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Photo: ? Bettmann/Corbis. Princess Marie Marguerite Fahmy, French wife of late Prince Ali Fahmy of Egypt, was a lover of the Prince of Wales.

Photo: ? Bettmann/Corbis.
Princess Marie Marguerite Fahmy, French wife of late Prince Ali Fahmy of Egypt, was a lover of the Prince of Wales.

?What Have I Done, My Dear!

What have I done!”

The Two Princes, the Fran?aise and the perfect murder ? How Marguerite Alibert became Princess Fahmy and shot her husband at the Savoy ?

Late-night diners at the Savoy Hotel in?London?paused between mouthfuls and stared at each other in amazement.?At one of the tables an unseemly row had broken out ? shrieks of rage from a bejeweled French woman in a chic satin Chanel gown, howls of anger from her youthful white-tie-and-tailed Middle Eastern husband.

?Shut up, or I?ll smash this bottle of wine over your head,? she screamed at the top of her voice.

?And I?ll do the same to you,? he hurled back, until waiters intervened to try to calm them down.

To those in the know, this was just another everyday argy-bargy in the volatile six-month marriage of 32-year-old Marguerite, high-class Parisian hooker and notorious gold-digger, and 22-year-old Prince Ali Fahmy, effeminate, filthy-rich Egyptian playboy, besotted with her and intensely jealous.?They were forever clawing and scratching each other, biting and kicking.

But it was more than that this time. A few hours later during a violent thunderstorm, that night in July 1923, there was more loud cursing and rowing in the corridor outside their suite ? followed by the sound of three pistol shots fired in rapid succession.?A hotel porter who rushed to investigate found Ali slumped against a wall in a pool of blood, a bullet through his head, and a hysterical Marguerite bending over his body and crying out, ?J?ai lui tir?? ? ?I?ve shot him.?

If ever there was an open-and-shut murder case, this seemed it. The ambitious Marguerite ? who had slept her way out of the gutter by selling her sexual favours, reeled in scores of wealthy lovers and landed a prince ? seemed certain to be heading for a date with the hangman.?And yet, ten weeks later, after an Old Bailey trial that had Press and public agog at all the lurid sexual details unearthed, she was acquitted. It was one of the most sensational turnarounds in British legal history. How could this have happened?

Friends of the then Prince of Wales ? the hapless Edward VIII-to-be ?? conspired to get her off the hook.

Why? To hush up the fact that she, a prostitute, had bedded the Prince on numerous occasions during the last 18 months of World War I while he was serving with the Army in?France. Moreover, she had racy love letters from him to prove it.

The moment the news came out that Marguerite was under arrest in Holloway prison, a secret, high-level damage-limitation exercise was set in motion. The Prince?s intimate entourage of toffs, toughs and old Army chums went into overdrive to save him from embarrassment and ridicule.

They knew that in his early 20s the young and immature heir to the throne had enjoyed her delights ? some of them had even dallied there too and discovered how well versed she was in the tricks of her trade.?The Prince, a newcomer to such arts, had been initiated, bewitched and then become more than a little obsessed with the shapely body, auburn hair and sensuous mouth of the woman he knew as Mme Maggie Meller. She was adept at playing the dominatrix. He pursued her with slavish devotion at every opportunity, lavishing gifts on her.

She sent him an erotic novel with a strong lesbian theme. Foolishly he wrote letters to ?mon Bebe?, as he called her, 20 of them at least, intimate, possibly rude about his father, King George V, often indiscreet about the conduct of the war, and definitely not the sort he would ever want the world to see.

And when in 1918 he dumped her for the arms of Mrs Freda Dudley-Ward, the first of his long-term mistresses, she pointedly reminded him she still had them, with a hint that she wanted money for their return.?Why Marguerite pulled back from blackmail at this point is unclear, but in time the Prince seemed reassured that, though ?IT in Paris? (the ungentlemanly term he now used for the woman he?d once adored) had not given up his billets-doux, she was not going to make trouble.?Now her arrest in?London?on a capital murder charge punctured that hope. The real possibility loomed of almost limitless public scandal descending on the Royal Family.

The first thing the Prince?s men did, according to Andrew Rose, [author of?The Prince, the Princess and the Perfect Murder]?was to make a discreet approach to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Archibald Bodkin, explain the delicacy of the situation and get him on board. He guaranteed a date for the Old Bailey trial in September, and they arranged for the Prince to be well out of the way then on a two-month tour of?Canada.

But that wouldn?t stop Marguerite spilling out from the dock details of her boudoir activities with the royal rake or producing those incriminating letters if it suited her. There would have to be a deal to silence her ? and the go-between for that transaction, Rose claims, was one Major Ernest Bald.?The debonair Bald had been one of Marguerite?s ?intimates? back in France, as had the man who now enlisted his help, his old commanding officer, ?Bendor? Grosvenor, the dissolute Duke of Westminster. ?Bendor? was a? disreputable womaniser and heavy drinker, and among the Prince?s closest confidantes.

Bald was sent to visit his old flame in Holloway jail and, though there is no record of what they discussed in frequent meetings in a white-washed room with barred windows over the next five weeks ? talking in French so the watching wardress could not understand ? Rose believes they horse-traded the Prince?s bedroom secrets for some sort of guarantee that she would get off.

