The Mad Axeman and The Kray Twins

Frank Samuel Mitchell a man with superhuman strength

Frank Samuel Mitchell, otherwise known as the Mad Axeman, was a British criminal and gangster. He was a close associate of the Kray Twins, who were infamous in 60s London. Mitchell was six feet tall, weighed thirteen stone, and was said to contain unnatural strength.

To demonstrate this, he would lift a grand piano off the floor or two fully grown men, one in each hand. He was also said to have a quick, explosive temper. Although a full-grown man, he had the behaviour and intellect of a thirteen-year-old.

Early Life

Mitchell was born on 19th May 1929 into a family of seven. The Mitchell’s were a working-class family who lived in Limehouse, East London.

At the age of nine, he committed his first offence. He stole a bicycle from another child. Standing before a juvenile court, the court put him on probation for the crime.

From the age of seventeen, Mitchell had a long record of serving time in many prisons and borstals around the country. His main crime was shoplifting or other similar petty crimes.

He fathered a daughter during these early years with a girlfriend he later broke up with. However, Mitchell never knew his daughter, and none of these claims has ever been substantiated.

Life in prison

Life in prison was not good; he was said to have a temper and constantly break the rules. He was said to be a thorn in the prison officers sides whenever he was incarcerated. He would regularly fight with guards and fellow prisoners. As a result, the guards periodically whipped him for this behaviour, using various devices, including a cat o’ nine tails.

However, in the 1950s, during one of these stays, he met Ronnie Kray in Wandsworth. Ronnie went on to pay for a lawyer and a new suit for Mitchell when he faced attempted murder charges. He was acquitted of these charges.

Three escapes from three different prisons

In 1955, Mitchell was declared mentally defective by the prison department and sent to Rampton Secure Hospital for his sentence. Two years later, on the 18th January 1957, Mitchell escaped with a fellow prisoner, Richard Mascall. The pair left the building after making duplicate prison keys from bed springs.

There is not a lock I can’t undo — Frank Mitchell

Once free, the pair terrorised the local area, including beating a man for his clothes and money. During recapture, Mitchell attacked two police officers with meat cleavers. He was sent to Broadmoor, where he again escaped and held a married couple hostage with an axe, earning the mad axeman nickname.

In October 1958, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for robbery with aggravating factors, mainly violence. This time he was sent to Dartmoor prison, where his behaviour improved dramatically. At Dartmoor, he started to keep budgies and was transferred to the honour party. This small group of prisoners were allowed to work outside the walls of the prison with minimal supervision. In addition, he was allowed to roam the Moors and visit the pubs. The governor of Dartmoor told Mitchell if he stayed out of trouble, he would recommend him for release.

The Krays break the Axeman out.

Four years later, this had not happened, and Mitchell started to become disgruntled. Ronnie Kray was eager to break Mitchell out of prison as he said it would publicise the lack of his release date and earn them respect in the underworld. Reggie Kray was not eager at first but soon came round to the idea thinking it was an excellent way to stick two fingers up at the police. Reggie Kray went to visit Mitchell heavily disguised.

On 12th December 1966, Mitchell asked the guard if he could walk away and feed some of the ponies. Instead, he walked down a lane to where a getaway car was waiting for him. Inside the vehicle were three associates of the Krays; Albert Donoghue, Teddy Smith and Billy Exley. They took him to London, where they put him up in a flat owned by Billy Dune. Five hours later, Mitchell was reported missing. The escape caused a public outcry as to why a man considered the most dangerous criminal in prison had been allowed the privileges he had been.

An extensive search ensued with two hundred police, one hundred marines and an airforce helicopter searching the Moors. Mitchell wrote to the papers asking for a release date, but Home Secretary Roy Jenkins made it clear he would not negotiate with an escaped criminal.

Mitchell becomes a problem to The Krays.

Mitchell soon became a problem for The Krays; they found him a tough man to control due to his strength and quick temper. He was unwilling to give himself up but also was not allowed to leave the flat. However, the Krays could not turn him in to the police or let him go as they may have been implicated in his escape.

Mitchell’s agitation grew as he was not allowed to visit his parents, who lived close. To calm him, they brought a woman to the flat, Lisa Prescott, a nightclub hostess. Unfortunately, Mitchell fell in love very quickly, which did not help The Krays. This was the final straw for them, and The Krays decided the only solution was to get rid of Mr Mitchell.

On 24th December 1966, Mitchell was led to the back of a van by Albert Donoghue under the pretence of being taken to a new safe house where Ronnie Kray was staying. He got in without a second thought. He became agitated briefly when he found out Prescott was not coming with him, but he was assured she would join him later. Waiting in the van were several men, including Freddie Foreman and Alfie Gerrard, who were armed. The van was started, and they opened fire on him. Donoghue would state it took twelve bullets to take Mitchell down. His body was weighted and dumped into the English channel.

Reggie Kray would later state that the escape was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made.

Trial for murder

In 1968, when The Krays, including Charlie Kray and Foreman, were put on trial for many offences, including the murder of Mitchell, Jack McVitie and George Cornell. All four were acquitted of Mitchell’s murder due to lack of evidence. Reggie Kray was, however, found guilty of planing his escape from prison, for which he was given five years. Foreman would later admit to shooting Mitchell as a favour to The Krays. He stated that he was paid £1000. However, he was never tried for the case due to the Double Jeopardy law, which means criminals can not be tried twice for the same crime.

In 1969, The Krays were convicted of murdering George Cornell and Jack McVitie and jailed for life. Neither brother was ever released from prison.