THE gruesome discovery of three bodies inside a house at 14 Morningside Drive in Havendale, St Andrew, in 1978, led to the arrest of 27-year-old insurance salesman and ex-policeman Wesley Cuthbert.
The discovery was one that no mother should have to make. Phyllis Cameron found the bodies of her daughter, 28-year-old Claudette Cuthbert, Claudette's two-year-old son Dale and seven-year-old nephew Christopher Jackson inside a bathroom of the house.
Cuthbert had been strangled to death, while the two boys were found hanging by belts fastened tightly around their necks and attached to the framework holding up the shower curtains.
Cameron later told a Home Circuit Court judge and jury that she had just returned from morning services at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Independence City in Portmore, St Catherine when she made the grisly find.
At the time of her demise, Cuthbert was employed as a clerk at the family-owned mortuary, Jackson's Funeral Parlour. She had been recently divorced from Wesley Cuthbert, who became the main suspect.
Following a trial which began on May 28, 1979 and ended in June that same year, Wesley Cuthbert was sentenced to death by the late Justice R O C White, after a Home Circuit Court jury convicted him of the murder of his son and nephew. He was also convicted for manslaughter arising from the death of his ex-wife, and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.
The Crown was represented by Norman Sang (later resident magistrate) and Crown Counsel Carl Belnavis, while the late Alanzo D Manning and Barry Frankson appeared for Cuthbert.
The jury retired twice before returning their verdict.
Cameron, a dressmaker, testified that her daughter and the murder accused were married on December 28, 1974 but the relationship between them went well for only about three months. Then she started getting complaints from both her daughter and Cuthbert.
Cameron said that the accused complained that Claudette did not come home early enough to get domestic chores done. Claudette complained that she had to work late sometimes at the funeral parlour. Cameron further testified that her daughter moved out and she and Claudette began living at Morningside Drive in August 1977. She saw Wesley at the house twice.
On June 11, 1978 about 5:45 am, Cameron said she was accompanied to church by her son and two boarders. She returned home at 11:30 am and upon reaching the gate, she heard the radio playing very loudly. She rapped on the drawing room door but got no response, so she used her key to open her daughter's section of the house.
She called but got no response. She went to the kitchen where she saw the sink with 'Ajax' on it as if someone had been scouring it. A dutchpot was on the kitchen floor with a chicken thawing out in it.
She said she noticed that the bathroom door was locked and knocked but got no response. She said she then went over to Coolshade Drive and called one Mr Campbell who returned to the house with her. Campbell removed two blades from the bathroom window and then peeped through the window. After Campbell spoke to her, she called the police, who arrived about 15 minutes after.
The police kicked the bathroom door open and she looked inside and saw Claudette sitting on a chair with her head bent forward on the bath. The two children were hanging from the shower rail with belts around their necks. All three appeared to be dead and there was blood splattered all over the house.
According to Cameron, she looked in her daughter's bedroom and noticed that her handbag with which she travelled daily had been rummaged throughand the closet was open. She searched for the keys to the doors in the house, but did not find any. Cameron said she was not in the habit of purchasing the Sunday newspaper and had not purchased one that day but saw one in the settee.
Under cross-examination, she said that a gentleman by the name of Karl Wilson had visited Claudette about three times prior to her murder. The first time she saw him was about four weeks before her daughter died. She did not know if Wilson was in the house when she left for church that fateful morning.
Constable Cornwall Fuller of the Constant Spring Police Station gave evidence of going to the house after receiving a report about 12:20 pm on June 11. He forced the bathroom door open and saw two small boys hanging from the shower rod with belts around their necks. A woman was sitting in a chair in front of the bath with her face downwards. He checked for signs of a break-in but did not see any. He forced two other bedroom doors open.
In one of the rooms he saw a handbag on the floor with the contents scattered.
George Tingling, a civil servant and uncle of Claudette Cuthbert, testified that after hearing a radio report on the deaths, he had gone to Morningside Drive. About 3/4 hour after, the telephone rang and when he answered, it he recognised the voice of Wesley Cuthbert who asked to speak to Cameron or Claudette. He told the man they were not available and asked if he could take a message. The telephone line then went dead.
The telephone rang several times after that and the person repeatedly asked to speak to Cameron or Claudette. Each time it was the voice of the accused on the other end of the line and each time Tingling offered to help, the call was cut off.
At 7:30 pm the telephone rang once more, and, at that time, Cuthbert sounded pitiful, Tingling testified, which was in stark contrast to the previous calls when his voice had sounded demanding. Cuthbert said to his dead ex-wife's uncle that he did not know if what he heard about the death of the three was true, at which point Tingling told him it was true. He got the impression over the telephone that Cuthbert was crying.
About 45 minutes after he spoke with him, Cuthbert showed up at the house. One Mrs Mac said she spoke to him and he had told her that he had come to the house earlier, about 10:30 am and spoken to Dave and Christopher. He said he had asked for Claudette but Christopher told him she was out. He said he left a newspaper at the house. Cuthbert was officially detained by the police and taken away for questioning.
