The Profumo Affair
Involving sexual intrigue, political subterfuge, a Cabinet minister, a Soviet agent and a teenage prostitute, the Profumo Affair became the most explosive political scandal in Britain in post-war years and precipitated the fall of the Conservative government. To many it marked the end of the straight-laced fifties and the start of the sexually liberated sixties as the public lapped up each new sordid revelation and the press gleefully dished the dirt on John Profumo, and cast serious doubts on the efficiency of the security services. Read more by selecting this article in the menu.
The Great Train Robbery
In the most daring crime in British history on the night of August 8th 1963 a 15-member gang intercepted the Glasgow-to-London mail train and made off with £2.6m in used bank notes. The audacious nature of the crime captivated Britain and launched a massive police hunt. Read more by selecting this article in the menu.
The Kennedy Assassination
On 9 February 1964, 'Today' magazine in the UK published one of the first full-length articles on the JFK assassination and asked the question "Did two gunmen cut down Kennedy?". Reporter Larry Ross asked a crack shot of world repute to test what the magazine then called an 'astonishing theory' about the death of President Kennedy. And the publication boasted "No matter what the official findings may yield (for the 'Warren Commission' were still in the process of investigating the assassination), this expert view on the murder that shook the world cannot be ignored". Read more by selecting this article in the menu.
Involving sexual intrigue, political subterfuge, a Cabinet minister, a Soviet agent and a teenage prostitute, the Profumo Affair became the most explosive political scandal in Britain in post-war years and precipitated the fall of the Conservative government. To many it marked the end of the straight-laced fifties and the start of the sexually liberated sixties as the public lapped up each new sordid revelation and the press gleefully dished the dirt on John Profumo and cast serious doubts on the efficiency of the security services.
A seemingly respectful Tory minister, Profumo, a rising star in Harold Macmillan's government was educated at Harrow and Oxford before marrying the actress Valerie Hobson. By 1960 he had become Secretary of State for War, a non-cabinet post, and together he and his wife moved in sophisticated London circles frequently rubbing shoulders with both the aristocracy and the fashionable London jet-set.
Profumo first met Christine Keeler when she was bathing naked at Lord Astor's Cliveden country estate in Berkshire in July 1961. They were introduced by an artist and osteopath, Stephen Ward, who had a cottage there. Keeler had run away from home at the age of 16 and become a showgirl at Murray's cabaret club in Soho where she had befriended Ward who soon introduced her into a world of the rich and famous, where charming and powerful men were only too eager to take her out.
Keeler and Ward often spent weekends at his cottage and according to Keeler, she and Profumo had merely flirted around the swimming pool and jokingly tried on suits of armour in the rooms of the mansion. But the War Minister soon became smitten and the couple subsequently had a passionate affair.
Another girl in Ward's entourage, Mandy-Rice Davies, shared a flat with Keeler and had been the mistress of Eugene Ivanov, a naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy who was a spy. According to Keeler, Ivanov received information and documents stolen by Ward and passed them onto his spy chiefs in Moscow. It was the height of the Cold War and the fact Keeler had also slept with Ivanov was nothing short of political dynamite. Knowing that Keeler often visited Profumo's home and his offices British Intelligence informed Profumo of the Russian's identity and he immediately ended the liaison. However, rumours of the affair began to circulate in March 1963 when Keeler was involved in an unrelated court case over an attempt to kill her. On March 22nd a 'pale and taut' Profumo informed the Commons that there had been 'no impropriety whatsoever' in his relations with Keeler. But in the meantime, she had admitted in a newspaper article to being his mistress. Stephen Ward then wrote to the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader Harold Wilson about 'certain facts' of Keeler and Profumo's relationship.
With pressure bearing down on him from both the press and the Opposition, Profumo finally admitted in a letter to the PM, dated June 5th, that he had lied to the Government about his affair with Keeler and he subsequently tendered his resignation.
Stephen Ward was charged with living off immoral earnings and was sent to trial in July. Called to the witness stand Mandy-Rice Davies made headlines when she responded to a statement that Lord Astor had denied her allegations of paying her money for sex by saying; "Well, he would, wouldn't he?" Before the trial ended Ward committed suicide.
In September, Lord Denning published his report on the affair, concluding that national security had not been affected but that the Government had been lax in responding to the issue. Denning also assured the public that a "man in the mask", a high-ranking member of the establishment, who served guests at Ward's dinner parties, naked, except for a mask and who ate his dinner from a dog bowl was not a Cabinet minister. He has never been identified.
