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1. AM Wake Up

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2. Black Hand: The London Night Club Trap

In the previous instalment of this series, we examined the tragic death of Esmeralda Gullan, the founder of Esmeralda's Barn, a night club located in an affluent part of London's West End. However, Esmeralda was not the only female night club owner or hostess to be found dead or dying during this period. In fact, as we are about to discover, she was just one of a collection of inter-connected women who were involved in night club management and whose deaths were ruled as accidental or as suicides around the same time.

A Death on Baker Street

Barbara Knox-Marsh (sometimes written as Knox-Marshe) was born Winifred Barbara Littler on the 4 February 1928; but by the 1950s. she had started using her stage name for everything. Her mother, Margaret W. Jackson, never got the pleasure of seeing her daughter grow up as she died just a year after her birth, in 1929. Barbara had been described as an "angel" in a Daily Mirror article in 1951. On that occasion, at the tender age of 23 years-old, Knox-Marsh had reportedly backed a play called "My Wife's Lodger" which was due to run at London's Comedy Theatre. She paid £1000 to become a backer of the play which was deemed by all the critics as a farce and a sure loser, but soon Barbara's picture appeared in the newspaper with the subtitle: "Barbara Knox-Marshe – girl who backed a winner." Indeed, the stage show may have been a veritable flop when in the theatre, with one of the backers forced to sell his car to raise the funds to keep the project afloat, but the gamble eventually paid off for all the investors, as Alan Fairclough reported in his Daily Mirror piece: "This week came the little bit of heaven. The film rights of the play that everybody scoffed at have been sold."

Barbara Knox Marsh was living the "gay life" according to an article from 17 May 1956, published in the Daily Herald. "Dancing in Mayfair… music at midnight… drinks at dawn. The day was not long enough for Barbara Knox Marsh," read the reports. The establishment in Mayfair's Berkeley Street, where Barbara spent the majority of her time, had originally opened in November 1954 under the name "The Stratton Club." By May 1955, the club had begun to get a bad reputation after it was found to be "selling intoxicating liquor during other than permitted hours, and for selling without a licence" as the Westminster & Pimlico News reported on 27 May 1955. The owners were given a summons to "show cause why the club should not be struck off" with the case being adjourned for six months. By December 1955, the owners had failed to show cause and the club was officially struck-off and removed from the official register of businesses.

Yet, the club didn't actually close and, the following April, Chief Inspector Edmund King went to the premises, supposedly to return property, only to find it openly doing business and being run as the "Blue Angel Club". He described people dancing and drinking at the bar when he arrived and soon the club's manager, Cyril Phillips, along with two other men were hauled in front of a judge and fined £10 for their offences. Even though there was no mention of Barbara Knox-Marsh in relation to the Blue Angel in the April 1956 Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser article, which reported the court case, she was named as the owner of the establishment in multiple reports the following month. Unfortunately for Barbara Knox-Marsh, those articles reported the news of her death.

Barbara Knox Marsh, Daily Mirror, 14 May 1956

Like Esme Gullan, Barbara Knox-Marsh was found dying in her flat on Baker Street, only to be pronounced dead later at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington. At first, her death was attributed to an overdose of sleeping pills, but this initial theory quickly changed, and soon became a very peculiar story of bizarre and unlikely happenstance. A Daily Mirror piece published on Monday 14 May 1956 reported that the police had discovered Miss Knox-Marsh's unconscious body on the Saturday before the article went to print. They had been summoned to her residence by what the article calls "a man friend" of Knox-Marsh. She was found sitting in a chair dressed in a black evening gown and nearby was a bottle which contained sleeping tablets which the detectives quickly bagged-up as evidence. 

The suspicious and untimely death of Barbara seemed like an open and shut case to the investigators in charge. This was mainly due to rumours of her apparent previous suicide attempt, even though her aforementioned aunt, Mrs. Noreen Lewis, who was by then living in Muswell Hill, told the coroner at her inquest that: "I do not think she would ever attempt to take her own life. She loved life too much." Although she had made that statement, Mrs Lewis went on to tell the coroner that: "She was a girl inclined to dramatise. I am sure she did it thinking someone would come at the last minute to save her." The coroner, Mr. W. Bentley Purchase, stated clearly: "There is no evidence before me to justify a verdict of suicide." He eventually recorded a verdict of accidental death, but the actual circumstances surrounding Knox-Marsh's death were frankly ridiculous.

Just before Knox-Marsh died, the Blue Angel had reportedly been under negotiations for a change in ownership. She had been staying with an accountant named James McBurnie during the weeks leading up to her tragic death. She had been lodging at his flat, even though Barbara also had her own flat in Southwold Mansions in Maida Vale. McBurnie told the St. Pancras coroner that he had gone to bed at around 11pm on the night of her death and woke up around 5am to discover her on the sitting-room floor with a "standard lamp lying near by", to quote a Leicester Evening Mail article from 16 May 1956. This latter description of how her body was found also contradicts the initial reports of how her body had been discovered seated in a chair. Dr. F. E. Camps, a pathologist giving evidence to the coroner, stated that he had found about "10 grains of Seconal" in her body which he recorded as being a high dose, "but not necessarily a lethal one on ordinary circumstances."

A Marylebone Mercury article on 18 May 1956 also noted: "She [Barbara Knox-Marsh] had been friendly with Esme Noel-Smith [i.e. Esme Gullan], Knightsbridge club owner found gassed last year, and also Linda Justice, club hostess who died from too many sleeping tablets on May 5." A week after the latter Marylebone Mercury article, the same publication produced a fuller account of how Barbara Knox-Marsh had eventually met her tragic end.

