Why I'm Finally Telling the Truth About Britain’s Most Notorious Gangland Murder
The Essex Boys were thieves, cowards, and murderers, but their kids deserve to know who killed them.
The murders of Pat Tate, Tony Tucker and Craig Rolfe shocked a lot of people but impressed a whole lot more. They were failed drug dealers and low life bullies, but the Essex Boys – as they became known – were soon being compared to the Krays and described in the media as modern day Mafia Dons. Three nobodies had become somebodies because the press deemed their deaths a good story.
The Essex Boys firm has had more films made about it than any other gang in British history. These movies all follow same format: the main characters are chipper, coke-snorting chappies, who knock the shit our of their fellow human beings for the slightest perceived misdemeanour. They drive Porches, live in luxury homes, have beautiful girlfriends and two rottweilers called Bruno and Tyson.
The truth about the Essex Boys firm is nothing like the films these ex-public schoolboys moonlighting as directors have made. The three dead men were heavily in debt – the Range Rover they died in was borrowed in a hire purchase agreement. All three were cowards who beat women. They would only attack people in numbers or they would select weak, straight, vulnerable victims. They demanded loyalty but mastered in deceit. We were all products of the world that we inhabited.
I was the founder member of the Essex Boys gang. In 1988, I took over security at a club called Raquel's in Basildon. Shortly afterwards, the rave scene emerged and clubland was hit by a shit-ton of drugs.
I met a man named Tony Tucker who ran a large and well respected door firm. When I told him I was encountering problems recruiting reliable doormen, he suggested we form a partnership. He would run the admin side and meet the increasing demand for drugs and I'd control the door. Through Tucker I met Craig Rolfe, a sly individual with a huge chip on his shoulder. His father had been murdered by his mother's lover. His mother, who was pregnant at the time, ended up in prison, where she gave birth to Rolfe.
Not long after, we met Pat Tate. He was well known in Essex after escaping from court while he was being sentenced for a robbery charge. He beat up the officers guarding him, vaulted the dock and jumped onto the back of a waiting motorcycle. He later surfaced in Spain and was sent to prison in Britain. Tate was determined to make up for the wasted years that he had spent behind bars. He latched on to Tucker and the two of them would spend their days taking drugs, talking shit and entertaining prostitutes.
Tate convinced Tucker that there was a lot of money to be made at Raquel's. Instead of taking a cut from the profits of the club's drug dealers, Tate suggested Tucker start supplying the dealers himself. He'd made the right connections in prison, and knew a way we could bypass the local wholesalers and start importing drugs from Europe ourselves – cutting out all the middlemen.
As the drugs came in, Tucker, Tate and Rolfe took more and more. Their personalities began to change. One moment they would be laughing and joking, the next they would be plotting to murder someone they claimed had upset them. Tate began using heroin and not long afterwards, he and Tucker began smoking crack. The harder stuff made them even more deluded – they'd talk about killing off their rivals and the millions they were going to make after they had seized control of the Essex drug trade.
Things were getting crazy. Within seven months of Tate being released from prison, he'd been shot by a former friend. Tucker and Rolfe allegedly murdered a young man, Kevin Whitaker. A teenager – Leah Betts – had died after taking ecstasy that had been sold at Raquel's. All this was compounded by the fact that the drugs they eventually managed to import turned out to be unsellable pure shit.
Tucker and Tate's dreams were turning into nightmares. They went on the rampage, threatening everyone they encountered. I walked out of the club on November 16 1995, the night Leah Betts died. Tucker saw my departure and told me if I walked, he'd shoot me. I moved my family into a hotel and waited for the worse. But I wasn't the only one Tucker, Tate and Rolfe had marked.
The night they died, they'd been coaxed into a meeting by three men they'd previously threatened to kill. They believed they were being shown a field were a light aircraft filled with cocaine was going to land. The trio had planned to rob the cargo, but the whole thing turned out to be a baited hook. As the Range Rover pulled up, the gunman shot Rolfe in the back of the head. The gunman fired at Tucker, punching a 6.5 cm hole in his lower jaw. Tate was in the back seat.
The gunman finished off Tucker, then Rolfe, and then turned to his accomplice and invited him to shoot Tate. Walking around the back of the vehicle, the second gunman aimed the shotgun at Tate, who was by now curled up in the foetal position and made no attempt to defend himself. They shot him in the chest rather than the head. He'd been the catalyst of all the trouble that had been caused and so it was deemed essential that he should watch the murder of his friends before he was executed. Their bodies were discovered by a farmer the next morning.
Before the gun smoke had even cleared, rumours began circulating around Essex and beyond. Everyone who had met the three men had a motive to kill them. For a start, they'd threatened me. Billy & Eddie Blundell – two of the most notorious and powerful ganglords in Essex – had warned them that they'd end up dead. They also had previous with former Essex Boy, Steve "Nipper" Ellis, who'd already tried to shoot Tate once.
In the end it was drug smuggler Michael Steele and his associate Jack Whomes who were convicted of the Rettendon murders in January 1998. Police claimed that they were murdered because they fell out with Steele over a shipment of cannabis from Holland, which proved unsaleable. They were convicted on the word of supergrass Darren Nicholls, who was let off his own prison sentence in exchange for his testimony. Nobody knows what happened to him. He was given a new life and a new identity.
But Whomes and Steele have maintained their innocence and they are supported by many. Who really killed Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe has since become the greatest mysteries in British criminal history. For two decades the victims' families have had to endure criminal appeals, books, newspapers investigation, documentaries and films, all of which cast doubt on the guilt of the alleged killers of their loved ones.
I'm older now, and I think about their kids, and how they have to live not knowing what really happened to their fathers. That's why I set about trying to end the torment. I interviewed everyone involved for a book, The Final Word, which has now been made into a documentary. I needed to tell the truth about how and why the Essex Boys died.
We lived through turbulent times back then. Ours were hateful, miserable existences – totally the opposite of the glamorised garbage churned out in the movies about us which totally misrepresent how we really lived out lives and destroyed the lives of others. Twenty years later, it's time to move on.
Bernard O'Mahoney's film 'Essex Boys: The Truth' will be in cinemas and on demand from 6th December 2015.
More from VICE: