1961: Edwin Bush, Identikitted 1797: Abraham Johnstone

1986: Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, Dadah is Death

July 7th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1986, Malaysia hanged Australian nationals Brian Chambers and Kevin Barlow for trafficking heroin.

The two men were nabbed together at the Penang island airport with 179 grams of heroin in their packs. While Chambers was an experienced drug courier, Barlow was a rookie; reportedly, his visible nervousness in the airport gave the game away. (He had also refused out of revulsion to pack the product into his stomach or anus.)

Although the amount they carried far exceeded Malaysia’s then-brand-new 15-gram threshold for an automatic death sentence, “Westerners” so-called had never yet actually been hanged there. The two were initially sanguine about their situation, expecting a mixture of bribes and diplomatic logrolling to do the trick.

Over the 20 months between arrest and their July 1985 trial, they realized their true predicament.

According to Bruce Dover, who covered their trial for Australia’s Herald Sun, “They turned on each other. The parents and family members who Barlow and Chambers had early agreed to ‘keep out of it’ now watched on helplessly from the court gallery, as each man tried to implicate the other in a desperate gambit that at best would send one man to the gallows while the other walked free … [and] in their efforts to save themselves, each had condemned the other to die.” In Dover’s estimation, the very best they could have hoped to achieve was to have one man shoulder the blame to save the other.

International appeals from all the usual suspects — Australia Prime Minister Bob Hawke, the Pope, various human rights organizations, and even Margaret Thatcher (because Barlow was a British-born dual citizen) — failed to move the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. If anything, the clamor only strengthened the domestic political imperative to advertise Malaysian resolve in a high-profile case against the special pleading of foreign busybodies.*

“Like many people of European descent, they [Barlow and Chambers] have assumed that a white skin was protection against local laws,” a Kuala Lumpur newspaper editorialized. “That is also the unspoken assumption among many in the foreign media who are now in this country. The two men should be hanged.”

They were.

A 1988 Australian television film about the Barlow and Chambers case, Dadah Is Death — “dadah” being the Malaysian word for drugs — is a star-studded affair, featuring Julie Christie on the marquee as Kevin Barlow’s mother in her fight to save her son, opposite appearances by then-little-known youngsters Hugo Weaving, Sarah Jessica Parker, and John Polson.

* A similar script played out in neighboring Singapore with a Dutch smuggler a few years later.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,History,Malaysia,Milestones

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