THADDEUS Hyatt, a 26-year-old labourer and part-time musician had promised the people of Labryinth, St Mary, in 1959, that when he was finished "pruning the town" of police informers, there would be "weeping and wailing".
"It will be bloodshed... I will kill the babes and suckling," was his spine-tingling promise.
On Easter Monday night that year, he fulfilled his dreadful oath.
Eight people were slaughtered by a machete-wielding Hyatt, who, at one point, resorted to an ice pick, and later, a dagger. Five of the eight — including three young children — came from one family. One child was just seven months old. More than 10 others suffered injury that night, with Hyatt, in the course of his rampage, claiming that they were "police informers", or that they "hated him".
It was the classic tale of the calm before the storm. People were reportedly having a good time prior to the slaughter. The square at Labryinth was filled with dancing villagers. The small post office also had a party going on, and the shops and bars were doing fairly brisk business.
A prosecution witness later summed up the scene at Labryinth between 8:30 pm and 9:30 pm that night as "bangarang and commotion; everything coming together". There was shock, grief and pain; indescribable horror, and, at the same time, utter disbelief among those who witnessed it.
Blood was everywhere, and, in some instances, mixed with dismembered limbs. People panicked, many were running scared in the dark looking for places to hide. Those who stood their ground — with two exceptions — perished at the hands of the machete-wielder.
But instead of penitence at his subsequent trial for murder, Hyatt delivered to the court an oration that will go down in the history books where crime and criminals are concerned. Asked if he had anything to say before the sentence of death was passed on him, Hyatt pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and replied in a quiet voice: "Yes, sir."
It was the very first time the accused had broken his silence over five days of being on trial, during which time he neither gave his plea nor made a statement in his defence. He began:
There was a momentary silence as Hyatt's voice — having gradually risen as he turned to the jury box to deliver the last sentences of his address — ended without a tremor and he looked towards Registrar SA Ingram, chin held high, as he announced: "That is my few words, sir."
Justice Moody (actg, later confirmed puisne judge) commented: "I can only say it is a great pity that you did not apply your mind to that."
He then passed the sentence of death on the prisoner, who heard the sentence in silence and without any visible emotion. He was immediately led out of the courtroom, giving nothing away, save to say, he was looking forward to death — to take away the misery of living.
Hyatt had been defended at his trial by attorney CMM Daley (later of the now defunct law firm of Daley, Walker & Leehing), while the Crown's case was conducted by the late UN Parnell, Crown Counsel (later senior puisne judge).
Earlier in the trial in the Port Maria Circuit Court, Inez Angus, grocer and barkeeper of Labyrinth testified that on Saturday, March 14, 1959, a constable entered her shop, and sometime later that day she heard Hyatt make remarks in respect of the constable's visit. He complained that people had been taking his name to the police and "I am going to fix them up".
The witness said that on the night of March 26. After closing her shop around 9 o'clock, she heard Hyatt in the square shouting to one Peter Bailey, telling him that certain persons had taken his name to the police and that every police informer should be killed. Hyatt had also said that he would wait until there was a crowd gathered and he would slaughter them — when they thought it was peace and quiet, it would be sudden destruction.
She also heard Hyatt issue threats to a man called Simpson and to a woman named Cislyn Ellis. She heard him tell Bailey that he was sharpening a long knife and that he was going to "use it on them so that Labyrinth would be washed in blood".
On Thursday, March 28, between 9:00 and 9:30 pm, she said, she heard Hyatt tell Bailey that he was going to slaughter the people in Labyrinth because they were taking his name to the police.
On March 30, the witness said she was in her shop when, sometime between 7:00 and 8:00 pm Cecil Forsythe and Hyatt entered. At that time, there was a dance being held across the road, and a party at the post office. She heard Hyatt's voice in the bar where she saw him talking with Arthur Jackson. Hyatt punched Jackson, and was about to stab him with a broken bottle when he was disarmed.
About 15 minutes later, upon receiving some information, the witness said she went to the post office where she saw blood-spattered Joseph Henry crouched on the steps. He appeared to be dead. She entered the post office to find the place "covered with blood". On her return to her shop, she saw Jasper Hoilett and Clovis Benjamin covered with cuts and bleeding.
Under cross-examination, she said Hyatt's remark on March 14 about informers was made shortly after the constable's departure.
Ivan Spence, a tally clerk from Lucky Hill, next testified that on March 30 he went to a party at the Labyrinth Post Office. At closing time, about 8:15 pm, he went over to Angus' bar. He heard a noise from Chin's shop, and was returning to the post office when Hyatt approached him and grabbed his neck. He held a dagger in the other hand. Spence told the court that he grabbed the arm holding the dagger, exclaiming: "Teddy, is Spence, man!' Hyatt replied: 'Good boy. Take away your... as fast as electric because I am going to prune the town," Spence said. Hyatt then released him.
He heard the sound of blows on the drawing room door of the post office. Everyone, except Percy March and another man, ran from the room. Hyatt burst in with a machete. March grabbed a bottle, made a swipe at Hyatt with it, but the accused shifted himself. Spence slammed the door shut.
Ruth Garvey, a housewife from the town, and Agnes Jones, mother of postmistress Violet March — who were on the crime scene also testified. Percival March, Violet March's uncle and a farmer told of seeing 48-year-old Joseph Henry mortally wounded. Timothy Ellis, another labourer, identified for the court a khaki shirt which he said the accused had taken off and presented to him in the square before inflicting three wounds on Henry.
After the carnage, Hyatt asked for a pencil, which March gave him, and he wrote a note and told him to deliver it to one Timothy Harris of Elgin. March turned it over to the police. Hyatt also left an ice pick (to be returned to one Busta) and a pair of shoes with March, telling him he was going to kill himself.
