Claude Massop – One of Jamaica’s Most Powerful Gangsters.
Written by Midwest Reggae on June 3, 2019
One of the most infamous and feared of the political enforcers of that decade was the Tivoli Gardens don, Claudius Massop.
Massop had risen through the ranks of the criminal underworld to become one of the most feared names in western Kingston.
In 1976, a state of emergency was called by the then prime minister, Michael Manley, in the face of rising political tension.
Supporters of then Opposition Leader Edward Seaga’s Jamaica Labour Party and Manley’s People’s National Party engaged in a bloody political struggle which began before the 1976 election and ended after the JLP won the 1980 election.
While the violent political atmosphere had its genesis in conflicts between the parties from as early as the beginning of the two-party system in the 1940s, political violence spiralled out of control in the 1970s.
Five hundred persons, including Massop and other prominent members of the JLP – among them present government ministers Pearnel Charles and Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange – were accused of trying to overthrow the Government and were detained, without charges, in the specially created Gun Court detention centre at the Up Park Camp military headquarters.
Massop was released when the state of emergency was lifted in January 1977. At the time he was 29 years old, and immediately became the top henchman in his home base of Tivoli Gardens.
Police records show that Massop had a long history of run-ins with the law.
He was arrested on several counts of murder, illegal possession of firearm, shooting with intent, driving without a driver’s license and perjury.
However, Massop was only incarcerated once for illegal possession of a firearm.
In Tivoli Gardens, Massop was known to be a tough enforcer who was not afraid to discipline anyone who fell out of line, and is remembered for his strict, no-nonsense attitude.
One elderly woman who claimed to have lived in Tivoli at the time of his reign in the criminal underworld described Massop as an easy-going individual who never went out of his way to harm anyone.
“He was a nice person who anyone could approach, but he did not take kindly to rapists and petty thieves and dealt with them rough,” the woman told the Sunday Observer. “He was the one who set the real order and discipline in Tivoli Gardens. ‘Claudie’ Massop was also our protector and he defended the community from attack from our enemies in Matthews Lane and other PNP areas.”
However, one former cop described Massop as a heartless killer whose political connections sometimes rendered police officers powerless to apprehend him.
“That man was no saint,” said the ex-cop who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There are many who have felt his heavy hand and have suffered terrible human losses as a result. I was a constable at the time and was part of a patrol that came under heavy gunfire in the section of West Kingston where he reigned. In those days, rifles and submachine guns were just getting into the wrong hands and we did not have bulletproof vests or such big guns. We did not see who was actually firing at us, we got intelligence afterward that it was Massop and his cronies. One of the cops in the patrol wet his pants.”
But as time passed and Massop matured, he made moves to organise a peace initiative between Tivoli Gardens and the hotbed of Matthews Lane, which was then ruled by PNP enforcer, Aston ‘Bucky Marshall’ Thompson.
As leaders of their respective communities, both men organised meetings and negotiated a peace which became official on January 9, 1978 when Massop and Marshall met at the intersection of Oxford and Beeston streets, the official line of demarcation between both communities, and signed a peace treaty according to a report in the Daily Gleaner in February 1979.
“Mr Massop, a JLP supporter, and Mr Aston ‘Buckie’ Thompson, a PNP supporter, made history at Beeston and Oxford streets in West Kingston on January 10, 1978 when they renounced political violence and called on their supporters to “put away your guns and channel your energies into building your communities,” the Gleaner report stated.
After the signing of the peace treaty, street dances, which were often the targets of vicious gun attacks, were held without incident in sections of the volatile constituency.
Both enforcers were also responsible for organising the famous One Love Peace Concert which featured Bob Marley and the Wailers and a host of other reggae acts at the National Stadium in April 1978. It was Marley’s first performance in Jamaica since he embarked on a self-imposed exile after narrowly escaping with his life following a gun attack at his Hope Road base.
During the concert, Massop and Marshall were called up on stage by the late Jacob Miller in a symbolic peace gesture.
Marley also brought the house down when he invited Manley and Seaga on stage in a historic move to call for peace between warring political factions.
Eight months later, Massop’s life would be snuffed out by policemen’s bullets at the age of 31.
Massop, 21-year-old racehorse trainer Lloyd Fraser, also called ‘Nolan’ of a Tivoli Gardens address, and Trevor ‘Hindu’ Tinson, a Jamaican who lived in Canada, were killed by a large contingent of heavily armed policemen on the evening of February 4, 1979, at the corner of Industrial Terrace and Marcus Garvey Drive.
Originally posted on Jamaica Observer