BY TOBY PORTER
A world champion boxer found shot dead in his car in 1965 was killed because he threatened to go to the press about a friend’s links to the mafia, it has been claimed.
Freddie Mills, who lived in Denmark Hill, was discovered shot in the back seat of his Citroen DS19 behind his Soho nightclub on July 25, 53 years ago.
A fairground rifle was propped in front of him, though police never saw the scene as he was rushed to hospital. The inquest heard he had suffered bouts of depression and recorded a verdict of suicide.
But days before, he had demanded £2,500 from boxing manager Benny Huntman to stop his business going bust.
And according to Mr Huntman’s son, Roger Huntman, Mr Mills’ threatened to go to Fleet Street to tell about Mr Huntman’s connections to the mafia were what led to him being murdered.
The claims of why he was killed are made by Mr Huntman jnr in a BBC documentary, Murder in Soho – Who Killed Freddie Mills, due to be broadcast on BBC Four on Wednesday.
Mr Mills, inducted into the boxing Hall of Fame last year, had been light heavyweight champion of the world for two years until 1950 – the first British champion in 45 years.
He later made 18 films, including Carry On Constable and Carry On Regardless, and was a co-host of Six Five Special on TV.
Henry Cooper and Bruce Forsythe were at his funeral at Camberwell New Cemetery.
Roger Huntman says in the documentary: “Freddie said ‘I need £2,500, Benny, or I’m going under. I know who these guys are you are associating with. If you don’t give me the money, I am going to Fleet Street’.
“He put himself bang in it. He could have destroyed a multi-million pound deal. He wasn’t going to be allowed to get away with that.”
Roger Huntman claimed that at 4am on the night of Mr Mills’ death, an Italian American he later claimed to be told was Meyer Lansky, said to Benny: “Freddie’s gone” and smiled.
Mr Lansky, who died in 1983, was reputed to be one of the most successful gangsters of all time, owning casinos in London, Las Vegas and across the world, though he was never found guilty of anything more than illegal gambling.
Mr Mills’ stepson, Don McCorkindale, said: “The family have never believed he killed himself – he was definitely murdered.
Huntman is proposing that it is possible his family killed my father. I find it difficult to swallow. Knowing the influence the mafia has, it could very possibly be true.”!
Daughter Amanda Mills Burke said: “Not one person thought he would take his own life. He loved life.” Mr Mills’ wife, Chrissie, said: “I am sure if he had killed himself, he would have left a note of some kind. I am sure of it.”
Freelance forensic scientist Professor Brian J Ford, who looked at the evidence in the weeks after the inquest, said: “To this day, the case has puzzled me. His body was sitting with a fairground rifle.
There had been a single shot to his head, to his right eye. “The verdict was plausible. But that does not mean it was right.
It surprised me that there was a unanimous assumption it was suicide. “I have never come across a case where someone shot at their own eye. Or had their eye open when the shot was fired. They would never do it.
But if someone is going to shoot someone else, they could aim at the eye because you want them to see the threat. To me, murder was a much more obvious conclusion.
His body was rushed to hospital so the police never had the chance to investigate the scenario. “It is much easier to work it out as murder. He was heavily in debt.
It has been suggested he owed an awful lot of money. He might have borrowed the gun to protect himself.
“There was a hole in the door of the car. It makes sense there was a struggle and whoever shot him put the gun down.”
Bournemouth-born Mr Mills turned professional at the age of 16 in 1937.
He won the British title at the height of the Second World War, in 1942, in a shock defeat of Len Harvey – knocking him clean out of the ring in the second round.
Within days of finishing active service, in May 1946, he returned to a world title fight against Gus Leznevich of the US, who had been champion for five years.
Mr Mills was knocked down in the second round four times, but fought back and won the third round.
He lost in the 10th, but his bravery was enough to get him a rematch in 1948, at White City Stadium, which he won.
Benny Huntman helped organise that fight. Mr Mills retired from the ring after losing the world title in 1950.
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