Colin Smith: Blackpool Artist

This is off-topic.  No crime.  But it is about Blackpool which is even more fascinating than crime and it is about an artist.

I saw a painting eight years ago.

My heart leapt.

The artist was called Colin Smith.  I knew nothing else about him.   I wanted a print of the painting but there were none available.  I noted the name and decided that I would like to talk to the artist.

This is the painting.




From the moment I saw it I adored it.  Why?  Well it seems to me to be a depiction of Blackpool Tower and Promenade.  (I refuse to say iconic)    So far so good.  It is in a tradition of nostalgic art… you can see dozens of them.   I suffer from being a socialist and a  snob so I kind of think of this as the kind of thing a prosperous scrap metal merchant might put on his (or her obviously) wall :  “Now that’s what I call proper art.”

But it is more….  The camels give it a  surreal, witty twist.  The painting plays on the connection of the beach and a desert and on the fact that camels from the Tower Zoo  did exercise on Blackpool Beach and in Victorian times camel rides were offered on the beach.  Finally the painting encapsulates Blackpool as the world capital of Surreal.   This is hard to explain but you have experiences in Blackpool that  you don’t have anywhere else.

Three examples:  I was in Blackpool in Bank Hey Street.  In front of me was an older respectable looking man.  A retired geography teacher?  Suddenly he shouted: “Don’t worry Mabel, I’ll rescue you.”  And he ran (really ran) backwards into a shop.  He did this a lot.

Walking down Redbank Road outside Sainsburys and I saw Jesus walking in the opposite direction towards the sea, carrying his cross.  It was Good Friday.

Keeping to a religious theme Michael Fox was walking towards the Tower  along the Promenade from the North.  He was starring at the Grand in a play called: “Doctor at Sea.”  He saw the Tower and the  pier  form a cross reflected in the sea.  He became a Christian and a recluse joining a Christian group called the Navigators.   He  had been in the film: “Performance” with Mick Jagger,  substances were taken.


Blackpool  is surreal.

The painter was Colin Smith.  Many years later I was speaking to an old friend, an ex-teacher and I saw a painting on her wall.  It was quite different from the camel painting but I knew immediately it was a Colin Smith.  I asked and she told me that her son knew the painter and that they had worked together at BNFL Springfield and that she had asked the painter if he would sell her a painting.  He is  reluctant to sell his paintings but perhaps because of special circumstances (her husband was terminally ill) he agreed to sell her the painting.

So I searched in the Voter’s Register and I located Colin Smith and I sent him a note asking if I could interview him and to my joy he agreed.

Colin Smith lives in a carefully maintained Victorian House with sympathetic decor.   I was struck by the colours in the neatly-kept garden.

Colin Smith is an alert seventy year old with striking light blue eyes.sep-2016-116



He has been retired for 15 years.  He worked as a chemical plumber at the Nuclear Power Plant at Springfield near Preston.  He has had little art training.  He did go to night school.  When I asked him why he started painting his answer was surprising.  His partner was giving up smoking and they stayed in more to avoid temptation .

He went to school in Manchester and was struck by the paintings of Van Gogh.  He particularly admires Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Jan Van Eyck.

He had an exhibition at the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool and won a prize for the painting I like so much.  I said to him that I had admired the way that the Tower was subtly altered (its hard to put your finger on but the Tower is the wrong shape and  this adds to the surreal effect)  and he laughed and said it was a mistake because he was using a photograph the angle was distorted.  He showed me more of his work.  Some of it uses a seaside theme.

At seventy he is a fit alert man.  He still cycles.  Sadly he lost his partner.  He is a Christian although  this does not influence his work.  I mentioned that I knew somebody who was a Christian in Blackpool and he said he knew of him too.  ( I hope to write about my Christian friend some time.  Although he only as a tiny pension from the Post Office he goes to Uganda every year.)

And so I left.  If Colin Smith had been born say thirty years ago he would have gone to art college and produced diamond decorated skulls put together by somebody else…  So let’s be grateful that he didn’t.  Colin Smith’s painting  of the Tower makes me a  bit happier.  Best of all I obtained a print.

I often write about crime and it does make you aware the people have a dark side.  Walk around Blackpool on a busy day and you will pass murderers, addicts, paedophiles. And when you are in Blackpool in the crowd you will pass murderers and drug dealers but you will  pass astonishing artists.

This is another of Colin Smith’s works.



I hope you enjoy Colin Smith’s work as much as I do.



The unsolved murder of Harry Howell 1988


Unsolved murder of Harry Howell of Ibbison Court, Blackpool in 1988.'Detectives believe this photograph was on a bus pass inside a wallet stolen by the murderer.'Published EG 02/12/1988, 23/12/1988, 06/11/1989, 19/01/1990



Harry Howell died in his sheltered housing in Ibbison Court off Central Drive, Blackpool,  on November 5, 1988.  He was died from blows to the head with a blunt instrument.  His murderer has never been found.  The absence of the killer is tantalising.  We can say things about the killer:  he was cool-headed,  determined, he may have been flustered or disgusted by his actions , and  he is absent.  It is like a detective story where there are clues but no solution.  The events have the inconsistency of real life.

Ibbison Court is named in memory of Ibbison Street.  Ibbison Street had been built outside Blackpool’s then boundary probably to avoid building standards which were not enforced anyway.  Revoe was a  lively community with  the atmosphere of a village.  Ibbison Street was the site of the: “Donkey Backs.”  Donkeys were kept in stables.

But let’s go back to the facts.

Harry Howell had lost his partner, his common-law wife, a month earlier.  He had a minor stroke and his eyesight was impaired.  He was a little deaf.    After his death his neighbours said he was popular but then they would  say that about Goebbels if he lived next door and been murdered.   He had a routine: betting shops, pubs and cafes.

Harry Howell had worked for many years at British Leyland and he lived with Elsie Flegg until she had died  a month before he did.  He is said to have kept himself to himself.  But he did go out for a drink to the George on Central Drive or Brunswick in Bonny Street or the Royal Oak in South Shore.

He was seventy-four years old.  Unfortunately he kept his savings in his flat.  He did not trust banks or building societies.  And he may have talked about this when he had a drink.

Saturday November 5th 1988 was the last weekend of Blackpool illuminations and a day when people would be leaving their seasonal jobs and their temporary homes in Blackpool.  It was the last day Harry Howell was seen alive and probably the day he died.

However it was not until November 22, seventeen days later that his body was found.  A window cleaner, a seventy year old window cleaner, called John Johnstone saw the body slumped in a chair and also saw that the door had been tampered with. John Johnstone, former RAF fitness instructor, is one of those walk-on characters you wish you knew more about.  Sadly he died within a year.

Harry Howell had been bludgeoned to death with a blunt instrument which was never found.  He had been dead for seventeen days.  How did this happen in sheltered housing where resident are visited six times a week?  It is now that we sense the shadowy absent killer.  A notice appeared on the door on Monday 6th November saying:” No milk gone away for two week’s holiday. ” And then the notice disappeared.

The seventeen days between the murder and the discovery of the enquiry difficult.  Mr John Johnstone, the seventy year old window-cleaner, had seen somebody knocking at Mr Howell’s door .  The man seen by Mr Johnstone was in his 40’s, five foot seven.  This was after the murder and the man might well have been the killer.  In fact he could have been placing or taking away the note that cancelled the milk and delayed the discovery of the body.

There was another clue.  In the flat was a paper bag from Burtons the baker containing the remains of two beef and horseradish sandwiches.  On the day of Harry Howell’s murder two beef and horseradish sandwiches were bought by a tall slim man in his 30s at the Burtons on Central Drive only yards from Harry Howell’s home.  The man told the shop assistant  that they were “for the old man who called there every day for a pie.”

At one time the investigation involve eighty police officers.  Six thousand people were interviewed and two thousand statements taken.

To summarise the problems:

Were there really two men?  It seems more likely that a single person committed the crime.

Why did the killer, who seems to be deeply calculating disclose the information to the shop-assistant which linked him to the crime?

Investigators discovered two thousand pounds in the flat including eleven hundred pounds on Harry Howell’s person.  The killer had taken Harry’s watch and wallet, risky because they are identifiable, why did he not search the body?

Where was the blunt instrument?

It seems to me that the person in the Burtons on Central Drive  and the person John Johnstone the window cleaner saw  were the same person.  Probably it was after the murder and the killer may have been attaching or taking away the note that impaired the investigation.  Given that nobody else called on Harry Howell for seventeen days this seems probable.  A colleague suggested that the unforced disclosure in Burtons about: “the old man who called there every day for a pie” was because of nerves.  The man was about to carry out at least a robbery he may have spoken more than he intended through tensions and accidentally revealed what was on his mind.  The sandwich was likely to have been an excuse.  If the killer had a casual acquaintance with the victim then the killer may have decided to call at the flat hoping that Harry Howell was out but carrying the sandwich as an excuse for his visit.  The killer knocked and there was no reply so the killer forced the door.  He entered the flat but then Harry Howell, slightly deaf, appeared.  Maybe Harry Howell recognised the killer.   The killer used the blunt instrument on Harry Howell’s head until he was dead.  He searched the flat and discovered money.  He missed one cache and although he took Harry Howell’s watch and wallet he did not search the body where there was another eleven hundred pounds.  Was this because of disgust?

