MURDER IN JAMAICA

 

“At a superficial level there was something in him of John the Baptist. You know, the wild man in the wilderness of Jamaica.” To the poor of Annotto Bay Royackers was infinitely kind, and tolerant of their revivalist Catholicism with its Pentecostalist tinge. The locals he had brought to the Church had been lured by “gentle cajolery” (Fr Webb allowed himself a smile) rather than by “proselytizing”.

 

imgres

 

Fr Webb led me along a dark, earth-smelling corridor to a terrace overlooking the sea, where a lunch of fried pork awaited us. Beneath us the Caribbean Sea brought in a scummy-looking tide where a group of children was fishing hopefully for snapper and other food, feeding out their lines. “They never catch anything”, Fr Webb commented dolefully. “Nobody ever does.” A couple of birds circled on a high thermal out to sea, like black wreaths.

 

imgres-5

 

Watched by the children, we sat down to eat. In the uncertain light the children looked ghostly. Most of them slept four to a bed, Fr Webb told me. They sailed paper ships in the gutter, rolled hoops across rubbish-strewn beaches (as some were doing now), and failed their exams: but by twelve they had learned to shoot guns, and, by twenty, if they had migrated to Kingston, they were dead. One such child may well have turned out to be Royackers’ killer. With his Jesuit’s sense of social justice, Royackers had built schoolrooms and a basketball court for the children, and laid plastic pipelines to bring water down from the mountain rivers and streams.

His murder remained a “great trial” to Webb. Police files had been double-checked and suspects interviewed. Nothing. “Martin was ready to die, I believe, though what exactly provoked his death nobody knows.” A contract hit? Many have suggested as much. “Martin’s assassination was most likely political”, Webb agreed. It was the best he could surmise. Robbery seems an unlikely motive: a sum of money was found in his back pocket.

 

imgres-3

 

The idle land (some sixty acres of it) which Royackers had managed to re-assign to farmers in the surrounding St Mary area had, it seemed, offended powerful business interests. Most of the land in the sea-coast sprawl is owned by minor politicians and businessmen who do the bidding of the big-shots in Kingston. Royackers had encouraged small-scale cultivators to set up co-operatives selling dasheen, pumpkin (provided the rats did not eat the pumpkin seeds), cassava, sweet pepper and pimento. The famers had previously been too poor to own even agricultural implements (they had to plough with machetes and use their fingers to remove stones from the earth); now a few had their own land.

 

Royackers’ straight-talking personality endeared him to Jamaicans, who know when to speak their mind and turn “feisty”. But he could be prickly and hostile in the presence of authority. “Well, we priests are human”, Fr Webb said in extenuation, “we share the prejudices of our backgrounds and upbringing – and maybe Martin was pugnacious by … circumstance.” He was born in 1959, the second of five children, in central Ontario to Dutch immigrant parents. His father, by all accounts an overweening and difficult man, owned a 200-acre pig farm in Parkshill. According to Fr Webb, Royackers had decided to become a Jesuit in order to escape his father’s authoritarian presence  – only to find his father all over again in the rigours imposed by the Society of Jesus.

 

imgres-9

 

In 1988, at the age of 29, he was ordained. For six years he worked on the Jesuit farm at the University of Guelph, Ontario, where he acted as student chaplain. He contributed a number of dryly humorous articles to the Toronto-based Jesuit journal Compass, in which he lambasted North American consumerism and the unholy trinity (as he saw it) of materialism, consumerism and property. “Martin was a curious mix of Opus Dei and Arthur Scargill”, said a Canadian friend of his, Richard Greene (no relation but, incidentally, the editor of Graham Greene’s letters). “Very right wing theologically, very left wing politically – a combination that’s not at all unusual among Catholic priests in the so-called Third World.”

Pages: 1 2 3