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??/??/?? - MURDER 3: Mad Axeman Mitchell

Frank 'Mad Axeman' Mitchell was a huge, powerful and violent man, but that did not save him when he became an embarrassment to the Krays.

Within a few months of the McVitie murder, the twins, now convinced they were invincible, carried out yet another bizarre killing.

The victim this time was to be an old friend, Frank Mitchell. Mitchell was built like a bull. He was six feet four inches tall and weighed 17 stone. But his brainpower did not match his physique.

Although he was a daring East End bandit, he kept getting caught. Feared by staff Catching him was one thing; holding him was another.

A fanatical bodybuilder and weightlifter, one of his party tricks was to lift two of the biggest members of the Kray 'firm' off the ground together, one in each huge hand.

In jail he was feared by the staff, and was once flogged for beating a prison officer senseless. In 1955 he was declared mentally defective and sent to Rampton, a maximum security psychiatric hospital. Two years later he escaped, broke into a house and attacked the owner with an iron bar.

When he was recaptured he lashed out at police with a pair of meat cleavers. Sent to Broadmoor, he again escaped, broke into another house and attacked the occupants with an axe. He was quickly recaptured and sentenced to life. The newspapers dubbed him the 'Mad Axeman'.

He was sent to Dartmoor, where his behaviour suddenly improved dramatically. He started breeding budgerigars in his cell, treating them with gentle love and care. He was allowed out on work parties and was so docile that by September 1966 he was transferred to the Honour Party, working outside the jail every day.

Mitchell became legendary, casually strolling off to local pubs for a pint or two and once taking a taxi to and from Tavistock, 10 miles away, to buy a budgie from a pet shop. But Mitchell was unhappy because the Home Office refused to give him a date for his eventual release.

When the Krays heard this, they decided to 'spring' him and bring him to London. It has never been clear why they did this. One theory was that it was another demonstration of their absolute power. Another is that they wanted Mitchell to kill someone on their behalf. Whichever it was, it was a plan that went badly wrong.

Easy escape On 12 December 1966 Mitchell went on a work detail with four other prisoners and just one guard to repair a fence at a firing range on Bagga Tor. At 3.30 p.m. Mitchell asked if he could walk across the moor to feed some of the wild ponies. His request was granted. He never came back.

Members of the firm were waiting with a car on a quiet road nearby to whisk him back to London. His escape made headlines. While police set up roadblocks throughout the West Country, Mitchell was already sipping Scotch with some of his old pals in a flat prepared for him in Barking Road, East Ham.

But Mitchell had the mind of a 10-year-old boy and was soon bored with being cooped up in the flat. The Krays sent over a blonde nightclub hostess called Liza to keep him company. Mitchell fell madly in love and announced to his minders that he planned to marry her.

Several days after the escape, two letters in his childish scrawl were sent to the Times and the Daily Mirror asking the Home Secretary for a release date. Each letter had his thumbprint on the bottom to prove his identity.

The Home Secretary appeared on TV, saying nothing could be done until Mitchell surrendered. The 'Mad Axeman' was now becoming a real liability. Rumours were spreading that the Krays had organised his escape.

If he was caught, he might talk in order to get a release date and be able to marry Liza. Ten days after his escape he was visited at the flat by Reggie, who told him he was going to be moved to the country. The next day other members of the firm arrived in a van to take Mitchell 'to the country'.

They've shot him ... John Dickson, a member of the firm who later gave evidence against the Krays and who had been helping to mind Mitchell, later said: "Just after we shut the door, as Frank walked out to the van, there was the sound of three gunshots. Liza went hysterical, shouting They've shot him.

Oh, God, they've shot him.' Then we heard two more shots." Later Dickson confronted Ronnie Kray about Mitchell. He said: "Ronnie lost control. He shouted 'He's f***ing dead. We had to get rid of him; he would have got us all nicked. We made a mistake getting the bastard out in the first place.'
Contact : bernard.omahoney@bernardomahoney.com
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