On Friday 25 May 1956, the paper reported that: "Pathologist Dr. F. E. Camps said she had had bruises in keeping with striking something. She had marks on her wrist and neck where she had become entangled with the cord of the fallen lamp standard. These had given her respiratory embarrassment which might have contributed to her death; the main cause of which had been an overdose of Seconal. She had taken 10 grains which was a high dose, but not necessarily a lethal one."

The coroner asked Mr. Camps: "It is not a large dose?" to which the pathologist stated: "No." He also stated that there was nothing to suggest violence at all, seemingly ignoring his own evidence of "bruises in keeping with striking something," and "marks on her wrists and neck." Instead, Camps posited that Knox-Marsh had come back to the flat, taken sleeping tablets, fallen down, where the cord for the standard lamp had become wrapped around her neck. He admitted that the lamp cord had by no means asphyxiated her, and he also gave evidence stating that the overdose hadn't been enough to kill her. Despite that, he concluded that the combination of the two had led to Knox-Marsh's supposedly accidental death. The coroner stated his conclusion: "She might have slipped from the chair and got into an awkward position. There is no evidence to suggest suicide. Life up to now had been one of excitement and pleasure rather than depression leading to suicide."

One of the men in charge of Barbara's Blue Angel night club during this period was named Max Setty. He was an extremely intriguing character who came from an even more intriguing family. He was from an Iraqi family of Sephardic Jews who moved to Britain when Max and his siblings were very young. He had one sister named Eva Setty and two brothers; Jack and Stanley, with the latter being of great interest. Stanley Setty had been a car dealer and money lender less than a decade before the death of Barbara Knox-Marsh. He was also known for smuggling weapons into Palestine by using cars bought on the continental European mainland. In 1949, Stanley Setty was decapitated and had his legs chopped off in a grizzly murder, with three packages containing his head, his legs, and his torso—with his hands still tied behind his back—soon thrown from a plane into the sea, but that is a story for another occasion.

Max Setty was also once a car dealer, working alongside his unfortunate brother Stanley in various garages in London; however, in 1956 Max was officially working as the catering manager at Barbara Knox-Marsh's Blue Angel. He continued to work as a manager at the club into the 1960s. When Barbara died, Max Setty said of her: "She was always happy. She wanted to stay up all night, play the gramophone, talk to people and drink."

Why Barbara decided to give up her interest in the Blue Angel just before her death is unclear. Despite her decision to divest, she hadn't fallen out of favour with the London night-spot. A Daily Mirror article from Thursday 17 May 1956 reported on her last hours, stating: "Last night at the Blue Angel, where Barbara went as a member after giving up her interest, they recalled that Friday night she sat in a softly-lit alcove drinking lime and ginger ale." It certainly didn't seem, from eyewitness accounts of that fateful evening, that Barbara was in any way suicidal. The latter article, entitled: "Blue Angel Girl's Last Hours" also states: "The band was playing 'Memories Are Made Of This.' When the music switched to 'Are You Satisfied?' she got up to dance. Afterwards she threw a coin in the fountain pool over which a grey-blue plaster angel stands guard, and left, with a wave and a 'See you tomorrow' to her friends."

Ruth Ellis, Linda Justice, Pamela Gale and Janet Curtis-Bennett

Esme Gullan and Barbara Knox Marsh weren't the only women who had tragically lost their lives while running elite London night clubs during this period. The infamous Ruth Ellis was managing the Little Club when she shot and killed her lover David Blakely, a crime for which she received the death penalty. A colleague of hers, Linda Justice, had been made a hostess at only seventeen years old, after Ruth Ellis introduced her to the London night club scene by employing her at The Little Club. Ellis had been managing the club for its owner Morris Conley. By 13 May 1956, Linda, who also went by the name Gladys Linda Justice, was the registered proprietor of two companies; Justice Trading Co. and Justice Toffees, companies which she had formed with the help of a television actor named Alfred "Man Mountain" Dean. Those businesses had been registered to an address at 395 Oxford Street in London, which was a block of flats where Ruth Ellis had also lived. At the age of twenty five, Linda Justice's apparent suicide was reported in The People newspaper, with the uncredited report stating that Justice had killed herself with an overdose of sleeping pills. She was found surrounded by empty bottles, fully clothed, in her darkened bedroom.

Linda had reportedly been a "mousey-haired elementary schoolgirl" when she had left her Peckham home to work for Ruth Ellis in an effort to "pep-up life" at the Little Club in Knightsbridge. Yet, by the time she died, her childhood hopes and dreams had come to an end in many ways. Justice had taken on Ruth Ellis' job at the Little Club after her friend and mentor had become the last woman to be hanged in Britain around ten months before. Then, Justice had got herself into debt with creditors who were hounding her for the money she owed. She was also said to have been trapped into an abusive relationship. In an article dated 6 May 1956, a friend of Justice is quoted as saying: "She had been very depressed and drinking heavily. She had a violent row with a man she loved. For a time she talked about 'Doing a Ruth Ellis.' Then she quietened down and found her comfort in a glass. Perhaps that brought the end." Linda Justice was known for being eager to excite and eager for excitement herself, at least when she was at the clubs she ran. But in reality, she was secretive and kept her personal address and phone number out of the official directories.

