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.

http://www.camdenhistorysociety.org/general-publications-admin/the-good-grave-guide-to-hampstead-cemetery

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’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF3Tljjj2E4

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.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

The Kilburn tobacconist and the actress’s jewels


Nellie Seymour was an attractive actress, one of many who made a living from the stage; it was a hard life, often moving with a company from town to town. If you were lucky, you found a role in a production that stayed in a theatre for a few months. One such was ‘Sergeant Brue’ by Owen Hall which premiered in London in 1904. A musical farce, the plot centres around the police sergeant of the title, who comes into £10,000 a year, on condition he remains in the force and is promoted to inspector. Nellie played Vivienne Russell, a society lady and one of the chorus.
 
The cast of Sergeant Brue, Nellie is seated in the centre (Marianne Colloms)
The play was staged at the Strand Theatre and the Prince of Wales Theatre, running in London’s West End until February 1905. The ladies are carrying unusual animal heads or masks which they had to wear at some point in the performance. One critic disparaged another prop, paper hoops, because the ladies were expected to jump through them, despite wearing long gowns.

By this time, 22-year-old Nellie was a wealthy lady. Her fortune is unlikely to have come from acting; she was popular and featured in the professional papers but not as a leading lady. Nor did it come from her family. We know she had money because shortly after the premiere of Sergeant Brue, Nellie appeared in court in June 1904. She was described by one paper as ‘most elegantly gowned’ and was there to give evidence against 33-year-old German born Otto Kruger. He ran a tobacconist’s shop at 5 Kilburn High Road, near the Queen’s Arms public house and stood accused of stealing and receiving jewellery that belonged to Nellie. It was worth £3,000, which is about £320,000 today. It was claimed Otto had an accomplice, Marie Marthaler, who had been Nellie’s maid. The case seemed straight forward enough: Nellie had returned from a brief outing on 24 May 1904, to find Marie and her jewels missing. Marie had not been seen since; the police thought she had fled the country, but items of jewellery had been traced back to Otto.

But it was complicated by the fact that Otto’s brother, Rudolf was in a relationship with Marie. Some sources suggest it was he who persuaded her to steal the jewels, promising they would set up home together. But he too had gone missing. Police visited Otto’s shop, after they had recovered some pearls sold by George Zink. He lived near the Kilburn High Road and regularly went to Otto’s shop to buy tobacco. Zink said the pearls had come from Otto, who told the police, ‘they are the ones I got from my brother who has run away.’

Rudolf Kruger had been questioned by police before he disappeared. They found four £5 notes in his pocket. Otto denied having anything to do with the theft but admitted he had sold items for Rudolf and given him the money. He wasn’t very good as a ‘fence’, disposing of Nellie’s jewellery at well below its true value. He began to cry and threatened to shoot himself before leading the police to the cellar below the shop. Buried about six inches deep in the earth floor they found two tin boxes containing more of Nellie’s property.

In court Inspector Drew said that jewels worth around £1,000 had been recovered but the rest were still missing. Otto was sentenced to nine months in Wormwood Scrubs; the absent Marie was never charged.

After prison
The local directory only lists Kruger at No.5 Kilburn High Road in 1904 when he was sharing the premises with other businesses. The property was demolished when a WWII bomb hit the Queen’s Arms. The 1911 census reveals him, now a clerk in an estate agent’s office, living at 40 Park Road, in West Dulwich. The only other occupant of the house was Marie Marthaler! Her occupation is given as that of housekeeper. At the time of the court case in 1904, the papers reported Otto’s wife had been at the Kilburn shop when the police dug up the tin boxes, but in the 1911 census he said he was single. Martha gave her status as that of widower. There was no sign of Rudolf.

George Frederick Zink
Zink had told the police he ‘dabbled’ in jewellery but was no expert. He was not prosecuted for selling the items, presumably because he believed the jewellery belonged to Otto. In his professional life, Zink was a very talented miniature painter, regularly exhibiting at the Royal Academy between 1885 and 1902 from his Kilburn home at 34 Princess Road. In 1911, he was still living at No.34 with his wife and two sons. He died in December 1946 at 1 Randolph Gardens in South Kilburn.

