Authors: Erin Kelly
Tags: #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Fiction
The old man broke into his thoughts. ‘And you say you’re not family?’ Luke nodded his head then shook it and his visitor reverted to his original menace. ‘What are you then, a squatter? Would you jump in her grave as quick?’
‘Do you want to me throw him out, sir?’ asked the chauffeur.
‘What? No! Look, I’ve got a key . . .’ said Luke, drawing from his pocket the gold fob. ‘I got it from the estate age . . .’ his voice faltered as he realised who his visitor must be, and he had the horrible feeling that he had just signed Charlene’s P45. Luke now felt the cold black ink of guilt seep into his blood. He did not trust himself to speak in case he further incriminated Charlene.
Joss Grand’s light wheeze turned into desperate sucking inhalation and the impassive driver was finally animated by anxiety.
‘Right, sir, into the car.’ The old man allowed himself to be led by the elbow back to the Bentley. ‘You know you mustn’t get yourself het up. We’ll get to the bottom of this.’ The chauffeur turned over his shoulder and gave Luke the evil eye, as though he suspected him of killing Kathleen Duffy just to get his hands on this luxurious piece of real estate. The gleaming door was opened to reveal the rich garnet leather bench of the back seat. ‘You’ll be hearing from us,’ was his parting shot to Luke.
? he thought. He watched them for a few seconds, then tried to close the door. Something was in his way. The dropped posy had been crushed between the door and the jamb and Luke bent to retrieve it. The car’s back window was down and he caught the tail end of the old man’s sentence.
‘She was the only one who knew,’ he gasped. ‘The only one who knew and now she’s gone. Take me home, Vaughan. No, fuck it, take me back to the office.’
The Bentley pulled away, quiet and smooth as any of its modern counterparts. Luke stood on the pavement outside the house and watched them go, the broken bouquet still in his hand.
He called Charlene at the office and was told she was out at a viewing. Not knowing whether to feel sick or relieved, he called her mobile, trying to sound breezy as he left a message for her to call him back. He burned with the useless energy of someone who finds himself in a predicament of his own making but utterly out of his control.
Curiosity about Joss Grand pulsed behind his concern for Charlene. While he waited for her to get back to him, it wouldn’t hurt to look up his visitor, would it? He told himself that he might even stumble across something that would help.
He flipped open his laptop and entered
Jocelyn Grand Brighton
into Google and then, just before clicking ‘search’, added the nickname
. He bypassed the official agency website. Wikipedia didn’t have anything. But three images flashed up on screen. The first was the low-res monochrome of the police mugshot. It was the face he had just been talking to, this time under a slick wedge of black hair, the glasses sitting below full straight eyebrows and the face on the verge of a snarl. The menace Luke had detected the remains of had been alive and kicking when this picture was taken in 1957.
He clicked through to the site, an obscure little encyclopaedia of crime. It was crudely designed, black type on a royal blue background that made it hard to read. Luke’s blood heated by a degree as he bent close to the screen and got to know his new landlord.
NAME: Jocelyn (Joss) Howard Grand
BORN: 22 July 1932
CONVICTIONS: 1957: Torture, conspiracy to torture, demanding money with force.
Served in Parkhurst, Isle of Wight and then Lewes, Sussex.
KNOWN ASSOCIATES: Jacky Nye, Dave Rosslyn.
TRIVIA: Confessed under arrest to being the inventor of the restraint/torture method known as the Grand Truss.
MEMORABLE QUOTES: ‘We never moved in on a man who wasn’t already half-crooked.’
NAME: Jacky Nye
BORN: 31 July 1932
DIED: 21 October 1968 (aged 36)
CONVICTIONS: 1957: Theft, possession of indecent images. Served in Lewes, Sussex.
KNOWN ASSOCIATES: Joss Grand, Dave Rosslyn.
TRIVIA: Once won the lease to a flat in Chelsea during a game of poker.
MEMORABLE QUOTES: ‘If you can’t eat it, drink it, nick it or f**k it, what’s the point?’
