WHO'S KILLING THE STAR WARS SCIENTISTS?
Did 22 SDI Researchers really ALL Commit Suicide?
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--better known as Star Wars.
And like at least 21 of his colleagues, he died a bizarre, violent
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 toolshed 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
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 contractor. 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 something...."
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
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 in England.
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 drinking. 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,"
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
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 totally inaccurate. "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, copresident of the Manufacturing, Science & Finance Union,
had been making similar requests for more than two years.
The Thatcher 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 been silenced.
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 action."
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
saying, "If this had happened in Greece, Brazil, Spain,
or Argentina, we'd be all over them like a glove!"
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 very wrong.
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.
"A 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 place.
"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
"I find it very difficult to reconcile the initial coroner's
report with what the police were saying a few months later," Collins
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 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 Dajibhai's section.
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. "But 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 fiancee 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
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 investiga-
tive 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 blacklisted.
"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 wieght 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 theory.
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 the scientists.
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 ultrathin waves emitted by the device interfere with a person's
brain waves, causing violent mood shifts, including suicidal depres-
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 defense workers?
Are the scientists victims of a corrupt defense industry?
Have they been espionage pawns? Are the deaths nothing more
than an extraordinary coincidence? Guess.
DOSSIER OF DEATH
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
bequeathes 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 home.
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 question.
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
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 suicide.
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:
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:
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:
The magazine, date, and author of this article are all unknown.
Additional information concerning this subject will be uploaded
in the near future as a part of a series of files on this subject.
ANY and ALL information that you may have concerning this topic
may be sent to Mike Carrillo, 2419 Forest Shadows, St. Louis,
MO 63136. You may also contact me on Wierdbase (314) 741-2231,
CIA (314) 739-0262, or the Darkside BBS (314) 298-7486.