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Marguerite Alibert. Marguerite began to make a living by seducing and courting wealthy men, and it was paying off well. She was receiving many valuable trinkets and gifts – along with a settlement from Andre Meller – but wanted more.

Murder at The Savoy Hotel

Marguerite Alibert’s story is one of gritty survival followed by a lucrative life of prostitution. She pulled herself up from a world of poverty to mingle among France’s elite, and accomplished her goal of turning affairs into large sums of money. She is commonly remembered as Maggie Meller, a surname she took from the man she claimed was her husband at 17.

In 1907, Marguerite met a man named Andre Meller. She was 17, he was 40. He was wealthy, and owned a stable full of horses – since Marguerite loved horses, that may very well have played a part in their romance. He bought her an apartment so they could conduct their relationship in private, and she took his last name. She claimed that they were married, but in reality Andre was still technically married to his first wife. Her lack of faithfulness ended the relationship in 1913. It was only one of four different surnames she would use throughout her exotic and exciting life.

She saw love not from a romantic’s point of view, but as a way to survive and thrive. Maggie Meller was even one of Prince Edward VIII’s mistresses, and went on to marry an Egyptian Prince. However, that monumental moment is where her story takes a murderous turn. Marguerite would go down in infamy as the princess who got away with murder.

Marguerite Alibert pictured with her daughter, Raymonde, who was sent away to be raised on a farm in rural France.

This is the story of a romance between the future king and a courtesan, a murder most foul and royal blackmail. Truth is so often being more colourful than fiction the future king in question is Edward, Prince of Wales, (the future King Edward VIII) and the courtesan an impoverished Parisian who schemes her way to a fortune before shooting her Egyptian husband dead at London’s Savoy Hotel. The story culminates with the courtesan escaping the death penalty, through an audacious blackmail based on the secret correspondence with her royal lover. The story of Edward, Prince of Wales, and Marguerite Alibert begins in the latter days of the Great War when he was serving behind enemy lines on the French front. The sexually inexperienced and emotionally immature Edward had only recently lost his virginity after being introduced to a Parisian courtesan and was beginning to enjoy exploring his sexuality. Having been brought up rather prudishly it was far from surprising that during his wartime sojourn, which freed him from the constraints of his parents, Edward found his way to the pleasures of the Parisian demi-monde. Nor was there was anything unusual about visiting sex workers for men of all classes, the difference being that a man of Edward’s status – who did his gallivanting as the Earl of Chester – frequented a higher class of woman, the courtesan, in which Paris excelled. Of the attractive women Edward could have chosen from, that he was attracted to Marguerite Alibert (who by the time they met had adopted the name of her lover and become Marguerite Meller) was not surprising. Her charms had brought many admirers. Petite, with long auburn hair and an impish, provocative charm, men found her hugely appealing. She was also something of a libertine offering the sexually adventurous an exciting range of services. By the time she met the 23 year-old Edward she was in her late twenties and already had a lifetime’s experience of entertaining men. But her carefully crafted persona hid an unhappy and traumatic past.

Marguerite Fahmy. Marguerite Had A Steady Supply Of Wealthy Gentlemen Who Funded Her Extravagant Lifestyle

Marguerite had been born into a poor Parisian family. Her father Firmin Alibert was a cab driver and her mother, Marie Aurand, a charwoman. Marguerite had two siblings, a sister Yvonne, born in 1900, and a brother. In later years she would try to rewrite her past with some fanciful stories but the reality was more mundane and rather tragic. Marguerite later claimed that her brother had been killed in the Great War but he was in fact killed at the age of four, hit by a lorry while playing in the street.

Marguerite was held to blame for not having watched him properly. As punishment she was sent to board with the nearby Sisters of Mary. The nuns reminded her daily that her brother’s death had been caused by her sins. What Marguerite learned from the nuns can be summed up in a word – survival. She had no love for them but they did give her at least the smattering of an education and taught her to sing (she became a decent mezzo-soprano, another bow to her arsenal of charm). Marguerite endured, took what was on offer, but left the nuns without remorse. Alongside the rudiments of the social skills she required, the Sisters of Mary may also have inadvertently put Marguerite on the road to her future career by placing her with the family of a lawyer named Henri-Jules Langlois. Typically Marguerite would claim that Mme Langlois was her godmother but it is more likely she joined the household as a domestic servant. The placement, however, did not last long, due to Marguerite’s headstrong nature. By the summer of 1906 Marguerite, who in more truthful mode described herself as “mercurial,” had become pregnant, aged around 15/16. She also wove a fantasy around the father’s identity: firstly he was a childhood friend aged twenty-eight and then became a colonial administrator in India killed during the Great War. The known facts are that the birth of Marguerite’s daughter, Raymonde, put an abrupt end to her stay with the Langlois family. Marguerite returned to the family home but her parents lacked the means to care for her baby daughter who was sent away to be looked after on a farm in central France.

