John 'Goldfinger' Palmer

There ought to be a movie about this guy. John Palmer was a key member of a gang of thieves who pulled off some of the most daring, lucrative crimes in British history.   Then this gang began losing members, one by one, with one stabbed several times and shot, another taking bullets to the head a year later, another snuffed out the next, in fact seven members of the original gang now gone, by murder.  As fiction, it might seem over the top, but it was real.

Meanwhile, with other associates, Palmer organized grand frauds and con games, raking in millions by selling time shares to suckers.  His own wealth became staggering, estimated at times as high as half  a billion dollars. A higher level of fraud, and a higher level of spoils, than one crook could likely accumulate without collusion.  Was someone, somewhere in authority making their own cool millions, on the take?  It was all so much bigger than life.  Someone ought to make a movie about this guy.

In fact, someone already has, when you consider that a film called Fool’s Gold from 1992 was based on the Heathrow Brink’s-MAT heist–netting well over $100 million in today’s dollars–and that documentaries followed in 2003 and 2010.  But that “crime of the century” from 1983 was only the beginning of the amazing Palmer career, and all its unanswered questions.

The end came in June of 2015, in Palmer’s gated community.  His death was reported, officers came to the scene, and declared the 65-year old deceased by “natural causes.”  Later the coroner found a bullet in his chest–perhaps a natural cause of death for a career criminal… Yes, this all really happened.

There’s no need for crime fiction when you have the real life, and the real mysteries, of John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer to grapple with.  Come explore the file with us.

“A coroner has concluded the notorious conman John “Goldfinger” Palmer was unlawfully killed. What might a man who wore body armour under his designer suits have done to upset the criminal underworld?

John “Goldfinger” Palmer kept a sign on his office desk which read: “Remember the golden rule – he who has the gold makes the rules.”But the former scrap metal dealer from Olton, near Birmingham, was also fond of breaking them, going on to become one of Britain’s most prolific criminals. 

He started young – selling paraffin off the back of a lorry, having left school at 15 a serial truant who learned to neither read or write.

He then moved on to work as a jewellery dealer in Bristol, a job which some might speculate gave him a taste for precious metals.

John “Goldfinger” Palmer, pictured in 2001, was a convicted conman

But it was for his involvement in the 1983 Brink’s-Mat robbery at Heathrow Airport which he became infamous and earned him his nickname.

More than £25m worth of gold was stolen in what was considered at the time as the biggest robbery to have ever taken place in the UK.

Mr Palmer, who was one of seven children, was said to have melted the metal down in the back garden of his mansion at Landsdown near Bath.

However, he denied knowing it was stolen and was acquitted in 1987, blowing kisses to the jury from the dock when the verdict was delivered.

Worth around £500m in today’s prices, most of the gold has never been recovered and the case remains open.”

BBC News, December 20, 2016

Well, the invincible master criminal was not such a superman he could stop bullets with his chest, at least not without going to that maximum security prison in the sky.

No, we shouldn’t be flip about anyone’s violent death. But Palmer was such a scheming, low, lousy, destructive thug that his execution by mystery operatives doesn’t seem as horrid as the death of a decent citizen.

HIs story is filled to the brim with excess, with amazement, tragedy (for those he ripped off), and with irony.

Ironically, John Palmer’s nickname, “Goldfinger,” came from the smelting of gold from a crime he “knew nothing about,” the great Brink’s-Mat heist of 1983 in London. Given his background, who of sound mind would believe he processed the gold innocently? Yet, he walked.
He smirked his way through many of the accusations that came his way, all his life.

Christina Ketley

Christina Ketley

Ironically, Bernie Madoff in the U.S., who had stolen from far fewer people, rotted in prison serving a sentence of 150 years. Palmer lived in luxury on his estate in his 60’s, the oh-so-comfortable retiree. His victims would like to know why he luxuriates, on their money.

