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Welcome to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast and audio guided walk of 300+ untold, unsolved and often long-forgotten murders, all set within one square mile of the West End.
Episode Ten: Alfredo Zomparelli and the Golden Goose. On 4th September 1974, Soho gangster Alfredo Zomparelli was shot to death as he played on a pinball machine in the Golden Goose amusement arcade on Old Compton Street, by two hitmen in what was supposedly a contract killing. But who ordered him killed? And why?
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Episode 10 –Alfredo Zomparelli and The Golden Goose
INTRO: Thank you for downloading episode ten of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast. In each episode, I try to take a sympathetic look at each murder mostly from the victim’s perspective but sometimes (like in episode 3 where everyone was a victim) I also take it from the culprit’s view. Well this episode is a little bit different. It’s about “gangsters”, who are often romanticised as lovable cheeky rogues, but are actually nothing more than greedy, selfish, paranoid morons, who lack the brainpower and self-control to stop a petty childish spat turning into all-out war. And although by the end of this episode, the streets will be littered with bodies… none of them, were actually victims.
This episode contains lots of names, places and dates, some of which may be confusing, but all of which are vital to the story, so I’ve popped a handy reminder list of who’s who on the Murder Mile blog, with a link in these show notes. And if you’ve got any questions, please do join us for the Murder Mile “listen live” event this Sunday, simply by using the hashtag #MMPodLive on Twitter. Thank you for listening. Enjoy the episode.
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within one square mile of the West End.
Today’s episode is a guided walk of the revenge attack on Alfredo Zomparelli; a minor Soho gangster, part-time pimp and brutal enforcer, gunned down by two hitmen. And yet, what started as nothing more than a minor squabble, with a handful of bruises and a few dented egos, lead to one of Britain’s deadliest and bloodiest gangland feuds.
Murder Mile contains graphic descriptions of death which may not be suitable for those of a sensitive disposition, as well as very loud and realistic sounds, so that no matter where you’re listening to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 10: Alfredo Zomparelli and the Golden Goose
Today, I’m back on Old Compton Street, a place that some keen-eared listeners of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast have already started to dub the “epicentre of death”, as standing right here, on this ridiculously tiny street, I am surrounded by murder; to my right is the bloody deathbed of the Soho prostitute “Dutch Leah” and the tragic bombing of the Admiral Duncan; to my left is where the curiosity shop killer Edwin Bush was captured, and ahead is the gutter where the last pint of blood of the notoriously cruel gangster Tony Mella spilled down the drain from his infamously empty heart. As well as curious death of Charles Baladda, the baffling death of Boleslar Pankorski, the corner where Mafia front man Albert Dimes had a knife fight with criminal king-pin Jack Spot which left Frith Street dripping with blood, and the pub where Britain’s most infamous serial killer – Dennis Nilsen – wined and dined many a young man, before using their torsos as underfloor insulation.
All of which are gory stories that we shall be digging deep into, later in this series.
Half way down Old Compton Street nestled between a posh winery, a poncy bakers, a plethora of over-priced coffee shops and an exclusive S&M boutique for Soho’s more discerning sexual perverts, sits 36-38 Old Compton Street. Two four-storey townhouses, one in brown-brick, one in white plaster, but both smashed together on the ground-floor to house Muriel’s Kitchen, a warm and welcoming all-day eatery full of happy families, smiling couples and chatting chums, all who are sat on cream chairs under a green and white awning, as the reassuring smell of home cooked food with a modern twist (such as poached eggs, pancakes, sausages, cereal, syrup, tea, coffee and toast) emanates from inside.
But back in 1974, this was a gravely grim, sinisterly seedy and rather run-down amusement arcade known as ‘The Golden Goose’, where instead of just losing a few pounds in a pinball-machine, a notorious Soho enforcer would lose a lung, his spine, his brain and his life. (INTERSTITIAL)
Pop into any amusement arcade today, and you’ll be hit by the blast of bright lights, the deafening hum of cheesy disco and the sickly sweet smell of popcorn, doughnuts and candy-floss, as you wander an electronic playground for any one of any age, full of shoot‘em-ups, dodgems, dancing games and even a mechanical rocking duck for the kids, which is usually ridden by the dads.
