Patrick Thomas was well-known to friends and neighbours as a friendly, happy bartender and car salesman.
So what led to his early death?
And how was he connected with the biggest mugging that the UK had ever seen, worth £292 million?
Listen to the episode below:
In the early hours of 29th December 1991, Rosemary Trenchfield was woken by a noise which she later described as a scuffle followed by “a bang, like a cap gun”.
Living in a shabby part of Brockley in South London, Rosemary could have been forgiven for being used to such noises. But not when they came from the hallway outside her room.
She ran out of her bedroom to find her stepbrother, Patrick Thomas, laying on the carpet, bleeding from a wound on his right temple.
Patrick had been shot, and by the time Rosemary had called for an ambulance, he was dead.
Neighbours on the Turnham Road estate where Rosemary and Patrick lived expressed shock at the murder.
Patrick wasn’t known to be a troublemaker. He seemed to live a quiet life, sharing a home with Rosemary, her husband and her daughter.
He worked – both as a barman and a car dealer – and was described as “just a decent bloke”.
But the police knew better.
Just two weeks before his death, after spending 8 months in remand, Patrick was acquitted of possessing £30,000 worth of cocaine. His co-defendant, David Summerville, wasn’t as lucky and was sentenced to 7 years on the same charge.
The police investigation into the murder first centralised on it being a revenge killing. After all, Patrick had escaped a jail sentence by managing to shift the blame on Summerville.
As the investigation continued, though, police realised that there was far more to it than that.
They discovered that Patrick Thomas had a variety of building society accounts which contained the best part of £150,000 in total. Not bad going for a barman.
The more they dug, the better the picture they got of Patrick Thomas, for what Patrick wasn’t so keen on sharing with the neighbours that had considered him a nice guy was how he was an expert in armed robbery and drug dealing.
Let’s rewind almost 2 years.
On 4th January 1990 there was a story in the news of how a messenger in the City of London had accidently dropped £4m worth of bearer bonds in the gutter whilst on his way to the Bank of England.
Bearer bonds (and certificates of deposit) are essentially the same as cash and are used as an easy way to transfer large sums. In basic terms, whoever has possession of a bearer bond could use it as cash.
I assume that this must be a very British approach for transporting large amounts of cash around. The details on how it is moved around are basic. Let’s be honest, if someone carrying the bonds could drop £4m worth in the gutter and not realise, just how tight was their security or asset management?
The news report of these dropped bonds was noticed by four men in particular. Four men who, just a couple of years later, would be named as “super offenders” – Among the top 50 criminals in the country.
Meeting in a City of London wine bar they surmised that stealing some bonds would be – given the news report – possible, if not necessarily easy.
Doing some ground work, they found out that around £30bn of bonds and certificates were carried around London’s streets, by a bunch of (mainly) elderly messengers.
They decided to chance their arm and snatch a bundle of bonds mid-delivery.
However, the gang were aware that they needed to plan their raid correctly. They had found out that most bonds would be cancelled if not delivered within an hour and if it was thought that the snatch had been carried out by a professional outfit, they would never be able to move the stolen bonds on.
In other words, it needed to look like a random, opportune mugging.
Disposing of the bonds – as long as they were snatched in the right way – was within their means. The gang had the connections within the criminal underworld to move the bonds on.
The plan was to fly the bonds out to Zurich, sell them through a broker that they had on their books and then “lose” the proceeds through a series of transactions in the international banking system.
As for finding a mugger, the four “super villains” settled on asking an up-and-coming criminal that they knew. Patrick Thomas. And Thomas accepted the offer quickly, seeing it as a way to rise up the ranks in the criminal underworld.
John Goddard was a 58 year old messenger who worked for Sheppards – a money broking firm in the city of London.
At 9.38am on 2nd May 1990 Goddard had been tasked with taking a briefcase of bonds through the city. As he walked through Nicholas Lane – a small alleyway situated off of King Willian Street which runs between Bank and the Monument – he was approached by a man in his late 20s.
Holding a knife against his throat, the man demanded Goddard’s briefcase, grabbed it and fled.
The Times reported the robbery the next day:
“Opportunist snatches £292m in paper money. The Bank of England said last night they believe the robber was purely an opportunist… Had the robbery been carried out by a gang familiar with the money markets, there could have been substantial losses.”
Success for the gang! Or at least that’s what you’d assume.
Unfortunately for them, their chosen way to launder the money had collapsed before they could dispose of the bond.
Undeterred, they sent a message through the criminal underworld asking for potential launderers to get in touch.
Step forward the New York mafia. Already involved in a scam where they had $7m of bonds that they were trying to launder. It made sense for them to take the additional bonds too.
The mafia’s contact in Britain was Keith Cheeseman from Luton. He had obtained some of the stolen London bonds from Raymond Ketteridge – a London businessman – and sent them on to Mark Osborne – an American go-between from Texas.
Osborne was then introduced to Tony Dipino, another member of the mafia who expressed an interest in buying some of the bonds in order to launder the proceeds of a massive drugs deal he had brokered.
On 31st July, Osborne and Dipino met up in Mulligans bar on 42nd Street. Osborne handed over 10 bond certificates worth £10m.
Once the sale had been agreed, Dipino (or David Maniquis to use his real name) revealed that he was, in fact, an undercover agent for the FBI.
As it had turned out, City of London police had quickly realised that the crime was linked to international fraud and money laundering operations.
They had a 40-man team working alongside the FBI after the Bank of England revealed that the gang could be able to turn the bonds into cash.
He quickly arrested Osborne who, in turn, quickly turned tail and agreed to be an informant for the FBI.