Augustus Sheray, assistant bailiff at the Kingston Resident Magistrate's Court, said that on April 19, 1978, he and Claudette Cuthbert had attended the offices of Jackson's Funeral Parlour on East Street, Kingston, where Claudette had pointed out Cuthbert to him. He served a divorce petition on the man who got angry. He said that he had heard Cuthbert say he was not going to take a divorce. The bailiff said he left the office and after he came out, there was a heated argument between Cuthbert and his estranged wife.
Clifford Campbell, the neighbour who had been called by Claudette's mother to help her get into the locked bathroom where the bodies were found, gave evidence of going to the home of the deceased sometime after 11:00 am and standing on a box and using his machete to remove three blades from the locked bathroom windows.
He remembered peeping inside and he said he saw Dave, who appeared to be leaning against the wall. Claudette was sitting on the toilet bowl with her head hung downwards. He saw a bulge behind the shower curtain, but did not see anyone else.
Campbell said he remained on the premises until the police came. The police forced the bathroom door open and he saw Claudette was actually sitting on a chair with her head bent downwards. Dave, he realised, had a belt around his neck which was tied to the shower rail. One of the policemen pulled the shower curtain away and he saw the body of the other boy hanging from the curtain rod, but he did not remember what was around the other boy's neck.
A housewife, Myrtle Mattis, said she had known the accused for five years. On June 11, she returned from church about 11:40 am and about 10 minutes after Cuthbert come to her home.
He had used her telephone sometime after 2:00 pm, but she did not hear what he said.
Sometime after 6:00 pm she was on her verandah when someone came there and asked her if she heard something about the deaths. She sent to awaken Cuthbert and he came out and asked her what had happened. He subsequently asked her to telephone the house at Morningside Drive to find out if what they had heard was true. One Mrs Richards answered the telephone. Cuthbert said he wanted to go to the house and one of her sons took him in his car.
Paul Mattis confirmed that he had taken the accused to Morningside Drive that evening about 7:00 pm. On the way to the house Cuthbert kept on saying: "Mi wife and son dead. Who did it?"
Another witness, Karl Wilson, a private in the Jamaica Defence Force, told the court that on June 10 he had picked up Claudette and her niece Audrey Jackson at their home and he and Peter Jarrett went with them to a graduation dance at Newcastle. They left the dance at about 1:00 am and returned to Morningside Drive at 2:00 am. He left Jarrett with the car to take Jackson home and went inside the house with Claudette. They retired to bed ,but he was awakened by the telephone ringing at about 7:00 am. Claudette answered the telephone. Jarrett came for him at 7.30 am and he left for work.
Under cross-examination, Wilson said he was accustomed to sleeping at the house about once per week. He said he met Claudette about March 1978.
Joyce Jenkins said she was at the house at Morningside Drive when Cuthbert came there after 6:00 pm on June 11. She said the accused said to her in the living room: "Miss Mac, they kill my wife and son." She told him it was not only the two of them but Claudette's nephew as well. He responded: "They kill Chris too?" She said she had asked him when he had last seen Claudette, to which he replied that he had been at the house that very morning about 10:00 am but had only seen the two children. She said she had also asked him if he had seen the two children alone in the house and left them there alone, to which he replied, "Yes", and added that he left straight away.
Businessman Leonard Mattis said that at about 10:30 am while he was in his shop on Red Hills Road, Cuthbert, whom he knew, came there and asked him for $2 for taxi fare. He gave him the money and noticed that he appeared exhausted. He closed the shop at about 5:00 pm and went over to his house behind it where he saw Cuthbert sitting on one of the beds inside. Mattis said that later, when he learnt that Claudette was dead, he told his son to take Cuthbert to Morningside Drive.
Among several other witnesses who gave evidence for the prosecution was the late Senior Superintendent Reuben Robertson (later Deputy Commissioner of Police) who deponed that on June 12, 1978 Cuthbert gave two statements. In one of them Cuthbert admitted going to the house at Morningside Drive on June 11, and that he had seen and played with the two children through the window as young Christopher had said the house was locked and his wife, Claudette, had gone out.
In the other statement, which was also tendered into evidence, Robertson related to the court that Cuthbert had admitted to killing his wife and the two children. He arrested Cuthbert for the murders of the three.
Cuthbert, in his defence, said he went to the house on the morning in question but he only spoke with the children through the window as the house was locked. He left and took a taxi to Red Hills Road and spent the day at the home of Mr and Mrs Leonard Mattis. It was in the evening, while still at the Mattis' home, that he heard of the murders of his wife and the children.
Cuthbert told the Court that he did not murder them. He said he did not give the second statement to the police. He only signed that statement because he had been threatened by SSP Robertson. According to him, it was Robertson who dictated that statement and another police officer wrote what Robertson dictated.
A sober-looking Cuthbert was escorted from the courtroom following sentencing by Justice White, and the jury's guilty verdict.
A petition was later presented to the local Privy Council on Cuthbert's behalf and his sentence was reduced to one of life imprisonment. It was reported that Cuthbert became a model prisoner behind bars. He had accepted Christ and was helping to spread the word by conducting classes and generally preaching the value of discipline and travelling the right path in life in order to avoid pitfalls, such as incarceration.
NEXT WEEK: A deadly argument between a Jamintel security guard and Spanglers gang member
Sybil E Hibbert is a veteran journalist and retired court reporting specialst. She is also the wife of Retired Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert, rated as one of the top Jamaican detectives of his time. Send your comments to email@example.com