Step forward the real Nellie Seymour
After considerable research we found that Nellie’s real name was Verena Georgina Venour. She was born in India in 1881, the daughter of Surgeon Major William Venour and his wife Julia Rose. The family came to England around the time William retired in 1889 and lived in Wales. The marriage was unhappy; two years later Julia accused William of a violent assault but did not appear in court, so the case was dismissed. She also petitioned for, but did not obtain, a divorce. William died in February 1903 and on 30 April, Julia married General Sir George Richard Greaves. Nellie was a witness. Charles had been on the General’s staff in India and the Venours had been Greave’s guests on the night of the census in 1901.
 
Nellie Seymour, 1904
Nellie apparently left the stage after her appearance in Sergeant Brue. During the London run, she had married 25-year-old Brian Durrant Kemp-Welch in September 1904. His father was a partner and Managing Director of the Schweppes mineral water company and Bruce later took over from his father as the MD. It appears his family disapproved of the match. Their witnesses were friends, not family members; the ceremony was a quick one, arranged by special license followed by a small luncheon party at the Savoy Hotel. The couple went on to have three children, Elizabeth (born 1906) and twin boys Peter and George (born 1907), but their relationship was complicated by repeated affairs on both sides. In 1908 Brian sued for divorce on the grounds of Verena’s adultery, but the divorce was never finalised. The co-respondent was Stanley Brotherhood who was the husband of Brian’s sister Vera, and this caused a rift with his family. In 1927, Brian was named as the correspondent in another divorce case and £1,000 damages were awarded against him.
 
Brian Kemp-Welch, MD of Schweppes
Their daughter Elizabeth (Betty) wrote her biography entitled ‘Jennifer’s Memoirs’, reflecting the fact she was the creator of ‘Jennifer’s Diary’ which appeared for many years in Tatler, Queen and Harpers, under her married name of Betty Kenward. It seems very unlikely that Betty didn’t know her mother had been an actress, but she never mentions the fact. She wrote fondly of her brothers and her father but was generally critical about Verena who she described as, ‘very pretty and very immoral and always desperately spoilt’. Her mother took no interest in her, said Betty, because Verena had wanted her first child to be a boy, not a girl. Betty was often sent by her mother to stay with friends or relatives, ‘as I was growing up and complicating her life.’ She remembered wonderful holidays in Wales with her maternal grandmother and step grandfather General Greaves, who she called ‘Dod’. Betty went on to a successful career as a social columnist, and although increasingly out of step with the times, Jennifer’s Diary ran for almost 50 years. Appointed an MBE in 1985 she died aged 94 in 2001.

Peter Kemp-Welch and George Kemp-Welch
Brian and Verena’s sons were both talented amateur cricketers, George played for Warwickshire and the MCC. They both worked for the Schweppes company and served with the Grenadier Guards during WWII. 

In 1934 George married Lucy, the daughter of MP Stanley Baldwin.Ten years later, on 18 June 1944, and now a Captain in the Grenadier Guards, George was attending a Sunday morning service at the Guards’ Chapel in Birdcage Walk when it was hit by a V1 flying bomb. The roof and most of the walls collapsed burying the congregation in rubble up to 10 feet deep. In the worst V1 attack of the war, over 120 soldiers and civilians died and around 140 were injured. George’s body was one of the last to be found three days later.
 
George Kemp-Welch
Both brothers are commemorated by an inscription on the font in the rebuilt Grenadier Guards’ chapel. Peter died in 1964, and his family donated a window in his memory to St Margaret’s church, Westminster.

Brian and Verena agreed to live apart until shortly before Brian’s death in 1950 at their London home in Bruton Place, following a stroke. He was 72. Verena continued to live there until her death in 1968, aged 86.

This complex story began with a simple newspaper report about Otto Kruger’s conviction for receiving stolen goods. But it required considerable time to untangle all the parts.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Charteris Road Murder


In the late 1950s Veronica Murray, known as ‘Ronnie’, came from Londonderry to find work in London. She eventually worked as a prostitute on the streets and clubs of Soho, and in June 1958 rented a room at 58 Charteris Road in Kilburn. When Ronnie had not been seen by her friends in Soho for several days, one of them phoned her Turkish landlord Ratomir Tasic. A shocking sight awaited him as he entered her room on 19 December 1958. Ronnie had been beaten to death and was lying across her bed. The murder squad detectives led by Superintendent Evan Davies, found that she had been hit several times on the head with an ornamental dumbbell. Some unusual circular marks were found on her body, but the fingerprints at the scene did not match any on file. The police released a photo of Veronica a few days later but this produced no suspects and the case went cold.

