Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast - #160: 'Do Not Disturb' - Part Two (David Charles Richard Frooms)
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Welcome to the Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, all set within and beyond the West End.
EPISODE ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY
This is Part Two of Three of 'Do Not Disturb', the untold story of the murder of Sarah Gibson.
In the summer of 1972, 24-year-old homeless man David Frooms murdered Sarah Gibson, as she lay in her bed at the RAC Club at 89 Pall Mall, London, SW1. Buy why? How did he know her, why did he attack her, why did he climb five sets of stairs to find her room inside of a very secure club, and why did he subject her to a four-hour ordeal? Was it personal, revenge or a series of unfortunate circumstances?
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The location of The RAC Club in Pall Mall where Sarah Gibson was murdered by David Frooms. It is marked with a mustard coloured raindrop near the words Charring Cross. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, access them by clicking here.
SOURCES: As this case was researched using some of the sources below.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing in St James’s Park, SW1, three hundred feet south of the RAC Club where Sarah Gibson was murdered, and we’re within sight of the bed where her torture took place.
St James’s Park is a 23-hectare Grade-1 listed park in Westminster, circled by such famous sites as Buckingham Palace, Horse Guard’s Parade, 10 Downing Street and St James’ Palace.
Named after St James the Less, a former leper hospital stood on this site. And where-as once it was home to Henry the Eighth’s exotic zoo full of kidnapped wildlife; such as camels, elephants and crocodiles - it is now a public park. Open to everyone, it features ornate rockeries, cultivated hedges, water fountains and a duck island, complete with a hint at its former inmates - a squadron of pelicans.
For thousands of people every day, St James’s Park is an escape to the country in the heart of the city.
Sadly, as the sun blazes, its peace is often pulverised by a plethora of prize-pillocks; whether posh brats banging bongos as if playing ‘ethnic’ instruments makes their daddy’s asset-stripping income less racist, the pungent whiff of the ‘Shit Santa’ who decorates the trees with little bags of poodle plop, those talentless circus-turds who tippy-toe a tight-tope between trees a full three inches off the grass, and the worst terrorist to tranquillity – children. Urgh! Please! Someone tell them to “shut-up”.
But at night, as the park empties, it becomes a refuge for the city’s homeless. And although it’s a public park for everyone to enjoy - just like the RAC Club - there are laws over who is welcome and who isn’t.
On the night of Sunday 2nd July 1972, just hours before her four-hour torture, the killer of Sarah Gibson stood in this park, barely three-hundred feet from her bed in Room 519. His name was David Frooms.
But how did they meet and why did he kill her? Was it personal, revenge, a mistake, or a series of unfortunate coincidences?
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 160: ‘Do Not Disturb’ – Part Two.
On Monday 3rd July 1972 at 12pm, in Westminster Public Mortuary, Home Office Pathologist Professor Keith Simpson conducted a post-mortem on 21-year-old Sarah Gibson. Present was the investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector James Neville and the Exhibits Officer Sergeant Brian Vickery.
Found at 9:25am, with her multicoloured blanket pulled up to her nose, she looked like she was asleep. Her room was as she’d left it the night before; door ajar, light and TV on, and a half-drunk cup of coffee on the floor. But as her bedclothes were pulled down to her ankles, her injuries told a different story.
Lying perfectly straight, Sarah had been stripped naked from the neck down; her ripped white knickers lay crumpled beside her bloated face, her blue bed-jacket had been violently torn open at all but one last loop and splayed across her shoulders lay the tattered remains of her orange nylon nightdress. Her pale flesh, her small breasts and her gaping vagina had been laid bare to the sadist before her.
Given the attack, several injuries were as expected; she had a half inch split to her tongue’s tip caused by the stifling force of a makeshift gag made from a handkerchief and some torn towelling. Gagged to keep her quiet, this had left a ring of linear pressure marks from her mouth sides to her skull’s base. Across her wrists and ankles were faint lacerations, having been tied using her own white stockings. And four inches to the left of her mid-neck lay a pull impression suffused with minute haemorrhages, as her garrotte-toting killer had strangled every ounce of energy and every last breath from her body.
With her last seen alive at 9:45pm and her time of death estimated at roughly 4am, although Sarah was only small, her injuries were inflicted by someone stronger than herself, but not by much.
