Tag Archives: London crime

A shot in the dark

On the evening of Wednesday 27th November 1912, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Edward Henry was arriving at his house at 19 Sheffield Terrace.

He had stopped riding his horse to work at Scotland Yard and when, occasionally he didn’t walk home, he was driven the 5 miles in the official car by his chauffeur, one Albert English.

[A]T ABOUT 7 o’clock dismissing his chauffeur for the night, he got out of the car, watched by his 11-year-old daughter, Hermione from her bedroom above the front door porch.

From the shadows, a young man approached and said he had something he wanted to speak about. “Can’t speak to you now. I’m busy. Call my office”, responded Sir Edward. Drawing a Remington Colt self-loading pistol three shots rang out. Two missed, but a third penetrated Sir Edward’s abdomen.

At this point, the gunman was tackled and wrestled to the ground by the Commissioner’s chauffeur, a porter and a decorator working opposite.

“Let me go”, cried the gunman, “This man has done me a great wrong. Let me go”.

It transpired that the would-be assassin was a man by the name of Alfred (some accounts also give his name as ‘Albert’) George Bowes from Acton. A disgruntled would-be taxi driver whose application for a cab driver’s licence had been turned down, understandably as he had failed his driving test.

In those days the Metropolitan Police regulated London’s cabs. Today this task is done ineptly by a bunch of civil servants.

Fortunately, the bullet had missed Henry’s vital organs, although the damage proved long-lasting and Sir Edward would suffer recurrent pain from the resultant wound for the rest of his life.


Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Edward Henry

But, when Bowes appeared in court, Sir Edward appeared and pleaded for leniency for his attacker stating that he had only wanted to improve his station in life to enable him to earn a decent enough living to provide for his widowed mother.

As a direct result of the Commissioner’s intervention, the life-sentence that Bowes was facing was reduced to 15 years in prison.

Sir Edward, unknown to anyone, would periodically visit Mrs Bowes giving her enough money to keep her comfortable and warm. Enough to satisfy her needs. He would then return home by public transport.

More remarkable still, or it could be ensuring Alfred didn’t get another chance at killing him, the Commissioner continued to take an interest in the fate of his would-be murderer and, when Bowes was released from prison in 1922, after serving 10 years of his sentence, Sir Edward paid for his passage to Canada to enable him to make a fresh start and begin a new life.

In his 17 years tenure, first as Assistant and then Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Edward Henry was one of the most innovative.

He introduced police dogs to the force; the use of typewriters at New Scotland Yard; fingerprinting as a valid means of crime investigation; he was instrumental in the introduction of telephones to all divisional police stations; the standardisation of the use of the iconic police boxes (now only seen in BBC’s Dr. Who); and the introduction of proper training for all new recruits. He also would have been responsible for maintaining the standards of The Knowledge, introduced 50 years previously. Something that the young Alfred Bowes wasn’t going to have to learn.

Featured image: 19 Sheffield Terrace by Simon Harriyott (CC BY 2.0)

The last post

They stand opposite each other on the Strand and their businesses couldn’t be more different.

The Savoy Hotel offers its guests sumptuous rooms and fine dining, with original paintings decorating its walls, opposite there’s Stanley Gibbons selling second-hand stamps, and yet they are linked in this story of a man who collected stamps . . . and wives.

[T]HERE could not be a more prosaic past-time than stamp collecting, and the man whose name is still synonymous with that respectable hobby surely must be William Stanley Gibbons.

It’s as if he was destined to become the world’s leading authority. Born in 1840 in a house on the site of what is now, appropriately enough, Plymouth’s main post office, on the same year as the Penny Black, the first world’s first postage stamp, was issued.

The word ‘philately’ comes from the Greek for ‘a love of the exemption from tax’ now ascribed to be freedom from charges (taken to mean recipient’s freedom from delivery charges by virtue of the stamp which sender affixed to the letter.

He was an avid swapper as a schoolboy and was fortunate enough to purchase a sackful of rare Cape of Good Hope triangular stamps from two sailors.


Stanley Gibbons

After leaving school he joined the family business, a chemists, learning to mix and dispense medicines and potions from his father’s shop. This early career could have given him the knowledge to pursue a lifestyle far removed from sticking stamps into an album.

