Face of an angel, heart of a devil
A wealthy man’s mistress plotted his murder
BEVERLY Champagnie was a very attractive young woman; the type to make any man turn and take a second look.
But, after what was unveiled before Mr Justice Uriah Parnell — Sr Puisne Judge — and a mixed jury in the Home Circuit Court Division of the Gun Court in 1979, after her conviction for accessory to murder, I overheard a member of the jury describe her as "a she-devil, seemingly coming out of the pits of hell, disguised as Snow White, and bringing with her all the venom to wipe out an entire nation".
Champagnie appeared in the prisoner's dock that day, sitting close to her two co-accused — Ransford Taylor, alias 'Star', and Trevor Bailey, alias 'Moose'.
All three were sentenced to death after being convicted of the Mafia-style assassination of James Robinson, a furniture manufacturer who operated a store at Beeston Street in Kingston and branches in several parishes. Also killed in the rampage — mistakenly, it was said — was a retired superintendent of police.
It was the Crown's case that Champagnie had been the mistress of the slain man, whose estranged wife resided overseas. She had been secretary/girl Friday in the business; had the run of the couple's Beverley hills home in St Andrew, and was the show piece at the furniture store, even when Robinson was off the island.
She was said to have suddenly become filled with jealousy and avarice and systematically planned his demise.
According to a prosecution witness, one E Rose, Champagnie had complained that Robinson would "take in women and run her out of the bed and sleep with the women". Further, she said that Robinson had threatened to kill her, "so she took the first chance". She wanted revenge! No, she wanted more! She wanted Robinson dead!
So she plotted and hired two paid assassins — the two men in the dock — to carry out the dastardly act, as the court later found.
This had serious repercussions because standing beside Robinson at the time of the commission of the crime, was his close friend, retired Superintendent of Police Winston Cox — with whom he usually met on a Friday evening to have a drink at JJ's Club on Holborn Road, St Andrew.
The two men had just alighted from their cars and were greeting each other when the gunmen opened fire. Neither Robinson nor the police officer knew what hit them. They died instantly.
Retired Deputy Commissioner of Police Larry Trought, now in advanced years, another close friend of Robinson, and who was expected to join the two men that evening, was fortunate. He arrived minutes later to see the inert bodies lying sprawled on the concrete pavement in front of the club.
Then two things that I believe Champagnie never expected, came to pass.
First, the man who was instrumental in acquiring the two hired gunmen — a man known only as "Charley", and his friend Clovis — demanded more money for their part in the operation.
She had no alternative but to pay, so ensnared was she in her own web!
Second, Taylor, Robinson's executioner, moved in with Champagnie to live as man and wife!
The court heard how, that same night Robinson was murdered, a moving van was driven to the home of the dead man on Shenstone Drive in Beverley Hills where Champagnie was staying.
Eustace White, a prosecution witness, testified that on Champagnie's instructions, the furniture in the house was being moved into the van, when the police arrived and intervened.
"The man is not even cold yet," one officer reportedly exclaimed.
Further evidence was given that Champagnie, accompanied by Robinson's mother, a Mrs Lopez, and Eustace White, visited the furniture store at 36 Beeston Street where the dead man's mistress "took away money and jewellery from the safe and placed them in grips".
It was White's evidence that at Rose's home, some time later, some jewellery and money were placed in a bag and he left with it.
The following Saturday, the witness testified, he met with Champagnie and Rose at the Libra Club owned by the latter. Champagnie complained that Robinson's widow, Pearl, had "turned her out of the house".
Rose took Champagnie to an apartment on Golden Road, at her request. The following Monday morning, Taylor, driving a white Datsun — the rental used in the murders — showed up Rose's house accompanied by Bailey and a "strange man".
The murderer went to see the obeahman
White and Rose each admitted under cross-examination that they had accompanied Champagnie on visits to an obeahman. But they both denied actually taking her there.
It was White's evidence that on a journey from the country following Robinson's murder, Champagnie had confided to Rose and himself that Taylor was her new boyfriend.
Rose's evidence later was that he had been introduced to Champagnie by White around April 1978. He and Champagnie had become friends and business associates as he had operated the R & E Furniture Company adjacent to his club. From time to time, she would consign to him items of furniture to sell on her behalf. He said he bought some for himself because her prices were low.
He recalled White visiting his club about midnight on the night of the murders. He had allowed Champagnie to occupy a room upstairs his club when Robinson's widow turned her out.
The following Saturday at about 7 p.m. 'Charley' and a man named Clovis visited her. Charley was the man to whom White had spoken after Champagnie had asked White if he knew anyone "who could fire a gun".
Some minutes later, the witness testified that he heard indecent language coming from her room. He investigated. Champagnie asked him to lend her $6,000. He could only offer a cheque; this was refused. Champagnie then gave each man $500. They left, with one of them promising to return on the following Wednesday for the balance.
When he enquired of Champagnie why she was paying the men, she responded: "Those were the men who introduced to me the gunmen who killed Cox and Robinson."
It was after this disclosure, the witness told the court, that he took her to Golden Road. Champagnie requested that he return the white rented Datsun to Cox's Rent-a-Car business. It had been left parked on Lyndhurst Road with the key under the floor mat, as described by Champagnie.
Then the following Wednesday, while the witness, Rose and Champagnie were at Somerset Avenue — as previously arranged — Charley and Clovis returned. At Champagnie's request, he drove them to a "club that was dark."
