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Author Topic: 1955: Murder at Manston  (Read 3276 times)

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1955: Murder at Manston
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2010, 17:28:53 »


THE MOST sensational incident of the USAF years lasted less than 2 hours and dominated the front and back pages of national and local newspapers. "The vast US air base at Manston", as the Daily Sketch described it, was in the news. A coloured airman, Napoleon Green aged 21 from Chicago, had run amok with a .30 automatic carbine rifle and a .45 pistol. By the time he escaped from the main gate in a hijacked car he had shot 10 people on the base, killing 3 of them. It was Wednesday 24th August 1955.

Green was due to be questioned that day about the theft of $120 from a wallet (£40 in 1955) which might have led to a court martial. He was also involved in some inquiries about a girl's throat being slashed by a coloured airman. The officer who was to have questioned him was the base police chief, Captain Mercer Ader.

The night before he had told other airmen, "Tomorrow I die. I shall come to the mess hall at 12 o'clock and mow you down". The other airmen did not take him seriously and joked about his threats.

Green got up at reveille and left a note on his bedside locker, "Today I die". He went to work trimming turf with Mr Leo "Shorty" Thorn - as peaceful a scene as one could wish for on a warm summer's day. But murder and mayhem were about to erupt. It all happened within the area of the camp to the west of the B2190 Margate road.

Airman 3rd Class James Robert Hall was on duty in the Gun Room, in a part of the building which included the Air Police HQ and gaol. He was on duty alone and, giving evidence at the Inquest the following week, described what happened when Napoleon Green walked into the Gun Room. "He went over to the stencil machine and started using it and banging about. I told him to quit before he broke it. He hit it 4 or 5 times. He seemed in a normal state of mind. I was busy counting sheets and blankets and then heard the click of a gun. It was the first time I saw him with a gun. He didn't say anything, but walked over and picked up a holster. He walked towards the counter again and picked up a hatchet. I followed him towards the counter, then he went to the gun cage door and hit the lock with the hatchet. I told him to quit and said I'd get the key. Then I saw the note on the counter saying 'Today I die'. It was signed 'Napoleon Green'. I knew then there was something funny. All this time he had the pistol towards me, and after I said I was going to get the key he pointed it right at me and said I was going to stay there. After he started banging, a different expression came on his face. He hit the lock of the cage again and took ammunition for the pistol and for a carbine, scooping up a handful and keeping the gun pointed at me. I turned my back and started talking to him. I heard him pick up the carbine. I turned round and he walked through the front door, taking the carbine and revolver, one in each hand. When he got out I reported to my sergeant, who telephoned the Air Police. Five minutes later I heard shots being fired".

It was between 9.00 and 9.15 am when the rampage started. He went from the Gun Room to the Air Police billet, Building 848. He kicked open the door, the pistol in his right trouser pocket and the carbine at the hip, he shouted, "Be out of here by 10 o'clock or else.....". Then he asked where Captain Ader was and someone answered that he had gone to the laundry.

Airman 2nd Class Nelson Gresham, also coloured, pleaded with Green to drop the gun before someone was hurt. Green replied with a single shot and Gresham fell mortally wounded. Green sprayed the room with shots, slightly wounding Airman 2nd Class Quannah Parker, before running out of the billet.

Former RAF Warrant Officer Aubrey Easto, who had served a total of 11 years at Manston, was the civilian camp tailor in 1955. He was driving along Halley Road in his Morris Minor when he saw airmen rushing out of a billet in their underwear; suddenly, there was an explosion under the car bonnet and he thought that his engine had blown up. In fact it was his front offside tyre exploding from a burst of fire from Green's carbine. Climbing out of the car he was surprised when the glass from the driver's door shattered as he closed the door. Then he saw Green with a gun, and quickly ran around to the other side of the car. Mr Easto then pulled out his woman assistant and they crouched down behind the car. Green ran down the road.

Green had fired 9 shots into Mr Easto's car, 2 of them entering via the driver's door: one shot had slightly nicked the back' of his leg and the other, at chest height, had been stopped by the thin metal strut which raised the window glass. Aubrey Easto was the luckiest man at Manston that day!

The next victims were near an office. Airman 2nd Class Lester Hunt was shot in the chest and Technical Sergeant John Gouveia was slightly injured.

The gunmen then rushed into the Budget and Accounting Office and opened fire. Master Sergeant Lawrence Velasquez, a 33 year old father of 4, fell dead in front of local girl Wendy Welton who worked there as a stenographer. She was shot in the thigh.

