In Every Hill a Burial Place: The Peace Corps Murder Trial in East Africa (Univ. of Kentucky, Sept.), Reid revisits a 1966 murder in Tanzania that rocked the program.
Both Peace Corps volunteers involved—Bill Kinsey, who was accused of murdering his wife, Peppy—were white. What role did race play in the investigation and trial?
There was an interesting dynamic in Tanzania at the time. The country had recently thrown off the chains of European colonialism and was working hard to show its independence and the power of the African leadership. These factors played into the case. There were few African lawyers and even fewer judges. The defense attorneys, expert witnesses, and the judge were almost all white, and all had far more experience than the Africans on the prosecution side. I’m not sure the case demonstrates so much white privilege as the fact that the prosecution was severely overmatched.
Do you believe Bill murdered Peppy?
As the judge found, it was a very close case. On balance, it seems to me unlikely that Bill would have killed Peppy. The police were slipshod in protecting the evidence. When Bill fell while trying to carry Peppy for help, he probably disturbed various items from their picnic, as well as the bloodstained metal bar and rocks found at the scene. Apparently, the bar and the rocks were transported in the back of the police Land Rover, which had blood on the floor. Later on, the defense pathologist tried to recreate Peppy’s injuries on cadavers in Nairobi and couldn’t. Defense medical evidence also demonstrated that the rod didn’t fit her injuries.
Given your own experience in the Peace Corps, were you surprised by how the organization handled the case?
No. It was a difficult situation for the Peace Corps, and they seemed to walk a fine line to appear neutral. From the standpoint of the Peace Corps dealing with a complex international situation, I think the staff did an outstanding job of assembling information, acting quickly, and dealing with all sides.
How did you recreate the trial, since you couldn’t get a transcript?
I had to piece together information from the preliminary hearing, notes, government cables, the judge’s decision, and newspaper accounts. A second problem was the difficulty in tracking down Peace Corps files. When I submitted a FOIA request, I received mostly newspaper clippings. However, I managed to track down John Coyne, who considered writing a book about the case, and who had requested the files many years before and obtained copious, varied materials. He supplied the files to me.