Thursday, 31 March 2016

They Called It Murder: a legal landmark case in 1958


This is the case of a man who had previously lived in West End Lane, but who was murdered in his luxury flat in Piccadilly.

Horace Stanley Lindsay
Horace Stanley Lindsay was the managing director of Linzi Dresses Ltd. He had lived in Acol Court on the corner of West End Lane and Acol Road from 1943 to 1949. At first we could not find details about him until we discovered that he had been born as Horace Stanley Zelinski on 10 Oct 1907.  His grandfather Leon Zelinski came to Whitechapel from Poland and was an importer of German woollen goods. Leon was naturalised on 11 February 1892, and his son Sydney Simon Zelinski, changed his name in 1918 to Sydney Melgrave Lindsay. Sydney had a successful drapery business and young Horace grew up in Stanford Hill and then in Maida Vale. Horace followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, and set up Linzi Dresses at 48 Poland Street in Soho. This became a very well known brand of dresses in the 1950s.

Advert for Linzi Dresses, Vanity Fair, 1959

In 1941 Horace Lindsay married Dorothy Katz in Hampstead, but it was an unhappy marriage and they divorced in 1951. In 1958 he was living in a flat at 38 Arlington House, near the Ritz in Piccadilly, with a second home in Kingsgate, Broadstairs. He was a handsome, wealthy man with a Bentley and a luxurious lifestyle.

Ernest Jan Fantle
Ernest Jan Fantle was born in Prague in 1904 into a middle class family. He went to America where he had inherited a large amount of money from an uncle. In 1925 he returned to Czechoslovakia and joined the Czech Air Force. In 1938, after his whole family were killed by the Nazis, he led a squadron of bombers to defect to England. He joined the RAF and became a member of the No. 311 Czechoslovak Bomber Squadron, taking part in several air raids, including the attack on Hamburg in October 1940. 

Young Ernest Fantle

Ernest met Sylvia Violet Joy Wade while she was serving in the WRAF and they married in 1942. Their son Peter was born in 1944. After the War Ernest took his family to Czechoslovakia but found that most of his property had gone. During the Soviet-backed Communist coup of 1948, an attempt was made to kidnap his wife and son, to gain a hold over him. But they all managed to escape, and Ernest re-joined the RAF and he was naturalised in February 1950. He had a very distinguished war record and was awarded the OBE and the Czechoslovakian War Cross. When he retired from the RAF in 1954 he worked as a courier for Global Tours Ltd. He and Sylvia had a happy marriage, and they lived in Kingsgate Castle, Broadstairs.

 Newspaper picture of Sylvia Fantle, 1958

The Fateful Meeting
In July 1957 Sylvia Fantle met Horace Lindsay who lived only 300 yards away in Broadstairs, and they began an affair. Ernest noticed things had changed and feared he was losing his wife. In May of the next year Sylvia admitted she was infatuated with Lindsay and wanted to end the marriage. Ernest was distraught, and on 9 July he bought a revolver and ammunition during a business trip to Switzerland.

On 18 July Ernest returned to England and stayed at the Victoria Club in Paddington. The next morning Lindsay had agreed to see him at his flat in Arlington House. The maid showed him into the sitting room where Lindsay was seated. After a short discussion, Lindsay stood up and showed Ernest to the door. But Ernest pulled the gun from his pocket and fired four times, hitting Lindsay with three bullets. The maid rushed in and screamed when she saw Ernest holding the gun and Lindsay lying dead on the floor. She later said in court: ‘I did not know if he was going to shoot me or shoot himself.’ Ernest put the gun down, and told the maid to fetch the police and waited quietly until they arrived to arrest him. In his statement he said he was still deeply in love with Sylvia and he became obsessed with the idea that he had to kill Lindsay.

The Trial
Ernest Fantle was tried at the Old Bailey on 9 September 1958. Fantle pleaded not guilty to murder, and said that he went to Lindsay’s flat to try to get his wife and child back. He said that he had no intention of killing him, but ‘as Lindsay held all the trump cards’, he took the gun to give himself moral strength. He walked round the streets for three-quarters of an hour thinking of what he would say to Lindsay.

‘My main thought was Peter. Lindsay was sitting in a chair and he did not get up when I was shown in. I asked him straight away about the future of the boy. He said that he would look after Peter who would get a good education and that I could see him when I wanted. The conversation suddenly turned to my wife. I asked him why he took my wife away from me. He treated me like dirt, shrugging his shoulders. He said that she was going with him and boasted that she had been there the previous night.’ Fantle explained that this was the date of his sixteenth wedding anniversary.

