Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast #60 - Reginald Gordon West: the Birthday Party and the Spent Penny
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Welcome to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, set within one square mile of the West End.
On Monday 25th April 1966, Reginald Gordon West was murdered by three young men; he had never met them before, he had never seen them before and they had never spoken before. In fact, they had never met. So why and how did they kill him?
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I've also posted some photos to aid your "enjoyment" of the episode. These photos were taken by myself (copyright Murder Mile) or granted under Government License 3.0, where applicable.
Ep60 – Reginald Gordon West: The Birthday Party and the Spent Penny
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 London’s West End.
Today’s episode is about the senseless death of Reginald Gordon West; an innocent man in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for a very innocent reason. Oddly, he never saw his killers, he never heard his killers and – stranger still – he would never meet his killers.
Murder Mile is researched using the original police files. It contains moments of satire, shock and grisly details, and as a dramatisation of the real events, it may also feature loud and 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 60: Reginald Gordon West: The Birthday Party and the Spent Penny.
Today I’m standing on Lisle Street, WC2; one street east of the Latin Quarter nightclub where the murder of David Knight led to a mafia hit on Alfredo Zomparelli, two streets south of the Piccadilly Hotel where the first bungled assassination on Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko irradiated an entire room, and a few doors down from the infamous Rose n Dale murder – coming soon to Murder Mile.
Lisle Street is a thin pedestrianised road wedged between Shaftesbury Avenue and Leicester Square, and bookended by Wardour Street and Charing Cross Road; with the north side being a mix of oriental eateries, noisy gay-bars and discrete brothels, and the south side little more than a featureless wall being the backside of such cultural delights as the Hippodrome, Warner’s Cinema and M & M World.
Rarely bathed in sunlight, Lisle Street is dark and shadowy; a seedy side-street slathered in gloom and menace; illuminated by the fizz of tacky neon signs, echoing with the deafening clatter of cobblestones and dripping in the beery stench of frothy urine, as a drunk expels his pee just two feet from a portaloo, only to exclaim “f**k sake” having tripped over one of fifty bin-bags or slipped in yet another dog-shit.
Sadly, Lisle Street (being yards from Leicester Square) has lost most its charm; as with many punters feeling fleeced having watched a street performer gee-up the crowd for 58 minutes, do two tricks and guilt-trip them all into giving a quid, they all slump to Lisle Street with a major grump-on, only to be jostled by tramps, junkies and a dickhead dressed as Pikachu, amongst the moronic chant of football louts, the high-pitched squeal of an over-prosecco’d hen-do and some lairy lads out on the lash looking for a place to pint-up, piss, puke, or pay £30 to pop their pointless little peckers in the sore-raddled vagina of an exploited, under-aged, drug-addled sex-slave. (chanting - “lads, lads, lads”, laughter).
Today, 23 Lisle Street is home to the Beijing Dumpling; a tasty little dumpling house set in a thin four-storey brown-stone building on a long curved terrace, with a small restaurant on the ground-floor and a side door to flats above. It’s warm, friendly and the good’s great, but if you breathe deeply, there may be an odd smell you can’t quite put their finger on.
As it was here, on Monday 25th April 1966, on the second floor of 23 Lisle Street, where the life of Reginald Gordon West would end at the hands of three killers… who he would never meet (Interstitial).
On Tuesday 26th April 1966, 49 year old George Elrington West, an engineer from Windsor entered a vague red-bricked building at 65 Horseferry Road, two miles south of Soho. Being blonde, thin and medium-build, although he spoke well and held himself with a middle-class decorum, George’s eyes were etched with shock, sadness and dread for what he was about to see, as this was Westminster Coroner’s Court, where inquests are held and - in the mortuary below – where bodies are laid.
Being stark, clean and cold, the softly spoken voices of George, Dr Teare and Detective Superintendent Walker echoed across the steel fridges and white tiled walls of the morgue with an eerie reverb, as DS Walker asked “George, do you recognise any of these personal affects?”
On a small side table, several strangely familiar items were laid out like a bad jumble-sale – a shoe, a hanky, two pens, a pair of spectacles and a watch – except everything was black and sooty, broken and snapped, several tiny fragments of a life destroyed. Seeing a charred size 8 hand-stitched shoe, two shattered pieces of horn-rimmed glasses and a white metal wrist-watch (the glass smashed, the face black and the warped hands forever trapped at 7:35pm), the Police knew who they belonged to…
…as inside the victim’s pocket; between his burned jacket, his scorched shirt and his seared flesh, lay a brown leather wallet. The contents barely legible but unmistakable; as except for four £1 notes and 10 shillings, they found a membership card to the Pen & Wig Club, a signed cheque for £25, a parking permit for Somerset House and four Inland Revenue pay-slips, all in the name of a Mr R G West…
…but given their state, George said “They look similar, but… I can’t be certain, I’m sorry”. All the while his eyes darted towards the gurney, as on top lay a thick white shroud draped over a life-sized lump.