But the Golden Goose was typical of 1970’s arcades; it was a grim grimy place for the over 18’s only, thick with the smell of stale sweat, spilled beer and tobacco smoke, where seasoned gamblers having spent the day bouncing between Old Compton Street’s many bars, bookies and brothels, would blow even more money in a series of illegally rigged slot machines and then storm out, drunk, angry and broke. And although the Golden Goose was brightly lit, full of life and easy-to-see-in owing to the ground-floor being entirely covered in full-length glass-fronted doors, amongst the drunks, druggies, gamblers and gangsters, a regular player on its pinball machine was a Soho enforcer known as Alfredo Zomparelli. (INTERSTITIAL)
36 year old Alfredo Zomparelli, who was unimaginatively nicknamed “Italian Tony” having been born in Italy, he was a five foot eight, stockily built tough-guy, with thick brown hair, a tight curved moustache, a large bulbous nose and mean scowling eyes, all sat atop of a furrowed brow. And although he always wore a suit, he never wore it well, as his crumpled shirt, crooked tie and scuffed shoes were the clothes of a moody, brooding, short-tempered man, who spoke with his fists. Being the top-enforcer to Albert Dimes (the Mafia’s go-to man in London), although Zomparelli dabbled in drugs, sex and second-hand cars, he had no brain for business, no natural flair for negotiation and being married to a stripper called Rozanna who had expensive tastes, Zomparelli was best suited to being a bully-boy and a hired goon. Although tough, his position in the Soho criminal underworld was as a seemingly meaningless pawn, who did his master’s dirty work, so why would anyone put out a contract hit on Alfredo Zomparelli? Well, that’s where our story begins, four years earlier.
Tuesday 5th May 1970, two men are sat in a pub at The Angel in Islington (two miles north east of Soho), supping pints and having a bit of banter; one was William “Billy” Hickson, a street-tough bully-boy with quick fists and short fuse, who even his close friends would describe as a “total head-case”, and the other was David Knight, the youngest brother of infamous London gangster Ronnie Knight.
Born in the old Victorian slums in Hoxton, one of East London’s roughest and most impoverished areas, Ronnie Knight was one of five children (Ronnie, Johnny, Jimmy, David and their sister Patsy) who were raised during the horror of the war-time Blitz, the poverty of post-war and eventually Ronnie turned to petty crime to survive, having being toughened up for a hard-life ahead by his father. Years later, Knight recalled "My father made us fight. If I got beaten, my dad took me and stood me in front of the kid and said ‘Fight him now.’ And I knew I couldn’t lose ’cos I would get whacked by my father”.
Beginning his criminal career by handling stolen goods, Ronnie Knight soon progressed up the East End and West End food-chain, buying up pool halls, managing nightclubs, organising armed robberies, running extortion rackets and investing in the sordid world of prostitution and pornography (what he’d refer to as “dirties”). And although the Knight Brothers rose through the criminal underworld in the shadow of the infamous Kray Twins, they regarded each other, and never stepped on each other’s toes, as even amongst thieves, there was no deeper bond than family. By 1970, Ronnie Knight was a big-time player, who loved the high-life of champagne, caviar, Rolls-Royce’s and even marrying the star of the Carry-On films, Barbara Windsor. But with fame came danger, and as the jealous rivals of Ronnie Knight knew, if you couldn’t get to Ronnie, you could always get to his youngest brother David.
So as David Knight and Billy Hickson sat in the pub, swigging back a few sherbets, a local hoodlum named Jimmy Isaacs stood over them both; his half-drunken eyes wild, his angry nostrils flared, his lips spitting venom and prodded an accusatory finger into the chest of David Knight, shouting “Your brother Johnny took a liberty with me the other day”. What this liberty was? Nobody actually knows, but being a small yet savvy man, and sensing Isaacs anger rising, David politely pacified him by saying “If John’s done you any wrong, then you go and sort it out with him. It’s nothing to do with me”.