Had the killer brought the blunt instrument with him?   If he had this suggests that he was at least partly prepared to use lethal violence.  The killer took away the blunt instrument which helped deprive investigators of evidence.  It could have been something quite normal such as a bottle and would have disappeared before the investigation began seventeen days later.

Then the killer left.  Richer but not untroubled.  I am guessing that the idea of writing the notice came after he had left Harry Howell’s murdered body.  The killer thought furiously about what could link him to the crime.  The visit to Burtons Bakery…?   The longer the delay in discovering the body the easier it would be for the killer to avoid detection.  And the idea of a notice  was successful and shows a clear-headedness, a determination and a capacity for thinking which really makes this crime different from many other similar unsuccessful crimes. I assume that the killer put the notice on the door after and separately from the killing because I cannot imagine somebody having just murdered Harry Howell writing out a notice.  It seems more like an act after the event when the situation has been reviewed.    In putting a notice on Harry Howell’s flat he was also making a calculation.  It slightly increased his risk while he was placing the notice but it greatly diminished his risk of being caught in the long run.  Similarly taking the notice away.

And that’s about a much as we know.  There were two appeals on Crimewatch but nothing significant.

There are two events which  cast light.  One is that attention switched to Accrington where a jeweller said that a man had tried to sell a similar watch to the one stolen from Harry Howell.

The other event happened almost a year later at Ingleton.  On August 3rd 1989 an 88 year old former bus-driver, Jack Shuttleworth,  was murdered at Ingleton.  He was killed by blows to the head in his garden shed.   He was normally a recluse but he had been so taken by somebody he met whilst repairing his car that he invited him into his house.  He  had been taken in by Brian Newcombe.  Brian Newcombe (51) was on  a  crime and killing spree.  He had a long criminal career which did not involve violence  and was at the time sought by Nottinghamshire Police regarding the theft of several thousand pounds.  Brian Newcombe was able to win Jack Shuttleworth’s confidence because Brian Newcombe was a car mechanic and Jack Shuttleworth was working on his car.

Brian Newcombe was a prodigious thief, liar and charmer.  He had robbed his landlady in Scotland and then become engaged to her friend and then fled to York and then killed Jack Shuttleworth.  He then went to Preston and then to Glasgow where he met a widow called Margaret McOnie and embarked on a tour of the Orkneys with her. On August 24 her body was found on a hillside.  She had died as a result of blunt instrument blows to the head.  He stole her her cheque-book.  He travelled around the North West… Bolton, Morecambe and was  arrested in Mansfield.  Ten weeks later Jack Shuttleworth hanged himself in Armley Prison.

The similarities between the murder of Jack Shuttleworth and Harry Howell are striking.   An elderly loner is charmed by a stranger, both the victims have backgrounds involving vehicles, a blunt instrument is used, the perpetrator is  resourceful.  The killings happened within a year of one another and were linked to the  North West. In both cases a wallet is stolen.  Brian Newcombe had a restless, wandering nature and his crimes were spread out geographically.  The loneliness of Jack Shuttleworth and Harry Howell might make them susceptible to a stranger who expresses an interest in their concerns.  In both cases there is a strong element of opportunism.  The robbery of Harry Howell was planned but the killer presumably made Harry Howell’s acquaintance by chance.  No witnesses noticed Harry Howell with a new friend which suggests that the “friend” was not a local person.

Did Brian Newcombe kill Harry Howell?  There is no evidence.

The suicide of Brian Newcombe meant that further investigations in that direction became pointless.

Brian Newcombe, supposing that he was not the killer, might have been the kind of person who killed Harry Howell.

What kind of person?

It is hard to look at the case without being struck by the cold-blooded but cunning act of leaving a notice saying that Harry Howell had gone away for a fortnight. It is likely that the killer knew Harry Howell personally.  How else could he know where he lived?    Maybe he met Harry Howell on one of Harry Howell’s drinking sessions.  The killer may gained  Harry Howell’s confidence.  Perhaps Harry Howell boasted about the wealth hidden in his flat.  And  brought about  his  death.  

I  wonder what people who kill people spend the money on.  What pleasure is worth somebody’s death.  But  we are not all the same and it is possible that the killer of Harry Howell never gave it a thought.  Other peoples’ minds may be utterly different.

It is not possible to think about Harry Howell without sadness that this  lonely man was not able to live out his life peacefully.  Maybe his killer is still at large.  You may have passed him in the street.

Is justice  possible?   The  advance of forensic science  might mean that evidence can now be recovered from the paper bag from Burtons on Central Drive and handled by the killer.

Many thanks to the staff of Blackpool Local History Centre.

Most of the information comes from the Blackpool Gazette.






A Contract Killing in Blackpool

Alan Rosser was 34 when he died.

He was treasured by Mods or Retro Mods for “Modding Up” Vespa Scooters.    He was hard-working and  owned his own busines, Imperial Engineering. In March 1999 equipment worth £40000 was stolen from his garage, Imperial Engineering, at back Eaves Street in North Shore.

A model citizen, then?

In other respects he was not such a model citizen.  He had a committed a series of traffic offences and one conviction for cannabis possession.

On Friday  November 12, 1999  at 6.30 pm he was shot in the head at close range with a .45 revolver and died the next morning in Preston.  And we do not know who did it or why. Was it a contract killing?   If it was  it is the only contract killing that has ever happened in Blackpool ( as far as we know).   There is a lot to think about: the influence of drugs, organised crime, the nature of contract killing and who becomes a  contract killer.

Blackpool was always a drinking town but when drugs ( I suppose alcohol is a drug) were added the criminal landscape changed utterly.   If you look at crime cases dealt with at the local Magistrate’s Court more than half involve drink or drugs.  And Blackpool has the highest incidence of deaths involving heroin in Britain.  The term “lethal cocktail” was so frequently used by the coroner that it became a dark joke: “Can I have a lethal cocktail?”  The term “cocktail” is so unusual, so middle-class, I doubt if any of the victims of a “lethal cocktail” had ever had a non-lethal cocktail.

A  sketch of drugs in Blackpool: when I was writing about Paige Chivers, who used amphetamines,  fell out with her father over money,  and was murdered, I noted that her father was a heroin user:   “Paige’s father was murdered in an unrelated incident.”  He was murdered in an argument over £20.00. Paige was excluded from school over drug-use .  Her father threatened her over money which led to her leaving home and  her death.  Her father died in an argument over money. One of the men involved in her murder confessed to his former girlfriend’s son when he was deeply influenced by marijuana.

Alan Rosser was a keen clubber.  He travelled to Wolverhampton, Manchester and Sheffield.  The officer in charge of the investigation said: “He was well known to DJs and door-staff.”

Alan had a conviction for cannabis possession.   Why  go clubbing in Sheffield  Manchester and Woverhampton when there are umpteen clubs within walking distance?  Could Alan Rosser have been involved in drug trafficking? Because Alan Rosser’s death looks like a contract killing it suggests a link with organised crime and drugs.  The investigators believed that Alan could be involved in drug trafficking but at a low level.

This suspicion about drugs and gangs and debt grows stronger when we learn  that he was kidnapped and beaten in March 1999, eight months before his death.  He was kidnapped from his garage by a gang of eight to ten man gang, beaten with iron bars and left on the side of the M55.

Why?  The most likely reason would be that he owed money.  Why did he owe money?  We don’t know.

Putting together a ten man kidnap gang, transporting them to Blackpool , finding Alan Rosser’s place of work, and kidnapping him all need a  level of organisation and resources.  Even stranger is the fact that the gang stole forty-thousand pounds worth of equipment from Alan Rosser’s garage.


Following the murder there was an investigation involving 75 detectives.  Detectives interviewed many people and built up a picture of Alan Rosser’s life.

It was assumed that the murder and the kidnapping were linked and involved debt and  drugs.

Four  men were tried at Carlisle Crown Court for the kidnapping in March of Alan Rosser. The jury were told that Alan Rosser had died since the kidnapping in an unrelated incident. The kidnappers had been investigated in connection with the murder and they were not suspects in that case.  In December 1999 three men were convicted and one was found not guilty.  Jason Gillard was the man who was found not guilty.  The crucial fact in the case of Jason Gillard was that an eyewitness was unable to identify him.  We will return to Jason Gillard.

Eyewitnesses saw a man running from near the garage on Dickson Road and along Carshalton Road towards Sherbourne Road.  This man looked frightened and was concealing something.  Probably his car was parked in or near Sherbourne Road.   The man was tall and thin.  There was an identikit drawing.

The Police had their work cut out.  Because of his wide travels Alan Rosser’s acquaintances were widely spread.  The Police said he was: “Well known to DJs and doormen.”  As often with Alan Rosser you feel that they are keeping something back.  If it was a contract killing Alan probably did not know his killer.  People nearby said they heard shouting before the shot.  So the killer probably lives somewhere else altogether and did not know his victim which makes it difficult to connect him with the crime.

In March 2000 two men from Manchester were briefly detained but they were released. So the case was and is unsolved.


