It started with a photograph. A photograph on the back of a book’s dust jacket. The photograph on the facing page. Saturday on the King’s Road, Chelsea, in 1967. Ground-zero for Swinging London. A local photographer out for a walk snaps hither and thither. He stops outside the Picasso coffee bar and knocks off a shot. A moment is captured for all eternity. A single, discreet moment that had already become history when the shutter closed. The photographer moves on. There’s more to shoot. He’s been photographing his beloved Chelsea for nearly twenty years. One day he’ll put a book together. But we’ll stay at the coffee bar. Stay at the Picasso. Look carefully at the faces. With a photograph you’re God, because you know what happens next. You know how the story develops. The faces here, of course, had no idea what would happen next, but within twenty-four hours or so one of them would be dead. But not just dead – murdered. Look carefully at the faces again. Is there one that says, “I am a murderee?”
Every so often I’d buy a book or two on the local history of a London neighbourhood I knew. I bought a couple on Chelsea through the Automated Book Exchange (abe) on the net, a wonderful source for second-hand books. The two I got were a 1970s off-set reprint of Alfred Beaver’s standard work, Memorials of Old Chelsea (1892), and John Bignell’s Chelsea Seen from its Earliest Days (1987) because of the sub-title A Collection of Photographs and Engravings. Older histories tend to be stingy with illustrations, though Beaver, an accomplished artist himself, ensured his was better than most. But Bignell’s book is a particularly rich source of pictures. I kept it by my bed. Over the next few weeks I’d open it at random and explore a Chelsea that no longer exists. One photograph I kept returning to was the one taken at the Picasso. On the front jacket flap it merely said “The Picasso Café, 1967”. Nothing else.
The photo started to haunt me. I had some strange, almost ‘occult’ feeling. I kept looking at it in the hope of discovering something I hadn’t noticed, something hidden that would be the key to understanding what was going on. It was a crazy and irrational feeling that persisted. The eight people were beginning to seem like old friends and I even gave them names, or rather titles. Starting with the girl crouching on the right and moving clockwise: White Hat or Gazelle Babe, Felt Hat, Black Girl, Popinjay (he with the floral waistcoat and shirt), Blonde Curls, Guy in the Shadows, Scarecrow Hat and, lastly, Granny Glasses. There are some ghosts here too. A face behind Blonde Curls that might be a reflection of someone in the street and a face to the right of Scarecrow Hat that could be a customer inside the coffee bar. And there are the woman’s feet in buckled shoes underneath Black Girl’s chair. Nothing else is seen of her. She’s not in the script. The photograph was taken thirty-four years ago, in 1967. Where were these eight figures now? What had become of them? I began to put together imaginary histories.
A month or so went by and I took the book into the office to photocopy some photos of Cheyne Row for a girlfriend who used to live there. I was flicking through the pages when I came across a spread I hadn’t seen before, which surprised me as I thought my random raids had eventually exhausted the book. Actually, I was doubly surprised because the back cover photo was included here, in a spread devoted to the Swinging Sixties. But when I looked a little closer it wasn’t the back cover photo, but a shot that had been taken either immediately before or after, and it had been cropped. It showed White Hat, Felt Hat, Blonde Curls who was now looking apprehensively into camera, Scarecrow Hat, and Granny Glasses behind whom was hidden Guy in the Shadows. I read the accompanying caption. I read it again and immediately re-read it a third time. There had been some mistake. Some alternate reality had made an unheralded and unwelcome incursion into the King’s Road:
Below: People on parade and sitting outside the Picasso Café. Life may have seemed like one long game but it wasn’t: not anyway for Claudie Danielle Delbarre (with the blonde curls), an eighteen year old French au pair girl who was murdered in her Walpole Street bedsitter the weekend this photograph was taken in September 1967.
Well, hold on. This just wasn’t right. People don’t get murdered in Swinging London photos. This is the frothy, good times end of reality. They live for ever. But there it was. So, that was the secret of the photo on the back cover. We are looking at someone enjoying her last hours. We are sharing what little remains of their life before that exit to oblivion. She had a name, Claudie Danielle Delbarre. She also had a mother and father, aunts and uncles perhaps, certainly grandparents and she may even have had a brother and sister. She had a bedsitter, a blonde curly wig (it must have been), a coat with a fur collar, and a truncated future. All at the end of September 1967 when Tom Jones was somewhere in the Top Twenty singing I’ll Never Fall in Love Again, and Engelbert Humperdinck was at No. 1 with Last Waltz…
Little Claudie, dead at eighteen. No more hanging out at the Picasso. No more parading up and down the King’s Road. No more anything. Who? Why? How? What did she do to be murdered? If anything? If indeed one has to do anything to be murdered? I thought there might be more details of the crime elsewhere in the book. There weren’t. Bignell says she was murdered and that’s it. He isn’t going to hang around in this neck of the woods. I found another of Bignell’s books at the abe site, John Bignell: Chelsea Photographer, a self-published chrestomathy of his pictures that came out in 1983. I thought it might contain something. There was nothing. The back flap had some biography of Bignell. He was born in 1907, had worked in the family concern of manufacturing chemists, and hadn’t seriously taken up photography until he was made redundant in the early 1950s, when he went to live in Chelsea. Would it be worth trying to contact him? I could try. He would now be ninety-four.