Before he could finish his sentence, the enraged Isaacs readied himself to swing a punch at David, but being half-drunk and mostly hopeless as a fighter, Billy Hickson (the “headcase” with the fast-fists, the rough knuckles and the ready reflexes to prove it) whacked Isaacs square in the nose with a swift right-hook, breaking the bridge and spraying blood across his boots, leaving a bloody imprint on the tiled floor of where he once stood. Needing back-up, as a barroom brawl ensued, Isaacs ushered forward four burly buddies to bash the living hell out of David and Billy with whatever came to hand, including bottles, ashtrays, tables and chairs. And although they both gave as good as they got, the bar was in tatters, and David was a bloody mess. Of those four men who aided Isaacs, one was a Soho club owner named Billy Stanton, and the other was Stanton’s barman, bouncer and enforcer Alfredo Zomparelli.
And that is how it all began; a petty spat, over a bruised ego, which ended in a pointless pub brawl.
Obviously, Ronnie Knight didn’t take this news lightly; not just because his little brother who he’d always protected had been pretty badly bashed-up, not just because this was an intended attack on his other brother Johnny, but because this wasn’t just a random spat, this was part of a long-running feud with a gang of up-and-coming hoodlums hoping to muscle in on Ronnie’s patch. And as this turf-war escalated, Knight knew it needed to be stamped out.
Now, any other gangster - raised under such tough circumstances, with a family to defend, an honour to uphold and a feisty father who’d taught his kids to fight - would have seen red, tooled-up and gone in there with fists flying and battered sixty-two shades of shit out of Jimmy Isaacs and his merry band of cruising bruisers. But experience had taught him well, and in the same way that Ronnie Knight had never had a cross-word with the Kray Twins, he was also a seasoned negotiator who knew that when toes are stepped on and things are getting out of hand, it’s time to for cooler heads to prevail.
A “peace conference” was arranged on Thursday 7th May 1970 in the Latin Quarter nightclub at 13-17 Wardour Street, situated just off Leicester Square, at the entrance to London’s Chinatown and barely a two minute from Old Compton Street. Being one of the West End’s best nightclubs and cabarets, the Latin Quarter was the place to be, where plebs rubbed shoulders with celebs and even the occasional East End gangster. But with it still being early when Ronnie, Johnny and David Knight descended into the bowels of this dark cavernous club - with “head-case” Billy Hickson at their side, his fists forever twitchy - even for their liking, the club was ominously quiet.
Although he was a regular frequenter of the Latin Quarter, Jimmy Isaacs – the half-cut hoodlum who’d left David Knight all bruised, bandaged and bloodied - wasn’t there that night, and to be honest, as it was early on a Thursday, no-one was. The place was dead. The supposed “peace conference” was a wash-out, and so, with no-one there and nothing going on, Johnny Knight headed off for a piss.
The second he was out of sight though, Billy Stanton, the owner of the Latin Quarter and one of the four men who’d given David a damn good kicking, sauntered onto the dance-floor, instantly eyeballing Ronnie and his rather battered brother David. The mood was tense as the rivals stood inches apart; the room was silent and all that could be heard was their breath. But for once Billy Stanton’s right hand wasn’t balled-up into a fist. No, this time it was outstretched and open, the hand of friendship and forgiveness was extended to Ronnie, an apologetic grimace on his face, and the look of a man who knew that things had got out of hand. Ronnie smiled and went to shake Stanton’s hand…
…less than a minute later, one of the men would be dead.
Hickson, who’d been with David when the boys had attacked, having splattered Isaac’s nose and now also sporting his own injuries, having been scarred across the face and chest with a broken beer bottle, Hickson wasn’t here for peace, he was here to give them a “piece of his mind” as well as half a pound of fists to boot, and when he saw Ronnie Knight and Billy Stanton about to shake hands, the “head-case” flew off the handle. “What the f**k are you doing you prat?”, Hickson screamed.