The first stamp was collected on the day the first stamp was issued in 1840 when a British Museum zoologist bought a couple of Penny Blacks to keep for himself.

Having caught the stamp collecting bug he realised there was money to be made buying and selling them. By the age of 16 he was laying the foundations for what was to become the world’s biggest philately business – trading stamps from a little desk in the corner of the chemist shop.

The first-ever commemorative stamp was issued in 1871 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Peruvian railway.

Having dispensed with the chemist business, in 1872 he married a clergyman’s daughter, Matilda Woon, and two years later they sold up in Plymouth and moved to Gower Street, where business boomed.

In 1891 Stanley Gibbons opened at 435 Strand consolidating both retail outlets. It now operates up the road at 399 Strand, opposite the Savoy.

All the distractions of running a business were behind Stanley by now for in 1890 he sold the company for the equivalent of £2 million and started collecting mistresses and wives.

By 1972, you could increase the pleasure of stamp collecting by playing the board game Collect, the lid of which promised ‘All the excitement of the stamp collecting world!’

Matilda had died in 1877 cause of her death was recorded as marasmus – a wasting disease similar to anorexia.

Maggie Casey became wife number two in 1887 but had in all probability been his mistress prior to his first wife’s death.

Twelve years later she too died of cirrhosis of the liver.

Now globetrotting the World visiting, among others, Monte Carlo, Ceylon, Burma, Japan, Hawaii and the United States, he found time to marry wife number three – Georgina – only three months after the demise of number two.

Georgina managed to survive as Mrs Gibbons for five years before expiring through unrecorded symptoms.

But Stanley, not wishing to curtail his new collecting bug swiftly moved on to wife number four, Bertha Barth, a 27-year-old daughter of a railway clerk. At the tender age of 30 she died of cancer of the liver.

Less than a year later, Sophia Crofts, became wife number five.

However, she outlived her husband – he died aged 72, on 17th February 1913.

The practice of stamp collecting unexpectedly went underground in the mid-19th century, with collectors meeting in London backstreets to avoid prosecution for unlicensed trading.

Here we have the connection with these two esteemed, but diverse companies.

He was officially recorded to have expired at a nephews property near the Strand, but rumours soon circulated that it was while in flagrante with a floozy at the Savoy Hotel he died, and his corpse was smuggled out rolled in a carpet.


Savoy Hotel

While his death certificate records a heart attack, only two wives have themselves certifications of their deaths.

At Sotheby’s, New York on 17th June 2014 a one-cent magenta from British Guiana became the World’s most valuable stamp when it sold for $9,480,00.

It would appear that Sophia (No. 5) had a lucky escape for when his will was published, he had left the bulk of his estate, not to Sophia, nor to his progeny for he remained officially childless, but to Mabel Hedgecoe – a ‘dear friend’.

Image: London – Savoy Hotel: Luxury hotel on the Strand, built by impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte with profits from his Gilbert and Sullivan with profits from his Gilbert and Sullivan operatic productions, opened 1889. © Colin Smith (CC BY-SA 2.0)

CabbieBlog-cabIt should be recorded here that the alleged events mentioned in this post bear no connection with today’s Stanley Gibbons, which at the time of writing is undergoing a period of restructuring.

Murder in a London cab

Flo Dudley, whose birth name was Florence Alice Bernadette Dudley, was a beautiful young woman with a striking figure who hailed from a good family in County Wexford, Ireland, and who, at the height of her all too brief career, achieved some popularity as a singer on the music hall circuit. In 1906, she had married a theatrical entrepreneur, Mr. Francis Cunningham Silles, to whom she bore a son, Francis junior, but was widowed when her husband died only a year later.

[L]eft with no means of support, Florence was then forced to find look to her own talents and abilities to provide for herself and her child. An accomplished pianist, she thought to turn her own musical abilities to advantage on the stage and gained a start by securing an engagement at a music hall singing songs at the piano. She was an immediate success and before long had secured an agent, Mr. Davis Hart of Charing Cross Road, London, and appeared to have a bright future with a list of engagements stretching many months into the future. In the winter months she turned her talents to pantomime where she became highly popular and much sought after in principal boy roles. Having established herself on both the music hall and pantomime circuits, Flo frequently travelled to Manchester, Liverpool, Aberdeen and other provincial cities, as well as appearing regularly on stage at Ilford where she kept a flat on Cranbrook Road which she occupied with her son and a maidservant. She was also a regular attendant at the Roman Catholic Church of SS. Peter and Paul at Ilford.