But what most perplexed the pathologist was the injuries he didn’t see. Sarah had been strangled and as she’d fought for her life, her fingernails had clawed her neck. But her hyoid bone was not fractured and he had expected to see more bruising or greater signs of a struggle? Instead, there was very little, except for a missing earring and two lost curlers. So, what was this? A crazed sadist or a sex game gone bad?
During the night, Sarah’s restraints were cut and re-tied at the wrists and ankles with the soft woollen cord from her blue bathrobe, which left only very faint flushing that the pathologist almost didn’t spot. The gag in her mouth had been loosened and a soft pillow was placed under her backside. But why?
Nothing about the scene made sense; her bedroom didn’t look ransacked to the point where even her half-drunk cup, the jar of instant coffee and the pot of powdered milk lay opened and undisturbed on the floor beside her bed. And yet her death was violent, with several inexpensive items now missing.
A bloodied blanket, a sweat-soaked bedsheet, cut restraints and a torturously slow strangulation told a tale of a terrifying assault on a defenceless young girl in her own bed. But was this inflicted by someone who loved her, hated her, or both?
But there was no denying that a sexual sadist had done this; as although no sexual injuries were found, a glutinous matter (later identified as semen) seeped from the vulva, and with no tearing found within, the Pathologist concluded “intercourse had taken place either before, during or after her death”.
Her body was identified by her father, Colonel ‘Jack’ Hugill Gibson, and almost sixty pieces of evidence were handed to the exhibits officer; including hair, blood and fingernail samples; oral, vaginal and anal swabs; sweat, semen and saliva stains; the cords, the gag and her torn clothes, as well as his clothes, being a brown corduroy jumper and a white shirt with two missing buttons, later found under her bed.
But who was David Frooms, how did he know Sarah, and why did he want her dead?
David Charles Richard Frooms, known as ‘Dave’ was born on the 22nd April 1947 at Perivale Maternity Hospital in Greenford, West London. And what followed was a childhood as broken as it was tough.
Being a baby in his crib was the only time that his life had stability. Aged two, his parents separated, his father vanished and - seeking to absolve herself of her burden – his mother sent this unwanted boy to live with his grandmother in Southall. David never loved his mother, he only tolerated her and later stated “her inconsistencies and unfulfilled promises have repeatedly blocked my progress”.
Aged five, his grandmother died, and with no-one willing to foster this bright but restless boy, he was bounced back to a reluctant mother, a step-father he despised and two step-sisters; one called Liz who he liked but was plagued by depression and blindness, and a younger one he disliked called Leslie.
Aged seven – having repeatedly ran away from home and stealing to support his life on the streets - both David and Liz were ripped from their lives and sent to St Vincent’s, a Catholic-run children’s home near Feltham, where they lived without love for the next three years. Developing a deep distrust of others, David found it difficult to form friendships, to make any plans and he always felt isolated.
Aged ten, the home bounced him back to the unwelcome arms of mother and step-father, who lived in a cramped little caravan at Winkfield in Surrey. Promptly sent to a court-appointed approved school for training and ‘re-education’, although many young boys saw borstal as a place of unspeakable horror, David found a semblance of stability among its dark cold walls, but became institutionalised.
In stark contrast, Sarah was raised 62 miles west in the wealthy and privileged horse-racing village of Lambourne in Berkshire, and so far, fate had yet to force their paths to cross. But it would…
…just not yet.
Like Sarah, physically David was unremarkable. Being three inches taller but roughly the same weight; he was intensely pale with a thin bespectacled face and long dark hair. Like her, he was pleasant, quiet and polite but kept his distance. He spoke with a firm whispering tone which many struggled to hear. And he was smart and literate, which was amazing given how fractured his education was. So, had they met in childhood, maybe Sarah and David would have become kindred spirits…? But they didn’t.
As with his first decade of life, his second would be even more troubling and traumatic.
Aged eleven, as a young boy sleeping rough in a tent by a riverbank in Windsor, a lone man approached him, befriended him and asked David to masturbate him. Terrified, David hit him with a torch, but this first sexual experience imprinted four key words on his damaged psyche; sex, panic, attack and run.
