The 39-year-old son of Italian immigrants, Antonio “Babe” Mancini ran the Palm Beach Bottle Party Club in the basement at 37 Wardour Street, in London’s Soho. He also had an interest in several other clubs, including the West End Bridge and Billiards Club two floors above his Palm Beach premises, and in the early hours of May 1st, 1941, the billiards club was the scene of two brawls, both involving Edward Fletcher, a Hoxton gangster whom Mancini had barred from the Palm Beach club a few days earlier.

According to one account, the first brawl started when Fletcher and Harry “Scarface” Distleman, 38, tried to barge into the billiards club. Distleman demanded a cut of the club’s profits, “or else,” and in the fight that ensued the premises were ransacked and both men were ejected.

Mancini heard the disturbance, and later went upstairs to see what was wrong. At the same time Fletcher and Distleman returned intent on revenge. There were conflicting accounts of what happened next. Several witnesses said Mancini attacked Fletcher, inflicting a knife wound that nearly cut off his arm, and when Distleman went to Fletcher’s aid, Mancini stabbed him under his left armpit.

“Babe’s done it!” Distleman cried as he was helped down the stairs, to collapse outside in the street where two policemen found him dead shortly afterwards.

“I admit stabbing Fletcher with a long dagger which I found on the floor of the club,” Mancini told the police. “But I don’t admit doing Distleman. Why should I do him? They threatened me as I came up the stairs and I got panicky.”

On being charged the next day with Distleman’s murder, he said, “That bit about finding the dagger on the floor is wrong. I had it with me, with a bit of rag wrapped about it.”

At his trial at the Old Bailey in July he claimed he had acted solely in self-defence, striking out wildly and not knowing who he struck. After 54 minutes’ deliberation the jury found him guilty, making no recommendation to mercy, and he was sentenced to death.

Unusually, he was allowed three appeals. At the first appeal hearing the three judges were unable to agree, their difficulty being the question as to whether Distleman had brandished his penknife, which was found beside his body. At the second appeal hearing five judges upheld Mancini’s conviction, but on reviewing the case the attorney-general decided it should go to the House of Lords, the highest court in the land.

Five law lords dismissed the appeal, and on OCTOBER 31st, 1941, the killer was dispatched by Albert Pierrepoint, carrying out his first execution as the number one hangman. “Cheerio,” said Mancini, as the noose was placed around his neck.