A Newcastle man was beheaded in a surprise machete attack in the Solomon Islands yesterday, while working as a missionary for the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Lance Gersbach, a 60-year-old accountant, was acting as the business manager for the Atoifi Adventist Hospital on Malaita Island.
The church said Gersbach was murdered about midday yesterday but that it had no idea of a motive.
Solomon Islands police superintendent Charles Lemoa said the man was killed as he worked clearing a drainage ditch on the site, leading to suspicion his murder was linked to a land dispute.
"The people from that area are disputing the erecting of new buildings like
that, high buildings like that," Lemoa said. "I believe that the deceased really
did not expect the attack, and it can be termed as really a surprise attack."
The man appeared to have have been killed with a machete or large bush knife, he said.
Supt Lemoa said a three-man police investigation team was on its way to Malaita from the capital Honiara this morning to examine the murder site.
The mission treasurer, Teddy Kingsley, said the planned new building was to be a shop, but a local man who claimed to be the local landowner had disputed the construction of the new store.
"He was on the site and there were two others who were there," he said. "It was lunch hour and the two went away and went home, and he (the man killed) was there doing some extra work and that's when the murderer came in."
Gersbach arrived with his family in February for a year-long stay. His wife, Jean, and two daughters, aged 8 and 11, did not witness the killing. They have been flown to Honiara and were awaiting a flight back to Australia, a spokeswoman for the church, Bruna Tawake, said.
The three other Australians working at the hospital have been offered evacuation but did not feel under threat and had declined the offer, Tawake said.
The church said Gersbach had been a missionary before, spending three-years at the Sopas Adventist Hospital in Papua New Guinea, the operations of which were suspended in November 2000 due to safety concerns. The church praised Gersbach's "keen interest in helping others" in a statement expressing its shock at the killing. Gersbach was born in Busselton, Western Australia, but lived most of his life in Newcastle.
The hospital serviced the eastern part of the island, which had a population of 80,000, Tawake said.
The Solomon Islands have been beset by tribal conflict and lawlessness in recent years.
Do YOU believe it was a "land dispute"? I don't! The "coincidences" that an SDA preacher having his head cut off are far too obvious. The enemy knows the SDA message is a threat to him. It "may" have been a land dispute that the Devil USED to get the possessed man to do this evil deed, yes. But the REAL reason he died was NOT over some land. Truth is truth!