Author: martinz69

Why crime? Well apart from sheer morbidity it gives us a forensic slice of life in the past. Blackpool is utterly strange and wonderful. Possibly everywhere is but Blackpool more so. I used to dislike Blackpool and I fell in love with it. Strangely the things I used to dislike are now the things I relish.

Drugs in Blackpool: a sketch


Not an  account of drugs in Blackpool but a sketch of how drugs have played in life and crime in Blackpool.




The first drugs death that I know about was in 1895 when Jane Nicholson aged 37 died after taking opium which she bought at a shop in Foxhall.


Tony Lees 26 of King Street was fatally stabbed in a house in Park Road on October 18, 1980. Tony was described as a “punk rocker” and a “skinhead.”  Alan Biggs admitted in court that he was “a layabout.” Alan Biggs was found not guilty however a man who was involved in attempting to conceal the weapon was jailed for 18 months for supplying morphine to 25 year old Aidan MacFarlane who died.  Tony Lees has an elaborate tombstone in Layton Cemetery where he is buried with his sister who drowned at Norcross.


chris hartley

Chris Hartley was only 17 when he was murdered by Stuart Diamond.  Chris was from Burnley and he had come to Blackpool looking for work.  He had found a job on the Pleasure Beach and had a girlfriend.  He took to taking heroin and cannabis and lost his job and his girlfriend and became homeless.   Stuart Diamond found  Chris Hartley wondering the streets in the early hours and lured  him to Stuart’s flat in Park Road where Stuart Diamond decapitated Chris Hartley and dismembered his body in the bathroom and then carried the body in three parts to a bin at the back of the New  Century Hotel in Reads Avenue.


Charlene Downes disappeared on November 30 2003.  She has been murdered and her body never been found._92166144_charlene_pa

Did Charlene Downes use amphetamines?  The latest photographs  show her as gaunt and

with tooth problems.   Thanks to a moderator of Real Justice for Charlene for pointing this out to me. You can see a contrast between the earlier and later Charlene.

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Amphetamines are  available and cheap, they are an appetite suppressant and cause dental problems.  The unreality and euphoria of amphetamines might nable the hectic  sleazy life involving many older white men and take away workers…  on two occasions  she was driven to  northern towns and was paid  after encounters with take-away staff.  We know from girls of a similar age that drugs were part of their lifestyle.

When I wrote City of Darkest Night I wrote about the death of Paige Chivers:   “Her (Paige’s) father was murdered in an unrelated incident.”   Briefly Paige was murdered by Robert Ewing and her body has never been recovered.  Robert Ewing far right paedophile had befriended Paige Chivers.  The world he offered was a world of peace and calm contrasted with life at home where her father managed to reprimand  her for using drugs whilst using use drugs.   Paige’s  mother had recently died.  Perhaps to deal with unbearable grief both Paige and her father turned to drugs.  They had an argument over money…  and Paige stormed off into the welcoming home of Robert Ewing.  Paige used amphetamines, cannabis and alcohol.  Robert Ewing welcomed Paige and other young girls to his home in Bispham where they took drugs.  Paige was last seen at the bus-stop in Bispham with an older man.

Eventually Robert Ewing was convicted of the murder of Paige Chivers.  Gareth Dewhurst was convicted of helping dispose of the body.  Gareth had confessed to his girlfriend’s 16 year old son under the influence of cannabis.  This gave the Police the evidence needed to scrutinise Robert Ewing.

Frank Chivers had lost his wife Sheila and his daughter.  In spite of Frank’s rows with Paige they may have loved one another.  Frank Chivers was murdered on 11 August 2015 at his home in Walter Robinson Court following a fight with another addict about money.

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Frank Chivers



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In November 1999 Alan Rosser was shot in the head at his garage in back Eaves Street.  It is the only case I know about in Blackpool that was  a contract killing.  Alan Rosser, 34, had a conviction involving cannabis.  He was a keen clubber going to clubs in Manchester, Sheffield and Wolverhampton.  In the words of the detective leading the investigation he was: “Well known to DJs and door staff.”

Was he involved in drug-trafficking?  Did he owe money?

He had been kidnapped by ten men, beaten with iron bars and left by the side of the M55.  His garage had been robbed of £40,000 of equipment.

By the time three men were tried for kidnapping in December 1999 it was explained to the jury that Alan Rosser had died “in an unrelated incident.”  Which makes you think that either Alan was enormously unlucky or that the incidents weren’t all that unrelated.  One man was acquitted, Jason Gillard and Jason was a colourful character.

Jason helped a garage owner and drug dealer called Roger Ormsby buy a garage worth £200000 for £86000 from Mr X.    Roger Ormsby was found shot dead in his BMW in January 2000.  Jason turned his attention to Mr X.  In the course of negotiations for the garage somebody had torched Mr X’s home.  Mr X had received insurance and Jason started to brood… wasn’t he entitled to the insurance?  He threatened Mr X including a threat to “cap” him.  Mr X contacted the Police who used phone-tapping to record threats.  In 2003 Jason Gillard was imprisoned for eight years.  In 2011 he was again imprisoned for his part in a 2 million pound cocaine distribution racket.

Alan Rosser the thought: “out of his depth.”



On Christmas Eve  2001 James Docherty a heroin addict murdered another heroin addict Nicholas Tyldesley aged 46 in Layton.  Docherty had already been convicted for his part in the murder of  Mark White  in 1993.  Gary Ward and James Docherty were working as doormen and they were convicted for the murder and manslaughter of Mark White.  The attack was notably  savage.  Gary Ward has since claimed that he was intimidated into confessing by James Docherty.  He has maintained his innocence…  a  claim that has  delayed his release.

At the  second trial of James Docherty the judge commented on the similarity between the two attacks.   James Docherty   a serial killer?   Is it possible that Gary Ward is innocent?  How probable is it that two people died in similar ways , one man is present at both attacks and there are two different perpetrators?

Miscarriage of justice?  I don’t know.


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Sophie Jones aged two died after she drank stored Methadone at her home in Blackpool.  Her father and his girlfriend were jailed for 8 years.  The Methadone was being hoarded and resold and kept in a children’s mug.




Heroin is the drug most  associated with overdoses… a former addict told me that they should have a memorial plaque on the toilets of the Dinmore  Pub in Grange park dedicated to the addicts who have died there.  The Dinmore isn’t there any more, when it was being demolished a body was found…. a man had been hiding out from the Police.  I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture of the Dinmore its country and western nights were a thing of wonder and I recall when a rag and bone man used to leave his horse and cart in the car park…

The toilets at Cocker Street have seen two groups of two addicts found dead from heroin overdoses.

In the New Beverley Hotel in Pleasant Street six addicts died in two years.

Talk to any heroin addict or former addict and they will tell you of numbers friends who have died.


There are at this moment dozens of people walking around desperate for money.  Anything that can be stolen will be.  Addicts go into supermarkets and steal as much as they can.  It isn’t unusual to read about an addict being chased by a security guard along Central Drive carrying 17 pieces of cheese. The craving trascends values.  A girl who knew Charlene Downes claims her mother… an addicted prostitute… sold her when she was twelve for £250.  The daughter became a prostitute and addict.

In  some American cities traditional prostitution has vanished because of the number of addicts .   I have had maybe a dozen bikes stolen and mostly they will have been stolen  by addicts.  Chemists, surgeries, hospitals are targets.

Blackpool was never a model of law and order  but  addiction coincided with the decline of Blackpool as a holiday resort and the running down of the Police Service,  under all kinds of pleasant  sounding phrases (community policing) the proportion of Police Officers to the public has been diminishing.   Police have been displaced by Security Firms  evolved from protection rackets… recall Mark White was murdered by two doormen working for a security firm.


The money to be from heroin, cocaine and cannabis and other drugs is in a different league from other crime.   In the eighties  bank robbery had become more unusual.  The optimists said it was because of improved design and security but it was because the profits in drug smuggling were greater and easier.  Some people… baggage handlers at Heathrow, Metropolitan Police and Liverpool Dockers lived in mansions.   It was said the if you weren’t dishonest it was no good applying for these jobs. The onset of containers, the skimpy customs checks and of globalisation meant that something like one lorry in three thousand entering the UK is checked. Economic prosperity means  unchecked trade.  The global centres have moved, Turkey, Thailand, Marseilles, Amsterdam.  Some countries  benefit from smuggling.  Whatever their other failings the Taliban were effective at limiting poppy growth so that when they were overthrown the global price of heroin went down and its purity increased… our warlord  allies who were keen  poppy growers.   Camp Bastion was neighbour to a poppy growing enterprise.


