When reggae legend Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981 at the age of just 36, it was more than a tragedy: it was murder, by the CIA.
Or so goes a story shared on Facebook. It comes with a few headlines: “I killed Bob Marley, ex-CIA agent confesses” or “I Killed Bob Marley – CIA Agent Confesses On His Deathbead” (sic) or “Ex-CIA agent Bill Oxley reveals how he killed Bob Marley”.
The claim is that 79-year-old Bill Oxley, a former agent of the US Central Intelligence Agency, made a deathbed confession that he murdered Marley by infecting him with “cancer viruses and bacteria”.
Long-running conspiracy theory
So far, the story has been checked and rated false by the UK’s Channel 4 News and US fact-checker Snopes. But that hasn’t stopped the musicians TI and Busta Rhymes from believing it’s true. Conspiracy theories that the CIA killed Marley have been online for years.
Both Snopes and Channel 4 traced the source of the story to a “disreputable” and “notorious fake news” website called YourNewsWire, which published it on 30 November 2017. The original link now redirects to a site called News Punch, which has the tagline: “Where mainstream fears to tread”. But the story is the same.
“The site is registered by Sean Adl-Tabatabai, a former BBC producer who went on to work for the conspiracy theory website of David Icke, who believes the world is controlled by predatory lizards who demand human sacrifice,” says Channel 4.
Who is ‘ex-CIA agent Bill Oxley’?
Snopes says they 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”.
And the photo of Oxley – an old white man in a hospital bed – used in some versions of the story, including the original, is in fact a stock photo by a Polish photographer. It’s just been flipped horizontally.
Channel 4 checked the story in December 2017, a few days after it first appeared online. And they could find no record of Oxley being in the hospital from which the story claimed he made his confession.
“The article says Bill Oxley is a patient at Mercy Hospital in Maine, America. But he’s not,” says Channel 4.
They phoned the hospital, but “we were told there was no one there by that name. Nor were they aware of anyone called Oxley who had been a patient there in recent weeks.”
What about the cancer-causing viruses and bacteria?
“If you wanted to assassinate someone, this would be a really bad way of doing it,” says Channel 4.
It might be possible to induce cancer in someone by infecting them with a virus known to cause cancer.
“Certain virus and bacteria have been shown to increase your chances of developing types of cancer in the long term, but the research was in its infancy at the time of Marley’s death and is not fully understood even now,” says Channel 4.
Snopes adds: “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 Channel 4 points out, if the CIA had wanted to murder Marley without raising suspicion, it would have been quicker and easier to use ricin, cyanide or even radiation poisoning.
“But trying to give him cancer would be far more difficult and far less effective.” – Africa Check (01/02/19)
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