Unsolved Murders

Martial Lechevalier

Age: 27

Sex: male

Date: 27 Jun 1924

Place: Air Street, Piccadilly, London

Martial Lechevalier died after his throat was cut by an unknown man at the back of the Regent Palace Hotel around 11pm on 27 June 1924.

Martial Lechevalier had been a young French acrobat. He was found collapsed in Air Street, a few yards from Piccadilly circus with a wound to his throat on the Saturday morning.

He had come to England in February 1924.

He had been out drinking with several people beforehand, one of whom went to France shortly after and who against suspicions lay. however, there was no proof against him or anyone else.

The people involved with the events leading up to his death were:

  1. Other Frenchman. Was said to have spoken of the murder before all the details were known and to have then taken a large sum of money out of his bank and gone to France. He had been out with Martial Lechevalier earlier on the night he was murdered. He had lived at 48 Torrington Square.
  2. Woman that had lived at 106 Whitfield Street that had initially denied that she had seen the Other Frenchman.
  3. Traveller. Had lived at 41 Grafton Street and had been out with Martial Lechevalier earlier on the night he was murdered and saw the 'little man', strike Martial Lechevalier.
  4. Martial Lechevalier's Friend, who had also been out with Martial Lechevalier earlier on the night he was murdered. He was awoken at 2am by the Other Frenchman who said that he asked for the address of the Traveller.
  5. 'The little man', was said to have been the man that killed Martial Lechevalier, however, no one knew who he was and it was said that they had only met him an hour and a half earlier.

Shortly after his death the police said that they had been desirous of tracing another French man in connection with the incident, that being the Other Frenchman. The French man was said to have been in the company of Martial Lechevalier on the night of the tragedy and to have left his address at 48 Torrington Square at about 2.30am on 30 June 1924. He had also been driven, accompanied by another man, to 15 Gerrard Street at about 2.15am on 28 June 1924 in a taxicab. They were said to have then both been driven away in the same taxi with the Frenchman being driven to 56 St Martin's Lane in the early hours of 28 June.

Scotland Yard added that they were also anxious for the taxi-driver to communicate with them.

The Other Frenchman later came forward and gave evidence at the inquest in September 1924, having returned from France for that purpose.

The inquest heard that a 'little man' had dealt the blow, but that his name was not known.

Another Frenchman, Martial Lechevalier's Friend, said that he had been out with Martial Lechevalier and two other men, the Traveller and the Other Frenchman, on the night of 27 June 1924 and that they had had some drinks but had not been drunk. He said that he was then awoken at about 2am by the Other Frenchman who asked him the address of the Traveller and that when he asked him why he wanted that information at such an early hour, the Other Frenchman  said that 'the 'young ones' had had a fight.

Martial Lechevalier's Friend said that whilst in a public house that Martial Lechevalier had talked about a man that he meant to fight that night, but said that he told him not to be silly.

The Traveller, who had lived at 41 Grafton Street, said that he had been with the two other men at the Cock public house at the corner of Old Compton Street in Charing Cross Road and that Martial Lechevalier and another two Frenchmen had also been there. He noted that the other Frenchmen that had been with the first group didn't have a quarrel with Martial Lechevalier that night and went off with the others later on, and that he, Martial Lechevalier and a 'little fellow', went up Shaftesbury Avenue.

He said that when they were in Upper Rupert Street, that the 'little fellow', who had been walking behind with Martial Lechevalier, said to him:

He has got on my nerves with his language.

And that a little later the 'little man' struck Martial Lechevalier across the mouth and made his lip bleed. The traveller said that he suggested that they should make it up with a drink, and they quietened.

However, he said that when they turned up Little Pulteney Street he left Martial Lechevalier and the 'little man' for a minute and that on his way to join them again, he saw the 'little man' raise his hand with a knife or a razor in it and draw it swiftly across Martial Lechevalier's neck after which the 'little man' ran off round the corner.

He said that Martial Lechevalier then got out his handkerchief and out it to his neck and that he then arrived at the spot and that Martial Lechevalier said:

Oh, take me to the hospital.

However, he said that he then took three deep breaths whilst lying on the ground and that he waited with him until the police arrived.