A nightclub culture and a population of  young isolated single people and holiday-makers out for a good time  make Blackpool a lucrative target for drug dealers.   Liverpool was the drugs wholesaler of the UK and you could make a  living buying drugs in Liverpool and selling then elsewhere.  Importers sold to big dealers who would divide the market amongst smaller dealers.  At street level there was competition and the shootings and stabbings that followed.  Vulnerable children are recruited.   Drug marketing sometimes brought structure and meaning into the lives of young people.  An unarmed drug dealer is a vanishing species… with exceptions: around  universities there has been little violence.  The fiercest violence is among young men  in existing gangs in deprived  estates close to prosperous areas.  Competition over drug supply has intensified previous gang tension.  Council estates in London adjoining million pound homes where cocaine in the new chardonnay.

Blackpool has seen surprisingly little competitive violence amongst suppliers.  By now there are so many drugs and supply chains that anybody  with the skills  could set up with little to fear,  We have gone from a monopoly to a free market. 


With the retreat of policing in the UK security firms filled the gap.  The core of the new security firms was  a previous protection gang.   There is not  much difference between taking money from a nightclub owner to providing door staff. Gangs could launder money through the business.  Some gangs found that business was more profitable than crime. Billy Hill the fore-runner of the Krays made more money running a casino than he had through his crime empire.

But imagine.  We are talking about the time of trance music.  You could be in a nightclub and  50% of the dancers have taken ecstasy or something similar.  And many of them have bought it in the club.  The doormen  grant monopolies to their drug- dealers. .  In his book Blackpool Rock Steve Sinclair takes us on a journey into the life of a Security employee.  Some of the work is legitimate,  most of it involves recovering debts or providing protection for a drug deal.  Drugs and nightclubs are fundamental.

Blackpool  attracted the attention of Arthur Thompson.

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Arthur Thompson  ran a state within a state in Scotland.    Arthur Thompson provided weapons for Loyalists in Northern Ireland and the security services used this to persuade him to become an informer.    Arthur Thompson was no softy…  his specialism was nailing people to the floor, but if  you supplied weapons to Loyalists your life expectancy would be  the duration of an aircraft flight from Belfast.

Just to get a picture of what Arthur was like: a car bomb intended for Arthur killed his mother in law.  Driving around Arthur saw two men in a van he thought were responsible.  He drove straight at them and they were both killed trying to avoid him.  His wife Rita forced her way into the home of one of the widows and stabbed her.

Arthur set up his son Arthur Jnr called Fatboy in Blackpool in the 1980’s.  Fatboy  was imprisoned over a heroin deal that went wrong and on a visit home from prison he was shot  and died in his father’s arms.   Fatboy’s sister had recently died of a heroin overdose.

Paul Ferris was tried for the murder of Fatboy and the attempted murder of Arthur Thompson.  The intelligence services helped gather evidence it was said because they had sophisticated listening devices.  But possibly because the Police were unreliable.  Paul Ferris was acquitted and ran a security firm amongst other things providing security for Dunbarton Sheriff Court and a Nursing Home where 14 of the residents died in a fire.

Paul Ferris’s brother Billy escaped from Prison and came to Blackpool where he became involved with the sister of Steve Sinclair.  He was one of the “most wanted.”  Eventually he was recaptured by armed police in Blackpool.  After his release he killed somebody else…

So where did all these drugs come from?   Well there were so many routes into the United Kingdom that the only way that drugs were seized was on the basis on intelligence.  One route was through sea-going yachts.  A yacht would voyage from the Netherlands or Spain to a marina such as Fleetwood where there would probably be minimal customs checks.  This became a hobby for wealthier types… it got so that a middleman would arrange the yacht hire, the concealment, the route and the collection.  The downside was that it might be that the middleman was buying  immunity by giving intelligence.  You can see the temptation… you have no criminal record and one trip could net you a million.

Alan Brooks from Blackpool operated a smuggling network from Marbella.  He had been a coalman and a car dealer in Blackpool and he bought his first house when he was 20.  He had a history of fraud.  His yacht sailing from the Caribbean was intercepted off the coast of Cork with !50 tons of cocaine aboard and he was jailed for 28 years in 2012.  The cocaine was worth 150 million.

I can’t resist including the story of Cocky Warren.  Cocky was in the Times Rich List.  He began as a doorman and became a  successful and inventive smuggler.  I used to watch a fly on the wall documentary called Mersey Blues about police in Liverpool and I saw some of this nearly as it happened.  There was an old school detective called Elly Davies.  He was disgruntled because he had been overlooked for promotion.  It seems that Internal Investigations routinely monitor phone calls of police officers.  At least that is what was said I’m not sure if I believe it.  Anyway Elly got a phone call from Cocky Warren asking him to  help out with a case where a friend’s son had shot a bouncer… the point was to discredit the evidence. Probably the point of contact was Elly’s flatmate Michael Ahearne.  Michael was a warrior on the Gladiator TV programme and he had worked with Cocky as a doorman.  It is said that Elly loved Michael like a younger brother.  Elly Davies was jailed for five years.


Recently life expectancy fell in the USA for the first time in living memory.  One reason was the opioid crisis.  An 2016 it was estimated that 16 million Americans misused opioids and 2 million were addicted.   A New Scientist Article reports that opioid deaths have been chronically underestimated  and the accurate  number is 450000 since  1999.  Or American casualties in eight Vietnam wars or 150 9/11s. The pharmaceutical industry aggressively marketed painkillers which were not addictive.  Except they were.  Recall that opium, heroin, morphine, amphetamines and barbituates were all introduced as pharmaceutical products.  Vicodin and Pecocet were two of the products that doctors were… how can I put this tactfully… bribed… to prescribe.  The government subsidised painkillers through Medicare.    It was a marketing triumph and a human tragedy.      When prescriptions  stopped many used heroin or more dangerously  fentanyl as a substitute.  Perdue Phamaceuticals faced a corporate lawsuit but went bankrupt after the family had taken payments.  One of the most promising drugs in dealing with heroin and opioid addiction is Buprenorphine which has been impressively successful in reducing deaths in France.  It eliminates  the craving in addicts.  It has a  “ceiling” so that if you double the dose you  do not double the effect and it is also almost non-toxic.  Perdue Pharmaceuticals showed an interest in developing it.

From 1999 to 2017 the American Pharmaceutical Industry killed more people than it saved.


Walking around I often see these silver cylinders everywhere and I wondered what they are.  A little research… they contain nitrous oxide… “hippy crack.”

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I was in my off-licence and a man came  in and bought ten canisters of butane.

Waiting for a bus I saw a young man frozen like a statue in the middle of the road the traffic going round him.  After a while he went into a very upmarket jewellers.  I wonder what happened next?

You smell marijuana on the streets.

A manager of a hostel for homeless people told me he would much rather deal with heroin addicts than people who use spice because the behaviour of spice (synthetic marijuana) users is so unpredictable.

There are so many kinds of drug in use and so many suppliers that the price is at rock bottom.  There are  drugs like spice which is cheaper than alcohol (and you can get pretty drunk for £2.00 using industrial strength cider)  or there are high end drugs like cocaine which has  social cachet.  I don’t think people in the golf club would use spice but the racier members might do some coke.

And there is skunk, genetically engineered super strong cannabis,  and  MDMA the form of LSD that young people use.  And use it they do.  A third of university students regularly use class A and B drugs,  In student areas of Leeds there are professionally printed cards that give prices… you ring up and the drugs are delivered.


I used to think that all drugs should be banned and the law enforced doggedly but I no longer think this can be done.  I applauded when “head shops” were banned.  You could buy products closely linked to illegal drugs.  But I now think I was wrong.  The same product is used  but its supply is unregulated.   I think the immediate treatment for an addict is to supply  the substance they crave.  This used to be done in England and  was briefly revived in Liverpool where heroin was prescribed to addicts in a form where it was smoked rather than injected.  This enabled addicts to work  and the death rate and crime rate went down.  The experiment was closed down it is said because of objections from the American Government.  In Switzerland addicts are prescribed maintenance doses and the death rate is low.   This was not because the Swiss are ultra-liberal: following an epidemic of addiction and AIDS infection they tried severe prohibition and it didn’t work, they turned to tolerance on a pragmatic basis and deaths and infections fell.

Many banned substances have low toxicity… there has never been a death associated with magic mushrooms which are a Class A drug.  If you had a loved child you would have much more reason to worry if she took up smoking or  drinking than if she popped a few magic mushrooms at weekend.

Opium was used 7000 years ago and was one of the first crops to be farmed.

My former drug dealer friend told me he sold ecstasy at night clubs and regular customers were from the drug squad.  If we make our aim the reduction of harm we should allow purchase of  drugs at licensed premises with advice on use.  Many deaths  are caused by the use of  heroin with  unpredictable levels of purity.  Apart from the deaths caused by drugs there are also deaths caused by competition amongst gangs and the only reason gangs exist is because of the profits and the  profits only happen because of the prohibition.  No profits no gangs. The sums of money swirling through the system through profits from drug dealing are corrupting.  One strange issue is that London is a major money laundering centre.  Drug dealers like London because the strong law enforcement and financial services and legal representation mean that they can live safe lives in houses bought through shell companies operating out of say the British Virgin Islands.  But now I’ve had a rant I’ll stop and go back to Blackpool.