Another terrifying experience awaited another local girl, Margaret Shirley Hull, who was employed at the Civilian Office as a secretary. She was on her way from the office to the Commissary when she saw some men running towards her in Halley Road, followed by Green who was firing bullets everywhere from the carbine. Green saw her and called "
;Hey, I want you". She turned down the Link Road, to her left, but Green ran after her and caught hold of her arm. "Where are you going?" he demanded. She told him she was returning to work. He asked if she could drive a car and she replied that she could not. Then, as he fired at some people standing in a doorway, his hold on her arm loosened and she walked away to the corner of the road. She was now at the bottom of the Link Road, where it meets the parallel road to Halley Road. Green came after her and told her "You're coming with me". She replied, "Who are you to tell me where to go?" and tried to get away again.

At this point RAF Policeman Corporal Raymond Grayer came around the corner from the road alongside Building 281. He was on his bike and, seeing Green struggling with Miss Hull, he came to a stop a few feet from Green. His left foot had just touched the curb when Green deliberately pointed the carbine and shot him in the back, causing him to coll
apse with the cycle on top of him. He received wounds over the left hip bone, in the left side of the back, and on the right side of his neck. The inquest established that he died from shock and multiple haemorrhages and could have lived only a few minutes after being shot. Green told Miss Hull "Leave him there", but she went to Corporal Grayer who was laying in a pool of blood and holding his chest. Green walked away, backwards, towards the laundry and the airfield.

As he came away, Green saw Leo Thorn with whom he had been trimming turfs earlier. "Get out of the way, Shorty, I don't wanna hurt you too", he said.

Shawn Appleton, who works in the MT Section, was then a 14 year old lad. He had taken a day off school to help his father who was a contractor on the camp. Their lorry was blocking the road. They had been backing it into an alley beside the Barber's Shop when the firing began, and they were now laying under the lorry. As Green ran towards them after killing Ray Grayer, they got up and ran for cover in the laundry. Shawn ran past the laundry and had to turn back, as he did so he came face to face with Napoleon Green. They stared at each other, and Shawn ran into the laundry. Green went past towards the steps.

The laundry was not the safest place to hide from Green, as he had been told that the man he most wanted to shoot, Captain Ader, was at the laundry. Green must have forgotten that item as he went towards the steps. Captain Ader was not there anyway, he had been delayed at a conference.

Flight Lieutenant Terry Connolly RAFVR(T) is today, in his spare time, the Adjutant with 617 Gliding School at Manston; during the week he is a Ramsgate businessman. On that awful day in 1955 he was an RAF Police Corporal and, at 8 o'clock, had taken over the RAF Guardroom from Ray Grayer. They had talked for 20 or 30 minutes and then Corporal Grayer had gone off duty and cycled to the RAF mess for a late breakfast. About an hour later Terry Connolly was talking to the taxi drivers between the Guardroom and the USAF Checkpoint. They heard gunfire and a bullet ricocheted against the wall of an old shelter between them and the Checkpoint. Corporal Connolly looked around the back of the Guardroom but saw nothing. Walking to the front of the Guardroom he saw Napoleon Green coming up the steps. Green continued to the junction of Halley Road and the Margate Road. Connolly went into the Guardroom and a few minutes later heard more gunshots, this time from the Main Gate by the Checkpoint .....

At 9.25 a van had arrived at the Main Gate driven by Mr Leonard Broadbent, the English manager of Manston's American Express, with 4 fellow employees as passengers. Green menaced them with the pistol and ordered them out of the van; before they could move he opened fire on them, hitting Mr Ian Yeomans in the buttocks and wounding Miss Anne Cockburn in the leg. He abandoned them and ran across Halley Road to another car.

Master Sergeant Rowley J McDaniels was sitting in his new left-hand drive Ford Popular outside the gate when Green hi-jacked the car with him in it. McDaniels told reporters, "He fired twice at another car near mine and then advanced to my car, pointed his .45 at me and said 'I'm not afraid of you. Now drive, mister, drive!' I did".

Green climbed into the back seat and held the gun into McDaniels back. They turned left and drove towards Margate.

Corporal Connolly, looking out of the Guardroom, saw the Ford Popular drive off, noted the registration number PLT 463 and telephoned it to the Air Police Post. Green had got out, but the hunt was on.

