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26 February 2024

David Martin (1946 – 1984) burglar.

Original version: December 2009

David Martin was born in Paddington, London, and was educated at the Finsbury Park comprehensive school. He was trained as a motor mechanic. However he also started stealing things. By 1968 he was in a borstal serving time for 30 cases of theft. There he studied electronics, to better understand alarm systems. He managed to spring a lock, and escaped. In 1972 he was on remand for more burglaries. In the prison van he picked the lock of his cubicle, and then did the same for the other prisoners. In 1973 he was in Brixton Prison. He and 20 others hijacked a dustcart and used it to ram the prison gates. Martin was one of the few to actually get outside, but was apprehended hailing a taxi. In 1974 and 1975 he made near attempts to escape from Parkhurst Prison and then Gartree.

Martin was also gender fluid switching genders socially and also to case premises or to commit crimes.

In 1982 he had decided to get into the then expanding businesses of video (VHS) piracy and also pornography. To get the required equipment he burgled film recording and processing firms in London and took what he needed. On other times he broke in with a master tape of a recent Hollywood film, and used the equipment to make multiple copies. Later that year he used his knowledge of alarm systems to break into the gunsmiths Thomas Bland & Sons in Covent Garden and took 24 handguns, ammunition and holsters. A few weeks later he and others stole £25,000 in the City of London where he shot a security guard in the leg. One of the security guards said that he thought one of the gang was a woman dressed in motorcycle clothing. A week after that he shot a police constable in the leg when challenged in a film processing firm in Marylebone. 

The police spoke to their informants and were given the name David Martin. A gun dealer came forth about an attempt by a David Martin who wanted to sell guns, and who had left an address in Crawford Place, Marylebone. For several days armed undercover officers watched Martin’s flat wondering why there was no sign of him. Only then did they realise that the tall blonde woman who came and went was, in fact, Martin. An informant explained to them that Martin was a transvestite. They were waiting for Martin on the seventh floor when she stepped out of the lift. This became a fracas, Martin’s gun was knocked away but she pulled out a second gun, and a detective constable fired. Martin was hit in the back of the neck. Martin was taken to hospital where the bullet was removed, and then held in remand at Brixton Prison. On Christmas Eve 1982 Martin was taken to Marlborough Street Magistrates Court (now the Courthouse Hotel) and charged with attempted murder, armed robbery, theft of guns and other offences. He was then taken to the court cells to await the prison van for the return journey. However his lock-picking skills served him well. He made his way to a skylight, and then over the nearby roofs to the London Palladium theatre. A service door was open, and Martin walked out through the foyer and into the Christmas crowds.

Martin’s (major) girlfriend was the 25-year-old Sue Stephens. They raided her flat in West Hampstead, but to no avail. They put her under surveillance and listened to her phone.

A yellow Mini.

Stephen Waldorf, a 26-year-old film editor, vaguely resembled the male David Martin. His sister’s boyfriend, Lester Purdy, was acquainted with Stephens. Waldorf and the boyfriend picked up Stephens in a yellow Mini. With the police following, the Mini got stuck in traffic in Kensington. Armed police surrounded the car and opened fire. Waldorf fell out of the car door face down and was shot again. Only when they turned him over, did the police realize that it was the wrong man. The other man in the car fled in terror, but later went to the police.

Waldorf had suffered five bullet wounds—which damaged his abdomen and liver—as well as a fractured skull and injuries to one hand caused by pistol whipping. Stephens was grazed by a bullet. Both were taken to St Stephen's Hospital. Within an hour, a senior officer at Scotland Yard issued a public apology and promised an immediate investigation by the Metropolitan Police's Complaints Investigation Bureau (CIB). Waldorf went into full cardiac arrest, but doctors managed to restart his heart. He was in hospital for six weeks. When he regained consciousness, a senior Met officer visited him to apologise.

Stephens had been grazed by a bullet, was paid £10,000 for her story by the Daily Mail, but was also charged with receiving stolen property. Out on bail she worked with the Flying Squad. Martin phoned and they arranged to meet “at the last place we met”, which was a restaurant in Heath Street, Hampstead. Many police were waiting, but Martin fled down an emergency spiral staircase at Hampstead Underground Station, then the length of a stationary train, jumped from the drivers’ cab and onto the rails. Station staff immediately switched off the electricity. Some police followed while others waited at the two adjacent stations. They caught him at Belsize Park station – he had no gun with him.

His trial was at the Old Bailey, September 1983. He refused to plead to any of the charges, and the judge ruled that a plea of not guilty be entered. The trial ended 11 October and Martin was sentenced to 25 years. He vowed that he would escape or die! 

Waldorf eventually made a full recovery. He sued the police, who did not contest the case, and was awarded £150,000 in an out-of-court settlement early in 1984. Stephens also sued the Met and was awarded £10,000, but she, Purdy and one other were sentenced to six and nine months respectively for receiving stolen goods after police found property including £15,000 of security equipment, body armour and holsters and medical equipment.

Three officers were suspended; two were charged with attempted murder. They were tried at the Old Bailey in October 1983, pled that they had a genuine, albeit mistaken, fear for their lives, and were acquitted of all charges. They were returned to duty, though their firearms authorisations were withdrawn.

Martin was sent to Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight, where he met celebrity prisoners such as the gay serial killer Dennis Nilson. Sue Stephens stopped answering his letters, and refused to visit him. 

He succeeded in killing himself 13 March 1984.

The police regulations regarding guns were tightened.

The story was filmed as a television movie in 1994 with Rupert Graves as Martin. 

*Not the Scottish, nor the English, nor the Nebraska politician, nor the poet, nor the Governor of New South Wales, nor the musician, nor the gymnast, nor any of the footballers, nor the Texas axe-murderer, nor the Ottawa humourist, nor the casting director, nor the Dr Who scriptwriter, nor the CBC news correspondent, nor the sociologist/priest, nor the jazz pianist, nor the chef, etc. Nor the author of Rewriting Gender?: You, Your Family, Transgenderism and the Gospel, 2018.

  • Nick Davies & Stephen Cook. “Yard apologises for shooting”. The Guardian, 17 January 1983. 
  • Pat Clarke. “The gunman who like to dress aa a woman”. Daily Post, October 12, 1983: 3.
  • Roger Beam. “Two faces of the transvestite gunman” and “Waldorf: ‘Shot five times and pistol whipped’. Model’s brush with death”. Daily Mirror, October 13, 1983: 1,7.
  • Ian Henry. “Six Month’s Jail for ‘Infatuated’ Sue Stephens’. Daily Telegraph, 22 November 1983.
  • “David Martin, the transvestite burglar who became Britain's most wanted...”. UPI, 14 March 1984. Online.
  • “David Martin: No prison will hold me!” Real-Life Crimes … and how they were solved, 38, 1 Jan 1993. archive
  • Paul Greengrass (scr & dir). Open Fire. With Jim Carter as DCS Young, Rupert Graves as David Martin and Eddie Izzard as Rich. UK London Weekend Television 105 mins 1994. IMDB YouTube.
  • Duncan Campbell. The Underworld. Penguin Books, 1996: 160-2.
  • James Morton. Gangland Soho. Piatkus, 2008: 6.
  • Dick Kirby. “London police opening fire: 1983 to now”. The History Press. Online.
  • Dick Kirby. The Wrong Man: The Shooting of Stephen Waldorf and the Hunt for David Martin. The History Press, 2016. 



There is no indication that Martin ever went to any of the trans support groups available in London in the late 1970s-early 1980s: The London TV/TS Group, the Beaumont Society or SHAFT. 

Real-Life Crimes includes the paragraph: “One detective who dealt with him said: He turned to homosexuality in prison. He liked the idea of being in drag, but he was such a chameleon, so good at disguise, that he found a brilliant device to help him in crime, too.” Kirby mentions “an acquaintance who was a homosexual lorry driver. Apparently, he and Martin had shared an interest in yoga, wholefoods and the occult while the driver was waiting for a sex-change operation.” Real-Life Crimes says that they were dating. Other writers claim that Martin had an affair in prison with Dennis Nilson. 

I see only a heterosexual cross-dresser. In the early 1980s many still confused trans and being gay.

This is the arial view (from Google maps) of the block containing the Magistrates Court and the London Palladium.  To get from one to the other across the roofs seems quite feasable.

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