Blackpool has the highest rate of heroin and morphine deaths in the UK.  4.7 per 100000 compared with the English  average of 1.7.  It may be that these are associated with Trainspotting Generation…  the average age is 49.

Like many people although I try to be liberal left kind of person I feel a shrinking from addicts, a feeling that they are not quite the same as me.  And  I am right they have slipped the guide rope and experienced joys and sorrows I can never know.  I recall talking to an ex-addict who had lost two girlfriends to addictions.  Only an ex-addict would have that kind of memory.   Addicts are people first and the  cause is poverty.  Blackpool has the most deprived communities in the UK.  Why should poverty make you take drugs? Relief of pain.   I think I remember reading about George Orwell being is some god awful place (Rochdale?  Wigan?) he went into a pub and said to the barman: “What’s the fastest way out of here?” And the barman said: “Bottle of gin.”

Imagine you have heroin addiction.  You need £50 a day.  Your choices are dealing, prostitution or theft.  Or rehabilitation but there are long waiting lists so how do you manage until you get a place?  And isn’t the prohibition promoting gangs and corruption?  A recent case involved HMRC who had a previous good record.  HMRC were running a participating informant.  That is an informant who was involved in smuggling.  An HMRC officer planned to use intelligence.  However the would-be importer needed money to order the drug so the HMRC officer allowed him to sell heroin  as seed money for a later operation.  See the problem?  The organisation tasked with preventing the sale of drugs is selling drugs.

Aside from the corruption Police Officers are tied up enforcing laws that cannot be enforced while  areas of crime, internet fraud for example, are not investigated.

These are my views at this second.  Always subject to change





Best True Crime? Homicide by David Simon


This isn’t blackpoolcrime but just stuff that interested me and that I have written about.  Partly it is a memo to myself.  So please totally ignore if this doesn’t interest you.

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For a year David Simon a journalist worked with the Baltimore Homicide  Squad.  This was in the late ’80s.   

Let’s get this straight there are no Agatha Christies amongst the detectives, there is just about no CSI.  Motive?? there hardly ever is a motive folk just kill one another in Baltimore.   Baltimore Detectives bulldoze their way through suspicious deaths.

Who would be happy to attend a man who has shot himself leaving a note?  Well a Baltimore detective.  Because that would be a dunker.. .a suspicious death that is self-explanatory.  The opposite of a dunker  is a whodunnit.

Homicide detectives are fond of brisk divisions.  They watch suspects in the “fishtank” before they are questioned.  The innocent are nervous  the guilty likely to curl up and go to sleep.  Generally.

The hardest whodunnit is a dead person is in an alley with no  evidence and no witnesses and no suspects. A Baltimore homicide detective hates that because it is an unsolved case.  Cases are listed with the lead detective.  An open case is red, a closed case black.  If a detective has three red cases people  ask questions.

One Baltimore girl was the victim of three attempted murders in a few  months. A nineteen year old lad has killed three rival drug sellers.  “I figure one, well ok, two… well this is Baltimore, three…you got a problem.”

Detectives don’t do car chases or shootouts.  They  forget their weapons.  One detective says he’s sold his weapon to buy power tools for home projects.

Everybody lies.   Perpetrators lie, witnesses lie, and everybody else lies just so as not to be left out.  Detectives lie and patrolmen lie.  Homicide detectives are allowed to lie during interrogation.  A detective will tell a man that the guy he shot in a poker disagreement is recovering well and there’s  nothing really to worry about just get the paperwork over.  The victim is at the medical examiners awaiting the cutters.  An interrogator will offer the suspect an “out.”  That is he will make the crime seem normal and understandable.  A detective will say Hell he beats his children all the time and he can understand if it goes too far.  A detective will attach a man to a piece of office equipment… say a photocopier and pretend it’s a polygraph machine.  “You’re lying.  Machine says so.”

A young lad is shot dead when pursued by armed patrolmen.  This takes a lot of diplomacy.  The weapon used was not a police weapon.  But  even in Baltimore it stretches credulity that a suspect pursued by armed police is coincidentally shot in an unrelated incident.  And there is inconsistent radio traffic.  Everybody lies.

Most homicides are stupid.  The first case involves a drug dealer who hires a lad as a bodyguard.  There is a struggle with the client and the bodyguard shoots his employer.

Let’s go back to the girl who was the victim of three attempted murders in a few months.  First time she is shot in the head but recovers.  Second time her throat is cut.   But she recovers.  Third time she is shot in the head again.  She’s called Dollie Brown.   After the first crime her uncle tells her some tale that there is a plot to kill her and he has to pay to prevent it.  Girl goes to the police and the uncle is charged with extortion.  After the first crime she had been awarded ten thousand dollars.   After the third murder attempt the girl does not feel any need to mention the first two murder attempts. This is Baltimore.

As the case turns out Dollie Brown is related to a Geraldine… a churchgoing lady.  And  there are any number of suspicious deaths associated with  Geraldine.  The extended family many of whom are also insured speak about her with amusement.  And fear… the voodoo.   She has killed a whole lot of people usually from her extended family, she is related to Dollie  Brown, and she has life insurance policies on all her relatives.   For the sake of completeness  the police attempt to exhume the body of her late husband but the cemetery manager dispatches the wrong body and then does it again and then they give up.  Baltimore.


There are dozens of homicides reported but the one that haunts  detectives is 11 year old Latonya Wallace.  She was killed and her body left in an alley.  The placing of the body is odd because it would have to be carried to a secluded place.  The killer would have been more exposed than if the body had simply been left in the alley.  Was  it an act of  remorse?


Although Latonya had not been raped she had been subject to some sexual activity.  The primary investigator, Pelligrini, later regrets that the body was moved before a more detailed examination had taken place.  He reflects that he may have been motivated by a wish to see the body removed.

After a number of false leads suspicion keeps returning to the Fish Man.  He used to run a fish shop which burned down and he used to employ Latonya until her relatives disapproved.   Pellegrini and his fellow detectives believe that the killer was local and that he knew Latonya.  The alley was not the murder site.

The Fish Man is an enigma.  When he is questioned he does not express outrage but seems bemused.  He has been charged with rape in the distant past but the case was dropped and there are no records.  He is in his fifties.  He has no alibi.  He fails a polygraph test.   This last point is interesting.  Baltimore detectives and criminals believe in the polygraph although results are only a little more accurate than tossing a coin.  Even if the polygraph were as accurate as proponents claim… 70 percent it would still give 3 inaccurate readings out of ten.

Searches find no physical evidence at the Fish Man’s apartment.  The investigation is bogged down in that it is over-investigated. There are masses of statements and also there is a worry that so many investigators have been involved that the evidence is contaminated.  The Fish Man goes through two interrogations without showing  anything more than mild interest.

The intense investigation is because Latonya in an innocent victim from a poor but striving family.  Her mother going to identify the body tells her surviving daughter: “Put on a coat it’s cold outside.”

Pellegrini is the lead investigator and works long hours.  He comes close to a mental and physical breakdown.

Police humour: two detectives are discussing the case looking at photographs of the dead girl.

“Who called it in?”

“It was a patrolman.”

“Did he rape her?”

“No, we think it was the guy who killed her.”


Pellegrini finds two pieces of evidence.  One is that a child who looks like Latonya has disappeared near a site where the Fish Man lived in the seventies.  The other is that Latonya has marks on her pants which are compatible with smoke damage to the fish shop… but they are not unique to that site.

Pellegrini decides on a final interrogation and he gets permission to hire a top interrogator.  This interrogator has a terrifying reputation for breaking difficult cases.

The interrogator says:

“This isn’t going to be like other interrogations.  I’ve conducted twenty three interrogations in cases just like this and I’ve always succeeded.  I know you.  I know what  you think.”

He shows a picture of Latonya.

“Who is this?”

“It’s the girl.”

“Say her name.  Say her name.”


The interrogation proceeds.

“This is a spectral analysis of the marks on Latonya’s pants, and this is an analysis of the smoke damage to your shop.  Can you see?  They’re identical.  We know that Latonya was killed in your shop.”

This is not true but interrogators are allowed to use this kind of deceit.

“You may not have killed Latonya but you know who did.”

This is the Out…

“I didn’t kill her.  I don’t know who did.”

Gruesome pictures of Latonya are spread on the desk.

Pellegrini produces a photograph:

“Do you know who this is?”  It is the missing girl from the seventies.

The Fish Man nods.

“Who is it?”

The Fish Man is shaken.

“I thought it was Latonya.”

Fish Man continues to deny the killing.  Eventually the tension goes out of the interrogation.  The Fish Man changes his story about the last time he saw Latonya.  He says she helped him after the fire.  Pellegrini thinks that this may be to explain the marks on Latonya’s pants.

