The rich pickings offered by the thriving nightclubs and gaming tables of Newcastle upon Tyne in the mid-1960s were irresistible to Michael Luvaglio and Dennis Stafford.
They were doing nicely working for one of the characters who installed fruit machines and booked cabaret acts until another employee, Angus Sibbett, started siphoning off £1,000 a week in takings. He wound up dead in the back of a Mk 10 Jaguar, his body riddled with bullets.
Mr Luvaglio, 69, and Mr Stafford, 71, were convicted of the "One-Armed Bandit Murder", made famous by Ted Lewis's book, Jack's Return Home. In 1971 it was turned into the gangster filmGet Carter, starring Michael Caine and Bryan Mosley (aka Alderman Alf Roberts in Coronation Street), who was bumped off by Caine in the film.
But though Get Carter has assigned the murder a place in history, the men convicted of it have always denied the crime and Mr Luvaglio's family publicly protested his innocence yesterday after he suffered a heart attack which is believed to have left him gravely ill at London's Westminster and Chelsea Hospital.
Through the family, Mr Luvaglio said he did not want to go to his grave with the crime on his name and insisted the Kray twins, widely believed to have failed to muscle in on the Newcastle scene, were responsible. Mr Luvaglio told his family the Krays wanted to take over Newcastle's social club business. He also maintained that fingerprints found in Mr Sibbett's car were neither his nor Mr Stafford's. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) began a review of the case last year.
Although Mr Luvaglio and Mr Stafford have denied the crime, the former has made few public pronouncements over the years. A relative, Vince Landa, ran the fruit machine business and tempted him from London to work with Mr Stafford. Mr Luvaglio became a prime suspect when, at 5.15am on 5 January 1967, a miner found Mr Sibbett's body in the Jaguar which his takings had enabled him to buy. He was arrested the next day.
The timing of the murder was an important part of the court case. Mr Luvaglio and Mr Stafford maintained they were at Newcastle's Birdcage Club at 12.30am on the night Mr Sibbett was shot, 16 miles away. Their alibis covered them for all but 45 minutes of the night.
But detectives reckoned it would have taken only 40 minutes to kill Mr Sibbett and drive to the Birdcage, in atrocious weather. Crash marks on Mr Sibbett's Mk 10 Jaguar corresponded to those on an E-Type Jaguar driven by Mr Stafford on the night of the murder. The men were convicted and sentenced to life.
Two appeals were turned down before both were freed in 1979 on licence. Mr Stafford has always maintained that Mr Sibbett was shot by a Scottish criminal. His licence was revoked after he breached its conditions by moving to South Africa. He returned to Britain in 1989 for a visit but was caught by a security check after booking into the same hotel as the visiting Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He remained in prison until 1998.
Mr Stafford, who lives in style at Stanhope Castle in Wearside, declined to comment. His solicitors believe the non-disclosure of evidence in the 1960s trials made it far harder to defend individuals such as Mr Luvaglio and Mr Stafford.
It is believed the CCRC will publish its findings in weeks rather than months.Reuse content