Written By Karyl Walker for the Jamaica Observer
IN the 1990s the modern political thug had evolved into a lord of the underworld and, for the most part, had stolen the love shown to political representatives by residents of garrison communities.
Politicians and the thugs they supported and used to secure power had had three decades to fine-tune their relationship. By this time, extortion and drug trafficking had become the main money earners for criminal gangs which had less need to feed directly from the political trough.
But there were still areas where gangsters aligned themselves to the dominant party in their garrison communities and, in the process, kept political order.
One gangster who amassed a massive fortune and whose criminal activities created a long list of murder victims was Donovan ‘Bulbie’ Bennett, former leader of the Spanish Town-based Clansman gang.
Bennett was shielded by politicians, despite the protests of a member of parliament.
Just after the December 1944 general elections, former Prime Minister and National Hero, Alexander Bustamante, set the stage for the ‘dog eat dog’ style of Jamaican politics when he rewarded his party’s supporters with jobs, political favours and other scarce benefits.
Since then, the dogfight for political spoils has never ended.
Bulbie, who was born at King Street in the old capital of Spanish Town in 1964, emerged in the 1990s just as former member of parliament for South Central St Catherine, Heather Robinson, was asked to serve in that constituency by the PJ Patterson-led People’s National Party.
During that period, Bulbie was a party strongman, who carried out the bidding of PNP candidate for Central St Catherine, Clinton ‘Jingles’ Davy, who eventually lost in his bid to unseat incumbent member of parliament, Bruce Golding.
Bulbie was Davy’s head honcho who kept order in PNP-aligned communities in the constituency before and after the March 1993 general elections.
Before those elections, a returning officer for South St Catherine was attacked and shot dead. Police say Bulbie and his cronies were suspected to be behind that murder.
When the votes were counted, Robinson had won her seat, but Davy lost by a landslide to Golding. However, victory would prove bittersweet for Robinson when Bulbie and his cronies attached themselves to her political team and began to make several demands.
After summoning the member of parliament to a meeting, Bulbie reportedly told Robinson that his ambition was to be the only don in Spanish Town and its environs. Bulbie reportedly threatened several senior members of the party who were also at the meeting, which was held at Robinson’s constituency office, when he said, “All old don ago dead”.
Out of concern for her party workers, Robinson called up Davy and asked him to intervene and rein in Bennett. But to Robinson’s surprise, her request would be met with a cold response from her former colleague who reportedly told her, “If you won’t feed them, I will”.
Just days after the meeting, Bulbie and his Clansmen made good on his promise and murdered a popular party worker who worked closely with Robinson.
But it was the murder of Derrick Eccleston, also called ‘Puppy String’, that brought Bulbie under the police microscope.
Police say Bulbie gained leadership of the Clansman gang after he and three of his cronies launched a gun attack in the PNP enclave of De La Vega City on Eccleston and a group of persons with whom he was conversing. The attack was the third attempt on Eccleston’s life, and this time Bulbie and his gang were successful. After shooting and wounding Eccleston, Bulbie reportedly went over the wounded man and pumped several shots into him.
After that killing, Bulbie was listed as wanted for murder. His three cronies who had gone with him into De La Vega City that night were held by police and were later convicted and given lengthy prison terms after being found guilty in the High Court.
The men were convicted after an eyewitness gave evidence which implicated Bulbie and his cronies. But Bulbie was never held by the police and continued to trod on his path of destruction and death.
At the time of his death in October 2005, police say they linked Bulbie to at least 80 murders.
Among those killed by Bulbie and his cronies were a number of PNP workers who worked for the bewildered Robinson. At the time the former politician threatened to resign after accusing a PNP councillor of colluding with Bulbie and facilitating garrison politics.
While her workers were being killed like flies, Robinson appealed to her colleagues in Parliament to dismantle tribalism and dismantle the power base of the dons. In an impassioned plea, Robinson told Parliament that she would not hug up criminals and was not able to give birth to a ‘don’.
“In that regard I am truly barren,” Robinson said in the famous speech in Gordon House. “Are there any of us in this House who would dare to go to the constituency that they represent and declare to these number one dons or now super predators, that we are finished with them and no longer need their services?”
She also hit out at the old style of politics.
“Some of the old dogs in our Parliament need to be taught new approaches,” she also said.
But Robinson would come in for a rude awakening as her plea was met with a stony silence and fell on deaf ears. Instead of supporting their colleague in the drive to clean up the political landscape, the politicians ostracised Robinson and treated her like a traitor. In short she got no help and was left out on a limb.
Weeks after that speech, when it was clear that no action would be taken, Robinson resigned from her position in Parliament in May 1996 after three years in the position.
Bulbie, in the meantime, stuck to his goal and continued building his evil empire by snuffing out his rivals and expanding the turf of his Clansman gang.
Soon the Clansman gang would set up bases in Old Harbour, Dam Head, Linstead and other areas of St Catherine and Clarendon.
By the turn of the millennium, Bennett’s criminal empire was worth millions, as he and his gang built a massive extortion racket which targeted fearful business owners and taxi drivers. The main centre of the extortion, according to police, was and still is the Spanish Town municipal bus park.
At the time Bulbie was now a permanent fixture on the police most wanted list, a spot he occupied for the last decade of his life.
But Bulbie’s rise to the top of the dung heap of criminality was not unhindered, as a bitter fight for extortion rights erupted between his PNP-aligned Clansmen and the One Order gang, which supports the Jamaica Labour Party.
The war which ensued resulted in hundreds of lives being snuffed out on both sides of the conflict. While the Clansman has bases in the Rivoli, Lime Tree Grove, Lakes Pen, Jones Avenue, Manchester Avenue, Dam Head, Waterford and Fish Ground communities, the One Order gang’s bases included Tawes Pen, Ellerslie Pen, Dempshire Pen, Shelter Rock and Oxford Road.
By this time, Bulbie was the beneficiary of a multitude of government contracts, even though he was a wanted man. Like most infamous criminals before him, Bulbie had eyes and ears in the security forces and managed to elude many police dragnets.
In 2001, police suspect that he briefly fled from authorities in Kingston to Great Britain under a false identity.
But like most before him, Donovan ‘Bulbie’ Bennett would not live to a ripe old age and enjoy the benefits of his ill-gotten gains.
On October 30, 2005, the security forces swooped down on a palatial residence the nation’s most wanted man had built in the rustic district of Tanaky nestled in the hills of Clarendon.
The police say as they approached the house they were fired on, and during a shoot-out, Bennett and his driver, identified only as ‘Nathan’, were killed.
Police say they found Bulbie clutching a .50 Desert Eagle pistol, which is valued at US$2,000 and a Ruger pistol from his driver. A quantity of cash and a large cache of jewellery were also found in the house.
At the time of his death, Bulbie’s wealth was estimated at over $100 million.
Days after Bulbie’s death, the head of the St Catherine Central police division, Superintendent Kenneth Wade, blasted PNP politicians for assisting Bennett who, he said, was given political support and supplied with information while he operated in areas dominated by the party.
During the days following his death, members of Bulbie’s gang and persons who were loyal to him rioted by blocking roads, firing on the Spanish Town Police Station and burning T-shirts with the image of former National Security Minister Dr Peter Phillips.
Written By Karyl Walker for the Jamaica Observer