So Pellegrini fails and there is no evidence.  Some of the homicide detectives are quite friendly with the Fish Man and don’t believe he is guilty.  Pellegrini asks the Fish Man to leave an envelope saying if he is innocent or not so that if he dies they will know one way or the other.


David Simon thinks he did but that there is no evidence.  Pellegrini thinks the Fish Man killed Latonya.  Many of the detectives don’t think the Fish Man is guilty  and the flaw in the case is the lack of a primary crime scene. The previous missing girl seems a red herring born out of Pellegrini’s desperation.  Is it possible for a fifty year old man with no evidence of previous crimes to kill an eleven year old girl?  Of course it is this is  Baltimore.  But is it likely?  Does David Simon overestimate the probability because he is sharing Pellegrini’s vision?  Isn’t the Fish Man the prime suspect just because there is no other suspect?  In the end it is possible that the Fish Man is the killer.  Or it is possible that he is innocent and is such a deep introvert that he is  barely interested in the proceedings.

Pellegrini accepts that there is no evidence and carries on.  He has regrets:  not examining the crime scene more carefully when the body was still in situ, not carrying out a more careful search of the Fish Man’s apartment and the shop,  the intensity of the investigation has contaminated the evidence.  And because of the resources devoted to Latonya other cases which could have been solved have gone unsolved.

David Simon captures a tragic quality… in his documentary style issues come up: racism…there are few black or women detectives but almost all the victims and perpetrators are black, the whimsical nature of juries, the ethics of  “good killings”.  White people who end up in the justice system are called  “strays.”  Detectives never consider motive… people kill people because that’s what they do especially Yos  and Yoettes in the ghetto where a good weapon is a fashion accessory  and drug dealing is   the main employment.  Detectives are pragmatic men.  Many of them have side hustles and could find other work but their work demands a blend of skills.  They are an elite.  They are addicted.  They have a brief purposeful language Forensic Medical Specialists are “cutters” like the people who cut up carcases at the meat market.

One point that David Simon makes is the degree to which our expectations have been shaped by TV.  People who are shot fall down but this is a cultural expectation based on TV and film.  If the impact of a bullet was enough to knock a person over then firing a weapon would also knock a person over.   Juries expect CSI quality evidence and are confused when facts are blurred.  The fate of a man relies on a juror who thinks he is cute but also wants the case finished so she can go on holiday.   There definitely is a perfect murder.  Maybe the Fish Man, but in any case the killer of Latonya Wallace committed the perfect murder… no physical evidence, no witness and no confession.

Out of curiosity I looked at the current state of homicide in Baltimore.  Not a happy story.  Less cases are solved and there is corruption.  Community relations are worse.  The Fish Man  has died.  He didn’t leave an envelope behind.

The best true-crime work ever?  I don’t know but one of them.


Colonel Barker in Blackpool

colonel barker from pinterest

“Sir” Victor Barker

Blackpool’s Golden Mile before the war was the strangest place on the planet.  You could pay to see a man on display reduced to idiocy by self-abuse.  You could see a work of sculpture by Jacob Epstein outside  Tussauds where you could see a young  girl who bore the stigmata of Jesus and was naked.   The effect on people from the terraced houses of mill towns must have been  hallucogenic.  The Golden Mile was a work of art in itself…  it transcended its parts.  Looked at in detail it is grubby  but to walk along…  Sex, death, the occult…  The spielers… a good spieler was like teleevangelist he (it always was he) could evoke an hypnotic state.   There were other figures… gees pretty girls  to enthuse audiences or draw in punters.   Unlike the Tower or the Winter Gardens   individuals making  modest investments created something…   well it wasn’t  called the Golden Mile for nothing… ordinary people could make untold sums.   Untold… they may have heard   of tax but the idea of paying it would be more remote than becoming a samurai .  Extortion gangs preyed on the small easily disrupted stalls, perhaps  the term “security”  more suitable?

Death was a  feature in Tussauds and in the stalls.  At different times   there were three dead people on display that I know about.  There was the head of a woman said to be found at the Foxhall.  There was the body of a witch.  And there was a dead person who it was claimed was Jesse James.  He might have been but then again he might have been anybody.  I am sceptical about the head found at Foxhall but is it  possible?  The Tyldesley family at Foxhall were devout Catholics and  had priests and Catholic Masses.  Is it possible that they had a private Catholic burials  when an Anglican Burial was blasphemous?     And if you came across a head and wanted to use it for gain why not claim a more spectacular provenance?  Mary Queen of Scots or Meg Shelton?   But it  was probably just a random head.

Colonel Barker was a well known figure… she  had figured  in the News of the World and sensational press.  One reason is that there was an fascination (did you know that the term fascination and also the term fascist refer to the penis… I should get out more) with  sexuality and gender.  Music Hall for example had ladies appearing as men… Vesta Tilley   was married to Blackpool MP Walter de Frece. There was no language to discuss homosexuality.

Luke Gannon at the height of his power booked Colonel Barker to appear at his pitch  following The Rector of Stiffkey.  The Rector of Stiffkey had been killed by a lion at Skegness (not a sentence one often uses).  Luke Gannon who was not a touchy feely kind of person (except… but I digress)   had a kind of shroud and the Rector’s Barrel in front of Colonel Barker’s pitch… giving the impression that the Rector’s  corpse was underneath the shroud.  If Luke could have got  the corpse he would have displayed that.


Colonel Barker’s Pitch on the Golden Mile almost opposite Central Pier… the apparent corpse in a shroud is a reference to the Rector of Stiffkey


The pitch  was a cellar really the visitors paid 2 pence and looked at the Colonel and his companion in a cellar.  And what were they looking at?

Thanks to the wonderful Mass Observers we have a detailed account.

A sign reads:




In an interview the artful Luke Gannon claimed that he had not stolen the King Edward but that King Edward had stolen it from him.

Colonel Barker is in  the converted cellar in which there are two single beds.  Next to each bed is a Belisha beacon.  On the tables are newspapers, books and Craven A cigarettes.

The  Colonel wears red pyjamas with dark epaulettes.  The attendent claims that they are watched day and night.

Luke Gannon had tumbled to the fact that a narrative need not make any sense to attract interest.  The implication is that the Colonel and his “wife” Eva are living chastely under supervision.

Thanks to Mass Observers we know that the Colonel and his bride were in lodgings at 34 Larkhill Street under the name Mr and Mrs Jeffery Norton.   Their landlady was Mrs Gallimore.  She claimed that the Colonel owed them a week’s rent and that he had that he had contacted Blackpool Health Office about her keeping rabbits.  But on the other hand Mrs Gallimore ., enjoyed her brush with notoriety.  She claimed that she, her husband, Eva and Mr Norton had all  got drunk and the Colonel had revealed herself: “He’s got one of them there that a man can’t go without.”

Strangely  in the wake of the Rector of Stiffkey’s demise his widow had written an article in the Leader a popular magazine and this was followed by an article by Colonel Barker.


She was born August 1895… Lillias Valerie Barker.   Her father was a prosperous farmer and architect and they lived in Jersey and later in Surrey.  In 1918 she married Lieutenant Arkell Smith and Australian.  The marriage only lasted a few weeks.  She joined the WRAF and lived with another Australian Ernest Pearce Crouch.  Ernest was for a time a Times correspondent in Paris but lost his job.  The couple took a farm but it failed.  They also had two children a boy and a girl.  When the two separated Ernest insisted that the girl was adopted.  The boy was sent to a private school.

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Valerie Pierce Crouch before she became Sir Victor Barker

Lillias became close friends with Elfrida, her father was the local chemist.  She took to dressing as a man and convinced not only Elfrida but also her father that she had been dressing as a girl for “family reasons”, and she was really a man and not only that but she wanted to marry Elfrida which she did in Brighton.

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She had convinced Elfrida not only that she was a man but a decorated war hero and had a title and was enormously wealthy.  She used the name Victor Barker.  And Victor dressed expensively, was enormously generous, popular and to Elfrida’s  dismay a terrible flirt.   They stayed at the Grand Hotel Brighton.   Victor Barker… or Sir Victor Barker as he preferred became an actor.  At one time Victor acted alongside Dolores, Henry Moore’s favourite model.  Henry Moore’s sculpture “Adam” was at one time on display on the Golden Mile only yards from where Colonel Barker had appeared.

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Eventually the relationship with Elfrida collapsed because of Victor’s extravagance.  Victor, using various names, had a number of occupations.  At one point Victor employed a footman and became the leading member of a group of Mons Veterans.  Victor would appear with various medals and discuss  key moments in the battle.  A battle at which Victor had not been present.