From her cell, it seems Marguerite instructed her lawyer to arrange for the Prince?s letters to be handed back. She had stored them in?Cairo?and they were duly given to the British High Commission there and? dispatched to?London.?But were they the real thing? Rose believes the Prince interrupted his summer holiday in?Scotland?to dash to?London to check their authenticity and that they were all accounted for. They weren?t. Marguerite had wisely kept some back for insurance.

The crucial part of the deal, however, was that she would make no mention of the Prince?s name in court, and that part of the bargain she kept in full.

A few days before the trial opened Lord Curzon, Foreign Secretary at the time, confided to his wife some gossip he?d heard: ?The French girl who shot her so-called Egyptian prince in London and is going to be tried for murder, is the fancy woman who was the Prince?s ?keep? [kept woman] in Paris during the war, and they were terribly afraid that he might be dragged in. [But] his name is to be kept out.?

In return, Rose claims, all the other details of her racy past would be left out of the court proceedings, too. And that, he adds, would undermine the prosecution?s case that she was a wicked, foul-tempered, violent woman who had killed her husband to get her hands on his fortune.?Caught with the smoking gun in her hand, Marguerite?s only possible line of defence was that she was a much-battered wife in fear of her life from a vicious and perverted husband. When she told him she was going to divorce him, he had gone berserk and she had shot him in self-defence.

And, says Rose, with the help of the Prince?s connections and the connivance of some leading Establishment figures, that is what her side set out to argue.

?This was to be a show trial,? he states, ?but one with a difference. The authorities wanted Marguerite to be acquitted. A murder conviction would have been catastrophic for the Crown.?

The ground had been prepared. An inexperienced judge was assigned to hear the case and Rose believes he may well have been nobbled from the outset into steering the court away from Marguerite?s steamy past.?The prosecuting counsel was lackluster and less than forensic in his approach, as if he knew the case was somehow stacked against him, whereas the Defence lawyer, pleading Marguerite?s innocence, was the biggest legal star of the age. The theatrical, eye-catching Sir Edward Marshall Hall, orator and advocate extraordinaire, was widely hailed as the ?Great Defender?.

Marshall Hall?s tactic was to besmirch Ali Fahmy?s reputation, appealing unashamedly to every evil racial stereotype to do so. Playing on prejudice common at the time, he conjured up an image of a respectable white woman? falling into the clutches of an unprincipled Arab with perverted sexual tastes.?The young Egyptian was presented as a cruel, promiscuous, bisexual. Driven by lust, he had forced her to have ?unnatural? intercourse that left her ?torn? in the most intimate of places. He beat her and threatened to kill her. For all his sophisticated? outward appearance, he was a beast, a devil.

The judge should have stopped Marshall Hall?s flow of unsubstantiated accusations against the dead man, but the lawyer was allowed to proceed with his rhetoric.

In the dock, Marguerite ? a consummate actress as ever ? sat with her head hanging limply forward and her black gloved right hand supporting her forehead. Her eyes were closed and tears trickled down her cheeks.?Similarly, Marshall Hall got away with muddying the waters over basic facts that damned Marguerite ? that Ali had also been shot in the back and that she had pulled the trigger three times.

As for her own copious sins, her promiscuous past (and present), her naked ambition, her greed, her violent temper which had led her to horse-whip one ex-lover, the phalanx of wealthy men she had snared, exploited and cast aside ? these were simply never mentioned. Witnesses who would have given evidence of her own threats to kill her husband were never called.

Instead, she was this ?poor, wretched woman?, declaimed the Great Defender, ?suffering the tortures of the damned?, who had fired the pistol in desperation as Ali ?crouched like an animal, crouched like an Oriental .?.?.?

In his closing speech, his oratory soared to even greater heights as he invited the jury ?to open the gates where the Western woman can go out, not into the dark night of the desert, but back to her friends, who love her in spite of her weaknesses.

?Open the gate and let this Western woman go back into the light of God?s great Western sun.?

The judge?s summing-up took up the same theme. ?We in this country put our women on a pedestal: in?Egypt?they have not the same views,? he told the jury.?He declared Ali?s alleged sexual tastes ?shocking, sickening and disgusting?. And he steered them towards a conclusion of justifiable homicide. ?If her husband tried to do what she says, in spite of her protests, it was a cruel and abominable act.??The jury took less than an hour to pronounce her Not Guilty and set her free. She was in the clear. So too was the Prince of Wales, his frolics with her wiped from the slate, thanks to his friends.?Also wiped clean, Rose admits, was much of the confirming evidence of the scheming he reckons had taken place to secure her release.

Her surprise acquittal is a matter of record. That it was achieved by a deliberate cover-up at the highest level has to rest on circumstantial evidence, and perhaps not surprisingly. ?Smart plotters do not leave a paper trail,? Rose writes. ?Finding out what has been carefully concealed by clever people is challenging.??Yet he remains convinced that ?the Establishment, in the form of the Royal Household, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the trial judge, agreed to do whatever was necessary to preserve the reputation of the Prince of Wales, even if this meant interfering with due process of law. ?Arguably,? he says, ?this created a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.?

Freed, Marguerite returned to?France?and cheekily tried to claim a slice of the vast wealth left by the husband she had gunned down. It didn?t work and she returned to her life-long trade of trapping wealthy men.

As for the Prince of Wales, he continued his pursuit of unsuitable women ? with consequences, as the world knows, that cost him not only his reputation, but his crown, too.

Tony Rennell

Marguerite Fahmy Case File


The Prince, The Princess And The Perfect Murder by?Andrew Rose