Have you been watching the rather good series The Serpent on the BBC? As I watched it, I was realised that I was familiar with the story. My former business partner, sadly deceased, Ernie Ferebee used to drive buses overland from London to India in the 1970's for a company called Budget Bus. I also worked for the company owner, Emil Bryden. I remembered one of them telling me the story of their dealings with Charles Sobhraj. With my interest peaked, I rang Emil who now lives in Norfolk to ask to refresh me on the details. As he told the fascinating story, I realised that this wasn't the only obscure connection I had to the world of rather bad people. So here's the list.
|Budget Bus (pic Indiaoverland.biz)|
1. Charles Sobhraj. My former boss, Emil owned Budget Bus. One of his buses did a trip up to Nepal. This was the bus that had the two unfortunate back packers who were murdered by Sobhraj and who he is currently in jail for killing. The driver had the unfortunate experience of having to identify the bodies and then report back to Emil to contact the families. By a rather unfortunate coincidence, the same driver overstayed his visa later. He ended up sharing a cell for six weeks with Sobhraj. Being stuck in a cell with a serial killer terrified him and apparently he didn't sleep a wink for the whole period. I recall Ernie telling me more details, but sadly as he's no longer around, I cannot verify them. Whilst researching this blog, I came across a fascinating blog detailing some of the events around this. I got to know Emil and Ernie as they had a depot servicing the buses they used in what is now the Flower Lane industrial estate. The bus you'll see in this blog I regularly saw in Mill Hill and I used to help Emil and Ernie fix them up.
2. Dennis Nilsen. Another serial killer, closer to home. When he was arrested and the news broke, I was shocked to learn from my cousin that he'd worked in the Maida Vale job centre with him. It was my cousins first proper job. Sadly (or perhaps fortunately) there were no dodgy stories or insights, although he did say that it was quite strange thinking a serial killer used to make you a cup of tea in the morning. Given that Nilsen used to pick up young men and murder them, I recall that we teased my cousin that he was too ugly to be murdered. I daresay he wasn't too upset at that fact.
3. Martin Clark. You probably haven't heard of this chap. He was my next door neighbour. A burly scouser, who ran a building company. To say I didn't get on with him is a mild understatement. I had a pile of bricks I'd acquired to build a barbeque. One day, I noticed that half of them had disappeared. I was mildly irritated. This became a major irritation when I noticed that they were piled, almost out view hidden behind my neighbours shed. As I perused this irritating act or petty theft, Mr Clark appeared. A full blown row ensued. He denied that he'd stolen them and said he'd acquired them elsewhere. They were quite identifiable as they had come from a chimney and were soot stained. In the end he agreed to return them, but after that our relationship was very frosty. Then he disappeared. I was quite pleased as he was a bully. He'd threatened several elderly neighbours, who he suspected of reporting him to the council for building infringements. He once accused me, but I told him that if I had a problem with him, I'd tell him to his face and that he should wind in his attitude. After he disappeared, it became clear that his house was under observation. An old dear up the road noticed a car with two people keeping an eye on the property. I told her I'd check it out with the Police. They informed me that it was part of an undercover operation and not to worry (they didn't say what). I told the old dear, who promptly brought them a tray of tea and biscuits (not good for a discrete operation). A few weeks later it became clear who they were keeping an eye on. A retired postman up the road excitedly showed me the front page of The Sun. It had Mr Clark on the front cover, described as Britians most wanted man. It stated he was a contract killer and he'd done a bunk to Spain with his solicitor. If I'd known I'd have let him have the bricks!
4. Jonathan Kern. Mr Kern was a local Edgware lad and one of Britains finest conmen. He was also a customer of my Dad's crash repair business. I may be mistaken in some of the details here, as my Father died in 1987, but Mr Kern had a lot of work done on his car and departed without paying, giving a promise. As my Dad knew his father, who I believe was a well respected local Doctor, my Dad was rather upset. Rather embarrassed, he contacted Mr Kern's father. As a decent guy, he paid for the repair, but told my father that his son was not to be trusted and if it happened again, he wouldn't pick up the bill. Mr Kern lived the life of a playboy, persuading sports car dealers to give him cars to test, claiming to be a journalist. He'd then disappear, travelling around Europe, seducing beautiful women and staying in top hotels, without ever paying the bill. Compared to the others, he's actually quite a nice bloke.
