Chokehold: The tragic death of Melvin Trotman

A 37-year-old property developer died after being restrained during a fight in Chadwell Heath, east London. The inquest revealed why nobody was prosecuted and why the case was not treated as a homicide. Police were alerted almost as soon as Melvin Trotman entered the house in Chadwell Heath, east London.…

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Murder in Suburbia: The unsolved case of James Durrant in 1988

Detectives described it as “a very brutal murder… in an average residential street in suburbia”. Yet just three months later they closed their active investigation, unable to establish a motive or identify a suspect. The case remains unsolved more than 30 years later.

The victim was James Durrant, a relatively wealthy 74-year-old retired solicitor who lived with his wife Margaret, 77, in Surbiton, southwest London, and had recently celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary. He was within a month of seeing his 75th birthday and was not known for his risk-taking, possibly having seen enough action as a squadron leader with the RAF during the Second World War. His son Christopher, then aged 42, described him as “a quiet elderly man who was beginning to suffer in health a little… life did not expose him to situations where he would be pushed around – for example at football matches.”

James Durrant and his wife Margaret (courtesy of Durrant family, not for reuse)

On the evening of 26 October 1988 Durrant attended a Masonic function at the Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden in his role as treasurer of the Anglo-Dutch lodge (established 1942, erased 2014 due to lack of members). He then had dinner with friends at the Sugar Loaf pub at 40 Great Queen Street (now Philomena’s Irish Bar and Kitchen) before heading home at around 8.30pm.

The first puzzle is how he got to Surbiton. Did he get a train from Waterloo? It appears there were no definite witnesses to his journey apart from a possible sighting at Surbiton station.

That evening his wife Margaret was visiting their son Christopher for dinner. Later that night, concerned that he had not made contact, she and Christopher decided to head back to the couple’s home at 12 Cranes Park Avenue. After entering the three-bedroom house shortly before midnight, they discovered James Durrant lying dead on the floor.

12 Cranes Park Avenue in 2021

He had been killed with a single blow to the front of the head with a heavy, blunt but smooth edged weapon similar to a baseball bat. He had also suffered a knife wound to the upper half of his body, according to newspaper reports. There may also have been other, undisclosed injuries.

Detectives found no sign of forced entry, suggesting he was either surprised when he entered the house or was accompanied by the killer as he made his way inside. Nothing was missing from the scene other than his dark leather wallet containing cash and miscellaneous correspondence, which suggested that the motive was unlikely to be robbery. The killer had not bothered to take other cash found on the body. The porch door had been closed but left unlocked after the murder. Neither of the murder weapons had been left at the scene.

At a press conference a few days later, Margaret Durrant described the killing as “very puzzling”. She was not aware of anything that might suggest he was in danger and rejected any suggesting that there was a link to his membership of the Masons. Instead she and Christopher claimed that the killer could have been a drug addict or someone in need of money who followed the victim home from the railway station.

“Somebody out there must know something,” Christopher told reporters. “Someone must be sheltering someone. Someone must know of a connection who can help us.”

The police officer leading the investigation, Detective Superintendent Malcolm Butcher, gave the local newspaper the impression he was working on the theory that James Durrant may have known his killer. “This was a very brutal murder,” he told the Kingston Informer. “The motive may not have been robbery. It could have been motiveless. It occurred in an average residential street in suburbia inside the security of someone’s home. The killer went over the top, even after death, and may suggest the type of person involved.” He added: “Someone left the hosue with blood on them carrying both weapons, and we are anxious to hear from anyone who can help”.

Police questioned commuters at both Waterloo and Surbiton stations in the week after the murder but were apparently unable to establish the victim’s route home.

A reconstruction of the case was also featured on BBC’s Crimewatch TV programme in the hope of finding crucial witnesses, apparently without success. According to the Kingston Informer of 2 December 1988 police were “no nearer knowing the last movements” of the victim and had been unable to unearth any leads on the Isle of Man, where James Durrant owned property.

After exhausting all their leads, police “terminated” the active inquiry in January 1989, the newspaper reported.

The family, concerned at the lack of progress, issued their own appeal on the first anniversay of the case and offered a £25,000 reward for information.

Son Michael Durrant, then a 47-year-old chartered surveyor, spoke to reporters at Kingston Police station. “It is difficult to imagine in the world we live in, which is ordered and respectable, that someone could walk out of the night, murder and elderly man and walk away from it,” he said.

“It is difficult to believe that it happened. And it is difficult to believe that despite enquiries there is no identity of the cultprit. It is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. It is difficult to cope with living and not knowing the culprit’s identity. Someone must have seen him. If this can happen and they get away with it, how do you know it is not going to happen again? It must not be allowed to. We are sincerely hoping the reward will bring some information.”

Christopher revealed his mother was still deeply affected by the crime and was not sleeping properly. “She cannot look at pictures of him,” he said. “She kept thinking he would walk back through the door.”