(DS Walker) “Ready George?” He nodded, not ready but knowing that with no other next-of-kin, this job was down to him, and as Dr Teare pulled down the shroud to the neck, now he could see the face.
Only there was no face, no features, this wasn’t a human, it was an outline; a silhouette of a person Gordon once loved – who was alive yesterday and dead today – his once pale skin scorched charcoal black and oddly smooth, his new cologne like burned plastics and pig-fat, and his soft blonde hair singed and shrivelled, as before him lay an unrecognisable shadow with no lips, no lashes and no eyes.
George couldn’t connect the two; this silent blackened corpse and his big brother, who once cradled him as a baby, played with him as a boy, and into adulthood protected him, who just five years earlier had stood by his side, as on the same day, the brothers buried both parents. And now, he was gone.
And as George stood over his brother’s charred remains, the morgue was tinged with an eerie silence, as two strikingly similar men - same height, weight and size – were face-to-face for the final time, only (like a photograph and its negative) one was blonde and alive, and the other was black and dead.
DS Walker asked “George, I know this is hard, but is that Reginald?”, and with tears of both sorrow and frustration, George replied “I don’t know… I don’t know if that’s my brother… I just can’t tell”.
Reginald Gordon West died a truly horrifying death having been burned alive, and although this was unequivocally proved to be him, one question still stood – who had killed him… and why? (Interstitial)
The morning of Monday 25th April 1966 was dry and clear, as a light north-easterly wind whipped the dust and litter up off the streets, and being three degrees hotter than the monthly average, unusually it had rained very little. You may ask why a weather report is so important to the case… but it is.
At 9:30am, three young men (Roger, Robert and David) excitedly hopped on the Bakerloo line tube at Kilburn Park in North London and headed nine stops south to Piccadilly Circus; their spirits were high, their banter was jovial and their mood was fun… and for good reason.
Being a work-day, although they each earned an honest living as a cabinet maker, a musician and a sales-clerk respectively; as three close friends, raised a few doors apart and educated side-by-side, who had stuck together through thick and thin, all three had taken the day off, as today was Roger’s 21st birthday. And in an undisclosed café, just off Leicester Square, they sat down to a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, sausage and beans; some good old English stodge to soak up the booze.
It was just an ordinary morning, for three working-class lads, out celebrating a pal’s special day.
Half a mile east, having driven up from his home in Champion Hill (South London); with a permit in his wallet, 54 year old Reginald Gordon West parked his car into his usual spot at Somerset House on The Strand, and began his job as civil servant for the Inland Revenue.
Being a different age, class, occupation and raised in different parts of the city, Reginald had never met, spoke or heard of either of the three lads before… but ten hours later, they would burn him alive.
With their bellies full, the pubs open and the first drink of the day calling their names, the boys began as they meant to go on; with beer flowing, shots necked and hog-lumps munched; and with some cheeky banter, lewd jokes and a smattering of naughty words, the boys had fun and were no bother to anyone. (In background we hear them singing “for he’s a jolly good fellow” followed by cheering).
Roger Hammond was born on 25th April 1945, as one of five children, with two older sisters and two younger brothers. He lived (as he did up until his arrest) at 24 Donaldson Road in Kilburn, was educated at Salisbury Road Secondary Modern where he met Robert and David, and upon leaving, he gained an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker for Andrew Pegran Ltd, and remained in that job for six years.
Two incidents of trauma scar his childhood; aged eleven, his parents separated and divorced ten years later; becoming nervous and hostile, he briefly saw a psychiatrist and for the sake of the family, his father lived locally. Aged twelve; Roger contracted Still’s disease, a form of juvenile arthritis and having attended a school for the handicapped for one year, although he would suffer into adulthood with some muscular pain, he lived a full and active life. From both incidents, he made a good recovery.
Roger was a normal lad; a little loud, easily-riled and hot-tempered; but he had no debts, drug issues or drink problem; he didn’t consort with gangs, he had no criminal record and no history of violence. Whilst in custody, being charged with murder, the Police stated he was polite, helpful and composed. And just like the other two lads, there was nothing in his life to suggest that he would become a killer.
