People love a blood-and-guts ring warrior, and they also love a fascinating mystery. British boxing great Freddie Mills gave us both. Today, 105 years ago, Mills was born in Bournemouth, Hampshire. A tough, relentless ring warrior who often took three or four punches to land one, Mills thrilled the fans many times.

Going pro in February of 1936, after having boxed three amateur fights at middleweight, Mills would go on to win the world title. However, that was some way away at the time, and Mills had to work his way up the hard way. One interesting fact regarding Freddie’s early pro career is that he knocked the same man out twice on the same night. It was in October of 1936 when Mills KO’d Jack Scott in a round, leaving the paying fans “dissatisfied.” So, later that same night, after some time had elapsed, the two fought again, with Mills repeating his quick KO!

It wasn’t until June of 1942 that Mills first boxed for a major title. Facing Len Harvey in London, Mills scored a sensational second-round KO to become the British and Commonwealth light heavyweight champion. Mills was by now 62-11-6 as a pro. In May of 1946, Mills lost to Gus Lesnevich, this in a shot at the world title, Mills being stopped in the 10th. In this fight, Mills, who somehow survived a brutal round two and was decked four times, showed his heart and bravery. A points loss to Bruce Woodcock followed, as did stoppage defeats to Joe Baksi and Lloyd Marshall (of Black Murderers’ Row fame). It didn’t seem likely Mills would ever become a world champion.

But in July 1948, in what proved to be a terrific battle with Lesnevich in a rematch, Mills did it. Mills won the decision over Gus, becoming world light heavyweight champion at 29 after engaging in some 98 pro fights! Mills would lose the crown in his first defense, being stopped by Joey Maxim in January 1950; this was his final fight. Mills retired as a true boxing hero, being as famous as modern British sports legends such as David Beckham.

But Mills is as well known for his mysterious death as a great fighter.

It was on July 25th, 1965, when Mills was announced as dead, and this news shocked 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, the 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 vehicle, and Mills had borrowed the 0.22 rifle from a friend two weeks earlier (although at the time of Mills borrowing the weapon, it was apparently not in complete working order, yet it was useable 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, disturbing possible evidence. Mills was pronounced dead at Middlesex Hospital the next day. Initially, the police treated the case as a murder before changing their line of inquiry to that of suicide 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 mobsters to who he had (according to rumor) refused to pay protection money. Also, some suggest the head trauma Mills endured in the ring was causing him to suffer great battles with 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 (although it has been pointed out that, if he wanted some protection, Freddie would have got hold of a far better gun than the fairground rifle he acquired). The location of the rifle was extraordinary 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.

Those skeptical of the suicide theory ask whether Mills could have held the long rifle to his head while in the car, and if he did, why didn’t the gun slide down into the front area of the vehicle after he had shot himself, not neatly by his side in the back of the car? No prints were found on the rifle, and perhaps most disturbingly, Mill’s eyes had been open at the time of the fatal shot (all experts agree that 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 standard method when a gun is involved is to shoot oneself through the mouth or the forehead.

There may have been two shots, with one shot being fired from a front seat, hitting the nearby front door of the car, the other shot 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 located smack bang in the middle of the notoriously mob-controlled area of London’s West End.

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 likable a figure as Freddie Mills to meet his end. It seems this mystery is destined to remain as such for all time. While it may be crass even to mention it, a book was somehow published years after Freddie’s death, with the writer claiming Mills was a serial killer who murdered eight women between 1959 and 1965. To say people are skeptical of these claims and hugely offended by them is an understatement.

Freddie Mills was no killer; instead, he was a great fighter, a great person, and a loving husband and father. Freddie was just 46 years old when he died.

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