MAR­RIED TO THE GOLDFIN­GER GANG­STER

JOHN PALMER WENT FROM BE­ING A JACK- THE- LAD TO BRI­TAIN’S RICH­EST CROOK WITH A FOR­TUNE TO RI­VAL THE QUEEN’S. HE BUILT HIS FOR­TUNE ON HIS CHARM AND WIT. BUT BY THE TIME HE WAS MUR­DERED, DE­TEC­TIVES HAD A LIST OF HIS 17,000 PEO­PLE WITH MO­TIVE TO KILL HIM

Real Crime - - Contents -

The former wife of a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire gold robber and con man re­calls the day John Palmer was as­sas­si­nated

For the su­per- rich like Marnie Palmer, Con­corde was the only way to fly. As the young mother with strik­ing Brigitte Bar­dot looks peered out of the plane’s tiny porthole as the plane tax­ied from its stand to Heathrow’s run­way, she was los­ing count of how many times she had flown to Bar­ba­dos su­per­son­i­cally. Once again she had se­cured her favourite seat on the world’s most pres­ti­gious plane –

Row 28, right at the back. You could re­ally feel the thrust of the su­per­sonic en­gines from the rear of the air­craft.

She was get­ting very used to this jet- set life­style. She was just a few hun­dred me­tres away from the scene of that rob­bery: the ‘ heist of the cen­tury’ the tabloids called it. Not that she had known any­thing about it. But it had af­fected her life so deeply.

On the seat next to Marnie was her hus­band John, a short chap with a big smile. It was he who had got mixed up in the rob­bery’s af­ter­math. He had al­ways claimed that he hadn’t known about Brink’s Mat, and a jury even found him not guilty. But his name would be for­ever linked to the stolen bul­lion. ‘ Goldfin­ger,’ they called him. And now he was richer still. His business in Tener­ife was tak­ing off, pay­ing for the flights to the Caribbean, the yacht, the cars, the chateau in France. There were pri­vate jets and he­li­copters. The Sun­day Times had him on the ‘ rich list’, with an es­ti­mated for­tune equalling the queen’s.

But the die had been cast, and the peo­ple John Palmer was mix­ing with were not to be messed with. The op­u­lence en­joyed by the Palmers was built on fraud, con­fi­dence and in­tim­i­da­tion too – threats that would have to be fol­lowed through with vi­o­lence. The vi­o­lence would turn to mur­der. And blood­shed spreads.

Yet, as Con­corde’s en­gines fired up and this el­e­gant bird took to the skies, Marnie was bliss­fully un­aware of all that. But she would learn in the years to come, as her hus­band would turn from be­ing Bri­tain’s rich­est gang­ster to a hope­less mur­der vic­tim, in a killing that still baf­fles de­tec­tives.

MEET­ING A CROOK

“I didn’t think an aw­ful lot of him, to be hon­est,” Marnie Palmer told Real Crime, as she re­mem­bers first clap­ping eyes on the small wheeler- dealer in a Bris­tol night­club. “A bit scruffy. I used to go with a DJ. John came in and would have half a pint. Mu­sic was play­ing, and there was hardly ever any­body in there. I no­ticed that when he came out he had a nice E- type Jaguar. I was a bit at­tracted to that. One night he asked me for a drink. We saw each other a cou­ple of times. I had a room in a friend’s house, sleep­ing on a mat­tress be­cause I couldn’t af­ford a flat of my own. I was work­ing as a hair­dresser. John and I had seen each other a few times, and then one evening he turned up at the door with a suit­case and said could he stay for a while?”

John Palmer had been born into poverty in Soli­hull in the West Midlands. Rather than look­ing like a young gang­ster king­pin, like a youth­ful Tony So­prano, his early ca­reer re­sem­bled more that of English sit­com mar­ket trader Del Boy Trot­ter. He made and sold belts, bot­tled gas, set up a sec­ond­hand car deal­er­ship (“they were real bangers” said Marnie), be­fore es­tab­lish­ing a car­pet firm and fi­nally a jew­ellers. “John liked the smell of money,” said Marnie Palmer. “Pounds. He used to flick through them and smell them. Any­thing he did, what­ever it was, he did it to earn money from it, with such en­thu­si­asm to earn what­ever he could out of it.”

He took on a jew­ellery shop in south Bris­tol but soon re­alised he could earn only so much from sell­ing gold – pro­cess­ing the pre­cious me­tal was where the riches lay. So Palmer bought a smelter and in­stalled in the gar­den of their fam­ily home. “The scrap they started get­ting all grew, re­ally,” said Marnie. “To get the most out of the scrap, which was teeth, bro­ken ear­rings, to bulk all that to­gether and put that with a bar. They were earn­ing fair money – but they had to in­vest in the gold bar in or­der to melt every­thing down.”

THE ‘ HEIST OF THE CEN­TURY’ WOULD... TURN THIS YOUNG ‘ WIDE BOY’ INTO A VIL­LAIN WITH AN IN­TER­NA­TIONAL REP­U­TA­TION

Words Robert Mur­phy

BE­LOW- LEFT Fugi­tives in the sun, a press photo taken of Palmer and Marnie as they evade po­lice by re­main­ing in Tener­ife

BE­LOW- RIGHT Fac­ing jus­tice: after years on the run, Palmer was fi­nally in cus­tody, here at Ken­ning­ton Po­lice Sta­tion after a court ap­pear­ance in 1988. He would later be ac­quit­ted of Brink’s Mat charges

BE­LOW- MID­DLE At the height of his crim­i­nal suc­cess, John Palmer had an Olympic- sized manège built for Marnie, who was a keen eques­trian

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