Full Transcript - Episode #2 Double Murder at The Bus Stop Club
INTRO: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk of London’s most notorious (and often forgotten) murder cases, all set within one square mile of the West End. Today’s episode is a guided walk of one of Soho’s strangest murders, as what initially seemed to the Police like a simple double homicide was anything but, and to those who “made money from crime”, it would typify how fragile life can be as a gangster. Murder Mile contains vivid descriptions which may not be suitable for those of a sensitive disposition, as well as photos, videos and maps which accompany this series, 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 2: Double Murder at the Bus Stop Club.
Today, I’m standing on the south side of Dean Street in Soho, W1, in London’s infamous West End. Measuring roughly one square mile and bordered by Oxford Street, Regents Street, Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road, Soho is the cultural home of the West End, a district synonymous with artists, writers and musicians such as Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, George Melly, The Beatles, The Who, Elton John, Queen, Eric Clapton, Brian Jones, Mozart and David Bowie to name but a few, as well as infamous clubs such as the Marquee Club, Ronny Scott’s, Billie’s, the Shim Sham Club, the Flamingo Club and the Whiskey-a-Go-Go… but – of course – what Soho is most infamous for…. is sex.
Over the last two hundred years, Soho has been the beating heart of London’s seedy sex trade, to such an extent that by the early 1960’s (when this episode takes place) Soho was home to over three hundred strip-clubs, clip joints, gambling dens and brothels, meaning that on some it’s seedier streets, almost every door had a buzzer, a red-light and a handwritten sign pointing upstairs which simply read “models”. And having such a rollercoaster history of ever-changing fortunes, shifting from chic to slum and back again within the same century, Soho was the place to come for drugs, booze and sex.
One such place in the early 1960’s was innocently called The Bus Stop. And although a period of modern gentrification (using builders, bulldozers, a sturdy set of sledge-hammers and a slew compulsory purchase orders) has attempted to eradicate Soho’s seedy history, the unsubtle hints are still dotted about here-and-there, featuring the last of the sex-shops, flesh-pots, porn theatres and suspiciously empty studio flats which are still rented-out by street-walkers and pimps working under a pseudonym and paying by the month, week, day and even by the hour.
Today, Dean Street is a heavily sanitised version of its former self; as although it is still 536 metres long and 16 metres wide, being a quick cut-through from the once-glamorous shopping district of Oxford Street (now a mecca for tacky tourist shite) to Theatreland’s Shaftsbury Avenue, via the homosexual merriment of Old Compton Street, Dean Street is now covered by a swathe of trendy eateries, upmarket restaurants and hip juice-bars. As an adult’s playground, it’s actually rather pleasant… but, no matter how quick they build, how fast they paint and how hard they scrub, nothing will ever wash-away the memory of the Soho gangster who stained Dean Street red with blood.
Although ominously perched between three infamous pubs; The French House which was once the unofficial headquarters of Charles de Gaulle and the French resistance during World War II, the Golden Lion where British serial killer Dennis Nilsen engaged some of his victims-to-be in an ill-advised drinking contest, and the Admiral Duncan where a deluded neo-fascist exploded a homemade nail-bomb, killing 3 people and injuring 70, 48 Dean Street looks like any other three-storey building built in the 1740’s… only it isn’t. Its history is a lot darker.
Now housing Rosa’s Thai café on the ground-floor and the serviced offices of a public relations firm above, the walls have been whitewashed, erasing any hint of its bloody history; two violent deaths, in two different places, and all because… of one man – Tony Mella.
Italian-born but raised in Croydon (South London), 37 year old Antonio Benedetta Mella, known locally as “Big Tony” was (as his name would suggest) tall, well-built and muscular, he sparred with the infamous enforcer for The Richardson Gang “Mad Frankie Fraser”, and was feared and respected. Although in his youth he was regarded as a half-decent boxer with some ability, he lacked the technique, courage and the aptitude to go professional. Deep-down, Tony Mella was nothing more than a dirty-fighter, who shunned the rules, shirked his morals and always hit below the belt.
Inside the ring he was undisciplined, violent and dangerous, but outside, in Soho’s seedy streets which were seen as a battleground for any gangster - whether French, Turkish or Russian, Muslim, Catholic or Jew – who hoped to carve themselves a slice of The West End, Tony Mella was tough, rough and nasty, as well as easily one of the best and dirtiest street-fighters around. A skill which would always come in handy, as Tony Mella ruffled feathers and reneged on deals.
