Bermuda Police History - The Years Of Change

Bermuda Police History

The Years of Change ~ 1930-1979

The start of the 1930's promised to be the dawn of a prosperous new era for Bermuda. Tourism was starting to take off and the standard of living was rising.

1931 saw the opening of a single line railway running from St. George's by way of Hamilton to Somerset, and for the very first time Bermudians had a viable travel alternative to the horse and buggy or pedal cycle. Many Police officers in particular began using the railway as a means to travel to and from work.

Six years later in 1937, the island's isolation from the rest of the world effectively ended with the inauguration of international commercial airline services linking Bermuda to the United States and Great Britain. Both Pam Am and Imperial Airways (now British Airways) operated flying boats to the island, which landed in the Great Sound. The normal flying time for the journey between Bermuda and New York, however, was then in excess of five hours.

State of the Police Force

By 1933 the Police Force had grown in size to 75 officers, two thirds of whom where expatriate Englishmen.

The importance of having a separate Criminal Investigation Department (C.I.D.) was now apparent and that same year the C.I.D. Unit was increased in strength from two officers to seven.

Memories of An Ex-Police Officer

Noted local writer Mr. Vernon Jackson served with the Bermuda Police Force between 1933 and 1947. Shortly before Mr. Jackson died in 1996, retired Detective Superintendent Andrew Bermingham persuaded him to share his memories of life as a Policeman and to write them down for the benefit of future generations. Those writings provide a wonderful insight into a period when life was simpler and Police officers received excellent public support.

Vernon Jackson joined the Force in 1933, not particularly through choice, but circumstance. By then the great Depression had spread to Bermuda and his own business was failing.

After being accepted into the Force, he recalls being issued with the dress of the day; a summer weight light grey uniform, white pith helmet, black boots and a black raincoat. On his first day of duty he caught the train to Somerset and paraded before his new Watch Sergeant, an ex-army man by the name of Mullins.

In those days new officers received no formal training and were expected to learn their trade 'on the job.' Sergeant Mullins would become Vernon Jackson's mentor, drill instructor and his classroom teacher.

After six months in Somerset he was transferred to St. George's. Here he met one P.C. Aldrich, who was the Parish Constable for St. David's. In those days of course, before the Base was built, St. David's was little more than a sleepy backwater.

Mr. Jackson noted that 'Constable Aldrich had little to do except to remain on friendly terms with the natives.'

After 18 months in uniform, Vernon Jackson was transferred to the C.I.D. as a Detective Constable.

At this juncture in time (1935) the relationship between the Police Force and the public was probably the best that it has ever been - or ever will be! Mr. Jackson himself makes reference to this in his notes. 'When I got into Police work, it came as no surprise to me to find that relations between the police and the public was sound and good. I could go into any area, be it Pond Hill or Fairylands, and receive the same courteous, friendly treatment.

As an example, when I spent a day at Smith's Hill searching for an escaped prisoner, the neighbours kept a lookout for the escapee; and when he turned up, a woman came up to me and whispered, "He's around the corner." I confronted him and he gave himself up, saying that he was tired of running. As ludicrous as it may seem today, I sat him on the cross-bar of my pedal cycle and gave him a ride to the Police Station.'

He wrote that the most important case that he worked on was the murder of Miss. Margaret Stapleton in 1941. Further mention of this particular case appears later in this review.

In 1947, after 14 years service, Detective Sergeant Vernon Jackson resigned from the Force for personal reasons. We are deeply grateful to him (and to ex-Detective Supt. Andrew Bermingham) for sharing his memories with us and for providing us with an insight in policing in the 1930's and 1940's.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, there were only 45 motor vehicles in Bermuda; none of which were Police cars. At the same time there was an estimated 20,000 pedal cycles and 550 horse drawn carriages on the roads. It is interesting to note that today there are well under fifty such carriages in Bermuda.

The main cause of accidents at this time was speeding on pedal cycles! A major gripe of the cyclists themselves was that they kept getting their cycle wheels caught in the railway lines that ran along Front Street.

The effect of the war on Bermuda was immediate; tourism, and with it the economy, both nose-dived very quickly. The repercussions were soon felt by Police officers - their salaries were cut by 10%!

Fortunately this state of affairs did not last too long. In 1941 Britain signed a land-lease agreement with the United States and work began on building two U.S. Bases here. The wages of Police officers were soon returned to their pre-war levels, and then shortly thereafter, due to a rise in inflation, their salaries were actually increased.