After he shot Lindsay the first thing he remembered was the maid coming in and shouting, ‘I knew this would happen’. Fantle said he smelled cordite and asked her to get the police. He said he was in a daze and did not realise what was happening. He did not fully come to his senses till an hour later at the police station.

The maid confirmed that a number of women had visited Lindsay at the flat. Fantle’s defence counsel Victor Durrant called Lindsay, ‘The little Sultan of Arlington House who treated complaining husbands like dirt.’ He then read extracts from Ernest’s note book to show his state of mind.

5 April 1958: Paul brings messages, ‘Mummy wants you.’ How deep I must have sunk in her eyes. A mere servant or hanger-on.

She makes plans to return to him (Lindsay). I am refused and frustrated. Not a touch, not a caress, never breakfast. Sexually she suffers me; condescends, does me a great favour. I feel my head is bursting. I must have affection.

25 May: Blackest day in my life, divorce in four or five months.

26 May: At 54 I have lost my home: where to start? She did not give a damn about me after 16 years. She had a good financial proposition from Lindsay so she dropped me, and calls it infatuation.

I still love her madly, more than ever before. She murdered something in me which cannot be brought back to life. My terrible love commands me to kill her, to destroy her, to get my revenge for the 16 years of burning out myself on a love she never knew. Help me God.

The prosecuting counsel was Christmas Humphries, who was also a practitioner and writer on Zen Buddhism. Rather than attack Fantle, he acknowledged the extent of the provocation saying: ‘You adored your wife. In that room Lindsay taunted you, humiliated you, sneered at you and then dismissed you.’ He did not press the murder charge hard and told the jury they were free to find him guilty on a lesser charge.

The judge, Mr Justice Salmon, said that Lindsay had behaved callously and disgracefully:

‘You may think there is a good deal of evidence here that Fantle was almost beside himself, perhaps unable to form any clear intention about anything, not knowing what he was going to do when he comes into the flat and is treated liked dirt.  He was received by Lindsay, sitting down, smug and patronising: he was insulted and taunted: he had been through hell for months, and after Lindsay had suggested that Mrs Fantle had spent that night in his, Lindsay’s bed, the very anniversary of their wedding day, out came the gun and he shot him three times. This is an exceptional case and is a question of provocation in law. The jury could find him guilty of murder or his crime might be reduced to manslaughter by the provocation he had received.’

The jury of 10 men and 2 women returned with their verdict after just 13 minutes. They found him not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment which was the minimum sentence for manslaughter. He said: ‘If it had not been for your magnificent record, and the particularly grave provocation you received, I would have felt it my duty to impose a much longer term of imprisonment upon you, because as I have said, yours is a grave crime.’  

Horace Lindsay left £247,000 (worth over £5M today) in his will, but none of the money went to his ex-wife Dorothy or to his lover Sylvia Fantle. There were four beneficiaries: his mother Annie, his sister Hilda and her husband, and Greta Lenz, his designer and co-director in Linzi Dresses.

After his death, Dorothy Lindsay was interviewed for the Daily Express in her small Brighton flat. She described Lindsay as a philanderer and a coward. If Fantle had only realised that, he could have frightened him off. As Dorothy said; ‘If Fantle had told him to stay away from my wife or I’ll thrash you, Horace would have run for his life.’ Dorothy suffered hardship as a result of the murder. While Horace was alive she had received £1,360 a year. Following his death she was in debt and owed for rent and bills.

After serving his sentence, Ernest divorced Sylvia, who died in 2001. In December 1967 he married Lieselotte Bechinger in Ealing and they lived happily together for the rest of his life. In 1989 he was promoted to RAF Squadron Leader, Retired. He died at 32 Cromwell Close,
Acton, on 4 June 2000.

The Ruth Ellis Case

Ruth Ellis and David Blakely in happy times

In April 1955 Ruth Ellis shot her lover David Blakely outside the Magdala pub near South End Green, Hampstead. As is well known, she was the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Her case caused a public outcry, and many people thought she had been provoked into shooting David, and the charge should have been reduced to manslaughter. But at the time, the judge and jury had no option but to find her guilty of murder. The case led to the Homicide Act of 1957 which introduced the idea of provocation. Fantle was the first person to use the defence of provocation, and it was the 1957 Act which saved him from the gallows. His case set a legal precedent.

We look at the Ruth Ellis story and many others in our book, ‘Bloody British History: Camden’, published by The History Press (2013).

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