Sunday, 29 January 2012

Body in Suitcase: New Shock (Brighton Trunk Murder)

Daily Mirror dated Tuesday June 19th 1934
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On 17th June 1934 a worker at the left-luggage office of Brighton Railway Station complained about the smell coming from a large suitcase or trunk that had been deposited there a while before.  The police were called and, when opened, the trunk was found to contain the dismembered torso of a woman. Two days later, further searches at other Railway termini turned up the trunk at King’s Cross Station in London. This contained a woman’s legs.  Sir Bernard Spilsbury, England’s most senior and most famous criminal anthropologist (and 1930's answer to Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan), established that the torso and legs were from the same person, but little else.  


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As can be seen from this clipping form the next day’s Mirror the story took a bizarre turn with the revelations of a Psychic, even so the rest of the victim was never found, her identity never established and the murderer never charged.

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During house-to-house investigations around Brighton Railway station the police found another trunk and another body.  It was soon decided that this had no connection to the previous discoveries and was treated as a separate case.  This time the victim was identified, as Violette Kaye, and her ex-boyfriend Tony Mancini stood trial for murder but he was acquitted due to lack of evidence.  38 years later Mancini apparently confessed to a ‘News of the World’ journalist (remember them?) that he had killed Violette.


Incidentally, for crime fiction fans I can thoroughly recommend Peter Guttridge's Brighton Trilogy - 'City of Dreadful Night', 'The Last King of Brighton' and 'The Thing Itself' - the latter out in April 2012.


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Piracy in the China Seas was quite common in the 1930’s. According to a statement in Hansard in 1936, 17 British adults and 70 British schoolchildren had been victims of Chinese pirates between 1933 and 1935. Of these only 3 were killed.  On the 17th June 1934 SS Shuntein, a passenger and cargo vessel on only its second voyage was taken over by Chinese pirates. 5 Brits, 1 Japanese and about 20 Chinese passengers were taken onto 8 or 9 Junks.  6 Royal Navy vessels led by the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle immediately set out to intercept the pirates and, having dropped warning notices demanding the release of the hostages, proceeded to bomb and machine gun the boats.  The British and Japanese hostages were released unharmed. 
“By Gad, Sir, that’ll show the yellow devils they can’t mess with the British Empire. Pass me another Singapore Sling.”

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George Fratson was subsequently released from prison.  Lucky really that he hadn’t been hung (or is it hanged?).  I hope Messrs Avory, Swift, Branson and Finlay read this and had a moment's pause for thought. 

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Enough of crime for now.  The play turned out to be J M (Peter Pan) Barrie’s last – ‘The Boy David’ and indeed Elizabeth Bergner did play the title role!  It was premiered in Edinburgh in 1936 and, despite scenery by Augustus John and music by William Walton, received a less than favourable review from the Glasgow Herald. (search Google News for “‘Elizabeth Bergner’ Barrie”)


Ironic and sad. And 78 years later it still happens, but fortunately only rarely.

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Latymer Court still stands today and if you want a 1 bedroom flat there you’ll need about £300,000, which, I note, is almost as much as it cost to build the whole place in 1934.

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Is there nothing new under the sun?  Miss-behaving footballer in road-rage attack.


Some things have changed, though.


















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