Victor got a letter intended for another Victor Barker.  It invited him to join the National Fascisti which he did.  Victor taught members boxing and fencing.  There were incidents of violence involving “Reds.”  At an internal dispute there was gunshot and Victor was arrested for illegally possessing a weapon.  Victor hammed it up in court appearing in military uniform with rows of medals and an apparent limp from a war wound and was acquitted.vb4010320

Victor Barker teaching Fascists how to box




Victor opened a restaurant which failed.  Victor  failed to attend a bankruptcy hearing.  Consequently he was arrested.  He had just taken a new job.   He was taken to prison where a medical examination revealed the state of things and Victor was moved to Holloway the women’s prison.  The governor describes seeing a splendid looking man accompanied by a seedy type.  The seedy type was the detective.  The bankruptcy matter was dealt with,  but there was a feeling that Victor Barker had done something wrong…  what?  The charge was that Victor had made a false statement on his wedding certificate… a kind of perjury.   Victor was unfortunate  appearing before a judge who had a bee in his bonnet about this kind of thing.

The News of the World got hold of the story and had a field day.  Apart from anything else there was a lot of mileage in Elfrida’s story.  She claimed that as far as she knew they had normal relationship although Victor did have a “war wound.”  Victor claimed that they never had any physical relationship.  D H Lawrence wrote an essay about the case bemoaning the ignorance of women about the facts of life.  It seems to me that Elfrida was  not  as ignorant as she claimed.

Any road up she was sentenced.  The judge said:

You are an unprincipled, mendacious and unscrupulous adventuress. You have… profaned the House of God… ”  And so on.  The judge also noted the “morbid interest” shown by the press.  Lillias Valerie Arkell Smith… formerly Sir Victor Barker… was sentenced to nine months.  And he/she was a national talking point.

Heartening to read  that Victor’s former comrades in the National Fascisti and in the Mons Veterans Association had nothing but good words for “Victor.”  You might expect anger that they had been deceived and made to look foolish but they all spoke up for “Victor,”  Victor at his peak had  charm.

Probably the worst part of prison was having to wear women’s dress.  Whenever you see photographs of Victor  in women’s clothes… well  fish out of water.

And released from prison the publicity followed.  Once he got a job as a car salesman and was fired after being recognised.  Various low paid jobs followed and a couple of minor crimes.  One was stealing by finding when Victor went into a phone box, found a purse and was having a few beers when arrested.  The second was stealing from his employer when working as a maid/ secretary.  Five pounds was stolen.  Victor was always short of money.



During the War under the name Geoffrey Norton with Eva… Colonel Barker’s bride from Blackpool… there was a spell when “Colonel Barker” lived out his military fantasies.  He joined the Home Guard.   In a military uniform he trained raw recruits and in an exciting episode he almost captured a German Airman.


A mindboggling part of this tale is that Colonel Barker’s Son… he was called Tim… had been brought up by private nurses and then attended private schools.  Colonel Barker had always sheltered Tim  from a connection with the notorious Colonel Barker.  So Tim… the son…. had grown up in the belief that his mother was his father.  Now we assume that they didn’t often meet but there was a very affectionate correspondance.  Tim joined the Guards and then transferred to the RAF and took part in the Battle of Britain.  And then he became a bomber pilot.  I have used the name Tim but the fact is that we don’t know what name Tim was using.

Tim used Colonel Barker as a role model in his military career.  This is from a letter:

“Dear Pops

You must remember how proud  I have alwasy been of your Army career, and it was this more than anything else which caused me to decide to join the Army.

If I can only do as well as you did I will be happy.”

Sadly Tim died in action against V1 and V2 launch sites in Northern France in the closing months of 1944.  So many pilots died with similar names that we do not know which one was the son of Valerie Pearce Crouch.  We do know that she loved him.  She could not visit the gravesite because of the difficulty of getting a passport and because his mother would do nothing to damage Tim’s memory and that of his comrades .   At one point she said: “What I have done I have done solely for my boy.”   “His death was the supreme tragedy of my life.  No sorrow could have been more crushing.”

As Geoffrey Norton during the V1 and V2 rocket attacks, Norton drove an “incident lorry.”  Dangerous work.

The final years Jeffery Norton put on weight and began to suffer from Parkinson’s disease which had killed his mother.  He must have dreaded hospitalisation which would reveal his/her gender.  He  befriended the local vicar.

Eva died.  And then “Jeffery Norton” died.  By accounts he was a difficult patient.


What are we to make of it all?  Nowadays Colonel Barker has had a  posthumous second life as a culture hero given the popularity of Queer Studies and Gender Studies.  But everybody including Colonel Barker was always trying to put their own story onto the situation…  so I won’t.

I was thinking about this article and how people in the thirties were fascinated by women as men and men as women.  And I saw this.

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I relied heavily on Rose Collis Colonel Barker’s monstrous regiment

An intriguing book… almost all the photographs come from there.


Also the wonderful: Worktowners in Blackpool edited by Gary Cross























Luke Gannon and Blackpool: the Empress of Abyssinia and Gandhi….

 Luke Gannon was king of the Golden Mile. 

The Golden Mile is a character in itself.  A visitor  say  a mill-worker Oldham in the 30s wanders among Starving Brides, Fortune Tellers, models depicting the evils of masturbation, religious and mystical symbolism from Egypt, China, India, auctions where items are sold for tiny prices,  the Biggest Rat in the World, the Bearded Lady, the Ugliest Woman in the World (you can get £1000 by marrying her) and you can see for two pennies the Rector of Stiffkey, or Colonel Barker or you can climb on the Girl Pat…  it’s a trawler.    And there are girls appearing in shows directly from Monmartre… nude girls.   


Luke Gannon was an entrepreneur from a poor background in Burnley. He knew what  people want mostly sex, death and religion…  a display in Tussauds pulled off the triple… religion, sex and death.  It displayed a Belgian  mystic, Louise Lateau,  who manifested the wounds of Christ.  For no reason she was naked. 

 Luke Gannon was a sometimes criminal with a chilling indifference to others.  And a businessman.

Normal for Blackpool… 


There are gaps in our knowledge. Considering he was a showman he gave little away.  The poor photograph at the end of this article is the only one I could find.


Luke Gannon was born in Burnley in1878 … he was then called Hugh Gilgannon. We first come across our boy stealing pipes, tobacco and money from a shop in Burnley. This is in 1891 and Luke is about 13.

But the next time he appears in Blackpool we get a sense of the man.   It is 1899, Luke Gannon is working as a barman at the Palatine Hotel , his older brother Martin works at the Tower in the summer.

A gentleman called Lawrence Hacking, 61, lives at 208 Lytham Road. He is in the habit of taking walks in the evening and he sets off towards the promenade and the sandhills when he meets another chap and together they walk towards the sandhills which extended further North than they do now.   They go along Gypsy Lane which I am guessing was an extension of Watson Road.  No sooner have they got to the sandhills when Lawrence’s new friend suggests they sit down. Lawrence is not keen and his friend grabs his pocket watch and runs off.

As luck would have it a man appears, a detective, Lawrence explains about his stolen watch but the detective says he is afraid he has seen the two “committing an act of indecency” and he will have to inform his superiors. Lawrence pleads: “I have a son and a daughter,” And gives the detective a guinea.

The “detective” is Luke Gannon. After various shenanigans Lawrence has handed over another £20 and been introduced to the detective’s superior who is actually Martin Gannon. And he has agreed to pay a further £80 and made an appointment to hand over the money.

But come the time the police arrest Martin Gannon.  Lawrence and a friend are taking a stroll and they see Luke Gannon and seize him and call the police.

So Luke and Martin appear in court… charged with what exactly? Lawrence is represented by a canny  solicitor called Challis… but Luke and Martin are represented by a solicitor who asks Lawrence questions such as:

“Why did your wife leave you?”

And asks if the man who Lawrence went to the sandhills with… the one who stole the watch… had previously met Lawrence in the urinals in Euston Street. There were more “pointed questions” that the paper may have found unprintable.  Lawrence’s behaviour was a scandal to his neighbours.

The case is sent for trial at Preston and after that I can’t find the case reported.  In the 1901 census Luke Gannon is in Portland Prison serving four years for conspiracy to defraud.  In 1910 Luke marries a girl called Hannah and we hear no more about her.

24 August 1929 Luke writes a letter to the local paper. The letter concerns an appearance in court. Luke Gannon is charged with breach of the peace and obstruction.  It is a minor case. Luke Gannon does not bother to hire legal representation. But here is what the Chief Constable has to say: ” This man is one of the worst possible types that come to Blackpool. ” And “There is a gang of them that come into Blackpool in the summer and create nothing but discord and friction.” The Chief Constable refers to Luke’s “four years penal servitude.” Luke’s record is “terribly bad.” He is a friend of “notorious pugilist” Peter Bannon and just to clarify: “We don’t want your class here.”

Bit strong?  Luke has  been charged with breach of the peace and obstruction and the fine is trivial.