I read and re-read the caption wondering if I had overlooked some important piece of information. Claudie was eighteen. An au pair girl. Murdered in her bedsit. In Walpole Street. And where was that? I know Chelsea pretty well, but I couldn’t place Walpole Street. I went to a street map site on the net and keyed in the address. A coloured map appeared to the scale of 10,000:1 and there it was. The second street on the left when you’re walking down King’s Road from Sloane Square, just after the open space of the Duke of York’s Headquarters. If she was an au pair girl, what was she doing in a bedsit? Au pairs live with a family, they don’t live out. Or was she between jobs? I also did a net search for John Bignell and came up with two hits. The first was a brief notice of Chelsea Photographer in a column that Christopher A. Long had written for London Portrait Magazine, a glossy give-away of the 1980s. In the May 1983 issue he had recommended the book and noted that Bignell had recently had a successful exhibition at the Ebury Gallery. The other hit was a “Tribute to John Bignell, ‘The Chelsea Photographer'” put up by Kensington Central Library advertising a free exhibition of his works that would run at the library from 3 July to 29 July 2000. Which was good to know, except it was now six months after it closed. Amongst the photos on display were ones of David Hockney, Dylan Thomas, Sybil Thorndike, Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors and Julie Felix (who she? Try this: a ‘protest’ folk-singer from the USA who went out with David Frost. Yes, sir.). The page noted that Bignell had died in 1997 (late again) and his photographs “were offered to the Borough by his long-time companion Catherine Grant”. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea acquired the lot with the help of the Victoria and Albert Purchase Grant Fund.
There were two leads here: the collection would be worth visiting to see whatever other photographs there were in the sequence, if any, and Catherine Grant might be of help. Both leads would eventually become redundant. I checked a couple of reference books on crime, but there was nothing on Claudie. She never made the big time. It wasn’t a murder that captured the public imagination. She was no Maria Marten de nos jours. I walked down Walpole Street late on a rainy Thursday night. The south side is one long mid-Victorian terrace: open basement, mezzanine, then three floors above. I didn’t know Claudie’s address but I felt this was the right side (I later learnt that it was). The terrace had been freshly painted – a bright white that looked bright even at night, even in the rain. The street had decidedly gone up-market. If there were bedsits here in the 1960s they had metamorphosed into studio flats now with a corresponding hike in price. Some were even single dwellings. The facing side was a reflection, the same terraced houses, but they stopped abruptly two-thirds of the way to King’s Road and there sits a massive, bulwark-like block of flats rising to some eleven storeys, dating from the 1930s. I didn’t get any vibes in Walpole Street. Any spirits had long been exorcised. Later I drove down the King’s Road and saw the coffee bar, the Picasso. The frontage had changed, it had been refurbished, looked a little smarter, but there it was, a station on Claudie’s last journey to her heavenly translation. And no vibes here either.
My brother, Mark, was doing some research at the British Library in Colindale and I asked him if he had a spare moment to check out the Chelsea News from the beginning of September 1967 onwards. A week later he gave me a folder of newspaper photocopies. The first report in the Chelsea News was on Friday 22 September 1967. It was the lead story on the front page:
Girl not seen around for two days leads to grim find
MURDER IN BEDSITTER LAND
Police visit King’s Road haunts for clues to killer
Her body was discovered on the Tuesday by a Mark Shaw Lawrence, the landlord. She had lived in a bedsitter at 17 Walpole Street since July. She was face down on a divan, naked except for a bra and a pyjama top. Dr Donald Teare, the pathologist, after a post-mortem on Wednesday said that death was due to “suffocation following cerebral haemorrhage as a result of blows to the head”. Claudie Danielle, as she was known, a French girl, was said by a neighbour who didn’t want to be named to have “masses of boy friends”. And “her clothes were so extraordinary. She wore long vests like skirts and sombreros”. The police were visiting clubs and discothèques (then a word just coming into English usage) in Chelsea with photographs of Claudie. A ‘vital clue’ taken away by the police from the bedsit was a bundle of some 200 letters and cards, many from boyfriends. No murder weapon had yet been discovered at the crime scene. A description of a man in ‘a red military tunic’ and ‘mod gear’ and with long blond hair had been given to the police. He had been seen waiting outside Claudie’s room at 3am some two weeks earlier. A description that must have fitted half a million guys in the London autumn of 1967.
The first and last sub-head in the article now appears, “Might have been deterred”. It reports a letter sent to the Chelsea News by Louis Fitzgibbon, secretary to Duncan Sandys, the Tory MP, and an individual not slow in seizing an opportunity: “Your readers will not need to be reminded of the dreadful murder which has recently been committed in your area. Many of them may feel that the perpetrator of this tragic crime might have been deterred if the death penalty had still been in force.” Fitzgibbon was also secretary of the Capital Punishment Petition, one of the many groups that felt it was a bad day for England when hanging was abolished. To the left of the lead article were a couple of paragraphs headed: “Yard asks – did you see her?” Scotland Yard would like to interview anyone who had seen Claudie after Friday, also any of her friends. She was reported to have been seen in the Chelsea Potter pub on Saturday night. “One who knew her as a passer by” was Fred Hillsdon who sold flowers at Wellington Square. Fred vouchsafed that she “was nearly always with long-haired men and wore bright clothing”. Her skirts were short “even for Chelsea”.
What else was on this 1967 front page? The London Rent Assessment Panel had increased the yearly rent on a luxury flat in Cadogan Square from £750 to £800, eight artists and students were busted in Milner Street for cannabis possession, and there is a photograph by John Bignell of a photographer on the King’s Road taking a photograph of a pretty girl. Snapper snapped. Bignell, it appears, was a regular contributor to the Chelsea News. So, he may have seen a photo of Claudie at the newspaper and realised this was the girl he had seen on Saturday or, indeed, he may actually have known her.