The note which was tendered read: "Timothy Murphy, you should not hide from me. Tell Gwendolyn, be good. Brown, be good. Take what I have. I hope that those who live will take heed and not trouble people."
Vincent Pottinger (o/c Sammy), a farmer, testified that he had known Hyatt for about 26 years. About four years prior to the slayings, he heard Hyatt say he would give the people of Labyrinth a surprise like the hurricane of 1944 and "there would be weeping and wailing, and anyone that did him anything, he had a diary and would put down their names".
Pottinger said he saw Hyatt stab Henry in the nose with an ice pick after Henry asked him "Why you do the man so?", at the same time telling him: "Plea for yourself, plea for no man."
Continuing, Pottinger recalled that he went to Chin's shop, which was closed, but saw Hyatt coming out with a cutlass and a bottle, which, Hyatt told the witness, contained poison. When he first saw the accused, Pottinger said he was frightened. But patting him on the shoulder, Hyatt said: "You are a good man." Upon Hyatt's request for money, the witness said he gave him 1/6d.
Hyatt later left in the direction of the Bennetts' home, singing, "Teddy is gone. Teddy is gone forever to a silent home together with his God."
Cross-examined by attorney Daley, Pottinger said that in 1958, Hyatt's father, who was a hard worker, was "troubled with nerves". He was taken away to Kingston. The witness believed that he was taken to the asylum. He knew that "something" had also happened to Hyatt's grandfather in 1941.
Milton Smith of Labyrinth, who collapsed in the witness box as he described an encounter with the accused in the dark square that night, told of being cut by Hyatt on the left side. He started to tremble during the course of his testimony, then suddenly clutched the rails of the witness box for support. He was carried out of the courtroom by police officers and received first aid before he resumed his testimony after a short adjournment.
Vivian Garvey, a carpenter, told the court that for quite a long time, Hyatt had complained of people hating him. The witness further deposed that as far back as he could remember, the accused had been saying he would kill people. However, in all the time that he had known the prisoner, he had never observed any destructive behaviour on Hyatt's part.
Jasper Williams, a carpenter from Broadleaf, testified that he saw Joseph Henry lying dead at the Labyrinth post office. He related how Hyatt met him, pushed him and ordered him out of the way. Williams said he asked: "Thaddeus, what you doing?" Hyatt replied, "What I am doing to *&%$#@? You will soon see!"
The witness said he fled and hid.
Peter Bennett, also a carpenter, testified that among those who died that horrific night were Hannah Bennett, 75, who was his mother; Warren Bennett, aged two, his son; his four-year-old niece Grace Wilmot; and his nephews, two-year-old Walvin Wilmot, and seven-month-old Donovan Wilmot. They all lived in the same house.
On Thursday, March 19, Bennett told the court, he and Constable Mosely had a discussion, after which he drove Mosely to Goshen. Later that day, Hyatt had asked him if Mosely had said anything about him, to which he responded, 'No'.
This did not save his family.
On September 16, 1959, Hyatt's appeal of his conviction and sentence was heard and dismissed by the Court of Appeal with Chief Justice Sir Colin MacGregor presiding, Justice Small and Justice Waddington (all deceased). Daley represented Hyatt.
It was submitted that the conviction for murder was wrong; it was wrong in view of the allegations by the defence that the accused was, at the time of the death of Henry, suffering from an abnormality of mind resulting in diminished responsibility on Hyatt's part.
Refusing the application, the court ruled that there had been no evidence before the court showing that the accused had been suffering from any such mental problem.
Giving the judgment of the court, the chief justice commented upon a statement made from the dock by the appellant touching on his own past, shortly before being sentenced by the trial judge. His Lordship declared that in his own opinion, the statement in itself supported the jury's verdict.
Strange turn of events
On the day of Hyatt's execution it was reported that he had come to accept Christ and was baptised inside the St Catherine District Prison, a few days prior.
The full story surrounding the final chapter to this tragic event is contained in: "Evangelism, The Pentecostal Evangel (January 10, 1960) (P.14) — 'MISSIONARY LEADS CONDEMNED MAN TO CHRIST IN JAMAICAN PRISON':
'"Thaddeus Hyatt, 26-year-old labourer in Jamaica, was hanged a few weeks ago for murder, but before he died, he experienced an outstanding conversion.
"Frank Summers, an Assemblies of God pastor, led the condemned man to Christ. While in the death cell awaiting execution, Thaddeus had picked up a gospel tract upon which Bro Summer's name was rubber-stamped. He wrote to the pastor asking him to be his chaplain. Bro Summers agreed and was permitted to visit the prisoner repeatedly. He said Thaddeus repented of his sin, received the joy of divine forgiveness, and requested baptism. He found comfort in singing gospel hymns the morning of his death.
Hyatt was executed on the gallows at the St Catherine District Prison on Tuesday, October 27, 1959.
"His last words were: "I have peace. I die in hope."
It was the prisoner's wish that the public should be told the story of his repentance, as he wanted all to be warned of the consequences of mixing with the wrong crowd. His wish was granted, for the October 27 issue of daily newspaper The Star, published in Kingston, Jamaica, devoted the entire front page to the conversion and his personal testimony. The newspaper also featured the pictures of Pastor Summers and his senior deacon who assisted in baptising Thaddeus at the prison prior to his being hanged.
Next week: Keith Clarke, the man who shot Morris Cargill in the buttocks
Sybil E Hibbert is a veteran journalist and retired court reporting specialist. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert, rated among the top detectives of his time. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org