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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 TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SEVEN:
This is 19-25 Harrington Gardens in Kensington, SW7.
In the early hours of Tuesday 9th of March 1954, two immature young boys called Ted & Ian chose to get rich quick, by breaking in, tying up the night porter, and robbing the hotel of its haul of cigarettes and cash. It should have been a simple robbery for two simple boys…
…but being so inept, their inexperience led to a good man’s murder.
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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 Harrington Gardens in Kensington, SW7; two roads north of the unsolved killing of Countess Lubienska, just a few roads west of the murder of Detective Sergeant Raymond Purdy, and a short walk north of the union rep’ who blew the whistle to early - coming soon to Murder Mile.
At 19 to 25 Harrington Gardens currently stands ‘The Other House’, a six-storey mid-Victorian terrace which (like it once was) is a residents’ club, where posh patrons enjoy the privilege of living in a hotel room for the year, without being blighted by their snot-nosed brats or nightly fights with their spouse.
Imagine that, the bedsheets in your second home changed daily by a maid, a boy stocks your minibar with free Toblerone’s and you can even leave your skanky pants by the door for the valet to clean. Joy.
Little has changed since 1954 when this was the Aban Court Hotel, a mid-level hotel for passing trades and long-term residents which catered for 1950s tastes; serving pies and puddings for dinner in the carvery, daily newspapers delivered to your door, and you could even buy cigarettes at the reception.
For many, it was a place of safety in a hectic city. But in the early hours of Tuesday 9th of March 1954, two immature young boys called Ted & Ian chose to get rich quick; by breaking in, tying up the night porter, and robbing the hotel of its haul of cigarettes and the safe containing £700 (or £24,000 today).
Only being so inept, their inexperience led to a good man’s murder.
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 227: Silly Little Boys.
This isn’t the story of a well-planned heist by hardened criminals hellbent on making a million, but two silly little boys from different backgrounds, who – being unable and unwilling to do even a decent day’s work for an honest wage - decided to take the easy-way-out and to steal it… no matter the risk.
Kenneth Gilbert was born on 9th May 1932 in London, as the ‘illegitimate son of Hilda Gilbert’ according to the fragments which were recorded on his rather sparse birth certificate before he was abandoned.
With no home, family or plan, Ted (as he liked to be called) drifted through life, unkempt and ruffled, with the few words he rarely spoke often grunted in a coarse and offhand manner. With no friends to chat to or hobbies to occupy his mind, he kept to himself and remained tight-lipped about everything.
Assessed by a prison psychiatrist, Ted was described as “having a limited vocabulary and knowledge… he needs prompting in conversation… and his powers of judgement and reasoning are poor”.
Raised in public institutions, aged 12, he was sent to borstal to be ’disciplined’. Imprisoned amidst grey concrete walls and thick iron bars, his education was to be barked at and beaten for disobedience (so it’s no surprise he was described as ‘a bully who resented authority’) and forced to work on a farm.
As a troubled orphan who no-one wanted to deal with, he was bounced between approved schools in Rhyl, Liverpool, Nottingham, and having escaped from Salterford Senior, on 18th August of 1949, aged 17, he was committed to two more years of borstal training, where he was described as “difficult”.
The system which should have been there to protect Ted had failed, and spawning an angry young man who was lost and hopeless, it was decided that what he needed was a stricter form of discipline.
On 17th April 1952, released on licence from borstal (and therefore branding him a criminal), Ted was enlisted into the Royal Army Veterinary Corp at the Central Ordnance Depot at Chilwell in Nottingham, where again he was barked at by bullies, who he was forced to serve food to in the officer’s mess hall.
Within three months, being described as ‘undisciplined’ and ‘mentally dull’, he was sent to the Army psychiatrist who recommended his discharge after 187 days service, unwisely stating “treatment after discharge is not necessary, but he may need assistance in settling into civilian life”… only he got none.
On the 20th of October 1952, 20-year-old Ted was dumped in the bustling city of London; skilled only in farm work, he drifted between hostels and half-way-houses, he struggled to hold down menial jobs as a hotel porter, a trawlerman, a boiler stoker, and he had to see his probation officer once a week.
On the 30th of April 1953, at the County of London Sessions, he was sentenced to two years’ probation for shop breaking and theft. On 13th of November 1953 in Grimsby, he was fined £3 for assault. And since he could remember, Ted had no purpose, and although silent, underneath lay a bubbling rage.
Three months after his discharged, he met Ian Grant.
