By James Thomas-Queh
The Late Harry Greaves
The controversies surrounding the gruesome death of Mr. Harry Greaves and the political impact on the national leadership has forced me down my memory line. That is, the cold bloody murder of inmate Myer on January 15, 1980, and the autopsy that ensued - Palace of Correction, Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County - bares a slight similitude to the current case. Both occurred at regimes endings in high tension; thus making two already unpopular Presidents to become the most unpopular. And since I was a part to the investigation of the first murder and a distant observer to the current - I embellished the narrative with notes from my professional file only to bore or turn off my readers. Please forgive me as age and disappointment have a way of inciting our personal egos.
I also imagine those who would interpret this very personalized paper as some tacit message to Liberia’s next imperial employer, but let me reassure you that my CV has been long obsolete. No, there are some other points that I find useful to divulge for posterity – that the best are not necessarily those who always talk loud; our country is filled with many ordinary Liberians, anonymous, who have made or are making their small national contribution out of the limelight; that the exemplarity, works and deals of such citizens plant the seeds for grass-root patriotism, and not necessarily the false heroism of our Presidents which impoverishes, corrupts and leads to perpetual underdevelopment, insecurity and wanton self-destruction.
In other words, I am simply forwarding this message to the next generation of national leaders to go in search of genuine patriots - but not with money, because money cannot purchase patriotism to build a nation – it only breeds short-term loyalty, sycophancy and corruption.
As a self-sponsored student in criminology1, we had a course in forensic science which gave me the opportunity to have witnessed several autopsies at the institute of forensic science, Madrid. On the operation table of the pathologist on this day was a baby whose death was suspected as an infanticide – a crime that is very difficult to suspect in the first place. This child could have been murdered through countless methods to disguise the death as natural: asphyxia by drowning in the bath tub, poison, strangulation, and you name it.
What I can recall as the pathologist opened the stomach of this little baby and extracted some of the vital parts for examination – it was the special attention given to the lungs. First, he weighed the lungs and told us that this procedure was necessary because the first sign of strangulation (or hanging, etc) – is that the lungs are bigger than their normal size by retention of the air. And then in the second phase, the lungs were cut in halves, and we were shown that there were no bubbles to signify the retention of air. In short, death by strangulation or asphyxia by drowning were quickly discarded.
But there was an incident during this particular autopsy that I could never forget. Just as the pathologist began to saw the skull of the baby to examine the brains, a classmate (a girl) sitting next to me fainted – the scene was horrible and unbearable for the young lady. And truth be told, an autopsy is the butchery of a dead body that is unimaginable by an ordinary person.
Now, let us imagine – in an organized society where an autopsy requires scrupulous professional ethics, hygienic conditions, etc., and where the pathologist may even stitch the body after an autopsy to enable a decent presentation - can anyone imagine in what condition a body is left in the aftermath of an autopsy in Liberia where foreign pathologists are flown in and out like some fly-by-night, shameless business crooks - no forensic laboratory, no light, no water, and the rest?
So, my people, I see the frustration of those who are requesting a second autopsy opinion on the mysterious death of Harry Greaves, but that will be yet another waste of our poor taxpayer’s money to no avail. If there is nothing to hide, the report from the police investigators-trained and conscientious - who were sent to that scene first would worth more than were we to even bring in 1000 FBI agents and forensic experts at this stage.
The Murder And Autopsy Of Inmate Myer 15th January 1980, Palace Of Correction - Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County
Immediately after my graduation from the University of Madrid, I returned to Liberia. Well, many friends saw me high in the hierarch of the Liberia National Police, but I went straight to the Division of Rehabilitation, Ministry of Justice. Because prior to my return, I had done my first academic research on the Liberian Criminal Justice System (Police, Court and Prison) back in 1975/76, which took me to Liberia. There, I met one of the nicest government officials, the late Hon. Rudolph Sherman, Assistant Minister of Justice for Rehabilitation. Surprisingly, he complimented me for being one of the first young Liberians he had met to be studying criminology and had also interest in the prison system. Then he gave me a carte blanche to visit the prisons (a courtesy not accorded by the police and court) and urged me to hurry up and come home to work with him because President Tolbert had started a major prison reform – the first of its kind in Liberia. You could not beat that – what a better research laboratory for a criminologist, if not the prison or in the classroom.