Flo Dudley

In the summer of 1911, Flo met a well-to-do tobacco manufacturer named James Joseph Kelly, at the Irish Club in Charing Cross Road, London, with whom she formed a close friendship and who would later play a significant but unwitting role in her tragic demise. The friendship was renewed the following Christmas when Flo was engaged to play Robin Hood in the pantomime of “Babes in the Wood” at the Gaiety Theatre in Kelly’s home city of Dublin – the pair’s spending much time together during Flo’s stay there. When Flo returned to the English music hall circuit for the summer months, she and Kelly maintained their friendship conversing by letter, although this ceased after a few weeks and she heard no more from him. It was then, whilst she was appearing at the Tivoli in Manchester, in April 1912 that she was introduced to a man named Edward G. Hopwood, about ten years her senior. Hopwood represented himself as an unmarried businessman and the managing director of a successful company. Over the ensuing weeks Hopwood showered her with gifts and spent every moment with her that she would allow. He regularly protested his love for her and begged her to marry him, promising that her boy would not only be well provided for but well educated and his future career cared for.

Eventually, Flo succumbed to his entreaties and agreed to marry him, whereupon Hopwood induced her to allow him to take charge of her affairs. Immediately he wrote to Mr. Hart, Flo’s theatrical agent, telling him that he and Miss Dudley were about to be married and instructing him to cancel all of her theatrical contracts – adding that he wished the marriage to be kept secret and would stop by in person to settle whatever may be due to Hart by way of commission on the cancelled contracts. When Hopwood visited Hart in accordance with that arrangement, the agent pointed out that the marriage would have to be made known as, otherwise, the contracts could not be cancelled. Hopwood, however, was adamant that he would not allow Miss Dudley to return to the stage and that even her immediate contracts for the next week must be broken.

Flo’s son was then put in boarding school whilst Hopwood took her away to Brussels where they spent a few happy weeks together. When they returned to London, the proposed marriage having not yet taken place, Flo, having given up her flat, went to stay with her widowed sister, Mrs. Bland, at Ilford. It was then that the first cracks began to appear in their relationship. Hopwood became obsessively jealous, accusing her of carrying on ‘intrigues’ with other men and even paying two porters at Liverpool Street Station (the London end of the Ilford line) to report on her comings and goings. These men, whose names were Bolingbroke and Jackson, were told that Miss Dudley was Hopwood’s intended but that she was ‘playing a fine game’ with him. Miss Dudley’s alarm at this turn of events reached its climax when she discovered that, in truth, it was she that was being deceived. Hopwood, who had always represented himself as a bachelor, was, in fact, married with a living wife and three children. Moreover, his business ’empire’ was a sham. The company of which he was a director had collapsed with no line of business and no assets and he was on the verge of bankruptcy, leaving a trail of dishonoured cheques behind him. Appalled at this turn of events, Flo determined immediately to have nothing more to do with him.

Set upon resuming her career on the stage, she then wrote to Mr. Hart imploring him to act as her agent again and to find her an engagement as soon as possible. Hart replied requesting that she visit him at his office, which she did on 20th September, 1912. At that interview she told him the whole sorry tale of Hopwood’s deceit that had placed her in the precarious position in which she now found herself. Hart immediately promised to do his best for her and told her he thought he could revive some of the contracts she had cancelled. As a result of that visit, Hart secured an engagement for Miss Dudley at the Empire Theatre, South Shields, commencing 7th October, and was endeavouring to secure more when tragedy overtook to negate his efforts. The jealous deceiver, Hopwood, would not let Miss Dudley go, however, and began following her about and attempting to make contact with her. Despite this, Flo remained steadfast in her resolve to have nothing more to do with him – but Hopwood was not to be so easily dismissed. Worse, his obsession with her was about to take an altogether darker turn.