That same year, having stolen money and food (to fund his life in the streets) his mother packed him off to live with the absent father he barely knew in Southall. Unhappy, he repeatedly played truant and with neither parent wanting him, David was sent to Denham Court Children’s Home for two years.
From twelve until fifteen, David was a resident at Shushiela Community Home in Blandford, Dorset; an experimental care-home where the kids could run riot. As he later said “we could do whatever we wanted; smash windows, cause havoc, steal, all to get it out of our system”, but being unable to tolerate his behaviour, David was expelled from yet another possible place he could have called home.
As David would state, although restless, “I was often at my happiest when I was confined to prison”, so it was no surprise that – beyond the theft of basic necessities to survive - he turned to crime.
In April 1962, aged 14, at Blandford, he was given a 12-month conditional discharge for stealing a car and sent to Hitcham Remand Home for six months. December 1962 at Kingston he was sent to Redhill Approved School for stealing a car, only to abscond and be re-arrested. March 1963, at Grays, he stole a car, nine pence from a phone-box and was sent to borstal at Feltham. Released on 18th May 1965, he got work as a trainee carpenter at Russell Bros (Builders) on Harrow Road, but quit after 1 ½ days.
As criminal careers go? He primarily stole from cars while living destitute – there was nothing sexual, violent or sadistic…
…but even the shortest of incidents can have a lasting effect on a young brain.
In 1961, David met his first girlfriend, but being too shy to touch her - as well as being immature and sexually inexperienced - he would secretly steal her knickers and take them into bed with him.
In 1965, aged 18, lodging in a half-way house in Weymouth, the landlord made sexual advances upon him. David asked to be moved, but the probation officer insisted that he finish a week’s work first. To achieve this unmolested, every night, David hid under his bed pretending to be out. Falling back on old habits, he decided to flee, and to fund this, he burgled the landlord’s flat. It should have been a simple job, but when the landlord returned - gripping a thick stick and swinging it so wildly it left the landlord blind - four key words flooded back into David’s damaged psyche; sex, panic, attack and run.
For robbery with violent assault, he was sent to Brixton Prison for three years and six months.
With the theft of food and money being his primary motive, the burglary of houses had also become part of his criminal repertoire. For David, it was a low-risk crime, in which he never confronted the owners; “I chose homes with a light on upstairs because I knew the doors will always be open. I even cooked meals with the people upstairs”, as the secret was to enter and exit as silently as possible.
But then again, one particular conviction stands out as sinister.
In May 1969, in the coastal town of Ramsgate, 22-year-old David “got talking to an attractive 13-year-old girl who was walking her dog. It was a pretty good feat for me to start talking like that”. They chatted, went to a park “and feeling increasingly randy, I touched her breasts and private parts”. David was arrested minutes later and served one year in Pentonville Prison; six months for a prior burglary, three months for car theft, and – shockingly – just three months for the indecent assault of a child.
Up until his arrest for Sarah’s murder, he had no other criminal convictions for sexual offences. Those who knew him said “he was not that way inclined” and having interviewed the few sexual partners he had, he had no interest in bondage or strangulation. If anything, he was caring, loving and thoughtful.
For his tenth conviction for burglary, car-theft and trespassing, on 22nd Sept 1970 in Dorset, David was sentenced to two years at Grendon Underwood Psychiatric Prison in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.
Given psychotherapy, David was later diagnosed “with a severe personality disorder, characterised by feelings of inadequacy, difficulty undertaking ordinary tasks when outside of institutions and panics in psychologically and sexually threatening situations, in which he often acts impulsively and violently”. Inside, even David admitted “I had matured to some extent and I began to question my motives”, but having been released early for good behaviour, his support stopped and all the hard work was undone.
On the 23rd January 1972, six months before Sarah’s murder, David was released from prison.
But there was one glimmer of hope in David’s tragic little life…
…the Simonwell Community Trust.
Based out of a disused 400-room school at Simonwell Farm near Grumdale in Canterbury, this was a charity which drew attention to the thousands of homeless people living on the welfare state. Working for £1 50p a week plus food and board, he described it as “a happy spirit of comradeship”, where he helped with repairs, manned the phones, organised jumble sales and scrubbed the floors.