Luke replies in a letter to the local paper. He says that the events for which he was imprisoned were 22 years ago. He says that he was a “lad of 18.” (I make him 22 or 23 at the time but still…)   He says he served in the Army for 3 years. If Blackpool doesn’t want him the Army did in spite of his record. (I doubt Luke came clean about his prison time.)  But his military character was excellent and he was a sergeant major, an exceptional achievement.  Finally Luke says he is a respectable businessman… amongst other things an auctioneer.

Luke Gannon had appeared in court charged with disrupting an auction in Bank Hey Street. He had shouted: “You are a swindler and a rogue.”  Rival? Fake auctions were a feature of Blackpool life for more than a century. Maybe they still are. Basically a good spieler would whip an audience into a state of excitement by offering goods at very low prices. The actual goods were either sold to accomplices or not really sold at all. The audience convinced that everything for sale was an outstanding bargain would be sold overpriced tat. Running a fake auction was a skill and a “notorious pugilist” might be handy. Chief Constable Derham thought that Luke was part of a gang.  Chief Constable Derham knew what he was talking about…  could Luke Gannon be involved with an extortion gang.  The stalls on the Golden Mile were vulnerable.   Luke Gannon.s run in with the Chief Constable and authority in general is the theme of his life.  


A piece of gossip recorded by Mass Observers says that Luke had two wives but that may be an underestimate. First of all there was his wife Hannah who is never heard of again. Then he had  a long standing relationship with Madame Kusharney a fortune teller… one of the best known in Blackpool.  The Mass Observers call her his wife.  And finally in the last year of his life a child is born called Luke Gannon. The mother’s maiden name is Flanagan. According to the census Luke shares his home with Kate Bague, John Bague and an unpaid domestic servant. Could Kate be Luke Gannon Junior’s mother?

I don’t know.

Kate is the main beneficiary of Luke’s will along with Luke’s brother Michael.  And what happened to Madame Kusharney unless she is Kate?  Luke’s life is not straightforward.

A girl who worked with Luke and the Rector of Stiffkey said that the Rector was a real gentleman but Luke…

There is a story that Luke’s sister got in trouble for running a disorderly house but I have not been able to confirm that.


Luke had taken promoting shows on the Golden Mile. His staple was the Starving Bride.A volunteer would agree not to eat for a certain time and receive cash. Holidaymakers would pay to see her. The “fast” was not genuine. A Manchester holidaymaker said pertinently that you can see plenty of starving brides and bridegrooms in Manchester. A   photograph of the time shows an unemployed millworker and she is starving although incongruously she looks cheerful…


Luke proposes a massive Peace Festival in 1935.  The council turns him down.

The Empress of Abyssinia goes on a fast following the invasion by Italy.

Luke Gannon helpfully writes to her asking if she wants to conduct her fast on the promenade. In India Gandhi goes on a hunger strike and Luke telegraphs him offering his facilities.

Luke’s international diplomacy is interrupted by court appearances. He causes a riot with the Rector of Stiffkey.



The years 1934-1937 see Luke at his cleverest and most inventive.  The Rector of Stiffkey is followed by Colonel Barker and then by the Girl Pat. The Rector of Stiffkey was defrocked  by the Church for entertaining prostitutes.  Rather like Blackpool Council and Luke Gannon the Bishop of Norwich set out to get rid of the troublesome Rector.  Amusingly the Bishop of Norwich hoped to silence a scandal.  The Rector of Stiffkey became the best known Church of England Vicar, well ever… The Rector’s efforts in Blackpool were aimed at financing an appeal.


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                                               The Rector of Stiffkey


After his Blackpool adventures the Rector was killed by a lion in Skegness.  Luke in his unsentimental way exploited his death to promote his next project… Colonel Barker.029

Colonel Barker at the Pleasure beach.  The figure in the shroud is a reference to the recently deceased Rector of Stiffkey.


Colonel Barker was a woman who successfully posed as a man and became a News of the World scandal. She had a fascinating career and I will write about her separately.  

The Girl Pat was a trawler that left its usual waters to cross the Atlantic and   eventually ended up in the Bahamas.  It was navigated using a school atlas and a compass.  It was major news at the time.  The crew became popular heroes especially when it was claimed that the crew were about to lose their jobs.  The leader was imprisoned.   The idea of a worker’s rebellion rang bells with a depressed Northern working class.  Luke made  use of innuendo, visitors were invited to climb on The Girl Pat.”   The trawler was anchored off Blackpool and visitors would be taken out to it. 

The Council were out to get Luke.  The Council largely represented builders, brewers and large leisure projects.  The notion that these huge expensive projects were being rivalled by a cheapjack stall displaying a bearded lady…. well you can imagine.   Councillors felt that the Golden Mile lowered the tone. Naked  girls were appearing in shows on the Golden Mile.  Still its a handy thing when your ethical concerns coincide with your commercial interests.

Luke threatened to stand for the Council in Foxhall.

The Rector of Stiffkey was arrested for attempting to commit suicide.  This was groundless and clearly a Council initiative.  The case was put by Trevor Jones the Town Clerk who actually did commit suicide when corruption at the council was being investigated.   Blackpool had to pay the Rector £382 for “false imprisonment.”  

And then Luke moved and his next project was displaying a mummifed whale… Moby Dick it was called… in Cleveleys.  The Council in Blackpool was increasing its control of the Golden Mile.   A giant building programme was planned and deferred because of the War. Luke was ill and nearing the end of his life but in his final months he managed a couple legal wrangles, one a dispute over “Moby Dick” and another claiming he should not have to pay the full rates for his display area in Cleveleys.

Reading the papers for the September and October 1939 is surreal. Poisonous reptiles were killed at Blackpool Zoo in case they escaped during bombing. Paper coffins were stockpiled in Church Street. A vicar in Fleetwood said that “England needed a Hitler.” A seventeen year old lad in Birmingham donned a Swastika Armband and took his copy of Mein Kampf and committed suicide. Inevitably he was a “brilliant student.” A Fleetwood trawler was sunk by a U-boat who then rescued the crew and entertained them generously. The local paper announce that Polish Cavalry were driving back German tanks.  The compere at the music Festival denounced music by “savages” and pronounced that jazz was not created by black people.  He’d lived among them and he knew they were savages.

And Luke died. He was 61. According to his wishes no words were said at his cremation…   usually there was some kind of religious service… was this Luke taking on God?….Chopin’s Funeral March was played and in the evening his ashes were scattered in the rose garden at Carlton Crematorium.

How to sum Luke Gannon up?  The  man had been in prison for four years, he employed the most scandalous and intriguing people…  The Rector of Stiffkey and Colonel Barker, he most probably saw action in  the First World War…  He corresponded with the Empress of Abbysinia and Gandhi.  He packed a lot into his 61 years.  Although he was a relentless businessman his choices of exhibit… Colonel Barker and the Rector of Stiffkey… he identified with the outsider and the rebel.

Let Luke have the last word.  Talking to a mass observer in his Chiltern Avenue home that he shared with Madame Kusharney he said:  “I always say that you can divide the pulic like this-50% certifiable, 30% on the brink, and the other 20% living on the others.” 



                                                             Luke Gannon

Larry Rushton… Bank robber and jailbreaker and artist

When you do history at school they don’t tell you this but apart from kings and battles  and stuff other things are going on…Larry Rushton overlooked in the underground history of Blackpool.   Underground people who usually don’t appear in histories.

The guys who sell indecent photographs, the waitress who has fifty pounds and a revolver in her handbag… (this was in the 30’s), the man who preached from the bible on the promenade, the people who held communist party rallies on the beach, the dwarves and midgets (am I allowed to say this) in Littletown in the tower.

Bertolt Brecht:  “Julius Caesar conquered Gaul.  What?  Did he not take a cook with

him? ” 


Larry was born in Burnley in 1930.  He moved with his parents to Lytham St Annes.  He showed  signs of a striking character.  In March 1950 he was jailed for robbery with violence.  Robbery with violence was  to Larry Rushton what daffodils were to Wordsworth.  ( stole that.)

And he wasn’t  good at it.

A  flaw in his career as a criminal was his visibility.

Here is Larry Rushton in 1958  remembered by a colleague: trilby, herringbone overcoat,  diamond tie-pin, Luger.

Larry Rushton stood out.

In January 1960.  Larry attends a party in Lytham St Annes with two mates.  Somebody is paying too much attention to a girl he has his eye on Larry takes out a weapon and shoots a rose out of her mouth.

A bullet- hole in the wall with: “Mad Larry was here with his six shooter,” written next to it.

On Monday October 15 1962 at 5pm  he is sentenced to five years for armed robbery in Sheffield.  He is described as a street photographer of Kingsley Road, Blackpool.  He  claimed to the judge that he hadn’t been given a fair chance.  He was in  his cell at 8.50 pm he had vanished by 9pm.

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Not one to call attention to himself,  he drove into Lord Street  Blackpool in  a Jaguar Mark 4 with a Thomson Machine Gun and drove of with beautiful model Patricia Phelan.  Crime doesn’t pay, does it?

After months on the run he is recaptured  in Glasgow,  probably  a tip off.


