderous rampage in upscale Cherry Gardens, sending chills up the spines of the residents in that and adjoining communities.

His vengeance was finally appeased only when the mutilated bodies of three women — 45-year-old insurance executive Jennifer Cox; her aunt, 77-year-old Violet Marsh, and 60-year-old Elsie Thomas, the helper — lay lifeless in the Melwood Avenue residence of Cox.

The gardener, Everton Watson, 27, of Gravel Hill, Clarendon, wept bitterly in the Home Circuit Court in July 1994 following the imposition by Justice Reckord (now retired) of a sentence of life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole only after he had served 25 years.

Watson was convicted by a Home Circuit Court jury for the non-capital murder of Cox, who, at the time of her death, had been group director for human resources development at the Insurance Company of the West Indies (ICWI).

The jury also convicted Watson on two counts of manslaughter in respect of the deaths of Marsh, affectionally known as 'Aunt Vie', and Thomas, sentencing him to 20 years' imprisonment at hard labour on each count. All the sentences were to run concurrently.

The judge, in passing sentence, said the women had every reason to believe that Watson would have protected them from attack; but, instead, he had turned on them and brutally attacked them, using a broken mortar stick and a machete to bludgeon the three women to death.

"Violence," Justice Reckord declared at sentencing, "has taken over this country."

It was Jennifer Cox's failure to report to work to attend an important meeting that caused ICWI Chairman, Dennis Lalor, to visit the Melwood Avenue residence of the insurance executive the morning following her death. There, he stumbled upon the mutilated body of Cox lying "prostrate on the floor of a bedroom".

He also saw Marsh's body in another bedroom, seated on the floor with an elbow resting on the bed, Lalor testified. He had known both women for over 30 years and what he saw made him feel faint.

Now, what brought about this vitriolic and murderous attack on these three defenceless women, one of whom was in her twilight years?

Watson claimed he overheard the helper discussing him with Marsh and that she had described him as "an old bandit". This, after his employer Jennifer Cox, had reported the loss of $150 from the house earlier that day. Watson also claimed that he saw the helper spit into his food later that same day after she had prepared it in the kitchen.

Detective Inspector Ivor Cowan, sub-officer in charge of CIB, Clarendon, told the court that three days later when Watson was taken to the May Pen Police Station and he said to him: "I have information that you are involved in the murder of your employer Jennifer Cox, and two others", Watson responded: "Mr Cowan, mi brother tell mi seh you a look fi mi 'bout it and mi mus' come to you, so mi going to tell you how it go."

He was arrested and charged with the triple murder of Jennifer Cox, Violet Marsh and Elsie Thomas. Attorneys-at-law Norman Davis and Patrick McDonald of Myers, Fletcher & Gordon presented the case for the prosecution while Watson was defended by attorneys Eric Frater and Stacy Mitchell.

The gardener's arrest came after he showed police investigators items linked to the murders including money stolen from the elderly woman's handbag after she was killed.

Police had asked the accused what he had done with "the $600 he took from Aunt Vie's handbag". Watson replied that he had asked his sister who lived in Gravel Hill to keep the money for him.

The inspector testified in court that he took Watson to Gravel Hill where he identified a woman — Lorna Watson — and she handed over to the law man $800 which she said the accused had given her to keep for him. Watson then claimed $200 as his personal property and said that "the other $600 come from the house".

Jennifer Cox's cousin — Neville Cox, a consultant at ICWI — testified that whenever she travelled abroad, he was accustomed to spending time at the Cherry Gardens home with his aunt Vie. He was staying at the Melwood Avenue home where the women where killed and saw when Watson took the police to the back of the premises and pointed to the murder weapon — a broken mortar stick, said: "See it there."

He also mentioned a bloodstained kitchen knife, which the court heard was later handed to him by Frank Cox, brother of the deceased, who was also staying at the house after the deaths of the women.

Berley Wilmot, Elsie Thomas's brother, identified her body at a post-mortem examination carried out on April 14.

Deputy Superintendent Leroy Campbell gave supporting evidence of having witnessed Watson dictating his statement to the police. Cross-examined, he denied issuing any threats to Watson or hearing anyone threaten him to sign the statement. He also denied suggestions put to him that it was after some policemen threatened to beat the gardener with a baseball bat that he scribbled his name at the bottom of blank sheets of paper on which the cautioned statement was written afterwards.

The following cautioned statement allegedly given by Watson was read to the jury:

"I have been working with Miss Cox at 3 Melwood Avenue, Cherry Gardens Drive, Kingston 8 since August 23, 1991. When I just start my pay was $170 a week. After about a month she told me that she would be deducting $50 weekly from my salary and save it for me. I agreed and she gave me $120 a week and saved the $50 as agreed. I lived on the premises and she gave me three meals a day.

"In January 1992, she raised my pay to $200 a week and she still deducted the $50 and gave me $150. I asked her if she could put on something more on my pay as $200 did not mean much. She said she could not put on anything more. I tell her that I was a big man and that money did not have much use to me because I have a youth to send to school. I tell her I was going to leave the work and she said she did not business with that because she could get somebody else. I told her that I would see what I could do until I get a work.

"When Mr Patterson say minimum wage should raise to $300 she raised my pay to $300. I ask her if she could not put on something more and she said no. I tell her that it was not fair because I have to work in the sun every day and the helper was getting the same $300 and she was not working in the sun.

"In January 1993, I tell her that $300 a week was small and it was just because I did not want to go on the street and thief why I remain on the job. She said she still could not raise my pay further."