Ruth Ellis' protege Linda Justice, The Weekly Dispatch (London), 6 May 1956

When Justice was approaching the end of her life, she was notably less happy and had developed a heavy drinking problem. Three months before her death, Justice stopped working and eventually found a place to stay with her friend, Mrs. Kathleen Rhodes, at a flat in Kensington. Near the end of her life, a man who lived opposite Justice, Mr. Harold Flavell, said: "She seemed very lonely. If you passed the place at any hour of the day you would hear gramophone records being played."

Even though Linda Justice's death was probably a suicide, a lot of women linked to the night clubs of London's high society were dying in relatively quick succession. Esmeralda Noel-Smith had died in March 1955, Ruth Ellis had been hanged on 13 July 1955, Linda's friend—an ex-show girl, Janet Curtis-Bennett—was found dead at the home she shared with her Q.C. husband four days before Justice's body was found. A few days later, Barbara Knox Marsh was also found dead. There was something very peculiar happening on the upper-class London night club scene.

The aforementioned friend of Linda Justice, Janet Curtis-Bennett, had also reportedly died of an overdose of sleeping drugs. She was found cuddled up to her pet kitten, Tiddly-winks, and, the previous August, she had just become the second wife of a famous murder trial Q.C. [Queens Council], Derek Curtis-Bennett. Janet had formerly been a singer who had gone by the stage name Christine Lane.

The Home Office pathologist who examined Curtis-Bennett's body was Dr. Donald Teare, whose name will come up again shortly. On Monday 14 May 1956, the Belfast Telegraph reported on the inquest verdict which examined the evidence surrounding the untimely death of Janet Curtis-Bennett, stating: "A verdict that she 'died from barbituric poisoning, self-administered, and that she so killed herself,' was recorded at the inquest today of Mrs. Janet Farquhar Curtis-Bennett." The coroner, Mr. G. L. B. Thruston, said: "We have heard evidence which has been conflicting to suggest that she may not have been entirely happy, but I would like to make it quite empathic that apart from indicating the state of mind, it is not the function of this court to inquire into things of that nature." A few months later, her husband was also found dead with another inquest verdict stating that: "Mr. Frederick Henry (Derek) Curtis-Bennett, Q.C., died of alcoholism was recorded at the Hammersmith, London, inquest today." Again, Mr. G. L. B. Thruston was the coroner and Dr. Donald Teare acted as the pathologist.

Janet Curtis Bennett and her husband, Daily Mirror, 11 May 1956
The Night Club Trap

It is certainly odd that Barbara Knox-Marsh, Ruth Ellis, Esmeralda Gullan, Linda Justice and Janet Curtis-Bennett all died during this same, brief period. However, the body count in London's night club scene during this time was higher still, as other night club girls died under tragic circumstances. On 18 September 1956, it was reported that another night club hostess had been found dead in a gas-filled flat. Pamela Gale's dead body was found in her Pimlico flat in St. George's Square and, in this case, two letters were found by her corpse, one of which was addressed to her father who was described in a Daily Herald article as an "Admiralty messenger."

Police were at odds when it came to solving the death of Pamela Gale as she was again described in news reports as being a "gay, happy girl" with a friend of hers being quoted as saying: "Her only interest was to get as much out of life as possible. She lived for the pleasure that sort of life could give. She was very happy." Pamela was described in the aforementioned article as: "Dancing till dawn as a hostess in West End drinking clubs," with one unnamed friend being quoted as saying: "She was the gayest of us all."

Pamela Gale, Daily Mirror, 9 Aug 1956

An inquest heard that Pamela had apparently made sure that her two pet budgies had not died with her, with the birds being found in the kitchen by the man who had reportedly tried to save her. Hiroyoshi Matsuda, described as an American citizen, had told the inquest that he had known the 23 year-old night club hostess for about two months and had being staying with her in her flat. Intriguingly, Matsuda suggests that another unnamed person was with them and stated: "Three of us spent Sunday afternoon drinking," going on to say: "I thought the gin was getting hold of me and went to bed. It was about 6pm. Round about 11pm I woke up and thought I smelled gas. The living-room door was locked so I climbed through the window, along a drainpipe, and broke into the living-room through the window." Matsuda went on to tell the inquest: "Miss Gale was laying on the floor."

The police were called and the officer who arrived on the scene, Police Inspector Adams, found Gale's body next to an almost empty pint bottle of gin, alongside two notes, one of which was addressed to "My dear father" while the other was addressed to "Penny". A further article, which was published in the Westminster & Pimlico News on 21 September 1956, described Gale as someone who suffered from mood-swings and depression. The coroner recorded a verdict that Gale had died from carbon monoxide poisoning and that the two notes had shown that Gale had intended to end her own life.

A couple of days after the inquest into Pamela Gale had ruled her death to be a suicide, an article in The People newspaper, entitled: "The Night Club Trap", painted a night club hostess's job as a picture of debauchery and desperation. The piece, written by Charles Manifold, claimed that four out of five night clubs in London paid their hostesses nothing at all and that the girls were supposed to earn their livings on tips from customers alone. Manifold claims in this supposed expose that: "There are from 10 to 20 of these girls, chosen by management for their good looks and their easy way with men," with the author going on to state that they are: "chosen because in conversation they have disclosed that they have a light-hearted view on virtue."