Having risen through the ranks of Soho’s criminal underworld, Mella was a much-feared gangland figure whose primary business was hostess bars and clip-joints. Commonly known as “near beer” clubs, clip-joints are a grey area of the extortion racket, where customers are lured into a sleazy off-street sex-clubs, hidden in dark-lit basements, with the promise of nude girls, cold beers and maybe a “little something extra” with a lady. None of which would ever happen; the girls were clothed, the beer was weak and the only “little extra” the customer would get was an extortionate bill, an empty wallet and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave the premises without two broken legs. Would the customers pay-up? Oh yes. Would they complain to the Police? Oh no. And did the clip-joint break any liquor licencing laws? No, because their booze was so watered down, it was practically alcohol-free.
In the West End alone, Tony Mella (who it is said “didn’t have an honest bone in his body”) owned over thirty clip-joints, as he skirted the law, making himself a very tidy profit, and never once giving a rat’s-ass and single thought for anyone else, but himself.
One such clip-joint was owned by Tony Mella at 48 Dean Street, having procured the three-storey premises from its slightly scared owner using a fistful of notes, but mostly his fists. It was called The Grill Club, later renamed The Bus Stop, and 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 (later) the club’s manager and his life-long friend, Alfred Melvin.
As a word to describe Tony Mella, “selfish” was an understatement, “rude” was too kind and “deceitful” he’d probably deem as a compliment. As whether punters or pals, rivals or those he should really have respected, Mella would happily stiff anyone over a few pounds, stab them in the back over a dodgy deal and (having ruffled one too many feathers amongst Soho’s criminal fraternity) he had the scars to prove it.
His body was a patchwork of slits, stabs and slashes from old unsettled scores as he humiliated his friends in desperate bid to prove he was the top dog. Across his face and chest, the fragments of a smashed whiskey bottle were still embedded having “stepped out of line” in the presence of London’s criminal king-pin Billy Hill. Across his back and wrists were six slashes by an unknown illicit booze peddler who he’d stiffed over a shipment. And having double-crossed the Soho conman and a much-lauded dwarf tag-team wrestler by the name of Fuzzy Kaye (whose real name was Royston Smith) over a complicated con involving coin-operated one-armed bandits, Mella demeaned his diminutive partner, spitting out a mouthful of spiteful curses and having slowly bent down to humiliate further his height-restricted pal amidst a bar full of their friends, he laughed in the little man’s face. Smith, being barely 4 foot 2 inches tall but a sturdily built tough-guy who could easily handle himself (in or out of the ring) slashed Mella across his bottom with a very sharp bayonet, scoring each buttock with long bloody lines like his arse was a noughts & crosses board. Tony Mella didn’t sit down for a week.
And although big, brash and bull-headed, Tony Mella never learned his lesson.
In July 1951, having “stepped out of line” once again and shown a severe lack of loyalty to crime-boss Billy Hill, Mella was paid a little visit by his old sparring partner “Mad Frankie Fraser”. Although just 5 foot and 5 inches tall, standing almost half a foot shorter than “Big Tony”, the aptly named “Mad Frankie Fraser” was working as the personal bodyguard to Billy Hill and was an associate of the Richardson Gang (arch rivals to the infamous Kray Twins), who during his lifetime would spend 42 years in prison for bank-robbery, murder and (his own personal speciality) torture.
Pinning Mella to the floor of his flat in Old Street, “Mad Frankie Fraser” pulled out his trusty flick-knife, clicked open the four inch blade and set about hacking and slashing at Mella’s flesh like a man possessed. During the attack, Tony Mella had lost four pints of blood and a nice suit-to-boot. But he die? No, he could have, he should have, but he didn’t. “Mad Frankie Fraser” was a professional and besides this wasn’t a murder, this was a message, a blunt calling-card that said “cross over the line again and you’re dead”. After a few days in Whitechapel Hospital, his sliced-up torso held together by a few dozen stitches, Mella was out… but not before he’d claimed to the trashy tabloid newspapers that he’d been set upon by six rivals who’d held him down and had cut him over hundred times.
