Explore below to learn more about the people and circumstances surrounding The Skyjackers Tale.



Character image The Manhunt

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The Manhunt

The hijacking came a dozen years after Ali and four others were convicted of murdering eight people on a Rockefeller-owned golf course on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, dubbed the Fountain Valley Massacre.

The manhunt that followed remains the largest in the history of St Croix.

The Manhunt

September 6


  • Eight persons killed, several wounded by masked gunmen at the Fountain Valley Golf Course. Dead are 7 white tourists, 1 black worker.

September 7


  • Investigation expands to Black Power and Pan Africanism movements on the island. Approximately 100 locals are interrogated.

  • “Post Office Gang” (5 young men so called because they congregate around the post office in Frederiksted) are prime suspects; all have some police or criminal history, considered to have links to Black Power movements, supporters of United Caribbean Association (UCA) which promotes black Caribbean unity and independence.

Cleanup at Fountain Valley


September 7

  • US VI Governor Melvin Evans asks for FBI & US Army assistance.

  • FBI agents establish command post at the Fountain Valley Golf Course.

  • Pentagon fly in military personnel to set up troop support. Approx 300 troops arrive. Investigation is under FBI direction.

The Five Charged

Meral Smith, 22
(Malik S. El-Amin)

  • Court found there was justification for the arrest.

Beaumont Gereau, 23
(Hanif Bey)

  • Court found it was a warrantless illegal arrest but still found cause for the arrest.

Warren Emmanuel Ballantine, 23
(Abdullah Aziz)

Ishmael La Beet,
(Ismail Muslim Ali)

Raphael Joseph, 20

Wanted Poster

Police sweep finds Smith and Joseph. Wanted posters circulated for Ballantine, Gereau, La Beet; $5000 reward for information.

September 8


  • VI Attorney General Ronald Tonkin announces FBI have determined the weapons used at Fountain Valley were stolen from St Croix police HQ in 1970.

September 9


  • Bail for Smith & Joseph set at $1.2 million.

V.I. Daily News


September 10

  • Informations are filed against all five, for eight counts of murder and robbery.

September 11


  • Crowd at Charlotte Amalie High school, St. Thomas, protest FBI and local police picking up LaBeet’s younger brother for questioning. Some fighting, one youth arrested for obstruction.

September 12


  • LaBeet and Ballantine arrested.

September 19

– Police have signed confessions from all defendants –

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Character image The Trial

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The Trial

After the VI-5 were arrested and charged, the process of trying them before a jury of their peers began. Over the course of the next 11 months (September ’72 thru August ’73) the remarkable and controversial trial took place.

Click above for the details of how the trial unfolded.


September 28th, 1972


The arraignment takes place. The VI5 are charged with eight counts of murder and robbery. VI Daily News releases a letter from La Beet, “Free All Political Prisoners,” regarding alleged police torture to obtain confessions.

Free Our Innocent Brothers

October 13th, 1972


Chauncey Eskridge w/ MLKLaBeet is represented by NAACP lawyers Chauncey Eskridge and David Coar.

(photo: Chauncey Eskridge w/ MLK)


October 6th, 1972

Infamous U.S. civil rights lawyer, William Kunstler, announces that he will be representing one or more defendants.


October 20th, 1972

Judge Young overrules lead prosecutor Joel Sacks’ attempt to block William Kunstler and Margaret Ratner’s participation, which Sacks claimed was “a disruptive force”
Kunstler and Ratner


Suppression Hearing

April 16th to May 23rd, 1973

The defendants brought a motion to have their confessions excluded from use at trial, on the basis that they were obtained through torture. As the signed confessions were the only direct evidence implicating the VI5 in the crime, if the confessions were excluded, the case against them would not be able to proceed.

The Suppression Hearing took place from April 16, 1973 to May 23, 1973, 23 days over 6 weeks, almost unheard of for an evidentiary motion.

During the Suppression Hearing, the Defendants testify to alleged torture including pistol whippings, electric shock, beatings, hanging, water suffocation.

April 18th, 1973


Defence alleges government went out of its way to ensure proceedings had a “white” judge despite availability of local judges.

June 13th, 1973


Judge Young rules on the Suppression Hearing and finds that all arrests were valid. “Tortures were not used here.”

Statements by defendants Smith and Joseph to be excluded at trial, but statements by LaBeet and Gereau to be allowed.


June 12th, 1973

Kunstler & defence team move to have Judge Young recuse himself (i.e. step down from the trial); citing prejudice against defendants.

Judge Young denies the defence’s motion that he recuse himself.

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Trial held from
June 20th – August 2nd, 1973

June 30th, 1973


Jury selection complete; 600 prospects screened. 12 jurors & 6 alternates chosen – (alternates chosen in criminal case for the first time in the VI).

