by Steve Mizrach
from TheSamizdatPage Website
Fifty-year-old Alistair Beckham
was a successful British aerospace-projects engineer. His specialty
was designing computer software for sophisticated naval defense
systems. Like hundreds of other British scientists, he was working
on a pilot program for America's Strategic Defense Initiative
(SDI) - better known as Star Wars.
And like at least 21 of his colleagues,
he died a bizarre, violent death.
It was a lazy, sunny Sunday afternoon in August 1988. After driving
his wife to work, Beckham walked through his garden to a musty
backyard tool-shed and sat down on a box next to the door. He wrapped
bare wires around his chest, attached the to an electrical outlet
and put a handkerchief in his mouth. Then he pulled the switch.
With his death, Beckham's name was added to a growing list of
British scientists who've died or disappeared under mysterious
circumstances since 1982. Each was a skilled expert in computers,
and each was working on a highly classified project for the American
Star Wars program. None had any apparent motive for killing himself.
The British government contends that the deaths are all a matter of
coincidence. The British press blames stress. Others allude to an
ongoing fraud investigation involving the nation's leading defense
Relatives left behind don't know what to think.
"There weren't any women involved.
There weren't any men involved. We had a very good
relationship," says Mary Beckham, Alistair's widow. "We don't
know why he did it... if he did it. And I don't believe that he
did do it. He wouldn't go out to the shed. There had to be
The string of unexplained deaths can be
traced back to March 1982, when Essex University computer scientist
Dr. Keith Bowden died in a car wreck on his ay home from a
London social function. Authorities claim Bowden was drunk. His wife
and friends say otherwise.
Bowden, 45, was a whiz with super-computers and computer-controlled
aircraft. He was cofounder of the Department of Computer Sciences
at Essex and had worked for one of the major Star Wars contractors
One night Bowden's immaculately maintained Rover careened across a
four-lane highway and plunged off a bridge, down an embankment, into
an abandoned rail yard. Bowden was found dead at the scene.
During the inquest, police testified that Bowden's blood alcohol
level had exceeded the legal limit and that he had been driving too
fast. His death was ruled accidental.
Wife Hillary Bowden and her lawyer suspected a cover-up. Friends
he'd supposedly spent the evening with denied that Bowden had been
Then there was the condition of Bowden's car.
"My solicitor instructed an accident
specialist to examine the automobile," Mrs. Bowden explains.
"Somebody had taken the wheels off and put others on that were
old and worn. At the inquest this was not allowed to be brought
up. Someone asked if the car was in a sound condition, and the
answer was yes."
Hillary, in a state of shock, never
protested the published verdict. Yet, she remains convinced that
someone tampered with her husband's car.
"It certainly looked like foul
play," Hillary maintains.
Four years later the British press
finally added Bowden's case to its growing dossier. First, there
appeared to be two interconnected deaths, then six, then 12 -
suddenly there were 22.
Take 37-year-old David Sands, a senior scientist at Easams
working on a highly sensitive computer-controlled satellite-radar
system. In March 1987 Sands made a U-turn on his way to work and
rammed his car into the brick wall of a vacant restaurant. His trunk
was loaded with full gasoline cans. The car exploded on impact.
Given the incongruities of the accident and the lack of a suicide
motive, the coroner refused to rule out the possibility of foul
play. Meanwhile, information leaked to the press suggested that
Sands had been under a tremendous emotional strain.
Margaret Worth, Sand's mother-in-law, claims these stories are
"When David died, it was a great
mystery to us," she admits. "He was very successful. He was very
confident. He had just pulled off a great coup for his company,
and he was about to be greatly rewarded. He had a very bright
future ahead of him. He was perfectly happy the week before this
Like many of the bereaved, Worth is
still at a loss for answers.
"One week we think he must have been
got at. The next week we think it couldn't be anything like
that," she says.
This wave of suspicious fatalities in
the ultrasecret world of sophisticated weaponry has not gone
unnoticed by the United States government. Late last fall, the
American embassy in London publicly requested a full investigation
by the British Ministry of Defense (MoD).