You will recall that Jason Gillard was found not guilty for the kidnapping of Alan Rosser.  He was alleged to have been the leader of the gang that kidnapped Alan Rosser.  The evidence against him was a partial fingerprint at the Imperial Garage and DNA from a cigarette found in the  van.  The DNA only meant that Jason had been in the van.  The partial fingerprint was too unreliable.

Jason Gillard led a full and interesting life.

In May 2003  at Minshull Crown Court in Manchester Jason Gillard was sentenced to eight years for two charges of blackmail.  His victim was “Mr X”.  Mr X was a businessman and garage owner.  In 1996 he was persuaded to sell a garage worth £200000 to Roger Ormsby, a businessman, garage-owner and drug dealer.

He sold the garage  for £86000.  It is likely that he accepted this deal because Jason Gillard had threatened to torch his business and  did set fire to his home.  “Negotiating skills they don’t teach you at the Harvard Business School.”

Roger Ormsby, Jason’s colleague and the person who bought the garage from Mr X , was found shot dead at the wheel of his BMW in an alley in Moss Side in January 2000.  (It tells you something about the area that somebody else was killed there the same year and this led the council to install better lighting.)

You  might think that having helped Roger Ormsby secure the garage for £86000 when it was worth £200000  from Mr X  Jason Gillard  would feel satisfied.

This was not the case.  He got to thinking that he had torched Mr X’s home and that Mr X had claimed insurance.  Surely he,  Jason Gillard, was entitled to that insurance money?   After all he’d done the work of actually setting fire to Mr X’s home.  The injustice of it rankled.   So he went to see Mr X and told him he owed him money.  Mr X gave him £1000.  Hoping that Jason would go away.  Jason then asked him for £2000 or Jason would “cap” Mr X.  Mr X took that to mean that Jason would shoot him.  Possibly the example of  Roger Ormsby, shot in his BMW, gave this threat credibility.  Mr X contacted the Police.   The Police installed listening devices and were able to link a threatening telephone call to Jason Gillard.

There are many things here that give pause for thought. Jason Gillard was involved in two unsolved shootings and also threatened to shoot Mr X.    He was a garage owner (like Alan Rosser and Roger Ormsby and Mr X) and he could use the equipment stolen from Alan Rosser.  He was involved in drugs.  He had a relentless need for money… we have to wonder why:  was he an addict, did he collect Ming china?  In the case of Mr X he only gained a thousand pounds and he went down for eight years.  Even with remission he would serve a year for every £250.  The sad likelihood is that Alan Rosser died over a trivial sum.

That is not to say that Jason Gillard had any part in Alan Rosser’s death and  the police will have looked at this aspect to such an extent that it is near certain that Jason Gillard was not the killer of Alan Rosser. What it does illustrate is the world of organised crime linked to drugs.   This is the world in which Alan Rosser might have become involved. There are not many contract killers around… I will come to this… it is possible that the same person killed Alan Rosser and Roger Ormsby.

Prison did not  have any reformative effect on Jason Gillard.  In 2011 he appeared at Plymouth Crown Court.  He had been arrested earlier when he was part of a team thought to have distributed cocaine worth £2 million.  He skipped bail, fled abroad and was arrested later when he contacted Police and returned to England.


When I were a lad I used to drink at a pub where everybody knew the crime hierarchy and there were always rumours that there was a contract out on the local boss.  It was all rubbish.

In  fact contract killings are pretty rare.  An academic study by  by David Wilson investigated 36 contract killings.  There was a wide range of competence and David Wilson believes that although the claimed cost of a hit is £15000 this is an overestimate and the true cost is about £3000.  This is a staggering low amount considering the risks.

Many of the would-be killers are amateurs.  In 2005 in Manchester two contract killers walked into a pub in Manchester and pointed a gun at their target.  The gun jammed and they were both shot dead with the gun they had brought.

David Harrison was convicted of a contract killing in 2015.  He was 63 and it is very possible that he committed many similar crimes.  He may be the nearest thing to a professional contract killer.

CCTV, mobile phone tracing, automated number plate recognition all make this kind of crime more difficult than in the past.  David Harrison’s location was tracked through his mobile phone.

A word of warning: although contract killing is  the least detected murder don’t try it.  Over and again  ordinary people seeking  contract killers ending up talking to undercover policemen (or policewomen obviously).   Criminals are  looking for a negotiating tool that they can use with the Police so if they can turn somebody in it is win/win for the Police and the crooks.  In effect the criminal becomes an informant and therefore   protected.

Alan Rosser’s workshop called “Imperial Engineering” is named after the Imperial Hotel, it is opposite the Imperial Hotel across Dickson Road,  a whole area derived a living from the Imperial Hotel.  Waiters, chefs, porters…  and drug dealers, prostitutes, rent boys.  It is interesting to think that it was here in the Imperial Hotel that another contract killing was planned.  The attempted killing of Norman Scott by  Tony Newton illustrates the unreliability  treachery and sheer mind numbing stupidity which without moral considerations make using a contract killer a very dodgy proposition.

The average fee for a professional contract killing is £15000 but it can be as little as £200.  You get what you pay for.  There aren’t enough contract killings in the UK to keep even one contract killer in business.

There are probably a small number of effective contract killers who do it as part of business which might involve other crimes.  Contract killings are often used in connection with marital difficulties and debt.  It is hard to understand the circumstances of Alan Rosser’s killing because it made payment of a debt impossible.  It could have been a combination of debt and  rage.  It could have been to prevent Alan Rosser giving evidence in the kidnapping case.   Many gangland killings are intended to intimidate, but it is difficult to understand how this could apply to Alan Rosser.




This is Alan Rosser

Murder victim Alan Rosser

Alan Rosser’s death has been the starting point for a journey but he was a living person.  Like ourselves he might not have considered it deeply but he  enjoyed his life.  He was a hard worker.  He was still at work at 6.30 pm on Friday evening when his life was ended by a man who probably didn’t know him for reasons we don’t know.

And a mother lost a son, a sister a brother and a brother a brother.  And almost certainly over  a trivial sum.  At the centre of some acts of crime is an truly disorientating disproportion.  A criminal values his own advantage at an utterly different level from somebody else’s disadvantage.

It is easy for me to write this because I was brought up in  good circumstances.  Imagine you were surrounded  by violence and terrible need and had to compete relentlessly for everything.  Would you…?

We are dealing with minds  different from our minds and with a  parallel state with its own codes.

Is there  hope of justice for Alan.  Is it possible seventeen years after the event to interview the three people convicted for the kidnapping and ask them if they want to say more ?  It might clarify the circumstances.   Or could improved forensics elicit more from the partial fingerprint?

Other than that it is unlikely we will  know and we are filled with sadness for Alan Rosser who may have got mixed up with people beyond his imagining, people at the very edge of our own understanding.


Almost all the information came from the Blackpool Gazette.  Thanks to that invaluable source Blackpool Local History Centre where local newspapers are available on microfilm.







Abie Tobias and Mixie Walsh: colourful characters.

This piece covers the time when Mixie Walsh took the place of Abie Tobias as the “top man”  (Frankie Fraser’s words) in Blackpool.  It is a joy to introduce  a cast of characters so diverse, flamboyant, eccentric and scary…. read  the histories of Blackpool  and you will not find these people.

Ask somebody from Blackpool  who was the most powerful person in Blackpool from the fifties into the new millennium:  Mixie Walsh.

There are two kinds of history.  There  is the history of gangsters, crooks, prostitutes, murderers, burglars, politicians, beggars, fortune-tellers, confidence trickster, crooked councillors, drug dealers, addicts.

They tend not to leave memoirs.

Economic decline  and the use of drugs changed the landscape at the end of the twentieth century.

Mixie Walsh had no criminal convictions after he came to Blackpool.  This piece explores Mixie’s times and the social circle around him.  Colourful is an understatement.

Mixie’s predecessor was Abie Tobias.



Abie Tobias was the top man in Blackpool after the war.  That’s what Frankie Fraser says. Frankie Fraser stayed in Blackpool when he was on the run. There were Hotels that specialised in accommodating “the chaps.”     Blackpool was a hideaway for people on the run.

Abie Tobias had a fruit and vegetable shop in Cookson Steet  at the corner of Charles Street. It is not the current fruit shop it is the one opposite which sells e-cigarettes. Story is there was a brothel upstairs.   He  owned the Continental Cafe in Topping Street.  He  owned boarding houses that catered for crooks and he acted as a fence for stolen goods.  But his big earners were running brothels and the black market.  I am grateful to Terry Reagan who recalls Abie as a large, dark-skinned man, flashily-dressed, good-humoured.  He sold rationed fruit.   The Chief Constable of Blackpool visited his shop to buy fruit.  Diana Dors, who did seasons in Blackpool, visited his shop.  He sold black market sugar and fat and fruit to stall-holders on the Golden Mile. Ice-cream makers and fish and chip shops needed rationed fat and sugar to stay in business.

Blackpool was the  prostitute capital of the world during and after the war.  The Air Force is being trained using the wide beaches for drill, the American Air Force is at Blackpool and Warton, the Civil Service is operating from Blackpool.  What you have is an overwhelming number of young men.  Supply/demand.