The following week, Friday 29 September 1967, the Chelsea News again led on the front page with the murder:
Claudie: Police net closes
‘CHELSEA SET’ MAN SOUGHT BY MURDER SQUAD
Men named in diaries interviewed: questions at ‘swinging’ club
“The net was closing in”, stated the article. Detective Superintendent Fred Lambert described a man he wished to interview. “When he was last seen he was wearing a blue jacket, grey trousers, a light coloured shirt open at the neck, and he needed a shave.” He was now missing from the Chelsea ‘circle’ in which he and Claudie moved. The police were also after a taxi driver who took the man to a hotel in Knightsbridge early on Monday 18 September, the day before Claudie’s body was discovered. Sixty detectives were now working on the case and a Murder Squad headquarters had been set up in a local police section house (essentially a bunk-house for single policemen). The GPO (the General Post Office, the forerunner of BT) had even laid on three extra phone lines with extensions. The ‘swinging’ club mentioned in the headline was the Speakeasy Club in Margaret Street, near Oxford Circus, which I remember well, a psychedelic disco. A mobile police station was set up and the club’s clientele interviewed, some of whom remembered Claudie. An inquest was opened but adjourned until 15 November. Evidence of identification was given by Detective Superintendent Lambert who said Claudie was identified by her father in his presence and that arrangements were being made with the French Consul for the body to be returned to France for burial. Lambert didn’t describe Claudie as an au pair, but as a club hostess. Club hostess?
A boxed insert within the article is headed CHECK ON BUSINESSMEN. Nine ‘high-salaried’ businessmen whose names were found in Claudie’s address book were asked to come forward voluntarily and assist the police, otherwise “detectives would have to visit their homes”. A photograph appears on the left of the front page and is a third photograph taken by Bignell outside the Picasso coffee bar on the Saturday. Above it is the heading “Last Picture Taken?” The caption states that this was amongst other photos Bignell had earlier passed to the News for use in the paper when Claudie “was unknown outside her circle”. Also in the folder my brother had given me were photocopies from the national papers that pre-dated the first appearance of the story in the Chelsea News. The Daily Telegraph ran a small item hidden away on page seventeen on the Wednesday, the day after Claudie’s body was discovered, headed “French girl found dead in Chelsea” which at least had the virtue of getting the basic facts right. On the same day the Evening Standard had a full-page article:
LOVE LETTERS CLUE IN CHELSEA MURDER HUNT
Diaries may name girl’s killer
The article by Roger Bray and John Ponder describes the murder scene, the post-mortem and the police’s hope that the diaries and letters will soon lead them to the killer. According to the writers she had been in England on and off for about two years and was ‘well-known in Soho’ – probably a coded reference to some vice connection that Bray and Ponder could not then substantiate. The man in the red tunic is mentioned again by an unidentified informant (presumably the landlord or a fellow lodger at No. 17) who is quoted as saying, “He seemed irritated that she hadn’t turned up – he appeared to be a bit of a nut and was considerably older than her.” Police had visited the ‘restaurant and bar’ in Romilly Street where Claudie had been working for three months. She was also on the books of a model agency in Kensington, Rose Enterprises, and the eponymous Mr Ken Rose said he had taken her along for an ‘interview’ with Penthouse magazine, a London-based glossy men’s glamour mag for blokes who thought Playboy was a bit too intellectual. Rose continued: “She came to me about two weeks ago and said she wanted a job modelling. I immediately recognised she had fantastic potential. She was a lovely girl and she would have done very well. She told me she had been painted by Salvador Dali. The news of her death has come as a shattering shock. I was to take her back to Penthouse next week where she was to be photographed.”
Rose had last seen her on the Thursday before she had been murdered. She called to collect some photographs he had taken of her. The final paragraph notes that Claudie’s father had been told of her death while at work in what was presumably her home town or village, Tourcoing in Northern France (near Lille, on the Belgium border). Neighbours there said her mother had been dead for some years. A photograph in the top right hand corner dominates the page. A waist-up photograph of Claudie semi-sideways looking over her left shoulder into the camera. She wears a bikini top and her hair is shoulder length blonde and straight (the blonde curls were a wig). There is a look of sultry, knowing sexuality to the picture which was absent from the Bignell photographs, and it isn’t posed or contrived either. She may have been an au pair once, but this is most certainly the club hostess. Beneath the photograph is a heading, ONE DAY OF JOY IN THE SAD LIFE OF A CLUB GIRL, that banners an interview with Claudie’s best friend, Lucy Cardovillis, “a twenty-one year old coloured girl”, from Kenya: “She [Claudie] won a competition in a Chelsea Boutique and was to get £30 worth of clothes from any boutique in the King’s Road. Her picture was in the local paper.” Lucy and Claudie had worked together a year ago in a Soho bar: “We were allowed to keep the £5 hostess fee for which we had to ask the customers with whom we sat. We could come in any time we liked. I don’t go to the West End any more now. But Claudie and I remained close friends. She was round almost every day.” Claudie told Lucy she had come to England about two years ago as an au pair after her mother had died. She never wanted to return to France. She was originally an au pair then she worked as a waitress, but what she wanted to be was a model: “She was always in the boutiques in the King’s Road. She loved buying clothes. She never had a boyfriend for more than a few days as far as I know. She always got fed up with them. I told the police I knew of no steady boyfriend. I once lived with her in the same house in Cornwall Gardens, and she loved parties but the wish to be a model was the most important thing in her life.”
Was Lucy the black girl in the Bignell photographs? She certainly looks the right age. By the side of the item about Lucy was a column-wide photograph of 17 Walpole Street captioned “Arrowed: Claudie Delbarre’s bedsitter”. It was on the third floor, the window on the left, directly above the front door. The Telegraph ran a follow-up piece the next day, Thursday 21 September, noting that Claudie was last seen at the Speakeasy Club on the Sunday morning before her death, and that she was paying £6 a week rent for the bedsit (some accounts said £8). No small sum in those days. The Evening Standard had a small piece the same day about the police going through the names and addresses in two brown pocket books she kept. Claudie, the paper said, jotted everyone’s name down “even those men who paid ‘a hostess fee’ to sit with her in the bar where she worked”. Accompanying the piece was a small, column-wide close up of a sultry, kittenish Claudie, probably taken by that agent with a nose for talent, Mr Rose of Kensington.