A major task for Police officers during the war years was to keep in line several thousand American Navy Seabees, who had been brought over to the Island to construct the Bases. To quote Mr. Vernon Jackson again, 'Those men were tough; it was war time, and some had criminal records. Offences committed by Seabees and service personnel were numerous, and on several occasions I had to attend Court Martials at Kindley Air Force Base and also at Castle Harbour Hotel which was used by U.S. Army Officers until the war ended.'

By 1942 the Force establishment had been raised to 112, though the actual strength was only 97; 47 English officers and 50 Bermudians.

The Stapleton Case
During the war years, British women were brought to Bermuda to act as censorettes. They worked from offices in the basement of the old Hamilton Hotel and their job was to discreetly read foreign mail being sent from Europe (via Bermuda) to North America. Basically they were looking for any information whatsoever about planned enemy activities.

In 1941, the murder of one such censorette, Miss. Margaret Stapleton, caused more interest and speculation amongst Bermudians than all the great wars being fought overseas in Europe, Africa and Asia.

One evening in July (1941), Miss Stapleton visited friends at Bleak House, Devonshire. When it came time to leave, she declined an escort and began pushing her pedal-cycle along the moonlit railway track towards the train stop at Toby's Lane - the train would take her back to her flat in Hamilton. She never caught the train however, and when her flat-mates telephoned to say that she had not returned from Bleak House, her friends began to search for her.

Miss. Stapleton's half-naked body was subsequently found amongst the bushes near to Prospect Railway Halt. She had been raped and beaten to death.

Intensive police enquiries, which included the help of two F.B.I. Agents for six months, continued for over a year. In August 1942 a Coroner's Inquest named one Harry Sousa, a soldier in the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, as the murderer.

The Police knew exactly where to find Sousa - next door in the Hamilton Gaol (site of the present Hamilton Post Office). He was there serving a ten year sentence for rape.

At his trial in December 1942, the prosecution produced three witnesses (all inmates) who testified that Sousa had confessed to them that he committed the crime while they all shared a prison cell together. Then one of the witnesses retracted his statement and claimed that he had been offered £500 by the Police Commissioner to give false evidence.

The Commissioner, Mr. John McBeath, was then called to the witness stand. He hotly denied the allegation and pointed out that the public reward on offer was in actual fact £1,100, not £500.

Sousa was found guilty and sentenced to hang - but that was not the end of events!

Just hours before the sentence was due to be carried out, Sousa escaped through a 7" gap in the bars of his cell window.

A massive manhunt was launched and The Royal Gazette and Colonist Daily newspaper printed a special one page, one penny edition offering a reward of £250 for information leading to the recapture of Harry Sousa.

Less than twenty four hours later he was back in prison custody after having been flushed from his hiding place (a cave near Black Watch Pass). The following day another one page special edition of the newspaper appeared on the streets, this time proclaiming that Sousa had been recaptured.

Sousa explained to the authorities how he had escaped, but some people doubted his story and claimed that he must have received inside help. To lay the matter to rest, and in front of nervous Prison Officers, he again escaped (if ever so briefly) through the bars in his cell window, and into the arms of the waiting officers.

Just hours before his actual execution on 7th July 1943, Sousa confessed in his cell to P.C. John Marshall that he did in fact commit the murder of Margaret Stapleton.

The First Police Car
By 1942 there was an estimated 1,000 motor vehicles in Bermuda - mostly military. To enable the Police to keep up with developments, the Force paid £375 for a Dodge sedan motor car. That first Bermuda police car, however, was solely for the use of the then Commissioner, Mr. McBeath!

The Motor Car Act
In 1946 the Motor Car Act was passed which enabled anybody who could afford one, to buy an automobile. It is an understatement to say that things in Bermuda have never been quite the same since.

To keep pace with the expected increase in traffic, the fleet of police vehicles was increased to six and shortly afterwards the Force purchased 10 autocycles for use by officers engaged in District or Rural Patrols.

At the same time (1946) recruiting resumed from the United Kingdom.


Into the 1950's
By the start of the 1950's the Force was being welded into a cohesive and efficient organization of which Bermuda could be proud. All the Police Stations were in radio contact with one another, cars were fitted with two way radios and the first speed detectors were introduced (the forerunner of modern radar guns). For the first time the Force also acquired Police dogs; in this instance,four.

1951 also saw the establishment of the Bermuda Reserve Constabulary, although actual recruiting did not begin until the following year.

Recruiting Problems
The familiar problem of how to attract sufficient numbers of Bermudians into the Police came to the fore once again in 1954.

