Engrossed in the film they were watching, the audience at Liverpools Cameo Cinema were unaware of the real-life drama taking place in the managers office. It was the evening of MARCH 19th, 1949, and shortly after 9.30 the manager Leslie Thomas was shot dead, and his assistant John Catterall mortally wounded as he tried to stop the fleeing gunman.
The double-murder netted the killer only £50, and nearly six months passed before the police received the tip from an informer that was to send the Liverpool gang-leader George Kelly to the gallows.
He was already a suspect, the police having questioned him on the day after the shootings. But he had an alibi, saying he had been in a local pub at the time of the shooting, and naming witnesses who could confirm his story.
The informer, however, had been present when the cinema raid was planned. According to his account, he had afterwards asked Kelly what had gone wrong. Kelly had told him he had gone to the cinema with an ex-seaman named Charles, whose role was to creep up to the managers office with him in case the assistant manager turned up unexpectedly. But at the last moment the ex-seaman had chickened out, refusing to accompany Kelly beyond the cinemas side door.
In his statement the informer told the police: Kelly said he got to the managers office and walked in. There was an old fellow sitting down. Kelly said he wanted the takings, and then pointed to the bag on the table. The man said, Dont be such a fool. Put that toy away. And Kelly said, This is no toy – and I want that bag.
The man then stood up and said, You cant take that bag. It belongs to the company. You can take some of my own money. He then tried to brush the gun aside.
Kelly told me, I couldnt be bothered with him any more, so I shot him. He put the gun in his pocket, picked up the bag and started to make for the door. When he was a few feet away the door opened. Another man came in and closed the door behind him. The man kept his hands behind his back and said to Kelly, What are you doing here?
The man then came towards him, made a grab at the bag and the cash went all over the floor. The man tried to tackle him and Kelly butted him. Kelly said the man then let go of him for a second, so he pulled out his gun and shot him in the chest. He went down screaming and tearing at his chest. The man got to his knees again and tried to tackle Kelly, so he shot him again.
The informer went on to say that after making his getaway Kelly had boasted that he had a cast-iron alibi. He had made a point of being seen in nearby pubs immediately before and after the shooting.
Kelly and his accomplice were arrested, but when they were tried at Liverpool Assizes the jury failed to agree a verdict. Kelly and the ex-seaman were then tried again separately, and this time both were convicted. Kelly was sentenced to death, and his accomplice was given 10 years for robbery and two years for conspiracy, the prosecution offering no evidence on the charges of murder.
George Kelly was hanged on March 28th, 1950, but serious doubts have since been raised about the safety of his conviction.