Alongside the article were pictures of three girls with an accompanying narrative which stated: "All three of these night-club hostesses met sordid ends. Pamela Gale, Helen Carlin and Esme Noel Smith. Now read about their lives." But there was no prior suggestion that Esmeralda Gullan (who also went by her married name Noel-Smith) was living a sordid life, or that she was a simple night club hostess, a fact which did not seem important to Mr. Manifold's agenda.

The previously mentioned Helen Carlin, who was also referred to as "Red Helen" Carlin, seems to have been included by Manifold to spice up his articles narrative of debauchery. However, Helen Carlin was a known prostitute who had been murdered in 1954 by strangulation with her own stockings. It was believed that Carlin was murdered by a serial killer named Peter Manuel who admitted killing Carlin just before he was hanged for seven other murders to which he'd already confessed his guilt. Helen Carlin is not noted anywhere as having been a night club hostess.

Prelude to a Gangland Takeover

This string of suspicious tragedies were all to be categorised as accidental deaths or suicides and many required significant evidence to be overlooked or misinterpreted for such verdicts to be reached. But what was about to happen within the associated night clubs suggested that some very sinister people were aggressively taking control of these establishments.

Esme Gullan had apparently died by accidental gassing due to blowback putting out the flame of her gas fire, but in reality there had been a "leak" in the tube which led from the gas tank to the fire and the flame had still been lit when her body was discovered. She had also moved bedrooms without any apparent explanation as to how or why. Barbara Knox-Marsh had fallen after taking a non-lethal overdose and gently strangled herself, even though neither of those events could have killed her. As noted above, Knox-Marsh had supposedly become awkwardly wrapped up in a standard lamp cord after falling, yet the inquest evidence repeatedly stated that her dead body had been found seated in a chair. Ruth Ellis, Pamela Gale, Linda Justice, and Janet Curtis-Bennett had all died in tragic circumstances and each of those cases had left a slew of unanswered questions. With a litany of suspicious deaths as a backdrop, things in the London night club scene would only get stranger.

In the next article in this series, we will meet some of the most peculiar characters so far, two of those being Horace "Hod" Dibben and his teenage ward, Patsy Morgan-Dibben. While Esmeralda Gullan, Barbara Knox-Marsh, Linda Justice, Pamela Gale, Janet Curtis-Bennett and Ruth Ellis were all dying in quick succession, Patsy and Horace were taking charge of Esmeralda's Barn and opening Esme's old night club to the London underworld. Horace Dibben, a self-proclaimed Satanist who regularly organised elite sex parties for the rich and famous, was about to lose everything, as his ward, Patsy Morgan-Dibben, was reportedly taken by "the devil himself." Was she just another girl lost to the deadly night club trap?

Black Hand: The London Night Club Trap.

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4. The Kim Iversen Show

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5. Radical w/Maajid Nawaz

Whitney joined Maajid Nawaz to discuss the historic ties that bind the globalist technocrats within the Western intelligence community to Nazis, organised crime, eugenics and transhumanism. Available on Odysee.

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6. The Convo Couch

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7. Jeremy Farrar and the WHO with Johnny Vedmore

In this episode, Whitney talks to Johnny Vedmore about the imminent appointment of former Wellcome Trust head Jeremy Farrar to be the World Health Organization's Chief Scientist and how it relates to the WHO's attempts to obtain new powers through a secretive regulation amendment process.

Originally published 01/17/23.

Show notes

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Jeremy Farrar and the WHO with Johnny Vedmore.

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8. Black Hand: A Song for Esmeralda

Esmeralda Gullan, also known as Esmeralda Noel Smith, was a talented young starlet who was beginning to become famous before the outbreak of World War II. After the war, she became a strong and powerful business woman and, by 1955, Esme had created four unique establishments in and around Knightsbridge, Mayfair, and Belgravia including the notoriousLondon night club, Esmeralda's Barn. However, Esme Gullan's life soon came to a tragic end. After her death, her beloved Esmeralda's Barn would fall into the hands of such infamous London gangsters as the Kray twins and Billy Hill via a self-confessed Satanist named Horace Dibben. The latter was the intelligence-linked husband of Mariella Novotny, who played a central role in the Profumo Affair, leading to the downfall of the British government and the alleged blackmail of then-president-elect John F. Kennedy. Song for Esmeralda is the first instalment of a multi-part series that uncovers the deeper, previously unreported stories that go both behind and beyond the Profumo Affair.

The Queen of Night Clubs

Esme Gullan was born in Belfast around 1911 to her father, Hector F. Gullan, from Swansea, Wales, and her Chilean mother, Laura Beatriz Freeman Gullan (born Peyne Silva). For some unexplained reason, Esme Gullan, most likely born Mary Esmeralda Peyne Silva Freeman Gullan, is not included on many of the family tree records online which cover the Freeman Gullan ancestry. Regardless, it appears that Esme Gullan grew up with the family unit in Belfast, where her father was the Assistant City Surveyor of the ever growing capital city of Northern Ireland. Esme had at least three siblings; her sister, Rhona Beatriz Peyne Silva Freeman Gullan, her older brother, Hector Wilson Peyne Silva Freeman Gullan, as well as Archibald Gordon Peyne Silva Freeman Gullan, with the latter going on to be a honours graduate at Queen's University and who would later become Chief Superintendent Director of Works at the Air Ministry.

A photograph of Esme Gullan (under her married name) that appeared in a 1942 article published in the Calgary Herald.

Esme attended Ashleigh House School in Greater Belfast and was recorded in the local papers as competing in various school writing and drama competitions, with the plucky young lady coming in 1st or 2nd in her age category and seeming to excel specifically in the performative arts from a very early age. Indeed, Esme had been heading towards the stage almost from the day she was born and she took her first tentative steps into show business as a teenager, making appearances at both the Gate Theatre in Dublin and the Abbey Theatre in Belfast. She won the juvenile lead in Ashley Duke's "The Man With the Load of Mischief" at the Abbey theatre and soon went to Dublin to capitalise on her initial success.

Her interview at the Gate theatre in Ireland's capital is recounted in a later newspaper article, where Esme recalls insisting that the manager of the theatre hear her "in a piece that I have learned up." However, Esme's family were not so keen on her career path and had demanded that she study "domestic economy" and to "stop her nonsense" about the stage. It's for this reason that, when Esme was 17 years-old, she ran away from home—which may explain her omission from the majority of Freeman Gullan family records—and she arrived in London as a penniless young stage actor.

She soon found work as a hostess in a West End hotel, where she was provided meals during working hours and paid £5 a week. Soon after, Esme took an opportunity to model swimsuits and eventually became what one Sunday Mirror article describes as "the toast of London" with that same article also noting that, "Millionaires offered her marriage." Esmeralda had always felt she was destined for great things and she had been determined to succeed from the moment she left her homeland in Northern Ireland for the big city of London.

Esme already had some relatively famous cousins working within show business. One of her cousins was Marjorie Gullan, who was at this time a very well-known vocal coach and director of the School of Speech in London. Another of her cousins was Campbell Gullan, an actor and producer who appeared in some very interesting movies, one film in particular which was created to counter Nazi propaganda before the war with strange consequences. Jew Süss is a 1934 British philo-semitic film following the romance of Joseph Süß Oppenheimer, a real life German Jewish banker and court Jew from the 18th century. The film, created to counter rising Nazi propaganda about Jewish people, saw Campbell Gullan play the Prince of Thurn and Taxi in a picture which was described by the Times correspondent as "indistinct". In 1940, Goebbels's had Terra Film produce another version of Oppenheimer's life story, entitled Jud Süß, which is now often referred to as one of the most anti-semitic films of all time.

In 1938, Esme Gullan stood on a West End stage for the first time as the juvenile lead in Moonshine at the Ambassador Theatre. In the following months and years, she appeared in multiple stage productions and also made her on-screen debut leading up to the war. Her pre-war films included an early Charles Laughton film, a small part in the screen adaptation of Pygmalion, and an appearance in a version of Don Juan. By this time, Esme had met her future husband, who was a RAF Flight Lieutenant named Ronald Noel-Smith and, even though she would be offered a role in the 1939 autumn West End production of Juno and the Paycock, she was persuaded by the outbreak of World War II to get married earlier than expected.

An announcement in the Northern Whig newspaper on 30 September 1939, entitled, "Belfast Bride in Leeds" reported that: "Though she has been living mainly in London during recent years she has not lost touch with her friends at home." Various newspapers at the time reported the marriage of this up-and-coming sweetheart of the stage to this proud serviceman. It was also widely reported that Esme had decided to leave the theatre behind her so as to settle down to married life. By 1942, Wing Commander Ronald Noel Smith had been made the commanding officer at the RAF station at De Winton, Alberta, Canada.

During a wartime visit to her husband, Esme was recorded in the Calgary Herald newspaper discussing make up rations, dining-out in wartime London, her stage appearances in the Ambassador's Theatre and other West End venues, as well as her radio work. Described in the latter article as an "attractive girl" with "golden-pink skin, gold-brown wavy hair, and wide-set blue eyes", the newly married Esmeralda Noel-Smith had begun her war years training as an ambulance driver but was soon hunted down to be part of the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), an organisation established in 1939 by Basil Dean and Leslie Henson to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel during WWII. Esme had returned to treading the boards, entertaining the troops, and hobnobbing with various other stars of the stage and screen who were also part of the ENSA.

As the war ended, Esme and her rather underwhelming husband Ronald were heading towards divorce, and by 1947 Esme Noel Smith made herself a single lady again. As a bachelorette, she went to work building a better life for herself by starting up as an interior decorator, where she began to purchase large London properties and convert them into luxury flats. The investment and hard work soon paid off for Esme, as the London post-war property market was booming and she now had some money to invest in her many other projects. She went on to invest in her first London club alongside three partners, one of them being Elspeth March, the ex-wife of the aforementioned film director Stewart Granger.

This small group would start a "buttery" in Dover Street, Piccadilly, of which Esme eventually became the sole proprietor in early 1952. The Belfast Telegraph described the Dover Buttery House of Esme Gullan in an article dated 29 October 1954, stating: "Its atmosphere is redolent of a Dickensian coaching house with candle light and heavy oak beams, and, being fully licensed till midnight, it caters largely for theatre-goers." Esme Gullan, who regularly used her married name of Esme Noel-Smith while representing the higher class establishments which she ran, was setting her sights on becoming a major name on London's elite night club scene, an accolade which may have eventually been one of the main causes of her untimely demise.

Once Esme's various business enterprises had brought in enough funds, she went on to purchase two little mews cottages off Halkin Street in Belgravia with the intention of converting them into The Montrose Club. When she did, the Montrose Club became rumoured to have the smallest dance-floor in London, famous for its "oyster bar" decorated with sea shells. Esme had personally hunted down two authentic "Neapolitan chefs" from one of the most famous restaurants in Europe at the time, the 'Consone de Marie' in Capri, to make sure that the establishment drew in the elite local clientele and gave a truly authentic experience to her wealthy customers.