On 25th September, whilst in Brighton he purchased a revolver in a gun shop and took out a gun licence. The next day he proceeded on to Southampton by way of Portsmouth, and checked in at the South Western Hotel under the name of James Kelly. Hopwood, it appears, had somehow learned of the association Flo had had with Kelly at Dublin (perhaps due to Flo’s open honesty about her past) and the following day he sent her a reply prepaid telegram in Kelly’s name. It began:

Only recently returned from holiday in Madeira to find from inquiries made in my absence that we were cruelly parted by wicked slanders.

It then went on to ask Florence to meet him at a restaurant in Holborn the following day, 28th September, to which Miss Dudley immediately replied:

Delighted to see you as desired.

But when Miss Dudley arrived at the restaurant in question, she was greeted not by Kelly but by Hopwood, who implored her pitifully to listen to him. Perhaps to avoid causing a scene, Florence agreed to dine with him and even afterward allowed him to escort her in a motor cab back to Fenchurch Street station for her return train to Ilford. It was to prove the gravest mistake – Florence would never make the train or, indeed, arrive home alive.

The cab was almost the station, driving along Fenchurch Street, when three loud reports rang out from inside the cab. Assuming his tyres had blown out, the cab driver pulled up immediately to investigate but found all the tyres on the vehicle to be intact. When he then opened the door to check his passengers the female stumbled, with blood streaming down her face and from her breast. She almost fell into the cabbie’s arms and uttered:

Mind, cabbie, he has shot me; he has got a revolver;                                                         take me to the hospital.

Just at that moment a policeman, who had been patrolling nearby and heard the shots ran up, whereupon both witnesses heard two further loud reports issue from the vehicle.

Florence was found to have been shot in the back of the head, just behind the right ear, and back of the shoulder. Hopwood had been shot once in the head with a glancing shot that had failed to penetrate the skull but caused a slanting wound across the forehead. Both victims were immediately conveyed by motor ambulance to Guy’s Hospital where Miss Dudley expired within minutes of arrival. Hopwood’s wound, on the other hand, was not considered a dangerous one and he was fully expected to survive. Hopwood was immediately arrested for the suspected murder of Miss Dudley. He was guarded in hospital by two constables and subsequently taken into police custody immediately upon his release six days later.

An inquest was held into the death of Miss Dudley at which a great deal of evidence as to the events of that night was admitted.

Hopwood, appearing before the coroner with his head bandaged, admitted to purchasing the revolver at Brighton, claiming that he had been planning a trip to Belfast and had intended the weapon for personal protection because of the troubles there.

The driver of the motor cab, Charles Matthews, testified as to stopping the cab on hearing the initial shots and the subsequent condition of the victims found inside – adding that until that moment he had heard no sound of struggle or argument.

James Kelly also gave evidence and attested that the telegram the victim had received in his name had not been sent by him, nor had he had any knowledge of it prior to Miss Dudley’s death. In cross examination, Hopwood quizzed Kelly as to the nature of his relationship with Miss Dudley and asked the witness if, in January last, he had made love to her. Kelly steadfastly denied that his relationship with Miss Dudley had been in any way improper. As to the letters he had exchanged with her, he described them as “very nice, affectionate letters” but denied that they were love letters. The magistrate then intervened and warned Hopwood that this line of questioning was dealing only with the “trumpery fringes” of the case and did not help then prisoner with regard to the charges laid against him.

George Bolingbroke and George Edward Jackson, the two Liverpool Street porters that Hopwood had paid to spy on Miss Dudley, told how, on the day that Hopwood engaged them, they had even followed Miss Dudley, whom Hopwood pointed out to them, on the train to Ilford which she had boarded in the company of two gentlemen. One of her companions got out with her at Ilford, where they parted company, whilst the other went on to Seven Kings – facts which the pair reported back to Hopwood.

PC Butler, who had been the first policeman to arrive on the scene moments after the first shots were fired, gave evidence that he looked into the cab to see Hopwood with gun in hand but was unable to prevent him putting the gun to his head and firing the last two shots with which he tried, unsuccessfully, to take his own life. He then took the weapon from the hand of Hopwood who had at this point rendered himself insensible.

