Sybil E. Hibbert
A man sent shockwaves through the Home Circuit Court in 1963, when, contrary to the advice of his defence counsel, he pleaded guilty to not only the murder for which he was charged, but also to another murder that was set for future hearing.
After the stunning confession hit the court like a lightning bolt and the pregnant pause which followed, Justice (Randy) Douglas (later chief Justice of Barbados) asked the accused, Clifton Eccleston, 24, of 7 Parry Road, Kencot in Kingston:
Q. Do you realise what you are pleading guilty to?
A. Murder, sah.
His Lordship: You are charged with the offence of murder, in that you, Clifton Eccleston, deliberately, intentionally, without any provocation, and without any excuse or justification, killed Eric Clarke. Is that what you say you did?
A. Yes, sir. And Mr Smedmore too.
The judge then advised counsel for the defence, J W 'Jimmy' Kirlew (later QC), to have words with the accused as to whether he was aware of the serious nature of the offence and the gravity of the penalty.
It was an intense moment, following which court was adjourned.
The Crown, represented by Lloyd G Barnett, then crown counsel (and now noted constitutional lawyer), took the opportunity to summon the psychiatric specialist at the Bellevue Hospital, the late Dr Lawson Coore.
When court resumed, Eccleston again took the stand and once again pleaded guilty. This time he told the court: "I know by law, it is death (pause) so I make up my mind."
Counsel for the Crown then called Dr Coore to give evidence.
The doctor told the court that he examined the accused on September 12 and again on September 23, 1963. He said he found no evidence whatsoever of mental disorder. It was his opinion that the accused understood the nature of the charge and he was, therefore, fit to plead.
Asked by the trial judge whether he had anything to say before the sentence of death was passed, Eccleston declared:
"I am willing to go, and if you say I must go, I know I will die. I came into this world like a wild animal and I go like one... God wills it to happen that way... I have nothing more to say."
The judge then donned his black cap (because those were the days when judges performed this ritual) and following the solemn proclamation of the "Oh yeas" passed the sentence of death on Eccleston.
The diminutive and soft-spoken labourer was described by the police as a "petty thief and peeping Tom" in the Haining Road-Trafalgar Road areas, prior to his arrest for murder.
He was charged firstly with the murder of Eric Clarke, a 63-year-old business executive and horticulturist of 1A Ruthven Road, Kingston 10. According to the Crown, Clarke was shot and killed in the early morning of June 1, 1963 as he lay in his bedroom with his windows partially open.
The quiet residential community of Ruthven Road and its environs were plunged into further disquiet as this fatality occurred a few weeks after 63-year-old Lucius Smedmore, a retired businessman of 8 Trafalgar Road, Kingston 10 was bludgeoned to death.
The Crown alleged that at or about 3:00 am, Clarke awoke to find a strange man in his room. That man turned out to be Clifton Eccleston. In an attempt to get hold of his licensed firearm, which was under his pillow, Clarke was overpowered by Eccleston who used the revolver to shoot him, killing him on the spot. Eccleston was further alleged to have removed jewellery and cash from the house before escaping.
Smedmore was found by a relative, seated in a chair in his living room — his head bashed in and his clothes soaked in blood — on the morning of May 19, 1963.
Eccleston was also charged with his murder.
Although Smedmore's case was not before the court at the time, Eccleston was hell bent on including it in his guilty plea. The court, however, did not take Smedmore's case into account at that sitting.
It was further alleged by the Crown that Eccleston broke into Smedmore's home on May 19, 1963, emptied his wallet, took his expensive gold wristwatch off his hand, then left for his home parish of Trelawny.
Detective Inspector William Walker of the Half-Way-Tree CID took a team of detectives with him to Grove in Trelawny on June 1, 1963 and on a farm allegedly owned by Eccleston's father, they saw Clifton Eccleston and a man named Harold Ennis, who claimed to be the father of the accused man.
It was reported that Ennis asked Eccleston: "What are detectives doing in my yard?" To which Eccleston responded:" I kill a man in town."
Eccleston, according to police reports, was wearing Lucius Smedmore's gold watch. Asked about it, Eccleston reportedly replied: "Ah take it off the hand of the man at Trafalgar Road."
He was taken to the Half-Way-Tree Police Station where a statement was taken from him under caution and he was later arrested. The statement was recorded in the presence of the late Detective Inspector Lynford Sweetland (later Superintendent). This was after Eccleston had told the arresting officer: "Ah want to confess how dis thing go."
From the journal of ACP Isadore "Dick" Hibbert i/c Crime
"The story of Clifton Eccleston is not an unusual one. It is a story recounted daily in Jamaica — though not necessarily with the same end.
Eccleston was born in the rural parish of Trelawny and at a very early age, the records disclose, he migrated to one of the depressed areas of St Andrew. Devoid of parental guidance and the love and support of family, he began a life of crime as a juvenile, stealing milk, bread, mangoes and other fruits from the affluent in various communities in St Andrew.
In those days, residents of what was considered to be 'upscale St Andrew' had palatial homes on large plots of land, inset and somewhat hidden by large travellers palms or similar trees, away from the streets/roads. It was customary for milk and bread vans to leave loaves of bread and bottled milk for the households on the gate pillars. This would be done very early in the mornings before the householders woke up.
Eccleston and company stole this bread and milk on a regular basis. Consequently, the police received frequent complaints from householders. Police investigations led to Eccleston's arrest for simple larceny. He appeared before the Juvenile Court regularly. As a juvenile offender, no term of imprisonment was imposed by the Juvenile Court; he was soon back on the streets to continue his criminal activities.
On many occasions, Eccleston was arrested and charged for breaches under the Vagrancy Law, to wit: "Being found by night in enclosed premises without lawful excuse" and "Larceny within the curtilage, ie, stealing from pantry and out-houses".
Eccleston also took great pleasure in peeping through windows at nights and describing upper-class bedroom behaviour/conduct. He was known to regularly regale the police with his observations. In police circles he was regarded as a "Peeping Tom".
Following the deaths of Smedmore and Clarke, there was tremendous news coverage and great fear spread across their communities. The police were flooded with telephone calls from residents querying what the police intended to do in order to catch the killer/killers.
The mettle of our investigating ability was severely tested due to mounting pressure from the public as well as the police hierachy. We worked round the clock penetrating the underworld for suspects and for information.
"Success soon came our way as within hours of the Clarke murder, we received information which took us to rural Jamaica, the parish of Trelawny, where Clifton Eccleston was located. He had in his possession one .38 Smith & Wesson revolver and items of jewellery stolen from both murder scenes. He was taken to the Half-Way-Tree Police Station where he gave a statement under caution, admitting to murdering both Smedmore and Clarke.
Forensic examination proved conclusively that the .38 Smith & Wesson revolver found in his possession was the property of Clarke. Fingerprint impressions found at both scenes of crime were identified with those of Eccleston, and the jewellery found on him were identified as jewellery stolen from the homes of Clarke and Smedmore.
Following the results of the post-mortem, Clifton Eccleston, o/c "Ageable" was arrested and charged on two counts of murder.
A preliminary enquiry followed in the Half-Way-Tree Resident Magistrate's Court and Eccleston was committed to stand trial in the Home Circuit Court, where, in December 1963 he pleaded guilty to Clarke's murder, but then added the murder of Lucius Smedmore.
The court took note of Clarke's murder only in pronouncing the sentence of death on Eccleston.
He later walked to the gallows at the St Catherine District Prison."
Next week: The murder of insurance executive, Jennifer Cox
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