The Savoy Hotel in 1923. The Savoy Hotel had opened in 1889, and had been no stranger to scandal – it was at Oscar Wilde’s infamous trial where it came to light that he had entertained a succession of rent-boys at the hotel’s room 361. After Wilde had been arrested for gross indecency the presiding magistrate said ““I know nothing about the Savoy, but I must say that in my view chicken and salad for two at sixteen shillings is very high. I am afraid I shall never supper there myself.””

Marguerite was undoubtedly hardened from an early age but she was not entirely without feeling as a mother. Sending her child away was necessary but, when Marguerite’s fortunes improved, Raymonde was brought back to Paris and was subsequently sent to school in London after the Great War. With her daughter out of the picture, it was in the years leading up to the Great War that Marguerite began her career in the sex industry. Not much is known about this phase of her life but the young woman, streetwise with a veneer of sophistication from her stay at the Langlois family, was determined to escape poverty and harboured dreams of entering high society. With its long history of famous courtesans and mistresses, France provided many examples of women of loose virtue who had made their fortunes. Marguerite started at the bottom, possibly even taking to street prostitution, before coming to the attention of a Mme Denart who ran a high class brothel in the fashionable 16th arrondissement. Under Mme Denart’s wing Marguerite learned the arts of the courtesan and became according to Mme Denart “the mistress of nearly all my best clients, gentleman of wealth and position in France, England America and other countries . . . It was me that made a sort of lady of her.” Marguerite learned fast and by the time she was introduced to Prince Edward had become a well- established face on the social scene. She had previously been in a relationship with a wealthy married businessman named Andre Meller, whose name she appropriated. Whilst openly living with a mistress was acceptable in French society Andre and Marguerite rowed violently due to his jealousy and the relationship broke down in scandal. Marguerite benefited from a 200,000 francs pay off but she was furious with herself for having accepted what she felt was a paltry sum. Greater opportunities soon presented themselves as she had piqued royal interest – the Prince of Wales no less.

Edward, Prince of Wales, aged eighteen disembarks after crossing to England from France on board the ‘Pas de Calais’. It was during Edward’s time in France during the Great War that he discovered the pleasures of the Parisian demi-monde of showgirls and courtesans.

Their first meeting was at the request of Prince Edward. A cover for a sexual liaison, but the appearance of propriety was important so a formal introduction was arranged by Edward’s aristocratic friends the Breteuil family. It was a fateful lunch during which a mutual attraction was soon in evidence, as was a shared taste for the partying social scene. But, as was always the case with Edward’s lovers, there was more at work than just physical attraction and he and Marguerite had other things in common. Psychologically there was something at work. Both were rather neurotic about maintaining their figures and also shared a sense of frivolity, capriciousness and at times recklessness. These were traits that were beginning to come to the fore in Edward, who was reacting against his upbringing in the oppressive court of King George V. Another aspect of the attraction may well have been the strength of Marguerite’s character. Life had taught her she “had to be tough”, even dominating. Naturally therefore, amongst her services Marguerite was ready to play the dominatrix. Her forceful personality would be paralleled in Edward’s most famous love affair with Wallis Simpson, like Marguerite a complex woman absolutely determined to live the good life and make her mark in society. The affair was brief but intense, lasting around eighteen months until the late summer of 1918. Edward saw Marguerite whenever his limited wartime duties permitted and wrote around twenty letters to his lover, an early chapter in what would be a lifelong habit of indiscretion. The letters not only revealed his feelings for “Mon Bebe” but also included information about the progress of the war effort and made derogatory comments about his father. Adding to the risk the letters were sent by King’s Messenger, which Edward naively thought ensured absolute security.

In 1917, Marguerite was introduced to her next grand love affair – Prince Edward VIII. He was serving with British troops in France during WWII, and had lost his virginity to a courtesan “borrowed” from a friend. His friends decided that 23-year-old Edward needed to have a more thorough sexual experience – “a full education from an experienced woman.” Since a friend already knew of Marguerite, it was arranged that they would meet. Her years of training in the bedroom certainly provided Edward with a first-rate education. They had a passionate affair for about a year, before Edward lost interest.