In 1964  as a previous escapee Larry is wearing a specially visible uniform.  The authorities hear a rumour that he is planning to escape.  So they move him from one high security prison to another, Exeter Prison, where he is under special watch.  He breaks out on December 26 1964.  He is  recaptured.


The next turn in Larry Rushton’s restless life is unexpected.  In solitary confinement he paints of the wall of his cell.  The governor increases his sentence and tells him that he should develop his talent.  So he does.

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By 1975 Larry Rushton is a famous artist.  He had the perfect biography for an artist in the 60’s.   He had some exhibitions including one which he shared with an ex-policeman. and his work sold.  In an interview in 1975 he claimed he was a disciplined artist and worked 8 hours a day.

However I have doubts.  His work shows a surprising skill and attention to detail but he was at odds with  contemporary trends.  His work sometimes reminds you of  Victorian times when a painting had an explicit message.  To me his most convincing works are  his portrayals of clowns.  Larry Rushton was a man who presented himself a caricature gangster.  His clowns are an exploration of masks: a theme that fascinated Eliot Yeats and Smoky Robinson.


Or maybe he just liked drawing clowns and armed robbery.  His work still sells, Les Dawson had one of his works, but  Larry Rushton never fulfilled the promise of one who was described in 1975 as a  “leading British artist.”

Maybe he didn’t care.  He hinted that he was carrying on some dodgy enterprise.  And he was a story teller,  if half what he said was true…

He  took to wearing a wig and wouldn’t answer the door until he had his wig in place.

A colleague recalls meeting him at Dave Johnston’s house in Lytham St Annes.  Dave was a wild life artist and about to go on a working tour of Latin America.  Larry advised that essential equipment for foreign travel was a boning knife to stick between the ribs.

The same colleague recalls his last meeting with Larry in St Annes: “I’ve got a bit of something going on.  I like a bit of mischief.”

He died in 2006 in Lytham St Annes and I couldn’t find an obituary that mentioned his work as an artist or a jail breaker.  The jail breaker who screamed into Lord Street Blackpool in a Jaguar Mark 9 with  a Thomson Machine Gun to carry off his model girlfriend deserves a blue plaque in Lytham St Annes.   Some people might say the only Lytham St Annes resident of any interest but I would say that would be untrue and unkind.


He was one of a circle of friends around Mixie Walsh.


many thanks to the Local and Family History Centre and to Kari especially who is leaving to become a goddess and also many thanks to colleagues of Larry Rushton who helped me with first hand accounts.  I’d be grateful to anybody who can tell me more about Larry or his contemporaries.


Three rocking Blackpool vicars

Off the subject of crime I cannot resist pursuing my second favourite topic: religion.

I am not a fan of atheism for all the wrong reasons.  Religion is funny.  The Chinese Parliament (communist, atheist) passed a law forbidding the Delai Lama to be reborn outside Tibet.

Religion was important in early Blackpool.  The Town Council had a minister who would lead prayers before Council Meetings.  Local religious were  celebrities.  Unfortunate journalists were sent to report on church services  or the Primitive Methodist Tea Party.  And never a critical word.  The letters pages were filled with incomprehensible and enormously long letters  about sacradotalism which was tremendously controversial in those days.  Whatever.  Apropos of nothing in particular Blackpool is the world centre of a religious cult but another time…

This is about three vicars.




Where to start?  Church of England Minister, pugilist, geologist, historian, author,  philanthropist, alcoholic , lunatic…     William Thornber’s problem was that he was  too alive.

Look at the Ordnance Survey Map for Blackpool and the Fylde and you will find a Roman Road from Kirkham to…  well… somewhere.  It was William Thornber who created that road.  Probably.   William Thornber managed to convince the Ordnance Survey that there was and since then it has appeared on OS Maps.


William Thornber

I digress.  William Thornber was raised at Breck Road in Poulton.  His father was a well to do solicitor.  He went to Baines Free School and then to Giggleswick Grammar School where he was influenced by the ideas of William Paley an evangical Christian within the Church of England.  He went to Trinity College and took Holy Orders.

What was he like?  Six feet tall, enormously strong, an unmatched fighter he later floored a professional pugilist, landlord of the Albion.  He had a restless enquiring mind.  You might think that the Navy , or the Army would be more  suitable for his – character.  But he was also a scholar. At the turn of the nineteenth century the life of a vicar had a lot to recommend it.  Free time, money, a nice house.   The century from 1750 to say 1850 was the golden age  of  the English Vicar: many of them were eccentric scholars who used their  free time… and income…  to study fields such as archaeology  or history: the Red Lady of Paviland was discovered by a 19th Century vicar, at that time the earliest human remains found in Britain, she was promptly declared a prostitute of the Roman Era although we now know she was a man long before the Roman Era.  Vicars, prostitutes… but I digress.

William became the third vicar of St John the Evangelist  in 1829.  As it happens his father had been part of the committee planned and built the church.  Looking back it is easy to forget that he was the Vicar for fifteen years.  Blackpool’s population was 800 and William would have known every  one of them and he delighted in stories and and memories.  He also made a collection.  Being present at deathbeds would have helped.  William met nearly all Blackpool residents at birth, marriage and death he had enormous knowledge of the area.  In 1838 he married Alice Banks.  He was 28 and she was the 36 year old of Henry Banks…  the Father of Blackpool.  His brother in law was John Cocker.  William Thornber had married into a thrusting , wealthy, entrepreneurial family…

It was not a happy marriage.  Apologists have said that Alice drove William to drink but I don’t think he took much driving…  And as for Alice well it can’t have been much fun being married to William.

Any road up and be that as it may and so on…

In 1837 William published the History of Blackpool and Its Surroundings.  Erudite, brilliant, frustrating…  Full of fascinating nuggets of information.  Missing out the things we really want to know.

The most annoying ommission is information about the Greatrex murder of 1807.  One of the most prominent landowners was murdered and nobody was apprehended.  The population might have been 400.  Now my guess is everybody knew who did it… I think more than one…  And in this wrecking smuggling town nobody spoke to the authorities.  But Thornber would have known…  But then he was part of an effort to sell Blackpool as a holiday resort.

Alice had a son and a daughter.

William took to drinking with his buddy the Reverend Thomas Myers of  St Pauls.



In 1838 William scandalised his congregation by preaching a sermon against wrecking.  Wrecking meant using lights to simulate a port or harbour.  If there was a storm ships would head for harbour.  If they saw lights on a stormy night they would head for them assuming that they were Skippool which had once been a greater port than Liverpool.  There was a slight bay at Warbreck.  Now the people of Blackpool were used to regular shipwrecks and it was looked on as a perk of living by the seashore.   The wreck  belonged to the Lord of the Manor… in this case Layton.  So this is what happened:  shipwreck, looting by local folk who are then  driven away by the Lord of the Manor’s men.  Ships would have a strong box and that would be the target for an experienced looter.  Shipwrecks would happen from time to time…  hundreds in the 18th and 19th Century.  Local people benefitted and the drowned who were buried unnamed in Blackpool or Bispham.    There is an ethical line between benefiting from shipwrecks and causing them… but…  money .   So on a dark and stormy night there would be lights and stricken ships would head towards them.  For Blackpool people smuggling and wrecking were  parts of life…  So when William Thornber denounced them he was on thin ice.

Three events might have influenced William.  His friend had drowned, a ship the Enterprise had been looted and Blackpool men had been imprisoned and William had it in for William Boucher who built Raikes Hall in 1760.  The money came from a wreck.  Or people said it did and it is a bit strange for a Kirkham man to build a stately home in a Blackpool that scarcely existed.   The story is that William robbed two sisters who had drowned but could it have been a wreck called “Two Sisters? ”

That was the story and William Thornber,  seems quite cross at William Boucher and takes spiteful pleasure in saying that God has punishes  William Boucher by making his son believe that he (the son)  is made out of glass.

William Thornber  was popular with his congregation generally speaking.   He was drinking and there were as a local historian says “darker rumours.”  This is surely a sexual rumour and you want to waterboard local historians for their damned discretion.  Please God let it be prostitutes.

So the Bishop investigates and William is suspended in 1843 and resigns in 1845.


William launched into a career of do-goodery. He was one of a group of bright young things… witty, quick-witted, modern-minded who were out to develop and modernise Blackpool and this fitted in with the agenda of Henry Banks and John Cocker.

William had plans to set up a Market which was established near the present Town Hall.  Restless and furiously energetic it didn’t go unnoted by Henry Banks and John Cocker that William Thornber didn’t have an actual job.  He bought the Beach House Hotel near the Tower Site.   He fooled about with Freemasonry.  He campaigned to have a lifeboat.   He showed an aptitude for land deals.  He had bought land for the church which proved outstanding value and in 1845 with John Cocker and Richard Banks he bought the Yates Estate in South Shore near Cocker Square.   The railway arrrived in 1846.  His deal with John Cocker and Richard Banks ended in bitterness.

