Arcturus Mine murders and payroll robbery in 1978

It was 30th April 1978 and Mr. Fadness, the Arcturus mine manager and Mr. Baker, the mine secretary, collected the monthly wages payroll, the considerable sum of R$45,000, from the bank in Salisbury, and travelled back in the pale green mine Peugeot station wagon the short distance to Arcturus, to pay the staff at the Arcturus Gold Mine.

On this particular Thursday, Enterprise base received calls on the Agric Alert of two bursts of automatic gunfire from the direction of the Arcturus road to the mine. The report came through at about 14h30, and Mike Norton activated the stand-by Police Anti-terrorist Unit stick (PATU) from Goromonzi Police Station and got on his way from Enterprise with additional troops.

At the site of the shooting, close to the Gardiner Road intersection with Arcturus Road, was Berwick James, the 30 year old mine engineer (a local euphemism for the senior fitter and turner) who said he had been passing in his Alfa Romeo, and found the car and bodies at the scene of the incident. He was in a very agitated state and pointed out that the cash box with the mine wages, normally bolted down in the rear of the station wagon, was missing.

The Peugeot station wagon had come to a standstill about 60 metres off the road, but had not turned over as the ground was flat. It was riddled with large bullet holes; the rear door of the vehicle was open and inside were the bodies of Fadness and Baker. Everyone’s initial thought was that there had been an ambush, as it was the height of the war. What was puzzling though, was that the 7.62 mm bullet holes, consistent with those fired from an AK 47, were large on entry and even larger on exit, and the PATU stick advised that they could not locate any spent cartridge cases.

Alarm bells rang and CID were requested and arrived in the persons of DI Mick Cundy, DSO Martin Powis and the late DSO Fred Varkevisser.

Gradually the Police working with the CID detectives, unearthed an extraordinary story.

James had told his colleagues his Alfa was often overheating, so that when Fadness and Baker had seen him on the side of the Arcturus leading to the mine with his bonnet up, they had stopped to see if he was OK.

This enabled James to step out from in front of his Alfa and to fire an AK-47 at them. James had acquired the AK-47 from a RLI troopie whose father farmed in the area, and had cut the barrel short. This was why the entry holes in the vehicle bodywork had been so large; the bullets were tumbling when they came out of the short barrel and he also made a device that caught the cartridge cases as they were ejected.

This was a mistake as the spent cartridges were usually left lying around. The Peugeot had run downhill off the road for further that he had anticipated, so he had to follow into the bush to get at the cash box. In the video clips I have seen the light green Peugeot which has stopped in the grass 60 metres off the road and very near the junction with Gardiner Road. James also had to give a coup de grâce to one of the occupants, who was still alive. From the blood remains seen in the video clearly both victims were still inside the vehicle. James then took the cash box back to his house, emptied the cash into his jersey and stashed it under the seat of his mine vehicle, a Peugeot pick up and threw the cash box into his septic tank.

A road gang, operating about 1 kilometre from the scene recalled seeing James distinctive bright red Alpha sedan car proceeding in the direction of the scene prior to hearing the two bursts of gunfire.

After appearing at the scene, James had gone home, and then into Salisbury (now Harare) in his mine vehicle, where he was picked up by Uniform Branch Police on instructions from Mick Cundy.

The Peugeot pick up was brought back to the mine and by chance the author of this article, R.M. Norton discovered R$14,000 under the seat when he went to move the vehicle during the night. Some R$8,000 was missing and only found when they drove the route that James took to Salisbury. In a small river were notes plastered to bulrushes and rocks and they recovered around R$6,800, the rest had disappeared.

The murder weapon was not recovered initially, but the cash box was located from the septic tank and based on this and other evidence James was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. He admitted the theft, but not the murders. He was in the Salisbury Central Maximum Security Section, with Aiden Diggeden, a well-known car thief and jail escape artist and two other prisoners.

Aiden Diggeden, following his release in 1979 and deportation to the UK, sent a letter to Mick Cundy, stating that he knew the location of the AK-47, but requesting some £500 for the location, and the same amount again if the weapon was located. The weapon was located, with its cut off barrel in a storm water drain on Alderley Farm, and Diggeden got his extra payment.

As James had now been condemned to death the judiciary had to decide if the recovery of the murder weapon in anyway affected the evidence and subsequent sentence, or was a new trial necessary? The Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice, heard the evidence and unanimously decided that the recovery of the weapon and subsequent linking of it to the murder did not in any way affect the sentence

Days before he was due to hang, Berwick James cheated the hangman by committing suicide in his cell on the 31st January 1979 by slashing his wrists, throat and temples with half a razor blade which it is thought was smuggled into his cell in a tube of toothpaste brought in by his 18 year old pregnant girlfriend, but this was never proved.

 

Acknowledgements

K. McIntosh and L. Norton. Echoes of Enterprise. Enterprise Farmers Association.

www.ourstory.com/orafs. Story 2085 of 2570. Enterprise Base. Murder Most Foul · April 1978 by R. Mike Norton

bsap.org/The Transvaal Outpost 20November 2009.pdf by Brian Thomas, Page 25

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