5. The Kray Brothers. This is an amusing tale (although not so much at the time). Graham Ramsey, the drummer in the False Dots called me back in around 1988 in a state of high excitement. He wanted to book some studio time for a band he'd been asked to drum for and they'd got a record deal. I was really pleased for Graham as he's a great guy. After Grahams first rehearsal, we all went for a beer. The singer was a larger than life character who had just been released from prison after a five year stretch for armed robbery. In prison he'd got friendly with Charlie Kray. Kray had told him that his organisation had a label and they wanted him to form a band and that he'd sign them and make them famous. The Krays were well connected and it seemed like a good opportunity for Graham. A few rehearsals followed. Then I got a very disturbing phone call. It was the serious crime squad. I'd been given as an alibi by the singer, who'd been arrested for robbing an off license in the Green Man area of Mill Hill. I was puzzled. As I explained, he had a booking at the time. I could verify that the band had gone into the studio and left at the time, as I'd let them in and out. However I couldn't vouch for the intervening three hours, but it seemed unlikely to me that he would have been robbing an off license during a rehearsal. The officer then told me that he'd been recorded on a video camera entering the premises in a mask, robbing it with a gun and departing. I asked how they knew it was him if he was wearing a mask? For me, a not unreasonable question. The officer replied that before he left, he'd removed his mask, looked at the camera and combed his hair. It turned out that he'd been in the rehearsal and when they'd stopped for a cigarette, he'd said he was nipping out to get some beers. Sadly, he was jailed and that was that. About six months later, Charlie Kray came down with another band. He asked if I was looking for a partner in the studio. He said he could invest some serious money and do the studio up, bringing all manner of well known artists down. Not wishing to offend him, but also not really wanting to get involved in that world, I said I'd have a think about it and call him back. We never spoke again, although I have to say I found him to be good company and an entertaining bloke.
6. Howard Marks. Howard Marks was a 'notorious' cannabis dealer. He wrote a very entertaining autobiography called Mr Nice, that is well worth a read. Marks always claimed that he only dealt cannabis, which he believed should be legal. In around 1999, we had a phonecall at the studio from a gentleman asking if we'd be interested in selling a range of high end leather guitar straps that his company was making. When the gentleman turned up, both myself and Ernie immediately recognised him. I'd never met him before, but Ernie had come across him previously, whilst working as a driver on the overland route. They had a chat about the old days of the hippy trail and we took a few of the straps. We never saw him again, although the straps sold quite well. It says a lot that the law enforcement agencies put far more effort into catching Marks than they ever did chasing really evil killers like Sobhraj.
7. Sir Roger Tichborne. Until the McLibel case, my name was in the Guinness book of records as the longest running court case in English law. Sadly for my enemies, it wasn't me. It was my great grandfathers cousin. The Tichbornes are a long establish, wealthy family that owned half of Hampshire at one time. The family was noted as the fifth richest in England in the early 19th century. Sadly for me, my great, great grandfather was not the eldest, so he didn't inherit the family pile and had to go and make his way in the world. But his nephew, the heir was Sir Roger, beloved son of Lady Mabelene. Sir Roger went off to see the world and disappeared. The rumour was that he'd been on a ship that sunk in a storm. Lady Mabelene refused to believe he was dead. A reward was posted for information. A chap turned up in Australia claiming to be Sir Roger, Thomas Castro, a butcher from Wagga Wagga. Castro/Tichborne returned to the UK and was welcomed by Lady Mabelene as her long lost son. The rest of the family claimed he was an imposter, not least because there was a huge sum of money involved. The court case dragged on for years. When Lady Mabelene died, the claimant, as he became known, lost his only supporter from the family. He ended up being found guilty of 'personation' and served fourteen years hard labour. Interestingly the descendants of the family have always refused to have a DNA test to put the matter to bed. My Dad always said he believed that the claimant was the real thing. He had nothing to gain either way. I have to laugh when I learn that my name is the biggest case of identity theft in the Uk. A film was made of the story featuring Stephen Fry, Sir John Geilgud and Anita Dobson. It was directed by David Yates. I had a small role as an extra, getting paid £68 for a days work.