Case File #0253
The Brighton Trunk Murders
The Queen of Slaughtering Places
"the trunk he was using as a coffee table contained the corpse of Violette Kaye"
In June 1934, an unclaimed trunk deposited at the left luggage office of Brighton railway station was opened after complaints of a bad smell emanating from within. Inside was found the dismembered and decomposing torso of a woman. The victims legs were found in a suitcase at another station, but the head and arms were never located and her identity was never established. Although police were unable to find who had placed her in the trunk or why, the unsolved crime did lead to the discovery of another unrelated murder and the arrest of a suspect. Tony Mancini was apprehended for the murder of his girlfriend Violette Kay, who's body was also placed inside a trunk, however this second crime would be left without a resolution and the exact circumstances surrounding the murder are unclear.
The ancient settlement of "Brighthelmstone", known today as the city of Brighton is home to a seaside resort in the county of East Sussex, and is a popular destination for tourists. Referred to as "The Queen of Watering Places" by the Poet Horace Smith, the city would gained notoriety during the 1930's because of a sinister series of unsolved trunk murders, earning Brighton the nickname, "The Queen of Slaughtering Places". The first such incident happened at the Brighton railway station on 17 June 1934, when cloakroom attendant William Joseph Vinnicombe investigated a strange smell at the left luggage office. He located an unclaimed plywood trunk from where the bad smell appeared to coming from and immediately contacted the police.
Detective Bishop of the Railway Police arrived and opened the locked trunk, revealing several layers of paper and cotton wool soaked in blood and a parcel tied with a sash cord that contained the dismembered torso of a woman. Oddly, there was also a torn piece of paper with the word "Ford" written on it. It was initially believed the victim was around 40 years of age. Brighton Chief Inspector Ronald Donaldson alerted other stations to be on the lookout for any similarly abandoned luggage, in an attempt to locate the other missing portions of the woman's body, and the following day another grim find was made.
Staff at King's Cross Station came across a large brand new brown fibre suitcase which had been left at the cloakroom on the No.10 platform on 7 June at about 1:30pm, the day after the case was left at Brighton. Inside was found the crudely dismembered legs and feet of a woman, which had been carefully wrapped in four layers of brown paper, with each layer tied separately with string. There was no items of clothing or a note to offer any clues to the victims identity. Officers from Brighton, including Chief Inspector Donaldson, Sergeant Ferroll held a three hour conference with Scotland Yard detectives to discuss the recent find. Brighton Captain W. J. Hutchinson told the Daily Mirror, "The discovery at King's Cross is of the very greatest importance".

Kings Cross Station

Abandoned Luggage

Chief Inspector Donaldson also commented to the press about the macabre discovery when he said, "Although only the legs have been discovered, I am hopeful that further discoveries will be made. The find of the limbs at King's Cross entirely alters the focus of the mystery, because it shows that the crime is not a local one". The newspapers of the time referred to the victim as the 'Girl with the Pretty Feet' and she became known as simply 'Pretty Feet' because she had what were known as 'Dancer's Feet', which were considered beautiful. It was strongly believed they belonged to the same victim found in Brighton, and Chief Inspector Donaldson reiterated this fact, "the second suitcase appears to be identical with the one we have at Brighton. There is obviously no doubt about the connection of the two discoveries".
The head and arms were never found, making a positive identification almost impossible. During the evening of Monday, 18 June, Scotland Yard detectives and Railway police carried out an extensive and careful search of containers found at cloakrooms of other London terminals on the chance they should come across the other missing portions of the woman's body. The Daily Mirror ran a front page story which alluded to a "secret informant", who provided the police with information, revealing only that the facts surrounding the case "had been divulged by a person who had been sworn to secrecy, and it is impossible to disclose his name".
Sir Bernard Spilsbury was called in to perform the autopsy, and believed the victim was around 25-years-old and appeared to be five months pregnant at the time of her death. Spilbury's notes from the post-mortem reveal few details about the victim; "Internal examination of the torso had not revealed the cause of death; the legs and feet found at King's Cross belonged to the torso; the victim had been well nourished; she had been not younger than twenty-one and not older than twenty-eight, had stood about five feet two inches, and had weighed roughly eight and a half stones; she was five months pregnant at the time of death." Despite a thorough search, the victim was never identified and the person responsible was never caught. Detectives had their own theories on who the killer might have been, and Chief Inspector Donaldson's chief suspect was a local abortionist by the name of Massiah.
He ordered officers to conduct covert surveillance of the man, however one of the officers drafted in from Hove confronted Massiah, expecting the abortionist to confess and come quietly. It was reported that the Doctor instead wrote a list of names, possibly of influential people for whom he had performed illegal abortions. When the officer read the list, "...it seemed to the policeman that the sun had gone in; all of a sudden the consulting room was a place of sombre shadows..." The officer did not report the incident to Chief Inspector Donaldson, who only found out when he was warned to back off by a superior officer.
Massiah subsequently moved to London where he continued to perform abortions, one of which resulted in the death of a woman patient. The doctor still evaded prosecution and remained on the General Medical Register, only being removed in 1952 when he failed to re-register. Spilsbury noted during the post-mortem that there appeared to be no evidence of interference with the pregnancy, and that the dismemberment showed no signs of skilled anatomical knowledge.
Scotland Yard officers then launched a massive nationwide search in an attempt to discover the identity of the dismembered woman. They reviewed the cases of 700 missing women, amongst them Agnes Tufverson, an American lawyer, whose disappearance was being investigated by the American and Continental police, however it was believed her case did not have anything links with the trunk murder. Officers checked hospitals and known abortionists and for the first time appealed directly to the public for information by using the press. With little results, they began an extensive house-to-house search when on the 15 July 1934 they came across a locked room at 52 Kemp Street which contained a trunk in the bedroom, along with bloodstained clothing. When it was opened, the trunk was found to contain the decomposing body of a woman.

