In the fall of 1964, just back from Ethiopia, and working for the Division of Volunteer Support at Peace Corps HQ, I met Peverley Dennett and Bill Kinsey during their Training at Syracuse University. Bill had been assigned to Malawi and Peppy [as Peverley was called] to Tanzania. In those early years groups were often staged together on college campuses, but that decision was later changed because too many PCVs from different projects were meeting up and falling in love. The Peace Corps might be the “greatest job you’ll ever love” but Washington didn’t want you “falling in love” during Training.
Bill and Peverley were two young handsome 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 in those early days: bright and articulate, good looking kids going off to Africa 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 back in D.C. and Bill was transferred out of the Malawi project and into Peppy’s Tanzania I. 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 their 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 they 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 bolders 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 home, saying only to the local newspapers 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.