Who Killed All Those British 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 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 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 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
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
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 in
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," 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
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 happened."
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
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 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
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 investigation.
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