The murder remains unsolved and has received little attention since, other than a short article in the Daily Mail which suggested police were examining possible links to the cases of Deborah Linsley, who was stabbed to death on a train in March 1988, and Alison Shaughnessy, who was stabbed to death at her home in Battersea in 1991. However there seems to be no evidence of any connection apart from the fact they all made train journeys on the days they died.

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Missing, presumed murdered: James Harmon

James Harmon was 30 when he went missing in east London in 1998. Police believe he was murdered. Do you know what happened to him?

Known to family and friends as Jimmy, the pub doorman was last seen at 3pm on Saturday, 24 January 1998, at his girlfriend’s home in Romford, east London.

He left a short time later after receiving a phone call on his mobile phone and told his girlfriend he had to go and see a friend in Rainham and would be back at 8pm.

His distinctive silver Mercedes 190E saloon car, registration A872 GBA, was later found abandoned in Bexley Gardens off Barley Lane near King George’s Hospital in Goodmayes.

The police investigation has been unable to establish his whereabouts or recover his body.

In 2008 a 45-year-old suspect was arrested in Dagenham before being released on bail. However nobody has ever been charged with the murder.

Detectives offered a £20,000 reward for information for information leading to the prosecution of those responsible.

On the 15th anniversary of the disappearance,  Detective Chief Inspector Neale Baldock of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command said: “The investigation has focused on Jimmy Harmon’s lifestyle and in 1998 he was well known as a doorman at a number of east London clubs and pubs.

“There are very strong grounds for believing that he was murdered very soon after his disappearance on 24 January 1998.

“It is now fifteen years since James was last seen alive. I know he was involved in criminal activity in east London and I believe the key to this investigation is likely to come from within that criminal fraternity or their associates. In the intervening years loyalties and allegiances may have changed, and I would appeal to anyone with new information to come forward and speak to us.”

At the time of his disappearance Jimmy was described as white, 5ft 7ins and stocky with short cropped brown hair. He was last seen wearing a blue ‘Budweiser’ T shirt, tracksuit bottoms and trainers. He worked as a mechanic and also part-time as a doorman at the Robin Hood Public House in Longbridge Road, Dagenham.

Contact the incident room on 020 8345 1571 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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Unsolved murder at The Blue Bunny Club: Camille Gordon

Camille Gordon, 23, was stabbed to death outside the Blue Bunny Club in London’s Soho on 1 March 2004.

Police believe her killer was an angry customer of the club, known as a “clip joint” because it charged people large sums of money for spending only a few minutes with its hostesses.

Born in Jamaica, Camille had studied in Birmingham for several years before moving to London to work part-time at the club to help fund her dream of becoming a nursey school teacher.

Camille Gordon

She was not involved in the sex trade but was tasked with enticing men into the club by giving them the impression they would be able to take part in some kind of sexual activity.

Shortly before the murder she was working at the door when a man approached her at 6.20pm and paid the £5 entry fee. After spending around 10 minutes in the club he was handed a bill of around £375 when he tried to leave at 6.35pm.

It was eventually agreed, following a dispute with staff, that he would pay £80. The man then left.

Half an hour later at 7.10pm Camille was standing in the doorway when a man walked up to the club and stabbed her in the heart. She collapsed in the club and died of her injuries an hour later.

CCTV cameras captured a grainy image of a man running from the club towards Great Windmill Street and Shaftesbury Avenue.

CCTV image of the suspect

The Metropolitan Police detective investigating the case said they wanted to speak to the man to eliminate him from their enquiries.

“Camille appears to have been deliberately targeted by a customer who was angry about having been ripped off,” said Detective Inspector Andy Mortimer.

“The attacker was wearing a very distinctive blue baseball jacket with the Cleveland Indians motif on the front in red. He was seen travelling south on the Bakerloo line after the attack.”

DI Mortimer said Camille was “one of many girls employed to stand on the street outside the clubs”.

He added: “We have absolutely no evidence to suggest that Camille was involved in any sexual activity at all.

“These girls are drawn into working at the clip clubs because they can make a lot of moneyvery quickly. One of our theories is that Camille was working at the Blue Bunny to fund her teaching course.”

The detective described clip joints as a “massive loophole” at the time because they were legitimate businesses that do not serve alcohol or provide sex shows and have terms and conditions posted on the walls.

Camille’s mother told the Evening Standard that her daughter was “a wonderful, happy, upbeat kind of person who loved to dance and made so many people happy.”

The family said they wanted to make sure that clip joints would be closed down for good, adding: “We are worried that other men will do the same thing, and more girls will be murdered.”

The Blue Bunny Club was originally at number 7 Archer Street in Soho

In 2007 clip joints were reclassified as sex establishments under the London Local Authorities Act and by September that year the number of clubs operating in the area had been reducted from eight to two.

Contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

‘I can’t breathe’: The death of Ian Taylor

What began as an investigation into a suspected murder revealed an asthmatic 54-year-old black British man was failed by police officers who described his complaints of breathing problems as ‘a load of nonsense’ At 5.53pm on 29 June 2019, the Metropolitan Police received a 999 call reporting that between 20…

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