On the morning of May 27, 2004, when news broke that a joint police-military team led by Senior Superintendent Donald Pusey had successfully tracked and captured the nation’s most wanted criminal, Joel Andem, law enforcement breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The deadly criminal and his Gideon Warriors gang had been causing them headaches for four years.
Andem was seen by many in the criminal underworld as somewhat of a hero and represented the defiant stance that gunmen and those who glorify them salivate over.
He was known to be an itinerant criminal who never stayed in one place too long. His gang was known to operate in the Land Lease, Mud Town, Kintyre, Papine, August Town and other communities in eastern St Andrew. They are said to have been involved in committing 20 murders, rape, extortion, shootings and other serious crimes.
Andem was born in the community of Bull Bay in 1963 but moved to the Corporate Area at age 11. He emerged as a top criminal operative upon his release from prison in the 1980s and was to become the nation’s most wanted man, and was again locked up for eight years for gun possession.
But he became known to the public in 2000 after police raided his Crawley Hill camp and found a video recording which saw him sitting with an automatic rifle across his lap and smiling as his underlings paid tribute to him. Ever since the discovery of that video recording, the name Joel Andem was on the lips of most Jamaicans and his street credibility skyrocketed.
After his capture and subsequent remand he was slapped with two 20-year sentences for illegal possession of a firearm and shooting with intent after he was positively identified by the police as the man who shot at them.
But the Andem story involves much more than the man himself.
Andem’s brother, Pastor David Roper, was shot dead in 2015 while conducting a prayer meeting at his Greater Work Revival Mission Church in Mud Town.
A year later, his teenage son was given probation by a High Court judge after he was held trying to enter his St Andrew-based school with a handgun in his backpack. The gun was discovered after a metal detector alerted authorities. He was sentenced to four months in prison last July, after being arrested for possessing a high-powered rifle in 2018.
Another of Andem’s brothers, Christopher Andem, was recaptured in September 2012 after being on the lam for six years. Christopher Andem was held in Mud Town, St Andrew. He was awaiting trial for murder at the time of his escape. He managed to slip from the grasp of the police while at the St Ann’s Bay Hospital.
Andem’s then second in command, Richie ‘Richie Poo’ Tyndale, is serving a 30-year sentence for the shooting and robbery of a policeman in 2003.
A number of other Gideon Warriors gang members have since been either killed by police or other criminals. At least two Gideon Warriors were cut down by a licensed firearm holder after they attempted to forcefully enter a construction site in a bid to extort the contractor.