Rise and fall of boxing champ who defied The Mob

A former detective from the region has issued a new book in which he claims Randolph Turpin was executed by criminals.

Turpin had a glorious 75-fight career
Turpin had a glorious 75-fight career

Randolph Turpin, the boxing legend who registered one of the world’s biggest sporting upsets, was executed by The Mob, a former leading Black Country detective claims.

John Plimmer, ex-head of West Midlands CID, says it’s “inconceivable” the world middleweight champion committed suicide, as ruled by an inquest.

A letter penned by Randy two years before his death has added weight to Mr Plimmer’s theory that the prize-fighter was executed after threatening to expose a web of match fixing. Turpin was poised to make public the fight game’s soiled underbelly of corruption.

In the note, brave Turpin stressed he was not afraid, but gangsters had warned his wife and family would be harmed.

The villains responsible were simply referred to as “they”.

Around the same time, he was beaten up by four men. He refused to reveal the reason why.

Randolph Turpin

On May 17, 1966, Turpin – dogged by debt, depression and the onset of punch drunkenness – was found dead in a flat above the transport cafe he owned in his home town of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire.

The 37-year-old’s body had two gunshot wounds – to the head and heart.

His 17-month-old daughter Carmen – who had been shot twice – lay by him. She would make a full recovery.

The death shocked the nation. Turpin also had string links to our region. He was married in Wellington, Shropshire, and he and his wife Gwyneth had a caravan at Quatford, near Bridgnorth.

Mr Plimmer, now a successful author, said he is convinced foul play was involved in his death.

John F Plimmer

He said: “If he shot himself in the head first, would he really have the wherewithal to then aim the gun at his heart and pull the trigger? If he shot himself in the heart first, he’s dead – there’s no second shot. Frankly, it’s unbelievable.”

The tragedy marked the violent end of a rollercoaster, rags-to-riches-to-rags story that had gripped the nation.

On September 12, 1951 Turpin – considered such a no-hoper the press voiced concerns for his safety – achieved the seemingly impossible by outpointing Sugar Ray Robinson at London’s Earls Court.

From the 14th, and penultimate, round, the crowd broke into a raucous rendition of “for he’s a jolly good fellow” and the rag-tag chorus continued to the final bell.

Randy’s reign was to last a mere 64 days. At New York’s Polo Ground, Robinson gained crushing revenge by halting the ‘Leamington Licker’ in 10 rounds.

Plimmer’s book about Turpin

In ring retirement, the £300,000 – equivalent to £7 million today – that Randy amassed during his career was lost to bad investments and bad company.

Mr Plimmer, a 75-year-old who met Turpin as a child, said: “Certain facts surrounding the death raised my eyebrows. If I had been given that case as a detective, there is no way I’d accept it was a suicide.

“He suffered from severe depression, I can understand that. To commit suicide you have to become unhinged – it’s not the act of a reasonable thinking individual. I have not seen anything strong enough to suggest Randolph Turpin had become unhinged.

“To shoot your own daughter and turn the gun on yourself shows an element of insanity. There’s a build-up, signs that those around him would’ve undoubtedly picked up on. The timing is all wrong. The suicide note was pinned to the door of the room. That’s a weird thing to do – pin it to a door. There’s a lot of things that are simply not right.”

Father-of-five Randy’s death came less than a year after another world champ met a mysterious end. An inquest also concluded light-heavy Freddie Mills shot himself, although many believed he was the victim of an underworld hit.

Turpin’s decline was as rapid as his rise through the boxing ranks. After a glorious 75-fight career which also saw him claim British and European honours Turpin, near penniless, turned to the pantomime of professional wrestling to earn a crust.

At first he was receiving £100 for each staged match, but as the memory of great nights faded from public consciousness the fee dipped to £25.

Darker days were to follow. After filing for bankruptcy, Turpin scraped a living by toiling at a scrapyard.

“The problem was he couldn’t handle finances or women,” said Mr Plimmer, who has revealed his findings in a book The 64-Day Champion.

“He had a tax bill for £100,000 and his mitigation was he believed his manager had paid that off. His accountant Max Mitchell wrote a letter to the Inland Revenue.”

Mr Mitchell eloquently informed them: “As time goes on the punching power of a boxer is enfeebled.

“The longer he pursues his brain, through constant pummelling, is numbed. His eyes are affected, deafness overtakes him and, in effect, he is lucky that in the prime of his manhood he doesn’t turn into a two-legged vegetable.

“And yet no allowance is given to a boxer by the Inland Revenue for the inevitable, remorseless wasting away he undergoes because of the exacting nature of his profession. Is that fair?”

Turpin’s explanation was more succinct: “I am really a most illiterate man about money.”

Mr Mitchell’s missive worked. The massive tax demand was reduced to £17,000, but, by then, Turpin had less than £2,000 to his name.

“He had some shocking business deals,” said Mr Plimmer. “He was used a lot. He got ripped off, no doubt about it. He was a soft touch and people were like leeches.”

Mr Plimmer’s search for answers has been a frustrating one. “Without being there at the scene with your pathologist you’re at a disadvantage.

“Was he actually shot elsewhere? You need to see how much blood is at the scene. You need to see the position of the revolver.

“If it’s a murder, you want motivation. That is a must. I think in the circumstances – and this is an assumption – the motivation has to be revenge, a punishment killing. He was threatening to go to the authorities with details of rackets within the sport of boxing.

“It’s a bit dramatic to say someone who threatened to take action against a syndicate ended up being topped, but, back then, that was the game.”

At the time, police, backed by the champ’s own GP, believed Randy’s desperate act was influenced by dementia pugilistica, punch drunk syndrome.

He was developing the slurred speech of a damaged fighter.

Five years before his death, governing body the British Boxing Board of Control had been so concerned by Randy’s physical decline they stopped him sparring with world titleholder Terry Downes.

He failed to heed the board’s warning and, a year later, was performing in the twilight world of unlicensed boxing. That’s how far he had fallen.

Police called to the cafe where Turpin’s body lay found a plaque nailed to a wall. Whether he was murdered or took his own life, the words succinctly summed up the ills than befell Randy during those lost, last twilight years: “That which seldom comes back to him who waits is the money he lends to his friends.”

By Mike Lockley

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