In the Police Annual Report that year, the Commissioner, Mr. R. G. Henderson, remarked "In spite of the urgent need to recruit local men, it is most disappointing that so few have come forward." From the applications received, five local officers and five foreign officers were appointed that year.

The Commissioner also mentioned that a special study was to be made of 'crime prevention' and special attention was to be given to this aspect of police work in the future. In reality almost a quarter of a century would pass before a specialised Crime Prevention Unit was created within the Bermuda Police Force in 1977.

The Green Ticket
During the 1950's Bermudians and visitors alike were expected to adhere to a strict dress code. Officers were directed to tactfully issue a notice called a 'green ticket' to any person whom they considered to be improperly dressed in public. For example if they felt that the length of a woman's skirt was too short, or if her shorts were, well ~ too short!

The actual wording read
"May we respectfully suggest that your attire may prove to be embarrassing as there are certain regulations pertaining to propriety of dress that are being enforced in order to maintain Bermuda's position as a most attractive and pleasant holiday resort."

A lot of officers (all of whom were male at this time) were very disappointed when the decision was made a few years later to scrap the green ticket!

Prospect Bound
After the British Army Garrison departed from Prospect in 1958, the Police Force accepted the offer of their vacant buildings. The Administration, Traffic and C.I.D. Departments moved into the empty buildings and for the first time in its history, the Police Force was headquartered outside Hamilton.

1959 was an exceptionally busy year for the Police; between March and October an unprecedented number of murders or attempted murders were recorded (six in total). Investigations stretched the Force to its limit and Detectives from Scotland Yard were called in to assist. Eventually a suspect with links to all six cases was arrested and convicted.

Another case that year involved a man who attempted to dispose of his wife using a stick of dynamite!

One consequence of the foregoing was the demand for a Police Station to be built in Warwick Parish; as a matter of urgency!

During the same year (1959) an ugly docks dispute arose which culminated in a massive public demonstration. Most of the dockworkers armed themselves with weapons and marched around the streets of Hamilton in an intimidating manner. The Police quickly retaliated by forming a 50 man strong riot squad that marched down Front Street to face the dockers. The then Senior Magistrate, the Worshipful R. P. Gray, fearing the worst, read out the Riot Act, and verygradually the crowd began to disperse.

On a brighter note, 1959 was also the year in which the first Police Cadet scheme began.

A Decade For Optimism
Like the thirties, the sixties promised to be a golden era for Bermuda. The economy was doing well and tourism was booming - over 100,000 visitors came to the Island in 1960.

Looking back, however, it seems incredulous that in 1960 the Bermuda Police Force had neither a Police Women's Department nor a Marine Section. After all, to state the obvious, half the population was female and the Island was surrounded by the ocean!

Perhaps remembering the momentous events of 1959, the Police hierarchy was all too well aware of the Force's deficiencies and at the start of the 1960's they set about rectifying them.

In 1961 the Police Women's Department was established under the command of W/Inspector Isabella Lee and W/Sergeant Rose Neville, both of whom were recruited from the United Kingdom. Three local women soon joined them, one of whom was Mrs. Jean Vickers (nee Mathis). She has the distinction of being the first Bermudian woman to join the Police Force.

1961 also saw the creation of the Narcotics Department. It was initially staffed by just two officers, Detective Inspector Leon Bean and Detective Constable Harold Moniz. Two years later in 1963, Narcotic officers recorded their first arrests and convictions for the possession of marijuana.

Back in the early sixties there was no spare money with which to buy even one boat for a fledgling Marine Section, so two enterprising Constables, Derek Jenkinson and Dave Garland (with the Commissioner's backing of course), set about making one! The Corporation of Hamilton generously supplied the materials and the Department of Marine and Ports provided the engines. In 1962 the Blue Heron was launched and the Police Marine Section was born.

Today the Section has a fleet of 7 vessels including a multi-purpose Hatteras Sports Fisherman which was given to the Police in 1996 by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (D.E.A.).

New Training Facility
The Police Training School was also established in 1962 and that same year the Force conducted its first ever 13 week basic training course.

Other notable milestones about this time included the creation of the Police Association to act as a voice for the rank and file, and the establishment of the Criminal Records Office (C.R.O.), Cycle Squad and Special Branch. Also, after an absence of several years, Parish Constables were re-introduced and provided with scooters to police their districts.

Meanwhile on the social front the Police Force became one of the leading organizations to bring down the racial barriers that existed in Bermuda at that time. The Police Recreation Club in fact was one of the first to organize bi-racial social functions and activities.

The Birdcage
Like it or not, the most recognizable image of a Police officer in Bermuda is the 'Bobby In the Birdcage'. Though it does in fact resemble a birdcage, the platform from which officers direct traffic at Heyl's Corner was actually named for its designer, Mr. "Dickie" Bird, the then Corporation of Hamilton Engineer (1962).

Prior to that time, when it became excessively hot and the sun was streaming down, the Constable on duty had to make do with an adjustable umbrella!

The BELCO Riot
In February 1965 a riot erupted outside the premises of the Bermuda Electrical Light Company on Serpentine Road and the Police were ordered to restore the peace. As a result of their intervention, 17 Police officers were injured. One officer, P.C. Gerard Ian Davies, was so badly injured that he had to be invalided out of the Force. His father later presented a soccer trophy to the Bermuda Football Association to be played for annually; it was ironically named the 'FriendshipTrophy'.

In the New Years Honours List of 1966, seven officers were awarded medals in recognition of their actions during this dispute. Inspector Robert Ball, Constables Andrew Bermingham, Michael Caulkett and the previously mentioned Gerard Ian Davies, all received the Colonial Police Medal For Gallantry, whilst Sergeants John Cafferkey and Kenneth Morris and W.P.C. Christine Muspratt all received the Colonial Police Medal For Meritorious Service.

Racial Imbalance
The proportion of white Police officers (mainly expatriate) in relation to the number of black Bermudian officers, particularly with regard to the racial make-up of Bermuda, has been a constant subject of debate amongst both Police officers and the public since the founding of the Force in 1879. In 1965, in an attempt to redress the unequal racial balance, senior officers went to Barbados specifically to recruit black officers. Selected applicants were interviewed and seven Barbadians were chosen to join six Bermudians on Basic Training Course number 7 (February to May 1966). Officers on that course included Mrs. Gertrude Barker (nee Cannonier) and Mr. Vendall Bridgeman. Both have since retired from the Police after years of dedicated service.

More Rioting
Just three years after the Belco disturbances, rioting broke out again - this time at the close of the Floral Pageant. The riots appeared to be well planned and continued for three nights. Police officers were placed on 12 hour shifts and it was deemed necessary to fly troops in from Britain, though they only played a supporting role. Gradually peace was restored, but Bermuda's reputation was again tarnished and the damage to property ran into millions of pounds.

First Gymkhana
At the end of the 1960's it was estimated that 20% of the Police Force was then involved, one way or another, in the voluntary promotion of youth activities. A good deal of that activity was channeled into launching the first ever Police pedal cycle gymkhana in 1969, an event which attracted over 400 school children. The Police still arrange gymkhanas and another one has been included in this year's calendar of events to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the Service.

Bermuda's Darkest Era
If officers serving with the Force in the mid-60's thought that they had seen Bermuda's worst days, they were very wrong. The darkest period in the history of this Island was about to begin.

On September 9th 1972, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. George Duckett, was shot dead outside his residence Bleak House (the same residence that featured in the Stapleton murder case 31 years earlier). The then Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Leroy 'Nobby' Clark, immediately assumed charge of the Force and was later sworn in as the new Commissioner.

The death of Mr. Duckett signaled the start of a violent crime wave lasting fully two years.

Six months later, at midnight on March 10th 1973, the Governor, Sir Richard Sharples and his A.D.C. Captain Hugh Sayers, were also shot dead. They were about to take the Governor's dog (which was also killed) for a walk and had barely strolled fifty yards from the main entrance to Government House, before two men opened fire at close range.

Less than a month later, two supermarket executives, Mr. Victor Rego and Mr. Mark Doe were also brutally murdered following an armed robbery of their store.

At the request of the Commissioner, Scotland Yard Detectives were again called in to assist the local C.I.D. officers in their investigations.

The principal suspect for all these atrocities was one Erskine Durrant 'Buck' Burrows. At the time of Mr. Duckett's murder he was on release from prison working as a 'trusty' at Police Headquarters and also at the Commissioner's home.

Over the next 18 months more armed robberies followed. 'Buck' himself pulled off a particularly daring daylight robbery at the drive-in branch of the Bank of Bermuda on Church Street. He rode up to the bank on his mobylette, shotgun under his arm, walked inside and demanded money. With his ill-gotten takings, he then rode off at high speed on his cycle up Court Street.

On another occasion he rode through Police Headquarters late one night firing his shotgun randomly at Police buildings. Fortunately nobody was injured.

