The Brighton Trunk Murders were a set of murders which occurred during 1934 in the English seaside resort. Two bodies were discovered decaying inside large trunks. Bizarrely, however, the murders were completely unrelated to one another. Here Unsolved Casebook takes a look at the crimes, one of which remains unsolved to this day.
A Foul Stench
At around 4 pm on June 17, 1934, William Vinnicombe and James Lelliot were enjoying the lull. The busy afternoon period had ended and the early evening peak yet to begin. The pair were attendants in the left luggage room at Brighton Railway station. They both worked the 2 pm to 10 pm afternoon shift.
Whilst enjoying the quieter period the men couldn’t help but notice the foul stench which consumed the room. Vinnicombe and Lelliot traced the smell and both agreed it was emanating from a plywood trunk.
The trunk, which appeared to be brand new, had been left eleven days prior on June 6. After eleven days and with the weather becoming only warmer the two attendants knew the smell would only become more pungent and revolting.
A Grim Discovery
Opening property left by a passenger, however, was something the men were not permitted to do. Nor did they wish to, as both feared what they would find. Vinnicombe took the decision to leave his colleague with the trunk. He himself went to report the suspicious smell to the railway police.
William Vinnicombe arrived back to the left luggage room with a railway police officer and a Brighton constable. The two members of law enforcement were quick to take in the atrocious stench coming from within the trunk. The constable took the decision to contact his superiors. Shortly after DC Edward Taylor arrived on the scene.
DC Taylor wasted no time. He grabbed the constable’s truncheon and proceeded to break off the two locks keeping the trunk sealed. The smell released once the lid was pried open was unbearable. DC Taylor had to retreat briefly for a gasp of fresh air due to the foul odour.
At that moment DC Arthur Stacey also arrived at the scene. Together Taylor and Stacey entered the left luggage room. They discovered inside the plywood trunk a brown paper bag tied with cord. Upon ripping away a section of the paper bag the DC’s were sickened to see the remains of a female torso.
The Brighton Baby Mystery
DI Arthur Pelling was quickly sent to the scene to head up the investigation into the gruesome find. The Trunk and the female torso were removed and taken to the nearby mortuary. Meanwhile, DI Pelling ordered the search of the remaining items held in the left luggage area.
During the search of the left luggage area, no other body parts remaining to the woman were discovered. However, another horrific discovery was made.
A locker was found to contain a Moses basket. The basket, which was in poor condition, had a lid with the initials VP barely visible. The lid was removed, Inside lay the remains of a young baby girl.
Further analysis stated the baby girl was no more than a few days old at the time of her death. In fact, it couldn’t be proved with certainty that the child had lived at all.
The investigation found that the Moses basket containing the child’s remains had been left towards the end of February. For this reason, DI Pelling was of the belief there was no connection between the female in the trunk and the baby girl. It was merely a sad and tragic coincidence.
It wouldn’t be the only coincidence in the Brighton Trunk Murders.
The identity of the baby girl found that day was never uncovered nor any person found to be responsible.
The Evidence Examined
At the mortuary, the surgeon on hand examined the contents of the plywood trunk. The torso appeared to reveal no significant injuries other than the ones created by the dismemberment of the body. The only identifying feature found on the victim was a small pimple underneath the left breast.
It was discovered that the cord used to tie the bag was cord used for Venetian blinds. Unfortunately, there was nothing remarkable about the cord. It was the sort found in any number of stores and easily available.
Blood soaked cotton wool and a face flannel were also found in the trunk. Again, little to help the investigation could be garnered from the items.
One item of interest was the brown paper bag in which the torso was wrapped. Several letters could be seen on the bag but they were not clear enough to make out with certainty. The item was sent off to the lab in London. Despite testing with the most up to date tools of the time they failed to reveal the wording of the letters.
Who Left The Trunk?
Investigators spoke with attendant Harry Rout. Rout had been the person on duty in the left luggage room on June 6, when the trunk was left. Rout recalled remembering how heavy the trunk was but little else.
He stated the man who left the item had no real discernible features. Although he would try he wouldn’t be certain that he could identify the individual if he saw him again.
The Remains In The Suitcase
The search for the remaining body parts was spread to other stations. On Monday, June 18 a further discovery was made at King’s Cross station. Attendant William Cope made the gruesome finding.
Cope opened a foul-smelling suitcase he had come across. The suitcase contained four separate packages wrapped in newspapers or placed in brown bags. A nearby officer, who William Cope had called for, opened the items. He discovered the legs and feet of a female.
The Girl With The Pretty Feet
The legs and feet were quickly determined to be a match to the torso found at Brighton railway station. A further examination determined that the victim fit the following description:
- Approximately 5 foot 2 inches
- Between 21 and 28 years-old
- Weighed approximately 8 and a half stone.
The examiner also revealed that at the time of her murder the woman was pregnant.
The condition of the victim’s feet was also noted. They were almost immaculate – no blemishes, no corns, no dry skin, perfectly trimmed nails. In fact, the condition they were in led the examiner to note his belief that the victim had visited a chiropodist regularly, including a trip shortly before her death.
Once this detail was released to the press the victim became known as “The Girl With The Pretty Feet” in the media.
The victim’s feet, along with how well-nourished the victim appeared, steered the examiner towards the opinion that the woman belonged to the middle-classes.
A final set of clues was gathered from the items in which the legs and feet were found. The newspapers had two dates on them – Thursday, 31 May and Saturday 2 June – narrowing the possible date of death. It was also discovered that the editions of those newspapers had only been sold within a fifty-mile radius of Fleet Street.