Jurors were required to remain sequestered for the duration of the trial.

Mary Mercer
Witness: Mary Mercer

July 16th, 1973


LaBeet testifies. Judge Young orders Ballentine that LaBeet be subdued for outbursts. Fighting in court between defendants & U.S. marshalls, crowd erupts. Judge Young leaves court with bodyguard, trial held over to next day.


July 6th, 1973

Prosecution presents as new witness, Elmeada Winter, a Fountain Valley worker who previously gave police statement she recognized none of the attackers. Winter now states she can I.D. 2 of the suspects. Kunstler objects. Uproar in court.

Witness Mary Mercer reverses her testimony from the Suppression Hearing, that she saw some of the suspects appearing to be “wet, terrified and beaten”.


July 28th, 1973

LaBeet’s sister Asia La Beet, who was spearheading attempts to protest the ongoing legal process, is shot in the face by an unknown assailant, on a street in a “white” St Croix neighborhood.

In closing, the Defence states there are only two pieces of direct evidence, both “inherently untrustworthy”: 1) confessions “under torture”. 2) Contradictory eyewitness testimony [by Elmeada Winter]. No fingerprints on any evidence found.

Defence moves for judgment of acquittal. Denied.

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The Verdict

August 8th, 1973


After 4 days of deliberation, the jury remains deadlocked. Defence requests a mistrial; Denied.

August 13th, 1973


Guilty verdict delivered: all defendants guilty on eight counts of murder, four of assault & robbery. Each sentenced to eight concurrent life terms for murder, 15 years each for assault & robbery (maximum sentences).

New York Times reports:

“The sentences produced bedlam in the courtroom. The defendants shouted obscenities, spat on the floor and struck out at US marshals who subdued them and led them away…Friends and relatives joined in the shouting match, as did Mr. Kunstler, who went to the microphone and screamed at Judge Young, ‘You can’t do this.’”


August 10th, 1973

Second demand for mistrial entered after 7th day of jury deliberations. Denied again by Judge Young.

Panic Among the Continentals

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Character image New Years Eve - 1984

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Skyjacking – A Brief History

On New Years Eve 1984, Ali LaBeet took control of the flight returning him to the US from his appeal hearing in the Virgin Islands and skyjacked it to Cuba. Almost as long as there have been passenger planes in the air, there have been skyjackings.

Click above to learn about skyjacking through the years.

A Brief History of Skyjacking

First Recorded Skyjacking

February 1st, 1931 : Arequipa, Peru

Peruvian revolutionaries commandeered the plane of American adventurer Byron Richards, releasing him 10 days later once they received word that the revolution had succeeded.

1931 – 1957

Very few hijackings worldwide – fewer than 20. Several of those were in Eastern Europe, by skyjackers attempting to flee from Soviet rule.



The first skyjacking of a commercial flight was of the Cathay Pacific Miss Macao on 17 July 1948. The plane crashed into the sea, killing 26 of the 27 people on board.

Miss Macao



The first skyjacking of a commercial flight with political purposes was of the Lloyd Aereo Boliviano on 26 September 1956.

The airplane (DC-4), carried 47 prisoners. They were being transported from Santa Cruz, Bolivia to the town of El Alto, in La Paz. There, a political group was waiting to take them to a concentration camp located in Carahuara de Carangas, Oruro.

The 47 prisoners gained control of the aircraft in mid-flight and rerouted the airplane to Tartagal, Argentina. Two of the 47 prisoners took control of the aircraft controls and received instructions to again reroute to Salta, Argentina as the airfield in Tartagal was not big enough for the DC-4. They did and moments later arrived safely to the city of Salta. They told the government of the injustice they were submitted to, and received political asylum.

1958 – 1967

Approximately 40 air hijackings took place worldwide, many of them between Cuba and the United States, as the cold war heats up.

1968 – 1979


Between 1968 and 1972 over 130 planes were skyjacked, often more than 1 per week, almost always bound for Cuba. The so-called Golden Age lasted into the 1980s in parts of the world, with attacks tapering off after as new regulations made boarding aircraft with weapons extremely difficult.




El Al 707

According to BBC News, was the El Al Flight 426 hijacking by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) militants on 23 July 1968, lasting 40 days.

One of the hijackers opened the unlocked door to the flight deck, clubbed the copilot with the butt of his pistol and ordered the plane to fly to Algiers. The other two hijackers threatened the passengers with pistols and hand grenades.




A man known only by the alias D. B. Cooper is credited with inspiring both copycat crimes and winning enduring infamy by skyjacking Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 – a Boeing 727 – and collecting $200,000 in ransom money and a parachute before jumping.