Shortly after this, the Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, resigned, his ill health exacerbated by the scandal. Keeler has since written her autobiography, 'The Truth At Last', where she alleged she was used as a cover for an Anglo-Soviet spy ring. She claimed Ward was a spy for the Soviet Union and asked her to get information from Profumo about the placing of nuclear warheads in West Germany. She also claimed Ward asked her to drop off letters at the Soviet Embassy and at one point tried to kill her while she was water-skiing because he feared she would blow the whistle on him. She also claimed that Ward and herself were used as a smokescreen by the establishment, who wanted the media to focus on the racier aspects of the story in order to cover up a serious breach of British security. Keeler was later found guilty on unrelated perjury charges - for not attending as a witness for the trial of a man who was shot at her home - and sentenced to nine months in Holloway Prison. A photograph of Keeler, naked across a chair has become an iconic image of the swinging sixties era.
John Profumo kept a low profile following the sensational events of the 1960s, and over the years built a new reputation for himself by way of charitable work which earned him a CBE in 1975. He passed away in 2006, aged 91 years. Ivanov was called back to Moscow and never heard from again. Keeler lived quietly in North London for many years and said she always felt "bewildered" by what happened. She passed away in 2017. Rice-Davies went to live in America, but eventually returned to England. She was closely involved in the development of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical 'Stephen Ward the Musical' about society osteopath Ward's involvement in the Profumo affair. She once described her life as "one slow descent into respectability." She passed away in 2014.
In the most daring crime in British history on the night of August 8th 1963 a 15-member gang intercepted the Glasgow-to-London mail train and made off with £2.6m in used bank notes. The audacious nature of the crime captivated Britain and launched a massive police hunt.
By the very nature of the crime and the way in which it was executed, police immediately believed the job was pulled with inside knowledge. The train, which was carrying used bank notes on their way to being destroyed, was stopped by a fake red track signal at a secluded spot at Cheddington in Buckinghamshire. Ordinarily these notes would have been transported by high security train carriages but at the time many of them were broken or had been taken out of service forcing the Royal Mint to transport them by a standard 'travelling Post Office.' With meticulous timing at 3.10am, the engine and front two carriages were uncoupled before being driven up the line. Whilst this was happening the gang were smashing their way to overpower sorting staff. 800 yards later the train was stopped where two vans were waiting to be loaded with 120 mailbags. The whole operation took forty minutes.
The alarm was raised ten minutes later by train driver Jack Mills and his fireman, David Whitby. Mills, aged 58, had originally tried to stop the gang from hijacking the train and as a result was hit over the head with an iron bar. Whitby, who had got down from the train when it was stopped in order to phone for help at a trackside telephone, was pushed down an embankment where he was handcuffed and told not to make a sound.
Following the heist the gang made their way to a nearby farmhouse, Leatherslade Farm, which was in the heart of a small farming community just twenty-seven miles from the site of the robbery. The original plan had called for the gang to lay low at the farmhouse for up to two weeks until the heat had died down. But while monitoring a police broadcast the following day they overheard news that was to change their plans. The police reports suggested that the thieves had used army vehicles at the scene of the robbery and were suspected to be holed up in a farmhouse in the vicinity. On top of that the robbery had become major headlines throughout the country and the police, who had assembled a special 'flying squad', were promising a swift arrest.
Becoming nervous, the gang abandoned their plans to stay holed up at the farmhouse and fled back to London. They 'hired' a man to clean up the farmhouse and wipe away all incriminating evidence including fingerprints. But the man double-crossed the gang and simply took the money and ran. Eight days later, working on a tip-off from a member of the public who had become suspicious of movements at the farmhouse, the police moved in. Within a day of the farm being forensically examined for evidence the first gang member, Roger Cordrey, was arrested and charged with taking part in the robbery and a suitcase containing £100,000 was recovered from woodlands just a few short miles from his house.
A week later Charlie Wilson was arrested in London and police announced that they were anxious to contact Bruce Reynolds, Jimmy White, Roy James and Buster Edwards to "assist them with their enquiries." A month later Ronald Biggs was taken into custody and transported to Scotland Yard for questioning and was subsequently arrested for his part in the robbery.
Thirteen of the gang members were caught, tried and sentenced on 16th April 1964 and as a result received prison sentences. Biggs escaped from prison 15 months into his sentence, fleeing to Adelaide, Australia. When police were tipped off of his whereabouts he fled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and although traced there he could not be extradited because he had fathered a Brazilian child. As a result he lived openly in Rio for many years, completely untouchable by the British authorities.
Charlie Wilson escaped and took up residence outside Montreal, Canada on Rigaud Mountain. Wilson was finally tracked down by Scotland Yard. The story of Ronald "Buster" Edwards, who fled to Mexico but later surrendered to authorities, was dramatised in the 1988 film, ‘Buster,’ which starred Phil Collins in the title role. Edwards became a flower seller outside Waterloo Station on his release from prison. He committed suicide in 1994.
The robbery was investigated by Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Slipper of the Metropolitan Police (widely known in the press as "Slipper of the Yard"), who became so involved with its aftermath that he continued to hunt down many of the escaped robbers in retirement.