The Traveller said that the Other Frenchman later came to his flat at 41 Grafton Street and a woman let him in. he said that he told him that he had come on behalf of the 'little one' and that he asked him how the 'little one' knew and that the other Frenchman replied that the 'Little one' had said that he was sorry to have left the traveller in such a predicament. He said that the 'little one' told him that Martial Lechevalier had struck him a blow to the face and that he had given him a good cut.

When the traveller was asked to describe the 'little man', he said that he had been a few inches smaller than he was, rather fat, with a round face, and had had a broken nose. He said that his complexion was somewhat yellow and that he had been wearing a brown suit and soft hat. He noted that although he had been in their company for about an hour and a half, his name had not been mentioned.

A charwoman that had worked for a woman that had lived in Whitfield Street, said that she knew the other Frenchman, stating that he had lived with the woman that she worked for and had seen him there on 29 and 30 June 1924.

The woman that had lived in Whitfield Street said that she had married in January 1924, but that she didn't at that time know where her husband was. She denied that it had been a marriage so that she could call herself an English woman or that she had paid the man anything to marry her.

When the woman was handed a photo of the Other Frenchman she said that she didn't know who it was. The Coroner then asked whether she was sure of that and she said that she didn't recognise him. When she was asked whether she knew what perjury was, she said 'Yes'.

The Coroner then read out the evidence of the previous witnesses, and whilst he did so, the woman looked around the court, whereupon the Coroner remarked:

Are you listening? This is a serious matter.

After reading all the evidence out, the Coroner again asked the woman:

Do you still say you do not know the Other Frenchman?

And the woman said that she didn't, and when asked to explain the char-woman's evidence, she suggested that perhaps it was wickedness.

The Coroner then told her that the less she said about that the better. He then noted that they would have to get hold of the Other Frenchman, who he noted was apparently in France.

In his statement to the police, the Other Frenchman accounted for his movements between 11pm and midnight on 27 June 1924 by saying that he had arrived at 48 Torrington Square about 11pm and enquired for the landlord, but found he was absent and instead saw the landlord's wife. He said that after that that he went out to try and find the landlord, and that after walking through various streets, he bought a paper at the corner of Charing Cross Road and Old Compton Street at about midnight and then returned to Tottenham Court Road and entered a tea-shop in Howland Street.

He said that in the cafe he saw a man that he supposed was English, who he didn't know, who said to him, 'Your friend', and then made a motion with his hand across his throat. He said that he then met another man who he believed to have been Italian, and whose name and address  he also didn't know, who interpreted for him and the Englishman.

He said that he had gone to France to collect his pension and had attended the pension office on 1 July 1924 and since collected two quarters, however, that was not verified.

The police stated that his statements were looked into and it was found that the Other Frenchman, who was well known in the cafe at Old Compton Street, didn't call as he stated, and that the proprietress had no knowledge of him and that further, her restaurant had not been open on 27 June 1924 and didn't open until 1 July 1924. It was noted that the Other Frenchman later amended his statement to say that it was another cafe he had gone to.

The police noted that a Swiss man also gave evidence, that along with the evidence of the proprietress of Pen's Restaurant and a cabman, didn't corroborate the Other Frenchman's story. It was noted that the Swiss man undoubtedly knew the Other Frenchman and his associates, which included a small Frenchman called, 'The little one', who it was noted had been referred to by the Traveller as the actual assailant. He had said that the man he knew as 'The little one' had called at the cafe in the early morning and told him he was off to France, and that after that, he was not seen again. It was further noted that most of the Other Frenchman's associates had also disappeared.

It was noted that the Swiss man willingly informed the police of what he knew, but that he obviously feared violence at the hands of the Frenchmen should they learn of his actions in disclosing those particulars.

The police noted that during their investigation, that many of the people they spoke to had expressed their fear of the gang of French men that the Other Frenchman, Lechevalier's Friend, the Traveller and other French men made up, and that whilst they had been willing to assist the police, that they had laboured under the fear that their names would in some way be disclosed in connection with the affair and that reprisals might occur.

When the inquest later resumed in September 1924, the Other Frenchman, having returned from France, gave evidence, stating that he had been out drinking on the night of the murder with Martial Lechevalier and some others and that Martial Lechevalier had appeared very nervous.