Esme was a woman who wanted to create something special and unique with whatever she did. By the beginning of 1954, everything was going Esme Gullan's way, she was planning on opening another buttery in Knightsbridge and even thinking of launching a night club in her home-town of Belfast. She was also preparing to take over the Torch Theatre in Wilton Place which she intended to "run on revue lines with dancing on the stage." Esme was busy creating speciality clubs and dining establishments fit for the wealthiest of London's elite. She was a force to be reckoned with, a true female pioneer whose life would have personified the swinging sixties, if she had managed to live that long. Esme was lively and vivacious, she was protective over her friends and loved ones, and her personality was described during this period as being both tempestuous and courageous.

Esme as pictured in the 1954 Daily Mirror article.

In March 1954, this vibrant and attractive young lady would kick up a storm in Nottingham, England. Described in newspaper reports at the time as "an attractive blonde", Esmeralda was in a Nottingham transport cafe at 1:30am on the night in question, when a Police Sergeant called Frank Taylor entered the premises to speak to her about her vehicle. She was eventually fined £10 for "sounding a horn and parking on the wrong side of the road at night, failing to display a licence, and failing to produce a driving licence and insurance certificate," but not before the trendy strapless dress she was wearing caused a scene. Sergeant Taylor first entered the cafe with the sole intention of reprimanding the club owner for her many vehicle violations but, after taking one look at her attire, he instead began to criticise her provocative look. The strapless cocktail dress in question which Esme had donned that evening wasn't the reason she got in trouble with the law, but it did manage to get her face in the Daily News newspaper based in London, as well as making the pages of the Daily Mirror on the same day, which featured an image of Esme Gullan, or Mrs. Noel-Smith as they refer to her, in the offending strapless number. The latter article, printed on Thursday 11 May 1954, stated that Sergeant Taylor told Mrs. Noel-Smith that her appearance was "not becoming" and that lorry drivers were "watching her and laughing." The Weekly Dispatch newspaper reported in March 1955 that the day after Esmeralda had appeared in the aforementioned newspapers wearing the strapless dress, new menu cards had been printed at one of her restaurants with a picture of her wearing the dress with a note below which read: "The success of the restaurant lies in the personality of charming Esme Noel-Smith. She is a keen sportswoman, a racehorse owner, and a shrewd observer of life."

Around this time, Esme became the part-proprietor of the old Torch Theatre, an establishment in Knightsbridge which was to be renamed "Esmeralda's Barn." The Barn was soon to become one of the most exclusive London haunts for the rich and famous. Within a few years, this venue was also to become a notorious den of villainy, gambling and intelligence operations, but not on Esme's watch. Esmeralda's Barn was to be the centrepiece of her growing list of establishments and she had it decorated with horseshoes and cartwheels, with the walls covered by rustic-looking planks of wood and decorative straw. To design the night club originally, Esmeralda had commissioned Pietro Annigoni, who had painted a recent portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, but after Annigoni completed the work, Esmeralda would, for some undisclosed reason, cover up his designs and, as with everything else in her life, chose to do what she desired instead. She had reportedly met Annigoni while she was holidaying in Italy and he had asked to paint a portrait of her, she instead convinced him to paint the large mural on the wall of Esmeralda's Barn, which he did along with his then student, Timothy Whidborne. The mural would remain covered-up until 1960 when the then manager of Esmeralda's Barn, Stefan de Fay, had it restored.

Pietro Annigoni had been a regular at the Montrose Club with it being reported that the Italian artist had taken time out of painting Queen Elizabeth II to show off his other skills. At Esme's Montrose Club, one evening in December 1954, the actress, Mrs Marjorie Huntingdon Hartford, who went by the stage name Marjorie Steele, and Pietro Annigoni had discovered during a meal that they were both master forgers and went on to show off their illicit skills. Marjorie's husband, who we will cover in detail later-on in this series, wrote down his signature and his wife and Pietro Annigoni both attempted a forgery. When the results were shown to the people at the dinner table, it was reported that no one could decipher which was the genuine signature.

Esme Gullan's Closing Act

Esmeralda was a free spirited trailblazer, a truly positive example for all womankind. She was an independent business woman in one of the most competitive night club scenes in the world at a time when society may not have been ready for such simple advances in gender parity. Less than a year after the beautiful Esmeralda Gullan had appeared in the Daily Mirror wearing her infamous strapless dress, that same photo again appeared in a newspaper. However, this time, printed on the pages of the Sunday Mirror on 20 March 1955, the headline would read: "Queen of Night Clubs Dies." Tom Tullet, the reporter who wrote the article, started by writing, "Beautiful Mrs. Esmeralda Noel-Smith, London's greatest night club queen since Kate Meyrick [the infamous 'nightclub queen' of 1920's Soho] of the "43 Club," died yesterday."

In fact, Esme would be just one of a slew of female nightclub owners and hostesses who'd turn up dead over the following few years, as well as other suspicious disappearances connected with Esmeralda's Barn and other female-run night clubs in the area. The articles reporting her untimely demise described Esme as one of the "gayest of London's socialites" with it being noted that admirers had given her the name the "Green Goddess" due to her green eyes and her "perfect figure." Even though she had only recently started running Esmeralda's Barn at the time of her death, the previously mentioned article reporting her death describes "the Barn" as being her favourite of all the establishments she owned.

