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Diplomacy in Cold Blood: Fatal Encounters Around the World

An American citizen abroad accused of murder: this is a particular nightmare for consular officers. These cases can become public scandals and political quandaries, and it is the job of American Citizen Services to ensure that Americans accused of major crimes beyond U.S. borders receive appropriate treatment in accordance with international law. If an arrested American citizen requests that authorities contact the U.S. Embassy or consulate, they must do so. The consular officer will visit the detained person in jail and contact family, friends or employers with the  prisoner’s consent. The consular officer will also try to make sure the citizen is getting appropriate medical care. What they can’t do is get U.S. citizens out of jail overseas, provide legal advice, serve as official interpreters or pay legal, medical, or other fees. Many Foreign Service personnel have had to deal with murder abroad – by fellow Americans, local despots and other killers – during the course of their careers.

Among them were Patrick Theros, interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in April 2002. Theros served as a political officer in Managua, Nicaragua from 1966-1968 and was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi, UAE from 1980-1983. Earl Wilson, interviewed by Lewis Schmidt in October 1988, was a public affairs officer in Shanghai in 1947. Franklin Pierce “Pancho” Huddle, Jr., interviewed by David Reuther in July 2015, served as Vice Consul in Nepal in 1978.

Others who dealt with deadly crimes include Sue Patterson, interviewed by William D. Morgan in January 1989. She was a consular officer in Milan, Italy from 1982-1986. Frank S. Ruddy, Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea from 1985-1988, was interviewed by Kennedy in September of 1991. Leonard Shurtleff was interviewed by Judy Carson in December, 2012 about his time as the principal officer in Douala, Cameroon from 1970-1972 and his involvement in a murder in a nearby post.

To read more about diplomats behaving badly, or to learn more about the murder of one FSO by another in Equatorial Guinea, please follow the links.


“As we drove past the train station we literally saw this man killing another man with a machete”

Patrick Theros, Political Officer, Managua, Nicaragua 1966-1968, Deputy Chief of Mission, Abu Dhabi, UAE 1980-1983

THEROS: The murder rate in Nicaragua was enormous. The city of Managua averaged eight murders a day. Leon, which was a city of about 80,000, averaged three murders a day. It’s the only time in my life I’ve actually seen three murders. (Theros is seen at left.)

One was when I was going to the Port of Corinto on the northwest Pacific coast with my newly-arrived political section chief and his wife (he was the political first secretary; we didn’t have counselors at the Embassy except the DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission). We were driving through Leon past the train station and I was recounting gleefully about how there’s been a murder at the train station every day since 1951.

As we drove past the train station we literally saw this man killing another man with a machete. The political officer’s wife later accused me of having arranged for it to happen. That was the first murder.

The second murder that I saw was at a political rally. A man was standing in the back of a Jeep; another car pulled up alongside, someone got out of the car, whipped out a pistol and shot him down. I was sitting at a bar about ten feet away with some students. The man shoots this man in the back of the Jeep, gets back in his car and drives away. The students that were with me sort of looked over, saw who the protagonists were, and said, “They’re old enemies,” and went back to drinking. Somebody else picked up the body.

The third shooting was an accidental shooting. One of the guards in our neighborhood shot at what he thought were intruders and the bullet went through the wall of a house and killed a maid living in the back room of a neighbor’s house. So anyway, that was my experience with criminal murder.

There was another case where I was driving to a party in Grenada, south on the highway, and we almost ran over a body lying in the middle of the road. The girl that was with me was a little concerned. There was this body lying there.

So before I stepped out of the car I took out my pistol and fired three shots into the air, at which point the “body” got up and ran away and two people in the underbrush also ran away.

It was a fairly lawless society; I once went to a cantina, where a bunch of drunks started shooting at each other. Fortunately, they were so drunk that the shots went high and no one got hurt.

Q: I heard about a story of a woman who was pretty upper class. I’m not sure if this was in Nicaragua, but it probably was. Some man was pestering her maid and she just said, “Well, I just had to get rid of the man.” You know, paid somebody $25 and he was killed.

In Nicaragua she would have killed him and gotten away with it. There are two stories along this line. One, I had a “costeñas,” a black maid from the east coast, and there they practice sort of voodoo, similar to Jamaica.

