At 11 o’clock in the morning on Saturday, June 8th 1968 an immigration officer at Heathrow Airport took a look at a passenger’s Canadian passport and said;
“Would you please step into our office for some routine questions, Mr Sneyd”.
The man he called Mr Sneyd entered the office but when he saw a policeman standing there, all he could say was “Oh God, I feel so trapped” and allowed himself to be arrested.
The bespectacled Mr Sneyd was found to have a .38 caliber revolver in his back pocket and he also, rather suspiciously, had another passport on him under another name.
Scotland Yard’s Detective Chief Superintendent Tommy Butler, a man not particularly shy of publicity, soon arrived at Heathrow to make the arrest. Butler had become well known to the British public after the arrest of the Great Train Robbers four years earlier. The observant immigration official’s initial suspicions were confirmed by the senior policeman and fingerprints proved that Sneyd was, in reality, Illinois-born 40 year old James Earl Ray – the escaped convict accused of assassinating Martin Luther King on April 4 in Memphis Tennessee.
Martin Luther King with Lyndon Johnson in the background
Heathrow in 1968
Air Traffic Control at Heathrow in 1968
The bloody balcony in Memphis where Martin Luther King was assassinated
Four days after he had left his fingerprints on the Remington rifle that had killed Dr King, Ray drove across the Canadian border and rented a room in Toronto. It was well-known amongst American prisoners (Ray had been an habitual but unsuccessful criminal pretty well all his adult life), that it was ludicrously easy to get a Canadian passport.
Essentially all you really had to do was swear that you were Canadian and ask for one. Ray asked for a passport under the name of Ramon George Sneyd – a Toronto policeman whose name was probably picked at random from a city directory. On May 6 he flew on a BOAC plane to London, and the next day he flew on to Portugal.
The fake passport used by James Earl Ray
Ray's flight details from Toronto to London
The FBI, meanwhile, launched their biggest manhunt in its history but there seemed to be almost no leads at all. However, on June 1, there came a big break. At the FBI’s request (they were also aware of Canada’s lax passport rules), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had been checking hundreds of thousands of passport photos and eventually they came across a picture that closely resembled the escaped convict and the only real suspect for Martin Luther King’s murder – James Earl Ray
While all this was going on, Ray was in Lisbon working out his next move. He apparently attempted to change his fake passport, but only got as far as changing the ‘d’ in Sneyd to an ‘a’. He told the Canadian consul: “My name has been misspelled,” and he was issued with a new passport on May 16.
Earls Court in 1968. Photographer Bill Holmes
The next day Ray flew back to London and anonymously stayed in one of the hundreds of back-street seedy hostels around the Victoria, Pimilico and Earls Court areas of London. On May 28 he checked into the New Earl’s Court Hotel situated at 35-37 Penywern Road – a pretty seedy and run-down street in those days. Jane Nassau the receptionist at the hotel apparently helped Ray with the confusing 5p and 10p coins that had been introduced a month or so before. She later stated that: “I recognised his southern drawl and wondered why he had a Canadian passport.”
jane Nassau, the receptionist at the New Earls Court Hotel
Room 54 at the New Earls Court Hotel
The New Earls Court Hotel in 1968
The very door key for room fifty-four used by Ray at the New Earls Court Hotel
On June 5 Ray moved again, this time staying at the Pax Hotel at 126 Warwick Way (equally seedy in the late sixties) which was run by Swedish-born Mrs. Anna Thomas. She later stated that for the next three days, Ray never left his room for more than 20 minutes, even refusing to to emerge for four telephone calls, two of them from an airline. When she brought breakfast to Ray’s door:
“He was always fully dressed. I had the idea that he never got undressed for bed.”
Mrs Thomas, the proprietress of the Pax Hotel in Pimlico
Ray's room at the Pax Hotel
The Pax Hotel, 126 Warwick Way in 1968
Although it isn’t really known how he got the number, on June 6 Ray, while he was staying at the Pax Hotel, mysteriously telephoned Ian Colvin, a senior journalist at the Daily Telegraph and asked him for a contact who could help him to become a mercenary. Colvin offered an address in Brussels and it was to there Ray was heading when he was arrested at Heathrow two days later.
FBI Wanted Poster
The police van bringing James Earl Ray to court
There must have been a rugby scrum of reporters around these phone boxes outside Bow Street Magistrates Court, June 14 1968
He was initially charged at Cannon Row police station with possessing a forged passport and having a firearm without a certificate but on June 14th James Earl Ray entered the witness box at Bow Street Magistrates Court for his extradition hearing. He flatly denied that he had killed Martin Luther King. Roger Frisby, his British lawyer asked him these questions:
“Are you the man who was arrested at London Airport?
“Did you know Dr. Martin Luther King?
“Had you ever met him personally in your life?”
“Have you ever had any grudge of any kind against him?”
“Did you kill Dr. Martin Luther King?”