Veronica 'Ronnie' Murray

A year later on 11 October 1959, Mrs Mabel Hill was celebrating her birthday in London’s West End, when a man asked her for a light for his cigarette. They returned to her home in Ismailia Road Fulham and had coffee. But when she refused to have sex, he hit her and tried to strangle her with a pair of stockings. Mabel passed out and was taken to hospital where she recovered and was able to tell the police what had happened. Detective Inspector Peter Vibart noticed the pattern of circular marks on her body which could have been made using the neck of a bottle, but the forensic scientists could not say for sure. Vibart remembered similar marks on the body of Veronica Murray the year before, and the same fingerprints found at Charteris Road were also found at Mabel’s home.

In fact, there was a series of more than 20 robberies where the mysterious fingerprints were found. One was from the Hartnell Suite at the Westbury Hotel Mayfair, where the famous actor George Sanders lived. The same prints were found on 18 October, when 65 year-old Mrs Annie Belcher was hit with a poker in her home near Sloane Square after she disturbed the burglar.

On 21 November 1959 there was a robbery at a house in Markham Street Chelsea where a clock and cigarette lighter were stolen from Australian businessman William Sloane. A photo of the distinctive lighter was published in the press, and a solider contacted the police saying he bought it from a guardsman in the next bunk for 5 shillings. The police travelled to the Welsh Guards Camp in Pirbright Surrey and on 24 November 1959 Michael Douglas Dowdall was arrested and taken to Chelsea police station. His fingerprints matched the man they had been looking for. Chief Inspector Acott interviewed Michael and he was charged with burglary, the serious attack on Mabel Hill and the murder of Veronica Murray.

Dowdall confessed, and bizarrely said he had taken a pair of shoes and the toothpaste from the hotel suite of George Sanders, ‘because he liked the taste’ – the tube was found in his barracks at Pirbright. In his statement Dowdall said, ‘It is when I get drinking I do these things. I am alright when I am sober. It has been worrying me for a long time, and I have wanted to go to a doctor. I am glad it is all over.’ He said he was very drunk when he picked up Veronica Murray near Trafalgar Square and they went to her home in Kilburn by taxi. After they had sex, they got into an argument and when she called him ‘a filthy little Welsh bastard’, he hit her several times on the head with an ornament from the mantelpiece.

At his trial fellow soldiers said that when they celebrated Mick’s 18th birthday at a hotel in Guildford, he had drunk two and a half pints of gin and had to be carried to the taxi back to the camp. They said he frequently returned drunk at 7am after being in Soho for the weekend.

Michael Dowdall in dress uniform

Michael was a small, thin, young man, whose father, an Army Captain, had died in WWII when he was just 18 months old and his Welsh mother brought him up in Paddington. When he was seven his mother died, and he went to live with an aunt in Llanhilleth near Abertillery in South Wales. He was a difficult boy who got into trouble at school. When he was 15 he joined the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards as a drummer boy and was posted to Chelsea Barracks. He hated the soldiers making fun of him because of his small physique. In 1958, during his leave from Pirbright Camp, he carried out robberies and used the money to pay other guardsmen to wash his shirts and clean his boots. He said his mates in the Army made him feel like a nobody but when he had a drink he felt better and more important. Two years previously he had tried to hang himself in the guard room while under arrest for being absent without leave.

At his trial at the Old Bailey in January 1960, Dr Brisby the chief medical officer at Brixton prison, said Dowdall was a psychopath and a social misfit, who believed people mocked him. He showed no remorse for his crimes, and an electroencephalogram showed that Dowdall had a defect in his personality which impaired his mental responsibility, especially after drink. A second physiatrist gave similar evidence. The judge directed the jury that if they believed Dowdall’s mental responsibility was substantially diminished when he killed Veronica Murray, they should convict him of manslaughter not murder. The jury returned with a verdict after more than three hours discussion. On 21 January 1960 Michael Dowdall was found guilty of manslaughter and goaled for life.

He was released on licence in July 1975 suffering from a serious illness and went to live at 94 Dartmouth Park Hill near Archway. On 10 November 1976 he died at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead from a lung infection and chronic hepatitis.

Monday, 11 February 2019

The Beginning and End of ‘The Spirit of the Wind’


This is the story of two racing drivers and their record breaking cars.

Ernest Eldridge was born in 1897 at 13 Burton Road Kilburn and baptised at St Paul’s in Kilburn Square. The family lived in several local addresses; Gondar Gardens in 1901, and by 1921 they were in 17 Fairhazel Gardens. After a number of different jobs, his father became a financial bill broker and had enough money to send Ernest to Harrow for his education. 

When War broke out Ernest left school and joined up, serving as an ambulance driver on the Western Front. He spoke very good French and after the War he lived in Paris. He liked the excitement of driving fast cars, and gambling with the chance of winning £60,000 at Monte Carlo – he lost on the turn of a card. 

Ernest Eldridge (r) with rival John Parry-Thomas (l)
Beginning in 1921, he made his name by driving huge modified cars fitted with aero engines at races in Brooklands, Paris and the Indianapolis 500. His Fiat with an aeroplane engine made so much noise that a French journalist nicknamed it ‘Mephistopheles’.
 
Eldridge and 'Mephistopheles'
In 1927 Ernest suffered a serious crash during a race at the Montlhery track in Paris. While travelling at 130mph the car somersaulted and he was thrown out. After being unconscious in hospital for ten days, he recovered but lost the sight of his right eye. Soon after this he went into partnership with George Eyston where he designed the cars and George drove them. Ernest realised that record-breaking attempts rather than racing, would get them publicity and more work.

George Eyston was born to a wealthy family in Bampton, Oxfordshire, in 1897. He was educated at Stonyhurst College and then Trinity College, Cambridge, a process interrupted by WWI when he served in France throughout the war. He was wounded at the battle of Arras, became a staff captain, won the MC, and was twice mentioned in dispatches. When the War ended, he resumed his engineering studies at Cambridge.

In 1921 while on holiday near Le Mans, Eyston visited the racing circuit and the thrill of speed transformed his life. In England he bought a second-hand Sunbeam grand prix car which he stripped down and rebuilt. Eyston met Lionel Martin who allowed him to drive an Aston Martin at the 1923 Brooklands Whitsun meeting. ‘The Captain’, as he was known, won two races and came second in two others. The following year Eyston married Olga Mary Eyre, the daughter of a New York banker, and they had two daughters. They lived at 52 Lennox Gardens in Chelsea.

George Eyston
During the 1920’s and 30’s Eyston raced MGs and Bugattis and he was the first man to drive over 100mph in a standard car. In 1935 he and his partner Ernest Eldridge designed The Spirit of The Wind which was built at the Delaney motor works in Carlton Vale by father and son team, Terry and Tom Delaney. They had opened their factory at Nos.115-129 Carlton Vale in 1910. Later they moved to Cricklewood.

Delaney and Sons Works, 115 Carlton Vale

Position of the Delaney factory, area now redeveloped

The Spirit of The Wind was fitted with a V-12 Rolls-Royce Kestrel aero-engine. Extremely advanced for the 1930s, the car had automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, and independent suspension. In September 1935 Eyston and Eldridge took it to the salt flats in Bonneville Utah where they broke the 24-hour record with an average speed of 140.52mph. They were now ready to attempt to break the world land speed record of Malcolm Campbell. 
 
Spirit of The Wind in Carlton Vale
The Spirit of the Wind at Bonneville Utah
But shortly after returning home Eldridge caught pneumonia and sadly died in a nursing home at 38 Courtfield Gardens Kensington on 27 October 1935. The following year Eyston took The Spirit of the Wind to Bonneville and broke Campbell’s record with an average speed of 162 mph.

Eyston and Eldridge had also designed a second car called Thunderbolt, which was built at Tipton Staffordshire. This was a streamlined seven-ton monster with two Rolls aero-engines and a total capacity of 56 litres; it had four front wheels and twin rear tyres. Returning to Bonneville in November 1937, Eyston set a new record at an amazing 312mph. Then his old friend and rival John Cobb took the record, but by 1938 Eyston had regained it at 357.5mph.

The Thunderbolt at the Bonneville falts

During the Second World War Eyston worked as a regional controller for the Ministry of Production. After the war he became a director of Castrol Oil. Eyston died on 11 June 1979 in a railway carriage while travelling between Winchester and London. He was described as ‘the perfect gentleman, well-dressed, softly spoken and modest, courteous but firm in dealing with fools’.

The end of the The Spirit of The Wind came when it was destroyed by a WWII bomb at Eyston’s workshop in No.3 St John’s Works at the Kensal Green end of Kilburn Lane. After travelling to Utah several times, ironically the car ended its life about 1.5 kilometres from where it was built.