‘The Empty Grave of Comrade Bishop’: Podcast episode guide

View some of the images, documents and other visual artifacts we uncovered during our two-year investigation

Photo illustration of former Grenadian prime minister Maurice Bishop surrounded by miscellaneous photos and news clippings.
(Illustration by Lucy Naland/The Washington Post; Peter Morris/Fairfax Media/Getty Images; Pete Leabo/AP; AP; USGS; Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post; George H.W. Bush Vice Presidential Records; Alleyne/AP; The Washington Post)

Note to readers: This page highlights photos and reference material for the podcast “The Empty Grave of Comrade Bishop,” and will be updated as new episodes are released.

Maurice Bishop, the revolutionary leader of Grenada, was executed in 1983 alongside seven others. The whereabouts of their remains are unknown. For the past two years, we have investigated this mystery, including the role the U.S. government played in shaping the Caribbean nation’s fate, for a six-part podcast. We’ve interviewed more than 100 people, pored over archival photographs, scrutinized government documents and visited the sites where events took place. Here, we’re sharing some of the visual artifacts and other evidence we’ve uncovered, episode by episode.

Episode 1: “Somebody knows”

Our reporting started where it all began: The courtyard of the military fort where 39-year-old Maurice Bishop, three cabinet ministers and four of his closest supporters were gunned down.

Photographer Jabin Botsford captured images of the fort as it stands today. Once named after Bishop’s father, Rupert, it is now known as Fort George.

You can still see bullet holes in the basketball pole.

When he came to power, Maurice Bishop was a charismatic young revolutionary who befriended Communist leaders. We found photographs of Bishop standing alongside Cuban President Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega, then a member of Nicaragua’s Sandinista junta, at a 1980 May Day rally in Cuba’s Revolution Square.

This was the height of the Cold War. U.S. President Ronald Reagan saw Grenada’s ties to Cuba — and by extension the Soviet Union — as a serious threat. He emphasized this in a live address on prime-time television on March 23, 1983: “Grenada, we were told, was a friendly island paradise for tourism. Well, it wasn’t.”

Bishop came to New York a few months later, on June 5, to address an enthusiastic crowd. He read from what he said was a “Secret State Department report” and told the audience it revealed the real reason the United States believed Grenada was a threat: “And if we have 95 percent of predominantly African origin in our country, then we can have a dangerous appeal to 30 million Black people in the United States.”

We filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the State Department for the report Bishop cited, but we’re still waiting. They told us the “estimated date of completion” is Jan. 31, 2025. We also asked the State Department’s Office of the Historian about the report and were told they do not have “any information or resources to provide regarding this question.”

Ultimately, it was not the United States but tensions within Bishop’s own party that led to his undoing. Yet archival photographs like the one below, taken two days after his execution, show that Bishop held wide support among Grenadians even after his death.

That appeal is one reason this mystery still haunts not only the families of those who lost loved ones, but the entire nation of Grenada. As Bishop’s former press secretary, Don Rojas, told us: “The time has come, in my view, for us to bring closure to this and to provide Bishop’s life and legacy with a proper memorial. The time has come. It’s long overdue.”

To learn more, listen to Episode 1 of “The Empty Grave of Comrade Bishop” on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Episode 2: “We all had great expectations”

Grenada is an island nation of 125,000 people at the edge of the Caribbean. Many of the residents of this former British colony are descendants of enslaved Africans. (And if you heard “Grenada” and thought we were talking about a city in Spain, check the handy map below.)

By the 1960s, as Bishop was coming of age, Grenada was still a poor country, with many citizens still working on plantations as their grandparents had done.

There were also families like the Bishops. Maurice’s youngest sister, Ellen Bishop Spielman, shared this family photo and told us more about her family and her brother.

“We were very class oriented. You couldn’t come into our lives if you’re outside of our class. If I were to walk from school and talk to a taxi driver or servant’s child, I would be reprimanded. We’re pretty stuck up,” Spielman said.

Maurice “was very kind, very handsome, of course,” she said. “He was my doll. You know, I remember once he took a nap and I was playing with his hair and twisted most of his hair. And he got up and he was in a rush for a date and he couldn’t get them out.”

