The London Docks were a popular place for crime gangs to dump the bodies of their enemies in cement encased red cars.
by Ken German
There is not much left of the “Old” London Docks today. Long gone are the ships, the workers and the small terraced houses where they lived.
Still left though are some bad memories of this once crime-infested area including stories previously untold to police for fear of retribution from the gangs that controlled these treacherous docks.
Through the 1980s into the early 1990s, while building work in the Isle of Dogs continued at a rapid pace, the task of clearing the various waterways of debris, particularly in and around the stagnant dock basins, had become urgent. The clearing of the dock bottom was needed to provide the depth luxury yachts required for their moorings.
A commercial dive team tasked with the job started clearing the basin floor of debris in June of 1992 at the Millwall dock end near to Millharbor, not far from Canary Wharf. Soon enough the divers began bringing to the surface sunken ships, boxes of tea and spices, silk and Persian carpets – also the carcasses of humans and animals. The human remains were thought to be the work of the East End underworld, known for disposing of its enemies (dead or alive) by placing them in a vehicle, usually a red one, filling the insides with concrete and shoving into the water. Out of sight, out of mind!
The ship Celtic Surveyor was also in the area attempting to complete its bathymetric survey when just 30 feet out from the Millwall Cut huge amounts of dumped concrete, granite blocks, wire mesh and several tons of scaffolding were found atop a 1980 red minivan in reasonably good condition.
Nearby towards the Glengall Bridge was an upside down white Mercedes 307D van with a quantity of stolen stripped motorcycles in it.
Towards the entrance to Millquay and the City Harbour was an early example of a red Ford Fiesta and an old brown (may have been red) Renault 17TL.
As the dive team moved on to the Millwall South Dock they found several vehicles at the entrance to Dollar Bay towards the Meridian Quay – all totally squashed and barely recognizable as an Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire and a Jensen.
Yet more cars, motorcycles and vans were found as they moved closer to the Britannia Hotel area where a 30-foot steel boat painted red over white and in reasonably good condition was found sitting on the bottom.
Nearby a Jaguar, BMW and a Ford Granada, all of which were in various shades of red, were found and marked with a buoy.
What did shock the divers, including a passing Royal Docks policeman, was their next find: a 1965 maroon Rolls Royce completely full of concrete, found south towards Heron Quay.
This peculiar find brought in investigators from both the Criminal Investigation Department and police under water search unit. As both a CID officer and an ex-dive team member, I visited the scene.
By this time, the quayside was full of an extraordinary array of vans, cars and motorcycles which had been pulled from the murky depths.
I remember being joined by a very senior detective from Scotland Yard who had, he suggested, previous gangland experience. He was there to see if a murder hunt was a possibility and at first glance he was convinced it was.
A commercial rock breaking machine was brought over to assist with the fragmenting of some of the reinforced concrete which had filled many of the vehicles.
Two minivans were examined; the blue one was discounted as a wreck and the red one showed it had sustained severe frontal damage. This later turned out to be a fraudulent insurance claim for theft.
The Jaguar, an S type model was maroon in color and full of concrete.
On examination its number plates had been removed but its stamped chassis number revealed ID500 – a 1963 model which had been reported stolen from its owner. The owner subsequently stated that he had purchased it new and still had the invoice from the dealer. It showed he had paid £1669.5.5d for the car which included £288.5.5d purchase tax.
The owner, a publican, had reported it stolen from the West Ham football club car park; he was shocked to find that it had been used in many armed robberies and an attempted murder. It was on examination completely full of concrete and wire mesh and would need to be completely smashed open to see what if anything was inside.
Both the LHD BMW 520 and the Ford Granada, a GXL 3 litre, had been red but now after being in the water for some time looked rather bronze. Both cars were full of reinforced concrete. The Granada was not reported stolen but was confirmed by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency as “between owners.”
The BMW had been owned by a diamond merchant visiting London’s East End. He had reported both the robbery of his samples and the theft of his car prior to his return to Germany. The keys were found in the ignition.
The Ford Granada had its front and rear windows removed and sticking out of the concrete was a baseball bat.
The maroon Rolls Royce was a Silver Shadow that appeared to be almost damage free except for the scraping caused by being pushed into the water. The windows had been opened slightly and the car had settled on its four wheels. It too was full to the brim of concrete though it had clearly been submerged for some years. A cursory examination showed it had 1965 registration plates. Its chassis number began 49 which was found not to exist. It would require a thorough examination to establish the car’s true identity.
News of the recovery of these vehicles travelled quickly and further information from several anonymous callers suggested the cars did contain the bodies from gangland feuds.
The reinforced concrete proved to be extremely difficult to penetrate and as the light was fading the dock yard was sealed until the following day.
When I arrived the following day I was informed that the Rolls Royce and the Jaguar had been removed overnight to a police pound for safe keeping.
It soon became clear that this order had not been authorized by any police officer and the two cars had in fact been unlawfully transported away (stolen) on two large lorries shortly after the police and the dive team had departed the previous night.
Two minis, a Mercedes 307D van, three Ford Capris, two Ford Granadas, two Ford Escorts, a Ford Fiesta and a Renault 17TL together with remains of 41 stolen motorcycles, and a 30-foot steel hulled boat with a red cabin door remained on the quayside each revealing its own story.
The dive team meanwhile had been called to another location closer to Canary Wharf where a police Le Velocette “Noddy” bike had been found in 20 feet of water. Panic stations had set in and the question was “Were there any policeman missing”?
The search for the Rolls Royce and the Jaguar proved fruitless. Neither car was ever found but police did hear later from an informant that both vehicles now formed part of the foundations to the Docklands Light Railway complex, their gangland secrets buried with them.
Dr. Ken German is a retired London police officer with a degree in international vehicle crime. He was head of the famous C10 Stolen Car Squad in the Met and president of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators.