Saturday, 13 July 2019

Vinegar Joe and West Hampstead

The blues-rock band Vinegar Joe was formed in 1971. They took their name from the nickname of the caustic US General Joseph Stilwell. The band recorded three albums for Island Records; Vinegar Joe (1972), Rock n Roll Gypsies (1972), and Six Star General (1973).

At various times three of the band lived in West Hampstead: Robert Palmer, Steve York and Pete Gage. Many musicians lived in West Hampstead before the neighbourhood was ‘gentrified’ and the supply of cheap rented accommodation dried up.

Pete Gage
Pete Gage, guitarist, composer and producer, is the link in the formation of the bands that led up to Vinegar Joe. He was born in Lewisham in 1947 and married Pauline Newman in 1966. Pete worked in several London bands before forming the Ram Jam Band in 1964 using a number of different singers. He met Geno Washington who was with the US Air Force and asked him to be the singer with his band. Pete said his mother paid to get Geno demobbed, and the band became Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band in April 1965. They played in blues clubs across the country, including 16 times at West Hampstead’s Klooks Kleek, and had two best-selling live albums in 1965 and 1966. In January 1967 Pete’s wife tragically died in a car crash on the M1 when they were returning from the Twisted Wheel in Manchester.

The band broke up in late 1969. For more details about the band see Nick Warburton’s excellent article on his website:

Kevin Rowland and Dexy’s Midnight Runners big 1980 hit ‘Geno’ was based on hearing the band at gigs where the fans shouted ‘Geno! Geno! Geno!’
In 1983 Geno Washington co-owned a basement restaurant at 212 West End Lane in West Hampstead. Most nights about 10.30, he would arrive and sing blues songs such as ‘Little Red Rooster’ and ‘Got My Mojo Working’ to the diners.

In 1970 Pete Gage formed Dada, a short lived 12-piece jazz-fusion band, with three vocalists, Elkie Brooks, (whom Pete married in 1971), Jimmy Chambers, and initially Paul Korda who was replaced by Robert Palmer. The band was Stax-influenced with a horn section, and were signed by Ahmet Ertegun, the head of Atlantic Records. They released one album called Dada (1970).

Steve York takes up the story:
‘I joined Dada shortly before their US tour. When we returned to London Ahmet Ertegun flew out to see us play at Ronnie Scott’s. Shortly after Pete Gage, Elkie, Robert, and I were summoned to a meeting with Ahmet and Chris Blackwell (head of Island Records), at the Park Lane Hilton. They wanted to reduce the size of the band and become more rock oriented, and we became Vinegar Joe in late 1971'.

‘Ahmet asked us to find a new drummer & keyboard player and told us that he wanted the band on Atlantic Records for the US, and Chris would have the band on Island for the rest of the world’.
Cover for the first Vinegar Joe album. Artwork by Hipgnosis (Getty)
‘We recorded the first album with Dave Thompson and Tim Hinkley on keyboards, and Conrad Isidore and Rob Tait, drums, playing on a session basis. The final line up of the band was Robert, Elkie, Pete, Steve, with Pete Gavin drums and Mike Deacon keys. Guitarist Jim Mullen joined the band for their second album “Rock & Roll Gypsies” and for their US tour’.

Here they are performing on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1973:

They were an incredible live band who performed on the club and university circuit. However, Pete did not think their albums were well produced and they did not sell very well.

Vinegar Joe broke up in March 1974. Chris Blackwell wanted Robert as a solo act for Island. The band recorded a single featuring Elkie (without Robert) of ‘Sweet Nothin’s’ and ‘Rescue Me’. This was briefly released by Island but withdrawn immediately by Chris Blackwell. You can hear it here:

Steve said:
‘Elkie remained under contract to Island but was unable to record for about two years. She subsequently signed with A&M records. Her first album for A&M was recorded in LA and flopped, but her second album was recorded in London with veteran producers/songwriters Leiber & Stoller and yielded the hits ‘Pearl’s A Singer’ and ‘Sunshine after the Rain’. I played bass on the record.’

Pete Gage was very angry about how badly he was ripped off and treated by the music industry. After his divorce from Elkie, he lived briefly in Compayne Gardens in the 1980s (he can’t remember the address). Pete married the singer Ruby James and they emigrated to Sydney Australia in 1999, where he lives today.

(There is another Pete Gage, not to be confused with the above, who sang with the Jet Harris Band and with Dr Feelgood after Lee Brilleaux’s death in 1994).

Robert Palmer
Singer Robert Palmer was born in January 1949 in Batley West Yorkshire. He grew up in Malta where his father worked as a civilian for the Royal Navy as a code breaker during the Cold War. Robert went to Scarborough High School for Boys, and age 15 he joined a band called the Mandrakes. In 1969 Pete Gage recommended Robert to Alan Bown, and he came to London to replace vocalist Jess Roden in the Alan Bown Set. Pete Gage persuaded Robert to join Dada when they had a US tour lined up.

Robert lived in the basement flat of 35 Dennington Park Road West Hampstead from about 1970. Pete Gage told Dick Weindling that he remembers writing the songs ‘See the World’ and ‘Never Met a Dog’ from the first Vinegar Joe album, sitting cross-legged on the floor of Robert’s flat.

Robert married designer Sue Thatcher in 1970, after a chance meeting on Slough Station in 1968. In later interview he said: ‘I was taken by her style. Silver boots and silver mini-dress. The Sixties, y’know? She was reading a science fiction book, and I’m a sci-fi fan.’

