Jan 23, 2023 I Nick Redfern

Strange Deaths: Clusters and Questions Still to be Answered

Now and again, I hear of what I call "clusters" of death: situations where numerous people are connected. And many die, We'll begin with a strange affair that ran from the early 1980s to 1991 and remains unresolved to this very day. And it all revolves around the top secret work of a company called Marconi Electronic Systems, but which, today, exists as a part of BAE Systems Electronics Limited. Its work includes the development of futuristic weaponry and spy-satellite technology.  It was in March 1982 that Professor Keith Bowden, whose computer expertise made him a valuable employee of Marconi, lost his life in a car accident. His vehicle left a three-lane highway at high speed and slammed into a railway line. Death was instantaneous. In March 1985, Roger Hill, a draughtsman with Marconi, died of a shotgun blast. His death was deemed a suicide. Just months later, the body of Jonathan Wash, an employee of a department within British Telecom that had extensive links to Marconi, was found on the sidewalk of an Ivory Coast, West Africa hotel. Wash fatally fell, or was pushed, from the balcony of his room. That Wash had told friends and family he believed someone was watching and following him, and that he suspected his life was in danger, added to the suspicions that his death was not due to accident or suicide.

As 1985 became 1986, the death toll increased dramatically. On August 4, 1986, a highly-regarded young man, named Vimal Bhagvangi Dajibhai, jumped from England’s Clifton Suspension Bridge into the deep waters below. He did not survive the fall. Dajibhai held a secret clearance with Marconi Underwater Systems, a subsidiary of the main company. Only around eight weeks later, one of the most grisly of all the Marconi scientist deaths occurred. The victim was a computer-programmer, Arshad Sharif. Such was the terrible and bizarre nature of Sharif’s death, it even made the news thousands of miles away, in the United States. The Los Angeles Times reported that Sharif “…died in macabre circumstances…when he apparently tied one end of a rope around a tree and the other around his neck, then got into his car and stepped on the accelerator. An inquest ruled suicide.” The coroner in the Sharif case, Donald Hawkins, commented wryly on the fact that Marconi was experiencing an extraordinary number of odd deaths: “As James Bond would say – this is beyond coincidence.”

 (Nick Redfern) Hired assassins?

As the months progressed, so did the deaths. The case of Dr. John Brittan was particularly disturbing, since he had two run-ins with death, the second of which he did not survive. During Christmas 1986, Brittan ended up in a ditch after his car violently, and inexplicably, lurched across the road. He was lucky to survive. The Grim Reaper was not happy that Brittan had escaped his icy clutches, however. Less than two weeks into January 1987 (and immediately after Brittan returned to the U.K. from the States, where he had been on official, secret business) Brittan’s body was found in his garage. He was an unfortunate victim of the effects of deadly carbon-monoxide. Also dead in January 1987 was Richard Pugh, a computer expert who had done work for Marconi and whose death the Ministry of Defense dismissed with the following words: “We have heard about him but he had nothing to do with us.” Then there is the extremely weird saga of Avtar Singh-Gida. An employee of the British Ministry of Defense, who worked on a number of Marconi programs, he vanished from his home in Loughborough, England right around the same time that Dr. John Brittan died. His family feared the worst. Fortunately, Singh-Gida did not turn up dead. Quite the opposite, in fact: he was found, in Paris, fifteen weeks later. He had no memory of where he had been, or what he had done in that period.

