John Palmer, nicknamed Goldfinger came from very ordinary beginnings. Starting out as a market trader, he had built a very lucrative empire largely from property development before he was murdered in 2015. He had been an influential character during the later 1980’s timeshare boom and had acquired developments and properties in Spain and the Canary Islands. Throughout his legitimate career however he was both extremely clever and fraudulent. He was associating with criminals and he was involved in the aftermath of the Brink’s-Mat gold bullion robbery in November 1983. At that time he was a jeweller and bullion trader. Arrested and put on trial for smelting portions of this £26 million haul he was acquitted. His defence convinced a jury that he was unaware that the bullion he was handling was part of the Brink’s-Mat cache. He was a friend and associate of the convicted criminal and murderer, Kenneth Noye.

Palmer went on to create a complex network of business and property interests but fraud and evading tax and VAT had brought about series of prison sentences. He and his criminal associates have featured in numerous documentaries and film versions of their careers the latest in 2023 being ‘The Gold’. Screened by the BBC and in six parts, this presentation focused on the 1983 Brink’s-Mat robbery.

On 24 June 2015 he was shot dead outside his home in South Weald Park in Essex. There was no known precursor or immediate and obvious motive to his murder but clearly something in his past was involved. His large house and outbuildings are situated in woodland within the park area.

I visited the park and found Palmer’s property in February 2019. Whilst it is a secluded location it was surrounded by public paths, cycle routes and bridleways. South Weald Park is just north of the busy A12; you can hear the hum of the traffic. John Palmer was shot whilst collecting and burning rubbish in a small incinerator outside his house. The perpetrator had approached his property, had climbed a small wooden fence and then shot him dead at very close range. He was shot 7 times in the chest and abdomen with a .32 semi-auto handgun. There were no witnesses, and nobody heard any shots. He was found soon after by his son James and his girlfriend who had both been inside the property. James recognised his father was unconscious but had no idea that his father had been shot. Palmer’s partner, Christina Ketley was out horse riding.

Palmer had recently received and was recovering from open heart surgery. When paramedics arrived they failed to ascertain he had been shot and considered from his medical history that his recent procedure was the cause of his collapse and the blood on his chest were burst sutures. It wasn’t until he had reached hospital that it was realised, he had been shot. By this time, he was dead. When Essex Police arrived at the property, they found 7 ejected .32 shell casings in the vicinity of the shooting. The media in some quarters suggested that because no shots had been heard the gunman had used a silencer, (suppressor). The instant jump to this conclusion is straight out of the movies where we often see hitmen dressed in black using silenced handguns. The sound of gunfire can be easily masked by a whole variety of circumstances and conditions. A bordering section of wooden fence was found to have a hole drilled through it. It was surmised that perhaps the gunman had created this in order to watch Palmer. Perhaps he did but the property is situated in a depression and can be viewed with optics from 360 degrees; so why drill a hole in a fence?

Essex Police appealed for witnesses. A woman came forward who claimed to have seen a male in a light-coloured hoodie acting ‘furtively’ in the park area not far from the property. Apparently two men were seen digging into the soil at another location in the park. One must appreciate that this was parkland with easy and encouraged access. The area is well used by walkers, joggers, dog walkers, horse riders and cyclists. Access to Palmers property was easy via these routes and the presence of anybody in the area and at any time of day or night was normal.

The untarmaced route to John Palmer’s house for normal vehicle access is off Sandpit Lane. Whilst there is no indication of his property from this intersection it is marked as a footpath and bridleway. The house is 500 metres along the track from the road and surrounded by woodland. The property can be reached however from a variety of directions via a labyrinth of paths and tracks. Just 1.5 Km south is a car park off Weald Road next to the Brookweald cricket ground. Well used by park users I found it very easily. It was a perfect location to park a vehicle in an initial phase to get access to Palmer’s property. When I arrived, there were a number of vehicles already parked there. As I set off on a mountain bike, the weather was damp and overcast.

I met two sets of dog walkers; we exchanged pleasantries. This is a very normal outdoor location, there is nothing odd or sinister about it. I found and reached Palmer’s property easily. Surrounded by woodland it is set in a depression. The vehicular entrance is protected by a large ornate gate. The property comprises the main house and a collection of surrounding buildings, storage, stables, garages and outbuildings. There was a large dog roaming.

Palmer’s killer may have approached the property in a very clandestine style taking care to avoid being seen. On the other hand, a more confident detached style of open approach would not have aroused suspicion because of the free public access. We will never know. John Palmer may have had sight of his killer. He and his family would undoubtedly have seen people walking, jogging, cycling and horse riding outside the perimeter of his property on a regular basis.

A senior police officer DCI Stephen Jennings from Essex Police was interviewed on BBC Crimewatch shortly after the murder. Strangely for a senior police officer he was poorly briefed and clearly not familiar with firearms. His sombre description of the events sounded appropriate but also ridiculous when he made reference to a screened image of the anticipated and likely type of murder weapon.

“We think the gun was similar to the one you see here, a self-loading revolver, smooth bore, .32 calibre rounds were used”.

The weapon used was indeed a semi-auto pistol and a not a revolver; but there is no such thing as a self loading revolver. The term revolver is often and incorrectly used as a generic term for a handgun. It would be as senseless as describing the offender getting away in a four-wheel-drive 3 wheeler. Another perspective was portrayed by a newspaper showing a still image from Palmer’s CCTV camera’s. This media giant decided that Palmer had been blasted by a shotgun. So it would appear that both the Essex Police and the media are hot on the trail of Palmer’s killer.

Individuals have been apparently questioned and interviewed by investigating police but to date Palmer’s killer has not been found. There have been a number of shooting murders in the wake of the Brink’s-Mat gold bullion robbery. The victims were all people supposedly associated with the money laundering and distribution of the wealth.

Was Palmer another victim of the Brink’s-Mat curse but so long after the event it could have been for numerous other reasons and perhaps far removed from it.