The Real Rhyging
The movie “The Harder They Come,” written and directed by Perry Henzell in 1972, made popular the story of Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin, a fictional character played by Jimmy Cliff which further solidified his iconic status in Jamaican music. Ivan may have been fictional, but was largely based on the real-life Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin who lived from 1924 to 1948. Rhyging, sometimes spelled Rhygin, was born in 1924 in Linstead and through his gunslinger, desperado, rude-boy-on-the-run image, he became a folk hero—the subject of not only Henzell’s movie, but referenced in Miss Lou’s poem “Dead Man,” Bim and Bam’s comedy show “Rhygin’s Ghost,” Bob Marley’s song “Keep On Moving,” and plenty of other lyrical forms that celebrate the working man, the wronged regular guy, the rude boy.
Here is a four-part series that ran in late 2000 in the Jamaica Gleaner, written by freelancer C. Roy Reynold that reveals the real Rhyging.
C. Roy Reynolds writes in the November 3, 2000 Jamaica Gleaner:
Seldom in the history of Kingston has there been such a time of acute fear and tenor as in early September 1948 when the infamous Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin was shooting his way into legend. He was indeed the city’s first gunman desperado. But before rehashing his exploits as chronicled by The Gleaner, a little explanation is in order.
The word “Rhvging” does not appear to have been a noun as much as an adjective. In fact it was a distant forerunner to the latter-day “irie,” and was used to describe someone or something stylishly out of the ordinary or daring. So the name really meant Ivanhoe Martin who was rhyging.
Like many other killers who were to follow his footsteps, Martin was an escapee from the General Penitentiary. He had escaped by jumping from one of the windows of the prison in early April. He had been serving a five-year term for burglary and larceny; and in spite of an island-wide manhunt he managed to elude the police until that fateful night of August 31 when acting on a tip, the police thought they had at last cornered their man in the Carib Hotel on Regent Street, Hannah Town. According to The Gleaner of September 2, shortly after 10:00 o’clock that Tuesday night a group from the Criminal Investigation Department went to the hotel to make the arrest.
The two detectives, Earle and Lewis, must have been surprised when they were greeted by gunfire which they returned arid the fugitive was seen to fall to the floor. Before they could take cover there was another burst of gunfire.
The fugitive then emerged from the hotel, his two guns blazing away in a scene The Gleaner described as reminiscent of “Chicago gangster days.” Though he managed to escape into a block of tenements bounded by Regent Street, Trinity Lane, Blount Street, and Dumfries Street, police were confident that he would not much longer elude them.
After he had escaped from the hotel wearing only, an underpants and ‘barefooted,’ how far could he get! A bullet also struck an ex-Sergeant Gallimore who had been roused from his bed to give assistance. The three, policemen hit were taken to the Kingston Public Hospital but for Sgt Lewis it was too late.
The police cordoned off the area and continued their search into the morning but the fugitive had eluded them and his reign of terror was just beginning. While the police were pursuing ;their empty hunt the gunman had already taken another victim.
According to reports he had reason to believe that an erst-while friend, Eric Goldson. Had informed on him and he now sought revenge. At about 1:30 a.m. he managed to enter a home at 257 Spanish Town Road where Goldson lived. Goldson’s friend Lucilda Tibby Young answered a knock on the door and was confronted by the gunman. She informed him that his quarry was not there, where upon he is alleged to have declared that, if he couldn’t get Goldson he would get her. He fired a bullet in her chest killing her on the spot.
Now the whole city was in a state of fear and the police intensified their search, especially after they received a letter purportedly written by the desperado in which among other things was a declaration that he “had ten bullets left and would make at least nine of them count.” The letter also declared that “I have made crime history,” and went on to name a number of detectives he intended to kill.
As if to lend credence to the police assertion that he had been hit the letter ended: “I am hurt in the shoulder, and I can’t write anymore. Detective Sgt. Scott of the Half Way Tree police created much apprehension among the police to the extent that one office in the station barracks and alleged that he had been awakened by martin who turned the light on and spoke to him, then turned off the light and disappeared. Speculation was that this was all a dream or a hallucination.
But by then many including the police had come to believe that Martin could do almost anything. He had escaped from the Carib Hotel when police had occupied several of the rooms adjacent to his and according to The Gleaner his daring escape from that secondary storey room was even more dramatic than had been his escape from prison.
Almost- simultaneous with the alleged letter from him to the police was a phone call purported to have come from him. In that call made to the Espeut Avenue home of a Government minister Martin was said to have threatened the life of both him and then Chief Minister Alexander Bustamante.
ON SEPTEMBER 9, 1948 the beleaguered police thought they might have their man at last, (it wasn’t due to any direct action by them but by then they would welcome assistance from any source. Rumour ran through the city that the dreaded Rhyging’s body had been found in Hunt’s Bay. Dead or alive it wouldn’t have mattered and for a police force which had faced off with the fugitive before and come up short, dead would have been a more welcome state.
But, as The Gleaner of September 10 reported “Upon discovery of the body sub-inspector H.M. Wellington and CID fingerprint experts rushed to the scene took fingerprints and comparing them with those of the wanted man found that the dead man was not the two-gun killer for whom the police and volunteer vigilantes have been looking for since last week, Tuesday. Thus while height and other physical features of the body matched the dreaded Rhyging James Baker of 170 Spanish Town Road had not found the body of Rhyging as was so fervently hoped for.” Whatever Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin might have been, he also seemed to have been a man of letters, and be used the medium to give his alleged side of the story.
On September 12 The Gleaner published the contents of a letter supposedly sent in by him. The letter was addressed to The Gleaner Office, Kingston. That letter contained a chilling warning for several people including Eric “Mosspan” Goldson who Martin alleged had betrayed him to the police; Detective Sgt. R.L Scott Selvin Maxwell and a photographer named Brown who was alleged to have furnished the police with a picture of the fugitive.
The letter said. ‘Sir, I have all kin’ of statement in your paper. I just seek to let the public know what has taken place on 31.7.48. I went to the hotel. I reached there 920. At around 10 I saw a flashlight from the other room over the gablin. I called out who is that and the answer was the sound of a gun. I called again. Another shot was fired, still no answer. I then know what has happened. I decided to make a dash. I ran to the door with my pistol in my hand. I did not even have time to reach for my close [sic.]. I looked outside. I heard the sound of another shot- I see the men mean to make the end of me tonight, but I intend to carry someone with me. At that time I only had five shots with me. I can’t say which hand but I took them out of my pocket and put them away. I put myself outside. I was hit on my right shoulder. That did not mike much. I made my way for the airway. Reaching there I saw a lot of people. I just could not say if they were men or women ([Gleaner]Editor’s note: Some of the detectives present at the Carib Hotel had been dressed as women). One shot fired from the crowd struck the gun butt of my gun. I fired back.’
The letter went on to give the details of the escape. The letter was judged to have been authentic, either written by Rhyging himself or by someone under his dictation since it included details that were not hitherto made public. But though police followed up this and many other spurious letters the situation settled into what The Gleaner of September 6 had called “a war of attrition.”
That war was to continue into the month of October. The fear might not have subsided but press coverage of the extraordinary police effort faded from the day to day news for the rest of September and into the first week of October 1948. Then on October 8 The Gleaner carried the story of how the fugitive barely escaped the police at the Ferry River swamp. He had been tipped off, the story alleged by “tree top lookouts.”
The story said: “Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin, two-gun killer at large for six weeks now flashed back into the news yesterday morning when he barely squeezed through a police cordon which was closing in on him in the treacherous, swampy lands that abound the Ferry River on the road to Spanish Town. When the police reached his lair they found only his provisions and camping gear. He had fled. The desperado escaped in the nick of time, but all through the vigilance of one of his team of spies who was believed to have passed the word around while the police operation was in progress… A man named Clarke and woman have been detained by the police.”
From the December 4, 2000 Gleaner, C. Roy Reynold writes:
NEVER HAD the security forces been under such pressure. Never had they been so frustrated in their effort as that first week in September 1948 when the diminutive Ivanhose “Rhyging” Martin held the people of Kingston in fear and terror.
As sighting after sighting in almost every area of the city failed to yield positive result by police checkout the legend of his seeming ability to appear and disappear at will mounted. He now appeared possessed not only of a murderous malevolence but of supernatural powers.
Among the claims being made to the police was that now instead of a bicycle he was going around in an Austin car. The implication was that nobody in the city was therefore beyond his reach.
According to The Gleaner of September 6 he ‘skulked’ underground most of yesterday. “But he hardly seemed to have been “skulking” by other accounts. Other reports put him in the Tower Street/Fleet Street area wearing ‘iron blue’ trousers, shirt, a black felt hat and a shoes.” And “in a motorcar attended by four women”.
Another story put him in West Kingston and in a 1937 Ford car without licence plates. But frenzied scramble after frenzied scramble by the police turned up nothing.
An idea of the mood of the population can be gleaned from a paragraph in The Gleaner of September 6: “Yesterday householders kept round-the-clock watch for all suspicious characters. Telephones in city stations jangled unceasingly as many leads were turned in, some false, some well-meaning. But bypassing no calls police fanned out east and west to Mountain View Gardens, Denham Town and Jones Town. Carloads of detectives and constables combed the crime-haunted west end all of last night slipping through the maze of mean streets and cactus-lined lanes where the gun-mad killer might be hiding out.”
As the magnitude and intensity of the police effort rose they were hard put to find enough vehicles and private citizens tried to meet the deficiency by loaning their cars to the lawmen.
In one operation some 300 policemen cordoned off Springfield Gardens in eastern Kingston while water police craft patrolled the adjacent water. But no Rhyging.
According to The Gleaner, “Another report is that the ever-spitting 5’5″ slayer visited the vicinity of the home of Detective Sergeant Scott on Friday night. Martin is purported to have threatened the life of the officer in a letter received by the police. He did not attempt to enter the house.” The terror quotient had been ratcheted up still further!