At 1pm, Reginald took his usual four minute stroll west to the Pen & Wig Club, at 230 The Strand; an exclusive member’s-only club for journalists and lawyers, with no riff-raff, no rabble and (certainly) no lads out on the lash. For lunch, he had two glasses of wine, a small plate of cheese sandwiches, some crisps and returned to work by 2pm. You may ask why his lunch is so important to the case… but it is.
Robert Alcock was born 31st May 1944; as an adopted child raised with no siblings, although his foster parents were loving and caring, living just doors apart, he regarded his brothers as Roger and David.
Leaving school, Robert tried his hand as a printer, a porter and a postal clerk, but nothing held his interest like music. As a gifted musician, Robert formed a beat group called The In-Crowd; he loved the job, the travel, the money and - being recently engaged - life was good. Describing himself as a gentleman, in custody, the Police corroborated this, stating he was polite, intelligent and cooperative.
At 5pm, Reginald finished work for the Inland Revenue at Somerset House. Being a middle-aged man in a middle-class profession, he spoke well, walked tall and dressed respectably; his smart black suit was starched, his white shirt was crisp, his tie was neat, his handmade shoes gave a reassuring squeak, his white metal watch was set precisely to the second, and it was all topped off with a black bowler hat. You may ask why the clothes he was wearing is so important to the case… but it is.
David Hugman was born on 26th June 1946 in Southport (Lancashire). Like Robert, he was adopted and being raised as an only child to two doting parents, his upbringing was happy. Leaving school, he was trained by his adoptive father as a fish merchant at Billingsgate market, later promoted to salesman for C J Newnes Ltd where he was described as “exceptionally good and completely trustworthy”. In custody, the Police also stated he was polite, cheerful and alert.
And as the evening rolled on; the jokes got dirtier, the banter got bawdier and the booze flowed quicker, and although the lads were mostly moderate drinkers, having worked hard, they’d earned a day off, not just to celebrate their pal’s 21st birthday, but also, their lifelong friendship. (In background we hear them singing “happy birthday to you” followed by cheering).
Where Reginald went next? We don’t know. Who he was with? We don’t know. What he did between the hours of 5pm and 7:30pm? We don’t know. With it being a nine-minute walk from Somerset House to Leicester Square, it’s likely that he walked. With nothing in his stomach but a few partially digested sandwiches and some crisps, we know he hadn’t eaten since lunch. And with 299 milligrams of alcohol to 100 millilitres of blood in his system, we know that during those missing two and a half hours, he had drank the equivalent of seven pints of beer - a considerable amount for an eleven stone man.
Again, you may ask why what he drank is so important to the case… but it is. As all of these details – the wind direction, the lack of rain, his clothes, his meals and his drink – all paint of picture of where he had been, what he had done, where he went next and - more importantly - why he ended up dead.
At 6:30pm, Roger, Robert and David entered Lisle Street.
They were 75 minutes away from killing Reginald West.
But at no point during that day had they seen, spoken to, or even met their victim; they didn’t even know that he existed until almost a week later… and that is the way it would remain. They were not crazed killers out for revenge, they were just stupid, drunk, horny young men… looking for girls.
23 Lisle Street was inconspicuous; a four-storey building set in a curved terrace with an electrical store called London Central Radio on the ground-floor. With no signs, no flashing lights and no doorman, the upper floors were private flats used by sex-workers and on the first floor was a clip-joint. Of course, you would only know that if you had been there before and you knew what you were looking for, but the one thing that sex-establishments don’t scream is exactly that – sex.
To the right of the shop under a tatty red awning was an open door. Egging the other on, Roger walked in first followed by Robert and David. With torn wallpaper, a musty smell and their feet creaking on the tinder-dry steps as a north-easterly breeze whistled up the gloomy stairs and out of a slightly-ajar window set with horizontal steel bars, the boys giggled, as so far, this was about as erotic as a prison.
And the floors above were no better, as under the disconcerting boing of bedsprings from the second floor flats, on an isolated landing was a toilet; so cramped you could barely turn, so dirty you’d rather hover than risk infection, as with a tiny barred window screwed shut and the door’s lock prone to jam, often an unfortunate punter would be trapped inside this airless cess-pit, their nose violated by the stench of unflushed piss and shit, until someone heard their cries and gave the door a good shove.
Only the boys would never ascend that far.
