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Building sale sparks memories of violent killing of city bookie.

NUMBER 22 Park Place in Cardiff's city centre is up for sale. Well, it was the last time I looked.

I have good reason to remember this corner house, as on December 12, 1966, after finishing my night shift on the Western Mail and Echo, I was walking through Gorsedd Gardens in the early morning when I saw two policemen standing in the front of the house, then the residence of bookmaker Gomer Charles.

I was soon to learn that at about 9pm that Sunday evening, Mr Charles, after hearing the doorbell ring and on opening the door, was shot dead.

He had been shot in the heart and died instantly and the two would-be burglars, who were later sentenced to life imprisonment, panicked and ran away, missing the PS25,000 in cash that was in the house.

In my book Racing Rogues - The Scams, Scandals and Gambles of Horse Racing in Wales (St David's Press), I tell how Mr Charles was one of the central figures in the Bath racecourse scandal of 1953 which had shocked the racing world.

Mr Charles, along with four other men, was accused of conspiring to defraud Bath Racecourse Company Ltd. After two trials costing PS30,000 - no mean sum then - four of the five were found guilty, receiving sentences from nine months to three years.

Charles, the only Cardiff man, was jailed for two years. The case arose out of the winning of the Spa Selling Hurdle Plate on July 16, 1953, by a French horse down on the racecard as Francasal but who really was a much faster horse called Santa Amaro.

Charles, a jolly-looking man with a big double chin, was apparently wellknown and respected in our beloved city.

He attended all the big race meetings, often chartering planes to take him, and he also operated at the many greyhound racing tracks, including the one at Cardiff Arms Park. In the 1950s, he had bought out the betting firm of the famed Newport bookmaker Jimmy Jones and his turf accountant business became one of the biggest in the land.

Thousands of pounds - the equivalent of more than PS100,000 in today's money - was placed on the horse by the conspirators, who had earlier opened accounts with other bookmakers in different parts of the country.

And they might well have got away with it, had they not employed a Merthyr man and paid him a few paltry pounds to climb up a telegraph pole near the racecourse to cut the "blower" line to the track, making sure that no off-course bets were telephoned in to shorten the odds of their ringer.

Francasal was returned a 10-1 chance but the bookmakers, canny folk that they are, soon smelled a rat and refused to pay out winning bets on the horse.

The irony of the escapade was that had the gang run Santa Amaro in its own name, they would probably have cleaned up anyway and everyone would have been congratulating them on landing a betting coup.

| Please send your stories and pictures to Brian Lee, Cardiff Remembered, South Wales Echo, Six Park Street, Cardiff, CF10 1XR or email brianlee4@virginmedia.com, including a home telephone number as I cannot reply by letter.

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Gomer Charles photographed after the trial with solicitor Toby Carter in 1954

Police outside 22 Park Place, Cardiff, after the murder of Gomer Charles in December 1966

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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 2, 2019
Words:568
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