Members of British Parliament, such a Labour MP Doug Hoyle,
co-president of the Manufacturing, Science & Finance Union, had been
making similar requests for more than two years.
government had refused to launch any sort of inquiry.
"How many more deaths before we get
the government to give the answers?" Hoyle asks. "From a
security point of view, surely both ourselves and the Americans
ought to be looking into it."
The Pentagon refuses comment on the
deaths. However, according to Reagan Administration sources,
"We cannot ignore it anymore."
Actually, British and American
intelligence agencies are on the situation. When THE SUNDAY TIMES in
London published the details of 12 mysterious deaths last September,
sources at the American embassy admitted being aware of at least ten
additional victims whose names had already been sent to Washington.
The sources added that the embassy had been monitoring reports of
"the mysterious deaths" for two years.
English intelligence has suffered several damaging spy scandals in
the 20 century. The CIA may suspect the deaths are an
indication of security leaks, that Star Wars secrets are being sold
to the Russians. Perhaps these scientists had been blackmailed into
supplying classified data to Moscow and could no longer live with
themselves. One or more may have stumbled onto an espionage ring and
As NBC News London correspondent Henry Champ puts it,
"In the world of espionage, there is
a saying: Twice is coincidence, but three times is enemy
Where SDI is concerned, a tremendous
amount is at stake. In return for the Thatcher government's early
support of the Star Wars program, the Reagan Administration promised
a number of extremely lucrative SDI contracts to the British defense
industry - hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars the struggling
British economy can little afford to lose.
Britain traditionally has one of the finest defense industries in
the world. Their annual overseas weapons sales amount to almost $250
billion. The publicity from a Star Wars spy scandal could seriously
cut into the profits.
It would appear that only initial promises made to Prime Minister
Thatcher hold the U.S. from cutting its losses and pulling out.
A high-ranking American source was quoted in the SUNDAY TIMES
"If this had happened in Greece,
Brazil, Spain, or Argentina, we'd be all over them like a
The Thatcher government's PR problem is
that the scandal centers around Marconi Company Ltd., Britain's
largest electronics-defense contractor. Seven Marconi scientists are
among the dead.
Marconi, which employs 50,000 workers worldwide, is a subsidiary of
Britain's General Electric Company (GEC). GEC managing
director Lord Wienstock recently launched his own internal
Yet, the GEC and the Ministry of Defense still contend that the 22
deaths are coincidental. A Ministry of Defense spokesman claims to
have found "no evidence of any sinister links between them."
However, an article in the British publication THE INDEPENDENT
claims the incidence of suicide among Marconi scientists is
twice the national average of mentally healthy individuals. Either
Marconi is hiring abnormally unstable scientists or something is
Two deaths brought the issue to light in the fall of 1986. Within
weeks of each other, two London-based Marconi scientists were found
dead 100 miles away, in Bristol. Both were involved in creating the
software for a huge, computerized Star Wars simulator, the hub of
Marconi's SDI program. Both had been working on the simulator just
hours before their death.
Like the others, neither had any apparent
reason to kill himself.
Vimal Dajibhai was a 24-year-old electronics graduate who
worked at Marconi Underwater Systems in Croxley Green. In August
1986 his crumpled body was found lying on the pavement 240 feet
below the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol.
An inquest was unable to determine whether Dajibhai had been pushed
off the bridge or whether he had jumped. There had been no
witnesses. The verdict was left open. Yet, authorities did their
best to pin his death on suicide.
Police testified that Dajibhai had been suffering from depression,
something his family and friends flatly denied. Dajibhai had
absolutely no history of personal or emotional problems.
Police also claimed that the deceased had been drinking with a
friend, Heyat Shah, shortly before his death, and that a
bottle of wine and two used paper cups had been found in his car.
Yet, forensic tests were never done on the auto, and those who knew
Vimal, including Shah, say that he had never taken a drink of
alcohol in his life.
Investigating journalists found discrepancies in other evidence.
police report noted a puncture mark on Dijabhai's left buttock after
his fall from the bridge," explains Tony Collins, who covered
the story for Britain's COMPUTER NEWS magazine.