My brother said that he had checked all issues of the Chelsea News through to the end of December 1967 and there was no mention of Claudie’s murder again after the 29 September issue. So, had the police found the murderer? They certainly hadn’t found him in that period. I wasn’t sure what to do next. Neither Mark nor myself had the time to sit at the Colindale newspaper library going through back issues of newspapers hoping something would eventually appear. It may be that the police never found the murderer, that the case was unsolved. I asked Martin Short, an old friend who has written books and made documentary films on crime and police corruption, what he would do. He said my best bet was to write to one of the police divisional PR offices and see if they could be of help, but he wasn’t hopeful. Or I could try contacting one of the officers who was on the case. The weeks went by and I did nothing until one afternoon I thought I’d try something else, the Hans Tasiemka Archive in North London.
Hans Tasiemka was a journalist who fled Germany in the 1930s. He was always collecting and filing away newspaper clippings and these became the basis of what must be the largest private clippings library in England. His widow, the sprightly Edda, has administered it since his death. I phoned Edda and on the off chance asked her whether she had a file on Claudie’s death? She said murders are filed under the murderer’s name and did I have that name? I told her that I didn’t even know if the murderer had been discovered. “Oh”, she said. However, Claudie Delbarre’s name seemed to ring a bell. She would check and call me back. And she did. She had found a file. The murderer had been discovered. I asked her to photocopy the clippings and a couple of days later I got them in the post. I carefully arranged them in date order while assiduously avoiding reading them. I wanted to follow the story as it developed. But before I did that I received a copy of Claudie’s death certificate in the post. I had asked Stephen Wright, a genealogist, to get me a copy. The Certified Copy of an Entry of Death was dated 1968 (not 1967, the year she died) in the sub-district of Chelsea First (whatever that is) in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It stated that Claudie Danielle Delbarre had died on the “Nineteenth September 1967” at 17 Walpole Street. She was a female, of eighteen years, and was a ‘club hostess’. It further noted: “Certificate on Inquest adjourned and not resumed, received from G. Thurston, Coroner for Inner West London. Inquest held 22nd September 1967 and on 16th October 1968” which would explain the 1968 date at the head. Under cause of death is recorded the following: “Suffocation following cerebral haemorrhage and blows to the head. Defendant convicted of manslaughter.” The suffocation, I was subsequently to learn, was having eight inches or so of bed sheeting stuffed down her throat. I read the cause of death again. Suffocation? Blows to the head? Manslaughter? Manslaughter is, essentially, unlawful killing without malice aforethought. Well, there may have been no aforethought malice, but suffocation, blows to the head? There was certainly some malice abroad. But who? How? Why? The clippings I had received from Edda would have the answer.
The Daily Mirror’s front page on Wednesday 20 September 1967, declared MODEL IS MURDERED IN HER BEDSITTER. The Daily Express on the same day ran as their front page lead CHELSEA PYJAMA GIRL MURDER accompanied by a photograph of Claudie in the street wearing a top and looking as though she had forgotten to put a skirt on. The Express, ever mindful of its Middle England readership, helpfully explained: “The flat is on the fourth [sic] floor of a house in Walpole Street, not far from the King’s Road, centre of the so called “Swinging London” scene.” The Evening Standard revealed the next day that Claudie had a number of ‘sugar daddies’ and that she had a “fantastic number of boyfriends – more than 300”! Huh? The sleuths at the Express hadn’t been idle and on the same day devoted almost a page to “Secret life of model Claudie”: “By day she was a ‘swinging chick’, a hippy with the miniest mini-skirt in Chelsea. A world of psychedelic gear, tinkling bells and candle-lit discotheques. By night she lived in the shadows of Soho, a lonely girl seeking ‘friends’ with fat wallets in West End clubs. Only her very close friends knew the secret of Claudie’s double life.” Accompanying the article were two ‘modelling’ photographs of Claudie. One of her looking demure in what appears to be a velvet evening dress, ankle length, and the other a white bikini shot with Claudie pulling her hair across her face and attempting to look provocative. She looks amateurish and gauche in both pictures, but this may not be her fault. It is more likely to be down to the photographer, and who might that photographer be? More than likely it was Mr Ken Rose of Rose Enterprises (Models) in Kensington whom we have met before, or someone associated with him, as Mr Rose is quoted at length in the article and had supplied to the paper Claudie’s file card from his agency. This is reproduced between the two photographs. It is headed rose enterprises (model) [sic] and is a printed card with spaces given for information to be written in. It gives Claudie’s Christian names, her surname, ‘nom de plume’ (Claudie Danielle), her address and telephone number, her age as nineteen (she upped it a year), her marital status as single, and her occupation as student, which wasn’t quite true. The following is also given: “Height: 5ft 3. Bust: 36″. Waist: 25″. Hips: 36″. Hair colour: blond. Eyes: blue green. Shoe size: 4½. Glove size: 6½. Foreign languages (if any): French Spanish German. Other Talents and Abilities, i.e. singing, dancing, etc.: dancing singing.” One line hasn’t been filled in or, if it had, the information has been deleted and that is the penultimate line: Escort Services.
Now, this puts a slightly different complexion on Mr Rose’s little operation. Would a reputable modelling agency be offering escort services? One also looks again at the heading and wonders why model is in the singular. Were there other divisions of Rose Enterprises? The Express reporters didn’t tax Mr Rose about any of this. The Sunday Mirror on 24 September reported that the police were seeking ‘nine rich men’ who knew Claudie and that she may have been involved in a blackmail racket. She made periodic weekend trips to the country but would never tell her friends where she was going. A girl friend said she received large sums of money from time to time. Over the next couple of weeks several photos of Claudie surfaced and appeared in the national press and even overseas magazines, but there was no news, just recycled police briefings and rumours. Then it went dead. In late November 1967 there were reports that an American citizen the police wanted to interview concerning Claudie’s death was in a mental home in New York. The FBI’s help had been solicited by Scotland Yard and the Feds had traced the man to a hospital. He had been identified as going to a party with Claudie in the West End and flying back to the States immediately after her death. His name was not given. When he arrived in New York he had been admitted to St Luke’s Hospital in great emotional distress. Later he transferred to a private mental institution. Detective Chief Superintendent Lambert, who had been promoted in the meantime, was having talks with the Director of Public Prosecutions. At the end of January 1968 a warrant was issued in London for the arrest of the American citizen in connection with Claudie’s murder. The extradition process would now begin. The man Lambert sought was not named until the beginning of March. He was Robert ‘Bobby’ Lipman, the thirty-seven year old son of a rich New York property developer. Lipman had an apartment on Central Park West. He seemed to live a drug-fuelled existence flitting about the international circuit and not doing much else. He was currently in an ‘exclusive’ psychiatric retreat in Hartford, Connecticut “used by Hollywood and Broadway stars”. But exactly who was this Bobby Lipman or, more interestingly, who would he become?
Towards the end of March a United States district judge in Hartford, after hearing numerous legal arguments, ordered Lipman to be extradited to Britain. This order was subsequently confirmed by Dean Rusk, the US Secretary of State. The Evening News on 1 May had a front page photograph of the 6′ 6″ Lipman being led down the steps of a BOAC VC10 at Heathrow with a coat over his head by Fred Lambert and Detective Sergeant Robin Constable (misidentified as Detective Superintendent Robert Huntley, I later learnt). Lipman was taken to Chelsea police station and charged and later remanded in custody at Marlborough Street magistrates’ court. A week later the Evening News ran a story headed CLAUDIE: MY CLIENT IS INNOCENT – SOLICITOR. And the solicitor in question was none other than the illustrious David Napley, later to become Sir David, a future President of the Law Society and chiefly remembered now for representing Jeremy Thorpe when he was accused of conspiring to murder the male model Norman Scott in the late 1970s. The News told how Napley at Marlborough Street had successfully applied for the immediate lifting of restrictions on reporting the case as his client “vigorously protested his innocence” and it was hoped the widespread publicity would result in people coming forward to assist in his defence. What was the script Napley was working from? Was the vigorous protestation of innocence regarding the charge of murder as opposed to manslaughter or what? But who were the people they were hoping would come forward? Where were they? What could they say?
The trial at the Old Bailey began in early October 1968 and was widely reported in both the tabloids and the broadsheets. Lipman pleaded not guilty to murder. Michael Eastman, QC, the defence barrister, invited the jury to step into a world of “grossly excessive drinking and the world of taking hallucinatory drugs”. His client, he continued, had become an alcoholic and drug addict by 1967. He continued by saying that Claudie, possibly because of her profession as a prostitute, was already on hard drugs (methadone actually; this had been established at the autopsy): “It is not my function to blacken her name but it is right you should know this because this is not the case of an older man trying to seduce an innocent girl and trying to persuade her to take drugs.” Eastman recounted Lipman’s activities on the Saturday 16 September 1967. In the morning he had smoked opium and cannabis and took some amphetamines and in the afternoon he was a little restrained and merely did some hashish, though he was also drinking alcohol throughout the day. In the evening he said he took some LSD at a friend’s place in Chelsea and this was where he met Claudie for the first time. He went with Claudie to her flat at around 4.15am. Lipman explained: “We went into the living room. She said she would put on the kettle, and I was to make myself comfortable. I asked if I could put on some records. She made some tea. She asked me if I wanted an orange. She was eating an orange and I had a piece of it. After that I put on the records and settled down. I think she then brought the tea in. I was sitting on the bed or the sofa or whatever you call it. She said she was going to change into something more comfortable, which she did. I took off my shoes, socks and suede shirt. We listened to the music. She said, ‘Let’s take the acid.’ We went into the kitchen. I think the suggestion about taking acid was made before she changed.” Lipman had, in his own words, “some great acid from America”. They dropped it together and shortly after began to make love, but their lovemaking hardly got going because, in Lipman’s words, “the LSD turned me on and I went on a trip”.
Lipman continued: “I felt myself speeding through space and I felt the earth opening and I went right down to it, into the centre of the earth, and found myself in a den of monster snakes which I was fighting off and battling with. They were [a] huge prehistoric type, scaly and with fire shooting from their mouth [sic]. I felt I was fighting for my life. I am not sure how I dealt with the fire coming from their mouths.” Lipman claimed that when he came out of the trip he saw that Claudie was dead and could not understand how or why. He left the flat immediately and was seen running down Walpole Street. He returned to the hotel he was staying at in Knightsbridge, gathered some things together, settled his bill, checked out and flew out of Heathrow, cutting short his two-week stay. Eastman said there was “no ground for not believing” Lipman may have “thrashed about” trying to kill his imaginary assailants. However, “thrashing about” is a random activity and would hardly account for numerous blows all limited to the head and the stuffing of some eight inches of sheeting into Claudie’s mouth. Lipman admitted to taking LSD “fifteen to thirty times” between 1965 and September 1967. On none of those occasions had he ever been violent, either towards another person or himself. The pathologist, Sir Francis Camps, appeared on behalf of the defence and suggested that Claudie may well have killed herself! Three other expert defence witnesses, all doctors with knowledge of LSD, including one from the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington, were in accord on the view that Lipman would have had no awareness of killing Claudie. One of them also agreed with Camps.
