SOUTH LONDON GANGSTER ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, who died recently aged 90, was well known for his violent criminal career which led to him serving 42 years in prison. Less well known is his connection to a South London private hire operator who came to his aid during one of the most notorious gangland fights in the 1960s.
Francis Davidson “Frankie” Fraser, better known as ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser was born in Waterloo, South London and the youngest of five children.
Turning to petty crime at the age of ten with his sister Eva, he was sent to borstal in 1941 and then Wandsworth Prison for 15 months for breaking into shops.
Working as a bodyguard for gangster Billy Hill, Frankie was in and out of prison during the 1950s and 1960s and while in Durham Prison, was certified insane and sent to Broadmoor.
Also known as ‘Razor Fraser’ and ‘The Dentist’ for the violence meted out to rival criminals, Frankie was introduced to South London gangsters Charlie and Eddie Richardson in the early 1960s. The brothers allegedly helped him avoid arrest for his involvement in The Great Train Robbery, by bribing a policeman.
GUNFIGHT AT MR SMITH’S
Dave, not his real name, was a respected private hire operator, but in the 1960s, worked as both a cabbie and a catburglar on the streets of South London.
According to him: “We had a cab firm which had seven or eight drivers but we never made any money. We were too busy breaking into shops.”
His criminal past is well and truly behind him but his first cab firm was involved in one of the most notorious gangland fights, between Charlie and Eddie Richardson and associates of the Kray Twins.
The Richardson boys and Reggie and Ronnie Kray ruled the roost in South and East London respectively. But tension between the two gangs came to a head after Richardson associate George Cornell allegedly insulted Ronnie Kray at the West End, Astor Club in the run-up to Christmas in 1965.
Frankie said Cornell was innocent but the perceived insult could not be ignored and matters came to a head in the spring of 1966 over who controlled Mr Smith’s nightclub in Catford.
Billy Hill had introduced Charlie and Eddie Richardson to the club’s owners, Manchester businessmen Dougie Flood and Bill Benny and the two brothers had agreed to ‘protect’ the venue in exchange for allowing fruit machines on the premises.
Unfortunately, another group of ‘businessmen’ (and associates of the Krays) Billy and Harry Hayward, Peter Hennessey, Billy Gardner and Richard Hart (a cousin of the Krays) thought they had been contracted to, ‘look after the club’. The dispute needed a resolution and matters came to a head after both gangs had been drinking heavily throughout the night at Mr Smith’s on March 8.
Eddie Richardson told the boys from the Kray gang to, “drink up and leave” but Hennessey refused and called Eddie a, “half-baked f*cking ponce” who he could have, “any f*cking time”.
The two men and fellow gang members came to blows and during the melee, pistols were drawn and fired across the crowded nightclub floor. One gangster later recalled in court it was like, “Dodge City”. In the confusion, Richard Hart was shot dead and several others suffered serious gunshot wounds.
No one wanted to hang around and talk to the police and the call went out to Dave’s minicab firm to spirit the Richardson gang, including Frankie, away from the murder scene. According to him: “There was a huge shootout and we were called in by Eddie and Charlie to get them out before the Old Bill arrived. Our cars were completely covered in claret (blood).”
Eddie Richardson, Fraser and several others were taken to Lewisham Hospital but would later deny all knowledge of the gun battle to the police.
Fraser was accused of shooting Hart but denied it in court. And no one was prepared to testify against him. He was though found guilty of, “causing an affray and malicious wounding”.
Frankie’s criminal career carried on until he reinvented himself in the 80s and 90s as an author, after dinner speaker, television pundit and tour guide to the old criminal haunts of the East End. Dave sold his cab firm to a local gangster after the fight at Mr Smith’s and then returned to the trade as a PCO licensed operator a few years later, before finally selling up and retiring.