Doctor D. N. Cox, who had attended the deceased at Guy’s hospital, gave evidence that the cause of death was due to haemorrhage in the chest caused by a bullet which had punctured her lung.

A note which was found in Hopwood’s pocket was also read into evidence. It read:

I am driven to this by my sweetheart deserting me when all my ready cash has gone, and by finding she has been reviving her old intrigue with Mosely, Birmingham, whom she has been out drinking and debauching with all this week. I am heartbroken through the conduct of Flo!

The note referred to Harry Joyce, another former acquaintance of Miss Dudley that Hopwood had found out about and who lived at Mosely. Joyce also appeared before the Coroner to refute its imputations, however. He testified to knowing Miss Dudley but denied any improper relationship with her at any time, or that he had met with her at all for many months past.

The inquest ended on 16th October, with a verdict of wilful murder being returned against Hopwood. In light of the Coroner’s findings, Hopwood was then brought before the Mansion House police court on 4th December where he was formally remanded for trial at the Old Bailey. His defence council then asked that the case be put over to the next sessions to allow witnesses to be called from various parts of the county. The judge, however, said that he did not feel there were any grounds for postponement and ordered the trial to begin on Monday, 9th December.

At that trial Hopwood conducted his own defence, his claim throughout being that he had never intended Miss Dudley any harm, but that rather he had intended to kill himself – the note subsequently found in his pocket being in the nature of a suicide note.

He claimed in evidence that Miss Dudley had known from their first meeting that he was a married man with three children but was living apart from his wife. Miss Dudley, he said, had pressed him to marry her, “if it was safe.” Shortly prior to the events of the tragic night his business had collapsed leaving him terribly hard up and his wife had taken his children away from him, occasioning his trip to Brighton where they were staying. “Everything had gone,” he sobbed in court, “everything lost. Home gone, children gone, business gone.” It was for these reasons that he had determined to take his life.

In the taxi-cab, he said he taken out the revolver and shot at himself but the bullet missed its mark. Miss Dudley had then grasped at the gun and said “Teddy, put it down. Don’t. I don’t mean to leave you!” “She tried to twist my hand,” he said, “and the wretched thing kept on going off, and I unconsciously shot her in the head.” He added that he then shot at himself a second time and collapsed. This version of events was refuted by Professor Pepper, the Home Office gunshot expert, however, who testified that whilst it may have accounted for the wound on the head, it could not explain the wound to the back of the shoulder. In his opinion, due to its location, the fatal wound could not have occurred whilst Miss Dudley had her hands on the gun, but rather was more consistent with Miss Dudley turning away from Hopwood in an effort to escape from him.

The evidence put forward in the inquest was repeated before the trial concluded on 11th December, amounting to a substantial case against Hopwood. The judge then directed the jury that they must consider three pertinent questions:

  1. Did the prisoner intentionally discharge the firearm at the woman with intent to kill her or do her grievous bodily harm?
  2. Did he intentionally discharge it at himself with intent to kill himself, and did the shot intended for himself kill the deceased?
  3. Is it possible to accept the theory that the pistol went off by accident during a struggle to prevent him discharging it at himself, and was the death of the deceased caused by his attempt to commit suicide?

In the first two cases they must find the prisoner guilty of murder, and in the third case they might find him guilty of manslaughter.

The jury took only twelve minutes to return a verdict of wilful murder. His Lordship, Mr. Justice Avory, asked if the jury had come to the conclusion that Hopwood intentionally shot the woman and the foreman answered in the affirmative. Passing sentence, his Lordship admonished the prisoner:

Edward Hopwood, you must now be prepared to die by the hand of the law instead of by your own hand as you wickedly intended.

Hopwood appealed against his conviction on the grounds that the judge had misdirected the jury in regard to evidence of witnesses at the scene of the murder, and alleged prejudice against him because he was a married man. At a hearing in the Court of Criminal Appeal on 13th January, 1913, Hopwood against represented himself but his objections were thrown out, and the sentence against him upheld.

Hopwood was executed, by hanging, at Pentonville prison on 29th January, 1913. His executioner was Henry Pierrepoint, who assessed the drop at six feet, eight inches. Death was instantaneous.