The Black Market was the life-blood of Blackpool.  Blackpool had a good war.  Entertainment continued and the use of hotels and boarding houses as accomodation for mostly Air Force recruits and Civil Servants kept the money coming.  After  the war Blackpool was more ready than other resorts and the years after the war were the busiest  ever for tourism.  Rock, fish and chips and ice-cream.  Rock, fish and chips and ice-cream depended on rationed goods.  Sugar and fat.  If  you were an ice-cream manufacturer.  You had two choices stick to your ration and lay off staff or use black market goods.   When the Chief Constable took his rationed banana from Abie Tobias I am guessing that he didn’t use his ration card.

And this is where Abie Tobias came in.  He could get the goods.  The war led to epic  law breaking.  Respectable businessmen bought black market goods.  The Chief Constable bought black market goods off Abie Tobias and the Golden Mile couldn’t exist without Abie’s black market goods.  Crime was inseperable from Blackpool’s economy.


I will come back to Abie.






Jack Pye was a wrestler.  He appeared regularly in the North West and in the Tower.  His wrestling persona was a villainous character, insulting the audience, cheating, attacking the referee.  He was the man that people love to hate.  “Dirty Pye” once kicked Abdul the Turk when he was praying before a bout and if he disagreed  with the referee he would hit him with a stool.  He was the best known wrestler of his time.  He went to school with George Formby  and Albert Pierrepoint the hangman.  The three remained friends.  Imagine the conversations…

In real life Jack was affable .  He ran the Castle Casino at North Shore where top stars from Blackpool shows such as Jimmy Edwards would socialise and unwind.  Together with his son Dominic he ran two clubs in Dickson Road, the Embassy Club and the Horseshoe Bar.  He helped with local children’s charities.


It comes as  a surprise to find that Jack Pye was  a film star.  There was a thriving film industry based in the North West and Jack Pye was in films with George Formby and Diana Dors.



dominic pye


Dominic Pye from: The Evening Gazette


If Jack Pye was formidable his son Dominic was formidabler. The most fearsome person who ever walked the streets of Blackpool.

Fighting was part of culture and boxing and wrestling had always been associated with Blackpool.  Many people regarded getting drunk and having a fight as part of a weekend.  It is probably a coincidence that William Thornber the first historian of Blackpool ran a boxing school in a barn off what is now Warley Road.

I was  discussing this era with an old-timer.  “Did Dominic Pye have a gang? ” I asked.   He looked at me pitying.  “Dominic Pye didn’t need a gang.”

When a car blocked in his car in West Street near the Promenade.  Dominic lifted the car up and upset it. Facts straight:it was only a three wheeler.

Dominic took up wrestling.  He toured in the United States and then in England where he enjoyed being called: “The Prince of Darkness.”  There seems to have been an incident where Owen Ratcliffe (come to him later) chased Dominic with a gun at the Horseshoe Bar  in Dickson Road.  I have been unable to find a report.

You may think that  with a gun you’d still think twice about taking on Dominic Pye.      Owen Ratcliffe is said to have taken on Billy Hill ( mentor to the Krays) and the Krays.  Not together.

Sadly Dominic Pye died in an accident at Little Singleton on 27 February 1979.  He was aged 50.  He was shooting pigeons at the back of his home and as he returned the shotgun went off as he climbed over a fence.


This is what happened at the Continental Cafe in Topping Street which was owned by Abie.

Abie with three London based gangsters robbed Jack Pye’s house in Cornwall Avenue, North Shore.  They took a safe which they drove to a farm near Preston.  They had timed the robbery to coincide with Jack’s wrestling bouts.  A PC noted Abie’s car in Cornwall Avenue.

Jack Pye went to the Continental Cafe with his son Dominic,  a boxer called Paddy Mcgrath and others to express his displeasure  (More about Paddy McGrath later).

Abie Tobias was later arrested with two London colleagues, Alfred Curtis and Sydney Golder.  One of the gang got away.  On March 10, 1954, Abie was sentenced to seven years: stiff considering that five hundred pounds was involved .

What had  happened? For Abie to be involved in something as “hands on” as a robbery  and to bring colleagues  from London there had to be a personal motive. Business rivalry?

Who knows?


Abie Tobias did not return to Blackpool. Maybe he could not face a world in which he had been  “top man” hobnobbing with Diana Dors and the Chief Constable.  He did live to a good age.


Sheila Jackaman was brought up as one of Abie Tobias’  two daughters.On February 15 1963 she married George Anthony Porritt who had been condemned to death for shooting his step-father.   George had offended the powerful Copley family by going out with Flo Coupland who had been the girlfriend of Ed Copley,  killed in a car chase.  The Copleys , had seized Albert Leonard Porritt, George’s stepfather, who shouted to George  to shoot.  When he did shoot he killed Albert,  his step-father.  There were numerous petitions which were supported by the Copley family and George Anthony’s sentence was reduced to ten years.

In 1965 Sheila was charged with  conspiracy to rob in Manchester.  She took part in a wage snatch with her young baby in the car.





Chris and Tony Lambrianou were part of the Kray gang and came to Blackpool in 1964.  They claim to have “taken over” Blackpool.  In view of the presence  of Mixie Walsh and Dominic Pye this seems unlikely.  They seem to have had reservations about Eric Mason, a close friend of Mixie Walsh.  They thought he was using the Kray name to increase his influence.  I adore their suggestion to the Krays that gangs would be allowed to use Kray approval in return for payment.  A Kray Franchise… KFC?

One of the  delights of reading about people is their  failure to behave as expected.   Chris Lambrianou became a born-again Christian when in prison for the murder of  Jack the Hat McVitie.

After release he continues to give talks  about his faith .


I have mentioned Paddy Mcgrath , he visited Abie Tobias after the robbery at Jack Straw’s.  Owen Ratcliffe , according to legend, he chased Dominic Pye at the Horseshoe Bar in Dickson Road.  I have not been able to find a newspaper account.  The argument with Dominic Pye was about gambling.

Owen Ratcliffe and Paddy McGrath formed a partnership. First they sold fish and chips.  Then they opened a gaming club in Blackpool.  It attracted gamblers from all over the North West and in 1952 they opened the Cromfield Club in Manchester.  Billy Hill, the Krays, and the Nash brothers tried to get part of the action.  Owen Ratcliffe was fearless.  He  confronted and threatened Billy Hill, the boss of bosses, at the Astor Club in London. Brian London’s father, Jack London,  was doorman at the Cromfield Club.

Owen Ratcliffe later  owned a club in Catford, South East London,  called  Mr Smith and the Witchdoctor.  It was here in 1966 that a discussion between members of the Kray Gang and the Richardson Gang left one person dead.  Inevitably Frankie Fraser was involved.



Dr Ken Mcgill from the Evening Gazette

Doctor Ken Mcgill kept readers of the Evening Gazette fascinated for a generation.  He was from Ireland and had been a boxer as a student in Dublin.  His  appearances in the Gazette  mostly involved drink and fighting.  There is a story that he used to go into the Bosley Grill and dispense sick notes and prescriptions.  He had a surgery in Caunce Street.

Readers of the Gazette were fascinated when he was involved with Evelyn Lees, a Blackpool Beauty Queen contestant.  Their stormy relationship  ended when  he was accused of assaulting her in Green Drive, Lytham.

The episode had a   sad sequel.  After her relationship ended she fell into the sea and drowned near the Norbreck Castle on 9th August 1974.  The young man who was with her made heroic attempts to rescue her.

Her brother Anthony Lees was charged with stealing from Doctor Ken Mcgill’s surgery.  Anthony Lees was later stabbed to death in Park Road.   Three men were  charged with manslaughter but acquitted on the grounds of self-defence.  One of the accused  was charged on the day of his acquittal with causing manslaughter by selling drugs in a separate case.

Nobly the dying Anthony Lees told the men who had fatally wounded him to blame it on some Scots Lads as he waited for the ambulance.  Drugs changed and intensified  crime in Blackpool.

A  keep fit fanatic Ken Mcgill was an early jogger and he was jogging in North Shore on Monday 23 August 1971 when he was the first medical person to attend the wounded and dying Superintendent Gerald Richardson. In recognition of his efforts he was  sent a cheque by the Police.  He did not cash it.  He was also awarded  a certificate in recognition of his work but he would not collect it because it meant visiting the Police Station.  He was an admirer of Gerald Richardson and campaigned for him to be given a posthumous knighthood.

Dr Ken Mcgill and Mixie Walsh are said to have sparred with Brian London.

He was a visitor to the United States where he had a lucky win at golf that helped finance and extend his holiday.  He met Dolly Parton who said:  “I could do with some of you.”

Doctor McGill is remembered as a delightful eccentric man.  Mad as a bag of frogs one person recalls  but wonderful company.  He brightened up bankruptcy hearings with his antagonism to paying tax.  He played at North Shore golf-club.  Once he was accused  of cheating at a tournament and the Evening Gazette had to withdraw the accusation and pay a settlement.  He made his own putters and I hear his name still adorns  North Shore Golf Club.

Happy go lucky money flowed through him.  He would give you his last penny.

He brightened the life of Blackpool residents.






eric mason


Eric Mason was a regular visitor to Blackpool where he visited his friend Mixie Walsh. The pair had met in Dartmoor.  Mixie had attacked six policemen.

