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The Tragic Case of Anita Mahfood, the Famous Rhumba Queen

Over 50 years ago, the Jamaican music icon fell victim to domestic violence.

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  • Photo Credit: Wikipedia

On January 1, 1965, as people around the globe were ringing in the new year, Anita “Margarita” Mahfood was murdered by her boyfriend, Don Drummond. The couple were a dynamic musical duo who famously performed in their home country of Jamaica. While the rising stars seemed to be destined for utmost fame and success, Mahfood’s aspirations were cut short when Drummond killed her in a fit of rage, a tragic culmination of his escalating abuse.

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Anita Mahfood, also known by her stage name Margarita, was a triple threat. She acted, sang, and danced, all while being deeply invested in the Rasta movement. Her remarkable talent along with a rebellious attitude led to her iconic status as a nonconformist who defied societal expectations of women in the 1950s and 1960s. While she had been romantically linked to other musicians, none of her relationships were as high-profile as her last one with Don Drummond. At the time, Drummond was a well-regarded trombonist and member of The Skatalites, but the severity of his crimes eventually trumped his musical accomplishments.

The couple met in the early 1960s in Kingston, Jamaica, where they were both born and raised. They moved in together, but it soon came to light that Drummond was physically and verbally abusive towards Mahfood, and had a very short fuse even in the most mundane of interactions. There were several incidents in which he attacked her in front of friends and bandmates.

Unfortunately, these instances of domestic violence escalated until Mahfood eventually lost her life at the hands of her abuser. On the night of Mahfood’s death, she reportedly gave Drummond the wrong medication by accident—he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia by that point, and had checked himself into Bellevue Hospital on two different occasions due to his mental health issues. 

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That night, the Skatalites were set to play a New Year’s Eve concert, which Drummond missed due to the medication mix-up. Shortly after Mahfood returned from a night of work at a local club in Rockfort, Drummond attacked her. At 3:30 a.m., he stabbed Mahfood in the chest four times before fleeing the scene to report the incident to police as a suicide.

When the police arrived at the couple’s home, it was evident that this was not a case of suicide. The multiple stab wounds as well as the fact that Mahfood’s hand was found forcefully shoved inside of a trombone made it easy to deduce that Drummond had murdered her. When he went to trial, he was deemed criminally insane and was committed to Bellevue Hospital, where he remained until he died four years later at the age of 37. 

While Drummond’s death was determined to be from natural causes—possibly from heart failure stemming from malnutrition or improper medication—there are several conspiracy theories floating around about his last years. Some people believe that he died at the hands of the government, which was supposedly targeting Kingston’s music scene; others have theorized that a gang killed him to avenge Mahfood’s death, although there is no evidentiary support to substantiate either theory.

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To this day, people wonder why Drummond brutally murdered Mahfood, but there are no easy answers. It’s quite likely that Drummond was not receiving adequate mental health treatment for his schizophrenia, especially since mental healthcare in the 1960s left much to be desired. The justice system seemed to agree when they ruled that he was criminally insane, or not responsible for his actions due to psychiatric disease at the time of his criminal act.

Likewise, the discourse around domestic violence has changed in the years since Mahfood’s death. She isn’t the only victim of such circumstances and this case in particular is one of the most tragic in Jamaican music history. Perhaps if someone had interjected or if Drummond had gone to his New Year’s Eve concert, Mahfood would have lived to see the first sunrise of 1965. The two rising stars fell too soon the night that Drummond took Mahfood’s life approximately three hours into the new year.

Featured photo: Wikipedia