Outside, he was desperate to be seen as a bad boy, a feared felon and a master gangster whose manor his rivals were eager to muscle in on, but inside… he was scared for his life. Tony Mella needed a bodyguard, he needed protection, and so he turned to the one man he knew could trust, an old pal from his boxing days at Mile End Arena – Alfred Melvin.
Alfred Melvin, known simply as “Big Alf” to his friends was a gentle giant; six foot tall and half as wide, with a boxer’s broken face and a soft heart in hard frame; who could silence a room simply by walking in, who could settle a debt with a firm hand on a nervous shoulder and who could pacify a problem punter just by giving them a look; and yet “Big Alf” always had a smile, a whistle and a song, and what he couldn’t solve with his fists, he could overcome with his sheer size and his charm.
Being more than a decade older than Tony Mella, Alfred Melvin’s boxing days were most definitely over; not only owing to far too many knocks to the head, cracks to the ribs and a waistline which could no longer be described as “fighting fit”, but with his heart no longer being into boxing, “Big Alf” had set himself up as a florist. And although a life with his beloved wife; surrounded roses, tulips and pansies was a far-cry from the exciting world of being semi-professional pugilist, it was safe, calm and (best of all) it paid the bills… for a while at least. But around the time that “Mad Frankie Fraser” was using Tony Mella’s chest as a cutting board, Big Alf’s floristry shop - situated just off the fashionably expensive King’s Road - was struggling financially, debts were racking up and he needed money fast.
One week later, Alfred Melvin was hired as the personal bodyguard of Tony Mella; it was a job he would hate, a job he would resent, and a job he would live to regret. As with having failed to learn his lesson, and now feeling he’d got a hulking great friend to protect him, Mella continued being the bastard that he always was; sly, rude, crude and obnoxious, a discourteous man with no manners, morals or sense of respect… as all the while, the ever-loyal “Big Alf” was watching his back.
Ten years later, by the end of the 1962, with money even tighter and his florists shop slowly going out of business, Alfred Melvin was still working to Tony Mella as his bodyguard, but also as the club’s manager and (so he thought) his partner.
Having recently purchased the three-storey building at number 48 Dean Street, which he’d renamed The Bus Stop Club, it was entirely owned by Mella but the day-to-day running of Soho’s newest clip-joint was managed by Alfred Melvin. As a boss, “Big Alf” was a sweetie; polite, proud and punctual, with a swift sharp right-hook to any drunken punter who’d dare manhandle his dancing girls. Many of whom had come to London on the promise of a glittering career as a dancer or an actress, with the club merely as a seedy stepping-stone to seeing their name in lights on London’s West End, having been duped into giving a “personal audition” to Tony Mella on his second floor casting couch.
Although illicit and being a business of dubious morals which skirted the law and dealt in deception, “Big Alf” ran the clip-joint like it was a family business; everyone was looked after, everyone was cared for and everyone was paid on time, even if the money came from Alf’s own pocket, none of which he could afford.
By January 1963, just a few short months since The Bus Stop’s launch, with the often-absent Tony Mella reneging on deals, shafting suppliers and syphoning off cash from this club to live the lavish lifestyle of a big-time gangster - and even though the club was in profit - “Big Alf” was £300 down (which is just shy of £5000 in today’s money). £300. Maybe that’s not a huge fortune, but for a man with a wife, kids, a house and a florists on the brink of bankruptcy, it was enough to cripple “Big Alf”.
And yet, along with every other promise that Tony Mella made to his old friend and protector Alfred Melvin; the promise to pay him all the money back, the promise of a partnership in the business and the promise of a share of the club’s profits, and as much as big-hearted Alfred Melvin believed that he would, Tony Mella never kept his promises.
On the evening of 28th January 1963, just before 11pm, on a quiet Monday night at The Bus Stop club, as barely a handful of punters watched a stripper lightly jiggle and wiggle her tassels, entirely unaware of the excessive bill they were about to be handed for the pleasure of a buying a dancer a woefully watered-down drink which was about as boozy as a breath-mint, the punters suddenly became distracted not by the girly action on-stage, but the un-manly action off-stage, as with voices raised, chests inflated and tempers flared, “Big Alf” bit-the-bullet and demanded his money.
The club fell silent.
And slowly, amidst the deafening silence in the seedy basement of 48 Dean Street, Tony Mella began to laugh. Not jokingly, not warmly, not even naturally, but sinisterly, savagely and spitefully, right back in his friend’s face. It was almost as if the last twelve years had never happened; being stitched with a bottle of whiskey by Billy Hill, being cross-crossed by Royston Smith the dwarf wrestler, and having his chest sliced apart by “Mad Frankie Fraser” and his trusty flick-knife. It was never repeated or recorded what Tony Mella said to Alfred Melvin that night, but by those who heard it, all agreed it was rude, spiteful and humiliating. It was classic Tony Mella; he goaded his friend, but knew he was too nice to fight, too smart to retort and too broke to quit.
The last time Alfred Melvin was seen alive, was that evening, in his first-floor office at 48 Dean Street, at a little before 11:15pm. He was writing a letter. His resignation? You would hope so. But it wasn’t.
When questioned by the Police, a waiter at the China Rose restaurant opposite The Bus Stop club confirmed that he’d heard lots of shouting and noise, following by four loud “pops”. Initially the Police suspected that this was an old style gangland killing as rival gangsters had tried to muscle in on Tony Mella’s patch, as (at that time) in Soho different gangs were engaged in a never ending series of turf wars. And whether you were a big-time dope-dealer with a handful of gambling dens, a stash of stolen shooters and sixty-five fillies fornicating in a flophouse, or were just a wet-eared wannabe on Wardour Street, you always risked being rubbed out by anyone, at any time, for any reason. As life for a Soho gangster was as messy as it was short. But this wasn’t a hit, and this wasn’t business, this was personal.
At 11:15pm, on Monday 28th January 1963, through the front door of 48 Dean Street, Tony Mella burst, staggering into the 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 bullet nicked a small hole in (what supposedly was) his heart. Antonio Benedetta Mella collapsed just shy of Romilly Street, barely twenty feet from the door, and died face down in the gutter, his last few pints of blood pumping into the street, staining it red.
On the first floor of the club, the Police found Alfred Melvin in his office, sat upright in his armchair; a skillful single gunshot having entered under his chin and blasted a large hole through his head, blowing his brains up their newly decorated wall. At his feet lay a small calibre Browning pistol, with his fingerprints on the butt and trigger, and in his breast pocket, a freshly written note, to his beloved wife and now his widow, it simply read: “I’ve come into this world with nothing and I’m going out with nothing. This bastard Tony Mella has used me in every shape and form, I’ve been a drunken mug, he’s cashed in on my weakness”. And all… over £300.
Supposedly, that evening, a police constable from West End Central ran into the station excitedly shouting “there’s a party in Soho tonight, Tony Mella’s dead”, as being so despised by both the Police and gangsters alike, Mella was not going to be missed, but the same couldn’t be said for “Big Alf”.
A few days later, both men’s funerals were held; Tony Mella’s in Manor Park Cemetery and Alfred Melvin’s in Battersea, and as mourners struggled to find space to pay their last respects to big hearted Alf, the turnout to Tony Mella’s funeral (in comparison) was sparse. And yet, 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, Tony Mella’s patch had already been carved up by his rivals, as life went on in Soho’s seedy sex trade, and soon enough, Anthony Benedetta Mella – the self-proclaimed king of Soho… had been forgotten.
#1 - Gangland by James Morton - link
#2 - Find You Boxing Ancestor, history of Tony Mella - link
#3 - Mad Frankie's Fraser's Underworld of Britain by James Morton & Frankie Fraser
#4 - Murder Houses by Jan Bondeson
#5 - Billy Hill: Godfather of London by Wensley Clarkson
#6 - Pure Royal Holloway by Anna Whitwham - link
As well as Getty Images, BBC Motion Capture Archive, National Archives at Kew, Mile End Stadium, National Newspapers Online, Jimmy Brazier, Arthur Shaw and Freddie Gough.
Under the Creative Commons Agreement via Freesound.Org, the following sounds were used:
POSSIBLE AMENDMENT (01/09/17): Interestingly, Soho gangster Bert Rossi claims to have been one of the six men who inflicted the injuries to Tony Mella (which "Mad Frankie Fraser" claims was him) but as no-one was arrested for this assault, it's impossible to work out who is telling the truth , so without further evidence the episode remains as is - link
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, 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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