A PCV Death In Tanzania

In the fall of 1964, just back from Ethiopia and working for the Division of Volunteer Support, I met Peverley Dennett and Bill Kinsey during their training program at Syracuse University. Bill had been assigned to Malawi and Peppy [as Peverley was called] to Tanzania. In those early years of Peace Corps Training groups were often trained together on college campuses, but that decision was changed because too many Trainees from different projects were meeting up and falling in love. The Peace Corps might be the “greatest job you’ll ever love” but the Peace Corps didn’t want you “falling in love” during Training.]

Bill and Peverley were two young goodlooking kids just out of college. Bill, as I recall, had a bright smile, blond hair cut into a crew cut, an All-American looks. Peverley was sweet and shy and very pretty. They were the picture of what Peace Corps Volunteers were all about: bright and articulate and good looking kids going off to the developing world to do good.

Peppy and Bill, hearing that “someone from Washington” was on site, sought me out, and asked if Bill might be reassigned to Tanzania. In those early years of the Peace Corps rules were stretched and bent and I helped with some paperwork and Bill was transferred out of the Malawi project and into Peppy’s Tanzania group. Ninety-four days after they met, Bill married the beautiful auburn-haired Peppy and the couple spent their honeymoon in transit to Africa and started their tours, and married life, as secondary school teachers in up-country Maswa, Tanzania.

A year-and-a-half later, in March of ’66, I was back in Addis Ababa as the APCD in Ethiopia and opening the International Herald Tribune early one morning I read where PCV Bill Kinsey had been arrested for killing his wife Peverley while they were picnicking near their school. He became the first Peace Corps Volunteer ever to be charged with murder.

Bill’s story was that Peverley had accidentally slipped and fatally injured herself in a 20-foot fall from a rocky ledge. The state prosecutor of Tanzania said Kinsey, inflamed by jealousy, had battered his wife to death with a length of iron pipe.

When Bill was arrested at the picnic site by a Maswa policeman, he was being held captive by 100 local people who said he had been trying to flee the scene. Nearby, the arresting officer found a rock and metal pipe caked with fresh blood and some threads of human hair. Kinsey’s shirt was also blooded.

Bill told the Maswa police that the pipe was part of his camera equipment, and he had not know how the piece had become bloodstained. His clothes, he said, had blood on them because he tried to help his wife after she had fallen.

Later Bill told the Tanzanian court that Peverley and he had spent the weekend grading papers and then late on Sunday afternoon had left for a picnic at the rocky site. Because they were going so late in the day, he decided to leave his camera and other photographic equipment behind. The piece of metal, wrapped in a towel, had been left by mistake in the picnic basket. The pipe was used, Kinsey told the court, as a lightweight tripod for his 400 mm telephoto lens.

Kinsey explained that after bicycling to the picnic site, he and Peverley climbed to the top of the hill to get a better view. At the time, Peverley was carrying a book and a bottle of beer.

Kinsey was standing one or two yards away from Peverley and looking away when he heard the sound of breaking glass. Glancing around, he saw Peverley had slipped from the top of the ledge, falling twenty feet to the rocky base.

He ran to help her and as she tried to stand he held her down. “She was struggling, kicking and kept on calling my name,” he said at his African trial. “I sat on her stomach and was trying to keep her from moving. I managed to get a towel and folded it underneath her head. She still struggled. I was shouting at her not to move. Some time later she did not struggle. I got up–I heard some people shouting–I shouted to the people and signaled to them to come to assist me. No one came.”

Finally he placed her in the shade and went for help, but people threw sticks at him, shouted and snatched his bicycle. He tried to run towards the nearby town of Maswa, but others surrounded and stopped him. Desperate now, he sent a student of his to get the school headmaster.

But when the help arrived, it was too late. He returned to the hill and found that Peppy had died.

Kinsey’s trial lasted three weeks. The courtroom was filled, mostly with PCVs from Tanzania and other countries. It was these Volunteers, on vacation in Africa, who drifted up to Addis Ababa and told us the details of the case.