She came to me one day and asked for two weeks advance on her salary. I was paying her two dollars a day or something like that. I said, “Sure, but why?” She said, “Well, there’s one of the girls from the coast; this evil man has her documents and he’s forcing her to prostitute herself.” The costeñas were much more prudish than the main part of the population was.

“Another girl and I are going back to Bluefield’s and were going to get a “buyel” to stop this.”  I said, “What’s this buyel? She described some sort of a voodoo witch doctor. She said they had some article of the bad guy’s clothing or something like that and they were going to go back and pay the buyel to get rid of him.

I felt a little bit like an accessory to a crime but I gave her the two weeks’ advance salary. She went and came back a couple days later, and she says it’s all taken care of; they had given him his shirt and other personal items. It slipped out of my mind.

About two months later I asked her, “Whatever happened to that case?” She said, “Well, he’s dead.” He had died. It was never quite clear to me, and I decided not to pursue this issue much further as to whether the witch doctor decided to prove that he was good at it and have the guy bumped off, or if it was just the power of suggestion that did it.

“’There’s no doubt of her insanity. You really don’t want her here”

(In Abu Dhabi) A good example of how the law functions: we had one serious incident where there was an American girl, a New Yorker, a young girl, who was the secretary to a local businessman with whom she was also having a relationship. This girl was good-looking in a New York sort of way.

The businessman’s wife didn’t like her and one day the girl discovered she was pregnant. About two or three weeks after that she aborted herself… and then put on all her jewelry, and nothing else, and walked out onto the street. That night she attacked and knifed one foreign worker, a Pakistani, and then was caught by the police chasing another group of them down the street, holding this big butcher knife.

She was taken in. She looked pretty calm until the picture was taken for her mug shot and then she grabbed some large, blunt instrument off the table and laid out a UAE policewoman with stitches in her head. They beat her up a little bit and threw her in jail.

During the night she began to bleed heavily and they took her to the hospital. That’s about the time we found out….  It was a really complicated court case because the wife had brought legal charges against her for adultery and so forth.

I had visions of this thing going very badly. … She had at least one capital charge against her, and so forth, so I went to see the government and said: “This girl is crazy. This girl is certifiable. There’s no doubt of her insanity. You really don’t want her here. I know there is no insanity plea in Sharia, but do you really want her here? How about you just let me send her home?” And she was sent home.

The funny thing was that at the time the only thing that I was asked by the government was, “Does she owe anybody any money?”

The government was able to quash all the criminal charges, but would not have been able to deal with the money case. Once it was clear that she didn’t owe any money, then the government called in her employer/boyfriend and started (figuratively speaking, of course) pulling his fingernails out until he agreed to pay for her ticket home.

“The Murder Ship”

Earl Wilson, Public Affairs Officer, Shanghai 1947

Wilson: To get to Shanghai, my wife and I had to go to Mobile and catch a freighter. We were both in our late twenties, married nine years, had our two little girls, April and Ronby, with us. The freighter was delayed before we finally boarded her.

It had not been converted from wartime uses. Our cabin was simply a large, bare, steel-walled area. They used to have a lot of bunks, but had thrown out all but four. We used our trunk for a table. I think we got a chair from someplace. My wife had never been abroad before.

We set sail, and the third night out, when we were laying off Panama, there was a murder on the ship. We were on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. Someone, in the early hours, stepped up on a steam pipe, reached through a port hole, and stabbed our cabin steward.

He was a very nice young man. He was stabbed with such force it ripped part of the bunk. The guy fell off of his bunk. The second mate, on duty on the bridge, just happened to come below, saw his buddy, blood gushing from his body. He ran up and blew SOS on the steam whistle.

I heard this in the middle of the night. I jumped up, ran out on deck to see what the heck was going on. From my own wartime experience, I thought we were on fire, a collision course or something, but I didn’t see anything. It wasn’t ’til morning, when we went for breakfast.

We found the police aboard. They took off a suspect screaming and cursing, another one of the stewards. We went through the canal. The newspaper’s banner headlines called us the “murder ship,” said it was the most sensational crime to have happened there. While we were on deck trying to look at the canal, people were on the locks, looking at the “murder ship.” We got to the other side.

The crew wasn’t convinced the murderer had been taken off. They slept in groups on the deck at night, with one of them standing guard with a bat or pan or something. It wasn’t a very happy time. Then, finally, the inquest was over, and we set sail. Incidentally, that suspect was later released. They never did find out who did it because it was circumstantial evidence.

