Do you watch Sherlock? Remember the scene in 'A Study in Pink' when Sherlock and Watson are seated opposite each other in a Soho tapas bar, having texted the phone of murder victim - Jennifer Wilson - knowing her killer still has it on him.
It was filmed here, at 46 Broadwick Street, Soho, at the window-side table of a lovely little restaurant called Tapas Brindisa. Try it! The food's lovely.
But what neither the cast or crew would have known is that just two floors above then, in the second floor flat of 46 Broadwick Street, was a real-life murder, which even today - now almost seventy years on - it remains unsolved.
Ten years after the Soho Strangler - a sadistic maniac who would terrorise West London's notorious red-light district, strangling at least four prostitutes ("Dutch Leah", "French Marie", "French Fifi" and Marie Jeanette Cotton), and whose identity has never been uncovered - three more prostitutes would be murdered.
As before, all were Soho prostitutes, all were female, and all lived just streets from each other; they were “Russian Dora” on Long Acre, “Black Rita” on Rupert Street, Margaret Cooke on Carnaby Street and “Ginger Rae” on Broadwick Street.
None of their murders have ever been solved.
On 26th September 1948, 41 year old Rachel Fennick (alias “Ginger Rae”), a prostitute since the mid 1920’s with eighty-seven convictions for soliciting, theft and brothel keeping, was found murdered in her flat, on the second floor of number 46 Broadwick Street. But unlike those before her, she hadn’t been strangled, mutilated or bludgeoned; instead she had been stabbed, once, in the stomach.
Police knew this wasn’t the work of a sadistic killer. No, this was a contract killing. “Ginger Rae” died instantly, having been stabbed with a “Mediterranean” style knife, either a Sphairai or Janbiya. A short-handled dagger with a curved heavy blade, designed to cut through muscle and bone, but when stabbed, can be twisted upwards, slitting the internal organs (such as the intestines, lungs, liver or heart) in one swift movement, making it a much feared weapon.
Suspicion rightfully fell on her new pimps, the Messina Brothers; Salvatore, Carmelo, Alfredo, Attilio and Eugene, who were Italian born but Maltese raised, and who from the 1930’s to the 1950’s dominated London’s criminal underworld. They ran over thirty brothels in Soho, Mayfair & Fitzrovia, and bribed the Police with such efficiency that they ran unchecked in the city. Attilio Messina reportedly stated to the press: "We Messina's are more powerful than the British Government. We do as we like."
So were they ever arrested for the murder of (one of their prostitutes) "Ginger Rae"? No. Of course they weren't. So why was Ginger Rae killed? Well that we’ll never know. But one thing we do know is that the Messina Brothers were fans of issuing a big clear message to any of their "working girls" who stepped out of line, either by cutting off their tongue if they'd talked too much, gouging out their eyes if they'd seen something they shouldn't have, or...
...by the single slit to Ginger Rae’s stomach, which was a rather brutal warning to the other girls, about the dangers of “spilling your guts”. Whether that's true, we shall never know.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten quirky & unusual things to do in London” and featuring 18 murderers, 3 serial killers, across 21 locations, totalling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime historian, writer and tour guide of Murder Mile Walks.