According to Ededen Effiwatt, the Nigerian-born Senior State Attorney, Kinsey had induced his wife to go with him for a picnic, and had concealed the piece of iron wrapped in a towel in a picnic basket. They had ridden on their bicycles to lonely, rock-strewn Impala Hill, two miles from their school.

Once there, Kinsey had taken his wife between two huge boulders where he had set upon her, beating her on the head with the piece of iron. There was fierce fighting between them, but Peverley was soon overpowered. Apart from the piece of iron he also made use of a stone to kill his wife, Mr. Effiwatt alleged.

Effiwatt claimed that Kinsey’s diary, that the police had found in the couples’ house, contained written passages that tended to show unfaithfulness and implied a murder motive. The passages were not, however, Kinsey’s own prose. They were taken from Wright Morris’ novel, Ceremony in Lone Tree.Kinsey said he had simply copied the passages as examples of fine writing and that they had nothing to do with questions of infidelity in his marriage. In fact, he told the court, he had never suspected his wife of being unfaithful to him, and that he loved her. He said that he had copied the extracts because they reflected a character in the book, were particularly descriptive or they were humorous. He said he often did this, and had kept similar notebooks over a period of years.

A prosecution witness claimed in court that he had seen two people fighting from a distance of 140 yards. He said he saw a woman fall on the ground and there was a white man on top beating her with a “black tool.”

The case, however, turned on two defense testimonies.

A Nairobi pathologist testified that Peverley’s injuries were more likely to have been caused by a fall than by bludgeoning. And then on the closing day, in a dramatic gesture by the defense, Peverley’s mother, who had flown in from her home in Connecticut, testified that her daughter’s marriage had been “very happy and comfortable.”

Referring to her daughter by her nickname of “Peppy,” she told the court that she received many letters from Peppy and an occasional letter from her son-in-law during their time at Maswa. “I never had any letter indicating my daughter was unhappy in her marriage. None whatsoever. I was delighted with the marriage.” She said she had visited the couple at their school the year before, and “There was never any hint of trouble in their marriage.”

Two “assessors” (including a USAID official from Tanzania) recommended Kinsey’s acquittal, and British-born Judge Harold Platt brought in judgment. Kinsey’s guilt, he ruled, had not been “proved beyond reasonable doubt.”

After having spent five months in jail (where Bill spent most of his time teaching English to fellow prisoners), Kinsey flew immediately home, saying only that he wanted to be reassigned to Tanzania.

Instead of being reassigned, Bill worked in PC/Washington for slightly more than a year, and then went to Stanford for an advance degree. Years later, remarried, he returned to West Africa as a relief worker.

17 Comments

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  • John, I was in that Syracuse training. I didn’t meet you, but must have felt your aura! I knew Bill and Peppy well. It was a sad time for us all. Thank you for the recollection. Bob

  • Mr. Coyne’s memory falters badly in his recollection of Bill and Peverly Kinsey. First, they taught in primary school not secondary school, and Bill Kinsey’s hair was dark not blond.

    Most egregiously, he glosses over the real story behind the circumstances surrounding Peppy Kinsey’s death. Virtually every Volunteer in the region, including me, believed that, in fact, Peppy was murdered by her husband. The Peace Corps shamelessly engaged in tactics that aimed to free Kinsey in spite of the evidence against him. In one case, a Volunteer with damning information was bullied by Peace Corps officials into not testifying. The events surrounding the trial caused considerable tension between the Peace Corps and Tanzanians because of the blunderbuss approach that was taken.

    In the end, the Peace Corps failed to achieve a total whitewash of the event as Kinsey was acquitted through a “not proven” verdict, rather than the “not guilty” finding that was so assiduously sought.

    William Bordas Edington
    Tanzania IX

  • Among the many, many Peace Corps stories I have never heard this might be the most surprising. It immediately brought to mind the book by Philip Weiss, ‘American Taboo,’ the story of another murder in the Peace Corps and, as I remember, another ‘not proven’ finding. That murder happen just after I left PC/W and I had never heard of it either until Phil Weiss called to ask about it many years later.