Citizens who could, armed themselves and The Gleaner reported that “armoury stores have been broken out and brand new Webley revolvers issued to most of the rifle-armed constables. All leave passes have been cancelled and all stations alerted”.
But apparently Rhyging was not the only threat to the citizens of Kingston at that time. A city clerk travelling on the Stony Hill Road reported having encountered another gunman, but managed to disarm him and took the weapon to the police. Even more ominous was a Gleaner story of September 8 headed: “Underworld Shelters Rhyging, Police Hampered”.
According to this report the 200 pounds reward offered had brought no result and “the whisper went the rounds in Kingston’s west end yesterday that criminal elements of the city’s population had declared war against the police and were actively aiding the two-gun killer in evading the police.”
Acting on this assumption there was a police round-up of several suspects who were taken in for questioning. Then, as now, the police was reported to have had no co-operation.
All day on September 7 the police were kept hopping from spot to spot as they followed up tips.
But if the fugitive had been lying low the reports did not reflect this. The sporty little man was reported to have been visiting several places of entertainment, including a movie theatre. Some of the sightings were remarkably detailed. For instance he was said to have been sighted along Waltham Park Road one early morning, standing by a shiny chrome-plated bicycle at which time he had been spoken to by a friend of his who was supposed to have told him: “Keep it up Rhyging. Don’t let them catch you.”
Then as now gun crime in Jamaica seemed to have had an American connection. Reports carried by The Gleaner said that since escaping prison Rhyging had been in the habit of emerging from hiding at night and only coming out in the mornings to buy a Gleaner and at times an American detective magazine “and reading up on police and crime methods in the United States.”
Piece by piece the police were building a personality profile of the dreaded ex-blacksmith little terror. But finding him seemed impossible.
On December 7, 2000, C.. Roy Reynolds continued:
AS SEEN in the last instalment, on October 7, 1948 the police again failed in their attempt to apprehend the escaped criminal Ivanhoe ‘Rhyging’ Martin, in the Ferry swamp where he and a few cronies had taken shelter. A Gleaner report the following day said the fugitives had been warned by a lookout in time to make their escape before the police moved in. The story suggested that Rhyging and company had made it out of the swamp and into the hills in the Ferry-Caymanas area, where they first took refuge in a cave and eventually made their way through the Red Hills area, to Molynes and finally to Greenwich Town.
Then the story took a strange twist, according to The Gleaner, and especially in the light of today’s police attitude… The police, it said, had been observing Rhyging on the night of October 9 in the vicinity of the Greenwich Town bridge, together with a character the newspaper identified only as “The Gleaner’s special photographer-reporter undercover man”.
The story went on: “No attempt was made to hold Rhyging then as the police were under instructions to the effect that Rhyging must be caught but no other person was to be killed or injured. It was dark also and it is difficult to capture a dangerous criminal in the dark.”
Intelligence reports said that Rhyging would have been taken to a cay outside Kingston harbour and from there attempt to board a boat which would take him out of the island or to someplace on the south-western coast of the island. But the police now had a clear drop on their quarry, and as we have already seen the next morning it was all over.
Before the body was buried in a plain pine wood coffin in a pauper’s lot in May Pen cemetery people besieged the mortuary in a bid to get a last look at one who must have been Jamaica’s most resourceful violent criminal. Among those blamed for his downfall was Eric “Mosspan” Goldson. According to The Gleaner, Goldson insisted that he wanted to see him dead, no doubt to satisfy himself that the police had got the right man and he was no longer in danger. The report said that after seeing the body Goldson remarked: “The race is not for the swift. Rhyging you gone at last!”
Then a small detachment consisting of two constables: R.A. Lindo and V.C. Morrison, undertaker Madden and his assistants set off for the cemetery with their grim cargo. To head off the vast crowd at the cemetery the party announced that they were heading for Spanish Town with the body. The body, clad in the same clothes in which he had been killed, was quickly interred without benefit of ceremony and with only a number to mark the spot.
Later, giving his account of the last hours of the chase the so-called “Undercover Gleaner Photographer-Reporter” said that after escaping from the police at Ferry they had crossed the Spanish Town Road into the hills above from which they were able to rest and observe the police activities. They made their way back to Kingston to Cockburn Pen where they separated with Rhyging going in search of a new hideout.
According to this account Rhyging’s friends managed to secure a canoe called “Gloria Again” to take him to the cay. “The boat was drawn up two chains west of East Avenue, Greenwich Town, but on arriving at the beach Rhyging had the boat removed to face East Avenue so that he could see up the street. Rhyging was undecided whether he should take the trip as he thought it would have been difficult for two men to row so far. He remained at the spot for some time not knowing that four pairs of eyes were focused on him.”
In the aftermath of the grim finale, the question on everybody’s lips was, who was Rhyging, this little man who had mocked the efforts of the entire police establishment for so long and who had either coerced or inspired so much loyalty from his friends. Was he truly “rhyging” in terms of the meaning of the word or just an over-dramatised character? The Gleaner would try to answer these queries.