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EPISODE TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-TWO:
On Thursday 23rd of November 1967 at just shy of midnight, Eric Simmons and David Williams entered GiGi’s, a low rent striptease at 62 Frith Street in Soho. They paid their money, they had a drink, they watched the show, and then seven words were spat. A few minutes later, one of them would be dead.
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SOURCES: This case was researched using some of the sources below.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing on Frith Street in Soho, W1; a few doors down the café where the Terror of Malta didn’t pay for a cup of tea, a few doors up from the Blackout Ripper’s floppy penis, a few doors opposite of the infamously boring death of William Hazlett, and several doors up from the so-called battle of Frith Street, where two sad little street-toughs – Albert Dimes and Jack Spot - had their petty spat ended by a lady greengrocer who whacked these prize dick-heads over the bonce with either a vase, a ladle or some weighing scales - not coming soon to Murder Mile, because it’s a load of old crap.
At 62 Frith Street currently stands Circa, a small ground-floor club in a four storey Victorian terrace.
Described as ‘Soho’s leading gay bar’, it boasts a long line of red-cheeked men sucking hard on thick pink straws, a chorus of excitable bums squeaking eagerly on waxed leather seats, a resident DJ (who many reviews state gets a tad tetchy should anyone dares make a request – like ABBA), and – what their website hails as – ‘the hottest boys around’, although that could be down to the faulty air-con’.
Every business has rules; some are fair, some are unjust, and some are fatal.
In the late 1960s, at 62 Frith Street stood GiGi’s, a classic Soho strip club where drunk men paid over the odds to sit in the dark and leer at a bored-looking lady undressing, in the hope of seeing a nipple.
On Thursday 23rd of November 1967 at just shy of midnight, Eric Simmons and David Williams entered GiGi’s. They paid their money, they had a drink, they watched the show, and then seven words were spat. Three strangers met that night; one with a job to enforce a futile rule, two who were furious over a pointless principle, and with no-one benefitting either view, nobody won, and a life was lost.
But what seven words were so bad, that it caused the manager to commit murder?
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 222: The Five Shilling Striptease.
On 12th December 1967, at Great Marlborough Street police court, 29-year-old Alfred Saliba, the new manager of Gigi’s striptease was charged with the murder of a customer in his club. Only, he didn’t have a history of violence and he wasn’t defending a friend; he was just an ordinary man doing his job.
Alfred Joseph Saliba was born on 13th September 1938 in Birkirkara, a prosperous city in central Malta. As the fifth youngest of eight children with four brothers and three sisters, he said his childhood was happy and uneventful. Educated to a semi-literate level to the age of nine, for two years this sturdy little boy sold peanuts on the street and worked on building sites as a labourer to support his family.
Seeking better prospects, in February 1954, the Saliba’s emigrated to Perth in Western Australia. And where-as by the time most kids left school and had no idea what a hard day’s work even was, aged sixteen, Alfred had been grafting for seven years, and was skilled as a hod-carrier, a tiler and a roofer.
In 1958, keen to carve out his own career, alongside his brother Charles, they started trading as ‘C & A' Ltd, doing wall and floor tiling from their parent’s home in Secondary Avenue, Bassendean in Perth.
Alfred was hard-working and proud, but this was not to say that he didn’t drift a little wide of the law or subtly skip an odd rule or two when it suited him. Far from being a big-time criminal – like most people – he saw a little fib or a cheeky slight-of-hand as nothing more than doing right by his family.
On 16th July 1957, at Perth police court, Alfred was fined $5 for stealing bicycle spares. On 4th August 1958, he was fined $10 for larceny. On 20th May 1963, he served a month in prison for driving while disqualified. And on 5th January 1967, he was fined $142 for stealing building materials from houses which were under construction. Two months later, his company folded, and he was left penniless.
Aged 28, with no job, no home and a criminal record hanging over his head, returning to his homeland of Malta to visit his relatives and do a little bit of work on a cash-in-hand basis, after six months he decided to try his luck elsewhere, in the far less-sunny windswept isle of gloomy old Britain.
Arriving on 28th of August 1967, amidst a wall of perpetual drizzle, the drone of factory-produced pop hits and food redefined as an endless slew of pig’s bits and fried shit swimming in a sea of grease, still sporting the scars of the blitz and the whiff of free love (but mostly BO), London would be his home.
Unlike many who had snuck in dishonestly, Albert did it right; he had a passport, a visa and a six-month work permit, so once he’d made enough money, he planned to return to Australia to rebuild his life.
So, why did he travel half-way across the world, just to find work in Soho?
