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Enigmatic: Madame Marguerite Fahmy who was accused of murdering her husband, Aly Bey Fahmy, in the Savoy Hotel, pictured in
Murdered: Egyptian Aly Bey Fahmy was shot dead by his wife Marguerite Fahmy in 1923
Cover up: Prince of Wales, here in 1925, had met Marguerite in the last 18 months of the First World War while he was in the army in
Sir Edward Marshall Hall, KC, (16 September 1858 – 24 February 1927)
“Equally successful was the defence Marshall Hall gave to Madame (or Princess) Marguerite Fahmy in 1923 for the shooting death of her husband, Egyptian Prince Fahmy Bey at
( …) “A few weeks later on the morning of Sunday 1 July
The 22 year Egyptian had met his bride to be, a woman ten years his senior, in
After a few days in
On the 9th July the couple went to Daly’s Theatre on Cranbourne Street off Leicester Square (where the Vue West End cinema now stands) to see, with hindsight the darkly ironic ‘The Merry Widow’. It had been an incredibly hot day and you can only imagine how uncomfortably warm the theatre must have been in those pre-air-conditioned days (although as far as a lot of the
The couple returned to the
Mr Said Enani, as a witness in court a few weeks later, said that Mr Fahmy, in full evening dress, had decided to take a cab in the direction of Piccadilly even though the hot balmy weather had now turned into one of the worse thunderstorms in living memory. When asked the reason why he went, he said he did not know. Although we can perhaps presume that Ali was either visiting an unlicensed nightclub or on the search for either a male or female prostitute both of which frequented the area in high numbers around that part of the
At around 2.00am the hotel’s night porter passed the door to the Fahmy’s suite but heard a low whistle and looking back saw Ali Fahmy bending down apparently whistling for Marguerite’s little dog that had been following the night porter down the corridor. After continuing on his way for just three yards he suddenly heard three shots fired in quick succession.
He ran back and saw Marguerite throw down a black handgun and also saw Ali slumped against the wall bleeding profusely from a wound on his temple from which splinger of bone and brain tissue protruded. ‘Qu’est-ce que j’ai fait, mon cher?’ (what have I done, my dear?’) Marguerite kept saying over and over again.
Marshall Hall was almost 65 at the time of Marguerite’s trial and was a household name. He was six feet three, handsome for his age, and a commanding presence in the courtroom. He was commonly known, after being responsible for several famous acquittals, as ‘The Great Defender’. Marshall Hall’s final speech to the jury in defence of Marguerite, or Madame Fahmy as the press were now calling her, slowly became a character assassination of her dead husband. he portrayed him as a monster of Eastern amoral bisexual depravity. (Not too) subtly Hall accused both Prince Fahmy and his private secretary of being homosexuals.
The public gallery consisted of many young women some of whom were noted to be barely eighteen. Marshall Hall looked up to the gallery saying ‘if women choose to come here to hear this case, they must take the consequences’. None of them left. Meanwhile he turned the attack on Ali to sodomy. Fahmy, said Hall, ‘developed abnormal tendencies and he never treated Madame normally’ Asking them to disregard the fact that the victim was younger than his wife. ‘Yes, he was only 23 years old,’ he told them. ‘But he was given to a life of debauchery and was obsessed with his sexual prowess.’ He went on to remind them that, as an Oriental man, his wife to him was no more than a belonging and that however much he may have acquired the outward signs of urbanity and sophistication, he was forever an Oriental under the skin.
When Marguerite took the stand, she was encouraged by the Great Defender to describe her life as a Muslim bride and to a lot of observers this was when the case turned her way. She testified at one point how she had been sitting ‘in a state of undress in which her modesty would have forbidden her facing even her maid’, she had noticed a strange noise and she pulled aside the hangings that screened an alcove and ‘saw crouching there, where he could see every move she made, one of her husband’s numerous ugly, black, half-civilized manservants, who obeyed like slaves his every word’. She screamed for help, but when her husband, appeared from an adjoining room he only, laughed, saying that “He is nobody. He does not count. But he has the right to come here or anywhere you may go and tell me what you are doing."
It was like a scene from Rudolph Valentino’s The Sheik, the extraordinarily popular film released the year before, and the women in the gallery were treating it as such.
Before he summed up, the judge, referring to the public gallery said, ‘These things are horrible; they are disgusting. How anyone could listen to these things who is not bound to listen to them passes comprehension.’ However he had been swayed by Marshall Hall’s defence, that pandered to the prejudices of the tie, and during the summing up endorsed Marshall Hall by saying ‘We in this country put our women on a pedestal: in Egypt they have not the same views...'
The jury, after less than an hour’s consideration, announced ‘not guilty’ to both the charges of murder and of manslaughter, and Madame Fahmy was discharged and was now a free woman.
The prosecution was refused by the judge, seemingly in awe as much as anyone else to the Great Defender, to cross-examine Marguerite ‘as to whether or not she had lived an immoral life’, to show that she was ‘a woman of the world, well able to look after herself’.
If she had been cross-examined properly the jury would have found out that not only had Marguerite been a teenage common prostitute in Bordeaux and in Paris and had an illegitimate daughter when she was just fifteen, but she had also become a trained high-class courtesan (it was said that she always spoke in a rather stilted French because of elocution lessons). Not only that but Marguerite’s husband was not alone in having inclinations towards the same sex: it was found out by a private detective hired by the prosecution that it was well known in Paris that Madame Fahmy “is addicted, or was addicted, to committing certain offences with other women and it would seem that there is nothing that goes on in such surroundings as she has been moving in Paris that she would not be quite well acquainted with..."
The world’s press reported the case with undisguised glee, mostly portraying Mardame Fahmy as less than innocent in more ways than one. The French newspapers concentrated on the fact that the jury considered the case as if a crime passionnel defence was allowed in English law.
After the verdict Marguerite soon left for Paris where she found out that she had no claim to her late husband’s fortune as he had left no will. After a failed, and slightly ludicrous plot where she pretended that she had been pregnant and subsequently borne a son (who would have been entitled to his father’s fortune). She was now almost a laughing stock in Parisian society and became relatively a recluse. She died on 2 January
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