When I was recruited into the Division of Rehabilitation later, the prison development was already in full swing, but with a new leadership. The sleepy Division had now the most enviable ‘Dream Team’ in the entire Ministry of Justice; and much so that some of the leading members in that team have become prominent national figures today. Miss Christina Harmon (now Mrs. Tarr - former Minister of Justice) was the new assistant Minister of Justice for Rehabilitation; I was her deputy –Director of Rehabilitation, and Hon. Francis Korkpor (current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) was the next in line. The other colleagues were Reuben Sidifall, Freddie Yancy and Catherine Toe. Oh, the late James Tarpeh was also brought in as Superintendent of the Monrovia Central Prison (became Assistant Minister of Rehabilitation under Doe and later murdered at the end of the regime). True, we had our individual personalities, characters and ambitions, but there was no envy or jealousy; we were working harmoniously and assiduously to put in place the first modern penitentiary system in the history of Liberia as established in our Criminal Procedure Law, but never put into practice. Here we were now establishing the first authentic prison statistics, recruiting and training the first correction officers to replace the soldiers, regularizing daily meals for prisoners, etc.
Yes, it was a tremendous challenge to transform a national mindset that a prisoner, after all, was also a human being who merits a daily meal (even though the majority of citizens never had), an education and a skill to enable a reintegration into the society as a better citizen.
The main axe of the reform was centred around a huge referral prison named: “Palace of Correction”- to lodge 1 024 inmates transferred from around the country. Here inmates were to be educated, learn skills and do farming. It was located few miles out of Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County. The construction started in 1975, and the work had been progressing very slowly due to the exorbitant cost of the project ($1 834 252). For the same reason the opening date had been postponed several times.
But by the end of 1979, we began seeing our way clear to announce a definite opening date. We were already recruiting and training correction officers to man the Palace. At the same time we had also decided on the criteria to vet the future director of this all important institution – someone who would even be sent abroad for some months to under go training in correction management. However, to our greatest astonishment, we were suddenly informed by the Assistant Minister that she had already found someone for the directorship. Who? Mr. Leonard Bailey; qualification/education: a nephew of President Tolbert; experience: an immigration officer - and do not ask me for his rank.
But why would the nephew of the President leave Monrovia and go take care of prisoners in the Zwedru forest? Well, the county had given 2,077 acres of farmland to the project. A study by the Ministry of Agriculture had shown that by cultivating 100 acres the first year (rice, cassava, etc.), the income would be $60 717.53. From this figure, the production of the entire 2,077 acres in time should net an annual income of $1,214,340 - with free prison labour. Isn’t it a fantastic business opportunity for a First Family already seasoned in rice production?
As we approached 1980, we were informed again that the President would be visiting Grand Gedeh early January and would like to dedicate the Palace of Correction. Believe me, Public Works was working day and night trying to complete the cell blocks and the administrative building. So on January 2, 1980, we hurriedly despatched the new Palace Director, a group of correction officers and 22 inmates from the Monrovia Central Prison to the unfinished institution. Finally, on January 4, 1980, the Palace of Correction was officially dedicated by President Tolbert.
On the morning of January 16, 1980, Director Bailey called the Assistant Minister, informing her that a “murder prisoner” who escaped had been killed and buried expeditiously. He stressed the “murder prisoner”- in other words, killing a murderer did not mean much. But he got it all wrong because the 22 inmates sent there for the dedication were minor offences as we knew the institution was not yet ready to receive hardened criminals. No doubt, the man was put in the wrong job; he ignored even the list with names and offences of the inmates he took alone.
As the morning unfolded, the news spread like a wild-fire that the Director (nephew of the President) of the new Palace of Correction had assassinated a prisoner in cold blood. At the same time - and as if by some coincidence - the Secretary General of the Methodist church came to the Division with the release of the dead inmate jailed for some trivial offence.
We were always proactive. So as the next senior member of the Division, I was mandated to accompany the Methodist church official and a representative from the Ministry of Public Works – the late Counsellor Amos Monger – to the Palace of Correction to carry out a preliminary investigation. Remember, workers from Public Works were still heavily working on the institution and eye-witnesses to this tragedy. Furthermore, the case was not yet considered officially a homicide.
The Ministry of Justice had an Air Wing with a small, old cesna plane - piloted by the late Col. Arthur Bedell. The plane was put at our disposal. And believe me, it was one of the most stressful flights I have ever taken. It started to rain at a point, and the plane was not only leaking, but also air bumping over this vast forest just below us.
By the time we finally landed in Zwedru and drove up to the
Palace of Correction with the county Superintendent, the case had already become a high political embarrassment for the President; well, and also for the Division of Rehabilitation.
Intelligently, Director Bailey categorically refused for the Methodist secretary general to sit in the investigation. For this refusal, I believed he had two things in mind. First, that with only government officials without an outsider, there was a possibility to frame up the findings and exonerate him. And second, should the case end up in court, it was better to leave out the victim’s representative from the investigation, so that he does not hear the truth.