However, Ray almost certainly did kill him and he was quickly extradited to the States and charged with King’s murder. He confessed to the assassination on March 10, 1969, (though three days later he wrote a letter to the court asking that his plea be set aside – the judge refused the request) and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
James Earl Ray back in America
He died in 1998 at age 70 from complications related to kidney disease, caused by hepatitis C probably contracted as a result of a blood transfusion given after a stabbing while at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.
35-37 Penywern Road today, the former site of the New Earls Court Hotel
Bakers Hotel (formerly the Pax Hotel) at 126 Warwick Way today
A very happy looking Diana Dors with Dennis Hamilton at Caxton Hall, July 1951
Diana Dors, the so-called English Marilyn Monroe, isn’t much mentioned these days and I suspect most people under the age of thirty hardly know who she is. Perhaps it’s not that unsurprising as it’s now over 25 years ago since she died. However for much of her life, in one way or another, the Swindon-born actress whose real name was Diana Fluck, was easily one of Britain’s biggest stars.
She married her first husband, Dennis Hamilton, at 4.pm 3rd July 1951 at Caxton Hall registry office in Westminster. She was just nineteen and already a film star.
Her parents, not over-enamoured with the proposed union, decided not to come, and Diana, who was still under the, then, legal age of 21, had to forge their signatures on the form that gave permission for their daughter to be married.
Caxton Hall, 10 Caxton Street today
Caxton Hall, now a redeveloped apartment and office block, wasn’t just a registry office favoured by celebrities, it was also the location for some fascinating political events in its time. The first meeting of the Suffragettes in 1906 was at Caxton Hall and it was often used for their rallies due to its close proximity to the Houses of Parliament and no doubt plenty of railings. Caxton Hall is now a listed building mainly because of its Suffragette associations.
A fearsome looking bunch of Suffragettes at Caxton Hall in 1908
Caxton Hall was also the scene of the assassination of Michael O’Dwyer by Udham Singh on March 13 1940. Tipperary-born O’Dwyer had been the Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab at the time of the infamous Amritsar massacre of 1919. Brigadier General O’Dyer, with O’Dwyer’s full connivance, ordered soldiers to open fire on a crowd of 20,000 Indian Independence supporters.
It was said that over 1,500 rounds of ammunition were used in just 15 seconds. The obvious result of which meant hundreds of protesters died in cold blood. Unfortunately for O’Dwyer, one of the victims was Udham Singh’s brother.
The day after the massacre the Brigadier received a telegram from Governor O’Dwyer which said:
I’m not entirely sure the saying “revenge is a dish best served cold” exists in the Sikh language. It probably does, because over twenty years after the massacre, Singh pulled out a Smith and Wesson revolver at a meeting in Caxton Hall and fired six shots, two of which hit the former Punjab Governor, killing him instantly.
Udham Singh leaving Caxton Hall after his arrest, March 14th 1940
At his trial, Singh, not overly contrite, explained to the judge:
“I did it because I had a grudge against him, he deserved it.”
Truthful it may have been, but unsurprisingly his statement didn’t particularly help his cause, and on 31st July 1940 Udham Singh was hanged at Pentonville Prison. Maybe sooner than he would have expected, India gained independence seven years later.
As I mentioned earlier, Caxton Hall was the location for many a celebrity wedding during the fifties, sixties and seventies…
19 year old Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Wilding in 1952
Peter Sellers and Anne Howe, 15th September 1951
Billy Butlin marrying his late wife's sister in 1959.
Wendy Richards marrying the business man Leonard Black in 1972
Roger Moore after marrying his third wife Luisa Mattioli in 1969
An extraordinarily and unbelievably lucky Robin Nedwell marrying an extraordinarily and unbelievably beautiful Jenny Handley in 1973.
Elizabeth Taylor back at Caxton Hall for the marriage of her son Michael Wilding jnr. in 1971. He seems to be some kind of goth before goths were invented.
Back again. Peter Sellers, looking disgustingly happy with himself, leaving Caxton Hall with his third wife Miranda Quarry in 1970.
Orson Welles marrying his third wife Paola Mori in 1955
The Caxton Hall wedding between Diana Dors and Dennis Hamilton wasn’t the smoothest of affairs. Before the ceremony the couple had posed for pictures outside (Hamilton had tipped off the press) but eventually the registrar tapped Hamilton on the shoulder and asked for a quiet word. The official discretely told him that he had received an anonymous phone call with the information that the marriage application had been forged.
Hamilton, furious, grabbed the registrar by the throat and shouted:
“You’ll marry us, all right, or I’ll knock your fucking teeth down your throat.”
The registrar decided to accidentally forget about the phone call and in the end officiated over the ceremony. Diana hadn’t seen the bullying side of Hamilton before but was now quietly impressed with his, what to her, seemed a rather exciting criminal glamour.