They had a son James, and a daughter called Jane. He left the Dennington Park Road flat after it was flooded, destroying most of his belongings.
(Dick: This seems to be before the notorious August 1975 flood in West Hampstead).

Robert and Sue moved to Greenwich Village in New York where he became friends with members of the band Talking Heads. About 1976 Robert relocated to Nassau in the Bahamas just across the street from Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point Studios. Robert left the States for Lugano in Switzerland in 1987, and he and Sue were divorced in 1993.

His first solo album, Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley (1974), was recorded in New York with members of Stuff, Cornell Dupree and Bernard Purdie, and at Sea-Saint Studio in New Orleans with Lowell George, Allen Toussaint, Art Neville and other members of the Meters. Robert Palmer had a successful career and a number of major hits. In the 1980s he was in the Power Station, with Andy Taylor and John Taylor of Duran Duran and Tony Thompson of Chic.  

His iconic music videos for ‘Addicted to Love’ (1985) and ‘Simply Irresistible’ (1988) featured identically dressed women with pale faces, dark eye makeup and bright red lipstick. The videos were directed by photographer Terence Donovan. There is another West Hampstead link here as Donovan had lived in a flat in Douglas Mansions (now called Douglas Court), on the corner of West End Lane and Quex Road in the 1960s.

Robert’s last album was Drive (2003) which was very blues based. In September 2003 he had just recorded a programme for Yorkshire Television called ‘My Kinda of People’, which looked at the musicians who had influenced him. He was taking a short break in Paris with his American partner Mary Ambrose before they returned to Switzerland, when he suddenly died of a heart attack in the Warwick Hotel.

Steve York
Bass and harmonica player, Steve York was born in London in 1948. His father was a Chief Petty Officer, and Steve first lived on the Gosport Naval Base before moving to Temple Fortune in North London. The West Hampstead connection is that Steve lived above a shop at 55 Mill Lane West Hampstead from 1972 to 1977.

Steve has had a long career playing with many well-known musicians and recording numerous records. Beginning with blues bands in the 60s including Graham Bond and Manfred Mann, in 1971 he joined Pete Gage in Dada and then Vinegar Joe.

Steve told me:
‘The first Vinegar Joe album was released about nine months after we recorded it. In the meantime I toured the US with the American band Climax who had a huge hit with the song “Precious & Few”. I moved to Mill Lane a few months after returning to the UK and rejoined Vinegar Joe. I let Graham Bond stay in my flat in Mill Lane while I was on tour with VJ in 1973. He was homeless after his marriage broke up.’

Steve has recorded with Marianne Faithful on her albums Broken English and Dangerous Acquaintances, also with Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr, Chicken Shack, Elkie Brooks, Joan Armatrading, Dr John, Chuck Berry and many others. 

He played harmonica, or as he wonderfully calls it ‘the tin sandwich’, on Robert Palmer’s albums, Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley, and Pressure Drop.

The list of the numerous bands Steve has played with can be found here:

Today Steve lives in Mexico. See his website for more details:

With special thanks to Steve York and Pete Gage for their help with this article.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

The Rathbones: builders and developers in West Hampstead

Victorian West Hampstead and Kilburn was created by hundreds of builders, some building just one or two houses, others whole runs of properties. Some worked independently while others forged links with fellow developers. Many went bankrupt in the process.

Marianne’s interest was aroused when she bought a couple of postcards addressed to a ‘Marguerite Rathbone’ of NW6. Her father Arthur Rathbone was responsible for many houses in the neighbourhood, he stayed solvent and passed on a large property portfolio to his heirs.

The cards were posted in May and June of 1909 by Margery Berman to her friend Marguerite. They were addressed to ‘Sandown’, Westbere Road, a detached house which became number 14, near the junction with Mill Lane.

Arthur Rathbone
At the time, Marguerite was living with her widowed mother Emma and several of her siblings. Emma Maria Lawson had married Arthur Rathbone in 1878 in Bethnal Green and they had nine children. The 1881 census has him working as a builder and sharing a house in Tottenham with his married brother Edward, a plasterer. Two children were born in Tottenham before the family moved to Croydon and then to West Hampstead by 1888, where initially Arthur and Edward traded as ‘Rathbone Bros’. They worked as builders and estate agents before Edward left to set up home in Brighton.

We know Arthur built houses in Broomsleigh Street, Ravenshaw Street and Glastonbury Street; Ingham and Burrard Roads, as well as Sumatra, Cotleigh and Dynham Roads. He owned properties elsewhere in the neighbourhood, including Sherriff and Gladys Roads.

Arthur appears to have had penchant for fast driving (and possibly alcohol), which led him into trouble. In November 1890, he was ejected from the North London Hotel (now the North London Tavern) in Brondesbury for being the worse for drink and accused of ‘furious driving’ a horse and trap on the Kilburn High Road, at speeds of between 12 and 13 miles an hour. The following February he was fined 20sh for failing to get a license for his trap. In June 1891 he was summonsed for another incidence of ‘furious driving’ along Kilburn High Road – it is very long and straight! Rathbone agreed with the charge and the magistrate dismissed his defence: that ‘his pony had been standing with his head towards home, and he could not restrain it.’ 

There’s no evidence of his taking part in local life, other than his loaning a cart to be used as a platform by the Fortune Green Preservation Society, at a public meeting to drum up support to retain the Green as an open space.

The family were living at 19 Mill Lane at the time of Arthur’s death on 11 November 1894. He is buried in Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune Green Road. Probate was granted to Emma with his effects valued at £100. This low sum disguises the fact that he had built up a large property portfolio, and presumes the properties were registered in her name. Emma moved to Westbere Road and by 1911 was living in Golders Green, at 865 Finchley Road, which she also called ‘Sandown’.

Who sent the postcards?
Margery Berman was the daughter of Solly and Jessie Berman. In 1911 he was working as a clerk for the Board of Guardians and living at 6 Hemstal Road. Margery was 13 and Marguerite Rathbone 14, so it’s likely they were school friends. One message ends ‘I remain yours to a cinder, Margery’ and the other suggests a walk the next morning, meeting at the top of West End Lane. It ends with an apology: Will send you a nice card next time but I am awfully stoney’, (short for ‘stoney broke’).

Miss Billie Burke, postcard
Both postcards were photographs of Billie Burke, daughter of the famous American clown William (Billy) Burke who had worked for the Barnum and Bailey circus. He started his own troupe and came to England in 1893. At the time of his death in 1906 he was living in St John’s Wood, and was buried in Hampstead Cemetery. Billie worked as an actress in London before returning to America where in 1914 she married Florenz Ziegfield (creator of the Ziegfield Follies) and her career took off. Billie appeared in over 80 films, but her best-known role was as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Billie Burke as Glinda with Judy Garland as Dorothy

What happened to Arthur’s property?
Emma died in 1919 leaving £14,822, today worth about £670,000, to her son George Rathbone and another local builder, James Gibb. 

In January 1923 The Times described the imminent sale of her properties:
This is one of the most important auctions for a long period of Hampstead property. It involves 141 freehold and long leasehold houses, and two shops, in Cotleigh-road, Westbere-road, Burrard-road, Fortune Green-road, and other streets. The rentals amount to £9,500 a year and the leaseholds are held for unexpired terms, in some cases, as long as eighty years.
The auction was conducted by Ernest Owers, West Hampstead’s well-known estate agent.

What happened to Arthur’s children?
Of those we have traced, Marguerite married veterinarian Robert Johnston Forrest and she died in Dorset in 1972. Her sister Florence married tailor William Warr at Emmanuel Church in 1909. Several of Arthur’s sons followed professions related to the building trade. The 1901 and 1911 censuses variously show Frederick as a surveyor and auctioneer; Arthur junior an electrician; Charles a self-employed carpenter and George, a clerk to an auctioneer and estate agent. He became the co-owner of Banks and Rathbone, estate agents of 163 Cricklewood Broadway, who were involved in the 1923 property sale above. Only George benefitted directly under his mother’s will.

In 1911 their brother Herbert was lodging in Fulham and working as a commissionaire. He had been a carpenter when he signed up in 1899, shortly after the start of the Second Boer War to join the Lancers. Discharged as medically unfit in 1902, Herbert is buried in the family grave at Hampstead Cemetery. On 19 February 1916 Frederick joined up at Folkestone to the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. He was killed on 10 August 1918, one of 1,447 men who died that day, fighting at the battle of Amiens and is buried in Rosieres Communal Cemetery extension. He left his £975 estate (today worth about £48,000), to his sister Florence.

Arthur Rathbone and his family helped shape West Hampstead and Kilburn, leaving a lasting legacy in the form of the many properties they built.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Edwin Levy, private detective

On the 26 February 1895 Edwin Levy died from a heart attack at his home, 31 Compayne Gardens West Hampstead. He had bought the newly-built house a few years earlier and named it ‘Beaulieu’ after the village on the French Riviera which he regularly visited. When he died Levy was a very wealthy businessman, but he had a mysterious past. There are no biographies about him but here is what we have found.

Edwin was born on 29 August 1840 at 38 Warren Street, the son of Aaron and Hannah Levy. His father was a tailor but struggled for work and was in the Shoreditch Workhouse in 1843 for a short period. Edwin married Annie Sweeney in 1860 and they had two children. Levy started work as an oil and colourman selling paint at 2 Great St Andrews Street in Seven Dials.

By 1866 he had changed careers and was doing work for the Marquis of Townshend’s Society for the Protection of Women and Children, when he acted as an observer at several trials involving children. One of the cases was the horrifying St Giles murder of a young boy who was hanged by his father in the cellar.

In February 1870 Levy placed adverts in the Morning Post for his confidential investigations as a private detective. As this is the only time adverts appeared, he obviously obtained work from personal recommendations. His office was in Basinghall Street for several years.

Napoleon III
He worked very discreetly and it is hard to find records of his undercover activities for the Bank of England and several European governments. We know that the French Government employed him to observe Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon who was the Emperor of France from 1852 until his exile in England in 1870. He lived at Camden Place Chislehurst and died there in January 1873. Levy installed his agents in the windmill on the other side of the cricket field in Chislehurst to report the names of all visitors.

In a libel case against The Times in February 1874, when Edwin Levy was called as a witness, he said he was the London agent for the Brussels Minister of Police.

In 1880 Levy was living at 164 Oakley Street just off the Kings Road Chelsea. By 1883 he had made enough money to buy a second home, a detached house in its own grounds at Hastings, called Elphinstone Lodge.