Having met the charity aged 14, over the decade, instead of being bounced from remand centres into a hotch-potch of unfamiliar half-way-houses, this became his surrogate home. It provided him with a routine, stability and – although still a prolific thief – any future offences were few and far between. “The last time I was at Simon, I stayed out of trouble for six months - it’s the best I’ve ever done”.
Here he strived to be a good person and through hard work he flourished.
Trying his best to build bridges with his fractured family, David sent his mum, sister and grandparents several letters apologising for his behaviour and assuring them, he was desperate to live a better life.
“Dear mum. This will probably come as a surprise, my writing out of the blue… I was a bit wary of writing to you, as once again I had been in trouble and I wasn’t too sure how you would take it. At the moment I’m trying to re-join the Simon Community. It’s a purely voluntary body, most of their workers are students who intend to go into social work, so it means working with people who actually care”.
And although he infrequently got replies, he wrote as often as he could, with updates on his plans.
Such as; his routine: “I’m kept very busy at the moment, what with 400 rooms to clean, which were left in a terrible state when vandals broke in”. His new pal: “I’ve acquired a dog called Rebel, he’s a little neurotic but very affectionate”. His new hobbies: “Liz bought me a guitar. I can play a few simple songs such as On the Top of Old Smokey and Tom Dooley, but nothing too complicated. I still do some drawing now and then, and also attempt to write poetry”. His plans for the future, as part of his job involved shuttling homeless people to their new homes, “I wonder, would it be possible to get a flat?”.
And then of course, he spoke of his love life: “Dear mum... I wonder if you can help me. There’s this girl called Anne whom I’m very fond of, and who has sort of kept an eye on me for about four years now. Last week she had an accident up in Nottingham… I want very much to see her. Do you think you can spare me a few quid? I hate to ask but she really is the only girl I’ve ever felt anything for and I don’t like the idea of her being up there alone. I’m sorry that I ask you for things all the time, but she does mean a lot to me (maybe you’ll meet her sometime!). My love to you all. Take care. Dave.x”
And so, through the dark brooding clouds of his troubled past, a bright glint of sunlight shone…
…but a thief can’t help but be a thief, especially when he’s restless, love-sick and ready to flee.
On 13th June 1972, as a trusted volunteer of the Simon Community Trust, David was given £50 to buy food, a duty he had done many times before… only this time - fuelled by impulsive thoughts - he ran.
Hopping on the first train out of Canterbury, 24-year-old David Frooms headed to London King’s Cross, carrying little more than a back-pack of tatty clothes; with no plan, no friends and no place to stay.
He didn’t know London and the city was not a safe place for a young boy on the run. On his first night, having blown £8 on booze, he was fleeced by two Soho sex-workers; “I’d been drinking, I was illogical, one nicked £14 and ran, the other did the rest with a tenner for the ponce and £15 for a room. I was angry, I bought a pen knife, I searched the streets shouting ‘if I find them, I will kill them’”, as four key words blasted his damaged psyche; sex, panic, attack and run, until a social worker calmed him down.
For two-thirds of his life, David had been hungry, broke and homeless, but past experience had taught him how to survive; by living rough, laying low and breaking into cars and houses for food and money.
On Sunday 2nd July 1972, the weather was hot, as Britain was in a mini-heatwave, the kind we love for a second but grumble about when it’s too hot. With highs of 83 Fahrenheit / 28.6 Celsius during the day, and lows of 68 and 20 at night, it was made hotter in a city made of glass, concrete and steel.
Living rough, like many of London’s homeless, David made a makeshift tent in St James’ Park; a place chosen as it was open to the public, had bushes to pitch a tent and a tap for washing and drinking. By night he slept, and by day, he prowled the city streets looking for cars and homes to steal from.
That Sunday –as Sarah awoke late, ate toast, drank coffee and dressed in casual clothes – David and a pal went to the pub in Victoria and were pissed by mid-afternoon (although his blood/alcohol level can never be verified). At this point, Sarah was shopping in Piccadilly, purchasing an Evening Standard and 20 Embassy’s. By 5pm, she was finished, and David was still sleeping off the booze in his tent.
So far, they hadn’t met, spoken, or even so-much-as glanced in each other’s direction.
At 7pm, Sarah dined in the staff restaurant, eating a meal of stew and dumplings. David was asleep.