I find Eric Mason an intriguing character.  He was certainly brutally treated.  He claimed that he led a life of crime because he rebelled against the brutality of the system. If you rebel against the brutality is joining the Kray gang the obvious move?

There is a truthfulness in Eric Mason’s book: “The Brutal Truth.”  A prison work gang find a  wild strawberry plant and their dreams are of waiting until it is ripe and sharing the strawberries.  Suddenly they find one of the strawberries missing.  They are mistrustful.  Until they found a sparrow eating the strawberries.  They shared one strawberry and left the rest for the sparrow.  This is from memory it may not have been a sparrow.

Inevitably Eric Mason got into an incident with Frankie Fraser when Frankie Fraser  attacked Eric with an axe.   He complained that he had lost his axe.  “It was an ‘Arrod’s axe.”


Eric’s version is that he was subdued by a number of people.

In many ways Eric was the stereotype gangster of the post-war years.  A boxer with a lifelong interest in boxing, a celebrity-struck character name-dropping for England…  Frank Sinatra etc…  a one time club-owner with an interest in promoting bands, a man with a lifelong admiration for P J Proby. Each to his own as they say.

A moving aspect of Eric Mason’s career is his loyalty to Mixie Walsh.  When Mixie Walsh suffered from alzheimers  Eric Mason arranged a benefit.

Eric went straight for thirty years and then got in trouble over marijuana.  He was the last man in England to be punished with the cat of nine tails.




I  can’t stop myself  mentioning the Quality Street Gang .  They  they have a very slim link with Blackpool but also because they have a link with Big Politics.  A connection with the Provisional IRA and the Brighton Bombing and the Shoot to Kill Policy.

The nature  of the QSG is disputed.  Some believe that they were primarily a social group.  Others thought that they were behind every major crime in Manchester.  Some of the group attended Mixie’s 70th birthday celebrations.

The QSG used to meet in a bar where Phil Lynott’s mother worked.  They are  models for: “The Boys are back in town.”  And for the less well known :”Johnny the Fox meets Jimmy the Weed.”

In the world of Big Politics the conflict in Northern Ireland intensified because of Mrs Thatcher’s alleged: “Shoot to kill,” policy.   The  Army and RUC were accused of shooting unarmed suspects.  John Stalker the Deputy Chief Constable of  Manchester was sent to examine the evidence.     Before he could complete his enquiries he was recalled.  A complaint was made was that he was  too close to members of the QSG.

He was cleared.

Conspiracy theory: he was removed from the enquiry because he was not supplying expected  whitewash.

A story about James Anderton the Chief Constable of Manchester.  He was seriously disliked by many of his men.  A  group of detectives told the West Yorkshire Police that they suspected he was the Yorkshire Ripper.  And that this was taken so seriously that a surveillance group planted microphones in his home.  I can’t account for why this fills me with joy.

The Brighton Bombing of 1983 was  the Provisional IRA’s response to shoot to kill.    Patrick Magee who placed the bomb was in Blackpool the previous year.

Looking at the Imperial?

For me Margaret Thatcher could do no right, but  credit for her glorious sang froid on the occasion of the Brighton Bombing.


If we see the QSG as a social group rather than a crime gang we can see that they were  like the circle around Mixie Walsh.  A  criminal past, an interest in boxing, an Irish connection, links  with show business, and business interest in clubs were some of the characteristics. Fun, eccentricity and colourfulness were cherished.  When Jane Austen wrote:  ““For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”  she could have had Mixie Walsh’s friends in mind.

Blackpool Mary was a prostitute .  It is said that she concealed people and goods in her place.   Sadly her younger sister, Madge Leadbetter,  was murdered on 31 May 1952.   Blackpool Mary lived to a good age.  She was an ally of Mixie and is said to have helped conceal men on the run and stolen goods.  The joint interests of prostitutes and club-owners meant that the groups would socialise.

Other names come up but I do not know anything about them.  George  the Greek, Gordon Green, Philip Mars, Tommy Throup, Pat and Jim Wallace, Peter Mason.

One character was Larry Rushton.  A former armed robber he took to art. He is said to have escaped from Dartmoor within twenty minutes of arriving.  I am told  that Larry Rushton achieved celebrity status when he was featured in the Daily Mirror.  “The convict artist, ” deeply eccentric, he is said to have always worn a wig and would not answer the door until he had adjusted his wig.

Because of their interests in boxing and clubs they would socialise with other club owners.   Dr Ken Mcgill and Mixie sparred with Brian London.  Josef Locke socialised with Mixie’s circle.   The connection with clubs brought them into contact with celebrities such as Diana Dors.   Diana Dors, “the British Marilyn Monroe,” spent many summer seasons in Blackpool.  She often sailed pretty close to the wind, in November 1953 she was found guilty of larceny in Blackpool.

When Eric Mason stayed in St Annes he shared a place with the Dave Clark Five.



Here goes…

For  fifty years Mixie Walsh was the most powerful man in Blackpool.    So who was Mixie?   Look in the papers and you won’t find anything.  Well, a brief mention when he appeared in court and was acquitted.

I spoke to a lady who was his contemporary and whose husband worked with him.  She called him: “Michael.”   “Mixie” is  brilliant branding: it changes a name into something unique.

This lady’s husband (he has since died) worked with Mixie in the building trade.  She recalled that he was a very hard worker and that he was  fit.  Once her husband and Mixie were involved in an incident in a club.  Six Geordies were hurt.  The case came to court but Mixie was acquitted and that is the only time he appeared in court in Blackpool.

What did Mixie look like?

She says : Well he was small and almost  non-descript.  You wouldn’t notice him until…

Indeed until…

Fast moving, strong , fit and fearless.  There was something lion-like aspect to Mixie’s aggression.   The lady’s husband was no slouch and he said he’d never seen anybody move so fast.  Part of the  menace around Mixie was that you might forget he was there.


He adored his mother.  He came to Blackpool after doing time for asaulting six Policemen.   He lived at 19, Bethesda Road, Revoe.

This lady’s attitude to Mixie, at one time he was very close friends with her husband,  was  typical of Blackpool residents.  She didn’t entirely approve of him but said she never felt he was a threat to people he knew.  He was not a flashy dresser, or ostentatious.  Although he drank a bit he was not an unusually heavy drinker.  He was generous to children.  He bought her daughter a record player.

He  would sing quite dreadfully at gatherings.

When I asked what she thought he was involved with she answered thoughtfully:  I think he would do anything that was profitable.

Did she like him?

He wouldn’t hurt one of us.

Why do you think he was the way he was?

(Thoughtfully)  He found the  thing he was really good at and that he was happy doing.

A story about Mixie Walsh:  I was told this by a retired headmaster.  Holy Family school in North Shore had been vandalised and computers stolen.  A posse of parents got in touch with Mixie Walsh.  He sent on of his intimidating colleagues who found the thief with some of the computers.  There was no violence.  The thief was told: “No more.”And there was no more.

In this sense Mixie Walsh was a supporter of order.   Jaw-droppingly gangs that had started  extorting protection money ended up providing security at pubs and nightclubs and supermarkets.   Given that crime and law and order have a yin yang interdependence maybe it isn’t so surprising.

The age of the monopolistic gang was fading.  Crime is so diverse: internet fraud, smuggling,  cannabis farming, dealing in legal highs, importing platinum without paying VAT…  Traditional gangs often moved into Security.

And  regarding Mixie Walsh that’s it.  You can look it up yourself.  You will hear how charismatic he was, how generous he was, how he was always a perfect gentleman.  You will hear that he kept the Krays out of Blackpool (not true) although it probably is true that gangs from Manchester and Liverpool were deterred.  Considering the amount of drugs taken in Blackpool there were few shootings or stabbings and this may  be because there was a stable hierarchy.

You  will not hear a bad word from anybody and all his numerous godchildren remember a  good humoured, witty man.   This guy kept in control of a gang and dealt with rivals and his name inspired… still does inspire fear. You can say his name now and people lower their voices and look around.

His skill, his lack of vanity, his realistic ambitions, his normality , his charm, his humour, his  loyal friends  kept him in place five times as long as the average third world dictator ( I have no idea I made that up)  and he hardly appeared in court.  If he lived now he would be a management guru: “Mixie Walsh and the Art of the Deal.”

I think one key is that he enjoyed what he did and the opportunities to socialise with the likes of Dr Ken Mcgill and Larry Rushton.  He and his friends were fun to be around.

This is Mixie.  You may have probably  walked past him if you are an older Blackpool resident.  You could accidentally have nudged him in a queue at a bar.  Better not to do that.



Look at the eyes…



I had a lot of help from people who want to remain anonymous.  I am very aware that parts of this are very incomplete and I’d be delighted if anyone could add anything.

The message board for Fans Online

and also on the Blackpool site:

was wonderful.

I believe that this is part of Blackpool’s “unofficial” history the story should be told.

Thanks to Terry Reagan for his memories of Abie Tobias.

































































































Elsie and Andrew Marshall 1957

andrew and elsie 2


(from the Evening Gazette Friday August 9, 1957)

On Thursday the bodies of their three children, Sandra Marshall (10), Yvonne Marshall (9) and Moira Marshall (5)  are found at their home in Spring-terrace , Langho.