Reproduced courtesy of Don Gillan © stagebeauty.net
Primary sources: Various period newspapers, particularly The Echo, London Daily Mail, and Lloyds Weekly News.


CabbieBlog-cabI am indebted to Robert from View from the Mirror who also writes at TAXI Newspaper for pointing me in the direction of this fascinating if gruesome tale.

Time Gentlemen, Please!

This hostelry tucked down a smart quiet street in Belgravia has, over time, lost more of its punters to Her Majesty’s pleasure than your average boozer. Any criminal now sampling the pub’s delights have in all probability committed a white colour crime, Belgravia is, after all, home to bankers and hedge fund managers. Built in the early 19th century Belgravia Mews West was once home to the horses and servants of the wealthy.

[P]robably converted in Victoria’s reign the tiny Star Tavern might have gone unnoticed had its previous landlord stuck to the straight and narrow. Its notoriety stems from the 1950s and 1960s when a hard-bitten gambler named Paddy Kennedy took over the establishment and was determined to put his own grubby stamp on the place. Known for indiscriminately swearing at customers, Kennedy sometimes singled one out for an entire evening of nonstop insults he called the “special treatment”, he became adept at quite physical ejections should he deem it necessary.

Unremarkably this uncharacteristic landlord’s behaviour attracted a wide clientele wishing to experience his inhospitality: Bing Crosby; Princess Margaret; gambler John Aspinall; Peter O’Toole; artist Lucian Freud; and Diana Dors among others. As was common at that time stardom attracted villains (or was it the other way round?), the Star Tavern was no exception, and unlikely liaisons took place for instance safe-blower and double agent Eddie Chapman would rub shoulders with Scotland Yard commander Wally Virgo.

Some remarkable events took place here at that time. Celebrated cat burglar Peter Scott was at the peak of his chosen profession. Known as the ‘Human Fly’, Belfast-born Scott arrived in London aged 22 and was tutored by master-thief George ‘Taters’ Chatham. He was soon applying his craft on a range of celluloid stars: Lauren Bacall, Shirley MacLaine, Vivian Leigh and Zsa Zsa Gabor, and would regularly frequented the Star Tavern arriving in his Bentley. When Sophia Loren had her uninsured jewellery worth £200,000 stolen Scott arrived and took out a wad of cash while leaning at the bar remarking “I hear poor Sophia has been robbed”.

Later having renounced a life of crime, admittedly after spending much time at Her Majesty’s pleasure, he was arrested leaving the Sherlock Holmes Hotel the venue was apposite in the circumstances, he had just delivered a stolen Picasso – Tête de femme – and had a plastic bag full of cash.

“London lotharios pulled their sports cars up to the door to display their latest girls”, was how one contemporary commentator described the scene as among others John Profumo would arrive with 19-year-old aspiring model Christine Keeler. The pub would be a magnet for such liaisons.

The Star’s main claim to crime in the 1960s was the upstairs room which today displays a fake suitcase of cash and model trains on the shelves. A notable regular was Terry ‘Lucky Tel’ Hogan who had been one of a nine-man strong gang who went on to become one of Britain’s most successful robbers. The gang’s first job was after observing a cash-heavy mail van for months and discovering it never changed its route, the gang forced it to stop in Eastcastle Street and transferred 18 of the 31 mail bags to a fruit lorry, netting the gang £287,000 (around £6.5 million today) it was to become the first of many robberies.

Introduced by Terry Hogan to the Star Tavern’s charms, and no doubt, its private upstairs room was a famous criminal who was once a passenger of mine – Bruce Reynolds. It was he who co-ordinated the Great Train Robbery and at that time would regularly drive his Aston Martin from his Streatham home to meet other members of the gang. Ensuing that never more than four met in pubic at a time they would go on to successfully rob the mail train and escape with £2.6 million (about £40 million today).

Reynolds fled to Mexico where he blew his £150,000 share, before returning to Britain and serving 10 years of a 25-year sentence for the robbery. After his release, he retired from crime and wrote his autobiography; dying in 2013 he didn’t drink at the Star Tavern again.

Albert Pierrepoint

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.


Albert Pierrepoint

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.