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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 THIRTY:
On Friday 27th of March 1959 at 2:50am, Graham Osborn man was found slumped against the railings at 117 Piccadilly. Later dying of his wounds, no-one knew why he was there, few knew that had happened and no-one knew who had attacked him or why. And although the Police would bring his killers to trial, this little-known case would only lead to more questions than it answered.
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The location is marked with a teal coloured exclamation mark (!) near the words 'The Green Park'. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other maps, click here.
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 the corner of Down Street in Piccadilly, SW1; two streets east of the stabbing by the Angel Delight killer, one street north of the pink-suited bully, one street south of the last drink for Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson, and a short walk from the burned mute - coming soon to Murder Mile.
A few yards from this corner stands The Athenaeum, a four-star Mayfair hotel, where every guest is greeted by a dapperly dressed doorman; whether they’re a tourist exhausted having been fleeced to within an inch of their wallet by the most expensive city in Europe, or a hideously ugly businessmen who has chaperoned an inexplicably attractive girl (possibly his granddaughter) whose name he can’t recall, to test the springs on his bed for a period of approximately 58 minutes, but not a second more.
Coincidentally, the corner of Down Street and Piccadilly is a place where prostitutes often frequent.
On Friday 27th of March 1959 at 2:50am, an unidentified man was found slumped against the railings a few doors down. Later dying of his wounds, no-one knew his name, no-one knew why he was there, few knew what had happened and no-one knew who had attacked him or why. And although the Police would bring his killers to trial, this little-known case would only lead to unanswered questions.
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 229: Dumped.
When people talk about the good old days, they claim, “we all knew each other”, “there was no crime”, “you could leave your door open” and “we looked out for one another” - which we all know is utter crap. Almost every murder we’ve covered disproves this theory, and this case is no different, as with no-one coming to the victim’s aid, ‘not wanting to get involved’ is a skill we’ve mastered for centuries.
Friday 27th of March 1959 was the start of a bank holiday weekend, therefore (as is typical in Britain, even on a God-fuelled day like Good Friday) there had been much merriment and quaffing of booze in the city, as the people got a lot more pissed than usual, especially as for many it was their payday.
Being halfway between Piccadilly Circus and Hyde Park, although dark, being dotted with a dull yellow haze of streetlights and the murmur from a smattering of inebriates staggering home from pubs or clubs, the southerly corner of Down Street in Mayfair was as quiet and silent as Green Park opposite.
At roughly 2:50am, Ralph Platt, a taxi-driver was circling the West End looking for fares. Passing Down Street, slumped against the cast-iron railings of T Browne at 117 Piccadilly, just shy of the Athenaeum, he saw the all-too-familiar sight of – what looked like – a drunk; his head flopped to one side, his suit all dishevelled, a dark stain down his once white shirt and his legs having buckled underneath him.
Like an unwanted ragdoll cast outside for the binmen to collect, several people hadn’t thought to stop or were willing to wake him, so they walked on by – with one said to be “within touching distance”.
Only Ralph was concerned, as something didn’t look right. “Mate, are you okay?”
With the man’s face as pale as marble and his eyes as sunken as caves, as he slurred his words, Ralph saw that the stain on his chest wasn’t vomit, just as the liquid which seeped down his trouser legs wasn’t urine, but blood, as from a deep steaming wound to his stomach, his intestines poked through.
At 2:54am, Ralph got on his radio and called his control room: “Zebra 42 to Dispatch”, “Dispatch here”, “Zebra 42 emergency, injured man at the junction of Down Street and Piccadilly, ambulance required, erm, yeah, better make it quick, he’s been stabbed and he’s losing a lot of blood”. “Roger Zebra 42”.
Receiving the call on his radio at 2:55am, PC Coster of West End Central police station arrived at the scene within minutes, quickly followed by an ambulance who – identifying his urgent need for blood - sped this barely conscious man to St George’s Hospital on Hyde Park Corner, just three streets away.
Taken to casualty, Dr Millar would state “he was severely shocked and incapable of answering any questions… his abdominal wound was obscured by six feet of small intestine and bowel protruding… and stabbed with a knife to a depth of four inches deep, the blade had penetrated the spine”.
Being operated upon and given several blood transfusions, the man was taken to recovery, “but with the knife’s blade having pierced the left lobe of the liver”, at 1:52pm that day, he died of his injuries.
With his cause of death being ‘blood loss’, had anyone who had seen him attacked or even those who had walked by as he lay bleeding stopped to see if he was okay, it was likely he may have lived…
…but they hadn’t.