In 1851 he joined the Local Board of Health a precursor to the Town Council where he campaigned for better sewage and water arrangements.  He could be aggressive and he made enemies.  He was not re-elected.  In his journal he goes on about corruption and says that Blackpool’s Coat of Arms should feature crocodiles, grasping hands and the motto: “I was a stranger and you took me in.”  An idea  worth exploring.

He was living in Derby Road, possibly he had been moved there with the help of his son because he was becoming loopier.  He had given boxing lessons in a barn off  what is now Warley Road.

He escaped, decked a policeman sent to apprehend him and his son arranged for him to stay in a very modern enlightened asylum.  So drink and madness the fate of local historians but what a geezer.  If he were at St John’s today I’d be there.

He is buried at the East End of the Church with his long suffering wife and father in law.  Nearby is an erratic… that is a rock carried to the beach by a glacier.  I like to think William Thornber  was an erratic.




J S Balmer


A completely different kind of cleric was J S Balmer.  He was a nonconformist and his base was in Adelaide Street.   Temperance was his passion which put him in  contrast with Thornber.  He had been born in Westmorland and corresponded with Ruskin and knew Wordsworth by sight.

He he was a gifted self-publicist.  When the licensed victuallers visited Blackpool and were welcomed by the Mayor the Corporation and prayers were said by Anglican Clergy…   Balmer went nuclear.

He made full on attacks on the Mayor, the Corporation and the Anglican Clergy.  There was probably a kind of professional courtesy where clergy did not attack one another but Balmer named the Vicars.

The Winter Gardens and later the Tower benefited from selling alcohol to tourists.  Balmer points out that the magistrates who sentence people for drunkenness provide the means for that drunkeness.

In addition Balmer is a fearless advocate of Sunday Observance.  Now the Corporation runs trams on Sunday.  And the Tower is open on Sunday.  Balmer is in opposition to the Corporation.   These themes provide the themes for his work: “Blackpool, Paris and Sodom.”  “I feel as if I am being driven to Hell myself.  By comparison with Blackpool Paris is sweet and Sodom was a Paradise.”  He goes on to describe the suicide of eminent people such as Castlereagh whose death he attributes to neglecting the Sabbath.  The French Revolution was probably caused by neglecting the Sabbath and he notes that several of those who have criticised him have passed away.

For all his combatativeness he is  sensitive himself when a correspondant  questions his  familiarity with Paris… with an implication that he hung around brothels.

Balmer is surprisingly circumspect in the most obvious point of his criticism of Blackpool.  Paris was to English people  synonomous with prostitution which was a major industry in Blackpool.  The Tower was an obvious imitation of Paris …  the decor of Victorian Music Hall and theatre was Patrisian.   Balmer quotes from the Chief Constables report that prostitutes of both sexes roam the dancing rooms of public houses.   It is as if Balmer hasn’t got the language to talk directly about his obvious meaning.  Blackpool = intemperance + non sunday observance= prostitution= the wrath of God.


When Alerman Bickerstaffe asked clergy to draw up lists of deserving poor parishoners to whom he would make a christmas gift of tea and  sugar … he little expected that his offer would cause a blistering attack.  But it did.

Bickerstaffe was a brewer among other things so his gift was financed by the sale of alcohol.  Balmer claims that one of his flock said he would rather drink poison.  I can’t help wondering if anyone really did say that.


Having taken on publicans and brewers and the Corporation Balmer managed to have a memorable row with… the Methodist Conference.  Members were discussing a non-Conformist daily paper… a long held goal. The issue was how should such a paper report political matters especially Ireland and Irish Home Rule.  The row led to unique headline: “Exciting scenes at Methodist Conference.”


Balmer lived to a good age and died.  He  was a  controversialist and self-publicist.  He was a Liberal in politics and the Corporation was  Conservative.   The local press was antagonistic.  He claimed that violence was used to break up temperance meetings and that he received threatening letters.   He thrived on argument and the fact that he was often in the news was a source of   pride  to his growing congregation.  Religion as theatre?   A marxist  might say that he was competing financially  with publicans and prostitutes and that Sunday Observance  promoted a religious monopoly of Sunday and increased his income.  And he was competing for the “God Pound” with fellow clerics.  If you say he was a shade  aggressive you  also say that he did command attention and that his congregation were enormously and reliably entertained.  If he was touting for business like a prostitute or a publican he did it well.

What was he like?  You can  hear the shrill tone of neuroticism  insecurity and anxiety.  His unembarrassed self-glorification together with belittling his opponents, a coyness regarding prostitution which is one of the themes of Blackpool and Paris and Sodom but scarcely mentioned, a combination of hyper-sensitivity and aggressiveness towards others.  Freud visited Blackpool twice whilst Balmer was there…


There is a comic element: he looks at a pin-show on the pier called Paris scenes no doubt expecting views of Notre Dame… imagine his surprise… etc.   Balmer had spent time in Paris and one letter hints that something more was going on.  Balmer explodes in print.    In real life he seems to have been more genial than his writing suggests.  Highly strung and highly controlled (Hitler was such a person)  a career as a preacher  provides a theatre for anxieties.

At one point he compares himself with Jesus.  He is buried in the non-conformist part of Layton Cemetery.




rector of stiffkey                                                            The Rector of Stiffkey

Nominative determinism?  It is statistically true that people called Dennis are more likely to be dentists.  Or think of Amy Winehouse.    Remember that Freud visited Blackpool twice and   possibly his techniques might owe something to the fortune tellers that he would have seen. Rector of Stiffkey?  Really?

But I digress.

Harold Francis Davidson was born in 1875.  Unlike many Anglican Vicars he had a successful career as an actor before he took Holy Orders.  He was an eccentric and dim student.  He had an interest in the poor and saved a girl from suicide.  During the war he served as chaplain in the navy where  to his surprise his wife had a baby during his long absence.  He  treated the child as his own and she was loyal to what must have been one of the most embarrassing  parents in the history of the world.

He was appointed Rector of Stiffkey in Norfolk.

He found it hard to make end meet and further problems arose because he met and was ripped off by a con-man in a shares scam.  In his parish he was popular with the farm labourers who he supported when landholders wanted to cut wages.  He was not popular with the landowners and he  picked loopy and grossly insensitive argument with  a  colonel, over the colonel maintaining his wife’s grave.  He was careless about his parochial duties and annoyed another of  his  congregation by being late on Armistice Day.  He was good at making the wrong enemies.

He was often busy  in London saving fallen women.  There is no evidence that he had any physical relationship with any of his women although he did invite them to stay at his vicarage.  I like the answer he gave when asked why he focused on attractive women: “Because they are most at risk.”  He was regarded as a nuisance by managers of Lyons Coffee Houses.  Remember that the prostitute was becoming a kind of emblem for the late 19th Century… Gladstone used to bring them back to No 10 for a chat,  Dickens was a prostitute botherer… it was in the air.

Rural Norfolk was  feudal.  A vicar was there to uphold the hierarchy not start a prostitute sanctuary.

When the Bishop of Norwich decided to act on complaints by landowners he performed a textbook example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.  Let us assume the Bishop’s aim was to prevent  scandal.  What happened was that the Rector of Stiffkey became the best known Anglican Clergyman in the World.

The Bishop of Norwich was e focused on establishing the Rector’s guilt not establishing facts.

The investigation spent a lot of money, employed private detectives, who trawled through the rector’s acquaintances and managed to find one who would confirm that the rector’s interests were not entirely clerical.  But she was paid and promised a job.

It should have been a walkover… no evidence.  There was however a photograph.

rector of stiffkey 1


The rector was defrocked.  One interpretation is that he had never been a full shilling and now he became a full on nutjob.  Another is that he was utterly desperate for money having paid for his defence and lost his living and that he returned to his career as a showman to pay for his appeal.  Or both.  Maybe he did identify with Jesus… who was prosecuted by highly placed clerics.


The rector reverted to his previous career as a showman.  He appeared in Blackpool where he would be seen by thousands of holidaymakers on the Golden Mile.  He would calmly smoke his pipe while cotten workers paid pennies to see him.  He told reporters that he hated the job but that he did it to finance his appeal.  He was working for Luke Gannon a legendary impressario.  The established entertainment industries… the Tower and the Winter Gardens loathed the Golden Mile which they saw as deflecting would-be customers.  The Police acting for the Council arrested the Rector in 1935  for attempting suicide and he spent a couple of nights in jail.  The Council’s case was presented by Trevor Jones the Council Clerk who actually did commit suicide when councillor’s financial arrangements were being examined.

After seasons in Blackpool the Rector went to Skegness where he appeared in a cage with lions.  In July 1937 he accidentally stood on a lion’s tail and was fatally mauled.

Holy Fool?  Naive and a showman and a victim of injustice?  He had a massive funeral and is buried in his former parish at Stiffkey.
















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