It was on this day back in 1965, when British boxing hero, former light-heavyweight champion Freddie Mills was announced as dead, this news shocking the nation. Mills’ body had been found just before midnight on July 24, in his car. He had been shot in his right eye. Initially, the police suspected murder, yet the case was soon filed under suicide. All these years later, the death of Freddie Mills remains a mystery.
The official story goes like this: Mills, owner of a nightclub in Soho, told staff he was going to take a short nap in his car (this something he often did) and his dead body was later found. A fairground rifle was also found in the car, and Mills had borrowed a 0.22 rifle from a friend two weeks earlier (although at the time of Mills borrowing the weapon it was not in working order, yet it had evidently been repaired and there it was at the death scene).
Ambulance personnel arrived on the scene first and, with no police present, Mills’ body was moved from the car into an ambulance, this disturbing possible evidence. Mills was pronounced dead at Middlesex Hospital the next day. Initially, the police treated the case as murder, before changing their line of enquiry to that of suicide, this just two days later. As to why Mills would take his own life, a reason given was that he was supposedly depressed due to being heavily in debt, this to mobsters who he had (according to rumor) refused to pay protection money to. Also, some suggest the head trauma Mills endured in the ring was causing his depression.
But the questions remain. Mills’ family and friends did not for one minute believe this doting, loving father committed suicide, nor was there a suicide note found at the scene. As to why Mills borrowed a rifle, it has been suggested he did so as he feared for his life and wanted some protection. The location of the rifle was incredibly strange in that it was propped upright against the back of the car’s front seat, with Mills, sat in the back seat, his hands resting on his knees, unable to reach the weapon from that position. No prints were found on the rifle and, perhaps most disturbingly, Mills eyes had been open at the time of the fatal shot (all experts agree, when a person shoots oneself in the eye, the eyelids close in a simply unavoidable reflexive action). Not only that, but shooting oneself in the eye is a very odd way to commit suicide; the common method when a gun is involved being to shoot oneself through the mouth, or through the forehead.
There may have been two shots, with one shot being fired from a front seat, hitting the nearside front door of the car, the other shot obviously being the fatal shot. Within days of the tragedy, many people who knew Mills strongly believed the mob – maybe The Krays, maybe even Meyer Lansky – had Mills killed. So, was Freddie Mills “executed,” with the perpetrators setting things up to make it look like suicide? Mills’ nightclub was situated certainly located smack, bang in the middle of the notoriously mob-controlled area of the West End of London.
Whatever happened on the fateful July night all those years ago, it was a sad and deeply tragic way for as great, as hugely popular and as likeable a figure as Freddie Mills to meet his end. It seems this mystery is destined to remain as such for all time.
Freddie Mills fought as a pro from 1936 to 1950 and he won the world light-heavyweight crown in July of 1948, when he beat Gus Lesnevich over 15 tough rounds in London. Mill’s final record reads 77-18-6(55). He was just 46 when he died.