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Episode Thirty-Four: Brian Alexander Robinson, a 19 year old part-time DJ who murdered a man he had never met before, for no financial gain nor personal malice. And yet, although he was found guilty, Brian should never have been tried for murder.
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Episode 34 – Brian Alexander Robinson and the D’Arblay Street Death
INTRO: Thank you for downloading episode thirty-four of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast.
Nominated one of the Best British True-Crime Podcasts of 2018 (yes, I plan to mention that until at least 2019, or maybe 2020), Murder Mile is based on my five-star rated guided walk, researched using the original declassified police investigation files, recorded using authentic sounds taken from the murder location, and comes complete with crime scene photos, location videos and a murder map to show you how close these murder truly are.
As always, Murder Mile is a lot like a hot date with a Thai hooker, as it features a quick thrill upfront, a mystery in the middle and a shock at the end, as well as lots of head-scratching and references to sausage, so stay tuned to the end for Extra Mile. Thank you for listening and 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, set within one square mile of the West End.
Today’s episode is about Brian Alexander Robinson, a 19 year old part-time DJ who murdered a man he had never met before, for no financial gain nor personal malice. And yet, although he was found guilty, Brian should never have been tried for murder.
Murder Mile contains grisly details which may upset the fluffy-bunny brigade, as well as realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen 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 34: Brian Alexander Robinson and the D’Arblay Street Death.
Today I’m standing on D’Arblay Street, smack bang in Soho’s centre; two streets west of the murder scene of Canadian masturbator Richard Rhodes Henley, one street north of The Blackout Ripper’s second victim Evelyn Oatley and one street north-east of sweet-natured sex-worker Ginger Rae.
Speckled with a messy mix of eighties eyesores, sixties shitpits and 18th century slum-houses, although D’Arblay Street is curiously quiet, bafflingly broken and painfully pug-ugly (owing to a teeny tiny hole in the road which – even after one and a half years - Westminster Council still hasn’t fixed), after a sizable injection of cash, this stumpy little side-street is finally being given a second lease of life, as… yes, you’ve guessed it… yet another haven for half-witted hipsters. Urgh!
And although, like a hipster’s head, it’s always half empty, except for vague hints of humus and falafel, the unsubtle sounds of bongos and digeridoos, and the sight of top-hatted twats supping micro-brewed beers made from liberated lentils, terrapin tears and ethically sourced breast-milk; if you’re idea of heaven is having a hat so tiny it looks like a boil on your bonce, jeans so tight that the world knows your religion, or a mush so hideously hairy it resembles an unkempt sailor’s anus (yes Marco, I mean you), give it a year, and D’Arblay Street may become your very own personal paradise.
And yet, today, on the south side of D’Arblay Street, by the dark and brooding archway of Wardour Mews, where a long-line of over-excited and easily-duped tourists, queue-up for two-to-three hours, simply so they can say that they’ve sat in a very specific if underwhelming café? It was right here, that Brian Robinson was forced to make a decision which would change two lives forever. (INTERSTITIAL)
On 22nd June 1948, a British troop-carrier docked in the Essex port of Tilbury having first made a detour to Kingston (Jamaica). On-board were 802 servicemen from the Commonwealth colony of the West Indies, who (as loyal subjects of His Majesty the King) had bravely fought in the Second World War, and now (with the Britain in an economic depression and suffering a severe labour shortage) these brave men were once again coming to our aid, but not as warriors, as workers. The ship would be known as The Windrush, and for many, it marked the birth of modern multiculturalism in Britain.
Having left behind their families, their homes and their lives, upon arrival at Tilbury Dock, with many men clutching a single suitcase, wearing their one good suit, a porkpie hat and a confused look as they wondered who stole the sun, hide all the fruit, covered everything in concrete and widdled in the water, some men stayed for just a few years, but most remained, later followed by their families.
And as immigration continued through the 1950’s, by the mid-1960’s, with the West Indian workers rarely (if ever) being thanked and habitually being branded the “bogie-man” by the uneducated whites and even by Britain’s other immigrants who’d quickly forgotten their own hardship and adopted a “we were here first” attitude to the new invaders, Britain in the 1960’s was a powder-keg of racial tension.
Sparked by far-right fascists such as Oswald Mosley's Union Movement who fought to “Keep Britain White”, inflamed by British Prime Minister Sir David Lloyd George who referred to Jamaica as “the slum of the Empire” and fanned by a Government who saw the West Indian emigres, no longer as help but as a hindrance, and not as a people but as a problem, almost a decade before the 1976 Race Relations Act (which made it illegal to refuse homes, jobs or services to anyone based on their ethnic heritage), it must have seemed like lunacy for any West Indian to want to come to Britain. But on 16th August 1961, a 16 year old boy did just that, and his name was Brian Robinson. (INTERSTITIAL).
Brian Alexander Robinson was born on 11th November 1944 in the Jamaican capital of Kingston. With stout little legs, podgy round cheeks and a pot-belly, Brian was the first-born son of two doting parents - Mary and Alexander. He was healthy, happy, loved and he would also be their last.
When Brian was just a one year old, his father died of cancer, leaving his distraught mother in the grip of depression. Being desperate for her attention, Brian became hyper-active and hot-tempered, but with him being the spitting image of her dear-departed husband, his love went unreturned.
Aged seven, being eager to be seen rather than smacked, whilst playing in the garden, Brian fell from a tree. And yet, as much as he screamed, cried and clutched his arm, with his mother having remarried and busy cuddling her new boy, neither Brian nor his injured arm received the attention they so badly needed. With his left humerus fractured, chronic inflammation having set in and with the bone going untreated, as Brian grew, his left arm didn’t, and the pain would plague him for the rest of his life.
Aged nine, Brian’s mother uprooted with her new family to Brooklyn (New York), leaving her first-born son behind in Kingston, the responsibility of relatives. Although studious, if a little easily upset, Brian studied hard at St Alison’s School and later at Grove College, but being of below-average intelligence and gaining no qualifications, aged just 16, Brian left the sunshine behind to seek a better life in Britain.
On the 16th August 1961, a five foot five inch man with square shoulders, an ambling gait and a little pot belly strutted down the gangplank at Southampton dock, his broad plump face beaming, as unlike the land he’d left behind; there was no sun, trees or sky, just a noisy cacophony of ships, trains, cars and cranes, as the air hung thick with smog. In his right hand, Brian held a small battered suitcase, and in his left hand, a hat, the arm of his brown suit having been re-stitched a few inches shorter.
Like most West Indians, raised on a diet of fruits, meats, vegetables and spice, the British cuisine was (at best) disappointing and (at worst) disgusting; a bland tepid over-boiled mush made from animal entrails, topped with an unpalatable pastry and – to combat the blandness – it would be slathered in salt, coated in ketchup or drowned in gravy, but for Brian, this was a symbol of his new life.
Sadly, 13 years after the first arrivals on the Windrush, the tide had turned, and with the West Indian emigres - who’d been invited to help rebuild Britain – now regarded by a thankless state as a burden, even highly workers struggled to find jobs – with doctors working as dishwashers, barristers as brickies and office clerks as cleaners – and being forced to live in slum-housing, their rights ignored and faced with a barrage of threats, hostility and violence, life for the British West-Indians was tough.
Having moved into a first-floor flat at 9 Elm Park in the West Indian enclave of Brixton (South London), although Brian briefly worked as a warehouseman and his work record was regarded as “satisfactory”, being easily riled, highly strung and hot-tempered, each job rarely lasted more than a few months. And always feeling like a stranger in a strange land, what Brian craved most for - was family.
Being hungry, desperate and broke, on 28th December 1962, Brian was fined 20 shillings for the theft of one loaf, four rolls and three pints of milk. On 17th January 1963, he was sentenced to three months in prison for handling forged money. And on 18th January 1964, he served five months for obtaining a stolen chequebook. And although he was hardly a career criminal; being a black man with a prison record in 1960s Britain, Brian struggled to find employment and after an endless slog of mind-numbing jobs (as a shop assistant, radio repair man and a laundry worker), in June 1964, Brian started work as a part-time DJ at the Limbo Club. Six weeks later, he would be charged with murder. (INTERSTITIAL)
Today, down the dark and brooding archway of Wardour Mews, just off D’Arblay Street, hidden in the basement of number 11b is D M Buttons; a bespoke embroiderers which monograms and personalises buttons for most of the exclusive tailors on Savile Row, but back in 1964, this was The Limbo Club.
With the eastern-side of Wardour Mews having been bombed during the blitz of World War Two, this thin, dark, Edwardian dead-end was once a no-go-zone for any sensible citizen, being packed (as it was) with derelict buildings, burned-out cars and broken glass. But amongst the debris, a series of illegal gambling dens, brothels, coffee-houses and nightclubs sprung up.
