EXPERIENCED crime-fighter, assistant commissioner of police Keith Gardner has labelled the feared gang leader of the 1970s, Dennis 'Copper' Barth, the most ruthless criminal that he has ever known.
Gardner — who is well known by the alias, 'Trinity' and who is on the verge of retirement having served the Jamaica Constabulary Force for 40 years — has also suggested that Barth, who headed the infamous and feared Hot Stepper Posse, was the man who introduced organised crime to Jamaica.
"When you talk about bad man, to me it is Dennis Barth, alias 'Copper', because he was more meticulous than the others. He was a very intelligent, cool, calculated guy," Gardner told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.
Now the law enforcer and lawyer, who is presently on secondment from the police force as director of security at the University of the West Indies, is happy that Jamaica has not seen the likes of Barth since his violent demise in 1978.
"I say Copper [was the baddest] because he didn't flinch and he had organisational ability that was better than any other criminal that I have known."
Barth's gang had its roots in Central and East Kingston, and he was a known associate of other notorious gangsters, including Donovan Chin Quee and Dennis 'Shabba' Adair, a former jockey.
The senior cop said his first encounter with the feared gunman was in the early 1970s under unusual cirumstances.
"I met Copper when I was at (police) training school in late 1972. I was always fascinated by these kinds of guys, being exposed to those things as a man from the inner city.
"When Copper was shot and was in hospital the first time, I went to look at him, because I wanted to know what this guy was all about. He was very diminutive, but cold. It is reported that while he was there at hospital, some of the people who were guarding him inflicted some things on him, but he never screamed out. He never bawled. He took his pain and it was like he had some bones that he was going to settle after," Gardner said.
He recalled other gunmen whose names sparked terror in many Jamaicans because of their reputed cold-bloodedness.
"You had a Nathaniel 'Natty' Morgan who was ruthless, but he never had the head space like Copper," Gardner said.
"It was not that Morgan never exercised some kind of criminal initiative, because when those guys were moving around, you would think that he was the prime minister, because he was driving one car, one car was leading his, and there was another car as follow-up.
"Morgan was ruthless and he had some kind of organisational ability, because extensively there was extortion in and around the community and ruthlessly, there were things being done, like 'necklacing' of people," said Gardner, referring to the horrific murder method where rubber tyres are hung around the necks of victims and set afire.
"I remember when 'Copper' escaped from prison, the kind of people he was associated with, both during prison and outside of prison; the allegations about the bank robberies and what the proceeds of the money went to. It took years to break it up. 'Copper' organised well to rob several places, including Caymanas Park where he was eventually killed," Gardner stated.
Barth was killed at the Caymanas Park race track in April 1978, after he went there to rob the establishment.
A policeman who spotted Barth approaching one of the cashiers to pull off the heist, hit the then-fugitive with a single bullet, before Barth retaliated and shot two other policemen with a sub-machine gun, one of whom died in hospital.
Although Barth died in that attack, some of his gang members, including Adair, escaped. They were all killed in separate violent confrontations years later.
During his career, Gardner was held in high esteem by some, who stated that he treated individuals whom he arrested with a degree of respect.
Former People's National Party Youth Organisation President Paul Burke described him this way in a Gleaner article in 2008:
"I believe that Keith 'Trinity' Gardner and Tony Hewitt were two of the most successful brand-name policemen to work the streets of the Corporate Area. They were fair and balanced," said Burke, a former chairman of the party's powerful Region Three.
Hewitt, a retired superintendent, now works with the Firearms Licensing Authority.
"In August 1977, I held George Flash in Vineyard Town on suspicion of murdering (Edward) Ted O'Gilvie. He spent a week in jail, but his lawyer issued a writ of habeus corpus and I was told by authorities higher up that we had to let him go. About a week later, I learned that he and Tony Brown were wanted for the murder," Gardner said.
O'Gilvie, a top public servant, was killed at his Havendale home on June 16, 1977.
Flash, now deceased, and Brown fled Jamaica for Cuba where they remained for 22 years when they returned to the island to face trial. They were arrested by Criminal Investigation Branch detectives on separate days after they turned themselves in, accompanied by Burke, upon their return to Jamaica. However, faced with a lack of witnesses the judge had no choice but to free both men of the charge.
Flash, who gave himself up on March 4, 1999, was, like Barth, a member of the Hot Stepper Posse and was wanted in connection with the murder of Montez Mullings, who was killed on October 13, 1977 in Hayes, Clarendon. Like in the O'Gilvie matter, witnesses were also unavailable to testify.
"When I held him I treated him fairly, and one day while I was on duty, he rode up to me on a bike, called to me and said 'respect Trinity', because of how I treated him while he was in custody.
"I never disrespect a man, even if he is an area don," Gardner said.