Vincent “Ivanhoe” Martin was a late 1940s criminal who lead the Kingston police on a heated manhunt in the summer of 1948. It would be during this final crime spree where the media made him a folk legend as “The Two-Gun Killer” Rhygin or “raging.”
Born in 1924 in St. Catherine Parish, Jamaica, Vincent Martin went into crime as a youth upon moving to Kingston. This was some years before yardie gangs rose to prominence in the country via the drug trade and influence in politics.
Similar to Australian criminal James “Jockey” Smith, Martin was of small stature, had a gift for gab, and compensated his size with aggression. Unlike Martin, his acts of violence often garnered the favored result and he was gone before 30.
Vincent Martin went to jail several times before forming a local gang where he took on several nicknames like “Captain Midnight” and more famously “Ivanhoe.” There are significant gaps in his life during this period.
Given that he wouldn’t end up in prison again until the later part of 1940s, it can be assumed that he either stuck to crimes that wouldn’t draw a lot of attention or he became a better criminal.
A February 1946 robbery arrest saw the charismatic Martin defend himself in court. While others were taken in by his rather lengthy pontificating, the judge was very annoyed and threw the book at him.
Additional charges were thrown at him and in all he was looking at a little over seven years. However, as Jamaica was about to find out, Ivanhoe was not one to be kept behind bars for too long.
April 30, 1948. Ivanhoe manages to escape General Penitentiary. He remained on the run for several months. It wasn’t until August when police acted on a tip to corner him. In an instance of the best-laid plans going horribly wrong, they got into a gunfight with Ivanhoe resulting in a detective’s death, two officers dead, and his escape. The incident added more to his appeal among lower class Black people in Kingston and to his nickname of Rhygin.
With the death of the detective, Kingston mayor Alexander Bustamante called for a manhunt for Rhygin. The next day, Rhygin killed the girlfriend of the man he believed was the police informant. He also injured others while hunting for the informant prompting the mayor to put out a bounty of £200 (around £7,200 today or over $9,000).
Upon hearing about the bounty, Rhygin taunted the Kingston police in a letter:
“I have an arsenal of 29 shots and I am satisfied that I have made history for the criminal element in Jamaica. Don’t think that I am going to kill myself because this will only serve to spoil my great record,” the letter read. “But I hope that Detective Scott will train his men some more. I am going to show the police force what is lacking and what I can do.”
He continued to talk with press—particularly the Daily Gleaner—during his spree. At times his accounts of run-ins read better and more eventful than the newspapers’ accounts. Of course, he took liberties with his own portrayal.
The police showed Rhygin differently in their descriptions. He was listed as 5’3 but wore shoes that made him appear taller. The “Two-Gun Killer” was said to have missing top teeth and spat after every word spoken. There was also the supposed habit of looking behind him when he walks and wearing shades.
FOLK HERO AND MONSTER
Similar to Billy the Kid and John Dillinger in the U.S, Pablo Escobar in Colombia, or El Chapo and Nazario Moreno Gonzalez in Mexico, the perfect mix of press coverage, the lower class suffering social and economic hardship, an early death, and other elements—Rhygin was made a folk hero. In contrast, the police had a cop killer who also shot and killed others in his frenzied escape.
Monsters don’t always have to be hideous, cartoonishly evil, and hide in dark alleys. They can be handsome or beautiful, do well sometimes, and reside in boardrooms, city halls, or stations. Folk heroes don’t always have to be good people or die with a hammer in their hand. Sometimes they die in a hail of bullets and harm their own.
What the people had in Rhygin was both a folk hero and a monster–or something in between–depending on their class and beliefs.
THE END FOR RHYGIN
In September, while hiding out in his birth parish of Saint Catherine, the manhunt was white hot. He was soon on the run again fleeing to Lime Cay in Kingston and his final encounter with police. The standoff lasted an hour before he attempted to escape and was gunned down on the shore. So ended the short life of Vincent Martin–“Ivanhoe” and “Rhygin”–at 24. Police at the time believed he was planning to flee Jamaica for Cuba.
This wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of Rhygin’s name.
At 24 and as a result of his short but violent crime spree, Rhygin is a part of Jamaican history, culture, and entertainment. Culturally, he was a folk hero to He also had a huge influence on media decades later being the topic of the country’s first major film “The Harder They Come” from 1972. The film holds the distinction for its soundtrack presenting reggae to the U.S. in 1973 via screenings in grindhouse features.
Prior to that, he was the subject of numerous pieces of literature, radio plays, songs, and eventually novels and stage productions.
-Jamaica Observer: http://cc.bingj.com/cache.aspx?q=rhygin+jamaica+observer&d=4779020364100323&mkt=en-US&setlang=en-US&w=fWJa4ynES199P3hs_xJSKZ9xvDZUwpj9 (cached)
-The Harder They Come Plot (IMDB): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070155/plotsummary?ref_=tt_stry_pl
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