Frank Mitchell – ‘The Mad Axeman’


Frank Mitchell was from Limehouse, East London.
His criminal career began at the tender age of 9 after he stole a bicycle from another child.
He was tried by a juvenile court and put on probation.
As he grew older he also grew bigger and stronger and was known to sometimes demonstrate this by lifting a grand piano off the floor or picking up two full grown men, one in each hand.
He also had a short temper and was said to have “the mind of a child of 13 or under”.
From the age of 17 Mitchell was in and out of borstals and prisons and while serving sentences he was nuisance to the authorities, often becoming violent with guards and fellow inmates.
In 1955 he was diagnosed “mentally defective” and sent to the Rampton psychiatric hospital but two years later Mitchell escaped with another inmate and they attacked a man with an iron bar before stealing his clothes and money.
When he was recaptured Mitchell attacked police with two meat cleavers, and was sent to Broadmoor.
He escaped again, broke into the home of a married couple and held them hostage with an axe.
This earned him the nickname “The Mad Axeman”.

In October 1958 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for robbery with violence and in 1962 he was transferred to HMP Dartmoor.
While there his behaviour improved and he was transferred to the honour party, a small group of trusted inmates who were allowed to work outside the prison walls with much less supervision from guards.
There he was allowed to roam the moors, feed the wild ponies and even visited nearby pubs.
The governor of the prison promised Mitchell that if he stayed out of trouble he would recommend to the Home Office that he be given a release date. Four years later, Mitchell still had not received one.

Mitchell had befriended Ronnie Kray when they served a sentence together at Wandsworth prison in the 1950s.
During Mitchell’s trial for attempted murder, Ron had paid for a solicitor for him and bought him a new suit.
So when Ron learnt of Mitchell’s plight he was keen on breaking him out of prison, thinking it would help him to publicise his case and earn a release date.
Of course, it did not go unnoticed that this would also enhance the Krays’ standing in the underworld and further cement their reputation as ‘untouchable’ following the earlier murder of George Cornell.
So on 12th December 1966, while working on the moors, Mitchell asked the only guard if he could feed some nearby  ponies. He then simply walked over to a quiet road where a getaway car containing Albert Donoghue, Teddy Smith and Billy Exley was waiting for him.
It was over five hours before Mitchell was reported missing, by which time he had been driven to London where the Krays put him up in a flat in Barking, East Ham.

While the police were devoting considerable energy to find Mitchell and the press were asking how he had managed to just ‘walk off the moor’ he also began to become a problem for the Krays.
Because of his sheer physical strength and his short temper he was difficult to control and was unwilling to give himself up.
He couldn’t leave the flat in case he was recognised and the Krays didn’t want to risk releasing him in case he implicated them in his escape.
In turn Mitchell felt insulted that Reg had only visited him in person once and he grew increasingly agitated and began making threats.
So a woman was brought to the flat to keep him entertained but instead of helping matters things were soon further complicated when Mitchell promptly fell in love with her.
It was at this point it was decided the only solution was to kill him.

On Christmas Eve 1966 Mitchell was led into the back of a van by Albert Donoghue.
He had been told he’d be taken to a safehouse in the countryside where he would meet up with Ron and spend Christmas with him.
But waiting in the van were several men, among them Freddie Foreman and Alfie Gerrard.
Once the van doors were closed and the engine started, they opened fire on Mitchell, killing him.
His body was never found and no one has ever been convicted of his murder.
Freddie Foreman has since admitted to shooting Mitchell in his autobiography, ‘Respect’ and he was arrested and questioned by police after repeating his confession in a 2000 television documentary.
However the CPS announced that it would not be re-opening the case due to the Double Jeopardy law.

The story was reworked into a play by Gill Adams in 1997 and titled ‘Jump To Cow Heaven’.
It is due to be performed again in 2015 at Custom House Theatre in South Shields.

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