Beckham was a successful British aerospace- projects engineer. His specialty was
designing computer software for sophisticated naval defense systems. Like
hundreds of other British scientists, he was working on a pilot program for
America's Strategic Defense Initiative--better known as Star Wars. And like at
least 21 of his colleagues, he died a bizarre, violent death.
It was a lazy, sunny Sunday afternoon in August 1988. After driving his wife to work, Beckham walked through his garden to a musty backyard toolshed and sat down on a box next to the door. He wrapped bare wires around his chest, attached the to an electrical outlet and put a handkerchief in his mouth. Then he pulled the switch.
With his death, Beckham's name was added to a growing list of British scientists who've died or disappeared under mysterious circumstances since 1982. Each was a skilled expert in computers, and each was working on a highly classified project for the American Star Wars program. None had any apparent motive for killing himself.
The British government contends that the deaths are all a matter of coincidence. The British press blames stress. Others allude to an ongoing fraud investigation involving the nation's leading defense contractor. Relatives left behind don't know what to think. "There weren't any women involved. There weren't any men involved. We had a very good relationship," says Mary Beckham, Alistair's widow. "We don't know why he did it...if he did it. And I don't believe that he did do it. He wouldn't go out to the shed. There had to be something...." Did 22 SDI Researchers really ALL Commit Suicide?
August 1988: Alistair Beckham, 50
--Expertise: Software engineer with Plessey Defence Systems.
--Circumstance of Death: Found dead after being electrocuted in his garden shed with wires connected to his body.
--Coroner's verdict: Open.