April 23, 2013
Searching For Tara Browne:
The Testimony Of Laurie O’ Leary
O’ Leary, Laurie: Ronnie Kray: A Man Among Men, 2001, Headline Book Publishing
A key event in British rock and roll history was the death of Tara Browne on 12/18/66 in a car crash. The death was memorialized by the Beatles in their song A Day In The Life on the Sgt. Pepper’s album. This coincided with the Paul Is Dead rumor. It has been suggested, not very plausibly, that Paul McCartney died in the Browne crash and that after a little face lifting surgery Browne took his place in the band and subsequent career.
It has been said that on the night of the crash Paul challenged Tara to a race through the London streets that resulted in the crash. Rather thin story. Paul is supposed to have fled the scene of the accident. There is no doubt that there was an accident, and a spectacular one, and that presumably Browne died. I don’t think there can be much doubt that Tara Browne was the one who died but the accident does raise questions.
Browne along with the Beatles’ George Harrison was involved with the night club Sibylla’s that opened its doors on 6/26/66, six months previous to Tara’s demise. The club that attracted the cream of the rock world was extremely successful. The club was managed by Laurie O’ Leary. O’ Leary was already connected to the notorious Kray Twins having formerly managed aspects of the Krays’ West End gambling joint Esmeralda’s Barn. After Sibylla’s was closed O’Leary would move on to the very important Speakeasy Club.
In his 2001 biography of Ronnie Kray, Laurie gives the most extended account of
Sibylla’s that I have come across. While it may not solve any problems concerning Browne’s death, in its account the book does put Sibylla’s into perspective.
Laurie O’ Leary grew up in the East End not too far from the Krays. He was friends with them from early childhood maintaining a close relationship with them all through the years until Ronnie Kray’s death in the Broadmoor Mental Hospital (insane asylum, loony bin) in 1995.
While a ‘business’ associate he claims never to have been a member of the Krays’ criminal outfit, The Firm. O’ Leary was careful never to have become involved in overt criminal activities, although there was criminal involvement, instead becoming involved in the music business from the promotion and management side. It is not impossible that he participated in the negotiations of the Krays with Brian Epstein to take over the Beatles. As one writing of sensitive matters it isn’t so much what O’ Leary says as what he doesn’t tell us; so while we learn a great deal O’ Leary carefully conceals leads to the whole story.
The Krays, for whose who are unfamiliar with them, were twin brothers, Ronnie and Reggie, who were acknowledged as the kingpins of the British underworld during the 1960s. Their older brother, Charlie Kray, while not part of their Firm, participated in schemes and benefited from the relationship. Charlie Kray too, not surprisingly, got into show business management.
Originally from the East End the Krays made an entrance into the West End of London when by dubious means they acquired a Kensington gambling joint called Esmeralda’s Barn. This was a building of three floors of which the top floor was occupied by the gambling joint while the first floor was made into a private club and the basement was what in the US would be called a bar. O’ Leary managed the lower two floors. The Kray’s were reluctant to pay their taxes thus an un-understanding Inland Revenue closed their doors. Enter Sibylla’s.
O’ Leary says of this stage of his career: p.168
By this time I was managing the society club Sibylla’s for an elite group of directors that included Beatle George Harrison, Sir William Piggot-Brown, the top amateur jockey, and the evergreen disc jockey Alan (Fluff) Freeman.
The club attracted a high profile clientele, which was cleverly orchestrated by one of its directors Terry Howard who worked in advertising.
O’ Leary does not mention two other participants in the directorship Tara Browne and Kevin McDonald. These two are the only ones who figure in the commentary from the rock and roll side. Through O’ Leary, connected to both the Firm and the Charlie Kray Agency he contracted the talent for the club. We are beginning to see a closer connection between the rock scene and the Kray led underworld.
Now, you couldn’t run a club without ‘protection’ and the protection would have to have been provided by the Krays’ Firm as well as the talent by the Charlie Kray Agency and Kray associate O’ Leary.
Ronnie and Reggie Kray
Further, the location was on a Firm controlled street, flanked by gang controlled clubs. A question then would be, who selected the site and why? O’ Leary describes the location: pp 108-109
Sibylla’s was a small restaurant discotheque situated in Mayfair’s Vine Street, a narrow, winding cobbled road suitable only for the width of one vehicle….
Entering from Regent Street, Vine Street already had three established night clubs. Al Burnet’s Stork Rooms was the most famous. Directly next door was the less famous but well-run Hirondelle. Both were used by the Twins. At the same time, a few doors along, was Bill Bentley’s Oyster Bar, which was frequented by many a celebrity….
On the other side from Bentley’s was a rather infamous clip joint called Pipistrello’s…
Just why the directors of Sibylla’s had chosen this site for their exclusive club was actually beyond belief. The other clubs were frequently used by London’s gangsters. This kind of passing trade would have been difficult to eliminate.
So, the high flying music trade was placed cheek by jowl with the London underworld. The whole directorship must have been high on drugs while feeling immune to any threat from the Kray gang. As I stated the club would have had to have been paying protection. Tara Browne already worked for and or was associated with a car dealership and the dealerships were all ‘protected’ by the Kray gang.
A month or so previous to Browne’s accident his friend and business associate Kevin McDonald fell to his death from a high building. Kevin was either carelessly walking the ledge, high enough to think he could fly, purposely jumped or was thrown to his death by unknown parties.
Concerning McDonald’s death O’ Leary says: p. 171
Sadly after about three weeks, news drifted through that Kevin McDonald had died. I was told to keep quiet about the tragedy, and that the news would finish off Sibylla’s. Nobody ever explained to me just what had happened to Kevin, of whom I had grown very fond. It appeared that he had leapt off a roof in, I think, Chelsea or Fulham while under the influence of something or other.
O’ Leary doesn’t indicate who told him to keep quiet or who failed to tell him what happened but I think the influence is clear that it was the Krays. Laurie doesn’t even mention Tara Browne’s death.
Perhaps, or probably, McDonald objected to some demands from the Krays while feeling beyond any threats because of the popularity of the Beatles through Harrison so that he ignored his danger. I suspect the situation was the same with Tara Browne who probably had a cognitive disconnect because of his social status.
Another jump would have been highly suspicious so an auto accident was determined. Possibly it was meant to only scare Tara but resulted in his death. If McCartney was used to lure Browne into a race through the streets then it is possible to create a scenario resulting in the Paul Is Dead rumor but, at this point it would be pure speculation.
At any rate O’ Leary’s account makes clear the Krays’, both twins and Charlie, underworld connection to Sibylla’s, McDonald and Browne. It opens an avenue to further speculation.
Sibylla’s Entrance from Sara’s blog, Sara in picture