This turned out to be Champion House at the corner of Lyndhurst Road and Maxfield Avenue. At this "dark" place, Charley and Clovis demanded more money. Champagnie gave each man $250, promising to pay a balance of $2,500 later.
The following Monday, he told of being present when Champagnie handed over certain items of jewellery to Supt Albert Richards, keeping for herself certain pieces.
The witness, the court heard, had been given this account of the events of the night of the killings after being introduced to Taylor:
"Taylor told of going to the club (JJ's) and when he asked 'who had a gun?' Cox held up his hands, but Robinson reached for his gun in his waist. He, Taylor, boxed away his hand and shot him, while his friend shot Cox. As Robinson did not appear dead, he shot him again."
Subsequently, the witness testified, he helped in moving Champagnie and Taylor, who was living with her, to 25 Wiltshire Avenue in Barbican. He also assisted Champagnie in the purchase of a Mercedes Benz motor-car by providing the down-payment of $400.00. She gave him the rest of the money as the car was bought in his name.
On August 11, the witness, White, Champagnie and Mrs Lopez visited the bank where Robinson had kept two accounts, totalling $36,200. One account was in the joint names of Robinson and Lopez; the other was in Robinson's name only. The money was withdrawn from both accounts by Mrs Lopez.
But, according to the witness, Champagnie took charge of the money, giving $1,000 to Mrs Lopez and $200 to White.
It was put to this witness, in cross-examination, which he denied, that he at any time, ever registered any shop belonging to Champagnie, in his name, or of having any quarrel with her about it.
The court also heard from Clive Anderson who said he operated an "Advice on Travel Documents and Documentary Service" at 66 Duke Street in Kingston.
On August 11, 1978, Champagnie went to his office and told him she would like a sponsor for herself and her boyfriend to go to the United States of America. She said her boyfriend would join her shortly. In a few minutes Taylor arrived. Anderson wrote down the particulars and she revealed that she had applied for a visa from the US Embassy previously but was unsuccessful.
Champagnie paid him $400 and the following day he received the balance of $800 for the services provided for both herself and Taylor.
While all these sordid details of sex, jealousy, greed and bloody murder-for-hire were being unraveled in the Circuit Court, Champagnie sat throughout the many days of trial with a smug smile plastered on her face.
It appeared, the judge observed later following her conviction, that she seemed to be enjoying some private joke, to which she felt no one else was privy.
Chief investigator in this case was Det Superintendent Albert Richards, (who was to die some years later at the hands of criminals who were held up a gas station owned and operated by him at Mona.)
Richards gave evidence that he visited the murder scene at Holborn Road on the night of the murder. Consequent on his investigations, on July 27, 1978 he obtained from Champagnie a quantity of the jewellery taken from the dead man's safe.
On September 18, he told the court, he visited Champagnie at a house in Barbican, where he informed her that he had information that she, the accused Taylor, and a man known as "Moose" were responsible for the murders of Robinson and Cox. He took her into custody.
He arrested Bailey on September 25, and Taylor was arrested on October 18, 1978.
The prosecution called many more witnesses, among them, Cynthia Simmonds who said she had been sitting on a wall by Kingswood Apartments, opposite JJ's Club on Holborn Road on the night of the murders. She saw a Volvo motor-car driven by a tall, fair man in a parking lot opposite the club. There was a lady passenger inside the car.
That man was the deceased Cox. He went inside the club. Shortly after, she said, a big white car came along and the driver — a short, dark man — parked beside the Volvo. This man, who was Robinson, walked across to the club and was talking to Cox.
Both men then walked together towards the gate and stood talking within the gateway.
The witness testified she saw a white Datsun motor-car drive up from Trafalgar Road and stop in the middle of the road. Two men alighted and walked up to Robinson and Cox. The two men appeared to be talking to and touching both men standing there.
Suddenly she heard an explosion. She saw blood coming from Cox's head. Then she heard another explosion. She jumped over the wall and ran to get the watchman in charge of the apartments.
When she returned, she related how she saw both men lying on the ground. The white Datsun and the two other men were nowhere in sight. The Police came and she spoke to them and on September 8, 1978 she attended an identification parade, at which she pointed out Bailey as the man who shot Cox. She told the Court she saw him with something shiny in his hand.
Champagnie, in an unsworn statement from the dock, denied the allegations and maintained that she was innocent. She was represented by Berthan Macaulay, QC (now deceased) and Mrs Macaulay. Dennis Daly, senior counsel at the bar, appeared for Taylor.
Pamela Benka-Coker, later appointed QC, appeared for Bailey. Howard Cooke, Jr, crown counsel at the time (later Judge of Appeal, ret'd) prosecuted.
The three accused, were convicted and sentenced to life, but appealed. The Court of Appeal on September 30, 1983 dismissed these.
Mysteriously, it seemed, some 15 years after this heinous crime, a nattily dressed, well-spoken woman turned up at CIB headquarters. She asked to speak to the Assistant Commissioner, i/c crime — ACP Isadore "Dick" Hibbert. She was ushered into his office and introduced herself. The officer enquires of her how can he help?
The lady responds quite calmly: "I am here to retrieve my passport as I intend to migrate."
The passport was sent for and delivered, and the officer wished her well! I understand she was very gracious in all of this.
Taylor and Bailey are still serving life sentences.
Next week: They called him 'Dillinger' and women trembled at the mere mention of his name.
Sybil E Hibbert is a veteran journalist and retired court reporting specialist. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Isadore Hibbert. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org