  • David, The Volunteer was found guilty in a host country court. The penalty could have been hanging. The Peace Corps was able to negotiate with thehost country to allow the convicted volunteer to be returned to this country and instiutionalized as criminal insane.

    This is during the last days of the Carter administration and, as I believe, one of the most difficult times for Peace Corps because of the transition
    turmoil. The volunteer was returned and simply walked away from PC/HQs, and no further action was taken.

  • Joey

    I just checked my copy of the book and in a sense we are both right: the volunteeer was judged ‘not guilty because he was insane’ (p.274) And, he did just walk away, and later retired from the U S Civil Service.

    The murder took place in October 1976 and the volunteer was sent back in to PC/W in January 1977 after the trial so really it all took place before any change in administration. It was the end of the Ford years, not the end of the Carter years

    What really struck me when I learned about it in (probably) 2002 was that I had remained in Washington after leaving Peace Corps in July 1976, knew many if not most of the PC/W folks involved and some of the PC/T people, yet had never heard word one about the case. It was kept very quiet, and I think that was one of Weiss’s main points/complaints.

    Anyway, it was a good read.

  • David, You are right on both counts.
    I had forgotten the actual verdict. But, the Peace Corps did negotiate to have the Volunteer returned to the states to be imprisoned, and he just walked away once back in DC.
    You are also right about the administrations. I knew it was the transition from Ford to Carter. but that is not what I wrote.

    I do think that this is an example of how vulnerable the agency is during a time of transition from one political administration to the other. I would define that transition as occurring between the period of campaign/election and inauguration/ appointments. This is when so many political appointees are leaving or preoccupied with what the new party is going to do. Richard Starr, PCV serving in Colombia, was kidnapped by FARC in miid-February of 1977. I would argue that the response from PCV/Action/Carter Brown was inadequate.

  • I lived through one transition at the Nat’l Endowment for the Arts (from Ford to Carter) and it really wasn’t all that traumatic. Most of the people who did the real work of the Agency were not political appointees so were not at risk, some of us who were knew we would be reappointed by the incoming administration, and the Carter people made it very clear that business was to go on as usual during the transition.

    I’m guessing that people like John Dellenback and his team at the Peace Corps would have had the resolve and the character (that’s not a guess) to continue carrying out their responsibilities to the very end.

    During my time (and not because of me) Peace Corps seemed to be relatively free from White House and/or administration concerns. (The same was true at the NEA.) Perhaps Peace Corps (and NEA) is too small to be of interest to the ‘movers and shakers,’ perhaps the kind of person interested in a Peace Corps leadership role is different from the typical political appointee, or perhaps the non-political appointee staff is strong enough to withstand the pressure from above. We had to struggle to get noticed, not to be left alone.

  • Dave, There are 32 political appointees at the Peace Corps, far and away more than most other federal agencies. This staff turnover is complicated by the Five-Year rule. Today, the practice is for all political appointees to render their resignations and leave on the day the new Administration is sworn in. At least, that is what happened in 2009. Almost a year later, not all those positions had been filled.

    The transition at Peace Corps is more critical because of the responsibilities it has for the safety and security of serving Volunteers. Sam Brown was the Director of ACTION when Starr was kidnapped. He called the shots, and Dellenback carried them out.
    (Although to be honest, Brown rightly had the State Department handle most of the matter).

    I am glad your transition time at the National Endowment went well.

  • Checked a book? Fifty years of history and there is still no single repository of Peace Corps Experience published literature. As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Corps’ inception, no institution collects, categorizes and makes available copies of published Peace Corps experience books. While the Kennedy Library has a Peace Corps collection, its emphasis has been private original papers and recently, recorded interviews with volunteers and staff members who served during the 1960’s. For anyone interested in merely finding a repository of personal experience books written by staff and volunteers, they can stay home. Ironically, Congress (which officially created the Peace Corps and annually appropriates funds) has its own library with many special collections and more than 5,000 employees. It already houses the work of another president’s interesting experiment, the Corps of Discovery headed by Lewis and Clark.

    For nearly one half century, volunteers and staff have wearily shuffled home. Hundreds have taken the time to write and publish about their experience, attempting to share with family, friends and our community. Ninety percent of these books have been published at the author’s expense. Thanks to John Coyne and Marian Haley Beil, we know what is available. Over the past quarter of a century, these two former pioneer Peace Corps volunteers have organized events, published magazines about Peace Corps experience books and prepared a bibliography of all known books written by former Peace Volunteers. Unfortunately, the books are scattered over the nation like blowing leaves, to be lost.

  • william edington–you are right perhaps about the level of instruction. I can’t quite guess why you find it such a serious error. I only met Peppy once, in training, and she was, or so I recall, a blond. Again, another mistake in reporting. Maybe she changed her hair coloring in Africa! But I wasn’t reporting on the case. I did not go to the trial, nor am a lawyer, judge or juror.

    I was, however, in Ethiopia at the time and met a number of terminating Tanzania Vols traveling north and they all believed Peppy was murdered. I also read where the Peace Corps had hired the best lawyer in Dar to defend Bill, and that Peppy’s mother came to Africa to, in so many words, defend her son-in-law. I wasn’t drawing any conclusions with my brief blog; I was just telling about the incident as I recalled it from my time in Africa .

  • Wow, 32 does sound like a lot, especially if CDs are not included, as I think is now the case (but maye not). I can’t image what positions these folks hold. Maybe a bit of spring time thinning is in order (I just thinned my two rows of lettuce). Do you have a list?

  • I found a copy of the 2008 ‘Plum Book’ which lists all of the political appointee and exempt positions at gov’t organizations. It does indeed show 32 such positions at Peace Corps, including some whose purpose is really a mystery especially for an agency like Peace Corps. I say take an ax to the organization chart and start over. You can check it out at:

    http://www.gpoaccess.gov/plumbook/2008/p178-179_peacecorps.pdf

  • Not to belabor the matter, John Coyne, but if you reread your initial recollection, you had Bill Kinsey as the blond, not Peverly, though, in fact, they both had dark hair. And I am not “perhaps” right about the level at which they taught; I know because I was stationed approximately 8 miles from them.

    Such admittedly minor discrepancies would not have been so irritating to me except your reportage perpetuates the Peace Corps-created myth of the happy-go-lucky, all-American kids who met up with tragic, serendipitous circumstances. In fact, the Kinseys were not so happy-go-lucky, and if the full facts of this case had ever reached the cold light of day, I believe a far different verdict would have resulted from the trial.

    I’ll give the Peace Corps its due. It did whatever was necessary to protect one of its own even if that meant engaging in activities which were certainly unethical, and quite possibly illegal. In the process, though, they played fast and loose with the Peace Corps mission, something which most Volunteers in Tanzania took seriously and worked hard at advancing.

    • Thanks Bill Bordas for sharing your perspective on the case. It is consistent with what I observed as a PCV at the time in Mwanza which was the site of the trial and the regional PC headquarters. I did not know the KInseys well, but saw them occasionally when they came in to Mwanza. I did know Bordas and others who were closer to the Kinseys.

      The Peace Corps did not share any information about the case with PCVs and did not allow them to attend the trial. The Peace Corps wanted it all hush-hush and very tightly controlled. The lead defense lawyer was brought in from Nairobi. All of this created an atmosphere of rumor and speculation. Adding to the doubts, in addition to the Peace Corps’ clamp-down, was the fact that the eye-witnesses were Sukuma-speakers, being translated to Swahili and then English

  • Well, I was in the same group as Peppy and Bill, and she WAS a redhead! More importantly, last December, after 45 years, I became re-acquainted with one of my group who lived near the couple and befriended Peppy. This person reported that Peppy had confided her fear of Bill for some time. Just last week I had a reunion with others of Tanz 6, and whenever such an event takes place, there is always discussion of the Peppy/Bill incident. From one of those present I learned that Peppy’s childhood had been an unhappy one, which led us to think that might explain the mother’s support of Bill. Though this last is speculative, the previous information is not.
    Elizabeth Platt

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