The Murderous Butler
Archibald Thomson Hall, alias Roy Fontaine
The con-man who committed five murders
Richmond Court, Chelsea, in 1977, home to the rich, like retired Labour M.P. Walter Travers Scott-Elliott, 82, and his Indian-born wife, Dorothy, twenty-two years younger. He was educated at Eton, the son of a Scots landowner, an ex-Captain in the Coldstream Guards who saw action in the Great War; she was the daughter of a rich Calcutta merchant. They lived quietly in their penthouse apartment in the manner to which they were accustomed, with their collection of Indian antiques and jewellery – and, in November, they hired a new butler, Mr Roy Fontaine.
It seems the Scott-Ellis’s were satisfied with the services of Mr Fontaine, with his smooth, polished manner, befitting his butler’s image. So much so, he was allowed to sign blank cheques on his employers’ behalf, and this was a mistake, for Roy Fontaine was in reality Archibald Thomson Hall, convicted jewel thief, ex-convict and con-man, and, unknown to the Scott-Ellis’s, a murderer who barely three months before had shot and killed his homosexual lover, David Wright, at the home of Hall’s previous employer, one Lady Hudson, of Kirtleton Hall, Dumfriesshire.
Hall was born in Glasgow, in 1924. His career in crime began at an early age, and inevitably he ended up in prison. He developed many skills, which served him well in his career as a confidence trickster. He was able to converse in perfect English, even passing himself off as a Lord on occasion. As a jewel thief, he ended up in prison again, in 1964, serving ten years – or would have, except he escaped and was sentenced to a further five when recaptured.
Hall had no record of violence until 1977, when he murdered David Wright, whom he had met in prison. Wright worked as odd-job man at Kirtleton Hall, where he scrounged money from Hall, threatening to tell Lady Hudson they’d met in prison if he refused to pay. Wright stole a valuable ring of Lady Hudson’s, but Hall made him return it, saying he wanted to go straight. That night, in retribution, after drinking six bottles of champagne, Wright discharged a firearm as Hall slept, the bullet ending up in the headboard. The next day, whilst out shooting rabbits together, Hall counted the rounds as Wright used up his ammunition, then shot him in the back of the head. This seems to have been a catalyst for the four murders that followed. Two of these would be Mr and Mrs Scott-Ellis.
His true identity having been discovered by Lady Hudson who dismissed him from service, Hall went to London where he became employed as butler to the Scott-Ellis’s. On 8th December, 1977, he met up with a male accomplice and together they hatched out a plan to defraud them. Hall took him to the flat to view the antiques, believing that Mr Scott-Ellis would be in bed asleep, and that Mrs Scott-Ellis was in a nursing home, getting treatment for arthritis, but they unexpectedly found her in her bedroom. Not surprisingly she wanted to know what Hall – or Fontaine, as she believed – was up to, and who the stranger was.
The pair knocked Mrs Scott-Ellis to the floor, and covered her face with a pillow to stifle her screams. In doing so they suffocated her. Whether they had intended to kill her is doubtful, as they needed her signature to carry out their plans to defraud Hall’s employers. In any event they put her to bed in a position that suggested she was asleep, and when Mr Scott-Ellis appeared, he was told by Hall his wife had had a nightmare and gone to bed.
Next morning our two villains met with Mary Coggle, 51, a long-time acquaintance, who lived at King’s Cross. Together they conjured up a plan to pass her off as the late Mrs Scott-Ellis, hoping her husband, after extra doses of medication, would believe her to be his wife. Coggle, wearing a wig and dressed in Mrs Scott-Ellis’s mink coat, sat in the back of the car with Scott-Ellis, whose wife’s body had by this time been secreted in the boot. The foursome, plus the corpse, then headed north, and after calling overnight at a cottage rented by Hall in Cumbria, proceeded to Perthshire, Scotland, where they buried Mrs Scott-Ellis in a shallow grave.