Ellen Bishop Spielman, Maurice Bishop’s younger sister, at home in St. George’s, Grenada. (Video: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Sir Eric Gairy was the nation’s prime minister at the time. He was popular at first, but some Grenadians began to see him as power-hungry and corrupt, and he unleashed brutal violence on his political enemies. Here he is at a news conference in February 1974, joking that those who opposed him may have ended up in the cemetery, dead from “natural causes.”

Eric Gairy gives a news conference in February 1974 to mark the occasion of becoming Grenada’s first prime minister. (Video: AP)

The Grenadian revolution, which Bishop helped lead, was for many Grenadians a new beginning. In addition to the radio clips you hear in this episode, we also found videos that captured what life was like then.

Scenes around Grenada in 1979. (Video: AP)

We also heard stories about the downside of the revolution. As much as Bishop projected this idealistic vision of what Grenada had become, cracks quickly formed. Here’s a quote from his speech at Hunter College in June 1983: “The revolution has laid down as a law that nobody, regardless of who you are, will be allowed to be involved in any activity surrounding the overthrow of the government by the use of armed violence. And anyone who moves in that direction will be ruthlessly crushed.”

In 2001, the Grenadian government assembled a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate “certain political events” in the country, including activity during the revolution. The resulting report found that an estimated 3,000 people were arbitrarily detained over the course of Bishop’s four-year rule. Some later testified that they were beaten and tortured in jail.

There was also bitter infighting within the ruling party. We interviewed several people who had been dedicated members of the revolution. One, Christopher Stroude, had been a major in the Grenadian army.

“There was that belief that the revolution was slowing down. People were dissatisfied, you know, different levels. We were not able to deal with the different issues that people had,” Stroude said.

Christopher Stroude spent time in prison for the murder of Maurice Bishop. (Video: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

We pieced together our account of Oct. 19, 1983, from interviews with 18 people who were there that day, including some who would later be convicted of playing a role in the executions.

At least a dozen people were killed that day by gunfire. Others died or were injured when they leaped off the fort to escape the shooting and fell onto boulders 50 to 60 feet below.

Bishop and the seven others were lined up against a wall in the fort and gunned down. While the remains of others have been accounted for, the bodies of these eight people are still missing. We were unable to find photographs of all eight.

  • Maurice Bishop, prime minister
  • Unison Whiteman, foreign minister
  • Jacqueline Creft, education minister
  • Norris Bain, housing minister
  • Evelyn Bullen, businessman and Bishop supporter
  • Evelyn Maitland, businessman and Bishop supporter
  • Fitzroy Bain, union leader and Bishop supporter
  • Keith Hayling, member of the Marketing & National Import Board and Bishop supporter

Annie Bain told us about her husband, Norris Bain, who died alongside Bishop that day: “Every 19th of October, this thing comes up. Every 19th of October, 1983, that comes up. And no answer.”

But we found someone who does have an answer.

To learn more, listen to “The Empty Grave of Comrade Bishop” on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Episode 3: “We brought them to Calivigny”

To understand what happened to the bodies of Maurice Bishop and his seven allies, we needed to account for their every move, starting with the hours after the executions on Oct. 19, 1983. To establish that chain of custody, we had to talk to the people who were there.

A lot of the witnesses to these moments are no longer alive, but a few of them are. One of them, we heard, had an electrical repair shop in the middle of Grenada’s capital, St. George’s.

We walked down a narrow side street in the downtown area, searching for the shop. We found a faded sign for MP’s Electrical Services, where “Only the Best is Good Enough.” The shop is owned by Mandley Phillip.

Before he ran this repair shop, Phillip served in the Grenadian army, or the People’s Revolutionary Army. Phillip was at the fort the day Bishop was killed. He said he didn’t witness the executions, but he did see the aftermath. It’s still difficult for him to talk about it.

“When I saw what was done to Maurice, it was heartbreaking,” he said. “And the other comrades, like Norris Bain … Jacqueline Creft …” It took Phillip a long time to get the words out.

Mandley Phillip, who served in the Grenadian army, in his electrical repair shop in downtown St. George’s, Grenada. (Video: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Later that night, Phillip received orders to dispose of the bodies. He told us he supervised the soldiers who had been told to drive the bodies to Calivigny, an area of the island then used as a military barracks. He watched as the soldiers put the bodies into a trench, stacked tires on top of the remains, doused them in gasoline and then set them on fire. He said that he and the other soldiers left — no one stayed behind to tend to the fire. Others reported that by the next day, the flames had dwindled to smoke.

