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P&O SS. Orsova in November 1973 anchored off Grenada, this was the start of the cruise that Barry Armstrong was murdered on.

Photo was taken by the surviving Barry Armstrong

What are the chances of two crew members with the same name on the same ship at the same time? Barry Armstrong was ABS on ss. Orsova in November 1973, the ship had recently sailed from Bridgetown, Barbados.

According to the Daily Telegraph at the time. In the bars and lounges of a luxury cruise liner the passengers danced and lived it up . . . . While below decks murder stalked.

On the 29000-ton P&O liner Orsova a seaman was brutally knifed to death.

It was kept a secret from the 1,400 passengers who paid fares ranging from £140 to £875 for their 22-day trip to the Caribbean.

According to Barry Armstrong (The surviving one)

Regarding the murder, it happened in the early hours in the galley and apparently started as a fight I was told.

He was stabbed twice and one blow went right through him. I was told this by the ship's surgeon that tried to save him. Later I was in PRS on Canberra and happened to serve him a drink. We got chatting and I told him I was the other Barry Armstrong. He told me that he probably wouldn't have survived even if he'd been in a fully equipped hospital.

Months later we heard that the guy who stabbed him only received six years for manslaughter. We were outraged. He was locked up in the brig until CID joined the ship in Funchal Madeira.

Even the arrival onboard of three detectives flown out from England was kept hush-hush. As the CID men quizzed officers and crewmen about the killing, the sun-tanned passengers enjoyed their dawn to dusk round of parties and dances unaware of the drama.

It began after one of the high lights of the sunshine voyage – lying at anchor off Bridgetown, Barbados after seeing Princess Anne and Mark Phillips arrive for their honeymoon cruise onboard the Royal Yacht Britannia.

The second and surviving Barry Armstrong onboard Orsova recalls - Orsova tied up next to the Royal yacht Britannia in Bridgetown Barbados. Princess Anne and her new husband Captain Mark Phillips had flown out to join her for their honeymoon. We consumed quite a few rum punches ashore with some of Britannia's crew.

I watched it depart at around 0100 all lit up with the band of her Majesty's Royal Marines playing on the quarterdeck. Absolutely fantastic sight, wish we'd had camera phones back then. There were literally thousands of locals on the quayside watching her depart.

Two days later while the white hulled liner headed home, steward Barry Armstrong was found with stab wounds in the crew quarters. As the ship’s doctor fought to save his life the Orsova’s master, Capt. Peter Love ordered full speed ahead to Madeira the next port of call. But the mercy dash was in vain. Armstrong, from Blyth, Northumberland died on the way, Anda radio call brought detectives flying out from Hampshire to probe his murder on the high seas.

Further toughts from Barry Armstrong

I was an ABS on Orsova at that time. This happened in November 1973 when we had left Bridgetown Barbados. The first I heard about it was at breakfast when I asked who had been stabbed, I was told, Barry Armstrong. I said it can't be his name I'm Barry Armstrong. To cut a long story short I found an officer and told him my name. I was immediately taken to see the Skipper and they checked the crew manifest, sure enough, there were two of us with the same name. The Skipper immediately ordered the radio officer to send a signal to P&O head office so that the welfare people could contact my parents in case it got into the media. It turned out we were also both stewards. They held a memorial service for him on board.

On the website Unexplained Mysteries

Cressida recalls

I was on the Orsova liner in November 1973 with my parents. I needed my ear syringed and went to see the ship's doctor, I opened the wrong door and saw a bath with lots of blood in the water.

I later learned that the ship's flag was lowered as there had been a fight in the galley and one of the crew had been killed. The body was taken off at Madeira.

Thanks to Barry Armstrong for help with this blog


Durban Castle

In 1947 a young woman travelled back to England on the Union-Castle line ship mv Durban Castle. Her name was Eileen Isabella Ronnie 'Gay' Gibson she was a 21-year old actress who was travelling back to England. Gay Gibson' was her stage name. She had been on a theatre tour in South Africa with Doreen Mantle and was returning to London (where she was living) to perform in theatre at the west end. Gibson's presence on board came to the attention of James Camb a 30-year old steward on the liner. Gibson had been accommodated in cabin 126, B deck, which was in first-class. Camb was seen associating with Gibson, which was against company regulations, and he had been reprimanded over this by a senior officer.

Durban castle had set sail on 10 October and on the 17th, after a night of dancing, Gibson was escorted to her cabin by two friends at 11:30 pm. Sometime around 3:00 am the following morning, the duty watchman, a man called Frederick Steer, was awakened by a summons that had been activated from cabin 126. When he arrived at Gibson's cabin, steer noted that two lights were lit outside the cabin, one red and one green. One light indicated that the duty steward had been called, whilst the other meant that the duty stewardess had been requested also. Steer thought this strange as usually only one person would be summoned. Steer's knock at the door was answered by Camb, who only half-opened the door and informed him that everything was alright. The duty watchman left as he assumed that as a deck steward, Camb had arrived before him to help the passenger. Others dispute this saying that the duty watchman believed Camb had made good on his boast to sleep with a passenger.

