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The Portsmouth double murders and the trial of the century

By Thomson Fontaine
September 03, 2012 11:10 P.M

creole jule
Italian artist Agostino Brunias's representation of Dominica's Creole Woman.
Portsmouth, Dominica (TDN) -- It is approaching the end of the nineteenth century in Dominica and the country is abuzz with the trial of the century. A beautiful Creole woman described by some as “among the handsomest in Dominica” is on trial for the murder of her American husband.

The story had all the trappings of an American soap opera. Two beautiful young sisters, an older wealthier man and his young nephew, love, jealousy, betrayal and finally murder.

William Birge in his book published in 1900 titled ‘In Old Roseau Reminiscences of Life as I Found It in the Island of Dominica, and Among the Carib Indians,” relates the story under the caption: :The Story of Old Buttman Jule – A Dominican Tragedy,’ as told to him by Police Inspector James of the Dominica Police Force.

Everywhere she went, the beautiful Creole Jule Riviere was a head turner, men made no secret of her beauty while women grudgingly whispered to each other about her charm, poise and knock down good looks. Years later they would wonder if under this outer beauty was a raging, tormented soul that could explode in murderous rage.

According to Inspector James “she [Jule] was considered the handsomest woman in Roseau, which you will allow is saying a good deal, for the old town, contains some as handsome dark-skinned beauties as it has ever been my fortune to meet.”

Jule was born in the town of Prince Rupert Bay (present day Portsmouth), where she lived with her father Pierre Riviere and younger sister Lila. Portsmouth’s importance at the end of the nineteenth century derived from its existence as a port catering to American whalers and other vessels whose seamen would put in for water, fruit, fresh provisions and some rest.

For years Pierre had provided for the family by selling supplies to the vessels as well as the occasional rum and other items that he could profit from.

At the tender age of seventeen the beautiful Jule met an American whaler named Buttman. From the time he set eyes on her he was smitten. It is not clear how they met, but it has been suggested that Buttman who at the time was in his mid-fifties may have seen her when she visited the dock with her father.

Buttman was now madly in love and he decided to give up his position on the boat and settle down with Jule in Portsmouth. Before long, Buttman was able to purchase his own boat and provided a good living for his new bride.

A few months into the marriage, Buttman sent for his twenty year old nephew in the United States to help him out with the business. The young, handsome and energetic Jim Brand quickly settled into his uncle’s home along with his by now 18 year old wife.

Soon reports began to surface in Portsmouth that Jule was falling in love with the younger man and was beginning to neglect her ageing husband. For his part though, the young Jim out of difference for his uncle kept to himself and refused to be enticed by the temptress Jule, although he was beginning to feel affection toward her.

According to Inspector James, Jule was by now falling hopelessly in love with Jim. "Jule took in the situation fully, but with her passionate disposition love knew no bounds. To hope was to have. No obstacle could present itself in her path but that might be surmounted, if not by fair means, by foul.”

Within months of his arrival in Dominica, Jim’s uncle Buttman was found dead in his bed. A careful examination of the body showed no visible signs of foul play and his death was attributed to natural causes.

From that point on the plot thickens. The grieving widow leaves Portsmouth for Roseau where she moves in with her father’s sister. Within a few months she was back in Portsmouth and in just days marries young Jim Band.

While Jule felt secure in her new found love, her sister Lila, just one year younger was beside herself with envy. It turns out that Lila had for a long time set her eyes on Jim, and was bidding her time confident that her sister was no threat since she was already happily married. Unfortunately for her, Jim did not feel the same way and was quite content to bask in the affections of Jule.

Inspector James picks up the story: “"After Buttman's death there was a change in her demeanor towards her sister. Previous to that she knew that Jule was no impediment in the way of her marrying Jim, and she loved her; but now things were so different, that love was turned to bitter hatred.

“Things went along quietly, though, until her sister and Jim were married. From that moment

she seemed like a caged tigress. For some reason, her sister seemed to hate her with an equal intensity.”