"Apparently, this was the reason his
funeral was halted seconds before the cremation was to take
"Members of the Family were told
that the body was to be taken away for a second postmortem, to
be done by a top home-office pathologist. That's not normal.
Then, a few months later, police held a press conference and
announced that it hadn't been a puncture mark after all, that it
was a wound caused by a bone fragment.
"I find it very difficult to reconcile the initial coroner's
report with what the police were saying a few months later,"
Officials didn't fare any better with
the second Bristol fatality. Police virtually tripped over
themselves to come up with a motive for the apparent - and unusually
violent - suicide of Ashaad Sharif.
Sharif was a 26-year-old computer analyst who worked at the Marconi
Defense Systems headquarters in Stanmore, Middlesex. On October 28,
1986, he allegedly drove to a public park not far from where Dajibhai had died. He tied one end of a nylon cord around a tree and
tied the other end around his neck. Then he got back into his Audi
80 automatic, stepped on the gas and sped off, decapitating himself.
Marconi initially claimed Sharif was only a junior employee, and
that he had nothing to do with Star Wars. Co-workers stated
otherwise. At the time of his death, Sharif was apparently about to
be promoted. Also, Ashaad reportedly worked for a time in Vimal
The inquest determined that Sharif's death was a suicide.
Investigating officers maintained that the man had killed himself
because he'd been jilted by an alleged lover.
Ashaad hadn't seen the
woman in three years.
"Sharif was said to have been
depressed over a broken romance," Tony Collins explains.
the woman police unofficially say was his lover contends that
she was only his landlady when he was working for British
Aerospace in Bristol. She's married, has three children, and
she's deeply religious. The possibility of the two having an
affair seems highly unlikely - especially since Sharif had a
fiancée in Pakistan. His family told me that he was genuinely in
love with her."
Police suddenly switched stories. They
began to say that Sharif had been deeply in love with the woman he
was engaged to, and that he'd decapitated himself because another
woman was pressuring him to call off the marriage.
Authorities claimed to have found a taped message in Sharif's car
"tantamount" to a suicide note. On it, officers said, he'd admitted
to having had an affair, thus bringing shame on his family. Family
members who've heard the tape say that it actually gave no
indication of why Sharif might want to kill himself.
Sharif's family was told by the coroner that it was "not in their
best interest" to attend the inquest.
"It's been almost impossible to get
to information about deaths that should be in the public
domain," Tony Collins laments. "I've been given false names or
incorrect spellings, or I've not been told where inquests have
taken place. It's made it very difficult for me to try to track
down the details of these cases."
In the Sharif case, two facts stand out:
Ashaad had no history of depression, and there was absolutely no
reason for him to be in Bristol.
A widely help theory among the establishment press is that the
mysterious deaths are stress-related accidents or suicides. Such
theories may not be far off the mark.
According to a high-ranking British government official, for the
past year and a half the Ministry of Defense has been secretly
investigating Marconi on allegations of defense-contract
fraud - overcharging the government, bribing officials. The
extensive probe has required most of the MoD's investigative
resources, conceivably reaching as far as Marconi's sub-contractors
and into MoD research facilities such as the Royal Military College
of Science and the Royal Air Force Research Center.
Almost all of the dead scientists were associated with one or more
of these establishments.
If Marconi employees were being forced by management to perform or
to cover up illegal activities, it may be that the stress did indeed
get to them.
"In America, there are considerable
incentives for people to blow the whistle if they're being asked
to perform illegal acts like ripping off the government," a
confidential source in Parliament explains.
"However, in this country there have
been perhaps 20 people who've blown the whistle, and none of
them have ever worked again. They didn't receive any
compensation. Here, you don't get any recognition. You get
threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. They
can fire you. Then they can take away your home and get you
"It's an impossible position to be placed in," the source adds.
"It's quite conceivable that these people could have killed
themselves because they felt terribly ashamed of what they'd
done. For that matter, some of the accidents or suicides could
have been men who'd taken bribes but who couldn't face the
embarrassment of public disclosure."
If Marconi was systematically defrauding
the government for millions of pounds each year, perhaps an employee
stumbled upon incriminating evidence and had to be done away with.