Oscar Wilde
Levy was also a money lender. In 1883 he lent Oscar Wilde £1,200 (worth about £15,000 today). Oscar had spent all of 1882 in a successful lecture tour of America and although he was paid handsomely, he had spent lavishly and his debts in England were being called in. Levy helped Wilde again in 1892. Oscar had received a letter from Lord Alfred Douglas, known as ‘Boise’ to his friends. He was being blackmailed over an indiscreet letter concerning an incident in Oxford where he was a student. This was the beginning of the affair between Oscar and Boise. Oscar asked his friend George Lewis, the top society lawyer, for help. Lewis got Levy to arrange for the payment of £100 from Oscar to the blackmailer (who has never been named). Oscar later wrote that both Lewis and Levy were shocked by the letter and advised him to have nothing to do with Boise. In De Profundis, the long letter Oscar wrote in Reading Goal to Boise, he said that Levy ‘warned me for the space of a whole hour about knowing you’. Because of his relationship with Boise, Oscar also lost the support and friendship of Lewis and said that at this point, ‘I was deprived of one of the great safeguards of my life’. 

Oscar Wilde and Bosie, 1893

J. Lyons, and Olympia
Levy bought property and shares as investments. He was friends with Joseph Lyons and Isidore Gluckstein and he bought 60,000 shares in the catering firm J. Lyons and Co. He took no part in the day to day running of the firm other than providing printing services for menus, price lists and stationery. 

He was also an investor in Olympia, the large exhibition hall in west London. In 1894 Levy was a director in both companies as well as the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, which in its final form is part of today’s Northern underground line.

His first wife Annie died in 1876, and in 1892 Edwin married Marion Mackenzie at St George’s Hanover Square. The previous year in the census she is shown as his 27-year-old housekeeper when they were living above 213 Piccadilly. Levy negotiated a price of £35,000 for the lease with an annual rent of £1,000. After extensive remodelling, the ground floor became the first Lyons tea shop which opened on 20 September 1894.

Edwin Levy died suddenly at the age of 65, and on his death certificate his occupation was just shown as ‘of independent means’. His friend Isidore Gluckstein was present at the death. Beaulieu House with his paintings, and his other properties in Hastings and Chelsea were all sold. At probate he left the huge sum of £261,518 (worth about £29M today), to Marion and his son Mordaunt from his first marriage. He was buried in the Jewish Cemetery Willesden.

Marion left Compayne Gardens and moved to 30 Daleham Gardens in Hampstead, and in September 1899 she married Wilfred Harry Whiston. When she died in Reigate in 1954 she left £46,407 (worth about £1.25M today).

At his death one obituary said Edwin Levy was reputed to be the cleverest private detective in England. He was employed by many members of the English nobility as well as several English Royals and he often enjoyed a friendly chat with the Prince of Wales. A second tribute said, ‘He was engaged in most of the great cases of his day, and solved many a private problem which, had it burst into publicity, would have caused serious scandal. He knew where others only suspected, and had directed episodes behind the scenes which the world had only witnessed from the audience side of the footlights.’

Like George Lewis, he was too discreet to write his memoirs, which would have made very interesting reading.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The Attack on the Mint Casino, Kilburn

The Mint Casino opened about 1967 above a restaurant at 185 Kilburn High Road. Today this is the Arbil City Restaurant, near the Kilburn State (now the Ruach City Church). 

The site of the Mint Casino (Dick Weindling May 2019)

Here is a memory posted online from someone who played poker at the club.

One of the first places I played poker in London when I was around nineteen years old was The Mint Casino in Kilburn High Road, which was above a Wimpy bar. The casino was originally owned by a bright young Jewish kid called Steve who I believe came from Brighton

The poker game was run by an old villain called Bill Manning who eventually owned or fronted the Casino for a while. One of the dealers in the poker game was a young guy known as ‘Chinese Willie’ or Willie Tann to give him his correct name. Later the poker game was run by a guy called Billy Falco and to a lesser extent his younger brother Mickey.

On the 1 January 1968, there was what the newspapers called a ‘Chicago style’ attack on the club. At three in the morning a van drew up and the back doors were flung open. Three men leaned out, and one fired several shots from a rife at the gaming club. The window was smashed and bullets hit the ceiling above the Blackjack table, and the dice table, bringing down some plaster. The men slammed the doors and the van sped off. Thirty-eight year old John Brett, a director of the club, said that none of the 30 people playing in the casino were hurt. He phoned the police who thought it was probably a warning about protection money. Nobody was prosectuted for the attack.

This was the time when London gangs like the Krays and the Richardsons, had spread out from Soho, South London and the East End area, and were collecting protection money or as they called it ‘a pension’ from a variety of clubs across London. The Mint Casino was lucky as other clubs in Soho, Paddington and North London had been blown up with bombs or burned down with Molotov cocktails when the owners refused to pay each week.

In September 1970 a Sunday People reporter visited Kilburn and other areas, where he was shown illegal clubs which carried on despite the new Gaming Board laws to limit the number of clubs which came into effect that July. He visited clubs where large sums of money were staked in card games such as poker, brag, and kalooki (a version of rummy). The ‘canotte’ where the house takes a percentage, had been banned, but it was the rule in the illegal clubs.

The reporter visited The Green Table, behind the Curry Pot Indian restaurant at No.354 Kilburn High Road on the corner of Loveridge Road. Here there was no pretence of a membership policy. About a dozen men were playing brag and a man said, ‘Poker, we have a lovely game just starting’. 

Then the reporter went down the Kilburn High Road to the Mint Casino where there was a spy-hole in the door. Here he saw about a hundred people and £1,000 (worth about £15,000 today), on the table in a poker game. The new law said the London clubs had to close by 4am. But it was well after 4am when he visited the Mint Casino.

The Mint Casino was not shown in the 1971 phonebook and had probably closed by then.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

The Robbery at the North London Tavern

The North London Tavern on the corner of Cavendish Road and Kilburn High Road was originally the North London Railway Hotel, after the railway company that ran the service from the nearby station now called Brondesbury on the Overground. The name was shortened to the North London Hotel in 1895.