Luke was suddenly on full alert. Why hadn’t he heard of this case before? Why hadn’t he come across this
before? Perhaps because it was such a mess, patchy and spare. Luke looked at the other entries in the self-styled encyclopaedia; even the big hitters warranted no more than a few hundred words. There was no ‘about the author’ page or byline photograph. This was unusual; often, true crime writers, even – especially – amateurs, were desperate to bask in the reflected notoriety of their subjects. (Luke wondered briefly and uncomfortably if this applied to him; he was sure it didn’t, but wondered if he might make a point of not having an author photograph on his books.)
The next website he clicked through to was equally obscure, and also out of date; the most recent article was five years old, suggesting to Luke a neglected site, remembered only when the annual direct debit was deducted by the service provider. The click counter showed that Luke was only the 1004th visitor to the page.
On the wind-blown night of 21 October 1968, the Brighton crime lord Jacky Nye was strangled by person or persons unknown on Brighton’s West Pier. Who killed Jacky Nye? Theories abound but none has ever been proven.
Gentle giant Jacky Nye was the puppet of his childhood friend Joss Grand, the convicted torturer. With his weaknesses for wine, women and song, he was as gregarious and extrovert as Joss Grand was dark and unreadable. Jacky liked to be known, with affection, as ‘The Guv’nor’. Even as a young man, Grand never settled for anything less than ‘Sir’.
In 1957 Grand was found guilty of torturing, for the purposes of extortion, local businessman Mario Zammit, who showed hardcore pornographic films above an innocent-looking coffee bar in the Lanes. Nye was not present at the violent attack, which arresting officer DC John Rochester described as the most vicious he had ever seen.
Luke felt slightly faint to realise who he had been talking to. The opposing emotions of fear and fascination swirled within him.
But the police did find Nye in possession of cans of pornographic film, suggesting that he had been involved in some way – probably instructed by Grand to take away the films. The men often coupled physical punishment with removal of material goods for resale.
Free again at the age of twenty-eight they picked up where they left off, using fruit machines as a cover for a Brighton-wide protection racket and illegal gambling dens. When the UK Gambling Act was passed in 1960, the year of their release, their businesses acquired the sheen of legitimacy, their rule centring on The Alhambra casino (now the Ocean hotel) on Kingsway.
In these, their glory years, Jacky was the public face of the business. A practical joker with a taste for the high life, he brought the punters in while Joss controlled the purse strings and half the businessmen in Brighton.
That Jacky Nye had a reputation as a practical joker told Luke more than any conviction could. He’d been on the receiving end of some ‘practical jokes’ at school – he still winced to recall the sign pinned on his back, an arrow pointing to his arse, or the sticky magazine hidden in his locker on inspection day – and he had never met a practical joker who wasn’t a sadistic cowardly bastard, hiding behind the unassailable defence: ‘You haven’t got a sense of humour.’ A man who loved practical jokes would be at home in the company of a torturer.
The Night of the Murder
Nye’s body was found at sea, but the cause of death was strangulation. The murderer wore gloves and left no forensic trace on the dead man. There was only one tantalising clue; Nye’s palm bore the bloody and bruised imprint of a pair of spectacles, as though he had delivered a blow to his attacker with the glasses in his closed fist. The shards of glass found in Nye’s flesh were too small to identify the prescription of the lenses and the wound too indistinct to indicate the shape of the frames.
A courting couple who raised the alarm reported seeing a large black car driving away from the pier. Grand’s Bentley was the only car of its kind on the streets of Brighton, and the police made straight away for his club – Le Pigalle on Ship Street – where they found the Bentley parked outside, its bonnet hot to the touch.
Inside, Grand was still wearing his overcoat but fifty-six witnesses reported seeing him in the club that evening, with five men testifying that he had been on the premises since seven o’clock. His trademark horn-rimmed spectacles were in immaculate condition. When the arresting officer asked Grand to produce his spare pair, he did so from a leather case on the top of his desk. The focus then became to find the spectacles that had been in Jacky Nye’s fist; to identify them would be to place the killer at the scene. The boardwalk was combed and frogmen deployed to the sea below, but no trace of lens or frame was ever found.