We’ve talked to a couple forensic experts about this. They said they didn’t think these circumstances would result in the cremation of a body.

Six days later, on Oct. 25, 1983, the United States launched an invasion of Grenada. President Ronald Reagan held a news conference standing alongside Eugenia Charles, chair of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and prime minister of the Caribbean island of Dominica. We found a video of it on YouTube.

“Early this morning, forces from six Caribbean democracies and the United States began a landing, or landings on the island of Grenada in the eastern Caribbean,” Reagan said.

“Between 800 and 1,000 Americans, including many medical students and senior citizens, make up the largest single group of foreign residents in Grenada.”

The mission was named Operation Urgent Fury. It started with that first wave of U.S. troops. Reagan initially called the invasion “completely successful,” but that wasn’t the full picture. Nineteen American troops were killed during the invasion. Some of them were victims of friendly fire or accidents, including helicopter crashes.

The United States also accidentally bombed a Grenadian mental hospital, killing many patients. In total, more than 20 civilians were killed in the course of the invasion. At least 69 Grenadian and Cuban soldiers were killed.

We discovered a 1997 report produced for the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Joint History Office, which found that “problems beset the operation from the start.” “The success of Operation Urgent Fury was marred by the consequences of inadequate time for planning, lack of tactical intelligence, and problems with joint command and control,” the report said.

Colin Brathwaite was a detective in Barbados at the time. In his mid-30s, he was sent to Grenada to help investigate the executions, arriving just after the United States invaded.

Brathwaite was responsible for investigating the killings. So he interviewed witnesses and looked for evidence — including the bodies. “We received some, I would think, credible information of where the bodies were buried. My information was that the bodies were at Calivigny,” he said.

He said that he and a group of police officers didn’t go out to the reported grave at Calivigny until a few days later. We think this would have been several weeks after the executions. And when they got there, they found the trench. But immediately, he said he knew something was strange.

“The area was all dug up and there was caution tape around it, you know.”

Someone had gotten there before him.

During our reporting, we discovered a trove of photos by the Associated Press taken on Nov. 8, 1983, at the site of the burn pit, days before Brathwaite and his team of investigators arrived at the site. Some of the photos show U.S. soldiers removing what appears to be a body bag out of a pit in Calivigny. Brathwaite had never seen the photos before.

So what we know, based on the photographs and witness statements, is that the U.S. military found bodies in a pit at Calivigny. They exhumed them. It happened, at least in part, in front of reporters and photographers who were at the scene.

From our reporting, we also know that, two days later, those bodies were examined by a forensic team from the United States, which was tasked with determining whether these remains belonged to Bishop and the other people executed with him.

But the United States never disclosed the results of the exam to the public.

In Episode 4, we learn what they found.

To learn more, listen to “The Empty Grave of Comrade Bishop” on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Episode 4: “The Army wants to look at some bodies”

Warning: This episode contains graphic descriptions of human remains.

Just a few hundred feet from Grenada’s most famous beach is a dilapidated one-story building. It’s the old anatomy lab at St. George’s University, the medical school in Grenada. It’s no longer in use; the school built a new lab on a different campus many years ago. We came here with Robert Jordan, a recently retired anatomy professor who taught at the university for 40 years. This had once been his office — and also the site of a mysterious forensic examination.

The abandoned anatomy lab at St. George’s University, a medical school in Grenada. (Video: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

In November 1983, Jordan was asked to open up his lab for a team from the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. They wanted to conduct a forensic exam of remains recovered at the Calivigny barracks. Jordan offered his assistance.

In Jordan’s memory, four body bags were brought in. They were placed on the metal tables his students used for dissections. But when he looked inside, he found the bodies were damaged beyond recognition. They were more like body parts.