The Investigation Continues
The investigation, now been led by Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Robert Donaldson, continued unabated. Missing person files were vigorously examined (amazingly over 700 missing women were traced during the investigation). Hospitals were checked out and members of staff, especially midwives, were questioned. Unfortunately, this took the investigation no nearer to identifying the tragic victim.
Several cranks and loonies confessed to being behind the Brighton Trunk Murders. This is often the case in such crimes, but all were easily proven to be making up such abhorrent claims.
Police tried there best to trace individuals who had been at Brighton railway station on June 6 when the trunk was left. The problem was this also happened to be Derby Day. This meant thousands of visitors from all areas of the country were in the area on the day. It proved virtually impossible to trace them all.
During the investigations into various missing persons, police spoke to a 26-year-old man by the name of Tony Mancini. His partner Violette Kaye (also known as Saunders), a prostitute and dancer, had been reported missing by a customer.
Under questioning, Mancini claimed Violette had left the country. He stated she had gone to Germany or France, to try and start a life somewhere new. Mancini also pointed out that Violette, who was 42, was much older than the woman found in the trunk.
Tony Mancini was telling the truth. The woman found in the trunk at Brighton railway station wasn’t Violette Kaye. Violette Kaye was, however, very much deceased.
The Gruesome Discovery At 52 Kemp Street
Police received a call from a decorator who reported a foul stench coming from within 52 Kemp Street. He told them how he and his crew had all taken to wearing gas masks whilst working on the property.
Upon arrival at the property, the detectives could garner no answer from its occupants. With the stench of decay so potent it was decided they urgently needed to enter the premises. The door was broken down. Inside the smell took them down towards a basement flat.
Detectives noticed a black trunk in the room. With a somewhat knowing look, DC Edward Taylor was ordered to open the trunk. DC Taylor did as he was asked (in another coincidence Taylor had also opened the trunk at the railway station). Inside the case, badly decayed and covered in maggots, lay the remains of a female victim.
It was quickly discovered the woman found at 52 Kemp Street was Violette Kaye.
An alert was swiftly put out for the arrest of Tony Mancini. Mancini, however, had gone on the run shortly after his initial interview about Violette’s disappearance.
His escape act only took him as far Lewisham, however. On July 18 he was arrested and charged with the murder of Violette Kaye.
The Trial Of Tony Mancini
Tony Mancini’s trial for the murder of Violette Kaye, known as Brighton Trunk-Crime No. 2, lasted four days.
During the trial, Mancini claimed he had come home on May 10 to find Violette dead in their flat on Park Crescent. Believing no one would think he wasn’t responsible due to his criminal record Mancini bundled Violette’s body into the trunk and left the premises, moving to 52 Kemp Street along with the trunk.
The story seemed far fetched at best and there were several parts of Mancini’s that could be disproven. A guilty verdict would have seemed inevitable if not for the brilliance of his defence Norman Birkett. After two hours deliberation, Tony Mancini was found not guilty.
In 1976, forty-two years after the 1934 not guilty verdict, Tony Mancini revealed that he had gotten away with murder all those years. Close to death and protected by the U.K’s double jeopardy law Mancini told the News Of The World newspaper he did kill Violette Kaye.
His story was that he returned home from a days work at Skylark Cafe. Violette was drunk and the two got into a raging argument. During the row, Mancini picked up a nearby coal-hammer in rage and launched it across the room. The hammer smashed Violette Kaye in the skull and she dropped dead.
But Who Killed The Girl With The Pretty Feet?
Sadly, no such solution would ever be forthcoming for the first of the Brighton Trunk Murders. The Girl With The Pretty Feet would never be positively identified, her arms and head never located.
One suspect that emerged for the first of the Brighton Trunk Murders was a doctor by the name of Edward Seys Massiah. Massiah, originally from the West Indies, was a medical practitioner who was also suspected of running an illegal abortion clinic.
Chief Inspector Donaldson theorized that the victim was the result of a botched abortion. Rather than face the consequences of his actions Edward Seys Massiah instead dismembered the woman.
Despite gathering numerous pieces of evidence against Massiah it was all circumstantial. There just wasn’t enough to make an arrest.
When Massiah found out about the suspicion surrounding him and his illegal clinic he was swift to act. The doctor let it be known that his many rich and powerful friends would do their utmost to protect him from the scandalous accusations made towards him. It was believed they would do so as Massiah had information on many of them.
Further Information On Edward Seys Massiah
Shortly after he fell under the suspicion of Chief Inspector Donaldson Massiah moved to London. Here he was embroiled in yet another scandal.
Whilst performing an illegal operation a female patient died on the operating table. Massiah, however, went unpunished for the incident, seemingly backing up his claims that he had friends in high places.
Not long after the incident in London Massiah left the country and moved to Trinidad. Despite the death of a patient during an illegal procedure, Edward Massiah remained on the medical register until 1952. As far as I could find Massiah was never officially interviewed about the first of the Brighton Trunk Murders.
One final note on Edward Seys Massiah is his link to another missing person case. On April 16, 1935, Winifred Cramer informed police she was concerned about the whereabouts of her friend Olive Taylor. Edward Seys Massiah had been Taylor’s employer, she worked for him as a cook-housekeeper.
No link was ever made between the Brighton Trunk Murders or the baby girl in the Moses basket. The three cases were all seemingly just an amazingly macabre coincidence.