FOR HOLLYWOOD star Joan Fontaine, it was her most famous role in a glittering showbiz career - that of the second Mrs de Winter opposite Laurence Olivier in the classic movie Rebecca. Little did she know that her performance so beguiled a young petty criminal from Scotland that he changed his name to hers - and that 65 years later the film industry which propelled Miss Fontaine to stardom would be preparing a silver screen version of his own bizarre life story.
Archibald Hall may have been captivated by one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest romances, and while there was a certain Hitchcockian element to the way Hall's life unfolded, it was far from romantic. Archibald Hall - also known as Roy Fontaine - graduated from small-time crook to bloodthirsty killer. The Monster Butler, as he became known, was more Psycho than Rebecca.Hall's fascination with the stars of the cinema was entirely understandable. After all he was a consummate actor himself, a perplexing character who played a variety of roles throughout his life. A lengthy spell languishing in prison would be followed by work in a country mansion as a butler to the wealthy. Lessons in elocution and etiquette had eradicated all trace of his Glasgow accent and he became a self-taught authority on antiques.
Confidently posing as an aristocrat or a wealthy American, Hall became the perfect confidence trickster and jewel thief. He was a very good butler, he had access to some of the grandest houses in the country and he knew what was worth stealing. He also had few scruples and his rich and famous employers became victims of his thieving. There were aspects of the double life led by Hall/Fontaine which were farcical, even bordering on comic - but the eruption of murderous violence which seemed to overcome him in 1977 transformed his last act into a tragedy.
Born in Glasgow in 1924, Hall was involved in theft from an early age and received his first prison sentence when he was 17. Between the 1940s and the 1970s he was either serving time in jail or leading his "other" life as a butler and would-be aristocrat. Openly bisexual, he had a short-lived marriage and a string of relationships with men. Released from prison in 1977, he headed for the arms of his "mistress", Irishwoman Mary Coggle, and a new job as butler to Lady Margaret Hudson at Kirtleton House, near Waterbeck in Dumfriesshire. When David Wright, a lover he had shared a cell with at Hull Prison, visited at the house, Hall's life changed forever.Wright started doing odd jobs around the house, but his presence was a constant threat. He knew too much about Hall's background and threatened to expose him to his new employer. He also stole items of Lady Hudson's silver which infuriated Hall, who, by now in his early 50s, claimed he was trying to "go straight". One day the two men were out shooting rabbits. Hall made sure Wright's gun was empty, then stopped, pointed his own gun at Wright and blasted him in the head before burying his body in a rough grave. It was his first kill.
But once he had the scent of blood, a darker side of Hall emerged. It was as though, having killed once, he couldn't stop. In November 1977 he moved to London and became butler to the wealthy ex-Labour MP Walter Scott-Elliot and his wife Dorothy. Having given up the idea of keeping clean, he was showing a criminal accomplice, Michael Kitto, round the couple's London home when they were disturbed by Mrs Scott-Elliot. The two men grabbed her and suffocated her with a pillow. They then drugged her 82-year-old husband, put the dead woman's body in the boot of a car, dressed up Mary Coggle in Mrs Scott-Elliot's clothes and wig and set off for Scotland.When they reached Braco in Perthshire, a journey of 400 miles, the dead woman was buried by the side of a quiet road. Mr Scott-Elliot, still sedated, was taken to a lonely spot near Glen Affric in Inverness-shire and beaten to death with a spade. The following day an argument broke out between Mary Coggle, who wanted to keep the dead woman's mink coat, and Hall and Kitto who wanted the evidence destroyed. Hall hit her over the head with a poker and suffocated her with a plastic bag before dumping her in a stream between Glasgow and Carlisle.
The two men spent a quiet Christmas with Hall's family, including his half-brother Donald, a child molester despised by Hall.In January 1978 the three men were in Cumbria, Donald started asking too many questions for Hall's liking, so a chloroformed rag was held over his face and he was drowned in a bath. Hall and Kitto again put the body in the boot and drove north, but were forced to stop at a hotel in North Berwick because of a snowstorm. The suspicious proprietor called the police, Donald's body was found in the boot of the car and the killing spree was over.
Under questioning Hall confessed to the five murders and led police to the bodies. He was jailed for life and died in 2002 in Kingston Prison, Portsmouth. (Kitto received four life sentences.) But what made the likeable rogue and well-spoken butler to the gentry turn killer? The answer will be explored in a new film The Monster Butler, being produced by actor Malcolm McDowell, star of A Clockwork Orange.
There are few clues save a few lines in Hall's 1999 biography, A Perfect Gentleman, in which he states: "There is a side of me, when aroused, that is cold and completely heartless".
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