The deaths of Brittan, Dajibhai, and Sharif – coupled with the odd case of Singh-Gida -prompted a Member of Parliament, John Cartwright, to state authoritatively that the deaths “stretch the possibility of mere coincidence too far.” Cartwright’s words proved to be eerily prophetic. On February 22, 1987, Peter Peapell, a lecturer at the Royal College of Military Science, who had been consulted by Marconi on various projects, was yet another figure whose death was due to carbon-monoxide poisoning in his own garage – in the English county of Oxfordshire. In the same month, David Skeels, a Marconi engineer, was found dead under identical circumstances. Victor Moore was attached to Marconi Space and Defense Systems at the time of his February 1987 death, reportedly of a drug overdose. At the time, he was said to be under investigation by MI5, the British equivalent of the FBI. One month later, in March 1987, one David Sands killed himself under truly horrific circumstances. He was in the employ of what was called Elliott Automation Space and Advanced Military Systems Ltd – which just happened to have a working relationship with Marconi at the time. Sands, whose family and colleagues said he was exhibiting no signs of stress or strain, loaded his car with containers of gasoline and drove – at “high voltage,” as the police worded it – into an empty restaurant. A fiery death was inevitable.

In April 1987, there was yet another death of an employee of the Royal College of Military Science: Stuart Gooding, whose car slammed head-on into a truck on the island of Cyprus. Colleagues of Gooding expressed doubt at the accidental death verdict. On the very same day as Gooding died, David Greenhalgh died after falling (or being pushed) off a railway bridge at Maidenhead, Berkshire. Greenhalgh just happened to be working on the same program as David Sands. Just seven days after Greenhalgh and Gooding died, and only a short distance away, a woman named Shani Warren took her last breaths. Warren worked for Micro Scope, a company taken over by Marconi just weeks later. Despite being found in just a foot and a half of water, and with a gag in her mouth, her feet bound, and her hands tied behind her back, the official verdict was – wholly outrageously – suicide. May 3, 1987, was the date on which Michael Baker was killed – in a car accident in Dorset, England. He worked on classified programs for Plessey. Twelve years later, Plessy became a part of British Aerospace when the latter combined with Marconi. Ten months after, Trevor Knight, who worked for Marconi Space and Defense Systems in Stanmore, Middlesex, England, died – as had so many others – from carbon-monoxide poisoning in his garage.

There were other unexplained deaths in 1988: midway through the year, Brigadier Peter Ferry (a business-development manager with Marconi) and Plessey’s Alistair Beckham both killed themselves via electrocution. And, finally, there was the mysterious 1991 death of Malcolm Puddy. He had told his bosses at Marconi he had stumbled on something amazing. What that was, no-one knows. Within twenty-four hours Puddy was dead. His body was hauled out of a canal near his home. The grim list of deaths was finally at an end. The controversy, though, is far from over. It now gets appropriately out of this world. Now, let's have a look at clusters in the world of microbiology.

From the final months of 2001 to mid-2005, near-countless people employed in the elite field of microbiology - which is defined as the study of organisms that are too small to be seen with the naked eye, such as bacteria and viruses - died under circumstances that some within the media and government came to view as highly suspicious and deeply disturbing in nature. Many of the deaths appeared, at first glance at least, to have down to earth explanations. But, even those that were skeptical of the notion that the deaths were suspicious in nature could not deny one overriding and important factor: many of those dead microbiologists had secret links to worldwide intelligence services, including the United States’ CIA, Britain’s MI5 and MI6; and Israel’s Mossad. Inevitably, this mysterious collection of deaths, in such a tightly knit area of cutting-edge research, has led to a proliferation of theories in an attempt to resolve the matter. Some believe that a cell of deep-cover terrorists, from the Middle East, wiped out the leading names within the field of microbiology as part of a plot to prevent Western nations from developing the ultimate bio-weapon. A darker theory suggests that this same weapon has already been developed, and, with their work complete, the microbiologists were systematically killed, one by one, by Western Intelligence, in an effort to prevent them from being kidnapped by terrorists who may then have forced them to work for the other side. 