The Prince’s advisors soon became concerned at the relationship but to their relief by the summer of 1918 Edward had shifted his attentions elsewhere, this time to a married woman, Freda Dudley Ward. After his experiences in the demi-monde, Edward felt able to indulge his fancy and enjoyed running two mistresses as well as briefer escapades when the opportunity arose. But Marguerite, who realised she was on the way out, was made of sterner stuff than to be simply cast aside. At the least she aimed to benefit financially from her relations with the future king. Her method was direct: blackmail. In November 1918 Edward received a letter reminding him of their correspondence. The letter has been lost but Edward wrote to his advisor Joey Legh: “Oh! Those bloody letters, and what a fool I was not to take your advice over a year ago . . . I am afraid she’s the £100,000 or nothing type, tho’ I’m disappointed and didn’t think she’d turn nasty: of the whole trouble is my letters and she’s not burnt one.” Fortunately for Edward, Marguerite’s stratagems took another route. His name was Charles Laurent, a young airforce officer. Laurent was rich and handsome, the family owned the famous Hotel Crillon and a large department store in the Grand Magasins du Louvre. Blackmailing Edward could backfire in scandal, which could ruin her chances with Laurent. Instead Marguerite used her charms and ended up as Mme Laurent. The marriage, perhaps by design, was brief and unhappy, the couple having little in common. Laurent was a serious minded man who had little appetite for the hedonistic life Marguerite craved. She could never play the part of the dutiful wife and was bored by trips to concerts, recitals and the opera. By March 1920 the marriage was dissolved, much to the Laurent family’s relief, whilst Marguerite relieved her husband of a generous sum. She was now an independent woman, living on fashionable Avenue Henri-Martin, who could afford servants, a stable for ten horses, a full-time groom and two limousines. But Marguerite, still in her prime, had not ended her husband hunting days.

Ali Fahmy. Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey first met Marguerite Laurent in 1921, and was immediately taken by her even though she was escorting a wealthy businessman at the time. Ali was not technically a prince; he was, however, ridiculously wealthy and had been given the title of “Bey,” an equivalent of “Lord.” He managed to arrange a meeting for the two of them in 1922, and soon proposed to her and invited her to come live with him in Cairo. She hesitated, but eventually agreed.

For her next conquest she looked further afield, across the Mediterranean to the mysterious east and Egypt. ‘Prince’ Ali Fahmy was well known on the Parisian scene, a likeable character but with his share of idiosyncrasies and temperament.

Marguerite, however, would not have been focused on Ali’s personality as much as the Fahmy fortune. The family had grown rich on the Egyptian cotton trade and Ali fitted the mould of the rich playboy that Marguerite knew how to exploit. He was a tempting prospect with an annual income of £40,000 (around £2,000,000 today). Ali could also be very generous, enjoyed the social scene and had clearly fallen for the charms of the former Mme Laurent. Marguerite of course could not be seen to make the first move but Ali had noticed her and, as Prince Edward and many others had before him, asked a mutual friend to introduce them. The strength of the spell she could cast had not dimmed and by December 1922 Ali was mirroring Charles Laurent in overriding the objections of his family to marry Marguerite in Cairo. Although he was not actually royal, Ali’s father had the respectable title of ‘bey’ (governor), the couple would embellish a little and became known as Prince and Princess Fahmy.  It was rumoured in Egypt that Ali was homosexual, but this was not in evidence when he passionately pursued Marguerite Laurient. He was captivated by the elegant brunette divorcee, who was ten years his senior, and took her back to Cairo where he suggested they live together.

When Laurient balked, the prince proposed marriage, and Laurient accepted, but with conditions. A contract was drawn up that permitted her to wear western-style clothing and to divorce the prince at any time.

In return, she would convert to the Muslim faith, thereby ensuring All’s inheritance. But when the religious ceremony took place, Fahmy ordered the divorcee clause removed, allowing him to take three wives if help eased. Marguerite found Fahmy to be an abusive husband. He frequently beat her and assigned a houseboy to follow her throughout her day, even when she undressed. The couple travelled to London on July 10, 1923, and registered at the elegant Savoy Hotel.

Mr and Mrs Fahmy in Egypt. Whether it was her scheming to wreck the relationship or psychological issues she may not have understood herself, Marguerite was not marriage material. Ali’s fatal mistake was to think she could be reshaped. The marriage of Marguerite and her prince was, not surprisingly, an unhappy one. A woman as shrewd, independent, and openly sexual as Marguerite was never going to be the submissive, obedient, and proper Islamic wife that Prince Ali desired. The couple fought like cats and dogs, occasionally in public. It was said that she humiliated the prince with her behaviour.

In 1923 the Savoy Hotel was still seen as one of the finest in the world and in that year, amongst others, Walter Hagen, Fred and Adele Astaire and the opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini (as in chicken) had all stayed there.

A typical dismal drizzly April in London that year had only been brightened by the wedding of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon to the Duke of York, Prince Albert – known as ‘Bertie’ to his family and close friends. The house band at the Savoy Hotel – The Savoy Havana Band – made its debut on the BBC on 13th April 1923, not least because the BBC at the time was next door and shared its generator with the hotel.

A few weeks later on the morning of Sunday 1 July 1923 a limousine drove into Savoy Court and the Hotel doorman helped out a couple who were known to the hotel as the Prince and Princess Fahmy. They were accompanied by the Prince’s private secretary, Mr Said Enani. Accurately Prince Fahmy wasn’t really a prince but he did little to discourage the use of the title when away from Egypt.

