Bob Marley died of brain cancer in May 1981, but a conspiracy theory has emerged in the ensuing three decades that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency infected the reggae singer with cancer five years earlier. In November 2017, the disreputable web site Your News Wire, which has a history of publishing fake articles and sensationalist clickbait, added a new twist.
A 79-year-old retired officer of the CIA, Bill Oxley, has made a series of stunning confessions since he was admitted to the Mercy Hospital in Maine on Monday and told he has weeks to live. He claims he committed 17 assassinations for the American government between 1974 and 1985, including the music icon Bob Marley.
According to the article, Oxley first confessed that the shooting of Bob Marley in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1976 was a CIA assassination attempt and then said that the agent himself had followed up on it by tricking the singer into injecting himself with “cancer viruses and bacteria”:
According to Mr. Oxley, he used press credentials to gain access to Bob Marley during his Blue Mountains retreat. He introduced himself as a famous photographer working for the New York Times, and gave Bob Marley a gift.
“I gave him a pair of Converse All Stars. Size 10. When he tried on the right shoe, he screamed out ‘OUUUCH.’ That was it. His life was over right there and then. The nail in the shoe was tainted with cancer viruses and bacteria. If it pierced his skin, which it did, it was goodnight nurse.”
Your News Wire did not provide a single source for the story, despite including extensive quotations from the supposedly dying Oxley. The site also has a history of writing false articles, including ones about deathbed confessions from CIA agents. We could find no record of a Bill or William Oxley having any association with the CIA, and neither his name, the quotations attributed to him, nor the basic facts of Your News Wire’s story are corroborated anywhere else.
On 3 December 1976, gunmen shot up Marley’s home on Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica, injuring the singer, his wife Rita and his manager Don Taylor. The assailants were never formally identified or brought to justice.
However, some people in Marley’s entourage believed the attackers were connected to Edward Seaga, an opposition politician, according to an account by Vivien Goldman, a journalist who knew Marley and was his publicist during the 1970s.
At the time, tensions were rising between factions supportive of Jamaica’s Prime Minister Michael Manley and his socialist People’s National Party, who were sympathetic to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and Edward Seaga and his conservative Jamaica Labour Party, who were sympathetic to the United States.
Although Marley had previously been explicitly supportive of Manley, he organized the Smile Jamaica concert in a non-partisan effort to ease political tensions and inspire unity and peace. According to Goldman, Marley was angry at the Prime Minister when he rescheduled the 1976 general election to coincide with the concert, which gave the appearance that Marley was backing Manley.
There were reports in the 1970s that the CIA was active in Jamaica, that they attempted to destabilize Manley’s government in 1976, and even that they considered assassinating him. The agency denied those claims.
Taylor also claimed that the CIA had plotted to assassinate his client, but this conclusion appears to be based solely on the belief that “the son of a prominent CIA official” had infiltrated a film crew at the December 1976 music festival. In his memoir Marley and Me, Taylor wrote:
As a sequel, I would later find out that among the crew hired to come to Jamaica was the son of a prominent CIA official who had travelled under an alias. This information convinced me that the CIA had been behind the plot to kill Bob Marley because of his possible influence on Jamaican politics and on the wider world.
Marley was shot in the arm and chest, but recovered quickly from his injuries and was able to perform at the Smile Jamaica festival two days later. This is where the “shoe plot” begins.
According to the theory, a mysterious American man visited Marley as he prepared for the concert, which was to take place on 5 December. The man purportedly gave Marley a pair of shoes, and when the singer tried on one of them, his toe was pricked by a copper wire or nail.
Throughout the Caribbean and Central America more broadly, the CIA is known to have been involved in political assassinations and regime changes, in particular in Honduras and Nicaragua, and the islands of Jamaica and Cuba are only a couple of hundred miles apart.
So the prospect of the CIA seeking to establish Jamaica as a bulwark against Soviet and Cuban influence in the region by neutralizing the populist folk hero Bob Marley, who was historically sympathetic to the socialist Michael Manley, is not inconceivable. However, there is a lack of concrete proof linking the CIA to either the shooting of Marley or the cancer that eventually killed him.
Claims of weaponized cancer infection are part of a broader, long-running discussion about “targeted assassinations” by intelligence agents in the United States and elsewhere. Most prominently, some adherents claimed that the CIA was responsible for the cancer which claimed the life of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, in 2013.
It might be possible to externally induce cancer in another person by infecting them with a virus known to cause cancer. Marley developed skin cancer in his foot, which subsequently metastasized and developed into the brain cancer that eventually killed him, and it is conceivable that intentionally infecting a person with an immune-compromising virus such as HIV, could possibly cause them to develop skin cancer.
However, it is questionable whether this would be likely to be used as an assassination method. Firstly, the precise mechanics of “infecting” someone with cancer are uncertain, meaning the desired end result, death caused by cancer, would be far from assured.
And while the ultimate cause of death, cancer, would certainly have the benefit of preventing suspicions, it can take years for a person to die from cancer. This would undermine one of the principle purposes of an assassination: to quickly stop an individual doing or saying something.
As implausible as the “shoe plot” might seem, the CIA is known to have made a number of unorthodox political assassination attempts, against Fidel Castro in particular.
Whether or not there was anything more to Bob Marley’s death than natural causes — and there is no solid evidence to the contrary — we can say with certainty that a CIA agent named “Bill Oxley” did not confess while on his death bed in Maine to assassinating the singer.
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Rolling Stone. 25 June 1981.
Constantine, Alex. “Chanting Down Babylon: The CIA and the Death of Bob Marley.”
High Times. February 2002.
Taylor, Don and Mike Henry. “Marley and Me: The Real Story.”
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Hudson, John. “The CIA Didn’t Give Chávez Cancer, But Crazier Things Have Happened.”
Foreign Policy. 7 March 2013.
Fessenden, Marissa. “Is Cancer Contagious? Could Hugo Chávez Have Been Deliberately Infected?”
Scientific American. 18 March 2013.
Goldman, Vivien. “Dread, Beat and Blood.”
The Guardian. 16 July 2006.