He said that later on, when coming out of a cafe, that he met a man who made a gesture like that of cutting his throat, and said in English:

Your friend, your friend!

And that he was informed of the murder.

The woman that had lived at 106 Whitfield Street that  had denied knowing the Other Frenchman, changed her story at the later hearing and admitted that he had stayed at her house on the two nights after the murder, and said she had initially lied to the police because she thought she would be left in peace if she did so and that she didn't understand the law on the matter.

When the inquest concluded on 18 September 1924, a verdict of Murder against some person unknown was returned.

It was noted that the Other Frenchman’s story far from satisfied the Coroner.

The Coroner said:

This is as far as we can go with this case. We have sat altogether five times, from 1 July until 18 September 1924, to try to get to the bottom of this matter. The police have made every possible enquiry and we have succeeded in having the Other Frenchman before us and you have heard his evidence. You have heard the evidence of Lechevalier's two other friends and the woman. They are full of inconsistencies and contain, I have no doubt, a good many lies. The case is altogether an extremely unsatisfactory one. One cannot decide a case of murder on mere suspicion and surmise. It must be decided on evidence and in spite of every effort, it must be candidly admitted that we have failed to get that evidence.

The only direct evidence is that of the Traveller and, according to him, the deceased’s throat was cut somewhere about 11pm on 27 June, with a razor by a man unknown just at the back of the Regent Palace Hotel, in those rather dark streets and that, after the fatal blow with the razor, the unknown man ran away.

It is true that the conduct of the Other Frenchman, after the murder, is highly suspicious. There is his sudden assumption, according to his own story, that passing a stranger in the street at 11.30pm, he was told of a Frenchman whose throat had been cut, the sudden assumption that it was Lechevalier. Why he should immediately assume that if he had no knowledge is not easy to see. His conduct afterwards was peculiar for he went to the Travellers at 8am and insisted on seeing him and there is a serious conflict of evidence between these two people as to what took place.

He first went to Martial Lechevalier's friends house and knocked him up and according to the friend's first statement to the police, when the Other Frenchman called upon him. The Other Frenchman knew of the murder and knew it was Lechevalier and gave details and spoke of the unknown man having come to his place. The Other Frenchman denies that, but the Traveller's evidence supports it as, according to that, the Other Frenchman knew all about the murder and spoke about 'Biel' and 'The little one', (who may be the real person), having given the deceased man the fatal cut.

So in the view of the statement of Martial Lechevalier's Friend, and the evidence of the Traveller as to the knowledge the Other Frenchman had of the murder at 2am, it would seem that the Other Frenchman is an object of suspicion, that he knows more than he is telling us here today and how can it be maintained that his conduct was satisfactory? After he saw that Lechevalier's throat had been cut he should have gone to the police, instead, it is said that he went home.

He denied that he went to his room or that he had a razor such as was used. He said he went out for a walk and to meet the woman. There was no tea shop open in Howland Street on that day, now he says it was Tottenham Court Road nearby.

He never knew the Italian, only by sight, yet the Italian went with him to both places, Lechevalier's friend's and the Traveller's. Who was that Italian? He may be, 'The little one'. We have no evidence.

He spent the next two nights with the woman, a prostitute, then goes to the bank, draws out a large sum of money and goes over to France. Then, having seen the brother of Lechevalier, he goes to a solicitor in Paris and directs that a letter be sent to us with his account of the affair. This is an unsatisfactory sort of story, but one on which no charge can be formed either direct or of being of assistance to a murderer after a murder had been committed.

We know of no one else who can be called and I can only direct you that in the view of the absence of evidence and the enquiries which have been made and that the police wish the inquest not to adjourn any longer, as they can pursue their enquiries, there only remains to record the verdict saying that this is a case of murder and that it was committed by some person unknown.

It was also stated that the police were preparing a report for the Director of Public Prosecutions, but no charges were made.

The Regent Palace Hotel had been at 10 Glasshouse Street, close to Piccadilly Circus.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

see National Archives - MEPO 3/1606

see Wikipedia

see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Tuesday 22 July 1924

see Western Daily Press - Wednesday 02 July 1924

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Friday 15 August 1924

see Daily Herald - Friday 19 September 1924