Osborne allowed the FBI to record his phone calls to Britain where he pretended that the sale had gone ahead without any issues.
In the following couple of weeks, they recorded lots of conversations: They heard Cheeseman telling Osborne to put the money “somewhere safe” and warning that the remaining bills were -quote “red blanket hot” -endquote. They also listened in as Ketteridge complained how he hadn’t been paid for the first lot of bills.
However, on 16th August – two a bit weeks after meeting Dipino – Osborne disappeared. He was found 5 days later in Houston, Texas, dead with two bullet wounds to the back of his head.
Someone must have known he’d talked. But was he the only one leaking information?
During the Summer of 1990 the City of London police had a series of lucky breaks. They found £77m of the bonds during a “routine” check at Heathrow, £80m more in Cyprus as well as smaller amounts in West Germany, Singapore, Scotland and the Netherlands.
On 7th September, “Anthony Gallagher” dropped a package off to Aero Peru’s cargo office in Miami, asking that it be delivered to an address in Peru.
Suspecting that the package may contain money for laundering, the parcel was opened to reveal £71m of the missing bonds.
Subsequent investigations revealed that the IRA were involved in the laundering and were trying to exchange the bonds for drugs and cash with Peru-based Columbian drug barons.
The crime syndicate in London was far from happy. Not only had they now lost the vast majority of the bonds, they had also spent over £200,000 setting up the sting. This outcome would also have impacted the respect they would have got from other criminal elites.
They vowed to find the informer and dole out their own form of justice.
Fast forward to March 1991, Patrick Thomas was in his Greenwich flat with David Summerville, cutting up a kilo of cocaine when armed police burst inside.
As we know from the start of the story, Thomas managed to get off of the charges. But while he was on remand, he had a scare.
A headline in the Today newspaper on 26th October 1991 caught his eye:
£290m clue to headless corpse.
The article revealed that a mutilated body had been found in woodland near Bolney, Sussex. The corpse had had that head and hands removed in an effort to make identification as difficult as possible.
The police had identified the body as that of Keith Cheeseman, saying that his death fitted in with the fact that he was on the run from the FBI and mentioning that he partner had been murdered the previous year.
News of Cheeseman’s death would have shocked his ex-wife, Kerry. Not least because the day after the corpse was found, she was having dinner with Cheeseman at a Kent restaurant.
The police had mis-identified the body.
Not that Thomas was aware of this. With thoughts of how an accomplice had been murdered and chopped up and the knowledge that Osborne was also dead, his personality changed. It’s said that aside from becoming withdrawn, he was also sullen and prone to extreme mood swings.
Thomas convinced himself that he would be killed next.
After his acquittal when he had moved back in with Rosemary, things didn’t improve.
A couple of days before Christmas Thomas tried to withdraw some money from one of his false building society accounts. The cashier became suspicious and asked for more proof of identity. Panicking, Thomas ran off.
A few days later, just after Christmas, Thomas got even more depressed when his girlfriend and daughter came to visit but refused to stay with him overnight.
A neighbour recalls seeing Thomas on the morning of 28th December in the stairwell of the flats:
I said hello but he just waved at me and said nothing, He didn’t seem himself at all.
Later that afternoon, Thomas met up with friends in what press reports describe as “the Sands public house in Blackheath”
This was the start of a pub crawl which ended up at the Greycoat Boy in Greenwich at 11.30 p.m.
Thomas had been drinking shots of Jack Daniels all day and following each one up with a line of cocaine.
At midnight, he visited some West End nightclubs with friends where he continued his drug taking with a couple of ecstacy tablets on top of the JD & Coke.
Moving on from the West End, Thomas then moved back South of the River Thames and tried to get into the Ministry of Sound nightclub.
As the bouncer tried to frisk him, Thomas freaked out. A friend later said:
It seemed he had something hidden in the small of his back and didn’t want it to be found.
After this, Thomas returned home alone, getting in just before 5am.
Just minutes later he was dead.
Detective Inspector Dave Bowen led an eight-month investigation into the death of Thomas.
His verdict was:
It is my opinion and that of my fellow officers that Patrick Thomas committed suicide.
During the inquest, witnesses revealed that Rosemary – Thomas’s stepsister – had told them she had seen and hidden a gun that was at his side as he lay in the hallway.
Thomas was still alive at this point and Rosemary was aware that he had just got off remand and didn’t want him being locked up for a firearms offence.
Cassius Walker, a close friend of Thomas, stormed to the centre of the courtroom at this revelation. He demanded to know why Rosemary had told so many people about the gun but had never mentioned it to the police. He ranted:
I’m not saying she killed him but why is she lying?
Despite witnesses only hearing one gunshot on the night, a second bullet was found lodged in the front door of the flat – a bullet that ballistic experts confirmed had come from the same gun that had killed Thomas.
It was implied that Thomas had held the gun for some time, test-firing it sometime before the night he died, and that he had the gun on him that evening – hence freaking out when being frisked by the bouncer.
In a fit of depression he had returned home and committed suicide.
Within a year of the robbery police had recouped all but two of the stolen bonds.
Despite arresting 25 men in total, Keith Cheeseman was the only man that was successfully convicted after admitted conspiracy to sell more than £372m in stolen securities, including the proceeds of the bond robbery.
Cheeseman was sentenced to six-and-a-half-years in jail for his part in the robbery.
Four other people had been charged in the UK with handling the stolen bonds, but were all acquitted after what The Guardian describes as “the highly unusual step […] taken at the opening of their 1991 trials to offer no evidence.”
And that is the case of the death of Patrick Thomas.
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