Brian Epstein,legendary manager of the Beatles was,by 1966,heavily in debt due to his gambling and was rapidly losing control of his Beatles empire. He was known to frequent the same casino in London as Robert Fraser .
Epstein had become a regular visitor to the Clermont Club, a gambling den in London run by John Aspinall. Aspinall had been approached by Billy Hill, a well known figure in the London underworld and mentor to the infamous Kray twins, about initiating an elaborate scam called the Big Edge for the card game of Chemin de Fer. The cards would be passed through a mangle to produce tiny, virtually indiscernible bends which would then be read by ‘trained’ players specially schooled by the club.
The scam, though not foolproof, was soon earning the club and Billy Hill thousands of pounds a night. Chemin de Fer was a popular game for Epstein and soon, he too, was falling victim to the scam on a massive basis.
For Epstein the stakes were enormous, for not only was he gambling his own money but also that of the Beatles too. Epstein was acutely aware that his contract with the Beatles was up for renewal in 1967 and he feared that they would not want to go elsewhere. With his debts and his own paranoia growing, Epstein was resorting to increasingly elaborate attempts to recoup his money.
In January 1967 he agreed a deal with Robert Stigwood to merge NEMS with Stigwood’s organisation for £500,000. Stigwood thought he would be buying everything, including the Beatles, but once the fab four got wind of this plan they told Brian that they would only ever record God Save the Queen and out of tune to boot. The deal was therefore re-arranged to exclude the Beatles as they had been so incensed by the proposal.
However, Brian’s problems were only mounting. He had previously met the Kray twins in a gay club in London and now they were putting the squeeze on him after they had discovered his affair with Dizz Gillespie.
|Billy Hill and the Kray twins|
How they came to discover this is uncertain. It may have come to light through Brian’s activities at the Clermont Club where, lest we forget John Aspinall’s partner was the Krays friend Billy Hill. Alternatively it may have been via the mysterious David Litvinoff.
Litvinoff was a colourful character who was well known in the London underworld as well as that of swinging London. He was, like Brian, homosexual and a massive gambler. He was rumoured to have been a former lover of Ronnie Kray, however what is certain is that, after accumulating huge gambling debts Ronnie and Reggie Kray paid him a visit which involved tying him up by his feet and inserting a sword into his mouth. Ronnie then forced the sword into his mouth, cutting him from cheek to cheek and leaving him with a permanent ‘joker like’ smile.
Litvinoff entered the circle of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones through his association with Robert Fraser and Christopher Gibbs. Indeed Litvinoff would play a major part in the film ‘Performance’ starring Mick Jagger and James Fox, when he was employed by the director Donald Cammell as a ‘voice coach’. This apparently was a euphemism and his real role was to immerse Fox totally into the London gangland scene so as to prepare him for his role as a gangster.
However the news reached them, the Krays told Glasgow crimelord Arthur Thompson that they were blackmailing Epstein and were going to take the Beatles from him. Thompson apparently convinced the twins that the Beatles career would go downhill fast if they were associated with the Krays. They settled for blackmailing him for cash instead.
On the 27th August 1967 Brian Epstein was found dead in his locked bedroom at his home in London. His death was officially declared an accident at the inquest due to the consumption of too many sleeping pills. Suicide was denied by all around Brian, however long time Epstein employee, Peter Brown claimed that he had removed a suicide note and a will from Brian’s bedroom prior to the arrival of the authorities.
The suicide note was, according to Brown, apparently from a previous attempt, however it interesting to note that the will left Epstein’s house and money to his mother and brother, Clive. Brian’s father Harry had died some six weeks earlier, meaning this will would have had to have been recently updated. It is also curious that someone would leave a suicide note just ‘lying around’.
Had the Krays threats been sufficient to drive Brian to suicide, or even more sinister, had the twins arranged for a little visit to Brian over that weekend?
As an interesting footnote to this saga, another long time Epstein associate, the flamboyant London lawyer David Jacobs, is also rumoured to have come to a sticky end. Again, possibly with the involvement of the Krays.
Like Brian, Jacobs was Jewish, homosexual and another prodigious user of amphetamines. Jacobs had long been in the employ of Brian and the Beatles and his other clients included Marlene Dietrich and Diana Dors, both of whom featured on the cover of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club band, as well as the Rolling Stones.
Jacobs was found hanging from a length of satin from one of the beams of his garage in December 1968 after reportedly having turned down the opportunity to represent Ronnie and Reggie Kray as the defence lawyer in their forthcoming trial for double murder.
Is it possible that Jacobs came to the attention of the Krays after having been used by Brian to try and extricate him from their blackmailing grip?