“They beheaded him with a kukri and buried his body out back”

Franklin Pierce “Pancho” Huddle, Jr., Vice Consul, Nepal, 1978

HUDDLE: I started Nepali language training which ended with a month in an isolated Nepali village (no electricity and two days walk from the nearest road). In May of 1978, Pancho became Vice Consul in Kathmandu, then one of the great jobs in the Foreign Service. (Huddle is seen at right.)

Above all, Kathmandu was perhaps the world’s richest lode of bizarre welfare and whereabouts cases involving American citizens in country, which was a key part of a Consul’s portfolio. We had nude, deranged Peace Corps volunteers reading tax forms in the consulate’s outer office, rape entrapments, imprisoned Vietnam war heroes (for watch smuggling), and a jailed diplomat engaged to our Burma Ambassador’s daughter…etc.

Yet the consulate was a stepchild in the sense that we operated out of a separate small building with no air conditioning whenever city power went off. The visa load was modest but Embassy Officers would pressure me on every refusal, beyond all reason…

The Kathmandu consulate stood out in terms of Hill interest. Once, during a staff meeting, I lost my cool when the political officer said, “Well consular work is nothing, the important stuff is political.” A political cone officer myself, I parried “actually the only time we’ve ever had any Congressional interest or any interest whatsoever of significance it’s always on consular issues.”

One Congressman even came to Nepal to try to spring his war hero constituent from Tihar Jail. In this context, let me dilate on the so-called Grove Case. Since the father and son are long gone but richly deserve memory, we can talk about it by name.

Grove Junior had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Afghanistan and en route home went trekking in Nepal. While hiking east from east from Kathmandu, he met a fellow walker, a north Indian, and the pair continued on for several hours.

As night fell, the Indian suggested stopping in a village which had a so-called butti (an informal lodgment where for a quarter, where one got rice, lentils and floor space to sleep).

When Grove dozed off, the owners of the house conspired with the Indian to rob him. They beheaded him with a kukri and buried his body out back.

The murder happened in 1976 and I was present in Washington when the Department of State and ultimately our Ambassador in Kathmandu got a burner directly from President Ford.

How? By chance, Grove’s father, a widower, lived alone in Rockville, Maryland, literally next door to the head of the State’s Delegation to the 1976 Republican Convention.

Soon thereafter, President Ford came to Rockville seeking support from the Maryland delegation during his hot fight for the nomination against Reagan. As the President did so, the head of the delegation handed Ford a letter from Mr. Grove saying, “Where is my son? Can you do something about it?”

President Ford called the Secretary of State who made Deputy Assistant Secretary [Adolph] Dubs action officer. I don’t mean just the formal one; I mean the real action officer overseeing all the pick ‘n shovel work.

The ambassador in Kathmandu got urgent instructions, a so-called NIACT (Night Action cable), ordering her “to go in and see the King today”. A week later after no progress came a second NIACT instructing the Ambassador to revisit the King and inform him that the $12 million AID budget was at serious risk.

The palace raced 386 policemen to the village to conduct robust interrogations with railroad spikes or similar implements. They “scarraped” the village, found the body, and jailed the butti owners for life. Alas, the wandering Indian got away.

This is the classic high-level consular case which was a monthly staple of life for the Vice Consuls in Kathmandu, where sons and daughters of famous Americans hung out amongst the yogis and Tibetan monks.

“She had been using cocaine and whiskey heavily prior to her committing this murder”

Sue Patterson, Consular Officer, Milan, Italy 1982-1986

PATTERSON: We didn’t have many serious problems. We had some serious consular cases. I had a small number of very serious prisoner problems…. I had three female prisoners who had all committed murder, two of whom were in the criminal insane asylum, and the other was in a regular prison.

I spent a lot of time on them, particularly on the one who was in the regular prison. She was a very high visibility case (in the Italian press)…. She was a lovely, young American model [Terry Broome, seen left], who had been abusing cocaine and whiskey, who allowed herself to be exploited by the lizards in the fashion community. She murdered a wealthy Italian playboy who had very prominent parents. It was a dynamite case for the press.

She was exploited by the press, or allowed the press to exploit her, I would feel more comfortable in saying. She was very close to being a mental case, and even tried to commit suicide a couple of times. Following her arrest, I visited her at least once a week.