In the early hours of the morning of 12 June 1946, Maurice Herbert the licensee, heard noises in the cellar and called the police. At 2.15am the pub was surrounded, and four men were found stealing 130 bottles of gin which they were about to load into a waiting van. PCs Ian Moir and Robert Wade saw two men climb onto the wall at the rear of the building.

Moir said, ‘I shouted to them to come down. Davis fired two shots and they ran towards Cavendish Road. I followed them and Davis pointed the pistol at me. I threw my truncheon at him and grabbed him as he was climbing a fence. As we struggled he hit me on the head with the pistol butt’. PC Wade arrived and they arrested Davis. The three other men were arrested later. The pistol was a German Mauser which had two shots fired and one had jammed in the breach.

In court PC Moir showed his bloodstained uniform and said he had been off work since he had been attacked. The prosecution counsel believed that Davis had not deliberately aimed at PC Moir but fired the shots to frighten him. PCs Moir and Wade were commended for their bravery, and each awarded £10.

Eric Charles Davis was a 21 year old sailor from Greenford. Francis James Bloomfield, 20, was a driver from Fulham. Ernest Percival Hawkins, 18, was a tiler from West Kensington, and Richard Emery, 21, a soldier of no fixed address. At the Old Bailey, Davis was sentenced to five years imprisonment, Bloomfield and Emery received two years. Hawkins was sent to Borstal for a period not exceeding three years. Their girlfriends screamed when they heard the sentences and had to be led from court.

In February 1947, just six months into his sentence, Eric Davis escaped from Wandsworth prison by using a plank and climbing over the wall. The police issued a description of him as 5 feet 7 inches tall, black hair, grey eyes and a stocky build. After a month on the run he was recaptured at a pub in Finsbury Park.

In April 1953, Eric and his brother Victor Davis were convicted of stealing £22,000 worth of National Insurance stamps from a post office in Camberley Surrey. The brothers said they were car dealers: Eric in Mixnams Lane Chertsey, and Victor in Chertsey Lane Staines. They were known as the Gelignite Gang, believed to have made £50,000 in just one year from their safe breaking raids in London and the Home Counties. Scotland Yard had suspected the brothers, but they used fast cars and were good at spotting when they were being watched. The Yard put in an undercover officer called Alfred ‘Chalky’ White. He disguised himself as a down and out and grew his hair. After he told his controller about the Camberley robbery, the police raided the brothers’ caravans in Chertsey where they found the stolen stamps, as well as gelignite and detonators. Eric Davis, 28, was sentenced to seven years and Victor, 23, to four years imprisonment.

In April 1958 Eric Davis now aged 33, of Hereford Road in Bayswater, admitted to blowing up 12 safes with gelignite, including a raid on the Odeon Cinema Edgware Road Paddington. He was found with two firearms and two and a half pounds of gelignite. Davis was sentenced to 10 years. But in January 1961 he was one of five men who tried to escape from Dartmoor. They were caught after climbing over a 20 feet wall when a prisoner told the authorities about the plan.

Davis had graduated from burglary to safe blowing. He and his friends were career criminals who stole goods which they could easily sell in the austerity and rationing of post-war Britain. They were the ‘spivs’ who could get you anything for a price.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Bodies in the Cemetery

There have been over 60,000 burials in Hampstead Cemetery in Fortune Green Road since it was opened in 1876. But this sad story is about four bodies that were found above ground, the result of suicide and perhaps, murder.

Alfred Chambers
In 1884, the body of Alfred Pierpoint Chambers was discovered by a grave digger lying face downwards on the grave of his wife. Alfred was a photographer with a studio in Clapham. Alfred and Ellen were married in 1867, but since her death in 1882, Alfred had been very depressed. The post mortem revealed he had taken cyanide which was used in processing photographs.

Henry Butterworth
In December 1885, an inquest was held on Henry Butterworth, the owner of a chemist’s shop at 70 Tottenham Court Road. Today it is CEX electronics store, one of the few surviving original properties, immediately south of Goodge Street underground station.

His widow Elizabeth told the inquest court that Henry had left home on the 26 November, saying he was going to the City. She was alarmed to receive a telegram from him later that morning, saying, ‘Have gone to see our Fred’. Fred was the couple’s only son who had died in 1882, aged just three. She contacted the police immediately and Henry’s body was found on Fred’s grave. His brother in law said that the death of his son affected Henry badly, along with a recent downturn in business and poor health, but he had never threatened to take his own life. Henry had taken a small bottle of cyanide from his chemist shop and drunk it at the grave side. The headstone is unusual, as the large upright and plain stone slab bears no evidence of any inscription with lead letters or carving.

At the inquests both these cases were determined to be ‘suicide while of unsound mind’

Edward Scanes
On the 31 December 1892 the Illustrated Police News featured a dramatic drawing of 44-year old Edward Cornelius Scanes. It showed him leaning on his first wife’s grave and shooting himself through the heart. The paper wrongly reported his surname as Scones and showed the bearded Scanes as clean shaven.

Picture from the Illustrated Police News

Edward’s father John Scanes came from Exeter and his mother Mary Green was born in Norfolk. John was a coachman and a cab master when he married Mary in London in 1837. The family settled in North Street, Marylebone (between Lisson Grove and Edgware Road) where the 1871 census shows Edward Cornelius, 22, living with his parents and employed as a tin plate worker. The following year he married Sarah Ann Dunlop, the daughter of a gun maker. The couple had six children and lived round the corner from his parents, in Carlisle Street. Sarah died in 1886 and was buried in Hampstead Cemetery, where the register notes that she was reinterred from a common grave.’ Seemingly, it took Edward a few weeks to raise the money to buy a private plot. His father John Scanes died in 1887 and was buried in the adjoining grave.