On July 18, 2003, it was reported in the British press that David Kelly, a British biological weapons expert, had slashed his own wrists while walking in woods near his home. Kelly was the British Ministry of Defense’s chief scientific officer, the senior adviser to the Proliferation and Arms Control Secretariat, and to the Foreign Office’s Non-Proliferation Department. The senior adviser on biological weapons to the UN biological weapons inspections teams (Unscom) from 1994 to 1999, Kelly was also, in the opinion of his peers, pre-eminent in his field, not only in the UK, but in the world, too. Almost four months later to the day, scientist Robert Leslie Burghoff, 45, was killed by a hit-and-run driver that jumped the sidewalk and ploughed into him in the 1600 block of South Braeswood, Texas. At the time, he was studying outbreaks of viruses on board cruise ships and their potential links to terrorist activity. 

The controversy largely began on November 12, 2001, when Dr. Benito Que, a cell biologist working on infectious diseases, including HIV, was found dead outside of his laboratory at the Miami Medical School, Florida. The Miami Herald stated that his death occurred as he headed for his car, a white Ford Explorer, parked on Northwest 10th Avenue. Police said that he was possibly the victim of a mugger. According to later developments uncovered by the media, however, the new word on the street was that Dr. Que had been attacked by four men equipped with baseball-bats. This was later recanted, however, and it was stated by officialdom that Que had died of nothing stranger than cardiac arrest. And with that final statement in the public domain, police refused to comment any further on Que’s death, rather intriguingly. Eleven days later, Dr. Vladimir Pasechnik, a former microbiologist for Bioreparat, a bio-weapons production facility that existed in Russia prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, was found dead near his home in the county of Wiltshire, England. His defection to Britain, in 1989, revealed to the West for the very first time the incredible scale of the Soviet Union’s clandestine biological warfare program. And his revelations about the scale of the Soviet Union’s production of biological-agents including anthrax, plague, tularemia, and smallpox provided an inside account of one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War. According to British Intelligence, Pasechnik passed away from effects of a massive stroke and nothing more.

Jim Keith was a conspiracy theorist who died under extremely weird and dubious circumstances in September 1999 after attending the annual Burning Man event in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Keith had headed out to the annual Burning Man festival in Black Rock, just north of Reno, Nevada, a day before the event began. While on stage, Keith lost his balance and fell to the ground. At first, Keith thought he had just badly bruised his leg. By the morning, though, Keith was in such agony that he had to call for paramedics, who were quickly on the scene and took him to the Washoe Medical Center, in Reno. Keith was told he had fractured his tibia and that he was to be prepped for surgery – which would require him to be anesthetized. This was when things got really strange. Keith put a call through to a friend in the conspiracy field – George Pickard – and told him that one of the attendants at the hospital had the same name as someone he had debated on the matter of the black helicopters, and just a few months earlier. Coincidence? Who knows? As the time for surgery got closer, Keith got more and more anxious. He said to his nephew, Chris Davis: “I have a feeling that if they put me under I’m not coming back. I know if I get put under, I am going to die.” 

(Nick Redfern) Mothman and death.

That’s exactly what happened: a blood-clot took Keith’s life. The field of conspiracy-theorizing was both stunned and suspicious by this very untimely and tragic state of affairs. An unfortunate event or a well-orchestrated murder by culprits unknown? That was the question which was specifically asked most frequently in the immediate wake of Keith’s death. It’s a question that still gets asked today. UFO authority Greg Bishop says: “I would prefer to think that there was no connection to the weird computer problems,” which was a reference to a series of hacking of Keith’s computer that he, Keith, experienced just days before he died and while he was investigating the 1997 death of Princess Diana of Wales. Now, let’s take a look at the Jim Keith-Mothman connection. In his 1997 book Casebook of the Men in Black, Jim Keith focused much of his attention on the Mothman saga – as well as the timely presence in Point Pleasant of the notorious Men in Black. Some said that Keith got a little too close to the truth of the Men in Black-Mothman link and paid for it with his life. He was just forty-nine when he passed. It wasn’t long before Keith’s publisher and buddy, Ron Bonds, was dead too – also under controversial circumstances. Notably, back in 1991 Bonds had republished John Keel’s classic book on the 1966-1967 events that went down in Point Pleasant: The Mothman Prophecies, which was first published in 1975. 

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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