On Saturday 10th August 1957 the bodies of Elsie (39), a nurse,  and Andrew Marshall (46), a textile worker,  lashed together, are taken from the sea near the Imperial Hotel and taken to the mortuary at Layton Cemetery.


Monday August 5th, 1957.

In the morning Elsie goes to her mother’s house to change a shilling for two sixpences for the gas.  She is in good spirits.

Evidence that children still alive after their Mother Elsie goes to work,  as a a nurse, in the evening.

Tuesday August 6

Elsie returns from work in the morning. She changes out of her uniform.  She stays an hour and then she leaves with Andrew.   Elsie sends a parcel to her brother in law in Edinburgh.  It contains jewellery and personal effects.   This parcel is posted in Blackburn and also contains a note enabling her brother in law to collect Elsie’s wages from Brockholes Hospital where she works part time as a nurse.

Wednesday August 7

Elsie and Andrew are seen catching an early bus to Blackburn from Langho. Elsie sends a letter from Fleetwood, postmarked 9 am,  to her mother which is received on the next day.

Thursday 8 August, 1957

Elsie Marshall’s mother, who lives near the Spring-terrace home of Andrew and Elsie, receives a letter posted in Fleetwood posted on Wednesday.  She contacts Mr Sam Tassell , her husband and the grandfather of the children, he finds the bodies of the three children in bed.   Police search for the parents at Fleetwood and the Isle of Man.  “Mona’s Isle,” the Isle of Man Ferry is met by Police when it docks in Fleetwood.

Friday 9 August

The death of the children is now being treated as murder.  Police in the Isle of Man and Lancashire are given a description of Andrew and Elsie Marshall.

Mr Marshall is 5 foot 4 or 5, slim build, black hair, wavy in front:long face, with sallow complexion.  He normally wears a fawn check summer suit or sports coat and grey flannels and no hat.  He speaks with a Scots accent.

Mrs Marshall is 5 foot tall, very slim, short dark brown hair: pointed features with thin face and high cheekbones.  She was wearing either a red gabardine riancoat or brown herringbone tweed coat with flat shoes.  She does not wear cosmetics.

Saturday August 10

Two bodies were seen in the sea near the Imperial.  The holidaymaker who saw the bodies whilst taking a pre-breakfast stroll telephoned the Police from the Imperial.  The bodies were recovered.  The holidaymaker who was a 60 year old sheet mill   worker from Sheffield was an astonishingly good witness:

“They were tied together with a cord.  It was as thick as a window sash.  The cord was tied around their waists and there was ten inches to a foot of cord linking them together.

They were fully dressed.  I should estimate that they had been in the water about 24 to 30 hours.  The man was wearing a raincoat and the woman a mottle coloured coat.”

Chief Supt.  C.M. Lindsay drives from Blackburn where he is leading the search for Elsie and Andrew.  He viewed the bodies in the mortuary at Layton Cemetery.  At noon Mrs Annie Bennett the sister of Elsie Marshall identified the bodies.


Thursday August 15, 1957

Blackpool Inquest of Andrew and Elsie Marshall

Verdict: manslaughter by suicide pact.

Friday August 16

Darwen inquest on:

Sandra      10, Yvonne       9, Moira          5

The verdict is that the children were murdered by their father, Andrew, but that their mother Elsie was involved.


The children were gassed.  Andrew made a wigwam out of the bedclothes and the children were found inside it.  A gas pipe had been broken in the bedroom and a tube led from it to the wigwam.  It seems that Andrew had kept the children up late to make them tired and they were playing a game involving the wigwam.  Elsie and Andrew fastened themselves together with washing line and jumped off the ferry to the Isle of Man running from Fleetwood.

The letter written by Elsie to her mother makes the reasons clear:

“Dear Mother and Dad.- This is going to be a great shock for you both and this is really the last thing we would have desired.

But in view of all the things that are happening in the world and the talk of new wars which may well mean the extermination of  masses of people and especially children, we decided that we couldn’t allow this to happen to our children.

Sandra, Yvonne and Moira are outside all this and no harm can reach them now as they lie peacefully together in bed.

Andrew and I did this because we love each other and the very idea that our children would be left, or have to face in future what other children faced in the last war.

I hope you will not condemn us for our actions but see it from our point of  view  and if you feel it in your heart you will understand why we have taken this action.

There is one thing that we can say truthfully and that is that the children certainly loved you and that our last wish is that our children should be cremated and that we hope that Andrew’s brother will attend to that.

Mother, Andrew is asking if you will put some of the flowers picked from your own garden with them.

This is goodbye and remember we love you, too.

Andrew and I are going together and will probably be picked up together and our desire is to be cremated together if possible with the children.

Please say cheerio to Annie for us.

There is no other motive or influence, and Andrew and I have been happy in our association.

Love to you both.

XXXX Elsie and Andrew.  ”



If you walk  in the countryside you will be familiar with the archaeology of the cold war.  High points are topped with radio masts.  These are to facilitate microwave communication when the telephone wires melt.

We probably don’t know all the cold war infrastructure.  Was there a complex at Fairhaven?  The electricity substation is surprisingly elaborate.    A  bunker at Blackpool Town Hall to maintain a remnant of government?   I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and I kind of assumed that there was going to be a nuclear war  down the line.  I still think it is possible, increasingly so when there are many nuclear weapon states.

This gives rise to a different kind of fear.  Of course you will die but something will carry on, but with nuclear fear maybe it won’t.  Maybe we are walking through future ghost towns.  The nearest you can picture is the abandoned city of Chernobyl.  These created a mood: sardonic, pessimistic, , mistrustful.  Planning for the long-term is…   well there isn’t a long term.



The deaths sparked a searching of conscience in the Press.  In a  moderately nauseating article the Daily Mirror implied that the Marshall’s problem was that they hadn’t contacted the Daily Mirror’s agony aunt who offered a mix of diluted Christianity and cheerfulness that entitles her to a  punching.    I don’t think that  her advice would have done it but I have been wrong more often than I have been right.   And the Daily Mirror was brave to explore a new fear.


Contemplating the state of mind of the Marshalls, or their parents and relatives and friends , and the small community of Langho  leaves me dumb.   Andrew and Elsie  believed in what they did.

I can find no reference to a funeral.  Maybe it was private to avoid intrusion.





Helen Barthelemy: Blackpool victim


helen barthelemy

Helen Barthelemy


On Friday 27 July July 1962 , 21 year old Helen Barthelemy met 25 year old Friend Taylor.  Being young  a  friendship sprang up.  They spent time at the Pleasure Beach and in the evening they had drinks at the Huntsman and  they went to the sandhills at Squires Gate where Mr Taylor took off his coat and jacket and they lay down.




This is the Huntsman where Friend Taylor and Helen Barthelemy went for a drink before the denouement in the sandhills at Squires Gate.



Friend Taylor was distracted.  A pebble struck his forehead.  He looked up and three men attacked him.  His face was cut with a razor or a knife.  His wallet was stolen.

He says that Helen shouted: “Leave it Jock, he’s had enough.”  Friend Taylor was taken to Victoria Hospital where he needed 18 stitches.   The wallet contained £22.00, which was a month’s earnings for a cafe-worker.

Friend Taylor


Friend Taylor fromthe Evening Gazette



These events led to the trial of Helen Barthelemy in Liverpool  charged with aggravated robbery.  She had refused to name her three companions and said that she was not with Friend Taylor.






Surprisingly this is the Rendezvous Cinema in Bond Street as it is now.  Helen claimed that she was here when Friend Taylor was attacked.

She said that on the evening  she went with a friend David Graham to see the Film “El Cid” with Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston at the Rendezvous Cinema in Bond Street.  Her friend David Graham confirmed this.  He  had made a contrary statement at the Police Station in South King Street.  When asked he said he was “threatened with physical violence,”  by the Police.  Helen said she had spoken to the cinema manager.  The cinema manager said he was busy in his office that evening and could not have spoken to Helen.

Friend Taylor was a man of “unimpeachable integrity.”  Sadly Helen’s Curriculum Vitae was not going to impress a jury.  She had worked as a stripper on the Golden Mile.  But she had abandoned that career to become a prostitute.  She had been fined for involvement in the management of a brothel.  On the evening of her claimed visit to the Rendezvous Cinema she demonstrated an impressive  work ethic by entertaining  three clients in Stanley Park before going to an all night cafe.

On the 10 October  1962 the Jury found her guilty and she was sentenced to four years imprisonment.  She collapsed in the stand.

The case against Helen Barthelemy seems odd.  Did three men follow Helen and Friend Taylor from their meeting at the Huntsman?  It is half an hour to the sandhills by foot.   Or did they wait by arrangement?  It is hard to picture a group of restless young men waiting about on the possibility that Helen would lure a victim to a certain spot.  In any case even though the “haul” of £22 was impressive it had to be shared between four people.  What if the attackers knew Helen casually  and resented Friend Taylor?  The attack may not have been as organised as the case presented in court.

Attacking people on the sandhills was a local custom.  And the Police were clearly keen to get a conviction possibly to deter this kind of activity which might have an effect on tourism.