The 22 year Egyptian had met his bride to be, a woman ten years his senior, in Paris the year before -incidentally the year that Egypt was granted independence, if not overall control, by the British Government. To many people Marguerite was seen, at best, as a flirtatious gold-digger and more in love with his not inconsiderable fortune than the man himself. They had married in Egypt, first by a civil ceremony on 26th December and then followed by a Muslim wedding in January 1923 where Madame Fahmy, modestly veiled, proclaimed in Arabic ‘There is one God and Mohammed is His Prophet’.

After a few days in London, which was experiencing a heatwave, Marguerite Fahmy summoned the Savoy’s doctor – she was suffering badly from external hemorrhoids. She alleged to Dr Gordon, while he was treating her, that her husband had ‘torn her by unnatural intercourse’ and was ‘always pestering her’ for this kind of sex. Already thinking about possible future divorce proceedings she repeatedly asked the doctor for ‘a certificate as to her physical condition to negative the suggestion of her husband that she had made up a story’. The doctor, although respectful, ignored her request.

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 West End is concerned we’re still in those days). Not the ideal conditions for someone suffering from piles I would imagine. The main performers in Lehar’s popular operetta were the 22 year old Evelyn Laye and the Danish matinee idol Carl Brisson.

Marguerite Fahmy. She found her first “real” husband, Charles Laurent, in 1919. The marriage was not what either of them wanted and was dissolved after only six months, but Marguerite got what she had wanted – a large divorce settlement. That money paid for her apartment, as well as a stable of horses, cars, and servants.

The couple returned to the Savoy after the theatre for a late supper, however the meal was disrupted by a huge argument which had recently become almost a daily occurrence. Ali had even appeared in public with scratches on his face and Marguerite had been seen with dark bruises on her face ill-disguised with powder and makeup. The row this time degenerated to such an extent that Marguerite picked up a wine bottle and shouted in French ‘You shut up or I’ll smash this over your head.’ Ali replied ‘If you do, I’ll do the same to you.’ They eventually calmed down, not without the help of the head-waiter, and went to the ballroom to listen to the Savoy Havana Band. The house band no doubt would have been playing at one point Yes, We Have No Bananas or perhaps Ain’t We Got Fun both big hits that year. It wasn’t long before Marguerite, after refusing the offer of a dance with her husband, retired to her room.

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 West End.

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.

Marguerite & husband, self-styled “Prince” Ali Fahmy, in Egypt. When she married Prince Fahmy, Marguerite had two clauses drawn up stating that she would be allowed to wear western clothing, and that she would be allowed to divorce him. In exchange, she would convert to Islam (and thus receive his inheritance). Just before the wedding, the divorce clause was thrown out – and he added a clause that would allow him to take extra wives. She was later scandalously acquitted of his murder.

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.

Sir Edward Marshall Hall – The Great Defender. When Marguerite was tried for the murder of husband, nobody realized what was going on behind the scenes of her trial. The letters she had been holding on to from Prince Edward, not to mention her own past, would have been incredibly damaging for the English Royal Family, and they were ready to do anything to keep the story away from the public. There was a deal made with officials in the court, and her past was not allowed to be brought up during her trial – this insured that Prince Edward was not mentioned. Instead, they painted a picture of her dead husband that was so vile (and racist) that the jury let her go with no convictions.

The Princess was not happy with the way Prince Fahmy treated her – especially sexually. There were rumours in Egypt regarding the Prince’s homosexuality, and Marguerite claimed at one point to have been “torn” by “unnatural” intercourse. It was thought by those who knew her that she might be ramping up to another big divorce payout, as she was making a list of all the abuses that Fahmy had committed against her.

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, half-civilized manservants, who obeyed like slaves at 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…”

On July 9th, 1923, the couple attended a showing of The Merry Widow in London. After they returned to their hotel, they had a violent fight and the prince left the room for a few hours. Around 2am, there were three shots fired – Marguerite had shot Fahmy, execution-style, with the Browning .32 pistol that she had been keeping under her pillow. She was arrested, and Fahmy died of his injuries an hour later. With witnesses moments after the shots were fired, it seemed like an open and shut case.

Sensational Headlines From The Trial & Lawsuit.

Marguerite Fahmy after the trial.

The world’s press reported the case with undisguised glee, mostly portraying Madame 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).

Marguerite continued to live in  Paris the rest of her life. She played small parts in movies, and continued to charm wealthy men until she eventually backed away from the public spotlight. She died at the age of 80, still carrying the title of Princess. She had succeeded in making affairs into a business – after she died, her grandson found that her lavish life had been funded by settlements from five different men.

She died on 2 January 1971 in Paris. She never remarried.

 


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