As the Ford Popular approached the outskirts of Margate, at Shottendane Road, Napoleon Green saw a signpost for London and told McDaniels to drive him there. The Master Sergeant told him that there wasn't enough fuel for that, to which Green replied "Just keep driving straight ahead". When they reached the crossroads Green pointed to Nash Road on the right. "I had to back up to get into it" continued McDaniels, "All the time I could feel the barrel of the gun in my back. By that time I had started to talk to him; I was still scared but I felt I could talk to him. I suggested that he drove the car himself, and said that I had a wife and two children. He wasn't sure about driving a British car but I told him it was just like driving an American one. I moved across and showed him how to drive it, and got out. He gave me a message, 'Tell Captain Ader when they get me I will be dead'. As the car started, I walked back to the crossroads. I stopped another driver and went to Margate police station and reported".

The corner of Shottendane Road and Nash Road is known locally as "Coffin Corner" because of a coffin-shaped shop located there until the 1980's. Green drove from Coffin Corner down Nash Road, and for some unknown reason, parked the car and got out. He continued down Nash Road on foot, still carrying the guns.....

Police Constable Bert Bridgeland was at home in Nash Road, having been slightly delayed from going on duty when a bootlace snapped. That bootlace probably saved his life, otherwise he would have been pushing his police motorbike towards the front gate and wearing police uniform at the time that Napoleon Green walked past his house. While he was re-lacing his boot his wife, Marjorie, remarked that a coloured airman was walking by with a gun. Bert told her not to be daft, but a few minutes later they saw him walking back towards Coffin Corner. Green was apparently with their neighbour, Mrs Barden. In fact, Green had not spoken to Mrs Barden (She was in a state of shock that night when she heard the news). Green overtook her and went back to the car.

PC Bridgeland saw the Ford Popular go jerkily past his house "like it was being driven on kangaroo juice", towards Westwood. Five minutes later Bert Bridgeland answered a flashing red light at the police pillar at Coffin Corner. Learning of the Napoleon - Green rampage he told HQ that Green had gone down Nash Road towards Broadstairs and, unarmed as he was, he took off in pursuit on his police motorbike.

Alan Jones, who has lived in Minster all his life, had been demobbed for a year in 1955 and was working as a paint sprayer in a Nissen Hut at Coke Alley on the eastern side of the airfield. The USAF Job Controller called him on the Squawk Box, "Hey Red, keep your head inside the door. There's a guy loose with a gun!" So the first thing "Red" did was to have a look out of the door. He saw 3 Jeeps racing towards the barrier near Coke Alley, full of armed Air Policemen. They were heading for Broadstairs, and on the way were joined by Bert Bridgeland on his motorbike.

Napoleon Green arrived at Broadstairs Harbour, quite alone. By now an unknown number of armed Air Police as well as 16 unarmed Thanet policemen were on his trail.
At 10.45 he parked the car near the Tartar Frigate in Harbour Street which was, ominously, a dead end. 70 year old car-park attendant Fred Beecham ran across to him and said, "You can't park there". Green ran down to the beach and shouted back at Beecham, "If they want me they will have to come and get me."

The police arrived at the harbour. Some were sent to head him off from Joss Bay to the north, others lined the clifftops with their rifles. Bert Bridgeland and PC Ivor Smith went with the Air Police, heading north along the beach from the harbour. They were fanned out from the cliff on the left to the edge of the sea on the right, Bert Bridgeland at the extreme right. Holidaymakers were pointing to where Green had gone, and the policemen were ordering them to keep clear. There was not a gunfight on the beach; as has often been reported. Some shots were fired from the clifftop, but none hit the 5ft 3ins gunman. Green himself fired ad lib into the air (two short bursts were heard by Bert Bridgeland).

Napoleon Green was trapped. Armed Air Police ranged along the Cliff Promenade above, British and USAF police were advancing towards him from north and south. One exit from the beach would have been "The 39 Steps" - made famous by the novel of that name by John Buchan - but that too was covered. There was only the sea. He walked out to where it was 18 inches deep, and turned the automatic rifle on himself.

Councillor Hornby had seen Green slump forward "He seemed to place his rifle to his chest before he collapsed" he told reporters. Bert Bridgeland was the first to reach the body. He saw the rifle sticking up out of the sea, "He's here" he shouted.

Another false aspect of the Napoleon Green legend is that his body was "riddled with bullets" from "the gunfight". Detective Inspector Welsh, at the inquest, said that he saw Green's body at Stone Gap, Broadstairs, and there were two wounds near the heart and one on the right arm. Scorch marks and powder stains on his clothing near the heart wounds indicated that they were made by a weapon fired at close range. There was no bleeding from the arm wound, which indicated that it had been inflicted after death.

Subsequently, the Chief Constable awarded two commendations: to PC's Bert Bridgeland and Ivor Smith.

Following many recent similar incidents in the US, doesn't this all sound very familiar?


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