Photo: Ben Allan

Bad Disco

    Tenter House was a brutalist tower block in Canning Town that punched a beige concrete fist fifteen floors into the sky.
    It was one of three tower blocks on the Fisher estate, and all were due for demolition the following year. Most of the residents had been moved out, leaving a handful of squats and a couple of crack houses. The electric and water was still on, and the empty flats had often been used for house and blues parties.
    No one spoke to five-o on the Fisher.
    The gang running the Fisher and the trap houses selling cheap crack and heavily-cut heroin were a chaotic, violent and strangely innocent group of teenagers who called themselves the E13 Co-Op, most of whom grew up on the Fisher and now lived in and around Canning Town and Plaistow. Frank paid them well to work exclusively for him.
    The E13 Co-Op were led by a muscular mountain of brother called Biggah, who became Frank’s deputy, and who’d later work for Frank full-time. Their first job was to close off the empty top five floors of Tenter House for his summer of ’96 happening.
    The floors were cleaned and painted and lights installed by couple of Greek electricians. The lift was legitimacy serviced. Four good DJs were hired and paid nicely for their silence, along with some mild but persistent threat, even though they’d see almost nothing. The whole point was that this would be a cliquish, fashionable blues, very much the real thing.
    Frank had expensive, Pantone Red 032 C business cards printed as invite flyers to a large house party with a phone number to call at the last minute for a location. The couple of hundred cards were designed to look exclusive, and he told the E13 Co-Op to give them out only to slumming middle class female clubbers, who’d be obviously white. He didn’t want to eat anyone who had nothing.
    He made sure the gang knew exactly what he was going to do, and he’d be there for the cleaning and sorting the disposables afterwards. He stressed how as long as they were careful and did as he said, the E13 Co-Op would be sweet even if the feds followed everything back to the Fisher.
    They were all on a bonus, enough for a new Merc or Beemer each and change, and Frank was insistent on the powers of silence, Vanish, baby wipes and bleach.
    By the end of July, everything was prepared, and 27 females with the red flyers came to Frank’s Saturday Night Happening in August.
    Biggah ran the door and at least six groups with flyers were turned away, for either bringing men or just being not right.