John Matthew, QC, for the Crown told the jury that there was no doubt Lipman murdered Claudie but that he might not be guilty of murder. “He would not be guilty of murder on the basis that he was under the influence of the drug [LSD] and unable to form the necessary intent.” The jury was out for nearly four hours. They found Lipman guilty of manslaughter and Mr Justice Milmo sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment. The reason the jury gave for finding him guilty was that he knew that it would be dangerous to take the drug and this constituted grossly negligent and reckless behaviour. To be guilty of murder one must commit a wilful or dangerous act with the intention of killing or, at the very least, causing serious bodily harm. If you do not know what you are doing the act cannot be wilful, neither do you have the necessary guilty intent. Jurists argue that if a man does not know what he is doing that is what is of importance, not the why of him not knowing. Lipman argued that he didn’t know what he was doing and the jury believed him. But he was caught by the fall-back line in English homicide law: manslaughter. To be guilty of manslaughter, intent does not have to be shown. The mere committing of the act is enough. As Mr Justice Milmo observed in his summing up: “An unlawful act does not become lawful because it is done by someone who has rendered himself intoxicated by drink or drugs.”
Lipman’s defence was that he had taken acid and didn’t know what was going on while on the trip. A smart defence as it turned out, but we only have his word for it that he took the substance. A further factor is that in the literature on LSD this is the only case I’ve come across of a murder being committed while under its influence. There is no evidence that the drug induces violence towards others. What ‘violence’ there is is restricted to the drug taker and arises from the hallucinatory experience itself. For instance, persons jumping from buildings in the belief that they can fly. Another suspicious circumstance is the alleged duration of the acid trip. Lipman said he arrived at Claudie’s flat around 4.15am. Shortly after they took the acid. Yet by about 7.30am Lipman was aware of what had happened and was fleeing the scene, rushing back to his hotel, catching a plane out of the country. He wasn’t on any trip then. Three hours seems a suspiciously short time for an acid trip. Lipman admitted to smoking opium, cannabis and hashish in the twenty-four hours before Claudie’s murder and he also took amphetamines, and the only drug that does regularly induce violence towards others – alcohol. The guy was a walking pharmaceutical cabinet. It may have been this mixture of substances and a certain character predisposition that resulted in Lipman murdering. My own feeling, which I cannot substantiate, is that he was aware of what he was doing, but the why will forever remain a mystery. It may have been some psychopathic episode. It could have arisen from sexual inadequacy – he admitted that their lovemaking was uncompleted (but blamed the acid). Perhaps Claudie taunted him? Perhaps, fuelled by the drugs and alcohol, it drove him into a rage? The perhaps’ are endless.
As I read and re-read the clippings I wanted to talk to Fred Lambert, the Detective Chief Superintendent in charge of the case. This was presupposing Lambert was alive, traceable and contactable. But before going down this avenue I want to return to the playboy, Bobby Lipman. In the early 1990s the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of York, Andrew and Sarah, was over and the formal separation was under way. Fergie had strayed, and strayed big time. Here’s what Allan Starkie, a one time confidant of the Duchess, writes in his memoir of the period, Fergie: Her Secret Life (1996): “The truth was that the love of Sarah’s life, always, was not John Bryan [of the famous toe sucking photographs] but Steve Wyatt. It was with Steve Wyatt that she broke her wedding vows, while pregnant with her second child and with her marriage barely three years old. And since her real affection remained with this other American, the stepson of Houston oil magnate Oscar Wyatt, Jr, it made what happened next…all so futile [the relationship with Bryan and what followed].” Fergie had first met Wyatt on an official trip to Houston, Texas, in November 1989 while staying as a guest at the River Oaks mansion of Wyatt’s mother and stepfather. She later met him in England and the rest is royal history. Right royal history. Steve’s mother was a New York socialite named Lynn Sakowitz who in 1954 had married Bobby Lipman. She had two children by him, Steve and Douglas, the latter a member of Eternal Values, a gay Nazi group. She had walked out on Lipman in the early 1960s and subsequently got a divorce before marrying the Texas oil and gas billionaire, Oscar Wyatt, Jr, who formally adopted the two boys. Sakowitz claimed that neither of the two boys had seen Bobby since they were under seven years of age.
Wyatt, understandably, has been reticent about discussing his father in public. He claims he was killed in a train crash in Austria soon after he got out of prison in the early 1970s. This would be an effective way of heading off any inquiries. Nigel Dempster, the London gossip columnist, believes that Bobby is still alive, as do a number of other journalists. Bobby, who would now be fast approaching seventy-one if still alive, probably assumed another name and with the backing of his wealthy family set up shop somewhere that he wasn’t known. And that was the Bobby who was – or is.
Now, how to contact Fred Lambert? Martin Short suggested I send a letter care of the Metropolitan Police pensions fund. They’d pass it on, supposing Lambert was still alive. I wasn’t hopeful, I don’t know why. I did nothing for several weeks until it occurred to me that there might be a simpler way. I phoned Jim Smith, a retired CID officer I know, and asked him if he knew Fred Lambert. He did, he had worked under him at Scotland Yard in a lowly capacity back in the early 1960s when he first joined the force. Did he know where I could contact him? Give me five minutes, he said. Three minutes later he phoned back with an address and phone number in South Africa. Fred, as I’d come to think of him, was alive and a mere phone call away. I stared at the number, a little nervous about calling. Would he want to discuss a murder that took place over thirty years ago? Would he regard my call as an intrusion? Any misgivings I had about phoning Fred were dispelled in the first couple of minutes of our conversation. He had a warm, youngish-sounding voice that belied his seventy-nine years. His manner was relaxed and affable. He was happy to talk and I was eager to listen. And – this was a bonus – his memory was as sharp as when he was a detective. We talked for about twenty minutes that first time and our conversation encompassed matters other than Claudie’s murder – modern policing in London, corruption at Scotland Yard, the hijacking of football by showbiz and the middle classes and, as it turned out, a mutual friend, Martin Short. (When I had asked Martin about contacting retired CID officers I hadn’t bothered to mention Fred’s name. I should have done.) The circumstances in which Fred knew Martin arose out of the reason why Fred had left the police force and this is detailed below.