With his autopsy held at Westminster Public Mortuary, Professor Keith Simpson identified that the blade had “almost completely severed one of the main arteries arising from the aorta at the back of the abdomen”, and although the man was described as “tall and powerfully built”, there were no signs that he had fought back. And with two splits to his eyebrow, a break to his nose and two cuts to his upper lip, it was possible he was punched (not with a fist) but “a weapon, probably a knuckle duster”.
Alcohol was detected on his breath, but with a blood test unable to confirm how much he had drunk, it didn’t answer why a man with “a superior physique” hadn’t been able to defend against an attack?
His murder made no sense at all. With his wallet, his keys and his watch in his pocket, he hadn’t been robbed. With no-one reporting an assault, his attack was quick, probably random and possibly unseen.
And with no-one able to confirm where he had been, why he was there, who had attacked him or why, all they knew about this ordinary man - who was possibly drunk and maybe mistaken by a nasty gang of thugs who had pounced on him when he was at his most vulnerable - was a few innocent details:
The dead man was Graham John Osborn, a 26-year-old former Guardsman, who being dressed in his traditional bearskin and red tunic had once stood guard outside of Buckingham and St James’ Palaces. But invalided out of the service, until the day he died, he earned an honest wage as a stockman, he was unmarried, he had no children, no criminal record, and he lived with his mother Gladys in Southall.
His death made no sense. It seemed accidental and unprovoked…
…and yet a code of silence was protecting his killers.
The next day, The Daily Telegraph’s headline was ‘Stabbed Man Lay Dying in Piccadilly’ and underneath in bold capital letters the words MURDER HUNT. With the most serious crime having been committed, those who were protecting Graham’s cowardly killers weren’t talking, so the police were appealing to the innocent few who thought they had simply seen a drunk man slumped on the pavement.
It read: “for thirty minutes yesterday morning, Graham John Osborn, 26, lay bleeding to death on the pavement in Piccadilly, with people passing by him before police and an ambulance were called. Last night, Police inquiries became a murder hunt”, meaning this was no longer an assault, this was serious.
Having ignited a pang of guilt, it continued “Detective Superintendent Manning took charge and today detectives were visiting shelters and coffee stalls used by taxi-drivers to attempt to trace witnesses”.
And it worked, as having ignited a sympathy for the dead man and assuring any possible witnesses that there was something they could do, a flood of taxi-drivers came forward, as well as passersby.
The article continued: “Scotland Yard appeal for any person who was in the vicinity of Down Street and Piccadilly between 2:20am and 3am yesterday to tell the police immediately… especially those who gathered around Osborn, who was bleeding heavily from a deep stab wound to the stomach”.
Having read that and felt ashamed, who wouldn’t call? And so, as those who weren’t held by the code of silence spoke, the mystery over who had murdered Graham Osborn slowly began to unravel.
Martin McEvoy, a man of no job nor fixed abode who was walking towards Hyde Park Corner from Green Park Station would state “I saw a young redhaired girl and that man arguing with each other”.
The man he positively identified as Graham Osborn, and given the detailed description of the girl he had given and the fact that the corner of Down Street - just to the side of the Athenaeum Hotel - was a popular hangout for prostitutes, officers at West End Central police station had one woman in mind.
With a second witness, Andrew Fairlie, the night porter at the Athenaeum corroborating that sighting and with several sex-workers confirming her whereabouts that night, Police questioned 24-year-old Daphne Gillian Cantley, a flamed haired prostitute from Earls Court who was known locally as ‘Bobby’.
Clearly terrified, at first, she denied it was her, or that she was even there. But with the Police agreeing to keep her details out of the papers for fear of reprisals, and her guarded at an undisclosed address by a flank of officers, Bobby gave a statement. And although her recall of her encounter with Graham was incredibly detailed, unsurprisingly, her memory of his attackers was patchy and hazy, at best…
…but she did give a name.
“I only knew one of the men”, she said, describing him as “25 to 30, medium height, stockily built”, but unable to recognise the other: “I had tears in my eyes as I went up to him because I had been crying and was shaking a great deal, but as far as I know, the guardsman and Chick were strangers”.
All they had was a vague description and a nickname – Chick.
But who was Chick?
By the next day, as the name ‘Chick’ echoed across the newspapers as well as every television set, the city buzzed as people started asking ‘who’s Chick’ and ‘where is he hiding’? So worried were local hoodlums of being wrongly accused of murder, that many handed themselves in with satisfactory alibis, and with the description specific enough, even the killers were looking over their shoulders.
At an insalubrious hangout called the Cockney Café at Back Church Lane in Stepney, seeing the name ‘Chick’ plastered over the TV news, a labourer called Terry Kenny turned to his pal, a 27-year-old street trader called ‘Chick’ who confided “I’m in bit of bother cos of that bloke in the ‘dilly who got stabbed”.