Boeing 707

December 31st, 1984:

Ali LaBeetBeing flown back to mainland prison accompanied by three US Virgin Islands prison guards, Ishmael Muslim Ali forces a pilot at gun point to re-route NY-bound flight to Cuba, where he has lived to this day

Did You Know?

During the Golden Age of Skyjacking (1968-1972), to facilitate impromptu journeys to Cuba, all cockpits were equipped with charts of the Caribbean Sea, regardless of a flight’s intended destination.

Pilots were briefed on landing procedures for José Martí International Airport and issued phrase cards to help them communicate with Spanish-speaking hijackers. The phrases to which a pilot could point included translations for:

“I must open my flight bag for maps”


“Aircraft has mechanical problems—can’t make Cuba.”Gulf Chart

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Top 5 Fugitives


Character image What's In A Name

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Criminal or Revolutionary?

Ishmael Muslim Ali (formerly LaBeet) is one of the top five most American wanted fugitives in Cuba.

There are approximately 70 American fugitives believed to be living in Cuba, granted political asylum by the Cuban authorities. Click above to meet five of them who, along with our Skyjacker, Ishmael Muslim Ali (formerly LaBeet)  have gained the most notoriety.

Top 5 Fugitives in Cuba
There are approximately 70 American fugitives believed to be living in Cuba, granted political asylum by the Cuban authorities. Here are five of them who, along with our Skyjacker, Ishmael Muslim Ali (formerly LaBeet) have gained the most notoriety.

Nehanda Abiodun

Nehanda Abiodun, born Cheri Laverne Dalton in New York City, was granted asylum in Cuba in the early 1990s, after being accused of aiding and abetting Assata Shakur’s escape from prison in 1979, and of a series of robberies in the early 1980s. Abiodun was active in the Black independence movement and a member of the Republic of New Afrika. Unlike some of her fellow US fugitives, Nehanda Abiodun is an active and visible presence in the Cuban cultural scene, mentoring young Cuban rappers. She is considered to be one of the originators of the Cuban hip hop movement.

Charlie Hill

Charlie Hill has been living in exile in Cuba for more than 45 years. After refusing combat and deserting his unit in Vietnam, Hill returned to the US to join a black separatist movement in the south, called the Republic of New Afrika. He was driving across New Mexico with 2 other New Afrika members, Ralph Goodwin and Michael Finney, when a standoff occurred between the men and New Mexico police officer Robert Rosenbloom, who was lethally shot. After several weeks on the lam, the men commandeered a tow truck at gunpoint and hijacked a plane from Albuquerque International Airport to Cuba. Hill is the last survivor of the trio, and despite having made a life for himself in Cuba, dreams of returning to the US and has seriously considered surrendering.

Assata Shakur

Likely the most infamous of all American fugitives living freely in Cuba, Shakur (née Joanne Chesimard), who was a member of the Black Liberation Army, was convicted in 1977 of the murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster. She has consistently maintained her innocence and many have suggested she received an unfair trial. Sentenced to life in prison, she escaped in 1979 with the assistance of BLA members. After several years on the lam, Shakur received asylum in Cuba in 1984. On May 2, 2013, Shakur became the first woman to be named to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List, with a $2 million bounty for information leading to her return. She is believed to be living in Havana, where she helped The Skyjacker’s Tale’s Ali with his own asylum application with the Cuban authorities, and is the namesake and godmother of Ali’s daughter, Assata. Her exact whereabouts, however, are not known – she remains in hiding from US authorities and bounty hunters looking to claim the reward for bringing her back to America. Shakur is considered a Black cultural icon, the godmother and step-aunt of legendary American rapper Tupac Shakur. She has been singled out by Chris Christie and now POTUS Donald Trump, who have both demanded her return to the US as a condition of ending the embargo with Cuba.

Victor Manuel Gerena

Gerena, an American from New York City, gained notoriety for the armed robbery of a Wells Fargo armored car depot in Connecticut. The robbery netted more than $7 million, making it, at the time, the largest cash heist in US history. Gerena was a member of Los Macheteros, a guerilla group seeking Puerto Rican independence from the US. The crime was committed on September 12, 1983, a day coinciding with the birth date of prominent Puerto Rican Nationalist Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos. Following the crime, Gerena arrived in Cuba via Mexico City. He was granted political asylum by the Cuban authorities and is still believed to be living there. Gerena was placed on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list in 1984 and, despite being removed from the list in December 2016, has the distinction of being the person who has been on the list for the longest period of time.