Train driver Jack Mills suffered a black eye and facial bruising in the robbery. Mills never fully recovered from the attack and never returned to work, suffering from constant trauma headaches for the rest of his life. He died in 1970 from leukaemia.
One of the post office carriages involved is now preserved at Nene Valley Railway and has been restored to operational condition. As a direct result of The Great Train Robbery certain security measures were introduced. When stopped by a red signal, train drivers were normally required to contact the signaller by telephone (a procedure that required leaving the driving cab). Under the amended rules drivers of mail trains were not to leave the cab at signals and were also required to keep the doors locked. These rules remained until the last Travelling Post Office ran on British railways on 9th January 2004.
Very little of the money from The Great Train Robbery was ever recovered.
Without doubt it's the most controversial subject of all time. Over fifty years after US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas on 22 November 1963, conspiracy theorists around the world are still trying to prove that there was more to that fateful day than met the eye or what was later released as the 'official' version of events. But those who think that the conspiracy theories began years after the official 'Warren Commission' findings, or with the Oliver Stone movie 'JFK', may be interested to know that the idea that President Kennedy was not felled by a lone gunmen began almost immediately.
And on 9 February 1964, 'TODAY' magazine in the UK published one of the first full-length articles on the assassination and asked the question "Did two gunmen cut down Kennedy?". Reporter Larry Ross asked a crack shot of world repute to test what the magazine then called an 'astonishing theory' about the death of President Kennedy. And the publication boasted "No matter what the official findings may yield (for the 'Warren Commission' were still in the process of investigating the assassination), this expert view on the murder that shook the world cannot be ignored".
There have been many more theories and many more explanations since this article was published and new evidence is constantly, if not always accurately, being presented. From a modern-day point of view the article offers nothing new to hardened theorists but is reproduced here purely for its historical value.
When Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of a Dallas Police Station nearly three months ago, there were Americans who said he should be given the Congressional Medal.
They were convinced that Oswald had assassinated their President. They did not doubt that he was the man whose shots horrified the world and shamed the State of Texas.
But today, can they be quite so sure?
Could there have been more than one assassin that day last November when for an awful moment the world stood still?
For weeks I have been sifting every available fact. And I am prepared to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald, the mixed-up, ex-Marine, may have tried to murder Governor John Connally who was in the presidential car. But I am by no means convinced that his was the finger on the gun which sent John Fitzgerald Kennedy toppling, mortally wounded, into the arms of his wife.
It is true that he owned the murder weapon, a Carcano rifle. It is true that his palm prints were found on it and on the cartons in the room from which the shots are said to have been fired. Certainly three empty shells were found by that sixth floor window and Oswald was the only one known to have been on the floor at that time. Admittedly tests showed that he had fired a gun just before the assassination and ballistics tests indicated that the murder bullets had come from Oswald's rifle. But despite this circumstantial evidence, the case of Oswald remains defogged with mystery which Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade has yet to explain.
There is the question of the trajectory of the bullets which passed through the President. A United Press report, on November 24th, based on White House sources stated: "Staff doctors at the Parkland Hospital in Dallas said the sniper's bullett pierced the mid-section of the front part of his (Kennedy's) neck and emerged from the top of his skull. He bent forward, turned his head and was struck in the skull by the second bullet."
Pictures of the scene, and the testimonies of witnesses and the F.B.I. indicate that the President's car was well past Oswald's position when the bullets were fired. So Oswald was about twenty yards ABOVE, seventy-five yards behind and slightly to the right of the President when he was alleged to have fired.
How, then, did the first bullet hit the presidents neck in the front and travel UPWARDS through his head? The film of the assassination shows that the President clutched at his throat when hit by the first bullet, indicating that this was the first point of impact. He then turned and slumped towards Mrs Kennedy on his left. Yet the second bullet hit him on the RIGHT side of the head and travelled clear through, according to a White House medical officer.
When he turned to the left, the LEFT side or back of his head would have been facing Oswald, not the right side which received the bullet. The situation is confused further by a report I received from Dr Robert B. Shaw, one of the three doctors who examined the dead President. He contradicts the Parkland report. He wrote to me: "The first bullet struck the President in the back of the neck at the region of the second thoracic vertebrae and emerged from the front of his neck, piercing his trachea. The third bullet struck the President on the left side of the head in the region of the left temporal region and made a large wound of exit on the right side of the head."
Add to this muddle two reports from pathologists in the Bethesda Naval Hospital, Maryland, where the autopsy was performed and confusion borders on chaos.
Their findings have yet to be published officially, but reliable sources say that their first report indicated that the President was struck in the right back shoulder, then in the head. The throat wound, they said, had been caused by a fragment of this bullet which "literally exploded in Kennedy's head." But a later report says that they maintain that the president was shot on the right side of the head, that a fragment deflected downwards out of the neck, and the bullet emerged from the left side of the head.
