‘The Empty Grave of Comrade Bishop’: Investigating a Cold War mystery

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.

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.

  • Episode 1: “Somebody knows”
  • Episode 2: “We all had great expectations”
  • Episode 3: Coming Oct. 30 to Apple Podcasts and everywhere else Nov. 1
  • Episode 4: Coming Nov. 6 to Apple Podcasts and everywhere else Nov. 8
  • Episode 5: Coming Nov. 13 to Apple Podcasts and everywhere else Nov. 15
  • Episode 6: Coming Nov. 20 to Apple Podcasts and everywhere else Nov. 22

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

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