Chick was a wanted man…
…and having confessed, “oh Terry, I swear on my baby’s life, it wasn’t me’, although an accomplice, it wasn’t Chick who had murdered Graham Osborn, but a friend who he had unwisely chosen to protect.
Born in Poplar, East London on 1st of March 1932, nicknamed ‘Chick’, his real name was William James Joyce. Named after the Irish author, as a young criminal for whom the borstal system had taught him nothing but theft, Chick wouldn’t gain any notoriety as his criminal acts were petty and pointless.
In 1950, aged 18, he was fined 40 shillings for dodging the tax on imported cigarettes. In 1952, he was charged with GBH, car theft, housebreaking and larceny, as well as illicit gambling in 1956 and 1957. Of the eight years since he had turned 18, as he had spent four months in prison and four years bound over or on a conditional discharge, many might say, he was a Jack of all trades and a master of none.
He was a minor criminal with a violent streak, but he hadn’t committed a murder.
The guilty party was his friend, 26-year-old William Henry Heathcote, known as ‘Billy’. Described as cocky and arrogant, like Chick, in the eight years since he had turned 18, Billy had spent three years in borstal and just over three years in prison, for a baffling array of thefts which suggested if it wasn’t nailed down he would nab it, including; groceries, two shoes, a pair of gloves, four shirts, a camera, typewriter, a ophthalmoscope and a pair of bathing trunks, as well as being in possession of cannabis and living off the earnings of prostitution, with the next crime added to his rap-sheet being murder.
A fruitless shield of criminal fear hadn’t help to protect them both from a murder investigation. And even though it was only one of them who had plunged the knife into Graham Osborn’s guts…
…together, their cockiness would convict both.
In the minutes after the murder, although a code of silence would protect them, they weren’t exactly silent about their crime. In a busy billiard hall on Great Windmill Street, Bobby the flame-haired sex-worker was heard to utter “thanks Chick, I won’t forget that” to the two out-of-breath men. She later told Margaret Welstead, another prostitute and her husband John what had happened, and seeing three Police cars speed towards the crime-scene, Chick stated “I’ve been in a little bit of trouble”.
While still wearing his bloodstained clothes, Billy admitted to the server at the Bruno Café in Stepney, “the Police are looking for us, there’s been a right old rumpus”, as about him lay the latest news article about the murder, and then they both admitted to their girlfriends “I didn’t do it, it was Chick/Billy”.
It wasn’t hard to track them down. Searching both flats, Police found the clothes they wore that night, including Billy’s jacket and shirt which had spots of Group A blood on the left sleeve, and several spots on the inside of Chick’s jacket, all an identical blood group to Graham, but not to Chick or Billy.
Yanked out of bed, when the detective identified himself, Chick grinned “the papers say you’re looking for me” and as Billy was led away, he bragged “it’s nothing, I’ll be home tonight”. But with no knife found, what the Police needed was a witness and a confession, which was easier said than done.
On Sunday 30th of March, both men were questioned. Cocky to the last, Billy laughed as the detective’s questions, and when asked “where were you at half past two on Good Friday?”, whilst lying down, he spat “fuck off cop, you’re wasting your time. I’m as safe as the fucking bank”, as all innocent men say.
Having identified Chick as one of the men, to prove Billy’s guilt, they put him in an ID parade at West Central police station. As Martin McEvoy was yet to come forward, the first witness was Andrew Fairlie the night porter at the Atheneum Hotel, who (in fairness) hadn’t seen much so he didn’t pick him out.
The second was Bobby, the redheaded prostitute. Released under guard from a police safe house, as she stood in the station’s courtyard before a line of eight men of similar appearance, she visibly shook. Hesitantly walking up the line from left to right, with Billy being the last man, as she crept nearer, with her voice trembling “no, that’s not him” to each man before her, seeing the scowl on his face, before she could speak, “she staggered back and collapsed into the arms of the inspector, who carried out”.
In the line-up, no-one identified Billy.
On Tuesday 1st April, although a lack of conclusive evidence meant a conviction was on shaky ground, unable to prove who had stabbed Graham Osborn, both Billy and Chick were charged with the murder.
Terrified that he was about to lose his life for a crime he hadn’t commit, with a new witness giving a statement, when Billy was questioned again, he spat “I see, so Chick has opened his mouth. I’m not afraid of him. He’s well known as a grass. If he puts it on me, I shall put it on him”. And with that, both men blamed the other, the code of silence fell, and they told the Police a story that no-one expected.
Friday 27th of March 1959 was the start the Bank Holiday. Being British, a smattering headed to church and prayed, most overate and watched the box, while the rest of the country got royally smashed.
