by | Mar 11, 2024 | Lisa Black | 3 comments

By Lisa Black

Way back in the dark ages before personal computers on every desk and watching TV on your smartphone, in 1983, Ronald Reagan talked about starting the Strategic Defense Initiative. A bunch of satellites would float around in space and shoot down any missiles incoming from Russia and China. Everyone promptly named it Star Wars.

A new form of Star Wars figures heavily into the plot of my new book, The Deepest Kill.

Star Wars defense system

It never came into being, largely because detecting and tracking missiles from outer space so that they can be picked off in the sky like a game of Asteroids is not as easy as it sounds, and because the cost was, no pun intended, astronomical.

That was okay, in the long run, because it freaked out the Soviet Union enough to spend way too much money on their own versions. This didn’t cause the collapse of the USSR eight years later, of course, but it certainly didn’t help.

But for a while, scientists all over the place worked on it or pieces of it, university types, military subcontractors, engineers at GE. Everyone is trying for the brass ring of a lucrative government contract.

And they start dying. Between 1982 and 1988, twenty-plus British scientists died of anything but natural causes. They fell out of windows, jumped off bridges, one put a bunch of gas cans in his car and crashed into an empty building. Another tied one end of a rope around his neck, one end around a tree, got in his car and drove—who does that? Families routinely argued with the assumption of suicide, pointing out how facts did not support those theories. Yes, families often resist a finding of suicide, but all of them?

One overdosed. Two died of apparent autoerotic asphyxiation, though they didn’t call it that at that time.

They worked for different companies, defense contractors, research, like that, but all in some way connected with SDI. There were four guys from a subsidiary of GE, called Marconi, who died in one month. Two of them in the same day. One fell from a bridge near the same property where a woman supposedly put a rope around her neck, tied her own hands behind her back and her feet, then hobbled on her high heels over to a lake to drown herself.

Each one had usually either just left a company or were just about to get promoted.

Investigations were demanded, and invariably concluded that no foul play could be detected.

People assumed it was the Russians, and the Russians implied it was MI6. Perhaps it was rival companies also questing for that brass ring. Or working on SDI makes one crazily suicidal.

Work on SDI largely petered out when the Soviet bloc collapsed. No need to worry about shooting the things down when nobody’s lobbing them at us. Bush the first scaled back the program, and Clinton slashed it even more. We can assume our scientists are now safe.

Provided no one resurrects the program. Then all bets may be off.


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  1. Karna Small Bodman

    What an interesting premise for your new book, Lisa – I cannot wait to read it!!! As for missile defense, yes, I did serve in the Reagan White House during the time the whole concept of “SDI” – missile defense or “Star Wars” was developed. It was conceived as creating a series of ground bases where new missiles would be linked (there IS such a base at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California) to radar systems in Ft. Greeley Alaska. The radar would “sense” an incoming attack, and our missile would be launched to destroy it. The system was expanded to include the Aegis System aboard our ships – that still exists today as well. There are still many in Congress who favor building Missile Defense bases on the East Coast — we shall see. Thanks, Lisa, for addressing this important issue.

    • Rogue Women Writers

      Thanks for letting me pick your brain about your time in the Reagan White House, Karna!! You’ll find I mention both Vandenburg and the desirability of an East Coast base in the book!

  2. Chris Goff

    I remember when the Strategic Defense Initiative was being considered. To extrapolate that scientists who worked on the Initiative are dying–and maybe not by natural causes–seems all too real in today’s world. I’m looking forward to reading The Deepest Kill.