The first floor was split into two rooms, the first, an outer room, barely ten feet square and draped in tacky black velvets, faux-silks, tatty lace and mildly erotic portraits of ladies in lingerie, and stood by a cash-tin, a signing-in book, the club’s terms & conditions and a coat-rack was a woman known only as Julie… whose real name was the even less alluring moniker of Griselda.
With the club’s door locked and the boys clearly sozzled, Julie took £5 (roughly £100 today) off Roger to cover his tab, had him sign the visitor’s book with an illegible scrawl, and with his pals being broke, Robert & David decided to wait outside, whilst the birthday boy entered the club… and sexual heaven.
Of course; with it being a little after tea-time, the club was dead; with their shift having barely begun, Betty, Margaret, Sylvia, Del and Pauline weren’t in the mood; and like all clip-joints, it was the oldest scam in the book – three tatty sofas in an tiny empty room, with no alcohol, no dancing, no nudity, no sex, and charging an extortionate fee to stupid drunk men to walk in, stand about and look dumb.
After half an hour of boredom, Roger demanded his money back, all of it. But costing £2 to get in, 10 shillings to be served an alcohol free drink and £2 10s to make small-talk with a fully-dressed girl, under the terms & conditions (which he had ignored), his £5 was spent. And feeling cheated, ashamed and fleeced out of more money than he earned in a week, Roger’s temper rose.
Unwilling to back-down, Roger and Julie argued it out; two huge voices in a tiny room, both strong, wronged and indignant. But as Roger’s blood boiled and with no doorman to boot the boozy boy out, Julie offered him half of his money back. Half. He wanted it all. Only with Sylvia exclaiming “hey, your mates have gone up the street”, Roger took half of what was his and gave chase to Robert & David.
For Roger, it was a lesson learned, and for the girls, it was just another night.
Only it wasn’t...
…a few minutes later, Sylvia screamed “they’re coming back”, as storming up Lisle Street she spied the boys; Roger playing the big man, as behind him, his pals cackled like school-kids. Sensing trouble, Sylvia locked the club’s door and (like a pre-rehearsed battle-plan) the girls dashed upstairs, passed the stinky toilet, crawled out of an unbarred window, onto a flat roof outback, and waited in silence.
One floor below, the girls heard banging, shouting and laughing, as Roger screamed “I want my money. All of it”. Being terrified, the girls scraped together what little cash they had, and (being the focus of his wrath) Sylvia climbed back inside and descended the stairs. But no sooner had it began, it ended. Peeping out of the stairwell, Sylvia spotted the boys fleeing west down Lisle Street, as in the pique of a petty childish tantrum, these grown-men had emptied a full bin-bag of dirty rubbish on the stairs.
The Police were called, but with nothing damaged or stolen, no-one hurt and the three lads nowhere to be seen, no charges were made. Still being early into their shift; Sylvia & Margaret popped next door for dinner, Sandy & Jay were regaled with the evenings’ excitement and (although Vivian didn’t usually let non-members in, especially one so sozzled who was clearly several pints worse for wear) being a well-dressed man in a smart suit, spectacles, hand-stitched shoes and a bowler hat, who was well-spoken and polite, she guided the blonde stranger upstairs to the club’s toilet, to spend a penny.
It was just a quiet Monday evening… but the evening was far from over.
At Lex Garages, three streets north-west, on the corner of Brewer Street and Lexington Street, three drunken lads clutching a large Coleman’s mustard tin paid two shillings for half a gallon of petrol, and having grabbed another bin-bag of rubbish, they stood in the doorway of 23 Lisle Street laughing, as (feeling cheated out of £2 and 10 shillings) the silly giggling lads unleashed a petty prank.
They only wanted to scare the girls.
They didn’t want to hurt anyone.
They said, it was just a joke.
At 7:30pm, sensing a dark acrid smoke and a soft distant crackling, Vivian peeped down to the street-door to see the three lads from earlier, giggling naughtily; a new bin-bag of rubbish strewn across the stairs, a sad little flame in a pile of crumpled newspapers like a Boy Scout’s first attempt at a bonfire.
Before she could reprimand the pathetic little boys, Roger tipped the petrol tin onto the smouldering sack, and with a flash, a blast and a gasp, the doorway ignited, and the drunken lads darted off down the street, giggling with hilarity at their hilarious jape, unaware of what they had unleashed.
As the stairwell filled with thick black smoke and deadly gases, Vivian ran into the club screaming “fire, fire”, but with their only exit blocked by a raging inferno, (as before) the girls crawled out of the unbarred upstairs window, onto the flat roof and shouted down to the passers-by for “help”. And as the searing flames licked up the wooden walls and flicked out of the shattered windows like fiery tongues, the first-floor of 23 Lisle Street was enveloped in seconds.