"In the last two weeks in January 1993, I tell Miss Jennifer that I have a sick in my stomach and if she could lend me a $1,000 to go to the doctor. She said no because she did not know if I was going to use the money to go to any doctor. I tell her that she should carry me because the way I feel it was as if I was going to dead. She decided and carry me to doctor.

"The doctor said I picked up a disease and he started to treat me for about a week and everything cost $5,569. She then decided to draw $150 a week out of my pay towards repayment of the money she paid for doctor expenses. I told her that $150 could not help me and request her to take $100 instead of $150. She said she could not take out $100 because she did not know when I would finish pay her back. I tell her that as long as I was there I would pay her back because I decide to work. She insisted that she have to take the $150 every week and I said 'alright, I will continue working until better come'.

Money missing

"Tuesday morning Miss Jennifer say she lose $150 in an envelope from the house. She call up me and the helper and ask us about it. I tell her that I don't know anything about it. She said it must be between the three of us, either me, the helper or her auntie, because money cannot 'walk out the house'.

"Miss Jennifer then turn to me and said: 'Everton did I tell you that you should not come back in my house?' I tell her no; all I tell Miss Vie is that I am not coming back in the house because you said you lose envelope with money'.

"Later that same morning, Miss Jennifer left for work and after that I hear the helper and Miss Vie a talk me, say them want the boss to fire me. I also hear the helper saying that she have somebody she want to give the work, and me a old bandit from where mi come from. I did not pay them any mind. I left and cut the lawn and in the day part I came up to the house to drink some ice water and hear the helper and Miss Vie in the bathroom still a chat me say dem don't like me. I did not say anything to them. I just turn back outside go work.

"About 4:00 pm the same Tuesday, I was in my room. My room door was turn and I look in the kitchen where the helper was cooking. I see when she share out my food and spit in it. I never say anything to her and I never eat the food. I said to myself, 'Boy, mi can't take dem kind a trouble yah'. At the same time, something just come across mi mind and a see she go in the bathroom. And after she bathe herself and come back out, a take up a piece of big stick outside and use it to lick her in her head. When she got the lick she said 'Lord!' and she drop and a gap (gasp). Her head started to bleed and I walk away and said to myself the old lady Miss Vie give me too much trouble and I go in her room and lick her in her head with the same stick. She just lay out and drop back on the bed with her foot on the floor. I look at her and see like she raise up her head and I lick her another time in her head and she just go down. Her head burst and started to bleed.

Ambush

"I was outside in the yard and I hear when the boss, Miss Jennifer, a drive a come in and I just run in the house and dodge her in a room next to Miss Vie room. Miss Jennifer went into her room, open a draw with a key, close it back and went into Aunt Vie room and called 'Aunt Vie'. I run in the room behind her and use a cutlass to hit her in her head. She cried out 'Everton' and then dropped on the floor. Same time I said to her: 'Look how much money you have fi mi and won't pay me, mi can't take dem yah trouble.'

I then use the said cutlass and cut her neck two times. I then search Aunt Vie handbag which was on a chair in her room and find $600 and take it. Same time I just go and bathe and pack mi bag with mi clothes and take a bus to Three Miles, then one to May Pen and go down to Ebony Path, Clarendon, to my brother house," the chilling account read.

But Watson denied ever giving the cautioned statement. He told the judge and jury that he was beaten by the police and forced to sign it.

He told a story of leaving the Melwood Avenue residence after 3:00 pm on April 6 to go to Spanish Town to look for his child. He was unable to get a bus to Spanish Town because of the crowd at the bus stop, so he decided to go back to his workplace. He reached there after 8:00 pm and he went to his room and changed his clothes. He went into the house to get some water and he said he saw the refrigerator door open. He started to call "Miss Jennifer, Miss Jennifer" but got no answer. The house was in darkness and when he turned on the light, according to him, he saw the bodies of Miss Cox and Aunt Vie, lying on the floor.

Said he: "I was so frighten that I jump back. I took up the phone and was going to call 119. I did not do so, I was frightened. I just go back around to my quarters and just put on back my clothes. I just sit down and started to consider what to do. After I consider, I just pack my bag and decided to leave. The helper's door was half crack, I push it and saw Elsie lying down and appear dead. I just draw back the door and leave. I went downtown, sleep at a hotel that night."

Watson said the next morning he went to his mother's house at Gravel Hill. He later left Gravel Hill and went to Ebony Vale. On April 9, he went to see Inspector Ledgister, whom he knew as "Brother Val," and he took him to the Milk River Police Station. Then, he claimed, at the May Pen Police Station, policemen there beat and threatened him and said "you are a wicked boy, you fi dead". He claimed the police beat him and then he was given a statement to sign.

Watson told the court that he was seeing the machete for the first time on April 9 when it was shown to him by Det Inspector Cowan. He denied showing the police any stick at the back of the premises or telling them that he used it to hit Elsie Thomas or Aunt Vie.

"I don't know anything about the incident. I had no need to kill them," he told the Court.

Watson was cross-examined at length by attorney-at-law Norman Davis, but he firmly denied that he had anything to do with the deaths of the three women.

After retiring for an hour and 20 minutes, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty of non-capital murder with respect to Jennifer Cox and unanimous verdicts of guilty of manslaughter with respect to Marsh and Thomas.

Watson was given the mandatory sentence for non-capital murder — life imprisonment, and 20 years' imprisonment at hard labour on each of the manslaughter counts. His appeal against conviction and sentence on all counts proved unsuccessful.

NEXT WEEK: Leonard Austin the cop who turned assassin

Sybil E Hibbert is a veteran journalist and retired court reporting specialist. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert, rated as one of the top Jamaican detectives of his time. Send comments to allend@jamaicaobserver.com

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