William Morales

William Morales is a former leader and bombmaker for a radical Puerto Rican liberation group known as the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or F.A.L.N. He was believed to be the chief bombmaker for FALN, implicated in more than 50 bombings in the US between 1974 and 1978. After being convicted for possession and transportation of explosives in 1979 in the US, and sentenced to 99 years in prison, he escaped from the Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Morales had been at Bellevue being fitted for artificial hands. Morales disfigured his face and lost most of his hands when a bomb he was making detonated accidentally. The accident is what led to his arrest. Escaping Bellevue, Morales fled to Mexico, where he was captured by authorities. In 1988, much to the consternation of those pursuing him in the US, Morales was released to go to Cuba. Morales is on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted domestic terrorists, with a reward of $100,000 for information leading to his arrest. He was immortalized in David Wojnarowicz’s 1984 painting William Morales, Patron Saint of Prison Breaks, which features in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art collection. Morales is believed to be living in Havana, where he has settled and started a family.

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Obama / Trump


Character image Cuba US Relations

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Cuba US Relations

When Ali landed in Cuba, he was granted political asylum, benefiting from the decades-long American embargo against Cuba and the lack of an effective extradition treaty between the countries.

This situation began to shift in 2014 under the Obama administration but has taken a solid step backwards under the Trump Presidency.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

2009 – 2016: BARACK OBAMA

In 2014, President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in almost a century after putting in motion a series of policies to thaw relations with the Communist island nation, after a freeze since 1962.

However, while Obama was able to soften regulation on some kinds of trade, business and travel, and re-open diplomatic relations, Congress refused to lift the 57-year-old embargo.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump


In June, Trump announces he will revoke the “one-sided deal” the previous administration made with Cuba, blocking individual US travel and all economic transactions with government entities, until Havana releases all political prisoners, legalizes all political parties and schedules internationally supervised elections.

Trump calls on God to help bring democracy to Cuba.

“With God’s help a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve”.


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Many politicians from Trump’s own Republican party, farmers, and religious leaders are among those condemning the president’s decision to reverse the thaw of sanctions regarding Cuba – citing concerns over jobs, the economy and human rights.

These are a few of the outspoken regarding resuming/maintaining relations with Cuba.

Pro Thaw – No Conditions
Cuban Foreign Minister: Bruno Rodriguez

Cuban Foreign Minister: Bruno Rodriguez

Cuban Foreign Minister – Bruno Rodriguez

Cuba is rejecting the demands by US President Donald Trump, including the extradition of those US fugitives it regards as fighters for civil rights.


Pro Thaw – Unspecific on Conditions, Including Fugitive Return
Zippy Duvall

American Farm Bureau President
Zippy Duvall

“As we cope with the biggest drop in farm prices in decades, we need to be opening up markets for American farm goods.”

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith

Lieutenant Governor Smith has visited Cuba along with farm delegations.

Senator John Boozman

Senator John Boozman
(R, Ark)

“It would be more effective to continue an open line of communication and working relationship with a government in need of democratic assistance.”

Bishop Oscar Cantu

Bishop Oscar Cantu

“I, in solidarity with the bishops of Cuba and the Holy See, we have long held that human rights and religious freedom will be strengthened through more engagement between the Cuban and American people, not less.”


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Several lawmakers/politicians are against the loosening of restrictions against Cuba and some are staunchly in favour of maintaining the existing embargo – decidedly pro-freeze.

These are a few of the outspoken regarding Cuba remaining a diplomatic and economic outcast.

Sen. Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio
(R, Fla)

Sen. Robert Menedez

Sen. Robert Menedez
(D, NJ)

Mario Diaz-Balart

Mario Diaz-Balart
(R, Fla)

Governor Chris Christie

Governor Chris Christie

Governor Chris Christie was especially vocal regarding convicted Cuban-fugitive Assata Shakur (Joanne Chesimard)



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Character image Race/Class Tensions in St. Croix

Colonial Relations

Prior to Fountain Valley, the island was characterized by some as a crime-free paradise. But to others, the crime did not happen in a vacuum.

Colonial Relations – The US Virgin Islands

The US Virgin Islands


The U.S. Virgin Islands are “an organized, unincorporated U.S. territory.” Although U.S. citizens, native Islanders residing in USVI are ineligible to vote for the U.S. president unless they become residents of mainland U.S. Their delegates to U.S. Congress cannot participate in general votes. The territory still does not have its own constitution, its most recent proposed constitution (2009) having been contested by the U.S. Justice Dept., and rejected by Congress.  Both these matters are ongoing issues for Islanders.


Discovered by Columbus in 1493, the Virgin Islands had a native population going back 3,000 years. Colonized and fought over for centuries by the Dutch, Danes and French and English, who enslaved the native population and made the islands a center of the slave trade, the islands were the scene of frequent slave revolts, up to and including the sale by the Danes to the U.S., for $25 million,  in 1916. The USVI were designated a U.S. territory, with its present limited citizenship and voting rights, in 1954.

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