Esmeralda's Barn as seen from Wilton Place around 1962. Source: Flashbak

Esmeralda died on 18 March 1955 in a gas-filled room inside her flat in Kinnerton Street, Belgravia. Her death was ruled an accident, as were the majority of the other female nightclub owners and hostesses deaths which occurred over the next few years. The official story was soon reported that the gas fire had been left on in the apartment and "blow back" had extinguished the flame, leaving the room to fill with gas. But, like many of the cases we will examine, this official story, which was widely-reported and had soon become the prevailing narrative, was neither accurate nor factual.

Esme was found alive but unconscious, along with another lady, a 21 year-old club hostess named Valerie Evelyn Fisher who eventually managed to make a full recovery. On Saturday 23 April 1955, the Daily Mirror reported that Esmeralda had left the Montrose Club, in Montrose Place, after the club had closed on 18 February 1955. The article goes on to state that she was later found dying on her "divan" with 21 year-old Valerie Fisher laying beside her, also unconscious. It was reported that Esmeralda regained consciousness for a little while and that she was able to answer simple questions, but the reports state clearly that "she was never able to give an account of what happened."

The Westminster coroner would hear details outlining how Esmeralda and Valerie returned to her flat with two men, where they partied until 4 or 5 am. The Belfast Telegraph reported on 22 April 1955 that Valerie Fisher gave evidence at the inquest about the events of that night, stating: "But then it was too late for me to go home so I decided to stay with Esme." Miss Fisher went on to say: "I went to bed before the party finished. I had a bedroom of my own I had the light on. I remember waking up when Esme came in and said she was going to bed. Her bedroom was next door. I turned the light off and went back to sleep. I don't remember any more after that."

In the same inquest, this depiction of events was soon contradicted by the testimony of Inspector Bruce Dix who had discovered the two women unconscious but still alive. Dix would state that he had found Esme and Valerie lying on the divan bed together, not in separate rooms as Miss Fisher had stated. Dix would also tell the coroner, Mr. H. Neville Stafford, that the portable gas-fire had not gone out due to 'blow-back' but was in actual fact, still alight but not fully burning.

The aforementioned Belfast Telegraph article also reported the testimony of Frederick Smith, described as a "Gas Board research chemist", who said the tube of the portable gas fire had a leak. A Daily Mirror article published on the 23 April 1955 expanded on the statements by Mr Smith, who worked specifically for North Thames Gas Board. He tested the equipment and how it had been installed, claiming that the installation was "sound" but stating that when the tube on the gas fire was in a certain position there was a leak. However, the Mirror article also reported: "Further tests showed that though the room was not well ventilated, the fire burning for up to six hours would not bring about dangerous conditions in the atmosphere. But with even a small leak, the air would be dangerous after a period." Even though the tests by the Gas Board expert had concluded that the fire burning for about six hours wouldn't "bring about dangerous conditions in the atmosphere", no further investigations into the circumstances surrounding the death of Esme Gullan took place.

Curiously, Esme was recorded as leaving a reasonably large sum of money to someone rather unexpected. It was reported in the Daily Herald on 18 May 1955 that: "Mrs. Esmeralda Noel-Smith left £8,535 (£1,952 net) – all to Mr. Hywel Glynne Jones, solicitor, of Wrexham, North Wales." But the article fails to mention that Mr. H Glynne Jones was also the Labour candidate for the West Flintshire division in the General Election. However, a Chelsea News and General Advertiser piece, published on 27 May 1955, explains that: "Mr. Jones' wife was a cousin of Mrs. Noel-Smith," going on to say: "Mr. Jones, who is the executor, has been running the two night clubs, the Montrose and Esmeralda's Barn."

Hywel Glynne Jones was the son of Alderman Cyril O. Jones, a prominent and argumentative solicitor, who had also contested the same parliamentary seat of West Flintshire twice before World War II. In 1955, Cyril Jones refused to take any part in the General Election in which his son was a candidate because the recently installed Postmaster-General, Dr. Charles Hill – who reportedly had "headquarters backing" of both Conservatives and Socialists – threatened to ban all political broadcasting in Wales.

On 17 June 1955, a Westminster & Pilmico News article published a pedantic correction at the bequest of Hywel Glynne Jones, stating: "We have been asked by Mr. H. Glynne Jones to state that it was inaccurate to describe Mrs. Noel-Smith as a night club owner, as her properties, the Montrose and Esmeralda's Barn are members clubs and the Dover Buttery and the Knightsbridge Buttery are catering establishments."

As a political candidate, Hywel Glynne Jones had probably been keen not to become associated with Esmeralda's London night clubs. It was almost impossible to have an establishment in the West End of London during this period without being connected with the elements of organised crime who were running protection racquets targeting such venues. There were rumours that Esmeralda, who was reported as being a "part-proprietor" of Esmeralda's Barn, had to go into business with the mob right from the start. Author Lillian Pizzichini, who I will mention again when closing out this part of the series, claimed that Esmeralda had been running the Barn with a low-level London gangster named Ronnie Dice who ended up owing a debt to the more infamous London gangster of the era, Billy Hill, but there is little evidence to back-up this rumour. Yet, it must be noted that no one was free from the grip of organised crime in the London club scene during much of this period, and only a few years later the infamous Kray twins bought their own stake in Esmeralda's Barn, reportedly from Billy Hill.