Soho in the late 1960s was far from the gentrified carbon-copied haven for hipsters that it has become; a puke-inducing hermetically sealed series of ‘unique boutiques’ – like ‘an S & M shop where they sell gimp masks made of Fair-Trade humus’, ‘an ethically-sourced sanctuary for homesick avocadoes’, and a ‘pedal-powered cyber-punk manscaping shop titled Hairy Junk - for tossers called Tarquin & Fenella.
This Soho was a grim and grimy cesspit of squalor set in a rabbit’s warren of dark and dingy dives which wreaked of stale beer, salty piddle, steamy plops (of both dog and human varieties) and often semen.
And although unemployed for the first five months, I’m sure that far from the top of his preferred list of jobs was to be racially abused by drunken deadbeats staggering from titty-bars with empty pockets, a rancid liver, and their perky little pink Percy pointing the way to a prostitute’s boudoir. Who would?
But then again, Soho had a very rich and vibrant community of Maltese ex-pats who worked in bars, clubs and restaurants, who spoke his language, maybe knew his name, and could help out with a job.
Living in a small furnished room at 132 Warwick Way in Pimlico for £5 per week, willing to do anything to pay his rent and to set aside a few quid in savings, having first worked at the Taboo strip-club on Dean Street, on the 15th of November 1967, Alfred Saliba managed GiGi’s striptease at 62 Frith Street.
Alfred had only been in the job for one week…
…when seven words spat would lead to a murder.
GiGi’s wasn’t anything special. Far from being on par with Paris’s most infamous burlesque show at the Folies Bergere, GiGi’s was just a run-of-the-mill Soho strip club. Set between an Italian eatery, a gent’s outfitters and sharing half of the ground-floor with a hairdresser’s and a mucky bookshop, it had all the discretion of a drooling man wearing a sandwich board which read ‘I’m here to see titties’.
As a thin entrance of just four-foot-wide; to the right were a set of dark steps leading to the basement club below, and to the left - visible to the whole street, regardless of who was walking by, whether a kid, a nun, an incensed prude or a part-time gynaecologist – sat a booth where the pissed-up punters parted with their hard-earned coinage to cop an eye at a jiggling lady’s jugs… and its unsubtle signage.
Surrounding the door, with its text in gaudy colours and a cartoon of a naked lady suggestively showing a slice of bum and a sliver of side-boob, GiGi’s proudly declared that - for just 5 shillings (or £6 today) – come and see ‘the most daring show in Soho’ featuring ‘16 lovely ladies from all over the world’.
Oh yes, exotic girls from such far-flung places as Grimsby, Dumfries, Swansea and even Croydon in ‘a fully produced lavish spectacle… with continuous shows from 1pm to 1am’. Available from weekday lunchtimes for those whose digestion is ruined if they can’t see a stunner’s chest-sacks as they munch on a sandwich, up until 2am on Saturdays for those who can’t get sleepy unless they’ve gawked at some jiggling norks, and - respectfully – starting later on Sundays, so the reverend doesn’t miss Mass.
And if you were like ‘what is this place’, there’s at least ten photos of ladies’ boobies and bottoms.
Given its clientele of sad perv’s and seedy drunks, Albert was hired as being reliable, hard-working and a well-built man of 5 foot 10 inches tall and 15 stone in weight, if he had to, he could handle himself.
And in a place and an era like this, far too often, he would have to.
GiGi’s was one of several Soho strip clubs owned by ‘Big Frank’ Misfud. Weighing as much as an ox, being as surly as a braised beef, and as prone to explosive outbursts as a knackered banger, Frank was leader of ‘The Syndicate’, a criminal gang - who from the 1960s to the 1980s - ran the bulk of Soho’s sex clubs, gambling dens and prostitution rackets, by bribing the Police and engaging in gangland war.
1960s Soho was a volatile place, made worse - as since the expulsion of the Messina brothers, and the deaths of Red Max Kassel & Roger Vernon - rival gangs had picked over the carcass of Soho’s sex trade, and where-as once one-eyed Tony Cauchi had been Big Frank’s partner, now they were bitter enemies.
In a campaign of terror between these two over-caffeinated tosspots with high-blood pressure, sore knuckles (owing to them scraping along the floor) and statistically very small penises, Cauchi initiated a series of fire-bombs to take-out his rivals’ clubs, including three which were owned by ‘Big Frank’.
In February 1966, a petrol bomb set the America Club ablaze on Greek Street, forcing nine people to jump from the 2nd floor windows, none of whom were gang-members. Three months later, a bomb ripped apart the Luigi Club also on Greek Street, injuring three punters and a dancing girl. On 25th November 1966, a blast at the Keyhole club on Old Compton Street damaged the neighbouring flats. And unironically on the bonfire night of the 5th November 1966, GiGi’s on Frith Street was firebombed.
