A haunting Cold War mystery is getting a fresh look on the Caribbean island of Grenada, where officials are trying to locate the missing remains of a Marxist prime minister executed nearly 30 years ago during a coup that sparked a US invasion. Maurice Bishop was machine-gunned by a firing squad on October 19, 1983, along with three members of his Cabinet and four others during the bloody upheaval, and no one seems to know where the bodies ended up. Rumours have swirled for decades that US forces later hid the remains to prevent the grave from becoming a rallying point for the slain leader's supporters or that a political rival dynamited the bodies. Grenada’s government wants the mystery solved as a way of healing the national psyche of this now-tranquil country of nutmeg-scented forests known as “the spice island,” which became a flashpoint in the last days of the Cold War. Forensic anthropologists recently failed to find the remains in a stretch of hillside cemetery in the capital of St George’s, but further searches are planned. “It’s important for all concerned to bring some closure to this chapter in Grenada's history,” Finance Minister Nazim Burke said in his office, just down a winding road from the 17th century fort where the 39-year-old Bishop and the others, including his pregnant mistress, were executed by Grenadian soldiers following a coup by a radical faction of Bishop’s Cuba-backed party.
This much is known about the remains: After the execution, one gunman slit Bishop’s throat after he was dead and cut off a finger to steal a ring. The bodies were transported to a military camp six miles outside of town and partially burned in a pit. Six days after Bishop’s execution, about 7,000 US Marines and paratroopers, along with a few hundred security forces from neighboring islands, invaded Grenada, toppling the post-coup military government. Witnesses say the burned, decomposing remains were transported to the island’s medical school and the body bags were later brought to funeral director Leslie Bailey, who was tasked by the US military with burying casualties from the conflict. Bailey died without ever pinpointing where the body bags believed to contain the remains of the political leaders were buried. Bailey’s son, funeral director Clinton Bailey, said he wants to find the remains because people “still point fingers” at his family every time the island celebrates the anniversary of the US invasion, which was almost universally welcomed by Grenadians and is observed each October 25 as a holiday known as Thanksgiving. “I will clear my father’s name,” said Clinton Bailey, who has carried out his own unsuccessful efforts to find Bishop’s remains.
Wild bones chase
Experts suspect the remains of Bishop and the others lie in unmarked graves in St George's sprawling cemetery, where his supporters erected a rough, unmarked bust of the slain revolutionary leader among a tangle of white mausoleums and gravestones, An international forensic team led by Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine was brought in by Grenada's Conference of Churches, the government and the island's medical school to find the remains. The team spent almost two weeks in May excavating a roughly 25-foot stretch of the cemetery, first using a backhoe and then switching to small hand trowels. They scraped at the soil as bones began to emerge from an unmarked grave yards from where a gravedigger discovered three US military body bags a decade ago. Forensic experts say the scattered bones found are apparently not those of Bishop or the others, according to the Rev Sean Doggett, a Roman Catholic priest who acts as spokesman for the Conference of Churches. But Doggett said he is hopeful that future digs could provide answers. “They might be just outside the area searched,” Doggett said in an email from his native Ireland, where is vacationing. He did not say when the next search will take place, but officials say they will proceed once more money is available. Previous searches in the same cemetery, including a forensic excavation organised by Bishop's daughter Nadia, failed as well.
Following every lead
At the cemetery, burly gravedigger Michael MacIntosh said he's confident a sustained search of the area will eventually turn up the long-sought remains.“After all, the bodies have to be somewhere,” said MacIntosh, standing by the excavated area, in the shadow of the national stadium. “They couldn't have just disappeared into the air.”Some Grenadians believe that US troops calculatingly obscured Bishop’s burial. “I think the sentiment was too overwhelming for Bishop at the time and the US wanted to avoid a shrine,” said Dr Terry Marryshow, a Cuban-trained medical doctor who once worked as a bodyguard for Bishop and leads a foundation that was instrumental in getting the island's international airport renamed after the slain leader in 2009. (AP)