The Murder of David King
"It was a drugs haven"
On the morning of Friday, October 3, 2003, 32-year-old Dave King had just left a gym in Hoddesdon, when a white Transit van slowed as it drove passed. At that moment, the passenger of the vehicle lent out of the window and fired twenty-six rounds from an AK-47, five of which hit King, killing him instantly.
A known drug dealer and violent enforcer, Dave ‘Rolex’ King was part of a drug trafficking organization that was bringing in hundreds of thousands of pounds of heroin into the UK. But King’s fate was sealed when his criminal associates suspected him of being a police informer, and hatched a plan to eliminate him.
The Essex Connection
During the 1990’s, a small group of criminals ruled the drug scene around Essex and East London, flooding the streets and nightclubs with ecstasy and cocaine. This operation was run by three drug dealers, Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe, known collectively as the Essex Boys.
It was during the early 1990’s, that Glaswegian gangster Dave King first came into contact with Tony Tucker, who at that time operated a north London shop selling muscle-building supplements. The two men bonded over a shared interest in bodybuilding, and soon developed a friendship.
At 6ft 3in, the muscular King was an intimidating presence, and was more than capable of handling himself in a violent situation. The two men worked together as minders for ex-WBC super middleweight boxing champion Nigel Benn, and enjoyed the attention and access to celebrities that came with the job.
Tucker also ran a lucrative security business that provided bouncers for clubs around Essex and east London, which netted him upwards of £1,500 a week. King earned himself a fearsome reputation as a good fighter working the doors, where the sale of drugs to nightclubbers was tightly controlled.
During this time, King was sentenced to a prison term for violently assaulting a man in Stevenage, and hiding his victim inside the boot of a car. During his time in prison, Tony Tucker was murdered along with his criminal associates Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe.
The three men were found shot to death in a Range Rover, that was parked down a small farm track in the village of Rettendon in Essex. Rolfe had been blasted in the side of the head, while Tucker’s face had been obliterated. In the back seat, Pat Tate had been shot once once in the stomach and twice in the head. This crime that became known as the Rettendon Murders.
Canning Town Firm
Upon his release from prison, King joined up with another criminal organization, known as the Canning Town Firm. He became close friends with one of its members, Darren Pearson, a violent a crazed individual who was connected to dangerous football hooligan gangs.
As described by former Essex Boy gang member turned crime author Bernard O’Mahoney, Pearman was a particularly violent individual. “Darren Pearman was a member of the Canning Town Firm, probably the best little outfit in London. It was all part of the same group of people as the Inter City Firm, which was centred on the West Ham fan’s gang.”
“They were all very violent. If someone stamped on their foot, they got murdered. Darren was a space job. He wore cardigans and had his hair in a side parting. He looked like a boffin but was a raging lunatic. He was friends with Dave King, and a couple of years ago, they were in Charlie Chan’s nightclub.”
“There was a fight in which a man was cut by a bottle of glass. The glassing kicked off a big fight, and the doormen got involved. One of them was an ex-wrestler called Ronnie Fuller. Ronnie didn’t known the rules. If you’re a doorman and you grab people like Pearman and King, you’re going to get it as well, because they have to keep their front.”
It rumoured, according to underworld sources, that 27-year-old Pearman’s death was the result of an argument started by King at the Charlie Chan’s North London nightclub, which ended with Ronnie Fuller, the then head doorman, forcibly ejecting both men from the establishment.
Exactly four years to the day before his own death, King and Pearman were at the Epping Forest Country Club near Chigwell, Essex, when Pearman saw Fuller at the Country Club. “A few weeks later, they clashed with him again outside Epping Forest Country Club,” said O’Mahoney.
Sources state that the row stemmed from a dispute Pearman and Fuller were having over a girl, and there had been a previous fight in which Fuller had gotten the better of Pearman. Another fight soon broke out. According to eye-witnesses, Pearman’s gang attacked Mr. Fuller with weapons, including a machete.
This had been hidden in a sofa inside the club. During the scuffle, Fuller wrestled the weapon from Pearman, who sustained fatal injuries. O’Mahoney said, “Pearman was stabbed and pronounced dead by the time he rolled up to Whipps Cross Hospital in the back of a cab.” Pearman’s brother was also injured.
Several months later, Fuller and an associate were released on police bail over the Pearman murder. On August 29, 2000, Fuller was blasted to death on the doorstep of his home by a hitman riding a motorbike. O’Mahoney said, “Later, a motorbike hitman shot Ronnie twice in the head and three times in the chest, killing him outside his home in Gray’s, Essex, in front of his wife.”
According to O’Mahoney, the Canning Town Firm had refused to cooperate with the police investigation into Pearman’s murder, and announced they would “sort it” themselves. Ronnie Fuller had moved roughly twenty miles from Loughton, but as O’Mahoney put it, “it had not been nearly far enough.” No-one was ever tried for the murder of Ronnie Fuller. According to a police source, investigators suspected the Pearman’s father, Christopher Pearman, was behind the killing in retribution for the death of his son.
It was later revealed that at the time of the Pearman murder, the Epping Forest Country Club was owned by David Hunt, who is considered one of the most violent gangsters in the United Kingdom, and suspected head of the a criminal organization known as the Hunt Syndicate.
According to a former member of the Canning Town Firm, King’s presence within the gang resulted in bitter feuds. John Rollinson said that King had angered many with his attitude. “He joined up with our firm after coming out of prison, much against my better judgement…”
“Once he did, he systematically began to turn everybody against each other, and caused a lot of bad feeling.” Once former associate said of King, “He was a nice fella in his own way, but you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him,” while another said, “He was a violent bully”.
Police investigations linked King to the lucrative London trade in stolen watches, something that earned him the soubriquet “Rolex Dave”. King was rumoured to sell the stolen watches to the Bratva, or Russian Mafia. Around this time, King began forming connections with other criminal groups.
King eventually started his own nightclub in Stevenage, called The Renaissance. It became known as a notorious centre for drug dealing and was closed by the local council for non-payment of rent in 2002. One bar manager in the town said, “It was a drugs haven. It was full of them.”
By the early 2000’s, he expanded his criminal activities, that included handling stolen property and drug dealing, and had begun trafficking large quantities of drugs into the United Kingdom. This lucrative but highly dangerous business had netted him hundreds of thousands in illicit profit, but also many enemies within the underworld.
So lucrative was the drug trafficking business, that King lived in a £554,000 home at Ardley, Herts, financed through his drug dealing and criminal activities. But Rolex Dave King knew the dangers he faced, and this was the reason why he took precautions wherever he went.
One particular incident had caused King to suspect his life was in danger. In June 2002, a heroin shipment was intercepted by customs. A relatively common occurrence, however this shipment was worth £100,000. King and four of his criminal associates were arrested over the 14kg drug seizure.
All five were charged with drug offences, however proceedings against King, by then a father-of-two, were dropped at an early stage. This prompted one of his co-defendants to shout in court that he was a “grass”, and soon caused a fallout within the criminal gang.
“His gangland associates had been harbouring fears for some months that their ‘firm’ had been infiltrated by a police or customs ‘grass’ and the ease with which King had got off pointed the finger towards him,” said Detective Inspector Paul Maghie of Essex police.
DI Maghie said: “This is a tit-for-tat killing. King knew he had a problem, that there was a threat to his life. King took a contract out on Sharma.” David Sharma, a one-time friend of King from North London, was so frightened of 6ft 3in, 18st King, that he fled to Cannes in the south of France and went into hiding under a false identity.
When two of the other men arrested in the drug seizure along with King and Sharma, Roger Vincent and David Smith, heard about the threat to Sharma they offered to have King shot in retaliation. Police said that was the motive for King’s murder.
Vincent, from Penn, Bucks, and Smith, who lived in Borehamwood, Herts, contracted armed robber Dean Spencer, from Manchester, to carry out the hit. 31-year-old Smith armed himself with a Webley .38 pistol, loaded with five bullets, and went with another man to King’s Stevenage home on September 22, 2003.
They became convinced King was waiting for them, and knew his reputation for ruthlessness along with his powerful physique as a bodybuilder, that earned him the nickname “Muscles”. As they suspected, King had been forewarned about a possible threat to his, and was with “minder” Ian Crocker.
During this time, he had also taken to wearing a bulletproof vest. Outside King’s home, the four men were locked in a stand-off before Spencer lost his nerve and fled. Having pulled out of the deal, Roger Vincent became violent when he found he would have to do the job himself.
Spencer was later arrested for committing an armed robbery, and under questioning told detectives about the murder plot against King. During his later trial at Luton crown court, it was learned he told investigators, “When I saw how big he was and wearing that bulletproof vest I knew my little gun would be useless against him.”
When Vincent, a 33-year-old Gangland debt collector and fixer heard that Spencer had “bottled out” he decided to take matters into his own hands. He enlisted the help of 33-year-old David Smith, who was to act as his driver, and also assist with the murder.
Aware that King knew about the murder plot against him, and that he routinely took to wearing a bulletproof vest, the two men got a Hungarian made Kalashnikov AKS-47 machine gun and loaded it with “full metal jacket” armour piercing bullets.
The AKS-47 – an AK-47 with a folding metal stock – is issued mainly to paratroopers and member of elite special forces. The detailed planning that followed was conducted over mobile phones and evidence from bills was used by the police to piece together the movements and motives of the main players.
With forensic evidence left by the killer, CCTV recordings, descriptions of the suspects from witnesses, surveillance and recording of conversations, police were able to put together a profile of the murder which was later presented to the court at the trial of Vincent and Smith.
Vincent and Smith used a stolen white Transit van and a stolen Mercedes as getaway cars, and proceeded to stalked King until they saw their chance to kill him. This came on October 3, 2003, when Dave King left the Physical Limits gym in Brewery Road, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire in the company of his bodyguard, Ian Crocker.
As the two men walked outside, a white van, driven by Smith, pulled up alongside King. In that moment, he must have realized what was about to happen. Sitting in the passenger seat, Vincent opened fired on King with an AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle discharging at least 26 rounds of armour-piercing ammunition.
In what was described in court as a classic “drive-by” assassination, King was struck at close range by five rounds from the three second burst, that hit him in the chest, arm and leg. He died instantly. Other rounds peppered King’s car, others his his friend Ian Crocker, and others were later found in the walls of the gym.
Det Insp Maghie said: “Some of the bullets that hit the gym went through the wall and into the gym. It was the first time that weapon was used in Britain in automatic mode.” The killers then made their getaway, torching the vehicles to cover their tracks.
However, the killers failed to adequately discard of crucial evidence linking them to the crime. Close to the burnt out van, police found a discarded plastic glove. Inside was a palm print of David Smith. The day following the murder, a couple were walking beside Breydon Water at Great Yarmouth on the Norfolk Broads.
Suddenly they spotted a man hurling a red sports bag into the water, before hurriedly running away. The walkers retrieved the holdall, and inside found it contained an AKS-47 assault rifle and spare rounds of ammunition. Police were able to prove the gun, which had previously belonged to the Hungarian Prison Authorities, was the same one used to kill Dave King.
Further evidence was recovered from the murder weapon. On the lip of the curved ammunition clip they found a trace of Smith’s DNA. Meanwhile, on a towel in the same bag, forensic officers found saliva DNA from Vincent, definitively linking him to the crime.
Yet further evidence was uncovered on another towel, that was found to contain fibres from a unique jute rug which was at a flat used by Vincent. CCTV footage recovered by investigators placed Smith, wearing a distinctive hat, at a filling station in Hoddesdon.
Mobile phones transmissions from Hoddesdon to Cannes analysed by police minutes after the shooting indicated that Vincent and Smith had called David Sharma to tell him they had murdered King. Sharma, who was wanted for his involvement in the King slaying, disappeared and was being actively hunted across Europe by Interpol.
A fourth man, 38-year-old Julian Elfes, 38, from High Wycombe, Bucks, was convicted of assisting an offender, when it was proved he had helped Vincent lie low after the shooting. Arrested shortly after the killing, Vincent boasted to detectives under questioning that he made £250,000 in cash every year from a string of clubs he controls in the east of England.
Vincent, who drove a £100,000 convertible Aston Martin DB7, was charged with King’s murder. Assets worth £1.6m were frozen by court order on the grounds that his funds were linked to drug trafficking and money laundering. The assets included his house in Hertfordshire, a £1m property in London and £7,500 in four bank accounts.
A detective said: “Whenever we talked to anyone in the underworld about Vincent we discovered people were terrified of him. “He is not a big man physically, but has a fearsome reputation for violence and as a hired gun.” For his part in the murder plot, father-of-four Vincent was sentenced to serve at least 30 years.
His criminal associate and getaway driver David Smith was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years for his part in the murder. Elfes was jailed for five years for assisting Vincent, while Dean Spencer admitted conspiracy to murder King and was sentenced at a later date.
After they were convicted, Mr Justice Wilkie said: “This was a thoroughly planned, ruthless and brutally executed assassination of a criminal by a small team. It was committed in a public street during daytime and involved an automatic firearm. It was only by great fortune that no other passers-by were seriously injured or worse.”
The murder of Dave King had been orchestrated as part of a plot to eliminate him before he managed to kill David Sharma. The two killers were friends with Sharma and offered to wipe out King purely as a favour with no payment involved.
Rolex Dave King was a dangerous individual, known for his violent tendencies and criminal activities, however not everyone remembers him for the crimes he committed. His parents, Jimmy and Norma King remember their Glasgow-born son as a football crazy family man.
In a statement after his death they said, “He was ambitious for himself and for his family and wanted the very best for his children. A devout Muslim, David’s bodybuilding formed a great part of his lifestyle. He was proud of his appearance and a perfectionist in all that he did.”
The violent death of Dave King came as a shock to the community in Hoddesdon, but in the criminal underworld, rivalries and killings are not uncommon. Despite this, a police source said, “Whatever someone’s past, no one deserves to be killed like this. But it was the way of the world he operated in.”