They had met just five weeks previously after Dennis had chatted Diana up when asking her for a light. She was instantly charmed. Although Diana already had a boyfriend, a man of dubious morals named Michael Caborn-Waterfield, Hamilton sent her flowers almost daily. Unfortunately, Michael went to prison for a fortnight after one too many shady business deals and Dennis pounced. He proposed to Diana at the end of June 1951 and they became Mr and Mrs Hamilton just four days later.
Dors was in the middle of working on a film called Godiva Rides Again so there was no honeymoon after the wedding, just a meal in Olivelli’s in Store Street. The guests all paid for their own meals.
Lady Godiva Rides Again 1951
Diamond City, 1949
A Monroe-esque picture from 1950. Five years before the famous Marilyn Monroe picture.
Diana in Folkestone the same month she married Dennis Hamilton
By the time of her wedding she had already been a contract girl for J Arthur Rank for five years and had made some fifteen films including a role in David Lean’s Oliver Twist.
She was certainly not untalented but had always struggled to find real noteworthy roles and a rather turbulent private life certainly didn’t help her cause. She had been renting a small flat off the Kings Road from 1949 for six guineas a week but was eventually thrown out after complaints from the neighbours for the endless parties, late nights and loud music. The nights must have been very late and the music very loud because she wrote in her first autobiography in 1960:
“I didn’t realise it but the cute flat was slap dab in the middle of one of the worst areas I could have established myself in, for Chelsea in those days, just after the war, was much wilder than it is today.”
In 1950, while seeing Caborn-Waterfield, she also had a traumatic illegal abortion, performed on a kitchen table in Battersea, for ten quid.
The ‘interesting’ private life didn’t disappear now that she was married to Hamilton. Not long after their wedding he introduced her to, what were basically, sex parties.
Dors and Hamilton in Cannes,1956
Just a few months after Diana and Dennis’s wedding, Bob Monkhouse, then a 24 year old up-and-coming script writer, was invited to one of their parties. The lights were very low when he got there with almost the only lumination coming from a 16mm projector showing hard core porn (stag films or blue movies as they were known then) and there was a faint smell of Amyl Nitrate in the air.
Monkhouse was quickly invited to bed by a very attractive and comely young dancer. It was a little too quickly and he soon realised that something wasn’t quite right. After his eyes adjusted to the darkness he saw that there was a false mirror on the ceiling and the other party guests were watching behind it. Furious, he stormed out of the room, with the ‘dancer’ shouting, “I think he’s a homo”. He was met by Dors in the hallway who said:
“Some people absolutely adore putting on a show, they come back to my parties just to do that.”
Bob Monkhouse in 1954
The following year Monkhouse and Dors met again at a Sunday evening radio show and they had a brief affair. Diana lied that her husband was in New York to lower Monkhouse’s guard. Eventually Hamilton found out about the affair and threatened Monkhouse with a cut-throat razor screaming at his face:
“I’m going to slit your eyeballs!”
Monkhouse only escaped by kneeing Hamilton in the groin and running away, but he once wrote that he had spent the next six years continually looking over his shoulder. He only had to worry for six years because in 1959 Dennis Hamilton suddenly died. His death was initially blamed on a heart attack but the day after the funeral Dors found out that he had died of tertiary syphilis. It never came to light, despite many autobiographies, whether she had contracted the disease herself.
Diana Dors made one acclaimed film in the fifties called Yield To The Night – a movie that was loosely based on the Ruth Ellis story but it’s not entirely unfair to say that she starred in some of the worst films ever made. After an unsuccessful foray to Hollywood (a public affair with Rod Steiger and and an incident where Hamilton beat up a photographer unconcious didn’t help), her film career, despite the very early promise, never really took off.
Dors would later complain that while Marilyn Monroe was making How To Marry A Millionaire in Hollywood, she was up in Manchester making It’s A Grand Life with the alcoholic northern comedian Frank Randle. Diana Dors was always a household name but it was her television guest appearances and roles in saucy sex comedies such as The Adventures of a Taxi Driver and Swedish Wildcats, that eventually kept her in the public eye.
She became the diet guru on GMTV in 1983 – where apparently she would weigh herself with all her heavy gold jewellery so it would look like she lost weight the following week. She died of protracted cancer the following year in 1984.
A year after Dors’ and Hamilton’s wedding back in 1952, the jazz drummer Louie Bellson (Duke Ellington called him the greatest ever) married the black Broadway star Pearl Bailey at Caxton Hall after a four day whirlwind romance. They came to London convinced that the wedding would attract less racial bias than back in New York, especially as Bellson’s father had said publicly that he “would have nothing to do with them if they go through with this”. The couple remained married until Bailey’s death in 1990.
By all accounts the wedding was a joyous affair, and if you listen to Bellson’s Caxton Hall Swing from his Skin Deep album released in 1954, I think you can tell.
Louie Bellson and Pearl Bailey outside Caxton Hall, November 1952.
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