Fred Lambert was born in rural Norfolk in 1921, the son of a miller and baker. He was in the army during the Second World War and joined the Metropolitan Police after demobilisation in 1946. His first station was Commercial Street in the East End, G Division. He was only in uniform for eleven months before he became an aide to CID. Two years later he was a detective at Rochester Row, A Division, and soon after that was posted to the Flying Squad, the ‘Sweeney’, where he remained for eight years. It was a swift rise through the ranks and reflected Fred’s dedication, application and intelligence. He was involved in many cases including that of Guenther Podola who shot and killed Detective Sergeant Raymond Purdy in Kensington in 1959. It was Fred’s detective work that identified Podola as the murderer and led to his arrest and subsequent execution. When Claudie was murdered Fred was Detective Superintendent at Chelsea and was responsible for the seven stations within B Division. On Tuesday 19 September 1967, around 1pm, Fred was just about to leave his office and go to lunch when a sergeant came in and told him that the dead body of a woman had been found in Walpole Street and that murder was suspected. Fred went straight up to the bedsit and found Claudie on the bed. Rigor mortis had passed so she had been dead for some hours. Fred noticed that her nose and ears had been bleeding and there was haemorrhaging in her eyes, sure signs of a fractured skull. Sheeting was stuffed into her mouth. Nothing was touched. The two rooms were dusted for fingerprints and scene of crime photographs taken. Fred found several address books, letters and postcards. The local PC knew Claudie by sight and told Fred she was on the game. It was reputed that her earnings were often as high as £500 per week, a fortune in those days. Many of the names in her address books were clients and these included some high-flying figures in the City and even a bishop.
The murder of a prostitute, because of the very nature of the job, frequently presents the police with their most difficult cases. Fred thought this was likely to be a headache. At the autopsy Donald Teare, the pathologist, confirmed to Fred that she had a fractured skull but attributed the actual cause of death to suffocation. Teare said she had been hit with something wide (or thick) and heavy. The only items found in the room matching this description were a couple of heavy glass tumblers that had been sent to the forensic lab. Fred quickly built up a picture of Claudie’s somewhat compartmentalised life. A mobile police inquiry unit was set up at the Speakeasy Club and all of its patrons were interviewed. This is where the first break in the investigation came. Claudie had left the club with a tall American, around 6’6″, in the early hours of Sunday morning. They were going back to her place. Meanwhile fingerprints other than Claudie’s had been found on one of the heavy glass tumblers. A search was done in the fingerprint records and a match was made. This was the second and triumphant break in the inquiry: the fingerprints belonged to an American, Robert Lipman, who had been arrested in London only a week prior to Claudie’s death for possession of cannabis. Fred checked the hotel in Knightsbridge that Lipman had given as his address and found that he had hurriedly left on the Sunday morning within hours of Claudie’s death. Inquiries soon revealed that Lipman had caught a flight out of Heathrow to Amsterdam and, later, had flown to New York. Liaison with the Federal Bureau of Investigation led to Lipman being run to ground in St Luke’s Hospital in New York where he was in a psychiatric wing. Later Fred flew out to interview him.
Lipman was not going to return voluntarily so the long drawn out process of extradition began, with Fred shuffling between the Home Office and the Foreign Office. This was eventually granted and Fred flew out to bring him back. What was Lipman like? Fred says he had dried out when they collected him. He was off the drugs and the booze. He was a decent fellow, reserved, well spoken, easy to get on with. There was nothing mean, let alone evil, about him. He wasn’t a bastard, he was a tragedy. He was from a rich and privileged background and there were conflicts within him that had made drug abuse an easy and welcome option. How did Fred greet the verdict? Six years for manslaughter? He thought it was fair and just. On 10 October 1968 Lipman was sent to Her Majesty’s Prison at Wormwood Scrubs. An appeal against his conviction was dismissed on 28 July 1969. Within a year of Bobby Lipman being sentenced a sequence of events would begin unfurling that would force Fred Lambert to quit Scotland Yard ahead of his retirement age. Fred was the right guy in the right place at the right time, but that wasn’t how some of his governors saw it. Most certainly not. Fred’s ‘downfall’ was merely to be the next name on a duty roster and an honest cop.
On Saturday, 29 November 1969, The Times ran a story headed, “London policemen in bribe allegations. Tapes reveal planted evidence.” This small story would, eventually, engender three major inquiries into corruption in the Metropolitan Police, the biggest shake-up in London CID’s history, the gaoling of five detectives, the dismissal of many others, and the trial of the two most senior Scotland Yard officers ever to find themselves in the dock, ex-Commander Ken Drury and ex-Commander Wally Virgo. The inquiries were popularly known as the ‘Porn Trials’, after the lucrative Soho pornography trade that was generating enormous cash profits, and they revealed widespread and systematic corruption at the very heart of the Met that surprised even the force’s severest critics. Two Times journalists, Gary Lloyd and Julian Mounter, had secretly tape-recorded a small-time South London crook and three detectives in conversations that left no doubt as to the extent of corruption that existed. The Times rightly feared that the allegations would be brushed under the carpet if they went straight to the Yard with them, so publication was seen as the only way of ensuring the story came out into the open. The material the newspaper had, including some thirty hours of tape recordings, was duly handed over to Scotland Yard and Roy Yorke, an acting Commander, appointed Fred Lambert because he, Fred, was ‘top of the frame’, waiting at the cab rank as it were for assignment. Fred was left alone to head it for the next six months working under Frank Williamson, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (Crime), whom James Callaghan, the Labour Home Secretary, had appointed in response to demands that there should be an independent element to the investigation. It could not have been easy for Fred investigating fellow officers, many of whom he knew, over allegations of corruption, but he did the job to the very best of his ability and was zealous in following up all leads wherever they might go. And that was Fred’s undoing. On 21 May 1970 Commander Virgo, Fred’s boss, took him off the inquiry and gave him a desk job handling his correspondence, an effective demotion. Virgo’s chilling words were, “You have backed the wrong horse. You have backed Frank Williamson against your own senior officers.” Virgo was mouthing what his boss, John du Rose, had told him to say (du Rose, as corrupt as his underling, miraculously escaped prosecution).