Louise and her two girlfriends arrived by black cab after drinking on the Roman Road in Bethnal Green. It was nearly two in the morning, and she saw the strobe lights banging at the top of the tower block. They’d had some coke and a half Vicodin each to smooth the edge. Louise was handed the red card flyer at the Four Aces in Dalston, Hackney the week before.
    Holly, at seventeen, was nervous and didn’t want to go in, but Sarah, her older sister by two years, persuaded her. They’d take the tube back to Ealing in the morning.
    There was a large and friendly black guy at the metal entrance door who said his name was Biggah. He took their cards and ten pounds each and led them into the block and towards the lift.
    ‘Top floor,’ Biggah said. ‘Have a good one, ladies.’
    A few floors before they reached the top they heard the thud of 120 bpm hard house, feeling the bass in their chest cavities. When they came out onto the landing they saw the front doors of the flats had been removed, and all the walls had been roughly whitewashed. Some of the plasterboard and ceilings had been taken out to expose pipes and ventilation ducts for a more industrial, factory feel.
    ‘So fucking cool,’ Sarah shouted over the music, a heavy remix of Heller & Farley Project’s Ultra Flava. The stairwell had been opened up, and they realised there was a different sound system on the floor below. For the first twenty minutes, the girls giddily explored. They could smell the dope in the air. There were three floors, all the flats open, all painted white. The lights on the lowest floor were dim and the music chillout ambient: lovers rock, Bam Bam by Sister Nancy, some of the funkier Eno.
    Louise noticed the Clockwork Orange vibe. There was probably a hundred or so people over the three floors, mostly white girls and black men, some of whom were obviously running the show. It had a good feel and Holly, who was reluctant before coming in, was cool.
    They asked one of the guys in charge where to get dope and bought a gram of charlie. They snorted a few lines each in one of the empty rooms on the middle floor, and then went into the corner flat to get down. There was a small group of ten or so dancing in the room and a guy came in passing out bottles of water, as most of the girls were high on E. Louise was sure she could feel the block moving with the beat, but knew it was probably the vibe and the coke.
    The lights were mostly white and red, with the white strobes exploding when the tune come out of a drop. Another nod to Clockwork Orange, Louise thought. As they danced, Louise took the baggie, licked her finger and rubbed it around in the coke, and Holly opened her mouth and sucked on her finger. She did the same for Sarah, and Louise finished what was left.
    Ten minutes later she knew they’d probably need to chill, perhaps another Vicodin or some weed, and then another gram of charlie. She drank some water, and then Holly fell into her, and she held her small naked midriff, and told Holly to drink. Sarah had her arms up in the air, oblivious and flying. Louise thought about kissing Holly before realising just how high they all were.
    She gathered the girls together and they had some brandy with Big Sy, who’d sold her the blow. He gave Holly a spliff and Louise bought another gram of coke. They shared the dope on the chillout floor and then had a little of the charlie.
    Sarah said she wouldn’t mind getting freaky with Sy, and Lou and Holly told her to go for it. They were back on the middle floor dancing and laughing when it started.
    Louise suddenly noticed all the guys and some of the girls were gone, there was just a dozen white girls left in the room. She pulled Sarah and Holly out of the flat and onto the landing. No guys anywhere. She was buzzing, everything numb from her teeth up to her eyes.
    ‘What’s going on?’ Sarah asked.
    ‘There’s something wrong,’ Louise said. ‘I think the police are coming.’
    ‘Yeah?’ Sarah said, hazily looking around her.
    The music, Pianoman’s Blurred, stopped abruptly, and the lights went out, with just the strobes in the rooms kicking in fast and oscillating white. Hard, sharp flashing shadows bounced off the walls, and at first Louise could barely see. Then the music started again, loud and distorted, and the same on all three floors; T.V. Eye by the Stooges. She heard screaming, but couldn’t tell if it was part of the punk song.
    Then girls were running everywhere, confused and panicking, shoving into her, pushing. Louise saw two girls almost falling down the stairs, crying and screaming. She pulled Holly and Sarah into her, Holly was shouting something Louise couldn’t hear. They’d backed towards one of the flats without realising, and then Louise saw him.
    He came down the stairway, clear in the strobing light. He was young and white, and naked apart from a pair of green adidas Gazelle trainers. His hair and body was almost entirely soaked in dark wet blood, and his cock was stiff and achingly hard. His face was a smear of blood and caked with charlie, eyes wide and white.
    In his right hand was a long and heavy kitchen knife, and he leapt towards a young girl cowering by the lift door, chasing her into one of the flats.
    Louise ran to the lift and pushed repeatedly at the large green button. She put her ear to the small reinforced glass rectangle in the metal door. No vibration, nothing was moving.
    ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck!’ Louise looked back and Holly was on the floor, rolled into a ball and crying. Sarah was gone. She’d run off, the naked instinct for survival. She pulled Holly up and shouted into her face.
    ‘We have to go down the stairs.’
    They had to step over the body of a girl whose leg was broken and facing the wrong way. Louise saw it first and covered Holly’s eyes.
    Louise dragged Holly down the stairwell, and below the chillout floor there was a fire-door with a handwritten sign taped to the door that read ‘No Exit’. She pushed the bar on the heavy door and it opened.
    It was dark and Louise pulled Holly behind her, and then she saw the stairway down was blocked by a tangled wall of shopping trolleys and barbed wire. It wouldn’t move and Louise just cut her hands.
    They sat and Louise held Holly, who was almost comatose with shock, and pushed her damp blonde hair back and kissed her sweet, perfect face. She rubbed as much cocaine as she could into Holly’s mouth, hoping it would help dull the pain.
    ‘Don’t worry babe, we’re good. We’ll be okay.’
    The next song banging out over Tenter House was Cracked Actor by David Bowie, and then Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges. It was followed by The Jean Genie, again by Bowie, but by then Frank was the only one alive at his ’96 happening to hear it.

