St. Croix attorney Michael Joseph just published a book he believes answers some questions about the so-called Fountain Valley massacre on St. Croix, in which his brother Raphael was one of five men initially convicted of murdering eight people and injuring another eight in 1972. The victims were tourists, residents and resort staff.
The crime gained worldwide attention occurring one day after Arab terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic games in Munich.
Speaking at a Rotary of St. Croix meeting Thursday, Joseph said, “My book is much more than a report of a crime but a report on humanity.”
Joseph said he found answers to several lingering questions about events that led to and followed the “golf course butchering,” still remembered by Virgin Islanders and often mentioned by visitors 43 years later.
For years, Joseph said, he pondered how and why those particular men joined forces for the crime spree. It was neither an intentional slaughter nor the “racial massacre” portrayed in the media, he said.
That day, Sept. 6, 1972, five armed, masked men entered the Fountain Valley Golf Club robbed the bar, pro shop and guests, shot eight people dead and injured eight more. Joseph’s voice cracked as he read the eight murdered victims’ names to whom he dedicated his book, “Fountain Valley 1972.”
Within a week of the killings, five men were arrested and charged with multiple crimes, including eight counts of murder. Ten months later, after being found guilty, Warren Ballentine, Beaumont Gereau, Raphael Joseph, Meral Smith and Ishmeal LaBeet were given eight consecutive life sentences in stateside prisons.
Julio Brady and Milton Branch prosecuted the case in U.S. District Court and the defense attorneys were renowned William Kunstler and Margaret Ratner from New York and Chauncey Eskridge of Chicago.
Kunstler defended the “Chicago Seven” after riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Native American defendants arrested at Wounded Knee, S.D. Eskridge, a civil rights attorney, represented the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., boxing icon Muhammad Ali and others during his career.
According to his brother, Rafael Joseph did not go to what is now Carambola Golf Course to kill anyone and, in fact, he said LaBeet held a gun to Rafael’s head to insure his participation, Michael Joseph said.
During his presentation Thursday, Joseph did not say who shot the victims, but that LaBeet led the slaughter and that he had was the one with the so-called hidden agenda.
He described LaBeet as “a wicked man” who tortured animals and was “a coward to the bone.” LaBeet’s “agenda” included being angry about being the subject of a manhunt after firing on two police officers, Joseph said.
In 1984, after a court appearance on St. Croix, LaBeet managed to hijack an American Airlines DC-10 during its return flight to the mainland and divert the aircraft to Cuba.
Over the years, a mystery has remained how LaBeet obtained a weapon to force the plane off-course and that no one has ever reported his current location. According to Joseph, LaBeet found a gun hidden for him by “a Cuban operation.” He discovered that LaBeet’s aunt was reportedly a close friend of Fidel Castro and had connections in New York who smuggled the gun on board.
“No one knew where the gun was, not even LaBeet,” Joseph said, adding that LaBeet found it after searching all five bathrooms.
Joseph said LaBeet was a Vietnam veteran who returned from war addicted to heroin, that he planned the robbery-gone-bad and the other four went along out of peer pressure and perhaps fear.
The five men were loosely connected. Three were in the woods hiding from police. Joseph had stolen a car and had been charged with assault. LaBeet had fired on police officers and Ballentine was wanted in Antigua.
Michael Joseph said he discovered Smith and Gereau were half brothers who were delivering food to the campsite.
Raphael Joseph was pardoned by Gov. Alexander Farrelly in 1994 and died in 1998 of a drug overdose, his brother said. Only after his release, did the Raphael speak to his brother about the crimes.
For many years, Michael Joseph said, he resisted writing about the tragedy but he finally wrote the book at his brother’s request and because he “wanted people to realize this skin color drama did not enter into the history” of the event.
After 9/11, Joseph said he heard Osama Bin Laden say that only three of the 19 involved in the bombings actually knew what was planned. It resonated with him, and he concluded it was possible that only one of the “Fountain Valley Five” knew what was planned that day.
Joseph has traveled to Cuba and said he “confirmed that LaBeet is alive.” Joseph said he is living in freedom and working as a nurse while the others serve lifetime prison terms.
Two of the three are serving their time at the Golden Grove Correctional Facility and the third is incarcerated on the mainland.
Joseph’s 252-page book can be ordered from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.