Albert Pierrepoint is not as well known today. If it wasn’t for Timothy Spall’s depiction of England’s last hangman in a recent film he would by now have been forgotten. Following in the footsteps of his father and uncle Pierrepoint’s first ’client’ on 17th October 1941 was Antonio ’Babe’ Mancini a member of the notorious Sabini crime gang. A turf war between Jewish and Italian groups in Soho culminated in a fatal stabbing.
[T]he victim was Harry ’Scarface’ Distleman murdered by Mancini on 1st May. Just over 5 months later Mancini bade everyone present a good humoured “cheerio” as he literally launched from the scaffold Albert Pierrepoint’s career.
Pierrepoint would go on to hang over 400 people; his record was an impressive 17 in a day. On Friday 13th December 1945 he executed 13 Belsen Concentration Camp staff before lunch.
A strange set of circumstances would lead England’s star hangman to become both a witness for the prosecution and state executioner.
On 29th April 1947 Pierrepoint was having a quiet afternoon drink in his local; no doubt regaling friends was anecdotes of dispatching his clients. Outside the Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street [pictured above] on hearing a commotion he glanced out of the window to see three masked men carrying guns running down the street.
They were fleeing an abortive attempt to rob nearby ’Jays’ the Jewellers. As they burst into the shop the firm’s director Alfred Stock had slammed the safe shut getting pistol whipped for his defiance. Now turning to 70-year-old Bertram Keates they demanded the keys. Keates defiantly threw a wooden stool as his assailants. A shot was fired without causing injury, but meeting this fierce resistance Charles Jenkin aka The King of Borstal, Christopher Geraghty and 17-year-old Terence Rolt fled the scene only to find a lorry had blocked in their getaway car.
Running down Charlotte Street they were confronted by Alec De Antiquis who drove his motorcycle at them. One of the gang fired fatally hitting Antiquis’s head, not far from where Pierrepoint was trying to have a quiet pint.
The investigation was led by the legendary Fabian of The Yard. Robert Fabian was relied on systematic evidence soon found a cabbie who had witnessed two men suspiciously entering a building. Inside a scarf and raincoat found there were traced to Jenkins. His accomplices were soon apprehended and 17-year-old Rolt confessed to save himself.
The jury took 15 minutes to convict the trio, Jenkins and Geraghty renewed their acquaintance with a witness to their misdemeanours on 19th September 1947 when Pierrepoint hanged the pair. Rolt was detained for 9 years at Her Majesty’s Pleasure being under age.
As a footnote:
The case inspired a 1950 film The Blue Lamp starring Jack Warner as PC George Dixon. In the Ealing Studios film Dixon is murdered, luckily for Warner such was his popularity a TV spin-off Dixon of Dock Green was commissioned, the series ran for 432 episodes, from 1955 to 1976. Not only was it the first caps-and-robbers TV series it was also one of the longest running.