The cleaning crew went to work as soon as Frank was done. Everyone had their precise instructions, and wore blue polypropylene hooded overalls and disposable polythene gloves.
    The twenty-seven bodies were moved into one flat on the lower floor, and then the cleaning began, starting with the flats on the top floor and working down.
    First the blood was carefully removed with a hydrogen peroxide solution and baby wipes, and then every inch washed with a hot water and Vanish solution and raw bleach. Vanish was an oxygen-producing detergent that helpfully caused DNA to degrade, and they had several cheap electric kettles boiling throughout.
    Paintwork and glass was cleaned with toothpaste and then with the Vanish and bleach solution. Post cleaning, everything would be whitewashed again. A week later the gang and any participants would have a real and very extravagant house party, paid for by Frank.
    Frank showered in a flat on a lower floor, and returned to supervise the disposal crew. The cadavers were wrapped and taped in heavy black plastic along with evidence such as the gangs’ clothing, the cleaning waste and Frank’s knives.
    Everything was loaded the following night into a couple of stolen Ford Transit vans with legitimate number plates from vehicles of the same age, model and colour, and driven to Harwich in Essex, where the cargo was transferred to a ninety foot commercial fishing boat, The Blonde Mary.
    The cargo was bound onboard in heavy, weighted tarps and dumped into the North Sea twenty miles off the coast. Frank knew it was easy to dispose of anything if you have enough money.
    The vans were driven to pre-designated sites in Maldon in Essex and Erith in South London, locations with different police forces. The original plates were reattached and the vehicles carefully burnt out. Frank paid the remaining money owed to the E13 Co-Op along with a another finish bonus, and they were more than happy.

It took a few days for the Met to realise thirty-five girls, all from solidly middle class backgrounds, and all of a roughly similar age, had gone missing within the same twenty-four hours, on the 9/10 of August.
    Four other young women were listed as missing by Kent police with the same profile, and who’d been in Central London at the same time. Thirty two were IC1, two were IC3 and one IC2. White North European, black, white South European.
    It was another eight days before their movements were largely established. On the Friday night of the ninth of August, some were in Bethnal Green, while others were in Hackney or Soho.
    It was assumed they all went on to something else; a rave or blues or party. Officers at the AMIP at New Scotland Yard interviewed minicab and taxi drivers and believed at least nine of the girls went to a blues in Canning Town on the Fisher estate. A couple of Frank’s cards were found, pointing at a party in Tenter House.
    Frank knew this would happen, and stayed strong with his E13 boys, and they loved it that he didn’t ghost when five-o came calling. The jakes sent a large forensic team into the top floors of Tenter House but they found no trace of the girls, just as Frank predicted.
    A few of the E13 Co-Op were taken to Forest Gate Police Station and questioned. They’d all been coached by Frank on what to say, and not to deviate or improvise.
    Yes, there was a party in Tenter House that night and a few girls they didn’t know came, but it wasn’t jumping, and they’d all left by two in the morning. They were tourists and not the local skettels, and they didn’t know where they went. There was talk about a house party in Hoxton.
    Officers from the AMIP Incident Room couldn’t see how a lowly street gang could kill dozens of women, dispose of the bodies and be so disciplined in a crime scene cleaning. Their statements were obviously rehearsed, but they’d been running a blues and dealing. There was no motive. A couple of officers were suspicious about the cards, but perhaps one of the gang had a latent talent for design. Either way, they was no evidence of any major crime.
    In January 1997 the AMIP team was reduced to just two officers, and the Incident Room quietly closed a month later. At least a dozen teenagers run away from home every week, and it was seen as possibly being a statistical blip. Four of the missing girls had been traced and confirmed as runaways.

Bad Disco is an extract from London Sex Vampires.

Steve Pear, 2021, 2024