And that’s all the moment took to tip it over from reconciliation to revenge; the room was a powder-keg of raw emotions and tension, and Hickson was the spark. Suddenly, everyone’s backs were up, fists were clenched, eyes were wide, and as Hickson stood nose-to-nose with Stanton, refusing to back-down and looking for a fight, from the darkness of the bar, the cabaret’s burly bouncer Alfredo Zomparelli stepped in.
What happened next can only be described as a melee; tables were tipped over, chairs were flung, bottles were smashed, fists were flying and faces were pummelled, as years of frustrated hatred was unleashed by both sides, who settled old scores with their knuckles. It was then, in the midst of the dark-lit carnage in the Cabaret bar that the fiery tempered tough-guy Alfredo Zomparelli quickly slipped into the nearby kitchen, pulled opened a drawer, and dived back into the frenzy of fists and flying boots having tooled himself up with a twelve inch carving knife.
Having relieved himself of a half a pint of piddle, as Johnny Knight left the loo, unaware of the powder-keg which had just exploded, he heard a right royal ruckus in the club; a mix of screaming, shouting and smashing, as the long-standing feud erupted into World War Three. As he ran along the corridor, he saw Ronnie Knight illuminated by a spot-light, wielding the full length of a metal bar-stool like a lion-tamer would to keep a ferocious lion at arm’s length, as Zomparelli, at the end of the stool stood; his eyes wild, his breathing deep, and in his hand he clutched a blood-stained knife.
But the blood wasn’t Ronnie’s.
As Johnny stopped on the stairs, his brain racing to catch-up to the horror that had taken place, he saw staggering towards him, with ghostly white skin and drenched in blood, was his youngest brother David. David collapsed at the foot of the stairs, having been stabbed twice in his back, with the full force of the twelve inch blade driving so deep into his body that it broke a five ribs, severed a lung and the thick steel blade impaled his heart. David stood no chance. And as he lay there, lying in an ever-increasing circle of blood as it spurted from the half-hidden but gaping hole in his chest, as Ronnie cradled his brother’s head in his arms, not realising how dire the situation was, Ronnie said “Come on Dave, get it together mate?” A few moments later, David Knight died, he was 23 years old.
Ten days later, Ronnie & Johnny Knight buried their youngest brother David, and Ronnie swore that with every last breath, that he would see Zomparelli dead, stating ” with him alive, the hate in me would eventually kill me as well”.
Alfredo Zomparelli was now a marked man, not only was he wanted by the police for the murder of David Knight, but also by every gangster with a name to make and a score to settle. So having dumped his bloody clothes in a locker in Leicester Square, Zomparelli boarded the night ferry to Dover and dashed back to his native Italy. But with his face plastered across every newspaper, in every country across Europe, and fearing that Knight’s cronies would find him sooner or later, Zomparelli handed himself in to the Police at Heathrow Airport, just three weeks later, and in November 1970, under armed protection, he stood trial at The Old Bailey for the murder of David Knight. Zomparelli was found guilty of manslaughter, and was sentenced to just four years… he served just two and a half.
Ronnie Knight later said “It made my day when I heard he only got a smaller sentence, 'cos I was gunning for him”, and with Zomparelli released from prison, that would make him an easy hit.
But did Alfredo Zomparelli go into hiding? Did he move away? Did he change his name? Did he adopt any kind of disguise at all to ensure that no-one could ever find him? No, of course he didn’t. Like an arrogant idiot with balls bigger than his brain, he set himself up as a dodgy travel agent on Frith Street, a side-street just off Old Compton Street, which was smack-bang in the middle of Soho, where he would often be seen, drinking in bars, walking the street or frittering away his ill-gotten gains on a pinball machine in an amusement arcade called the Golden Goose.
On the evening of Wednesday 4th September 1974, as was his usual routine, 36 year old Alfredo Zomparelli, alias “Italian Tony”, also known as “Eyetie Tony” by those who despised him, stood at the back of the Golden Goose; his feverish fingers on the pinball’s flippers, his ears muffled by bells and whistles, his eyes blinkered by the bright lights, his brain focussed solely on getting the highest score, and as he followed the pinball pointlessly bouncing around, he stood facing the wall, with his back to the large glass-panelled doors which covered the entire front of the arcade.
Watching from across the street, hidden by the shadows, their faces obscured by darkness, stood two men, who were watching, waiting, armed with .44 revolvers and ready to pounce…
…but this wasn’t Ronnie & Johnny Knight. Conveniently, both brothers were elsewhere that evening, with alibis which would cement their innocence, but standing across the street was a hitman named George Bradshaw and 21 year old Nicky Gerard (the son of notorious crime-boss Alfie Gerard) who’d approached Ronnie Knight with the proposition to kill Zomparelli and keep Knight’s hands clean.
With the evening drawing in and the street being busy with drinkers, but the handful of regulars in the half-empty arcade being easily distracted by the steady thunk as the slot-machines swallowed their money, Gerard and Bradshaw walked swiftly in, siddled up behind Zomparelli, and without any hesitation, fired three shots into his back, one through his head, and disappeared off into the darkness, as the Italian’s lifeless corpse slumped over the pinball machine; his blood dripping down the flippers, the glass cracked by the dead weight of his slowly cooling torso, and the scoreboard speckled with blood and sprayed with little white flecks of brain.
Ronnie Knight denied ordering the hit on Alfredo Zomparelli, the man who’d killed his baby brother, instead admitting “Next thing I know, Gerard comes up, says he's done it, I give him a thousand pounds, so I said go and have a drink on me. It wasn't pre-arranged, it wasn't nothing. My satisfaction was to do it myself and I was looking for him everywhere. I wanted him. But someone beat me to it”.
After a three-day murder trial at The Old Bailey, which began on 10th November 1980, in which George Bradshaw, one of those two hit-men, who had confessed to killing of Alfredo Zomparelli, had turned Queen’s Evidence and had implicated Nicky Gerard as co-murderer and accused Ronnie Knight of ordering and funding the hit on Zomparelli, George Bradshaw was found guilty of murder, and was sentenced to life in prison. Oddly, both Nicky Gerard and Ronnie Knight were found innocent of all charges and were later acquitted.
Eight years later, Nicky Gerard was gunned down, outside his home in Canning Town, as he sat in his Oldsmobile, by two masked men who unloaded two shotguns and an automatic pistol at him. As he tried to crawl the fifty feet back to his home, one of his masked assailants smashed his skull in with the shotgun’s butt, so fiercely the gun stock shattered, and then calmly shot him three more times in the back, chest and face. His attacker was Tommy Hole, an East End villain, who was shot dead by an unknown assailant in 1999 in a contract style hit. No-one knows who ordered both hits, or why.
In the late 1980’s, having served seven years in prison for his part in the 1983 Security Express armed robbery in Shoreditch, which at the time was Britain’s biggest cash heist, having stolen £7million, Ronnie & Johnny Knight retired to the Costa Del Sol in Spain (a place so synonymous as the holiday home for retired ex-cons, that it’s often dubbed the Costa Del Crime). In 2002, Ronnie Knight released his autobiography, in which he confessed to organising the hit on Alfredo Zomparelli, a crime he was found innocent of twenty years earlier. And although this confession caused the British government to rethink its double jeopardy laws (in which a person can’t be tried for the same crime twice), even though he’d admitted his guilt, Ronnie Knight was legally innocent of the crime, and as of today, aged 81, he remains in Spain, where the infamous East End gangster and self-confessed murderer is currently enjoying his freedom.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening to Murder Mile. Even though next week is Christmas, have no fear, your weekly dose of grisly murder, courtesy of Soho’s deadliest Santa, will be plopping into the ears like a large bloody stool, on Thursday morning, as per usual. But this time, as a little Christmas treat… I shall be delivering you something very different.
Don’t forget to join us for Murder Mile live this Sunday @ 9pm GMT, by using the hashtag #MMPodLive, as well as popping along to Murder Mile Walks, to hear even more murder stories which you won’t hear on this podcast. Murder Mile was researched, written & performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Next week’s episode is… a secret. Ssshhhhh.Thank you and sleep well.
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Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster 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 curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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