But for each “King”, on every street; life was as dangerous as it was short, and often messy. During the 50’s and 60’s, Italian-born “King of Sleaze” Anthony Mella ran most of Soho’s hostess clubs. As his name suggests, “Big Tony” was tall and muscular, he was an ex-boxer who sparred with the infamous enforcer for The Richardson Gang - “Mad Frankie Fraser”, and was feared and respected.
In 1963, “Big Tony” bought the Grill Club at 48 Dean Street, which he renamed The Bus Stop. It comprised of a law-abiding café on the ground floor, a drinking den serviced by scantily clad ladies in the basement, and comfortable offices above for himself and the club’s manager, his life-long friend, Alfred Melvin.
But on January 28th 1963, at eleven fifteen pm, “Big Tony” burst through this door (see photo to right) and staggered into Dean Street, having been shot three times in back; the first bullet punctured his lung, the second ripped through his stomach - his hand struggling to stem the blood flow - and the third nicked a small hole in his heart. He collapsed just shy of Romilly Street, and died face down in the gutter.
Inside the club, Tony’s best friend, Alfred Melvin lay dead; a skilful single gunshot had blasted a hole through his head, blowing his brains up their newly decorated wall.
Police suspected this was the work of rival gangsters hoping to muscle in on Big Tony’s patch. When questioned, a waiter at The French House said he’d heard shouting, followed by four loud pops. At Melvin’s feet, the killer had dropped a small calibre Browning pistol, and with fingerprints on the butt & trigger, this confirmed their suspicions. But, as the Police were reminded by anyone who knew the two, no-one was stupid enough to take on “Big Tony”. No-one. Or so you’d think?
Upon examination, in the breast pocket of Alfred Melvin’s jacket, Police found a hastily scrawled note, detailing to his wife how he pressed “Big Tony” into repaying a £400 debt, as Tony, now flush, had the funds to afford it, but had refused, and had humiliated Alfred Melvin in front of the hostesses. In a fit of anger, Alfred shot his best friend three times in the back, then fearing retaliation, turned the gun on himself.
But... in a rare act of forgiveness, Tony’s wife sent a wreath to Melvin’s funeral and visa-versa. But before either of their husbands were even buried, “Big Tony’s” patch had already been carved up, and a new “King of Sleaze” was crowned. Life went on, and soon, both men were forgotten.
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 (and often forgotten) murder cases, 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 writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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Note: This blog contains only licence-free images or photos shot by myself in compliance with UK & EU copyright laws. If any image breaches these laws, blame Google Images.