Fifteen months later…
…they were both charged with murder.
As a spoilt child from a good family, Ian’s life was the mirror opposite of Ted’s, so it’s odd to see that both boys ended up in the same place; committing a petty crime for cash and taking a good man’s life.
Ian Arthur Grant was born in Surrey on the 30th of December 1929, the only child of well-adjusted and middle-class parents who lived a nice life in a quaint village and gave him whatever he wanted when he wanted it. Only fine foods and limitless toys don’t always make for a good child, as being ‘spoiled rotten’, Ian was prone to temper tantrums and tears being a mummy’s boy who could do no wrong.
Seen as a poor scholar, thanks to his parent’s financial security, he was sent to boarding school where - some say - a child gets the best education but denied any love it creates an intelligent but emotional husk of a human lacking in empathy, and that – being little more than a posh-boy’s borstal – it’s where many parents who can’t be bothered to raise their child, pay a series of strangers to do the dirty work.
Unsurprisingly - like Ted – as he lacked any skills, order and focus, his downfall wasn’t his sullenness, far from it, as lacking the maturity to be silent for a single second, Ian was a chatterbox who would talk to anyone about anything just for the sake of filling the sound of nothing and making conversation.
Leaving school, his expensive education was of little benefit, as failing to hold down a menial job as a factory machinist at the Marconi plant, this was followed by several short periods as a hotel porter.
In May 1948, aged 19, with military conscription still enforced – like Ted – he was enlisted against his will into the Army, but described as “unstable”, “immature” and a “dull useless youth”, after seven months he was discharged, and he was dumped in London with no money, no skills and no purpose.
What set both boys apart was that – although a product of a fractured family – as a respectable middle-class businessman, as Ian drifted between mindless jobs and filthy hostels, his father always stepped in to make his life easier and – hopefully – bring this petty selfish jabber-mouth back on the right path.
When Ian struggled to cope with his mother’s death, his father sought the assistance of his probation officer. In April 1951, when Ian was arrested for car-theft, his father had the charge dropped having had Ian dealt with under the Mental Deficiency Act. Described by Dr Watterson as ‘not certifiable’ or ‘feeble minded’ but ‘dull and backward’, although they had tried to re-adjust him back into family life with his father and his stepmother, in September 1951 he left home and drifted towards Kensington.
As young foolish men with no-one there to guide them, although two very different boys who were raised in very different ways, having both moved into a hostel at 90 Harwood Road in Fulham, Ian and Ted had found their kindred spirit. Later sharing a room and becoming the best of friends, they held down regular jobs as porters at the Ideal Home Exhibition, and earning an okay wage, they did well.
But being restless and easily led, believing they had dreamed-up the perfect crime…
…soon these best friends would be executed together.
To say that the robbery was doomed to failure would have been an understatement.
Ten days prior, with Ted short on cash as the exhibition was in-between events, he said to Ian “how about breaking into the Aban Court Hotel?”. As Ted had worked there as a boiler stoker for a full three months, he claimed he had seen where the head receptionist had hid 2500 cigarettes which they could easily sell, as well as the key to the safe containing £700, or £24,000 today, a year’s salary for both.
Ted said “I had seen this girl put the money in a tin box and I thought she kept it in the reception’s drawer. I knew the run of the place and how to get in without breaking anything. I knew I could get over the railing and down into the basement through the stokehole without having to break any door”.
Trusting Ted, Ian decided to go along with this half-witted heist for the sake of some ciggies and a paltry stash of cash, “as Ted knew how to get into the hotel without force and no-one would get hurt”.
And over the following nights of what would be little more than a week, they chatted it over… a bit.
Ted said, “I decided we’d do the job on Monday night, as the stock of coke would be low”, which was smart, as at night, every window and door was locked, and any smashed glass would raise the alarm. But with the basement boiler being coal-powered, having been the stoker, he knew that the coal hatch facing Harrington Gardens was always unlocked and that no-one would ever think to check it.
Again, the timing was solid, as Ted said, “I decided the best time to break in was midnight to 1am, as I know that there would only be one porter on duty”, which there was. Aged 53, prone to drinking five pints of bitter before his shift and currently struggling with a chronic bout of bronchitis, George Smart was the night porter and until at least 7am the following morning, he would be by himself.
Having got to know George’s timings during his night shift, Ted knew when and how to overpower him, where to tie him up, and having robbed the ciggies and cash, they’d be gone before anyone knew.