Hidden in the damp dark squalor of the rat-infested basement at 11b Wardour Mews, The Limbo Club was an illegal nightspot; notorious for its raids and run-in with the Police, frequent fights, racial tension and was predominantly frequented by black men keen to dance with white women, and visa-versa.
Being barely sixty feet wide by forty-feet deep with a low-slung ceiling, The Limbo Club was lined with threadbare benches along the bare peeling walls, with a brick stairs at one end, a badly painted mural of a Tuscan vineyard on the other, as well as a fag-machine, a few lights and a bar in the middle which served bottled beers and spirits. It was grubby, grimy and grim… but for Brian, this was home.
Perched in a corner cubby-hole, to the right of the brick stairs, with a hi-fi system, a vinyl turntable, a wooden chair and two stereo speakers, each evening, as the resident DJ, Brian spun a soulful mix of rocksteady, reggae and ska records, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, Toots and the Maytals, Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker and The Aces, Lord Tanamo and The Skatalites. And with many of the West Indian regulars drinking rum, smoking weed and chatting in a thick patois, although The Limbo Club was in a dingy basement in a bombed-out London slum, for Brian, it was a little piece of heaven
Ran by his best-friend Oliver (whose real name was Leon Winchester Williams), Oliver was 26 year old thin-faced Rasta with high cheekbones, tight dreads, a goatee beard and a thick Jamaican accent, who being a few years older and a few inches taller, Brian regarded as the brother he never had.
And with the Limbo Club being where Brian had met his 18 year old girlfriend Jacqueline Edwards, known as “Jackie”, a white girl from a Catholic family, who he planned to marry the following year? This wasn’t just a nightclub, this was his home and his family. And would do anything to protect them.
On the evening of Thursday 28th August 1964, one night before the murder, Brian – who was liked by everyone and had no known enemies – was DJ’ing in his corner cubby-hole. Sat near him on one of the threadbare benches was a large, white, ape-like bruiser from Deptford known as “Big Jim”; all knuckles, muscles and menace, his tree-trunk legs spread wide like he owned the place and a gruff scowl on his gormless face, as he necked back one too many beers.
Having stood up and stooped to pick-up a fallen vinyl record, Big Jim popped his paint-splattered boot on Brian’s chair. Being polite Brian asked “Excuse me, sorry can I have my chair” – as this thin wooden seat wasn’t just somewhere to park his bum, as with his fractured arm often caused him pain in the cold as well as the heat, Brian needed a place to rest it - but Big Jim grunted “no”.
Maybe he was genuinely tired? Maybe (like Brian) he was physically disabled? Or maybe, as a racist, Big Jim simply disliked a black man forcing black music into his white ears, but having asked politely twice, Brian shoved Big Jim’s foot and took the seat back. Without provocation, Big Jim pulled a flick-knife and drunkenly slashed at Brian’s torso, but missed and sliced a small hole in his jacket.
Enraged, Big Jim yanked the seat back, tossing the five-foot five-inch black youth to the floor, and as the white brute stood there, nostrils flared and knuckles gripped, towering over the small, chubby and physically disabled teen, with the shimmering blade of the flick-knife bared, Big Jim attacked again.
Suddenly, all Big Jim saw was bricks, as his snarling face was pinned to the wall by Eddie Cassar (the club’s burly bouncer) who disarmed him in an arm-lock. And as Big Jim yelled and frothed like a rabid dog, fearing a bloody aftermath, as Eddie held the drunken lout back, Oliver told Brian to run.
They’d had trouble in the Limbo Club before, not just because it was a club for black men, ran by black men and frequented by black men who danced with white women, and visa-versa, but because the Teddy Boys were always looking for a fight, and they’d travel into town to find it.
And – as senseless as it was - that’s how it started.
Friday 29th August 1964 was hot and sticky as the summer sun burned through the cloudless sky. For Brian, the heat and humidity was a welcome reminder of his Jamaican roots, as he sat shirtless on his sofa with Jackie, kissing and cuddling with the woman he loved. And as much as their lips lingered, little did they know, that this would be the last kiss they’d ever share.
At roughly 9pm, as the sun slowly set over the London skyline, his best-buddy Oliver, accompanied by his new girlfriend, Evelyn; a feisty Irish redhead who he’d met at the club just weeks before, called at Brian’s first floor flat at 9 Elm Park in Brixton. This was part of their usual routine.
As they fixed some cold drinks, Oliver cautioned his mate that the word on the street was that Big Jim would be back. Being no dummy, Brian knew this, and as much as he knew that a short tubby cripple didn’t stand a chance against a six foot oaf with a flick-knife, he knew he needed to even the odds.