On the morning of 15th January 1980, some inmates were taken to brush the farm with two correction officers. They returned to the prison at mid-day for lunch, and returned to work between 2-3 pm. Director Bailey was absent during that time - gone for lunch at home in Zwedru; he had no car.
Sometime between 3-4 pm inmate Myer asked for permission to go and ease himself behind the trees, but never returned. A vast man hunt began by the correction officers in the absence of the Director. It was the Public Works foreman who later went to fetch the Director in Zwedru. Upon arrival at the prison, Mr. Bailey quickly picked up his rifle, charged it and joined the search in the bush from a different direction.
No luck; the Director returned to the prison compound at around 5 pm, but by this time the correction officers had already apprehended inmate Myer without firing a single shot. In fact, the inmate was already locked up in the cell - handcuffed. After hearing that good news, the furious Director ordered the correction officers to bring out the handcuffed inmate into the yard for him to set an example.
In the presence of the Public Works workers and the entire prison staff, the Director ordered a correction officer to shoot the defenceless, innocent man. The trained officer refused; then the Director took his own rifle, went at close range, and as the inmate turned his back in fear, Bailey heartlessly sprayed the man’s back with bullets. The inmate felt, but begging for mercy looking the Director in the face. But no mercy; Director Bailey went still closer to the man and took the fatal shot on the inmate forehead. It was an unimaginable scene of horror and disbelief.
Panic spread through the prison compound; everyone thought that Mr. Bailey had become totally insane. Staff, workers, everyone started to run for their live. But unperturbed, Director Bailey hastily supervised an indecent burial of inmate Myer to cover up the wilful murder.
The various testimonies of this summary execution contradicted the Director’s earlier information to the Division of Rehabilitation. So we concluded the investigation and left the prison compound for the Superintendent’s office in Zwedru. There we met a telegram from the Minister of Justice – Hon. Joseph J. Chesson - ordering the exhumation of the body for an autopsy, and that the pathologist would be arriving the next day. There was already an overwhelming national indignation and an obvious political backlash for the President.
At around 6 pm we returned to the prison with Director Bailey to exhume the body. As the body was being lifted out of the hole only in his clothing, I noticed a sudden countenance changed on the Director; if the ground were to have opened, he would have certainly gone through. He never expected to have seen this body again, and everything he tried to deny or admitted hesitantly resurfaced. There was a bullet hole in the inmate’s forehead, and his back ridden with bullet wounds. The body was still in a perfect condition when it was taken at the morgue of the Zwedru hospital. But the morgue had no refrigerated facilities. Imagine.
On 17th January 1980, the Assistant Minister for Rehabilitation arrived in Zwedru with the pathologist, Dr. Moses. I briefed her; no doubt, it was a summary execution viewed by the entire prison compound.
The autopsy was performed on 18th January outside the morgue in the open-air - totally different from what I saw as a student. I leave you to imagine the rest of the scene - far away from a site of humanity. What is more, the body was already in a state of decomposition. But the autopsy report corroborated with findings from our investigation - that fatal shot in the forehead was the immediate cause of death.
Mr. Bailey was indicted for murder on the same day (18th Jan) in Zwedru and jailed accordingly. As the public pressure began to subside, Bailey was transferred to the Monrovia Central Prison (5th February 1980), and latter released without any judgment (17th March 1980). But bad luck, he was rearrested and jailed immediately after the military coup on April 12, 1980. Remember, Doe came from Grand Gedeh; and while Liberians may have an ostrich mentality, they do have a formidable memory never to be taken for granted.
The difference in the handling of both cases is as clear as day. In the Bailey case, the Ministry of Justice (in an undemocratic regime) was extremely proactive, transparent from the minute the information was received. But in case of Greaves, the Ministry of Justice (a democratic regime) has been sluggish, inconsistent - if not incompetence - the trademark of the government. Because frankly, how a Minister of Justice who has been speaking around reassuring the readiness of the security forces to take over from UNMIL, will take the report of foreign pathologists and try to bully the public to accept it as an exclusive evidence to close - such a high profile case. It is an aberration and a slap in the face of the law enforcement community of Liberia or a sheer disregard to the intelligence of the general public. Worst, it is an absolute disservice to the credibility and morale of the Liberian National Police (LNP).
But let me close this chapter and leave these few questions for the attention of the Hon. Minister of Justice.
Well, I ask indulgence from my former colleagues and pathologists for what I might have added, subtracted or erred. That is the risk of trying to revive a memory that has survived many trials and tribulations.
1 University of Madrid, Spain, and later University of Paris-Sorbonne 2, “Ph.D” and the School of Higher Studies in social Sciences (Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales –EHESS), Paris.