“I told Ian that after we go to the dining room, we wait for the Hoover to start up”, as George always vacuum-cleaned the carpets at roughly 1am, and that this familiar sound makes for a good distraction.
To lure him over, “from the back of the lift” where the switch was “we’d turn off the light, slam the door and call George over”, and with his back to the dining room door, “I’d grab him and lock him in the telephone box” near the reception. Tying his hands and feet, gagging his mouth and using a length of bandage to seal the door shut, “then we would go over the place and get what we could”. Job done.
With the tools (a length of string and a crepe bandage) in their pockets, as well as the cunning disguise of a handkerchief to cover their faces and flat caps for their heads, the plan itself was not the problem.
On paper, it was a simple robbery for a small reward in which no-one should get hurt…
…only the problem was that these weren’t expert criminals, but silly little boys.
Monday 8th March 1954 was a classic British day, with the weather a mix of chilly and drizzle. At 11pm, the boys left their hostel and strolled 30 minutes north-east, but with the street still a little busy as two policemen patrolled, “we walked around for half an hour before heading to the Aban Court hotel”.
From the outside, the door was locked, the windows were shut, few lights were on, and there was no noise emanating except for the soft sounds of patron’s sleeping and the clunk of the basement boiler.
Ian said, “we climbed over an iron gate at the side of the hotel in Harrington Gardens, then down some steps”, their faces covered by patterned cotton handkerchiefs like the highway bandits of yesteryear.
Creaking open the wooden hatch to the stoke hole which was hidden under the footway, as predicted the coke level was low making it easy for the boys to clamber over, but owing to tonnes of black coal covered in a powdery but sometimes thick syrupy goo, they left prints across everything they touched.
Creeping quietly through Boiler House #1, having snuck down the passageway, they sidled up the stairs to the ground floor and beside Room 10, they spied George the porter hoovering the dining room. Having had five pints of beer before work, he was muttering and hacking up his mucus filled cough.
They were at the right side of the hotel to see the porter, but the wrong side of the ground floor to be near the phone-box. So with the hoover on, Ted sent Ian three doors south to the reception, with their plan to distract old George, tie him up, gag him, drag him to the phone-box, and make their escape.
Only, this simple plan would be fatally flawed from the start.
Ted would state “at the back of the lift, Ian would switch the light off, slam the door and call ‘George’”. It was that simple. Only the second he flicked the light switch he realised that the dining room hadn’t been plunged into darkness and Old George had carried on hoovering, so Ian returned to Ted, as the two whispered; “it’s not working”, “what’s not working?”, “the light”, what do you mean the light isn’t working, it’s a light, you flick the switch and it goes off”, “yeah, I know, but it didn’t”, “well did you flick the right switch?”, “what do you mean ‘did I flick the right switch?’ there was one bloody switch”.
It should have been a foolproof plan, only these fools were proof that the plan was fucked.
As a back-up, they could have waited, they could have left, or they could have crept about quietly with one lad as a lookout, which wouldn’t have been a terrible idea given that Old George was busy, sickly and a bit pissed. But being too keen to grab 2500 ciggies and maybe £700 quid, Ted had another plan.
“Ian, go into the dining room, call out ‘George’ and get him to chase you”. That was it. Let the night porter see him, losing the element of surprise, possibly alert the sleeping staff and run like buggery. It was a bloody stupid idea, but – not being the best blessed with brains – it was the best idea they had.
And what began as a silly little kid being chased around a half-empty hotel by a boiler-suited man…
…although akin to the Keystone Cops, this seemingly comical caper would end with three lives ruined.
Ian said, “I went in and called out ‘George, come here a minute’. He had his back to me. I don’t think he heard me, so I called out in a louder voice ‘George’. He saw me, the lights were on, and I panicked”.
Repeatedly shouting ‘who are you’ at this disguised youth, as Old George struggled to keep-up as his rattling lungs wheezed after weeks battling bronchitis, Ian said “I ran down the corridor. George ran after me” and as he followed this would-be thief into the servery – a side-room where the food was prepared – Ian realised he was cornered, and as George grabbed him by the sleeves, he was trapped.
Ian told the court of his fear, “he had his arm raised to strike me. It was coming down and I caught hold of it and turned his wrist. I gave him a light blow to the stomach with my hand, just to scare him”.
But as he did, “Ted crept up behind him and he struck him some heavy blows to the face “, admitting “I turned him round and hit him twice on the jaw with my fist and he fell on the floor by the sink”.