From inside his blue jacket, Brian pulled a knife. Not a small knife, like the pathetic fish-slice that Big Jim had drunkenly waved about like a furious prude wafting away an unpleasant fart, but a real knife, with a thick steel blade, two inches wide by nine-inches long. Oliver’s wide eyes said it all, it truly was a terrifying piece, but that was the point. Brian wasn’t an idiot; he knew he was too crippled to fight, too small to run and had no experience of knives what-so-ever, so when Big Jim saw the big knife, it would be less of a lethal killing machine and more of a terrifying threat.
Again, Oliver warned Brian not to carry the knife, but his mind was made up. What if Big Jim attacked him? What if he attacked Oliver, Evelyn or Jackie? These weren’t just his friends, this was his family and (as a young boy with no real next-of-kin) these were the people he loved.
At 10pm; Oliver, Jackie, Evelyn and Brian – who was dressed in a blue corduroy jacket, crisp white shirt and blue jeans - caught the number 50 bus from Brixton to Charing Cross Road, and headed into Soho.
Although the sweltering sun had turned The Limbo Club into a stinking skunk-pit, as with having no windows, one door and being based in a damp basement, the feted stench of sweat, smoke and spilled spirits made the smell unbearable as the overheated patrons swigged back warm beers. With Big Jim nowhere to be seen, Brian’s seat staying under his bum and Oliver grooving with Evelyn on the dancefloor as Brian needle-dropped from ska track to reggae funk, apart from the usual blokey banter and argy-bargy from the local lads letting off steam, by all accounts, the night was uneventful.
In fact, the only fracas which preceded the murder was an unrecorded bit of verbal abuse between one group of local Teddy Boys, all of whom were white.
For whatever reason, a labourer called Peter Richardson Smith took umbrage with five local lads stood by the brick stairs; they were Johnny Howard, Victor Lazenby, Terry Marshall, Terry Kelly, Johnny’s brother David and Carole Anne Fisher, mother to Johnny’s four month old baby-daughter. But as fast as it flared up, the fury fizzed out, and – shortly afterwards - the lads left. It was just a regular night.
By 2am, with high-jinx over and everyone dancing, the nine-inch knife that Brian had stashed by his decks, ready to grab should Big Jim come cruising for a bruising, seemed pretty pointless. But the night was about to turn bad and that knife would change two lives forever.
Moments later, Oliver burst down the brick-stairs shouting “Brian! They’re here” and having barged passed the bulk of Eddie the bouncer, he hastily dashed into the bombed-out mess of Wardour Mews, his swift exit followed by a series of deafening thuds, smashed glass and muffled screams.
Eager to eavesdrop on the ensuing melee, the club’s patrons surged forward, causing a bottle-neck of sweaty bodies on the stairs, and being keen to keep the chaos outside, Eddie bolted the door shut.
Outside, a volley of hurled house-bricks and broken beer bottles bounced off the steel reinforced door, as a brutal cacophony of yells and screams echoed. As inside, Brian shouted “let me out, Oliver’s out there”, fearful of the unimaginable horror his best-friend was facing, as the missiles rained down.
(SILENCE) But the intended target was neither Oliver nor Brian; seeing a snarling gang of angry white youths, armed with bricks and bottles, Oliver thought these were Big Jim’s boys sent to bust Brian up. But huddled by the door, on the floor, he saw the bloody mess of Peter Richardson Smith, the labourer who’d had a brief verbal outburst with the local lads moments before, and as Oliver had exited the club, he’d accidentally been caught in the crossfire. Of course, Brian didn’t see any of this. (RETURN).
As the hail of homemade missiles died down and the fiery Jamaican forced his way out of The Limbo Club into the derelict bomb-sight of Wardour Mews, he didn’t see Peter Smith, he didn’t see anything, all he saw was Oliver; his friend, his brother and his family, slumped in sea of shattered debris, as pouring from his head was a steady stream of blood. Furiously, Brian demanded “who did this?”, and with a groggy trembling hand, Oliver said “those white boys” and pointed to a group of snarling yobs, dashing up the dark and brooding archway and out onto D’Arblay Street.
Seeing red as his seething blood boiled, as Brian charged up Wardour Mews, hurling a volley of abuse and bottles, as he dashed into the bright lights of D’Arblay Street, he very quickly realised his mistake. As being stood, smack-bang in the middle of the street, alone and exposed, Brian was surrounded by those fourteen white men, all armed, drunk and angry, as they slowly circled him. Most of whom had been in the club that night, one of whom was 25 year old local Teddy Boy - Johnny Howard.