In 1887 Edward remarried Alice Helliwell, a young widow with two children. The 1891 census shows the large family at 30 Windsor Road, Islington. In addition to Edward and Alice, there were nine children, five from Edward’s first marriage and two from Alice’s. The couple also had two young children of their own and another daughter was born later that year. But the marriage was unhappy and Edward had taken to leaving home, returning after a few days absence.

At the inquest his sons said the state of things at home had given Edward considerable trouble as Alice ‘was afflicted in her mind’.

A labourer who was walking through the cemetery said that he found Edward’s body lying across his first wife’s grave, with his head resting on his father’s grave. Police Constable Williamson said there was a five-chambered revolver in his right hand with one shot fired, and a bullet wound just over his heart. Two letters were found nearby. They were dated 19 December and said that his sons should have his watch and ring. He wished various members of his family ‘Good-bye,’ and concluded with the sentence, ‘My head is so bad.’

Edward Scanes

Edward had committed suicide on the 22 December, shortly after the anniversary of his first wife’s death, which may have prompted his action. He was buried in the same grave as Sarah. Dr Aubyn Monks said that death must have been instantaneous, and Dr Norman Clarke said that the deceased had effectively been out of his mind for some time. The standard verdict of suicide while of unsound mind was returned by the inquest jury.

Marion Duignan
On Saturday 25 February 1956 a grave digger was surprised to find a skeleton under a holly bush by the wall of the cemetery which backed on to Ranulf Road. The murder squad were called, and Chief Inspector Payton was the officer in charge. The remains were those of a woman about 5ft 2in tall, wearing a blue and white check three-quarter length coat, a black skirt, and a blue blouse with a Peter Pan collar. She had taken pride in her appearance, her long hair was upswept and pinned back with two ornamental combs. Her teeth were near perfect and her finger-nails had been painted red. She wore a 22-carat gold wedding ring hallmarked Birmingham 1931. On her right wrist was a bangle with small black jet stones which had been made in 1861 during the mourning for Prince Albert.

Medical evidence indicated the woman had died over a year ago. The police thought she had been murdered and the killer had brought the body to hide in a newly dug grave, but then panicked and left it covered with leaves, under a bush.

The first problem was to identify the body. Because her teeth had been so well looked after, the police issued photographs and a chart to all London dentists. Reginald Royston Course of 26 Lawrence Gardens in Hendon recognised her as one of his patients. So three days after finding the body the police knew it was that of 49-year-old Marion Gwendolen Duignan of 23 Tanza Road Hampstead.

Marion Duignan

She had been missing for over two and a half years since August 1953. Her daughter Theodora said that even though they lived in the same house they did not have a close relationship, ‘to me she was always odd. She lived a life of her own, apart from the family. If I showed any interest it was never reciprocated.’

The press interviewed artist Mabel Sharp of Nassington Road, who said Marion visited her every week. ‘I think I knew her better than anyone. She always confided in me her unhappiness and joys. She was unhappy for a long time. She would come here and cry and cry and then afterwards she would say she felt better. She had financial problems since her husband left and I got her some work as an artist’s model when she was paid 10 shillings a session.’ Mabel made a sketch of her friend which was used by the police.

Mabel Sharp painting the portrait of Marion Duignan

When he saw the press reports Frederick Duignan contacted the police. He told them he had met Marion Dixon at a party at a friend’s house in Hendon. She was a very attractive woman who worked as a secretary at her father’s company in the City. 
Frederick who was a tax inspector, had married Marion in 1931 and they had two children, Theodora and Anthony, who was in the merchant navy.

Although the marriage was initially happy Frederick said: ‘The last 15 years of our marriage was really a polite estrangement. I lived my life, she lived hers. We had separate rooms and all we shared were the larder and the roof. My wife went out quite a bit, but I was more or less a homebird. It was clear we were drifting slowly apart.’ 

When their daughter decided to get married, Frederick packed up and left without telling anyone so that she and her new husband could live at the house in Tanza Road. He left a year before Marion went missing and moved a short distance to 6 Rosslyn Hill where he lived with Phyllis Cowle. They were married in 1956, by which time the couple had moved to Kenton, Middlesex.

Annie Trotman, a medium of South Hill Park Gardens Hampstead, told the police that she had met Marion in 1950 and they had attended the Golders Green Spiritualist Church. The police found spiritualist pamphlets in Tanza Road and were told that Marion came to believe Frank De Monte, who lived next door at No.21, was her ‘spiritual’ lover. Neither Frank or his wife Louise encouraged this idea and Louise said that Marion and Frank never had an affair. Frank had died in 1950 and as his grave was about 50 yards from where the body was found, the police thought that Marion may have been visiting it.

Frederick Duignan said, ‘If she had had an affair after I left I think I would have heard about it. But I haven’t. Here I am reading things about my wife, day after day in the newspapers, things I knew nothing about. I never knew she was a spiritualist. I never knew she worked as a model. I never knew she had a Prince Albert mourning bangle. It’s a sad business however you look at it. It is a very unsatisfactory end to a life.’