It would be easy enough to make it look like an accident.
Consider the peculiar death of Peter Peapell, found dead
beneath his car in the garage of his Oxfordshire home. Peapell, 46,
worked for the Royal Military College of Science, a world authority
on communications technology, electronics surveillance and target
detection. Peapell was an expert at using computers to process
signals emitted by metals. His work reportedly included testing
titanium for its resistance to explosives.
On the night of February 22, 1987, Peapell spent an enjoyable
evening out with his wife, Maureen, and their friends. When they
returned home, Maureen went straight to bed, leaving Peter to put
the car away.
When Maureen woke up the next morning, she discovered that Peter had
not come to bed. She went looking for him. When she reached the
garage, she noticed that the door was closed. Yet she could hear the
car's engine running.
She found her husband lying on his back beneath the car, his mouth
directly below the tail pipe. She pulled him into the open air, but
he was already dead.
Initially, Maureen thought her husband's death an accident. She
presumed he'd gotten under the car to investigate a knocking he'd
heard driving home the night before, and that he'd gotten stuck. But
the light fixture in the garage was broken, and Peter hadn't been
carrying a flashlight.
Police had their own suspicions. A constable the same height and
weight as Peter Peapell found it impossible to crawl under the car
when the garage door was closed. He also found it impossible to
close the door once he was under the car.
Carbon deposits from the inside of the garage door showed that the
engine had been running only a short time. Yet, Mrs. Peapell had
found the body almost seven hours after she'd gone to bed.
The coroner's inquest could not determine whether the death was a
homicide, a suicide or an accident. According to Maureen Peapell,
Peter had no reason to kill himself. They had no marital or
financial problems. Peter loved his job. He'd just received a
sizable raise, and according to colleagues, he'd exhibited
"absolutely no signs of stress."
We may never know what is killing these scientists. Everyone has a
The National Forum Foundation, a conservative Washington
D.C., think tank, believes the deaths are the work of European-based, left-wing terrorists, such as those who took credit for
gunning down a West German bureaucrat who'd negotiated Star Wars
contracts. The group also claims the July 1986 bombing death of a
researcher director from the Siemens Company - a high-tech, West
German electronics firm.
They have yet to take credit for any of
A more outrageous theory suggests that the Russians have developed
an electromagnetic "death ray," with which they're driving the
British scientists to suicide. A supermarket tabloid contends the
ultra-thin waves emitted by the device interfere with a person's
brain waves, causing violent mood shifts, including suicidal
The genius of such a weapon is that the victim does all the dirty
work and takes all the blame.
Yet, if the Soviets have actually
developed such a weapon,
why waste it on 22 British
are the scientists victims
of a corrupt defense industry?
have they been espionage
are the deaths nothing more
than an extraordinary coincidence?
AUTO ACCIDENT - Professor
Keith Bowden, 45, computer scientist, Essex University.
In March 1982 Bowden's car plunged off a bridge, into am
abandoned rail yard. His death was listed as an accident.
MISSING PERSON - Lieutenant
Colonel Anthony Godley, 49, defense expert, head of
work-study unit at the Royal Military College of Science.
Godley disappeared in April 1983. His father bequeaths him
more than $60,000, with the proviso that he claim it be
1987. He never showed up and is presumed dead.
SHOTGUN BLAST - Roger Hill,
49, radar designer and draftsman, Marconi. In March 1985
Hill allegedly killed himself with a shotgun at the family
DEATH LEAP - Jonathan Walsh,
29, digital-communications expert assigned to British
Telecom's secret Martlesham Health research facility (and to
GEC, Marconi's parent firm). In November 1985 Walsh
allegedly fell from his hotel room while working on a
British Telecom project in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (Africa). He
had expressed a fear for his life. Verdict: Still in
DEATH LEAP - Vimal Dajibhai,
24, computer-software engineer (worked on guidance system
for Tigerfish torpedo), Marconi Underwater Systems. In
August 1986 Dajibhai's crumpled remains were found 240 feet
below the Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol. The death
has not been listed as a suicide.