A local vagrant later reported seeing a young girl in a red coat running away from the pier close to the time of the murder but if she existed she has never come forward.
Cherchez la femme
, thought Luke. The phrase ‘young girl’ had snagged his attention. He’d spent enough time with Charlene to absorb her feminist sensitivities. She said that the word ‘girl’ used to describe any female over eighteen brought her out in hives, as did all feminised words such as ‘actress’ and ‘masseuse’. A young girl could mean anything from a toddler to a grown woman. After all, Grand had just referred to Kathleen Duffy as his ‘girl’, and she had been in her seventies. He sighed and read on.
There was no known conflict between the two men at the time of Nye’s murder: in fact, they were at the height of their powers, the sale of the Alhambra meant that they were legitimately cash rich for the first time. Yet Detective John Rochester, who arguably knew the men and their dealings better than anyone outside their circle, was convinced that Grand was the murderer, and that the spectacles were his. Rochester and his officers interviewed 209 people in the course of the case.
Following Nye’s death, Grand sold or gave away the controlling interests in all his businesses. Any cash was poured into property, his lettings company JGP being established in 1969. Grand was one of the first large-scale private landlords in the country, and remains the pre-eminent landowner in East Sussex with a portfolio estimated at £37m.
He currently lives in rumoured failing health in Brighton. With no known next of kin it is not known what will become of his vast estate when he dies although he is known to patronise various charities. As Rochester commented of Grand’s conversion to philanthropy, ‘It’s like he’s trying to buy back his soul.’
Rochester’s rank at retirement was Detective Chief Inspector. He died in 2001. The case of Jacky Nye’s murder remains open.
A switch inside Luke had been tripped, throwing him headfirst into that state of newsgathering where he felt most himself. It was a condition so secure that he didn’t even notice he’d been making notes until he looked down and saw the pen in his right hand.
Luke looked up from the ice-blue glare of the computer screen, almost surprised that the interior of the cottage had not somehow shifted its colours and dimensions in the light of what he was learning about its owner. Reaching for his tea, he found it had gone stone cold and spat it back into the cup. He polished his glasses on the hem of his T-shirt, replaced them and returned to coldcasesussex.co.uk.
There was a discussion forum in the space underneath the article but only one comment had been posted there.
Great case, so interesting. If anyone has any leads on this could they get in touch? Possible fee. Cheers lads. [email protected]
Luke felt keenly the pull of another writer’s slipstream. There was no response below, but of course any reply would have been sent directly to the email address.
Out of curiosity and habit rather than any real hope of receiving a reply, Luke composed a brief note asking if anyone knew of any recent developments on the case. He pasted one copy into the contact form on the website and sent another to the AOL address. He didn’t hold his breath, and was not surprised when, seconds later, both messages bounced back.
That reminded him. While his own inbox was open he checked the folder he’d set up both to accept emails from Jem and fire back an automated reply saying the address was no longer in use. There were 126 messages. Luke closed the folder without reading them.
He went back to the search engine, this time looking only for images. Apart from the mugshots, there were half a dozen further photographs of Grand and Nye.
They must still have been teenagers in the grainy image of them in boxing shorts and gloves, standing before a roped-off ring, arms around each other’s bare shoulders in a classic homoerotic pose. (Luke, conditioned by inclination and academic discipline to filter everything through the context of his degree, wrote
just friendship? something more?
on his notepad. It was unusual in those days for men their age not to be married and although the bullet-point biography of Jacky Nye pegged him as a ladies’ man, it was more unusual still for a man to reach Grand’s age and remain single. He quickly searched again, pairing their names with gay, homosexual and queer. All terms drew a blank. That was hardly conclusive: if their relationship had been physical, it might have been secret to all but the lovers themselves. A gay man Joss Grand’s age would have been born into a world where his sexuality was a crime, not legalised until 1967, and it would have been easier in many circles to come out as a criminal than a homosexual. Would it have been a secret worth killing to keep? If true, it would be impossibly, laughably close to Luke’s perfect story. That alone cast doubt on it. He wrote
something to think about,
and then as an afterthought
but don’t get carried away
and returned to the pictures.)