Jordan is not a forensic scientist. He had no professional expertise in bodies with that level of trauma and decay. But as an anatomy professor, he had spent time looking around the insides of bodies. And a few things stuck out to him:

  • There were not enough bones to account for the full skeletons of eight people. His best guess was that the bones came from five people. “There were no, very few intact bones. The long bones — especially most of the long bones — were splintered and burned.”
  • None of the bones seemed to match Maurice Bishop’s physical stature. Jordan had met Bishop at cocktail parties at the university, and knew he was tall — about 6’3”. “The femurs were cut, burned. But by a piece of it, we could tell how long it was. None of those bones were long enough to be Bishop’s,” he said.
  • He remembered seeing three pelvis bones, one of which he identified as belonging to someone who has given birth. “One of which has little grooves in it, which tells me, as an anatomist … these are birthmarks. … That’s when I thought, ‘Oh, she’s had a baby.’ So, that was hers. I just, in my mind, quickly thought about it,” he said.
  • They also found personal items in the body bags. They discovered a wallet that contained a bill from Bain’s hardware store — the business owned by Annie Bain and her husband, Norris, the executed housing minister. There were also items associated with Fitzroy Bain and Evelyn Maitland, two other people executed. And they found a woman’s dress, which was partially burned.

In all, it was a long day of grueling work. The day after the examination, the remains were put back into the body bags and retrieved by the Americans.

Jordan said he never heard anything else. Years later, he started to wonder what came out of the exam in his lab. So, he asked the Americans he had worked with that day. They sent him this document: Consultation Report on the Identification of Remains — Grenada, West Indies.

In the top left corner, you’ll see the seal of the U.S. Defense Department. There’s also a date — Dec. 12, 1983 — about one month after the conclusion of the forensic exam in Jordan’s lab.

Jordan said he was surprised by some of the details he felt the report had gotten wrong. For example, the report said: “We found no identifiable anatomic evidence of female remains.”

It concluded: “The material available for examination and the records available for comparison are insufficient to establish the identity of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, members of his Cabinet, or other persons who allegedly died at Fort Rupert, Grenada, on 19 October 1983.”

Jordan agreed that the evidence was insufficient to identify Bishop. But he was surprised that the report also said the cabinet members couldn’t be identified. They had seen those items that belonged to Minister Norris Bain, Fitzroy Bain and Evelyn Maitland, and a dress that the report said “reportedly” belonged to Jacqueline Creft.

So to him, there had been enough there to suggest that the cabinet members could have been among those remains.

The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology — the agency that wrote that forensic report — has since been divided into three government entities: The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, the Joint Pathology Center, and the National Museum of Health and Medicine. Officials with each agency told The Post they had no additional information about the report because it predated them.

We also submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the Joint Pathology Center and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. They said they conducted extensive searches and had “no records responsive to the request.”

We asked an archivist at the National Museum of Health and Medicine to pull boxes and files on Grenada, but looking through them, we found nothing relevant.

So, we then tracked down members of the “Grenada 17,” the group of people convicted of killing Bishop and his supporters. Though many of the 17 are still living, not everyone we contacted agreed to an interview.

But Joseph Layne, who was accused of giving the order to execute Bishop, and who helped decide what to do with the bodies afterward, agreed to speak with us.

Joseph Ewart Layne was a senior officer in the People’s Revolutionary army. (Video: Jabin Botsford/TWP)

Layne was a senior officer in the People’s Revolutionary Army and had stood by Bishop’s side at the start of the revolution. He told Senior Producer Ted Muldoon why the bodies were moved to Calivigny after the executions:

LAYNE: “The core reason for moving the bodies to Calivigny was just, if you want to put it, the fear of what would happen, what could happen. It inflamed the situation if the bodies were handed over —”

MULDOON: “So the initial reason was to hide the bodies just until you figured out what —”

LAYNE: “Well, if you want to use the word ‘hide,’ I don’t think that is an unfair description. Yeah, I think that’s a fair description.”

Layne and the others we spoke with acknowledged that the bodies were taken to Calivigny and burned. But they have always said they did nothing else after that. They also note that photographs show U.S. Army soldiers at the grave. Photographs also show soldiers pulling bodies from the grave. Yet, U.S. officials have said they do not know the whereabouts of Bishop and the others killed with him.

As we went back over the timeline of what we knew, we realized there’s a stretch of days that is difficult to account for: The two weeks between the start of the U.S. invasion on Oct. 25 and Nov. 8, when the remains were removed from that pit.

And when we looked more closely at that part of the timeline, we discovered something else — something that involved the U.S. government.

Listen to Episode 4 of “The Empty Grave of Comrade Bishop” on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Episodes 3 to 6 will be available early to Washington Post subscribers on Apple Podcasts. Connect your Post subscription to Apple Podcast by looking for the Washington Post channel.

Have a tip for to share? Contact “The Empty Grave of Comrade Bishop” team at emptygrave@washpost.com.

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