The First in a Series of Mysterious Deaths

Esmeralda's story, although filled with intrigue, mystery and contradicting evidence, is just one part of a larger saga. On its own, her life could be seen as an adventure which came to a very tragic end, but when combined with the other parts of this complex tale, Esme's life and death become a grander, more illusive mystery. For Esmeralda Gullan was but one of a series of bizarre, and supposedly accidental, deaths which occurred throughout the London club scene over a very short period. Over the following couple of years many women with significant stakes in London night clubs would turn up dead or go missing, including Barbara Knox Marsh, Linda Justice, Patsy Morgan Dibben, Dorothy Foxon, Janet Curtis Bennett and Pamela Gale, as well as Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain.

Esmeralda's Barn was not just a run-of-the-mill night club in some impoverished part of London. The Barn was located in one of the more affluent parts of the capital and was soon catering to some of the biggest names in British high society. In fact, within a year of Esmeralda Gullan's tragic death, her vibrant club had become a haunt for members of the royal family, gangland criminals, intelligence agents, and the apparent home to a strange Satanic black magic circle which was associated to a peculiar man named Horace "Hod" Dibben. In fact, Esmeralda's Barn would fall into the hands of Horace Dibben within a year of Esme's death, and he would install his "Pygmalion girl" Patsy Morgan Dibben to run the night club.

Horace "Hod" Dibben and Mariella Novotny on their wedding day.

By the turn of the following decade, Esmeralda's Barn became a gambling den of the kind which Esme herself would never have allowed and was part owned by such people as the infamous Kray twins. It would also share significant links to some of the most enthralling espionage scandals of post-war Britain.

One of the saddest parts of Esmeralda's story is that she and her many accomplishments were soon forgotten by those who were writing the history books. In a book by Douglas Thompson entitled: Stephen Ward: Scapegoat. They All Loved Him… But When It Went Wrong They Killed Him, Esmeralda's memory is almost completely covered by the sands of time, with the author stating: "The path was to Esmeralda's, a club established by Patsy Morgan-Dibben in a prime spot on Wilton Street in Knightsbridge, opposite the Berkeley Hotel. She was friends with Kim Waterfield, and Pietro Annigoni (whose 1956 portrait of HM the Queen had brought him international fame and commissions) created the interior design for the club." Not only was Douglas Thompson's retelling of the history of Esmeralda's creation inaccurate, it was also disrespectful to a truly inspiring British female pioneer. Esmeralda Gullan has become a footnote in a constantly rewritten history of the club scene in London during this period.

Thompson's book, although inaccurate in places, also lists some of those who frequented Esmeralda's Barn, stating: "At Esmeralda's, there were many famous guests, including Bill Astor, with his friend Stephen Ward, the usual Royals and Hollywood personalities mixed with indiscretions and vodka and heavy drugs, which were catching up with whisky and gin as the stimulant of choice while Benzedrine spun the clock. With its discreetly owned multi-roomed properties, often taken by overseas embassies, Esmeralda's became a complement to the Eve Club."

Douglas Thompson isn't the only author who published stories of Esmeralda's Barn which would prove to be erroneous. For instance, in the previously mentioned Lillian Pizzichini's book, entitled 'The Novotny Papers', the author also makes inaccurate statements concerning Esme and the Barn. Pizzichini states that: "Esmeralda was found dead of an overdose in the Baker Street flat of her accountant," where in reality Esmeralda was found dying of gas inhalation in her own flat. She also claims that Esmeralda's Barn was: "Originally named after the woman who had run it as a lesbian's club," but there is absolutely zero evidence on which this statement can be supported and much evidence to the contrary. She also states that: "The launch of Esmeralda's Barn in 1955, with interior design by Annigoni and carefully contrived marketing, soon brought the young Guards officers, the debutantes and the celebrities." Although it is true that celebrities were drawn in, the rumour that Annigoni had solely designed the interior of the Barn persist even though his mural had been quickly covered up by Esmeralda herself and not revealed again until 1960.

Mary Esmeralda Peyne Silva Freeman Gullan was dead and buried and soon her name, reputation, and the true story behind her life's deeds, disappeared with her. Her well known vibrant energy and kindness were instead replaced by poorly researched throw away lines by people who seem not to care about the facts surrounding her life and death.

Esmeralda's Barn in particular evolved quickly after her death. It was during the peak of the Cold War, spies frequented the darkened rooms of London's elite night clubs, passing off their secrets to like-minded ideologues, making deadly and dastardly deals in the shadows. Horace Dibben, the ruling king of London's elite sex parties, was about to take over Esmeralda's Barn and, soon after, a small group of intelligence-linked men and women would cause the downfall of the British government.

In the next part of this series, we will investigate the many other suspicious deaths and disappearances of night club girls in London during this period. With Esmeralda Gullan dead, many other women were soon to follow and were unable to escape the deadly night club trap.

Black Hand: A Song for Esmeralda.

Unlimited Hangout
Wed, 18 Jan 2023 17:06:39 +0000

9. Russell Brand

Whitney is the second interview of this show.

Russell Brand.

Unlimited Hangout
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10. The Conscious Resistance

Derrick Broze of The Conscious Resistance hosts journalists/researchers Whitney Webb, James Corbett, Jason Bermas, and Ryan Cristián to discuss why the public should be extremely skeptical of Elon Musk.

Available on Rokfin and Odysee.

The Conscious Resistance.

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