DECAPITATION - Ashaad Sharif,
26, computer analyst, Marconi Defense Systems. In October
1986, in Bristol, Sharif allegedly tied one end of a rope
around a tree and the other end around his neck, then drove
off in his car at high speed. Verdict: Suicide.
SUFFOCATION - Richard Pugh,
computer consultant for the Ministry of Defense. In January
1987 Pugh was found dead, wrapped head-to- toe in rope that
was tied four times around his neck. The coroner listed his
death as an accident due to a sexual experiment gone awry.
ASPHYXIATION - John Brittan,
Ministry of Defense tank batteries expert, Royal Military
College of Science. In January 1987 Brittan was found dead
in a parked car in his garage. The engine was still running.
Verdict: Accidental death.
DRUG OVERDOSE - Victor Moore,
46, design engineer, Marconi Space Systems. In February 1987
Moore was found dead of a drug overdose. His death is listed
as a suicide.
ASPHYXIATION - Peter Peapell,
46, scientist, Royal Military College of Science. In
February 1987 Peapell was found dead beneath his car, his
face near the tail pipe, in the garage of his Oxfordshire
home. Death was due to carbon-monoxide poisoning, although
test showed that the engine had been running only a short
time. Foul play has not been ruled out.
ASPHYXIATION - Edwin Skeels,
43, engineer, Marconi. In February 1987 Skeels was found
dead in his car, a victim of carbon-monoxide poisoning. A
hose led from the exhaust pipe. His death is listed as a
AUTO ACCIDENT - David Sands,
satellite projects manager, Eassams (a Marconi sister
company). Although up for a promotion, in March 1987 Sands
drove a car filled with gasoline cans into the brick wall of
an abandoned cafe. He was killed instantly. Foul play has
not been ruled out.
AUTO ACCIDENT - Stuart
Gooding, 23, postgraduate research student, Royal
Military College of Science. In April 1987 Gooding died in a
mysterious car wreck in Cyprus while the College was holding
military exercises on the island. Verdict: Accidental death.
AUTO ACCIDENT - George
Kountis, experienced systems analyst at British
Polytechnic. In April 1987 Kountis drowned after his BMW
plunged into the Mersey River in Liverpool. His death is
listed as a misadventure.
SUFFOCATION - Mark Wisner,
24, software engineer at Ministry of Defense experimental
station for combat aircraft. In April 1987 Wisner was found
dead in his home with a plastic bag over his head. At the
inqust, his death was rules an accident due to a sexual
experiment gone awry.
AUTO ACCIDENT - Michael Baker,
22, digital-communications expert, Plessey Defense Systems.
In May 1987 Baker's BMW crashed through a road barrier,
killing the driver. Verdict: Misadventure.
HEART ATTACK - Frank Jennings,
60, electronic-weapons engineer for Plessey. In June 1987
Jennings allegedly dropped dead of a heart attack. No
inquest was held.
DEATH LEAP - Russel Smith,
23, lab technician at the Atomic Energy Research
Establishment. In January 1988 Smith's mangled body was
found halfway down a cliff in Cornwall. Verdict: Suicide.
ASPHYXIATION - Trevor Knight,
52, computer engineer, Marconi Space and Defense Systems. In
March 1988 Knight was found dead in his car, asphyxiated by
fume from a hose attached to the tail pipe. The death was
ruled a suicide.
ELECTROCUTION - John Ferry,
60, assistant marketing director for Marconi. In August 1988
Ferry was found dead in a company-owned apartment, the
stripped leads of an electrical cord in his mouth. Foul play
has not been ruled out.
ELECTROCUTION - Alistair
Beckham, 50, software engineer, Plessey. In August 1988
Beckham's lifeless body was found in the garden shed behind
his house. Bare wires, which ran to a live main, were
wrapped around his chest. Now suicide note was found, and
police habe not ruled out foul play.
ASPHYXIATION - Andrew Hall,
33, engineering manager, British Aero- space. In September
1988 Hall was found dead in his car, asphyxiated by fumes
from a hose that was attached to the tail pipe. Friends said
he was well liked, had everything to live for. Verdict: