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“Welcome To The Mardi Gra Experience” – Part 3

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Edgar Pearce, the “Mardi Gra” Bomber

It transpired that the arrested men were brothers Ronald and Edgar Pearce, both of whom lived in Chiswick, West London. The two men were taken off to separate police stations for questioning, and individual teams were despatched to both of the men’s houses to begin a search for evidence. Nothing of importance or relevance, bar a stun gun, was found at Ronald Pearce’s house. Edgar Pearce’s house, however, was a different story.

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A police search officer carefully examines a Sainsbury’s bag removed from Pearce’s rear garden

Armed and explosive specialist officers entered Edgar Pearce’s address, number 12 Cambridge Road North, Chiswick, cautiously. After making an initial sweep of the place to ensure that there were no booby traps or rigged incendiary devices, once it was declared safe a thorough more in-depth search began. The entire house was carefully and methodically catalogued and searched, along with the gardens and greenhouse of the property and a rented lock-up garage that was identified as belonging to Edgar Pearce. The official Metropolitan Police inventory of the items removed from Pearce’s house make for chilling reading, and make the reader appreciate just how dangerous and dedicated Pearce, who had confessed almost immediately to being Mardi Gra, actually was. The list of items removed is as follows:

Items Recovered from 12 Cambridge Road North:

  • Two fully constructed, functioning pipe bombs
  • Four pipe bombs in partial stage of construction
  • One fully loaded shotgun device on stand
  • Baseboard to make at least 15 more shotgun devices
  • 272 twelve-gauge cartridges
  • Two Crossbows
  • 12 home-made crossbow bolts
  • One stun gun, disguised with a false aerial and calculator face to look like a mobile phone
  • One loaded revolver complete with 10 modified cartridges
  • 28 brass shell casings and 81 bullet tops awaiting assembly
  • 50 rounds of.762 ammunition
  • Six butane gas cylinder bombs ready constructed
  • Tubing and adhesive
  • 12 Clockwork timers
  • 39 empty video cassette boxes
  • 25 spring-bolt mechanisms ready constructed
  • A large number of 12v batteries
  • Huge selection of tools and materials necessary to construct further devices
  • A large amount of stationery and adhesives similar/identical to ones attached to previous devices

Searching police were in no doubt that any further distributed devices would have resulted in the death of an innocent, and the relief that Mardi Gra had been taken off the streets was felt throughout the Metropolitan Police

Whilst Ronald Pearce maintained a “no comment” stance throughout his many hours of questioning, Edgar Pearce was the polar opposite. He told the police chapter and verse about the planning and execution of his crimes, how he selected his targets and how he chose his devices, often in a rambling disjointed manner as though he was speaking as he thought of things. He seemed proud and very co-operative, but what was common throughout, however, was that Pearce refused to accept that he intended to hurt people. He was defensive and quick to mitigate himself whenever the potential harm or threat that his devices posed was alluded to – it was everybody’s fault bar his. The following is an example taken from Pearce’s first interview with police, where, knowing he had been caught red-handed, he early on admitted to being the Mardi Gra bomber:

“I chose the original six branches due to the access being possible without video surveillance. Those devices sent through the post were just picked out of the phone book. I don’t recall those details except West London. I don’t know why except I had a Yellow Pages. I got the idea for the devices from another TV programme. This involved spring loaded cartridges. If you look at the original ones, they were a slight extension of that idea. I have handled guns but I was able to work out the construction for myself. It was very simplistic…I knew this would end up like a firework and not much force would result. I didn’t have any intention to injure anyone.

I tested the devices at home. No damage was caused. I primed the cartridge to test the alignment. I didn’t detonate a live cartridge. Regarding people opening the mail which I sent, I suppose I wanted the damage to be as minimal as possible. Six branches received devices with a demand letter. I didn’t think the response was valid. It was an extortion attempt. I didn’t pursue it then because they invited me to meet up and collect a bag of money. I didn’t want to do this as I had already suggested a credit card plan which has never changed. Ten cards required International access. I originally asked for it to go in a video magazine. I was looking for a low circulation so that the inserts could be put in”

                                                                                                   – Edgar Pearce (“Mardi Gra”)

What on earth occurs in a person’s life to drive them to such actions? Who was Edgar Pearce, and why had he become “Mardi Gra”?

Edgar Eugene Pearce came into the world on 07 August 1937, the middle child of Edgar and Constance Pearce. Edgar was a bright child who showed exceptional aptitude in school, and at age eleven was sent to Nelson House, an Oxford prep school. Although fees were expensive there and the cost of sending Edgar there put large financial strain upon the family, they felt it worthwhile as he was their hopes for the Pearce family name to be known outside the working class community in East London that they lived in. But just three years later, Pearce had to leave as his family could no longer afford to send him here. Regardless, he gained a respectable education from the Norlington Boys Road School he then attended, and went on to study advertising at Charing Cross Polytechnic upon leaving.

In 1961 at age 24, Pearce married a girl four years his junior, Maureen Fitzgerald. By all accounts the couple were happy, Pearce was doing well in his chosen career of advertising, and the couple had moved to a pleasant house in East Sheen, South-West London. But by 1971, Pearce had grown bored with life as an advertising executive, and he and Maureen emigrated to South Africa. A year later, Maureen gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Nicola. But the move to South Africa wasn’t the new life Pearce had expected it to be. He grew to hate the apartheid system and was also worried by the political situation that threatened to flare up, as the black majority became ever more vocal in their demands for equal rights, and the minority white government waged a war of oppression against them. Finally, by 1976, the Pearce family returned to the UK.

In a new venture, Pearce decided to completely re-invent himself. Ever a keen cook, he and Maureen bought a small bistro in Hayling Island, Hampshire, called Jeanne’s Cuisine. But this venture was not a success – Pearce displayed talents that nobody there wanted or welcomed, and custom soon died away, with many people put off by Pearce’s “fancy” cooking. Nobody wanted the exotic dishes he prepared, and as a result, in what was to become a lifelong pattern, Pearce began to behave erratically and to drink heavily. He was reported as dressing like the stereotypical French onion seller, and at least on one occasion was said to have fired a loaded shotgun into the ceiling of the restaurant during a rare evening when the restaurant was full of customers. By the early 1980’s, the bank that had been funnelling money into the bistro to keep it afloat had refused lending any more, and when Maureen was diagnosed with cancer in 1982, Pearce was forced to sell the business.

The bank that had refused his pleas for a financial lifeline was Barclays.

The family moved back to London following this failure, and were allocated a council property at 12 Cambridge Road North, Chiswick. Maureen was to make a recovery from her cancer, and Pearce re-invented himself yet again, this time as a property developer. He was not a success at this either, although he managed to scrape together a meagre living. But the heavy drinking and the brooding about his many failures in life continued, and by 1992 Maureen could stand it no longer. She left the house and Pearce, and the couple separated after thirty years of marriage. Although separated, they remained on friendly terms and saw each other regularly, right up to his arrest. It transpired later that Pearce would often post devices on his way to visit Maureen – who lived in south east London. A loner with few if any friends, Pearce instead spent his time between visiting his brother Ronald, his estranged wife Maureen, his local pub, or brooding in front of the television.

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12 Cambridge Road North, Chiswick – the lair of the Mardi Gra Bomber

To support himself, Pearce began to illegally sublet the upstairs rooms in his council property. He lived solely in the ground floor front room, and having tenants earned Pearce between £600 to £750 per month, taking care of his rent, groceries and most importantly, funded his drinking. This was already at staggering levels, with Pearce drinking numerous bottles of red wine each day, topped up with daytimes spent in the pub or at least a dozen cans of cheap, strong lager. He would also regularly take trips to France in his car and would arrive back with the vehicle so laden with boxes of red wine that the axles were in danger of giving way. Box after box was then stacked up in the hall. This cycle of destructive heavy drinking continued, until in August 1992, Pearce was found collapsed in the street and suffered a fit in the ambulance taking him to hospital. He suffered a further fit once he had been admitted, and doctors told him that he had developed epilepsy and suffered brain damage as a result of these fits, plus his lifestyle. It was also suspected that he had suffered a mild stroke that had caused his fall. After surgery to repair a severely broken shoulder that he had received in his fall, Pearce was released from hospital a changed man. But not changed for the better.

He recovered physically to an extent from his injuries, but his behaviour became increasingly stranger. Pearce began to obsessively shop – with his choice of supermarket being Sainsbury’s, which he was described as being obsessive over. His cupboards and fridge were stocked full with Sainsbury’s groceries and cleaning products – yet the house was often in a state of near squalor. His tenants began to notice that Pearce would rise each day at 6am, cook a full roast dinner of exotic foods such as beef, lamb, venison and quail for breakfast, all the while washed down with red wine. He would inevitably be drunk at any time of the day, lived in near squalor, and was often lecherous and abusive to some of his female tenants. He also behaved abusively to his neighbours, and was generally disliked by the majority of people, who he considered himself a cut above. One neighbour was later to tell how Pearce deliberately flooded her flat on one occasion, gave her teenage son a live bullet, and placed piles of shotgun cartridges on her doorstep. Her husband was later to assault Pearce for this, leaving him needing hospital treatment for a fractured jaw. After his arrest, several of Pearce’s tenants were later to testify to his bizarre behaviour and cold hearted nature:

“To him, everyone was worthless, almost beneath him. He was the type of man who wouldn’t bat an eyelid if one of his explosions wiped out an entire family. He was as cold as a reptile, totally and utterly concerned about the welfare of anyone else. But he surpassed even himself when talking about his brother in law John, who was dying of stomach cancer. He said, “That man’s always whinging. Why doesn’t he just get on with it?” – Graham Hirst (Pearce’s former lodger)

By 1994, this downward spiral had continued and Pearce was still brooding away in his ground floor room. He was still suffering pain from the shoulder that he had badly broken two years before, and was topping himself up with copious amounts of painkillers and alcohol, and lived constantly in front of the television. Then one day, he saw a documentary about a man named Rodney Witchelo. Witchelo is infamous throughout the annals of UK crime as being the Heinz Baby food blackmailer – who in the 1980’s contaminated several jars of pet and baby food with razor blades and caustic soda and replaced them on supermarket shelves in an attempt to extort money from the manufacturer, Heinz. Witchelo was caught and imprisoned for 17 years in 1990 for his crimes as he was captured when he attempted to physically recover the money that he had so desperately craved. This made Pearce sit up and take notice in fascination, and a plan began to formulate in his mind about how he could strike back at the society that he considered had dealt him a bad hand. He believed he could do better than Witchelo, that his time for greatness had arrived. The “Reservoir Dogs” style calling card stemmed from Pearce’s advertising background – and the name “Mardi Gra” was chosen because it is the French translation of “Fat Tuesday”, and it had been a Tuesday when Pearce had formulated the idea for his extortion campaign.

This then, was the genesis of the Mardi Gra bomber.

Pearce admitted that he had tinkered with clocks and their working parts to experiment if the workings could be used in a device. An experienced and capable handyman despite his alcoholism, Pearce constructed each of the devices at home by himself – the majority in a greenhouse in his back garden. He was often seen in there for hours on end, quite late into the night.

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Pearce’s workbench in the “bomb factory”

A neighbour, William Branson recalled:

“We would often see him sitting in his greenhouse late at night. I just presumed he wanted to get away from it all, and maybe had a TV in there or something.”
Each type of device was tested on a remote plot of land nearby during Mardi Gra’s periods of inactivity. Each down period was Pearce refining his strategy, constantly practising with different devices and testing them to seek improvements. He was patient and cautious – but no less determined and focused upon his campaign. It was practices like this that convinced police that this was in no way a PR exercise or a “joke” that went too far – as was later claimed – and that Pearce had a calculating rather than confused mind. For example, Pearce was to admit that he had deliberately targeted his local pub, the Crown and Anchor in Chiswick, because he rightly suspected that the press were withholding news of his campaign and he wanted to ensure his devices were being successfully delivered. By sending a device there and then going into the pub for a drink afterwards, he could check as to whether his devices were being successfully delivered by thinking that if so, the bomb would be the predominant if not sole topic of conversation in the pub amongst staff and customers.  He was not wrong.

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Pearce’s local pub, the target of a Mardi Gra attack

News of the Pearce brother’s arrests had leaked to the media within 24 hours and 12 Cambridge Road North was soon under siege from reporters. A factual, but extremely brief statement was issued by Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve confirming nothing more than the brother’s names and ages, and a scant few details of the operation that had led to their arrest. The press was left to research the brothers lives for their headlines and articles, whilst the following day both Edgar and Ronald were charged on the following counts:

  1. Conspiracy to blackmail Barclays Bank
  2. Conspiracy to blackmail Sainsbury’s
  3. Conspiracy to possess firearms with intent to endanger life

At 10:00am on the morning of Friday 30th April 1998, the Pearce brothers appeared in a 30-minute hearing at Horseferry Road Magistrates Court in central London. Both brothers were remanded in custody awaiting trial, and for nearly a year were held on remand as Category A prisoners, Edgar at HMP Belmarsh in south-east London and Ronald at HMP High Down in Surrey. During this time, they made several interim court appearances where a total of twenty charges relating to the Mardi Gra campaign were listed against them. A trial date was set to begin at the Old Bailey on February 5th 1999, where the brothers were expected to enter a guilty plea. Edgar was expected to put forward the mitigating circumstances of diminished responsibility due to a result of his 1992 collapse and subsequent epilepsy/suspected stroke. By the time the morning of 5th February arrived, the Pearce brothers were facing a total of twenty charges. Edgar faced all twenty charges:

  • nine charges of blackmail against Sainsbury’s and Barclays Bank
  • three charges of causing Actual Bodily Harm
  • one charge of wounding with intent
  • one charge of causing an explosion
  • one charge of intending to cause an explosion
  • one charge of possessing explosives
  • two charges of illegally possessing prohibited weapons
  • one charge of illegally possessing an “improvised explosive device” with intent to commit blackmail
  • one charge of illegally possessing an “improvised explosive device” with intent to endanger life

Ronald was jointly charged with nine of these offences:

  • four charges of blackmail against Sainsbury’s
  • one charge of causing Actual Bodily Harm
  • one charge of illegally possessing an “improvised explosive device” with intent to endanger life
  • one charge of wounding with intent
  • one charge of possessing a prohibited weapon
  • one charge of possessing explosives

When each charge was read out, however, a “Not Guilty” plea was entered by both brothers. A trial date was set then for April 7th 1999.

On April 7th 1999, when each charge was again read out to Edgar Pearce, he pleaded “Guilty” to each. Ronald Pearce pleaded guilty to possession of a stun gun – but not guilty to the remaining charges he faced. Edgar had steadfast refused to discuss the extent of Ronald’s involvement, and after lengthy consideration, no evidence was offered on the remaining charges against him, although one charge of conspiracy to blackmail Sainsbury’s was ordered to lie on file. Ronald was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment for possession of the stun gun, but as he had served this already on remand, was from that moment a free man. He was released, and Edgar was returned to HMP Belmarsh to await sentencing.

On Thursday 14th April, Edgar Pearce again stood in front of Mr Justice Hyam in Court Number 1 at the Old Bailey, this time to await his fate. Medical professionals, employed by Pearce’s counsel, had argued that Pearce was guilty based on the grounds of diminished responsibility as a result of a combination of hypertension, heavy alcohol use, a bleed on the brain due to his 1992 collapse, and bizarrely, that the purpose of his action was to see if he could pull off a successful PR campaign!! Mr Justice Hyam was having none of this, however, and found no sort of defence based upon diminished responsibility to have any valid grounds. He believed prison rather than hospitalisation was more suitable and reflected this in summing up, telling Pearce:

“These offences were committed by you in the course of a campaign of extortion. Your apparent intention was to obtain a large amount of money, first from Barclays Bank and then from Sainsbury’s. Your plan was to terrorise the public, particularly staff and customers of Barclays and Sainsbury’s by threats and by the planting of weapons designed to cause physical injury. Some of the devices which you used had the potential to cause death to anyone who was within range. By good fortune alone, these devices did not kill anyone. Your motivations were greed and an insatiable appetite for notoriety. These offences were so serious that only a very substantial custodial sentence can be justified. It is also necessary to impose exemplary sentences to deter others who might be minded to offend as you have done” – Mr Justice Hyam

Pearce received prison sentences totalling 224 years, but as these were set to run concurrently he would only serve the length of the maximum sentence, which was 21 years in total. “Mardi Gra” remained impassive as he was sentenced, having been long expecting it, and he was taken back to HMP Belmarsh to begin his prison sentence. He served many years in obscurity, rarely if ever mentioned in the headlines, then was released. Edgar Pearce is nearly 80 years old now, and although he is no longer in prison, is in very poor health and lives quietly at an undisclosed location. Again alone.

The campaign of the Mardi Gra Bomber had cost dearly. Barclays had had to pay an extra £140,000 in additional security as a result, and Sainsbury’s were an estimated £640,000 down in lost business. Pearce had gained just £1,500 from his whole campaign – and held this for all of 30 minutes. He never got to spend a single penny – and lost more than a decade of his life behind bars for a campaign that though largely unsuccessful, was driven by a determined and cold mind. The detective who led the hunt for Mardi Gra said this after Pearce was sentenced:

“This was a callous, calculating individual who was wholly indifferent to the possibility that the devices might cause death or serious injuries. It is a miracle no one was killed.”- Det Supt Jeff Rees

To this day, police use tactics learned from the Mardi Gra investigation and operation to capture him as part of a training exercise teaching police how to combat any extortion threats that may be received.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

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