The body was examined by Dr. Francis Camps the famous Home Office pathologist, who found no traces of poison, which ruled out suicide from an overdose. There was a small hole in the skull which could have been the result of a fall onto the edge of a grave stone. Chief Inspector Payton said he now believed that Marion had not been murdered. At the inquest, Barclay Purchase, the St Pancras coroner, decided on an open verdict as it was impossible to determine the cause of death. He praised the pathologist, the dentist and the police, saying that the body had only been identified because of advances in anatomy and dentistry.

Frederick Duignan died from a heart condition in March 1957, just over a year after Marion’s body was discovered.

In November 2015 the Camden New Journal used a Freedom of Information request to try to see the records of Marion Duignan but were told the case remained closed until 2025. The CNJ reported that Scotland Yard had told them: ‘Primarily, this record relates to the investigation of a suspicious death that was ultimately considered a case of murder that remains unsolved. Essentially this murder could still achieve prosecution.’

This is an odd conclusion since at the time the police concluded it was not a case of murder. Perhaps more evidence came to light later which has not been reported?

We have produced a 'Good Grave Guide to Hampstead Cemetery' which can be bought from the Camden History Society web site.

It gives you details of over 200 people and aerial photos showing the position of the graves.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

The plot to blow up El Al flight 016

This unusual story from over 30 years ago looks at events which had links from Kilburn to both national and international events. There are similarities with John le Carr√©’s The Little Drummer Girl which was written in 1983 and made into a TV series shown on BBC last year.

In 1986 Ann Marie Murphy was living in a terraced house in Mazenod Avenue Kilburn which the 32-year-old shared with two friends. Ann was born into the large family of lorry driver William and Kathleen Murphy who lived in Sallynoggin Park Dun Laoghaire, a small coastal town about eight miles south of Dublin. She left school at 14 and worked for ten years at the Glen Abbey tights and stocking factory at Blackrock, about two miles from her home.

In October 1984 Ann and her friend Therese Leonard came to London and got jobs as chambermaids for the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane. They initially lived in the staff house in Earls Court. Therese met Jordanian Khaled Hasi whose flatmate was fellow countryman Nezar Hindawi and the girls began dating the two men. This was Ann’s first serious relationship and she was swept off her feet by 35-year-old Nezar, a dark and charismatic man with a shadowy background. In November 1984 Ann and Nezar were the witnesses at Therese and Khaled’s wedding.
Nezar Hindawi and Ann Marie Murphy
Nezar told Ann that he was a journalist and he travelled abroad for long periods. He also admitted he was married and visited his wife and child in Poland, but he was getting a divorce. Ann believed everything she was told and became pregnant but had a miscarriage. In September 1985 Ann moved to the house in Kilburn which was near the large Catholic Church in Quex Road. In January 1986 she found out she was pregnant again and refused to have an abortion. Nezar disappeared.

Nezar Nawaf al-Mansur al-Hindawi, to give him his full name, was born in the village of Baqura Jordan to Palestine parents who had left Israel in 1948. It was believed that he joined the Palestine Liberation Organization as a teenager during the first Arab-Israeli war in 1967. He came to London in 1979 and met Barbara Litwiniec when they were both studying at a Kensington language school, and they married seven months later in December 1980. In 1981 their daughter Natasha was born, and soon afterwards Barbara returned home to Poland. Nezar continued to make regular visits to see them. He had come to London to work as a journalist but could only get work as a messenger at the Al Arab newspaper where he was fired in 1982 after just two months.

In late 1985 Nezar was trained for two months at a camp run by the Abu Nidal Organization near Dahir, east of Damascus. He met General Muhamed al-Khuli, the head of Syrian military intelligence, and Colonel Haytham Said in January 1986, to plan an attack on an El Al plane. Told to use a woman as the bomb carrier, Nezar decided on Ann. He was given an initial payment of $15,000 and promised that if successful, he would be paid $250,000. He proved his abilities by organizing a bomb attack on the German-Arab Friendship Society in Berlin carried out by his brother Hasi and a cousin on 29 March. Nine people were injured. They also planted a bomb in the La Belle disco in Berlin which killed three people and injured 230. Hasi was jailed in Berlin for 14 years for the attacks.

Nezar arrived back in London on the 5 April using a passport provided by the Syrians and posing as a foreign ministry accountant. He stayed at the Royal Garden Hotel, which was used by the crew of the Syrian Arab Airlines (SAA). The following day he was given a bag containing the explosive which had been smuggled in by a SAA crew member. It consisted of 1.5 kgs or about 3.3 lbs of the Czech-made plastic explosive Semtex.

Unexpectedly, Nezar turned up at Ann’s flat in Mazenod Avenue on 7 April and said they were going get married in Jordan. He gave her £100 to buy new clothes. On the 15th they went to a travel agent in Regent’s Street where Ann bought an El Al ticket to Tel Aviv, again using money supplied by Nezar. He said that as a Jordanian he would not travel on an El Al flight and his company had booked him on a different airline. They would meet up later to see his parents and get married. The next evening he arrived at her flat, nervously smoking his pipe and wondering if any of Ann’s friends were there. Ann said no, but a minute later her sister Heidi stuck her head into the room to say, ‘Have a nice time.’ ‘I thought I told you not to tell anyone,’ said Hindawi. Ann replied that she had told two of her sisters about their trip. Nezar gave her the small wheeled suitcase, saying he did not want her to have to lift anything in her condition. He packed a calculator in the case which he told her was a present to a friend.
El Al Boeing 747-200

At 7.30am the next day the couple took a taxi to Heathrow and Nezar kissed Ann goodbye. She went through security and the bag was X-rayed without any problems. But when she arrived at Gate 23 she was questioned by an El Al security officer. Four months earlier on 27 December 1985, two groups of terrorists from the Abu Nidal Organization opened fire on El Al passengers at Rome and Vienna airports and killed 19 people and wounded 120. In the two attacks four terrorists were killed and three were captured. The alert officer at Heathrow became suspicious when Ann said that her fiancé had helped her to pack the bag and was travelling on another flight. After the bag was emptied it felt heavy and he found the Semtex concealed in a false bottom. Ann was astonished and after being taken away in handcuffs, told Special Branch and MI5 officers all she knew about Nezar. They already had his details on file and within two hours his photo and description were given to the press and TV.