At 7:30pm, Sarah walked two streets north to the Fun City Bingo Hall at 3-4 Coventry Street; sitting by herself, she bought two scorecards and a soft drink, leaving 60 pence in her purse. David was asleep.
At 9:45pm, Sarah left Piccadilly and headed back to the RAC Club, a very secure private member’s club, accessed only by staff and a select group of London’s wealthiest, who are vetted and approved. Woken briefly by his pal, who as a rent boy went off to earn a few pounds, although hungry, David slept on.
At 9:50pm, Sarah entered Room 519, on the fifth floor, in the ‘staff only’ quarters of the RAC Club.
Her death would be torturously slow, as if someone had either truly loved or hated her…
… but barely hours before the attack, David and Sarah were still yet to meet.
At 9:50pm, she popped on the telly, possibly to Colditz and unwittingly laid out the tools of her demise; such as the white stockings which her killer would use to bind her wrists and ankles, the blue bathrobe whose soft woollen cord he later used to re-tie them, and dressing white knickers, a blue bed-jacket and an orange nylon nightdress, her usual night attire which he would rip from her pale bare flesh.
At 10:15pm, during Monty Python, she smoked, popped in her curlers and perched her handbag on the chair, as well as a watch, a locket and a Churchill Crown – several inexpensive items he would steal
At 10:45pm, during Midweek, she made a flask of coffee, grabbed her newspaper and – having hopped into her single-sized bed - by the Late News, she was snuggled under a multicoloured woollen blanket of red, black, orange and cream squares, as her sleepy head nestled softly into a thick white pillow.
And as the channel closed down for the night and the telly turned to snowy fuzz and white noise - as she often did - she fell asleep with the lights and TV on, her curtains half open and her door left ajar.
Being night-time, David might have slept right through till sunrise… only he didn’t. (End)
“I was trying to sleep in St James’ Park, the law came in and kicked everyone out”. Worried they were searching for him as a felon who had stolen £50 from Simonwell Trust, as he always did, he panicked and fled. He ran up the steps of the Duke of York memorial, into Carlton House Terrace, along Carlton Gardens and tried to break into the offices at Wool House, but failed. “I wanted somewhere to kip”.
At that point, David’s needs were simple; food and warmth.
“I went looking for a shed in the gardens. There weren’t any”. In his own words, “it was just pure luck that I broke into that place”, as it was near, it served food and it looked warm. Access wasn’t a problem “I climbed over a stone wall and thought I might find something to eat”. And although a skilled burglar, it was a series of unfortunate coincidences which ensured that his entry was easy and undetected.
In the palatial dining room of the RAC Club, he tried to break into a waiter’s desk “it had a padlock on it. I couldn’t twist it off”, but undeterred, he went in search of food or money in another room.
Climbing the ‘staff only’ staircase to the fifth floor, as he entered the roof, he saw a small room with a light on. As he had done many times before, “I chose homes with a light on upstairs because I knew the doors will always be open”. And being claustrophobic, Sarah’s door was unlocked and left ajar.
The secret was to be very silent. “I went along ‘till I came to this one where I could see the light was coming from. I opened the door and went in, very quietly, and I saw this girl lying on the bed asleep”.
Sarah was an innocent with no enemies. She would be murdered in the one place she felt safest – her own bed - but it wasn’t for something she had done, said or knew. David had entered with nothing on his mind but hunger and sleep, as even he would say “I broke in and… one thing led to another”. But until that very second, when he spied her from the doorway, Sarah and David had never met.
‘Do Not Disturb’ concludes next week.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible, which are freely available in the public domain, including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, and are always incomplete or full of opinion rather than fact, therefore mistakes and misrepresentations can be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken to create a fuller picture. It is not a full and complete representation of the case, the people or the investigation, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity, speed and the drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, and therefore it will contain a certain level of bias and opinion to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated. Murder Mile is just one possible retelling of each case. Murder Mile does not set out to cause any harm or distress to those involved, and those who listen to the podcast or read the transcripts provided should be aware that by accessing anything created by Murder Mile (or any source related to any each) that they may discover some details about a person, an incident or the police investigation itself, that they were unaware of.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER
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 nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards".
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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