The Soho Fire Brigade were called at 7:36pm, they arrived at 7:39pm and the fire was out by 7:58pm.
Fire Officer Eades said that being a mix of paper and petrol, the fire would have remained by the street door and burned itself out causing minimal damage to just the ground-floor… but with the flames being whipped-up by a light north-easterly wind, as fresh oxygen whistled up towards an unbarred open window, the tinder-dry beams of the old wooden stairwell acted like a chimney flue, forcing the fire higher and faster, enveloping all four floors of the building with speed and ferocity.
Thankfully, with two of the girls in a nearby restaurant and six rescued from the rooftop; sustaining no cuts, bruises or burns, miraculously everyone inside 23 Lisle Street escaped unharmed…
…at least, that’s what they thought.
Obscured by the panic to escape, nobody heard him banging; hidden by thick plumes of black smoke, nobody saw him choking, and muffled by the frantic chaos on the roof, being trapped one floor below in a dirty cramped toilet, nobody heard him screaming.
Being barely three foot square, on either side of the frantic man were two intensely hot walls (so hot, its paint warped and peeled as he roasted inside); behind was a small single window (its frame screwed shut and the steel horizontal bars too thin to crawl through) and in front, a thick wooden door, wedged shut, its lock jammed, as beyond it, an inferno raged. And inside what had become his tiny coffin, all of his life-giving air was slowly replaced by heat, flames and deadly gases - he had no way to escape.
A few hours later, the charred body of 54 year old Reginald Gordon West was found, slumped on the toilet floor; a once well-dressed man now unrecognisable from the blackened walls, his skin scorched, his hair shrivelled and an acrid stench of seared flesh hung in the air, having been burned alive. (END)
With his body so severely damaged that even his own baby brother couldn’t recognise him, Reginald’s identity was confirmed by the contents of his wallet and the records of his Harley Street dentist.
Believing it had been little more than a harmless prank, unaware of the horror they had unleashed and being wanted for murder, one week later the Police issued Identikit pictures of the three unknown men seen starting the fire. Seeing their faces in the papers, Roger Hammond, Robert Alcock and David Hugman handed themselves in at West End Central Police Station, made full confessions and all three expressed their anxiety and upset at the death of Reginald West, it all caused by a stupid prank.
Being tried at Bow Street Magistrates Court, on 3rd June 1966, all three pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to manslaughter, a lesser charge the jury accepted. On 14th July, Roger and Robert were sentenced to two years and David to 21 months, which they all served at Wormwood Scrubs prison.
With both parents dead, George buried his only brother. Reginald West was a good man; quiet, polite and professional; a well-dressed and well-mannered civil servant, who (after a hard day at work) went out for a few drinks and – like any normal person – felt an overwhelming urge to empty his bladder.
His death was truly senseless, he was an innocent man in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for an innocent reason, who was caught up in a childish prank by three drunken boys who’d been conned by a simple scam. He never met his killers, he never saw his killers and he never even knew they existed.
He died a horrible, painful and lonely death, burned alive inside a dirty toilet in a seedy clip-joint, and all because Roger felt cheated out of £2 and 10 shillings, and Reginald was desperate to spend a penny.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
Don’t forget, if you’re a murky miler, to stay tuned for extra goodies after the break, but before that, here’s my recommended podcasts of the week; Getting Off and I Said God Damn (PROMO)
A huge thank you goes out to my new Patreon supporters, who are Felicity Ellis, Eva R (not to be confused with Eva G), David Sack and Diane Rossiter, who receive a hand-written thank-you card from me, as well as a little envelope full of Murder Mile goodies, as well as Patron-only ebooks, videos and crime scene photos, all for as little as $3 a month.
A little shout-out to Dan Horning of Seriemodenpodden podcast and one of the podcast’s writers Eva Martinsson, who I met on my Murder Mile Walk recently and were a delight to meet.
And – if you’ve not read it, Adam at the fabulous UK True-Crime Podcast blog, asked me to write a piece about Murder Mile for his blog. I’ve enclosed a link in the show-notes- https://www.uktruecrime.com/murder-mile-true-crime-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.
Thank you for listening and sleep well.
As mentioned in the show, check out my blog about Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast on Adam's fabulous UK True-Crime Podcast, by clicking here.
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 as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0.
The music featured in this episode include:
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tor 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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