At Heathrow bomb disposal expert Peter Gurney searched the bag but could not find a detonator until he discovered the calculator had been modified with a circuit and small charge. This was placed close to the main bomb and had been set by Hindawi to explode in five hours when the plane would have been over Austria. It would have killed Ann, her unborn baby and all 355 passengers.

After leaving Ann, Nezar had travelled back to the Royal Garden Hotel and then boarded the SAA bus disguised as a crew member to catch the 2pm flight to Damascus. When his picture was shown on the news, officials at the Syrian embassy in Belgrave Square sent a car to intercept the coach and bring him back. The ambassador Dr Loutof Haydar phoned Damascus for instructions and Hindawi was taken to a safe house at 19 Stoner Road in West Kensington where his hair was cut and dyed. The following day he was driven back to the embassy but believing the Syrians where going to kill him, Nezar gave them the slip and went to the London Visitors Hotel at 42/44 Holland Road Kensington where he knew the owner, Naim Oran. Oran contacted Mahmoud Hindawi, Nezar’s brother who came to the hotel. After a heated discussion, Nezar agreed to hand himself over to the police and he waited at the hotel until they arrived and arrested him. He cooperated fully with British security and told them about the Syrian involvement. At first they did not believe him until he identified photos of the ambassador and gave an accurate description of his office.

On 24 October Geoffrey Howe, the Foreign Secretary, ordered all the Syrian officials to leave the embassy within 14 days. President Assad denied any involvement of his government in the bombing attempt.

The News of The World bought Ann’s exclusive story for an undisclosed sum. Ann said that Nezar took away every photo she had of him shortly before they went to Heathrow. She said she had been in love with Nezar but now she hated him, and the only good thing to come out of the relationship was her daughter Sara who had been born 10 weeks ago. Ann’s mother Kathleen said, ‘My poor darling Annie. People say she was gullible and perhaps she was, but love is blind. She believed in him and she trusted him’.

At the Old Bailey trial in October 1986 Ann gave evidence against Nezar speaking in a calm, quiet manner, sometimes almost inaudible. ‘Did you love him?’ asked the prosecutor. ‘Yes,’ she whispered. ‘Did you believe he loved you?’ Ann whispered, ‘Yes.’ After several hours in the witness box she suddenly shouted at Nezar, ‘You bastard, I hate you, I hate you, how could you do this to me?’

Replying to questions, Hindawi said he loved Ann and he always would. He had told her that after their marriage they would open a shop in Dublin selling Arab newspapers. He also said that he thought the bag contained drugs which he had been asked to smuggle onto the El Al flight. The jury did not believe him.

Judge Mars-Jones said it was ‘a callous and cruel deception to sacrifice his girlfriend and unborn child as a means of destroying the El Al plane and killing all the passengers’. Hindawi was found guilty and sentenced to 45 years, the longest prison sentence in British legal history.

Gordon Thomas provides another version of the Hindawi affair in his book Gideon’s Spies (7th edition 2015), which is a history of Mossad, the Israeli secret service. Gordon was a cousin of Dylan Thomas who found a publisher for Gordon’s first book written when he was just 16. Gordon died in 2017 having written over 50 books with sales of 45 million. A few years earlier he filmed ‘My Story’.

Thomas had written about the intelligence services of Britain and America when he was invited to write about Mossad by high ranking officers in Israel who provided him with considerable information. This became his most successful book and went through seven editions. The chapter called the ‘The Chambermaid’s Bomb’ says a Mossad agent, code named ‘Tov Levy’ using an Arab double agent named ‘Abu’ who was a distant cousin of Nezar Hindawi, persuaded him to carry out the plot using Ann to take the bomb onto the El Al Jumbo jet. Tov Levy followed Nezar and Ann to Heathrow and had informed El Al, Special Branch and MI5 officers, so there was never a chance the bomb would be taken onto the plane. The aim was to force Britain and other countries such as the US to sever all diplomatic relations with Syria. Gordon Thomas spoke with Hindawi who still maintains that he was the victim of a Mossad sting operation.

Although this sounds like a classic conspiracy theory, it was believed at a very high political level. Two weeks after the trial the French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac was interviewed on tape by Arnaud de Borchgrave, the editor of the Washington Times. When he was asked about the attempt to blow up the El Al plane Chirac said he had been told by the West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher that they believe it had been set up by Mossad agents to embarrass Syria and destabilise the Assad regime. A political storm broke out when the story appeared, and Chirac did the only thing he could and said he had been misquoted.

The Hindawi incident has become a classic case study on security profiling which triggered airlines to begin using a set of security questions to check the integrity of passengers and their baggage, which they still do today.

A play called The English Bride written by Lucile Lichtblau and based on the Hindawi affair, was produced off Broadway in 2013. She said she was interested in exploring the motivation and relationship between the two characters. You can see an interview with the author here:

Hindawi lost his appeals for parole and is still in Whitemoor, the Category A maximum security jail, in March Cambridgeshire. Ann lives quietly with her daughter in Ireland.