Who was to replace Fred? Easy! Virgo appointed his fellow crook, Bill Moody. This was an officer who didn’t have to be told what belonged under the carpet. But Fred’s troubles were not yet over. Virgo was displeased with his conscientiousness in handling police reports and he was transferred to Interpol liaison, a dead end job if ever there was one. That was it for Fred. In September 1970 he went on permanent sick leave and quit the Met completely in March 1971. At the 1977 trial of Moody and Virgo, Fred’s dismissal surfaced and was examined. Virgo declared that Fred was incompetent, a drunk and that he was removed from the Times inquiry because he knew one of the officers being investigated. Unfortunately Virgo could produce no paperwork from the time that would substantiate such serious charges. Peter Brodie, the former Assistant Chief Commissioner at the Met, appeared in court and said Fred was removed because Frank Williamson requested it. He claimed that Williamson said the inquiry was not going fast enough and Fred was the reason; aside from that, Brodie said Fred was having domestic problems (a divorce) which Brodie himself felt was reason enough to remove him, though somehow the Assistant Chief Commissioner never quite got around to discussing these matters with Fred at the time, which he should have done. Unfortunately, Williamson appeared at the trial, dissed what Brodie was saying and said that he had no criticisms whatsoever of Fred’s work. It is hard now to imagine what power these corrupt officers had within the Metropolitan Police force. If your boss is bent and your boss’ boss is also bent, who do you go to? At the top of the totem pole was the Commissioner, Sir John Waldron, and his number one, Peter Brodie. They had no practical policing experience between them, no understanding of what it was like out there. They were essentially ex-army officers. Their ‘NCOs’ pulled the wool over their eyes. They were a pushover. Fred cheerfully confessed that one of the greatest days-and-a-half in his life was appearing in the box at the Old Bailey for the prosecution at the trial of Virgo and Moody, who got twelve years apiece for corruption. It was a personally satisfying ending. And dramatically satisfying too. Fred was out of the Met through no fault of his own. Twenty-five years abruptly ended. A career officer out to graze. No hope of ever returning now to his home county constabulary, Norfolk, at a senior level. All gone. He was devastated. But the Fates had kept an eye on him. He was snapped up by Mecca/Grand Met and for the next fifteen years was their director of security and personnel, flitting about the world keeping an eye on night-club, casino and cruise operations and earning three times what he did as a detective. He now lives with his wife, Judy, in South Africa, enjoying the sun, gardening, listening to and playing music (he is an accomplished organist) and collecting porcelain and glassware. That’s the copper’s tale.
In 1982 the memoirs of Sir David Napley, the proven lawyer (to borrow a line from Peter Cook), were published under the title of Not Without Prejudice, a dense and bulky book riddled with measured and cautious judgements, the deadening ‘humour of the bench’, and archaic phraseology, but not entirely without interest. There’s a chapter on drugs and the law largely devoted to the case of little Claudie. Napley presents a detailed account of the trial and the background, even if he does get her age wrong and claims she lived in Knightsbridge. He scrupulously avoids any discussion of the innocent plea at the committal proceedings. He resurrects the argument that Claudie could have been the author of her own death. Even if she wasn’t, he continues, the conviction of Lipman for manslaughter was unfair as he did not know what he was doing. Had there been a law regarding ‘dangerous intoxication’ Napley feels he should have been convicted of that rather than the greater crime of manslaughter. So, you take some intoxicating substance, get out of your mind and commit a crime. As you are not aware of committing that crime you cannot be held responsible, Napley argues. You are only responsible for taking the substance. As nice a legal argument as ever was put forward by the legal profession on behalf of a client, and one that ignores the consequences of an individual’s actions. But this is Napley’s fee talking. Hasn’t little Claudie got lost in the shuffle here? There was a dead body in Walpole Street, lest we forget. A life was extinguished. Napley’s book is essentially an apologia pro vita sua and should be regarded as such. He wasn’t going to start revising opinions in his twilight years, rather this was his last chance to buttress those iffy arguments of his professional career. There was something else in the book that I found more disturbing. And poignant. And obscene, almost: a scene of crime photograph taken in Claudie’s room soon after she was found. There is the divan pulled out from the wall with some cushions on it next to her body, face down and naked below the waist. There’s a little square coffee table with angled wooden legs and on it two cups and saucers. Against a wall, a 1960s chest of drawers supported by four spindly legs. A calendar or print on the wall above the bed and next to it a narrow mirror with what looks like the blonde wig Claudie was wearing when we first met her outside the Picasso. Napley credits the photograph to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which is incorrect. Even if he thought the DPP owned the photograph he did not apply for permission to use it. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has the copyright – it was one of his officers who took the photograph. Fred Lambert couldn’t recall seeing any similar Met photos being reproduced outside of forensic textbooks. He thinks Napley’s use of it is unwarranted and cheap sensationalism. He also thinks it demonstrates a gross disregard for any surviving members of Claudie’s family. And there is also the question of how Napley obtained the picture. There would have been no reason to supply it to him during the case as the facts regarding how Claudie was found were never in dispute. So where did he get it?
Claudie was a young French girl from a working class background who worked as a prostitute, therefore, one must assume Napley reasoned, it was OK to use the picture. But ask yourself this: would he have done the same had the victim been the daughter of, say, a Member of Parliament or a High Court judge? Claudie wanted to be photographed and she was, right up until the end. The manner of her death has given her the fame she craved. Requiescat in pace.