The villagers report that several months after the wedding they were awakened one early morning by screaming and shouting coming from the home of Jule and Jim Brand. Shortly thereafter, Jim was seen to leave the home and was never seen in Portsmouth again. It was later reported that he took his uncle’s boat and left the island for good.

Meanwhile, the screams were becoming more intense and neighbors rushed into the home to find Jule and Lila engaged in a fierce struggle with both wielding knives. They eventually succeeded in separating the two but not before both young ladies were grievously wounded.

Within days, Lila would succumb to her injuries but not before telling her neighbors a shocking story, which they then relayed to the Police.

According to Lila, she had been keeping a deadly secret. The night before Buttman died, she claimed that she had gone out with Jim. They returned home after the night out and when Jim took her home, which was just across from Jule’s home she quickly doubled back to see what he would do when he got inside the house.

Lila claimed that the shutters were wide open and that she had a clear view of what was going on inside. Jim for some reason went straight to bed and Jule who was awaiting his return got very angry at his indifference and neglect.

According to Lila’s account, “something must happen. She knew Jule too well to know that the turmoil within her breast would not subside without some outburst. It came in a manner that she least expected. She saw her wring her hands in apparent agony of mind.

“Then she shook her clinched fist at the sleeping form of her husband in the adjoining room. She stopped for a moment, as though in thought. Her eyes flashed, and her lips

parted in a smile. She went to the little worktable opposite and opened a drawer. Lila watched her, almost breathless in her excitement. She took out a long, heavy steel pin with a small brass head of some fancy design.

“It had been given her years before by some whale man admirer. It could be used for a variety of purposes. It was intended for an ornamental hat-pin in the country where it came from; but it could be used now as a weapon, and a formidable one it would be, too, in the hands of a dangerous woman.

“She grasped it firmly in her hand, and stole softly towards the sleeping figure. Buttman's shirt was open, exposing his throat and chest. She pressed it against his left breast and bore upon it with her full weight.” Lila saw it sink in its full length.

“He gave a sudden start, as though trying to raise himself in bed, then, without a moan, sank back upon his pillow, dead. Jule removed the pin, carefully wiped it upon her skirt, and replaced it in the drawer. After this she threw herself down in a chair, where she remained until morning.”

Lila having seen her sister’s behavior decided to keep the secret. She knew how Jule felt towards Jim and decided to wait.

“The passion of her sister's love for Jim was beyond control. She would lose Jim now, she knew that; but so should her sister. You do not know the power of love and hate in these people. Revenge is sweet. She would wait. They would be married.”

According to Inspector James, “love may be kept within bounds, but it is hard to control the passion of hatred, when once it arises with all its power within us.”

The morning of the confrontation, just three weeks after the wedding Lila decided that it was time to confront Jim with the news that he had married a murderess. Jule however accused her sister of jealousy and denied her story. Poor Jim, now thoroughly confused decided to leave.

Once Lila told her story, and upon her death, Jule was arrested and ordered to stand trial for the death of Buttman sometime in 1895. The Police refused to charge her in her sister’s death agreeing with her that she acted in self defense. The stage was set for the trail of the beautiful yet tragic Jule Riviere.

Within a few weeks, the trial got underway in Roseau. The young beautiful Jule got the sympathy of the court. Many argued at the time that it was because of her looks. She was found not guilty and set free.

Inspector James still undoubtedly smitten by Jule’s beauty would have the last word: "Jule was a beautiful woman. To-day she is living quietly with her aunt, here in Roseau. A proud-spirited, beautiful woman, but on her brow is a mark that can never be effaced—

the mark of Cain."

Jule remained in Roseau and every time she passed the story would be repeated, people would whisper and point. It is thought that the ravishing and beautiful Jule Riviere Brand would eventually migrate from Dominica.

Editor’s Note: The story of Jule Riviere and her sister was retold from the account of William Birge, M.D. an American traveler who visited Dominica at the turn of the twentieth century and detailed the story in his book. Although Birge recorded the name as Jule Rivera, it is believed that it was really Riviere and hence that was the name used in retelling this fascinating story.

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