For Bobby, it was business as usual, as she hung about on the corner of Down Street, hoping to pick-up a punter after the post-pub surge of horny gits had all headed home to their unwitting wives. She’d state “I arrived down there to start business… I noticed this man to the right of me near the bus stop. I didn’t take much notice of him. He hailed a taxi which stopped right by me on the zebra crossing”.
The man was Graham Osborn, he was a stranger to her, but then most of her customers were.
“I don’t know whether he was worse for drink”, Bobby said, “or he was going to do something wrong. He was behaving very strangely. His eyes were glazed and a staring look in his eyes caused me to be very frightened. When I declined to go with him, he got aggressive. I was frightened for my life…”.
By then, Martin McEvoy the passerby who had admitted he was “within touching distance”, saw Bobby & Graham arguing, and yet – like too many people who didn’t want to get involved – he did nothing.
Bobby was terrified as Graham attacked her: “he pushed me into the back seat of the taxi. I tried to get out and he threw me back in”, her mind racing with fear she was about to be raped. And although, the cab driver sat barely inches away, “I screamed… but he didn’t even attempt to help”. Having got out, although she was crying desperately, “the taxi just drove away”. That driver was never identified.
And yet, Bobby’s terror was far from over.
With the taxi gone, she was alone on an almost empty street with a well-built former-Guardsman who wanted to do her harm, “he had me against the railings”. And although, just yards away, Andrew Fairlie the porter at the Atheneum had come out at the sound of the commotion, he also did nothing.
What was on Graham’s mind will never be known, but based on his actions, he was desperate to do unspeakable things to Bobby, a lone woman who three men had ignored as she screamed in terror.
It was then, as she initially stated that “two boys” came to her aid. Understandably fearful, she claimed she only knew one of them by nickname - “I had tears in my eyes as I went up to Chick” - and the other she had collapsed before she could identify him to the Police. But later, she would admit the truth.
“I bumped into Chick and Billy. I said ‘Chick, I’ve been attacked in a taxi, please help me. I think he’s coming for me again”, as Graham stalked toward her. “Chick said ‘you’ll be alright now’”. And as the two men confronted her cowardly assailant; words were said, voices were raised and chests shoved, as Chick shouted, “what’s your game, mate?’, and Graham arrogantly spat “what’s the fucks it to you?”
Bobby’s recollection of the fight was fuzzy and muddled, stating “Chick grabbed the man by the lapels and nutted him a couple of times with his head”, breaking his nose and cracking the bridge of his eyes, which the pathologist had said was caused (not by a fist) but “a weapon, probably a knuckle duster”.
And although, Bobby would state “Billy hit the man in the stomach with his hand and then ran. I never saw a knife”, with Martin admitting “I saw a knife and it going into his stomach. It just went in and out fast through the man’s shirt. I was just walking by at the time. I was within touching distance”. Having confirmed that he knew Chick, he’d state “he was one of the two men. I couldn’t identify the other”.
And there lied the problem, as for a short while, a code of silence had protected the killers of Graham Osborn. But as the men who had defended Bobby from her possible rapist, that same code of silence and ‘fear of getting involved’ would risk two men being convicted of murder; one who was guilty…
… and the other, who was not. (Out)
Having been committed for trial at Bow Street Magistrates Court on the 4th April, barely a week later, as Chick was led away in a police car, although Detective Manning suggested to Chick “keep your head down son, there’s photographers outside”, he bragged “I couldn’t care fucking less. My solicitor knows all about it. I admit to nutting the guy and I’ll do 18 months for GBH. But it was Billy who knifed him”.
But with both men blaming each other in court, neither of the witnesses able to confirm who held the knife, and the knife itself having never been found, although there was irrefutable evidence (such as the blood on their clothes and several key witnesses) that a fight had occurred between Chick, Billy and Graham that night on that corner of Piccadilly, the jury had no option but to find them both guilty.
With the trial held at The Old Bailey on the 26th of May 1959, on the 20th of June, both William Henry Heathcote known as ‘Billy’ and William James Joyce nicknamed ‘Chick’ were given life sentences for Graham Osborn’s murder… with no charges of assault posthumously brought against the dead man.
Their convictions brought about a resolution to the case and having served their time, they were later released. But the evidence left more questions than answers; one being ‘why were the witnesses so fearful of Chick and Billy’, the other being ‘why did Graham attack Bobby’, and last ‘why did they kill Graham, were they merely rescuing a woman, or - if her pimps - were they protecting their product?’
It’s a question which will never be answered, as with no-one coming to either victim’s aid, nor ‘wanting to get involved’ (a skill we’ve mastered for centuries), the only two who know the truth are Chick & Billy.
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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