My relations with her were much more on a protection basis than on a press relations basis. The press never caught on to the fact that I was so involved with her. That was a real blessing, especially during her trial, which was held two years after her arrest, and much of which I attended.

It was certainly not necessary to protect her from the Italian judicial system, because the Italian judicial system was perfectly above board, and the prison authorities were, in fact, doing everything that they could in their power to be helpful to her.

One wonderful attribute of the Italians is that they take a personal approach to life, and are willing to bend rules when the situation calls for it. I went to visit Terry often, especially initially during her confinement, because of her mental state.

I tried to assist her personally, just as one human being to another. She had no one to talk with in the prison, because she spoke no Italian. She was in a terrible physical state because she had been using cocaine and whiskey heavily for at least two or three weeks prior to her committing this murder. So physically, she was a mess; emotionally, she was a mess; spiritually, she was in trouble.

I was able to arrange for an Anglican minister to come visit her, and he, too, became quite fond of Terry, and visits her regularly still. At the time of the murder, she was 26 or 27. But she was not a sophisticated person. She was raised in South Carolina and had not really traveled much.

She is one person that I feel truly has benefited from her time in prison. I feel she’s a rehabilitated person, a totally changed person, because prison provided her protection and a structure. In the prison where she’s been confined for the last three years, she’s also found very supportive and constructive personnel, and a good job training program.

She was found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in prison, which has subsequently been reduced to 14. After seven years, when she will have served half of her time, it is likely her case will be reviewed upon request of the prison authorities in view of her good behavior and her changed mental attitude and health.

“He massacred people in the capital’s soccer stadium to the accompaniment of Beatles music”

Frank S Ruddy, Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea from 1985-1988

Ruddy: I was a lawyer at USIA in the 70’s, and I remembered the weird cables coming in from Equatorial Guinea (E.G.). It turned out there had been a murder there, but before we knew that, the cables from E.G. were like dispatches from The Twilight Zone: “Soviet troops marching through the streets…the screams of victims being tortured by the E.G. Government are driving us mad …”

These were the kinds of details in the cables from E.G. What made them less unbelievable was the situation in E.G. The country’s dictator, Francisco Macias [Nguema Biyogo, seen left], was a mass murderer, a poor man’s Idi Amin. He called himself “The Divine Miracle” and massacred people in the capital’s soccer stadium to the accompaniment of Beatles music.

He once settled a Cabinet disagreement by hurling the dissenting minister out a second floor window. Macias was certainly capable of the atrocities described in the cables, so desk officers and cable watchers suspended disbelief for a while. As the cables became more and more bizarre something had to be done…..

It is the vogue to say he was a madman. I think he was just a very bad and very stupid man. He gave himself the title of “Divine Miracle”, and woe to anyone who snickered on hearing it.

He took Equatorial Guinea, which had the third highest per capita income in Africa, after Libya and South Africa, right over a cliff. He destroyed the economy. E.G. had the best cocoa in the world, and he destroyed its production and export.

He made it a crime to be an “intellectual,” the corpus delicti sufficing in owning a single book. He drove out priests and nuns, and many others fled for their lives. The schools, which the nuns had run with such great success, closed, and for a decade young Guineans had no schooling whatsoever.

He also murdered many people, leading anyone with a brain and means to escape to flee. If someone drew up a plan to destroy a country, he could not have improved on what Macias actually did. When he was finally convicted… they had a trial for him of sorts…they named 4500 people that he was responsible for killing.

“Len, I lost my cool, I killed Don Leahy”

Leonard Shurtleff,  Principal Officer, Douala, Cameroon, 1970-1972

SHURTLEFF: OK. The murder took place on the 30th of August, 1971 in Equatorial Guinea… I’d been there just two weeks beforehand. Everything was fine. The post had been inspected a little bit before that too. There was also an inspection team was in there. Al (Alfred) Erdos was the Chargé; the second Chargé we had there, who arrived in, I think, January of ’71….The admin officer was Don (Donald) Leahy. His wife was Ecuadorian. So the two of them were there….

[Over the phone] I couldn’t hear Erdos, but I could hear the guy he was talking to in Accra… saying, “Yes, I’ve got to walk — I’ve got it tied up and involved. Communist plot, crowd forming around the embassy.”  He was repeating back so people would hear what Erdos was telling him. So I shut the radio off.

I went back to the phone line. I said to Lannon [Walker, DCM in Yaounde], “What do you want me to do?”