Gay Gibson

In the morning, the female steward for Gibson's deck, Eileen Field, came to clean her cabin. She noticed that the bunk was empty, stains on the sheets, and the porthole was open. later, Captain Patey interviewed Camb, who initially denied any involvement in Gibson's disappearance. When told that Steer saw him inside Gibson's cabin, Camb relented and told a story that neither the Captain nor the ship's doctor could believe. Camb stated that during sexual intercourse, Gibson had died and in a fit of abject panic, because he stood to lose his job and family, Camb pushed Gibson through the porthole. Captain Patey ordered the ship to turn around and to scour the water for Gibson's body. he also contacted the Union-Castle line offices in London asking for the ship to be met by the police when it arrived in Southampton due to "complications". a return cable was sent to Patey instructing him to "padlock and seal off the room; disturb nothing."

When the ship docked in Southampton police officers were waiting to question Camb, who had been confined to his cabin by the ship's crew. Southampton police were assisted by the Metropolitan police on the case and forensic evidence was examined at the met's laboratory this was not uncommon at the time; the Southampton police was quite small and so often asked for help from Scotland Yard. ­­­­­The police in the UK were involved as even though the murder took place off the coast of West Africa

It was a British ship under British authority, so the prosecution was brought by the British authorities.

On Monday 27 October 1947, The Southern Daily Echo reported that Camb, a deck steward from Durban Castle, had been remanded in custody and charged with "murder on the high seas".

Camb was originally sentenced to hang but avoided capital punishment because a no-hanging bill was being discussed by parliament.

Reacting to the news, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said: "The House of Commons has, by its vote, saved the life of the brutal lascivious murderer who thrust the poor girl he had raped and assaulted through a porthole of the ship to the sharks."

Camb's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was released in 1959 but was convicted a number of years later of other sexual offenses and spent his remaining years behind bars.

Camb died in 1979 still protesting his innocence having maintained Ms. Gibson had stopped breathing and was already dead when he threw her body from the cabin's porthole - something he later described as "beastly".

Kenya Castle

In 1963 a man was found dead in cabin No23 on Kenya Castle. According to Chief Officer Patrick Beadon, the senior night watchman was found dead in his bunk with a blanket over his head. On the cabin floor lay one of the ship's nightwatchman bleeding with several cuts to his arms and legs.

According to the ship's log, 63-year-old Jones had died from a skull fracture. A manuscript kept by Charles Jones was found in his cabin, he was writing his autobiography. The document revealed that Jones had been a Major in the army during the first world war. He was also a musician and had been a bandleader on a Cunard liner. Later In life, he worked as a night watchman for Union-Castle.

After the liner Kenya Castle docked in London a member of the crew 39-year-old Kenneth Lang was charged with murdering Charles Long on the high seas July 27th, 1963.

Rotherwick Castle

The third Union-Castle murder took place on Rotherwick Castle a refrigerated cargo ship plying between London and South Africa.

Four young girls boarded the Rotherwick Castle in Cape Town for a party with the crewmen. The girls had racy reputations. Working as sex-for-sale girls, they operated from the Cape Town waterfront, often getting on board for custom. Although two of the girls got off the ship before she sailed, the other two decided to stow away.

The girls described as leading a life of "easy virtue," hid in the cabin of 17-year-old crewman Steve Marley.

During a party, Michelle knocked back half a bottle of scotch as well as beer and brandy. Uncontrollably shouting and dancing, she accidentally trampled on a model boat Marley had specifically bought for his mother.

Her friend Charlene described her friend's last moments at the murder trial.

"Steve Marley came into the cabin and told Michelle to be quiet and shut up. She kept on screaming, 'Steve, I love you.' Michelle was lying on the floor. Marley said, 'I am going to kill you.' He took his hand and placed it on the back of her head and placed her head in the pillow which was also on the floor.

"I was sitting on the settee. Then I saw Steve put a cord of rope and tie it around her neck. Michelle said I can't breathe.' Steve shouted, 'Die, bitch, die.'

The teenager later told the hushed courtroom his only motive had to been to keep Michelle quiet because she was drunk and shouting after the party.

He claimed he had only hit her "only the once" and had put his hands around her neck to make her "flake out" before putting her under the bed where she was covered by a blanket so she could sleep it off. When he returned at midnight, he found her dead.

In his summing up, the judge, Mr Justice Lawson delivered a scathing attack on ethics on board the Rotherwick Castle.

"It is a very tragic case that evokes a certain amount of disgust and a certain amount of shock and horror," referring to a "deplorable lack of morals on the part of a number of persons on that ship."

He commented: "You might think these two young girl prostitutes who did not mind who they had sexual intercourse with or who they went to bed with."

Marley was acquitted of murder and convicted of manslaughter.

Jailing Marley for five years, the judge told him: "You have had the ordeal of having to stand trial on a murder charge. You are a man of excellent character and excellent record, and you come from a good family background. Everyone speaks very highly of you.

"I think there was a great deal of provocation about what had happened that night."

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1 commentaire

Ooh dear! I don't find the above stories of murders on passenger ships either "funny or interesting"! I find them totally tragic and deeply upsetting.

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