Thankfully no-one was hurt, but with the club being gutted, tensions remained high, as the bombings continued across Peter Street, Rupert Street, Dean Street, Meard Street and the deaths mounted up.
On 18th February 1967, Tony Cauchi was arrested. Tried at the Old Bailey, he was convicted of causing malicious damage, unlawfully possessing explosives, and Big Frank told the court that he lived in fear.
So, by the time that Alfred Saliba had begun working as the manager of GiGi’s, although it had been renovated, it was barely one year since the bombing and just nine months since Cauchi’s conviction.
Nerves were rightfully rattled for any worker at one of ‘Big Frank’s strip-clubs …
…only, it wasn’t a firebomb, a gangland feud or a petty spat between two twats of the Maltese Mafia which ignited this fuse of murder, but a grey area of the law which the police weren’t bothered about.
Squeezed into a suit jacket, a pair of dark trousers, a blue shirt and a set of suede shoes, as the newbie, Alfred was keen to impress, to do a good job, to enforce the rules, and to take no shit from the slew of drunken deadbeats who would stagger in, looking for boobs, booze and hopefully get a boner, only to get all bent out of shape when they realise it was a con, even though everybody knows that.
The swizz was simple. Outside, there were several signs all of varying shapes and sizes; one read ‘entry 5 shillings’, which was true, as entry into the club was 5 shillings; and another read ‘the most daring show in Soho’, which is a slight fudge of the facts, but who’s going to quibble over what’s daring when (as a saddo who probably tugs his pud’ to the bra section of the Freeman’s catalogue) a sexy strumpet with all the fleshy goodness that God provides is dazzling his eager peepers by waggling her danglers.
The sign says it all – ‘5 shilling entry’, ’16 lovely ladies’ and ‘striptease’.
Of course, once this desperate punter has parted with 5 shillings to gain entry, what they didn’t know was that everything else costs money; whether that’s the over-priced lukewarm piss they dare to call beer, access to the world’s grubbiest loo (still speckled with a plethora of plop from the Jurassic era), and – as they descend the dark grubby stairs to the saddest little room which consists of twenty folding chairs, a spotlight and London’s most lacklustre stripper slowly removing more clothes than probably exists in her whole wardrobe - they either pay more in the hope of seeing an ankle (phwoar), or leave.
It preys on two types of shame; the first is to pay to sit alone in a dark room with a hard-on surrounded by six other sad gits sporting boners they daren’t touch while a bored lady swings her milk-makers to music, dreams of a better life than this shit and glares at them with absolute contempt; or two, they walk in, realise they’ve been conned, and stand there like prize prunes with nowhere to go, but out.
Legally, the club doesn’t have to dole out a refund, as with the dubious wording and their terms and conditions perched behind the ticket booth where a gruff unsightly doorman growls, they know no-one will read them when they’ve got a raging pocket rocket, and an overwhelming need to see areolas.
It’s a con, but it’s not strictly illegal.
Thursday 23rd November 1967 was an ordinary night at GiGi’s on Frith Street, as being cold and wet, it wasn’t particularly busy. Inside, under the hot lights, a heady stench of sweat rose as a thin line of slightly soggy men in woollen suits slowly dried, as they tried to get their 15 shillings worth of titties.
That night, two new punters to visit this pokey little cesspit of pseudo-sex in Soho’s seedier parts were 46-year-old David Cynfal Williams and his pal 48-year-old Eric Thomas Simmons. As singletons who shared a lodging at Cromwell Road in Hayes End, they often came into town for beers and a bit of fun.
Employed as an engineer, having served as a merchant seaman during the war, David lived for a while in New York where it is believed he met Eric. And being a thin man with natty moustache and a crown of hair, he was no bother to anyone – as like his pal – he didn’t get bladdered and wantonly start fights.
Eric was a local lad who was born in East Sheen, Richmond on the 21st of October 1919. Being the same height but solidly built, Eric was a salesman for Wigglesworth & Co, a fibre merchants in the city, who specialised the sale of natural fibres, like Sisal, Abaca, Jute and Flax. And with neither man having kids nor being married, although there’s nothing less heterosexual than sitting next to your best pal while your plonker gets hard, why they chose to come to GiGi’s that night would be no real mystery.
Only this time, seven words would end in murder…
…and it was all because of a pointless rule.
David would state “we arrived there about midnight”, and having each paid their 5-shilling entry fee, with nothing mentioned about ‘any additional extras’, the two men descended the stairs. The hallway down to the basement was like a descent into hell, if hell had hired a blind bookie to decorate it with dirty walls, broken tiles and maggot’s nest of spent cigarette butts like a distress call in Morse code.
Being a venue about as erotic as off-yoghurt, as they entered the basement, they would have been hit by the funk of spilled beer and men’s stains owing to the spotlights being on for the last eleven hours. And with the floor sticky and the chairs even stickier, although a renovation was made since a petrol-bomb had gutted it, it may have been better to set fire to it again, incinerating the swarms of bacteria.
David told the court “we went downstairs and watched a show”, as a girl - possibly performing under the stage name of ‘Fifi from Paris’, who was probably called ‘Mildred from Milford Haven’ – titillated a sweaty line of desperate losers by showing a bit of shoulder (phwoar) or maybe a thigh (cor lummy).
For ten minutes they sat, admiring Mildred’s knees, and neither man was harassed…
…until Alfred, as the club’s new manager enforced a rule.
Alfred would state “I walked over, and said ‘excuse me sir, I make one a member and one a guest’, as unless one of them paid the club’s membership fee, they couldn’t continue watching the show they were already watching. Both said ‘no’. According to Alfred, “the moustache man said to me ‘gimme a smoke’”, which David denied he did, and refusing to pay up, allegedly “he start laughing in my face”.
David denied all of this, Alfred denied arguing, and although both men stated that a fight downstairs never occurred, Thomas Town, who was watching the show said “my attention was attracted to a scuffle by the stairs” between David and Alfred, “they were slapping one another. It went on for about two or three minutes, and then they went upstairs”. Which is riveting stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.
By that point, David and Eric had had enough; the striptease was as arousing as cat-litter, the beer was as boozy as a Buddhist’s drinks cabinet, and the customer service about as welcoming as foot fungus.
Eric and David were done; they were fed up, they were leaving, they couldn’t be arsed with arguing over a refund, they were just going to head home, grab a takeaway, grumble about it on the train, and then wake up in the morning with a hangover, a few bruises and an anecdote to trot out when needed.
But - as a matter of principle and doing a good deed by not wanting others to be conned as they had - seeing four men (George Wilson, ‘Vince’ Thomas, Gordon Jenkinson & ‘Sandy’ Douglas) at the booth about to fork over their 5-shillings each to the doorman, David Williams uttered seven fateful words…
… “don’t go in there, it’s a con”.
That’s it. Nothing more.
Alfred told the court “the two men challenged me. They called me ‘chicken’ so that was it. We started fighting the three of us. I was in the middle. One punch comes towards me and then I start punching with my left, you can see I’ve hurt my hand. I was swinging at them. I hit one of them on the eye”.
Only, neither of the men recalled any of that. George Wilson reported “(Eric and David) walked down the street, (Alfred) ran after them and started punching as the two men fell to the ground”. Knocked out in a single punch as he bounced off a parked car, Alfred struck David with a second fist to the face, so by the time he came to, the Police were tending to his injuries and his memory was blank for a bit.
But attacked by one heavy punch to the jaw which floored Eric, having fallen to the pavement with a hard thud, it wasn’t much of a fight as neither of the men fought back, after which Alfred then fled.
Except for a small bruise to his jaw, Eric didn’t seem to be hurt. George would state “he was just lying there. It appeared to me he was drunk. He moaned as if he was snoring. We move him to the railings”.
A policeman arrived within seconds and called an ambulance, but by then, the damage had been done.
Arriving at Middlesex Hospital at 12:30am, although Dr Wingate found very few bruises, efforts were made to resuscitate him, “but within minutes, he was dead”. An autopsy would confirm that he had suffered a “subarachnoid haemorrhage to the surface of the brain and the upper spinal cord”, having been knocked unconscious in one punch, the impact with the pavement resulted in his death. (End)
Alfred was arrested three hours later at The Golden Egg restaurant on Oxford Street. A little heartlessly having been told ‘tonight at Frith Street, a fight occurred and as a result a man has died’, he asked the two officers who had come to arrest him, ‘can I finish my meal? I’ll only be a minute’ – only he didn’t.
Interviewed at West End Central police station, he gave a statement which was partially true according to his view, but with at least ten witnesses to everything that happened, at 4:28pm he was charged.
Tried before Mr Justice Lyell on 26th February 1968, having initially been charged with the murder of Eric Simmons and causing GBH to David Williams, later pleading guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation (which was accepted by the court), Alfred Saliba was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Passing sentence, Mr Justice Lyell would conclude “If you conduct your business like this, customers are likely to become dissatisfied. Having got Mr Simmons and Mr Williams out of your club, you ran after them. You are young and strong, and you hit them with real violence in a brutal attack”.
And that’s what’s so tragically pointless about this case, as none of it needed to have happened.
As the rules that Alfred was enforcing wasn’t his, just as the club wasn’t either. By speaking his mind, David was merely trying to make sure that no-one else was conned like they had been. And as a man who – it was stated – hadn’t said a word to anyone, Eric lost his life over a futile rule, a pointless principle, and a five-shilling striptease.
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.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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