Dropping to the stone floor like a sack of spuds, as they tied his feet with the string, they realised they hadn’t enough to bind his wrists, so short on options, they used George’s tie. And with the scullery being nowhere near the phone-box where they would leave him, they decided to dump him there.
Even at that point, they knew he wasn’t well, as one said, “he was groaning” and the other remarked “he was breathing heavy through his nose”, as the night porter lay motionless on the floor and a slowly forming pool of blood expanded around his stationary body, it bubbling as his nose breathed out.
He was of no harm to anyone, but fearing for their capture and realising they hadn’t brought anything to gag him, they silenced him with several serviettes and an oven glove, held in place by a bandage.
An autopsy confirmed that although George’s mucus-filled lungs had exacerbated his slow lingering death, it wasn’t the cause. Being punched, his jaw had fractured, and with it weaker than most owing to a buried tooth, with his nose and mouth covered by a gag, he had suffocated in his own blood.
The autopsy also confirmed that “he was semi-conscious when the gag was applied, and he didn’t put up a struggle”, but with the porter still groaning, “Ted kicked him several times in the side of the head”.
With the porter subdued (and creeping ever closer to death), being the epitome of incompetence, the two boys dashed to the reception desk to fill their pockets with the loot they felt they had earned.
Unable to find the key to the reception, they had to get a chair to clamber over the six-foot partition, almost slipping and knocking over a lamp in the process. Unable to find the key to the cigarette drawer, they had to nick a screwdriver and jemmy the lock open, leaving fingerprints everywhere. And again, having seen A key, but not THE key to the hotel’s safe, having fled clutching all they could carry, Ian left behind his cap and having hailed a taxi to take them back home, Ted dropped half of their booty.
Back at the hostel, on their bed, Ted & Ian laid out the riches from their robbery. Having promised a haul of 2500 cigarettes and a stash of cash worth £700 (a year’s salary for both), as these two silly little boys had tried and failed to play at being big-time gangsters, all they had got was 700 cigarettes (40 of which they had smoked), and from a petty cash tin, just £2 in assorted silver and copper coins.
A fundamental question is ‘what price is a man’s life’? Of which, the answer should always be priceless. But in the case of George Smart, the night porter who was murdered for simply doing his job…
…he died for as little as some ciggies and some cash, which today is worth just £320.
Initially, the police were at a loss as to who had murdered George, as no-one had seen them enter or exit the hotel, and – having never robbed a hotel before – a manual search of the fingerprint database wouldn’t link to Ted and Ian. And yet, again, it was their incompetence which would collar them both.
At 12pm, the next day, having gone into the work at the Ideal Home Exhibition, Ian said “Ted showed me the early edition of the Star. I saw the headlines and I realised that the night porter had died”.
Panicked, desperate and knowing that neither of them had the slightest clue what to do, they lured into their confidence a colleague called Donald Chapman. With Don, they left the ticket to the stolen items they had hidden at the left luggage kiosk at Waterloo station, they told him of their plan to flee to Dublin, and with Ian being a chatterbox who - especially when he was nervous – was prone to fill in the awkward silences of a conversation with anything, Ian told Don everything about the robbery. And being a decent chap who was raised well, Don did the right thing, and notified the police. (End)
Arrested the next morning, although they both denied any knowledge of the crime, being told that the other had blabbed, they both admitted to a minor part, but blamed the other for the bulk of it.
During a quick investigation, the police found their gloves with coal dust on, their clothes with spots of George’s blood on, and – at their hostel – a man called Derek Quinnell, who Ted & Ian had discussed the crime with beforehand, asking him to be part of their caper, which – rather wisely – he declined.
A psychiatric assessment of both boys described Ted as “of subnormal intelligence, he is immature and emotionally unstable, largely due to the circumstances of his birth and upbringing”, with Ian described as “immature, childish, selfish, spoiled and unable to control his emotions and desires”.
Tried at the Old Bailey from the 10th to the 12th of May 1954, they both pleaded ‘not guilty’, with Ted stating, “we had no intention of causing injury, just to overcome him and place him in the phone box”, which he later admitted was a lie, as the bandage wasn’t long enough to secure the phone-box shut.
Found guilty after just twenty minutes, although through their appeals they blamed one another, on Thursday 17th June 1954, Ted & Ian – two lost boys who had become soulmates – were executed at Pentonville Prison, and being hung side-by-side, they were the last double hanging in Britain.
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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