Personally, having studied the evidence carefully, I believe that the fatal shots came from the front of the car.
Police officers, secret service men and other eye-witnesses bear out this theory. One of them, a Mr Truly, said: "I looked around and concluded the shots had come from farther down the street."
More evidence supporting frontal shots came from a newspaper report on December 7, which stated: "After the shooting a small unexplained hole was found in the windshield of the presidential vehicle, which could have been caused by a bullet." On the other hand, all reports agree that the bullet which hit Governor Connally pierced his back. The bullet was obviously travelling on a downward slope and could well have come from Oswald's position. Were there, then, at least two assassins-Oswald at his window and another man in front, possibly hidden in the underpass? The front man's shot could have hit the President below the Adam's apple and also have been the signal for Oswald to fire his first shot into Governor Connally's back. The front man's second shot could have hit the President in the right side of his head. But even this does not explain how the first bullet could go off at an angle of about ninety degrees after it hit the President's neck and go up through the top of his head.
I put these points to Captain J. S. Wooster, of the Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, a man who has won Dominion Inter-services Rifle Shooting Championship four times in recent years. He has spent almost a lifetime studying, lecturing and competing in the field of small arms weapons and shooting. He told me: "At a range of one hundred yards a bullet from a Carcano rifle would go through thirty inches of solid oak. There is no doubt that solid bullets fired at this range would go through a man's head and some distance farther until they hit another solid object." He thought the difference between the medical evidence and Oswald's firing position was "absolutely fantastic" and could offer no account for it.
From his experience in the last war and extensive hunting, Captain Wooster said a solid bullet entering a human or animal skull leaves a small entry hole and a much larger exit hole. Thus the small hole in the mid-section of the neck, stated by physicians to be just under the adams apple, would seem to have been the entry point for the first bullet. A much larger wound was reported in the top or back of the President's head, showing this to be the exit point. Wooster thought that the impact would have knocked the President right off his seat, if it had hit him from behind. The impact of a frontal shot, however, would have been partly absorbed by the car seat supporting the President's back, tending to leave his body upright. But the trajectory of the bullets is by no means the only mystery.
Four bullets were found - one in the President's body, one on the floor of the car, one lodged in Governor Connolly's thigh and one lying on a stretcher on which the President was placed after he was taken to hospital.
Yet everybody seems to agree that only three shots were heard! And -even more amazing- the police say ballistic reports prove that all the bullets came from Oswald's rifle.
When I put this point to Captain Wooster he said: "If the doctors were right and reported correctly as saying that the bullets went through the top and side of the President's head, then they would never have been found in or near that moving vehicle or in his body, much less on the stretcher." That the medical men were right about both shots being lethal head wounds were corroborated by the F.B.I. on December 3. They reported: "Either of the two shots which hit President Kennedy could have killed him."
But let us assume for a moment that by some freak those bullets did not travel farther than the car. Would it have been possible for Oswald to have fired them all in such a short time? Captain Wooster did not think so. And to test his theory he set up two targets at a range of one hundred yards. Using a Model 98 Mauser bolt-action rifle with a four-power telescopic site which, he said, had a bolt action speed almost identical to Oswald's Carcano, he fired at the first target, shifted his aim to the second target for the second shot, then back to the first target for the third shot. The first target represented Kennedy, the second Connally. The manual actions involved unloading the empty shell, reloading, sighting and firing.
The Captain's time by stopwatch from the first to the third shot in a sitting position and bracing the rifle was 6.5 seconds, 5.5 seconds and 5 seconds for three tests. Lying down, his time was 6 seconds and 5 seconds for two trials. All his shots hit the target.
Although he is in the world championship class for rapid fire rifle shooting, even Captain Wooster found it difficult to match Oswald's accuracy. And Oswald was certainly no champion.
When he left the marines over four years ago, he had barely qualified in the sharpshooter class, which is considered well below the expert or championship shooting levels. According to an Irving gunsmith, Oswald did not even take in the gun to have the telescopic site mounted until October 30, twenty three days before the crime. In fact, the only evidence that he had had some recent shooting practise came from two men who told the F.B.I. they had seen him at a Dallas shooting range. Yet he is accused of hitting two moving targets with three shots faster than the champion Captain Wooster could hit two static targets.
The presidential car was moving at 12½ miles an hour. If the time between the first and third shots was five seconds, the car would have moved 30½ yards. As Captain Wooster said: "To think a man of Oswald's reported proficiency could do that kind of accurate shooting at moving targets in five seconds is utterly fantastic." But even estimates of four or five seconds may be too high. Stopwatch timing of the shots heard on the Universal Pictures newsreel indicate that only 3.1 seconds elapsed from the first to the third shot.
No man alive could shoot so fast with such a rifle.