He said, “Want you to go over there and take care of this.”

I said, “What am I supposed to do?”

He said, “Take any way you want. Just take care of it. Settle it.”

I said, “OK, I hear ya.”

I call Christine quickly and said, “Pack a bag; I’m going to Equatorial Guinea.”

I had my vice consul call up the local Ardique, the local charter airline, and get me a plane. They can do that there, we knew all these guys.

So, off I go. …..I get into town. It was starting to get dark. I went immediately to the embassy.  Erdos wouldn’t let me in. He said, “I want to talk to the ambassador.”

I said, “You can’t talk to the ambassador. The ambassador’s in Washington on vacation.”

He said, “Go away.”

And I’m like, OK, so I went to the [ambassador’s] residence…

I didn’t know what the hell was going on.  Except I knew the two guys (Erdos and Leahy) didn’t get along. So I went back to the residence. Mrs. Erdos was not there. Where is Mrs. Erdos? Turns out she’s at the Cameroonian ambassador’s residence. So I hoof it over there. I’m walking. This is a very small town, thank God.

So I walk over there, and there she was.

I said, “What is going on?”

She said, “I don’t know.”

I said, “I’ve got to talk to Al.” I said, “I’ve got to talk to the chancery. Do you think you could walk in and talk him out?”

She said, “Yes, I think I can.” I said, “OK.” So the Cameroonian ambassador lent us his car. So over we went. She knocks on the door.

She talked to Al [Erdos] I guess on the phone and wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Maybe Al told her to go there. I don’t know that. I just wanted to get him out of there, so I could get in the embassy and make contact by radio with Yaoundé.

So she goes in and I go next door to the bar. There’s a bar right next-door. I got on the phone and called up the Nigerian ambassador. I said, “I think I’ve got a pack of trouble over here, somehow or another. You get over here with your car and driver. I may need you later.” So over he came.

I finally get Erdos on the phone. He says, “OK, I’m going to come out.”

I said, “All right, I have the Nigerian ambassador here. We’ll put you in his car and you can go to his embassy. You’ll be safe. OK.”

I had him on the phone from the bar next door. I went to the front door of the chancery from there. By this time there was a big crowd out there outside. People heard something was going on. Al had been on the phone calling everybody in town saying that Don Leahy was a communist spy and so on and so forth. Stirring things up. Trying to cover his tracks I guess. (Shurtleff is seen at right.)

Anyway, he finally came out with Mrs. Erdos and, going down the walk to the street, he grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “Len, I lost my cool, I killed Don Leahy.”

So I go in to the chancery and I look around. Where is Leahy? I couldn’t find Leahy. So I looked up stairs. I missed one office too, which was unused, but I looked everywhere else. Wasn’t that a big chancery?  So I got Lannon on the phone. I said, “Lannon, I’m in the embassy, but I haven’t found Leahy.” At that point, all hell broke loose.

Mrs. Leahy had followed me in and she discovered Don’s body in an unused office. [She was] screaming. So I said, “Lannon, I got to go. Something’s going on.”

So I went out and I pried her off the body. I got a doctor we had standing by. I’d gotten a Spanish doctor who had come over. He came in and looked at Leahy and said, “Yeah, he’s dead.”

I tried to get everybody out of the chancery and to get Lannon back on the radio. I said, “We found the body. Leahy’s dead.”

I said, “You’d better get your tail over here. This is more than I can handle.” He said, “I’ll be over tomorrow morning.” I said, “Good. Get the plane…”

I spent a sleepless night in the residence. Lannon got there pretty early the next morning. With Lannon came John Graves, the PAO (Public Affairs Officer). Lannon and John were very tight…

We went to the embassy and Lannon looked at the body. We finally got the front door locked. We found traces of electrical wire on the chair. Apparently Leahy had been tied up in the office chair in the vault. It’s a walk-in vault.

The embassy was just a mess. There was blood all over the walls. Blood all over the front door. Blood all over the floor in the room we found him. I mean he bled to death. Erdos stabbed him with a pair of government-issued sheers and nicked the jugular vein. Leahy was trying to escape from the front door and didn’t make it.

Well, also I thought he’d been strangled because his tie — apparently Erdos had grabbed him by the tie and dragged him away from the front door into the side office by his tie. So it looked like he’d been hung by the tie. It wasn’t. It was the jugular vein, we discovered later.