The body of Violette Kaye

The post mortem was also carried out by Sir Bernard Spilsbury, who determined the victim died from a blow to the head and found an undetermined amount of morphine in her system. She was identified as 42-year-old Violette Kaye, also known as Violette Saunders, who had worked as a dancer touring the country in revue shows before turning to prostitution in London where she met and became the lover of 26-year-old Tony Mancini. He went by several pseudonyms including, Tony English, Jack Notyre, and Hyman Gold, and had worked as a bouncer then waiter. He was known to the police because of a previous criminal record for loitering and theft.
The couple moved to Brighton in September 1933 and lived together at several addresses. They had what was described as a tempestuous relationship, and would often have violent arguments. Kaye was a heavy drinker and she was insecure about her much younger lover and often accused Mancini of making a pass at the waitresses at Skylark café where he worked. One such incident occurred on 10 May 1934 on the seafront at the café, when a drunk Kaye accused Mancini of being overly familiar with Elizabeth Attrell, one of the teen-aged waitresses. Several days after the argument, Mancini told one of his work colleagues that Violette had left him and moved to Paris, and he subsequently gave some of her clothes and belongings to Attrell.

Tony Mancini

Violette Kaye

A telegram was sent to her sister-in-law and read; "Going abroad. Good job. Sail Sunday. Will write. --Vi". Police would later establish this was sent from Brighton the same morning, which was after Violette Kaye had died. Mancini moved from 44 Park Crescent to new lodgings at 52 Kemp Street, which was situated close to the railway station. He also transported a large trunk by handcart, placing it at the foot of his bed and covered it with a cloth. Unbeknown to his friends, the trunk he was using as a coffee table contained the corpse of Violette Kaye. He kept it in his lodgings, even when the trunk began to leak fluids and his friends complained of the smell. When he heard about the door-to-door searches being conducted he panicked and fled and was subsequently picked up by police for vagrancy on 17 July on the outskirts of South East London and gave his real name, Cecil Lois England, to the police. When his identity was confirmed, he was arrested on suspicion of the murder of Violette Kaye.
Mancini was arraigned at Lewes Assizes in December 1934, during which the trial lasted five days. The prosecution team, led by J.C. Cassells, called upon a graphologist to give evidence, who confirmed the handwriting on the form for the telegram sent to Kaye’s sister-in-law matched the same handwriting on menus Mancini had written at the Skylark café. A witness, Doris Saville, testified Mancini had requested she provide him with a false alibi and other witnesses came forward, including friends of Mancini who said he boasted in the days following the murder that he had "given his missus the biggest hiding of her life". His relationship with the victim became a main point of the case against Mancini, especially concerning the manner of Kaye's death which the prosecution believed was the result of a significant blow to the head caused by the defendant, possibly during one of their arguments.

Illustrated Police News

Tony Mancini

In his defence, Mancini claimed he discovered Kaye's body at 44 Park Crescent, and suspected she had either been murdered by one of her clients or died from an accidental fall. He protested his innocence and said the reason for running away was because of his previous criminal convictions, and feared the police would not believe his story, so he placed her body in the trunk to cover up her death. The defence counsel, William Norman Birkett, who had previously served as the alternate British Judge during the Nuremburg Trials after World War II, presented evidence of the victims immoral lifestyle, including her work as a prostitute and her character.
It was intention of the defence to show that Kaye had died from a fall after heavy drinking, and soon brought into question the quality of the forensic evidence, primarily the amount of morphine found in her blood. He also proved the bloodstained clothing found in Mancini's lodgings was purchased after she had died, and a number of witnesses confirmed the couple had a good relationship. The testimony of pathologist Sir Bernhard Spilsbury was effectively demolished during Birkett's cross-examination and closing speech. The jury deliberated for 2 hours and 18 minutes and returned a verdict of not guilty. Despite an overwhelming case for the prosecution, Mancini walked free.
Shortly before his death in 1976, 68-year-old Mancini allegedly confessed to the crime to a News of the World journalist. He described how the couple had a heated argument and Kaye attacked him with a hammer which they used to break coal for the fireplace. He then lunged at her and managed to wrestle the hammer away, and when she demanded it back he threw in her direction, hitting her on her left temple causing her death. Although he could not be tried again for the same crime, the Director of Public Prosecutions had considered bringing a charge of perjury against Mancini, but ruled against it because there was little evidence and the allegations could not be corroborated.
It was by sheer chance that officers had stumbled across the remains of Violette Kaye in Mancini's lodgings, whilst conducting an extensive search for clues to solve the first trunk murder. It was believed the murder of Violette Kaye was not associated with the previous victim, who had been dismembered. The first Brighton Trunk Murder victim, known as "the Girl with Pretty Feet" was never identified and her murder remains unsolved.

Written by Nucleus