A heavily armed 'Buck' Burrows was finally arrested in October 1973. Future Commissioner (then Detective Chief Inspector) Clive Donald and Detective Sergeant Larry Smith (now Chief Inspector), members of a special stake-out team, lay in wait for Burrows one night and pounced upon him as he rode by. In the following New Years Honours List the two officers were both deservedly awarded The Colonial Police Medal For Gallantry.

Further investigations led to another man, Larry Tacklyn, also being charged alongside Erskine 'Buck' Burrows with the murders of the Governor, his A.D.C. and Messrs. Rego and Doe. Burrows alone was charged with the murder of the Commissioner.

Following lengthy trials in the mid-1970ís, the two men were found guilty and sentenced to be executed. Once all avenues of appeal had been exhausted, the date for execution was set for December 1st 1977.

The last days of November were particularly tense and on the evening of November 30th a large group assembled in Hamilton with the intention of marching all the way to Casemates in a futile last bid to stop the hangings.

The marchers reached as far as East Broadway before turning around and heading back towards Hamilton Police Station (now the site of the Government Administration Building). When the marchers started to overturn Police cars, the Riot Squad, which was on stand-by at Prospect, was called into action.

By the time the marchers and anti-hanging fraternity first came face to face with the Riot Squad, the two groups stood one block apart on Parliament Street - the marchers outside the main Post Office and the Police by the entrance to Magistrates Court.

At that point the Riot Squad was totally outnumbered; less than 30 officers facing a hostile crowd, perhaps in excess of 200 persons. However the Police were well trained and well disciplined. When they marched in unison along the street, swinging their long wooden batons against their bamboo shields, it made a deafening sound and made any would-be foe think twice about tackling them. The Police were also fortunate to have the right man to lead them at this critical moment in time, Chief Superintendent Jim McMaster.

Using a loudhailer he told the crowd to disperse and to go home. When they refused, he ordered the Riot Squad to march up the street and to 'take' the Church Street / Parliament Street junction - and that was exactly what they did.

It was still early evening; about 8pm. and the Police objective was now evident - to contain the crowd in the back of town. The original Riot Squad now split into two, reinforcements arrived and gradually the Police took charge of a series of road junctions. These included the junctions of Victoria and Parliament Streets and of Court and Church Streets. And that is where the Police remained all night. Whenever they were charged by the mob, they retaliated by firing off a volley of teargas. Before dawn broke numerous warehouses in the back of town were set ablaze and the Force prepared for a long confrontation.

The following evening after dark more buildings in Hamilton were torched. Watching from Police Headquarters, Prospect, one officer remarked, "This is what it must have been like when Nero burned Rome."

But what of Burrows and Tacklyn? They were executed on schedule during the early hours of December 1st within the walls of Casemates and laid to rest in unmarked graves.

As the rioting and arson escalated, the Bermuda Regiment and Police Reserve Constabulary were embodied. Troops were again brought in from Britain, though they were to play a non-combative role. Gradually peace was restored but it was a tense Christmas for most Police officers.

Outward Bound
After listing all of the awful events that befell Bermuda and the Police Force during the 1970's, it is a pleasure to be able to conclude the review of this particular era on a series of positive notes.

The Force has always been conscious of the need to foster good relations between itself and the Island's youth. Back in 1970 - with this thought in mind - the Police launched what would become their most successful community project to date, the Outward Bound programme.

Originally co-ordinated solely by Police officers, this programme has provided the opportunity for thousands of Bermudian youngsters to sample the Outbound Bound experience, both here and overseas. For many of the participants it was their first positive contact with Police officers.

Back in 1995 the Bermuda Outward Bound scheme celebrated a milestone; its 25th anniversary. Given its successful track record, it is hardly surprising that this popular programme remains a cornerstone of Police community relations.

Centennial Celebrations
On the subject of anniversaries, the Force celebrated its own 100th birthday in a big way in October 1979.

The centerpiece of the festivities was a huge exhibition, the largest ever mounted by the Police. It occupied the whole of the East Exhibition Room in the City Hall, Hamilton (now the home of the Bermuda National Gallery). Other notable events included a Thanksgiving Service, a Centennial Ball and a parade involving Police officers, Cadets, Reserves and various Police vehicles. The Bermuda Post Office even issued a special set of four commemorative stamps.

Proposed Police Museum
Following the success of the Centennial Exhibition and the amount of public interest shown in the exhibits on display, it was suggested by various people that a small, permanent Police Museum should be established. Regretfully this proposal has yet to come to fruition.

Historical Review by Sgt. Chris Wilcox, September 1999 **This review was reproduced from the publication,

'Historical Review of the Bermuda Police Service 1879 - 1999'. Edited, designed and produced by Sgt. MacDonald.