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THE MESSINA BROTHERS
The father of the five Maltese Messina brothers was Giuseppe De Bono from Linguaglossa in Sicily. In late 1890 he came to Malta and worked in a brothel in the notorious Strait Street (Triq Strada Stretta) in Valletta. He married a Maltese woman from Zejtun with the surname Debono and had two sons Salvatore (born 20 August 1898, Hamrun) and Alfredo ( born 6 February 1901] Hamrun) He then moved to Alexandria in Egypt in 1905 where there was a thriving Maltese community and built a chain of brothels. The other three sons Eugenio (born 1908, Alexandria, Egypt) , Attillo (born 1910, Alexandria) and Carmelo (born 1915, Alexandria) were born in Egypt. All the five brothers joined their father in running brothels and prostitution. In 1932 the Egyptian authorities expelled Giuseppe and his sons. The family returned to Malta as Giuseppe had Maltese citizenship. In 1934 Eugenio the third son of Giuseppe, moved to London with his French prostitute wife Colette. She helped establish the sex trade in London. The other Messina brothers followed Eugenio and established themselves in Soho, London.
The Messinas and the London Underworld
On arrival in UK the Messina brothers took up English names. Eugenio became Edward Marshal, Carmelo became Charles Maitland, Alfredo became Alfred Martin, Salvatore became Arthur Evans and Atillio became Raymond Maynard. Properties were bought throughout the west end and businesses set up. They quickly became involved in their father’s former trade and, during the years following the Second World War, imported women from Belgium, France and Spain. With a steady and highly profitable prostitution operation and adequate protection from members of the Metropolitan Police, the Messinas ran unchecked in the city. By the late 1940s they were operating thirty houses of prostitution on Queen Street, Bond Street and Stafford Street. The women handed over 80 per cent of their earnings to the brothers. By the 1950s the police estimated that at least 200 of London’s most expensive prostitutes were Messina girls. Prosecution proved difficult as many of the women who worked for them had valid passports, making it hard to make a case for deportation of either the women or the brothers. Later they started recruiting local English girls by the age old technique of giving good looking girls a good time and possibly promises of marriage followed by being induced into prostitution. Attilio Messina reportedly stated to the press: “We Messinas are more powerful than the British Government. We do as we like in England.”
In the late 1940s, Duncan Webb, a crime reporter on the tabloid newspaper The People, began writing articles claiming that information was being leaked from Scotland Yard to Alfred Messina and on 3 September 1950 the paper published a front-page article, “Arrest These Four Men”, by Webb describing prostitution in the West End, including interviews with more than 100 prostitutes, and revealing names, dates, photographs and other information crucial to any police investigation.
The activities of the Messinas soon gained the attention of Scotland Yard, which formed a special investigative task force under Superintendent Guy Mahon to engage in an aggressive campaign against them. By the end of the 1950s the Messinas had been forced to flee the country. Eugenio, Carmelo, Salvatore and Attilio left England on 19 March 1951. Alfredo Messina was arrested and charged with living off the immoral earnings of his girlfriend, Hermione Hinden, and for attempting to bribe the policeman Superintendent Guy Mahon – who arrested him. He was sent down for two years in prison on bribery and prostitution charges. Attilio Messina was sentenced to four years imprisonment after being caught attempting to illegally re-enter the country in April 1959). On his release he went to live in Italy.
Eugenio and Carmelo Messina eventually resurfaced in Belgium living in a 10-bedroom flat at Avenue Louis in Brussels. On 31 August 1955 Eugenio and Carmelo were arrested as they were closing a deal with two Belgian girls. They were taken to court on 23 June 1956 on charges of procuring women, illegal possession of firearms, possessing fake passports, entering Belgium illegally. Eugenio received a six-year sentence. Carmelo was acquitted because of lack of evidence. Conviction and imprisonment of Eugenio was partly because of testimony of detectives from Scotland Yard. The Police forces of Italy, France, Belgium and UK were involved in the investigations and evidence collection for the prosecution of the brothers. Carmelo was banned from re-entering England but he did and was arrested on 3 October 1958 for being an illegal immigrant. He was found sitting in a car in Knightsbridge. He received a six-month prison sentence. After completing his prison sentence he was deported to Italy. He went to live in San Remo. He later married Maria Theresa Vervaere on 12 March 1970 and died the same day. Alfredo Messina died at Brentford, UK in 1963. The remaining brother, Salvatore Messina, went into hiding and was never apprehended. Messina brothers laid the foundation for many Maltese gangs that followed in the sex trade of Soho.