He died from the bullets of someone who penetrated his large, remote estate, and yet police first processed his death as coming from “natural causes.”

Irony that the day he died, his business-wise son James studied at home diligently for exams he was soon to take in “Financial Regulation.” Seriously.

Irony that his surviving partner, Christina Ketley, exclaimed utter moral alarm that the shooting could have happened. There’s someone out there who commits acts of violence, and we should all be alarmed, she asserted. But do we all have the same targets on our chests…have we committed the same sins?

His victims included hundreds who had their life savings trashed, others beaten to a pulp by his thugs in the underworld. Although a British newsmagazine reporter opined that “no one deserves what happened to him,” some of those many victims might disagree.


A paramedic called to treat a notorious criminal gunned down in his garden in Essex raised doubts about the cause of his fatal injuries, a report said.
John “Goldfinger” Palmer was initially thought to have died from natural causes in 2015. It took a week to establish he had been shot six times.


A case review revealed a paramedic told police he doubted the conman’s wounds were from recent keyhole chest surgery.

But police officers at the scene were “not concerned”, the report said.

Essex Police said the two officers had been disciplined “for failing to fully comply with Essex Police policy on dealing with sudden deaths” but their actions had not amounted to gross misconduct.

Police and paramedics were called to John “Goldfinger” Palmer’s home in South Weald, near Brentwood, in June 2015.

An inquest concluded Mr Palmer was shot six times with 8mm 0.32 calibre rounds outside his home in South Weald, near Brentwood, in a “contract-style” killing in June 2015.

The first paramedic at the scene found him on the ground “with large amounts of blood around the top of his shirt” and his son trying to save his life, the ambulance service review said.

According to the report, there was not one single wound but a number of “small wounds in various stages of coagulation” on Mr Palmer’s chest and abdomen.

Mr Palmer’s son said he was “unsure” if they were related to the surgery.

BBC, December 20, 2016

The longer you look at this man’s story, the stranger it gets. In just about every way.

According to a Crimewatch program–UK version–his family was at home while Palmer strolled the nearby grounds of the estate. An intruder appeared and assassinated him with several shots from a revolver. Soon his family came running and found him lying on the ground, apparently not all that far from the house.

You hear their live testimony in the program, family say they came to his side, saw extensive wounds and bleeding, and of course tried to save him by calling for medical help.

Here’s where things become a bit confusing. The family says they did not hear and thus did not report, gunfire, but wouldn’t several fresh wounds indicate the obvious? And if medical help was called to the scene, how could they not have treated the matter as death by gunshot wound, instead of death by natural causes?

For what it’s worth, the law enforcement community in Britain stands appalled that gunshot wounds were only confirmed on autopsy. The officers who missed death-by-gangland-bullet will forever be laughingstocks in the profession.


But that’s an aside from the larger questions: just who was this guy within the criminal underworld, and who would have arranged his untimely end?

His infamous career unfolded gradually, long tracked in the press as these old excerpts remind us. This article from the Telegraph recounted his ignominious resume, then the fact that he finally did some time for his many frauds…

Until now, he had escaped jail. He was acquitted in 1987 of handling gold bullion from the £26 million Brink’s-Mat raid – a case which earned him the nickname Goldfinger – and has twice been given suspended jail sentences for minor frauds.
Yesterday, however, he was jailed for eight years for masterminding a huge timeshare fraud. Palmer rose from a deprived childhood in Birmingham to enjoy a life of yachts – including the £6 million Brave Goose – executive jets, helicopters, fast cars and personal security guards.


The Telegraph,, May 24, 2001

But he never quit seeing himself as the master of the razzle-dazzle, and in fact, he was. You don’t rise from uneducated obscurity to one of the wealthiest men in the U.K by having a low level of street smarts.

In 1994, The Cook Report television programme secretly recorded Palmer offering to launder up to £60 million a year for an investigator posing as a heroin trafficker. Palmer demanded a 25 per cent commission, saying: “I’m not cheap, but I’m good.”
The Telegraph,, May 24, 2001

Just whom would have had the means, motive, and opportunity to kill this guy?

At first blush, your suspect list includes tens of thousands. His operation employed thousands at its peak, and some employee is always convinced they’ve been mistreated or betrayed in some way.  So, all those thousands, and their relatives, would be on the suspect list.

As would the people his organization had taken in some con game or other.  But…would they truly be likely suspects?  How probable is it, really, that someone who once lost money on a time-share scheme they traced back to Palmer’s organization would be behind this kind of murder?  That they would scale walls and use a firearm expertly and then disappear without a trace?  Or would an old employee who thought they were laid off unjustly be likely to pull off this sort of a hit?

 For investigators, it screamed professional hit.

But given how much of the underworld Palmer dealt with, over so many years, that’s still a large field to work from….

Supergrass John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer had been under surveillance for at least 16 years before he was assassinated by a hitman, it is claimed.
The infamous crook, 65 – who was once believed to be Britain’s richest criminal – was gunned down at his home in Essex in June 2015 in a killing which police say bore ‘all the hallmarks’ of a professional hit.

After his death, it was revealed Palmer had been under surveillance since 2007, due to his links with the criminal underworld.

But it has now emerged that the conman – who was believed to have turned informant and had a deal with police – had been the subject of an top secret operation since 1999.

According to the BBC, Operation Alpine was initially set up to identify Palmer’s assets through his criminal activity, but was such a success that it continued for 16 years, including for the four years he spent in jail.

Some of the intel gathered was then used to inform police investigations into other parts of his criminal organisation.

‘We knew what police officers he had in his pocket, what other criminals he was mixing with, and using for various criminal enterprises,’ the officer tells Inside Out West.

He added that the team – set up by the defunct Serious and Organised Crime Agency – ‘was sitting on loads of intelligence’ and were worried it would get back to Palmer through police contacts.

Palmer’s death has led to various theories, including linking the infamous Adams crime family to the burglary.

The infamous criminal, 65, was gunned down at his home in Essex in June 2015 in a killing which police say bore ‘all the hallmarks’ of a professional hit

Some claim the incident was actually an attempt to get their hands on a safety deposit box containing evidence of a murder they had committed, which was in Palmer’s possession.

Underworld sources have also claimed that Palmer had information about the Hatton Garden raid and knew the identity of a criminal known as Basil – the only man to evade capture.

Essex Police are also investigating possible connections between Palmer’s death and a trial he was facing in Spain for fraud, firearms possession and money laundering.

Generous bail conditions allowed him to return to the UK, triggering suspicions he had cut a deal with police to avoid jail.

While police would not confirm that he was an informant, they admitted that there were groups of people wishing to do him harm after arrests in 2015.

John Palmer with son James Ketley, who spoke about his father on Crimewatch earlier this year as detectives appealed for new information on his murder

Earlier this year a £50,000 reward was offered to help catch Palmer’s killer.

Palmer, a father of three, is believed to have been killed by a ‘professional’ hitman who is believed to have leapt over the 6ft fence.

The force released footage from CCTV showing Mr Palmer gardening and burning documents at about 5.18pm, which was the last time he was seen alive.

Police know that he staggered for around 20 metres after being shot before, being found dead by his son, James Ketley’s, girlfriend.

The pair were inside the house at the time and did not hear a gunshot, suggesting a silencer may have been used.

A small hole was drilled through his garden fence with a screwdriver to spy on him before the suspect scaled the wooden fence and came at him with a pistol.

MailOnline, September 26, 2016

So, a professional hit, in theory, but which professional? Representing what gang? For what purpose?

And the obvious: wealth such as he amassed implies high level collusion, conspirators in high places.

Were the gangs of England more likely to see Palmer as a known, steady quantity, but powerful government officials more likely to see him as a threat, someone who might flip and end their careers?