As far as we know, neither Brian nor Johnny had ever met, talked or fought before. They were just two total strangers who’d come face-to-face. One was black, one was white, but both were hot-tempered.
Still steaming having seen his best-friend battered with bricks, fearing for the safety of his wife-to-be Jackie and believing that Big Jim had sent these angry white yobs to kill him, combined with the lethal mix of this being a racially volatile period in 1960’s London, Brian being a Jamaican Rasta, Johnny being a British Teddy-Boy and Jackie being Brian’s white girlfriend, that is all the moment took.
Being terrified, tiny and totally outnumbered, Brian pulled from his blue corduroy jacket the over-sized knife that he’d hidden by the hi-fi should Big Jim return. Although a threatening piece, now the realisation of Oliver’s words hit home; he was right, with Brian being short, crippled and not a born-fighter, he had no idea how to use the knife, and looking like a frightened zebra about to be pounced on by a wild pack of hungry hyenas, being desperate to escape, Brian began swinging and slashing indiscriminately with the sharp nine-inch piece of steel, mostly missing, until one of them hit.
Johnny Howard was stabbed just below his left nipple, the sharp blade piercing his crisp white shirt and khaki cardigan, sinking four inches long and three inches deep into his chest, skewering his left lung, severing his aorta and splitting his main artery. Johnny didn’t stand a chance.
As Brian and Jackie fled, having dived into a taxi on nearby Wardour Street, they didn’t see the horror unfolding behind them, as with steady spurts of hot red blood squirting from his severed heart, Johnny staggered towards his friends car, but having stumbled barely fifty feet, he suddenly stopped, just shy of Berwick Street, said “I’ve had it” and died in the street. He had a four month old baby daughter.
Brian was arrested in his first floor flat at 9 Elm Park (Brixton), just a few hours later, as he lay asleep with his girlfriend Jackie. Sitting on the bed, dressed in nothing but a pair of pants and a white vest, Brian professed his innocence, knowing his friends would back him up.
With the trial being held at The Old Bailey on 13th October 1964, less than six weeks later, with much of the eye-witness testimonies either being conflicted, convoluted or statements by hardly credible witnesses who (at the time of the murder) were either biased, drunk or drugged, even with the nine-inch knife and his bloodied shirt being found in his flat, Brian pleaded not guilty.
But having been implicated in the crime and fearful of receiving a lengthy prison sentence, one person colluded with the Police, became the star witness for the prosecution and testified that Brian alone was the murderer – it was his best-friend, Oliver. At his trial, an exasperated Brian stated “What a friend. He gets up in the box and says he saw me do it. When I get out, I’m never going to help anyone ever again”. A few months later, just as he was starting a life term in prison, Jackie dumped him.
Brian Alexander Robinson, the 19 year old Jamaican youth, with a deceased father, an absent mother and a disabled arm, who’d travelled from the sun-kissed isles of the West Indies into the English gloom and racial turbulence of the early 1960’s to seek a better life, a steady job and – he hoped – a family, spent the next fifteen years of his life trapped in a cold grey cell in Brixton Prison, with no sunlight, no music, no love and no chance of acquittal or an early release.
And as a black man in 1960’s Britain, who went to rescue his friend, was set-upon by an angry mob of white men and feared for his life, Brian appealed his life sentence on 24th May 1965, reasonably stating that he was threatened, provoked and (rightfully) he pleaded self-defence. His appeal was denied.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
Stay tuned to Extra Mile after the break, but before that, here’s my recommended podcasts of the week, which are the Getting Off Podcast and Felon. (PLAY PROMOS)
A big thank you goes out to my new Patreon supporters, who get exclusive access to lots of secret and often sexy Murder Mile stuff as well as a personal thank you from me; they are Lara Ingbordottir, Jay J, Stevie P, Mark Robotham, The Mysterious One and my lovely Eva, who’s paying me in kind. With a special well done to the winners of the exclusive Murder Mile stickers, badges and fridge magnets on my latest competition, only available via the Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast Discussion Group on Facebook.
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.
Thank you for listening and sleep well.
Credits: The Murder Mile true-crime podcast was researched, written and recorded by Michael J Buchanan-Dunne, with the sounds recorded on location (where possible), and the music written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Additional music was written and performed by various artists, as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0. A list of tracks used and the links are listed on the relevant transcript blog here
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”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British podcast Awards 2018", 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 & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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