The party continued north, Hall and his accomplice passing themselves off as butlers to the hapless Scott-Ellis, and Coggle as his wife; or, as one occasion, they left the old man in the car, saying he was their grandfather, while they enjoyed the good life in an hotel bar. Eventually, they reached lonely Glen Affric, in the Highlands, where they murdered Mr Scott-Ellis, first by attempting to strangle him, but when the old man unexpectedly put up a struggle, by hitting him with a spade. He too was buried in a shallow grave.
After visiting Inverness and Aviemore, the three turned up in Perth where they sold some of the Scott-Ellis’s antiques, and then sold more in Edinburgh. They then returned to the cottage in Cumbria, where the next two murders were perpetrated.
Mary Coggle was the next victim. She had taken kindly to wearing Mrs Scott-Ellis’s mink coat and jewellery, but Hall considered this was likely to draw attention, especially parading it around King’s Cross when she got home. It was unlikely anyone would have missed David Wright, but by now, the Scott-Ellis’s could be reported as ‘missing’, and the police in London might be on the lookout. The group had been seen by hotel staff in several locations, and would be remembered by anyone who asked, like the police.
Hall, realising they should keep a low profile, asked Mary Coggle to give up the mink coat, but she flew into a rage and refused to hand it over. This cost Coggle her life, as Fontaine held her and Hall beat her repeatedly with a poker. Both men then suffocated her. The following day they put her into the boot of the car, drove across the border into Scotland and threw her body into a stream.
At the Cumbrian cottage, the weeks passed, during which time Hall and his accomplice made several visits to the Scott-Ellis’s flat, stealing everything worth having, which was plenty. Then, in January, 1978, Hall’s brother, Donald, was released from prison and came to stay. Hall loathed Donald for his coarseness and for what he perceived as his sexual perversions, and Donald loathed Hall for his homosexual habits. One day, after a drinking session, Donald was tied up in the cottage, ostensibly for fun but in reality Hall, perhaps suffering from the strain of his recent, murderous lifestyle, pressed a chloroform-soaked cloth into his face until he died – the first known ‘chloroform murder’ in Britain.
In the meantime Hall had acquired another car, a Ford Granada. The numbers on the registration plate read ‘999’ which, not surprisingly, he disliked, so he fitted false plates, an act which ultimately prove the undoing of himself and his partner in crime. Into the car boot went Donald Hall’s body, and the pair drove to North Berwick, near Edinburgh, where they checked into the Blenheim House Hotel.
As Hall and his friend drank in the hotel bar, the proprietor became suspicious, and telephoned police who, on checking out the registration number of the Granada, found it came down to a Ford Escort. What’s more, for all his cunning and careful stratagems, Hall had omitted to change the tax disc on the car windscreen, which still bore the true number, ‘999’. The two constables who turned up as Hall and his accomplice ate dinner had two prisoners on a plate of their own.
The police took the two murderers into custody, on suspicion at that point of being in possession of a stolen car. When the boot was opened they discovered they had something far more serious on their hands. But Archibald Hall was nothing if not tenacious, for when permitted to visit the police station toilet he squeezed through a window and fled. He got a lift from a taxi driver, saying his wife had had an accident but that he was unaware of the hospital she had been taken to, whereupon the taxi driver drove him around for three hours as the police searched in vain for their escaped prisoner. Finally, at a road block, Hall was arrested again. To his credit, he insisted on paying the full taxi fare!
Meanwhile, police in London had visited the Scott-Elliots’ flat, and had learned from antique dealers that silverware, believed to be theirs, had been offered for sale. The two police forces combined, and the whole sordid sequence of events was unravelled as both men confessed to their catalogue of crime, and led police to the graves of their victims. Hall said, ‘I can’t feel anything for killing these five people, not even remorse.’ He told police about his first victim, David Wright, about whose fate they had no knowledge. Both men first appeared at Scottish, then English courts (as the killings occurred in both countries), and were sentenced to life imprisonment, in Hall’s case the judge adding, ‘Having regard to your cold-blooded behaviour and undoubted leadership in these dreadful matters, I recommend that you shall not be considered for parole during the rest of your natural life.’
Even as he was sentenced, Hall wore smart clothing and carried an air of superiority. A gentleman to the last.