Friend Taylor was not a man of “unimpeachable integrity.”  He had been tried a number of times as a juvenile and an adult.  He had served three terms in prison.  He seems to have had a connection with Blackpool because he committed crimes in Blackpool and St Annes and he was living in Fordway, Layton.

The  question  was: might the Jury have come to a different verdict if they had known the truth about Friend Taylor?  Friend Taylor must have  lied for his representative to make the claim that he was a “man of complete integrity.”   The accusation against Helen rested on his word.

The Appeal overturned the jail sentence on February 3 1963.


Helen Barthlemy must have been delighted.  Instead of three  years in jail she was free to go to London.  She  resumed her career as a prostitute until Friday 24 April 1964 when her naked body was found in a backstreet in Brentford.  She had died of asphyxia.  When she was found she had been dead for two days.  On 16 September 1964 she was buried in a pauper’s grave at Chiswick Cemetery.


Helen Barthelemy was a victim of Jack the Stripper.  These murders  compete with the Jack the Ripper Murders as the most perplexing series of killings in Britain.  The killings have connections with the first wave of immigration from the West Indies, the widepread use of drugs, the Kray Gang, the  suicide (?) of Freddie Mills, the Profumo Scandal which fatally wounded the Conservative Government of Macmillan and the trial of Stephen Ward. It was the beginning of the Sixties.  To put it in context President Kennedy was assassinated between Helen Barthelemy’s release from prison and her murder.



There are six agreed victims of Jack the Stripper.  There are two earlier cases which may be connected.  The victims were all prostitutes.  All were smallish.  The girls were killed elsewhere and daringly placed in back streets or alleys at night or early in the morning.  The bodies had been kept for some time.  The bodies were marked with spray paint which suggests that they were near a car body paint shop.  The bodies had some teeth missing.  Because of lack of bleeding the teeth had been removed after death.  Asphyxia was the cause of death.  All of the bodies had been kept for some time.


An early victim was connected by her pimp to the Krays and the Krays were questioned in connection with the murders.  The Krays were connected to Lord Boothby who had a long affair with the wife of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.


Ronnie Kray and Lord Boothby


The Krays were acquainted with  Freddie Mills.  Freddie Mills was a popular retired boxer. He had walk-on parts in films, and presented a pop music show.  He was one of those people who attract affection.   He ran a club which the Krays visited.  He committed suicide using a shotgun.  Oddly he fired twice.  The investigation into the suicide was supervised by  Wally Virgo who became Commander Virgo and was imprisoned for corruption.    There have been allegations that Freddie Mills was killed by the Krays.

More likely he killed himself as a result of money worries.  Bruce Forsyth gave the funeral address.

Stephen Ward was a popular, multi-talented osteopath.   Among his friends were Princess Margaret and her husband Tony Armstrong Jones.  Stephen Ward had given parties where John Profumo the Defence Minister met Christine Keeler an ninteen year old good-time girl.


Christine Keeler


Disconcertingly Christine Keeler was also the girlfriend of    Soviet Diplomat Yevgeni Ivanov.  John Profumo lied about this connection in the House of Commons.  Following the resignation of John Profumo,  Stephen Ward was tried for living off immoral earnings.   Stephen Ward was a rich man and had no need to “live off immoral earnings. ”  It is more likely that he enjoyed “celebrity culture” and the girls were part of the offering that enticed people to his parties.  Among people treated by Stephen Ward were Churchill, Gandhi, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor.  He drew Princess Margaret.

The trial seems like an internecine  struggle between sections of the Establishment.  Perhaps supporters of the Conservative government wanted revenge.

If that was the plan it worked.  Stephen Ward committed suicide.

One of Jack the Stripper’s victims, Frances Brown, had given  evidence on behalf of Stephen Ward prior to her murder.  Police put pressure on prostitutes to give evidence against Stephen Ward.   There has been speculation that some of the victims were connected with the Stephen Ward circle.


Jack the Stripper was never caught.   The investigation was taken over by Detective Superintendant Jack du Rose who saturated the area with Police, set up cordons taking the numbers of vehicles and closely observing prostitutes.  Forensic examination of  paint on the bodies linked the murderer to a site on the Heron Trading Estate.  Seven thousand people worked there and many more visited.

In films about serial killers there  a cliche: “One thing is certain he will kill again.”  .

But will he?  Maybe serial killing is a crime of opportunity.  Possibly some serial killers give up, or retire, or get another job or take up a hobby.  We don’t know.  The most likely explanation  is that the saturation policing policy forced Jack the Stripper out of business just as it probably forced Jack the Ripper out of business.   If this is true our picture of serial killers is sometimes wrong.  They may adjust their behaviour to the environment like everybody else.

Be that as it may Jack du Rose hinted that a suspect,  a security guard who committed suicide, was Jack the Stripper.   This suspect was Mungo Ireland.  He was in Scotland when one of the victims disappeared.  Jack du Rose says that the murders ended when Mungo Ireland committed suicide. It is at least as  likely that the murders ended because Police activity made continuation  impossible.

In his compelling and unpleasant book “Jack of Jumps”  David Seabrook says it was a Police Officer. He gives clues who this Officer is and he is probably  wrong.  Neil Milkins in his attractive book: “Who was Jack the Stripper?” says it Harold Jones who was a child killer.  But he does not put forward  evidence.

Freddie Mills is also named as a suspect.

Many investigators including Police Officers had pointed to suspects in the Police.  A Police Officer would have obvious advantages.

For all we know Jack the Stripper could still be alive.



For a lass from Blackpool, Helen was distantly connected with some big names all the way up to the Prime Minister and the Royal Family. Small compensation for being dead.

In London she seems to have enjoyed the company of West Indians and to have spent time in Jazz Clubs.  She was also said by Police to be “addicted” to “Indian Hemp.”

What was Helen like?  She had good friends.  David Graham,  the friend who says he was with her on Friday.  was  lying to protect her.  Alternatively he was telling the truth despite  threats from the Police.  Helen’s refusal to admit her guilt and implicate her companions could be seen as defiant and loyal.  At first sight Helen’s  unforced admission to the court that she was a prostitute seems unwise.     Another interpretation is that she was unwilling to conform. There is another instance where Helen freely says she is a prostitute.  She says she met a group of lads from Preston and they asked her what she did and she said she was a prostitute.  The lads asked her if she would “roll” a client and Helen said she did not do that.  What is striking is Helen’s frankness.

About her early years we know little.  She lived near Edinburgh.  Her father was in the Free French Navy .  She does not seem to have got on well with her mother , her parents divorced and her mother remarried.  Many articles say that she was “convent-educated.”  If she  rejected the nuns she may have become the opposite of a nun, a prostitute. Her frankness about her profession might have been defiance towards the nuns.

After her death Mrs Paul of Chapel Street, Blackpool, said that Helen had stayed with her for three years until the summer of 1962.  She said that Helen was part of the family and she also said that after her release Helen couldn’t settle in Blackpool and sought a new start in London.  She revisited Mrs Paul at Christmas and she wrote regularly and was planning a holiday in Blackpool.   Mrs Paul said: “she was a happy girl.”

When she was nineteen she had an illegitimate child called Robert who was adopted. Robert and his wife have adopted a child themselves.  When he was twenty one the Police gave him a file about his mother’s death and he has hired agents to find out more.  He has located a half-sister, the daughter of his deceased father.   Put yourself  in Robert’s shoes: imagine that you know you have been adopted and when you are twenty-one a Police Officer gives you a file and you learn that your mother was a prostitute and the victim of a serial killer.

It wasn’t  as stark as that.  Robert had known that his mother had been murdered from age seventeen.  Still it would need fortitude.  Maybe Robert’s character owes something to Helen.

And then what…

There are  things we do not know.    Maybe the life of a prostitute suited her. Maybe she was a born rebel.   Briefly Helen may have known the answer to the question that has puzzled generations: Who was Jack the Stripper?

An innocent cause of Helen’s death was the conscientiousness of the court system which released her to be killed.  Hardy’s words about Tess of the Durbervilles come to mind:

“The immortal President of the Universe ended his sport with Tess.”





The Evening Gazette

thanks to Local and Family History for use of the archives.

Two Books:

Who was Jack the Ripper

by Neil Milkins

well researched.

Jack of Jumps

by David Seabrook

An unpleasant book but kind of compulsive.  For people like me of a morbid nature David Seabrook seems to have been an  isolated individual and died under unusual circumstances.  His book is a kind of psychogeography and he becomes part of the myth he weaves.  You have to wonder how he  managed to get access to police files.






Lawrence Leach and Gypsy Ned. 1865.


dunes hotel

Thanks to Robert Leach for this early picture of Lytham Road and the Dunes.  The actions described happened in this area.  In 1865 the Dunes was the site of John Pearson’s coffee house.


What do the following words have in common?  Chav, cash, pal, lollipop.  The answer is that they are all derived from Romany.  Gypsies have contributed to the culture of Blackpool.  Landaus, fortune-tellers, ladies selling white heather.  And Gypsies were involved with early circuses and entertainment on the Golden Mile.

In 1782 a fourteen year old girl was hanged for associating with Gypsies.  Gypsies were “the other.”  Heathcliff and Mr Rochester were associated with Gypsies.   Barbara Cartland agitated for legislation  to protect Gypsies.  Elvis Presley had Gypsy heritage.  Nevertheless there  are elements of traditional Gypsy life would have the Guardian reader spitting out her croissants.

Gypsies have a longer history in Blackpool than most  residents.  First in the early 19th Century they  camped at North Shore and later at Starr Hills near the Pleasure Beach.  Among the families were the Boswells who were close to being Romany Aristocracy.

I am grateful to Robert  Leach for drawing my attention to a case that happened in 1864/1865 and involved his fourth grand uncle Lawrence Leach.   It is intriguing because it involves “Gypsy Ned”, Edward Boswell.  Sadly the facts are incomplete but it reveals a Blackpool which is almost a village surrounded by areas such as Marton which were  rural.  It is  Blackpool on the verge of transition.

In 1864 Blackpool was overshadowed by its neighbour in the Fylde, Kirkham.

Lawrence Leach was a master builder employing six men and he was in the right place.  The growth of Blackpool after 1846 and the coming of the railways was unique.  Early pictures of Blackpool show a number of tall chimneys.  These are brickworks.  Blackpool was built from bricks made from clay dug from the ground in Blackpool. If you live in an older house it might have been built by Lawrence Leach.  Farmers in particular benefited when agricultural land became building land.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) led to a Cotton Famine as a result of the Union blockading Southern Ports.   Lancashire Mill Towns, formerly prosperous, saw unemployment and hunger.  Blackpool was partly dependent on these mill-workers.

What do we know about Lawrence Leach?   In 1850 he was charged with assaulting his wife’s sister and brother.  It was settled out of court.  Later he won a race for small boats at Blackpool.  He was a member of the Society of Oddfellows.  We guess that he was sociable, athletic, strong, sometimes aggressive  and a tad on the wild side.


On Friday 3 December 1864  Lawrence Leach left his home in Warbrick  Street and his long-suffering wife Eleanor.  According to Eleanor he had been “on the spree for a fortnight.”  He had “a considerable sum of money.”  This seems to have been 20 sovereigns.  A  Police Constable would earn a pound a week. Lawrence Leach was aged 40 and was one day from his death.

He went to Mrs Blundell.  She had a farm on Layton Hawes.  Layton Hawes is surprisingly in Marton.  It’s name comes from the fact that people from Layton had common land there until it was  confiscated by enclosures in the later 18th Century.

Lawrence arrived at about 5.00 pm.  There he had his tea and some beer.  He gave Mrs Blundell the twenty sovereigns to look after.  Between 6 and 7pm he left.  A witness says: “He became rather wild”  His fortnight’s spree might be catching up with him.  Mrs Blundell says she gave him the twenty sovereigns back.   George, one of Mrs Blundell’s sons says that he fell over some mugs outside the house.  He went to John Pearson’s coffee house. While he was there he demonstrated his athleticism by standing up from a stool with crossed legs without using his hands.  He had two drinks and set off back to Mrs Blundell’s but he could not find his way and Mr Pearson’s son , Richard, showed him the way.

About 9pm he knocked on the door at Mrs Blundell’s.  There was on answer so he threw a stone and broke a window.  John Pearson’s son ran away.  Mrs Blundell sent one of her sons for the police and another for Gypsy Ned.  According to Gypsy Ned, Lawrence Leach raised his fists.  Ned pushed him and he fell over.  He lay on the ground for three quarters on an hour until the  Police arrived and took Lawrence Leach to the Police Station.  According to one of Mrs Blundell’s sons one of the Police “bobbed” him, that is kicked him.  Lawrence Leach was abusive and PC Geddes  struck him with his cane.  The Police Officers took Lawrence to be drunk and incapable.  In fact he was in pain and  drifting in and out of consciousness.gypsy ned


Edward Boswell “Gypsy Ned” dressed as a fisherman.


The next day Mrs Eleanor Leach turned up early at the Police Station.  She took Lawrence his breakfast and called Doctor Cocker.   Lawrence complained of pain.  His face was marked.  He did not mention Gypsy Ned but said that “a tall Policeman” had hit him causing the marks on his face. He told Eleanor that Mrs Blundell was keeping 20 sovereigns for him.  Mrs Blundell also visited him and said she was not charging him over the broken window.  Was there was a deal where she did not charge Lawrence in return for the 20 sovereigns?   .

Lawrence was taken by train to court at Kirkham.    At Kirkham he was not charged and when he returned to Blackpool he took a carriage home.   He complained of pain all the time and at  8.30 on the Saturday evening he died.  Doctor Cocker examined the body and found bruising and that death had been caused by a rupture of the bowels and that disconcertingly his scrotum was black with bruising.

Lawrence Leach was a well known popular figure and the inquest at the Police Station in Abingdon Street was crowded.   The Preston Pilot writes darkly about  “imputations against the Police. “The Fleetwood Chronicle says that: “Many people believing that he had died of ill usage at the hands of the Police.  ”

Inquests in those days involved the jury viewing the body in the mortuary.

On Saturday 3 December at 7.00 pm, at the Royal Oak,  Gypsy Ned said of Lawrence Leach: “I gave it the bugger right.  I have marked the bugger right.”  At that time Lawrence Leach was dying at his home and died at 8.30pm.

Doctor Cocker said it was possible that the fatal injuries could have been cause by falling over the mugs.

In spite of the Coroner’s advice that there was no clear evidence the Jury’s verdict was “Manslaughter by Edward Boswell.”

The case was to be tried at Lancaster but it was found that there was no case to answer.

There  wasn’t any evidence that Edward Boswell,  “Gypsy Ned”, had struck a fatal blow.  There was the alleged fall outside the farm, and the blows by the Police and the lack of an accusation from Lawrence Leach.

So that is what is known to have happened.  What really happened?  It seems probable that Mrs Blundell stole the 20 sovereigns.  Her evidence, and that of her sons, was in  Ned’s favour.  Were they acting together? Gypsy Ned  was acting as her protector.  The evidence that Lawrence Leach fell and that Mrs Blundell returned the money relied on Mrs Blundell’s son.  The only other witness, Jane Webster, did not confirm that the money had been returned.

The evidence of the Police Officers is self serving.

All we really know is that a man “on the spree” was arrested and died in Police custody.  Blackpool Police did not cover themselves in glory.

And that was it.  Lawrence Leach was buried in St John’s churchyard. His funeral was well attended and the Society of Oddfellows were represented.   The odds are that his remains are still there, not very far from where he would have been in a cell in Abingdon Street.  If  you have walked around the church you may  have walked over his remains.   There is a  possibility that his remains were amongst the minority  moved to Layton Cemetery in which case he shares the same ground as Edward Boswell.





The Boswell family became well-known.  His daughter Ada met Queen Victoria who had an interest in spiritualism and fortune-telling.  She was known as: “The Queen of the Gypsies.”

About a year later George Blundell, the son of Mrs Blundell appeared in the Fleetwood Chronicle on 15 September 1865.  He eloped with Derelia Boswell the daughter of Gypsy Ned.  They had taken fifteen shillings.  They were spotted in Fleetwood.  Gypsy Ned pursued them and they were apprehended in Knott End.  Gypsy Ned declined to prosecute over the missing fifteen shillings.

The American Civil War ended. President Lincoln was assassinated on  April 4 1865 by a distant relation of Cherie Blair, the wife of the former Prime Minister.  The Cotton Famine ended.

There is still a Romany presence in Marton.  The Boswell family are  involved in fortune telling. Sylvester Boswell  born in Blackpool, was known as “the Gypsy Scholar” and wrote the first Romany autobiography: “The book of Boswell.”

Eleanor Leach had lost her husband.  Her story is the saddest.   Her husband went out and the next time she saw him he was in a cell and the time after that he was dying in their home.    Blackpool was a small place and Gypsy Ned, Lawrence Leach, Mrs Blundell and Lawrence Leach must all have known one another.

Where did these things happen?

Blundell’s farm is approximately the current  site of the BLESMA home.

072  The farm may have been closer to the sea.  Gypsy Ned was camped on the property.  Mr Pearson’s Coffee House about the site of the Dunes.075

Lawrence and Eleanor Leach lived in Warbrick Steet which is now part of Dale Street and amazingly the house is still standing although much changed.

6 Dale Street

Now 6 Dale Street this is where Lawrence Leach lived with is wife Eleanor. Many thanks to Anne Charlesworth for permission to use this photo.



Abingdon Street Police Station where Lawrence Leach was taken is now the market.


I have been told that there is still a cell underneath the fish stall.  Future archaeologists may uncover it.  The Police Station is also where the inquest took place.


Thanks to Robert Leach for all his help.  He made the  point that Lawrence’s sister drowned in a well near Foxhall in 1837 and that his brother Richard was burned to death near the site of the Grand Theatre in 1855.  The sheer lethality  of early Blackpool gives you pause for thought.   Lawrence Leach is Robert’s fourth great uncle.    It was his Facebook entry in History of Blackpool (thoroughly recommended) which made me aware of this story.   I repeatedly got the locations wrong.  Thanks also to the ever patient staff at Blackpool Local History Centre.