The Strange Mystery of the Little Known Brighton Trunk Murders
In 1934, several trunks were discovered containing human remains. Who were the women and would the killer be caught?
Brighton has had its fair share of media publicity for many reasons. It is a small seaside town some forty minutes from my house. It is home to quaint alleys, antique shops and wild nightlife.
The large proportion of LGBTQ+ members means that it is the Pride day to attend.
Brighton also has a darker side. It was the backdrop to Graham Greene's book Brighton Rock. A gritty murder thriller set in the 1930s. It was also the host of many mods and rocker battles.
One of the incidents it is most famous for is the first location of the trunk killer, which the media called the Brighton Trunk Murders.
The 6th June 1934 was a sunny day. The home football team Brighton and Hove took on local rivals Crystal Palace. A person walked into the railway station in Brighton and deposited a wooden trunk with the luggage department.
Two weeks later, the luggage supervisor, William Joseph Vinnicombe, was disturbed by work's strange and unpleasant smell. He located that the smell was coming from the wooden trunk.
Calling the police, Chief Inspector Donaldson was quick to arrive and open the trunk. Wrapped in brown paper was the torso of a woman. The Detective guessed that the woman looked approximately forty years old.
Shortly after this, on 17th June, in Kings Cross station, another trunk had started to smell. Again the police were called and the trunk opened. Inside this trunk were two legs and feet, wrapped identically to the torso.
It did not take authorities long to identify that the feet and legs belonged to the same body. However, it was impossible to identify the woman without the hands and head.
Sir Bernard Spilsbury carried out the post-mortem. He concluded that the person who had dismembered the body had some experience in anatomy but was not an expert.
He also concluded that the woman was in her late 20s, not forty. She was five months pregnant when she was killed and had died shortly before 6th June. Examination of her skin made him conclude that she was from middle-class society.
The media named the woman 'pretty feet,' after her elegant dancer's feet.
Police identified Dr Edward Massiah as a possible suspect for the murder. Massiah was an abortionist of a varied reputation.
The police decided to put him under observation, but instead, a local policeman decided to tell him. As a result, Massiah moved from Brighton to London, where he killed a woman performing an abortion but was never prosecuted.
He was also never formally identified as a suspect in the murder of 'pretty feet.'
Apart from this one suspect, the police had nothing further. Instead, they asked the public for help to identify the woman. Asking friends to come forward if their friend was missing. They were especially keen to speak to people who may have seen the man who deposited the trunk.
A third trunk would be found one month after Kings Cross. This time though, it had been left in a local flat.
A painter had smelt something strange in one of the flats he was working near and contacted the police.
The police went to 52 Kemp Street to investigate. It was unclear why they put the property under observation for 48 hours before entering. When they finally broke into the flat, they found the smell coming from a black trunk.
Was this the head and hands of the victim to help identify her?
This was the body of a third woman completely unrelated to the first. This woman's body was complete and she had been beaten around the head.
The police looked into the tenant of the flat and found it was registered to twenty-six-year-old Tony Mancini. However, Mancini was nowhere to be found.
On 18th July, he was apprehended in London and brought back to Brighton for questioning. Then, the police discovered that Mancini was the alias for Cecil Louis England, a low-level criminal.
Mancini had come up on the police radar after the first trunk was found, but it was discovered that he could not have dropped both trunks off, so he had been released.
The woman's body was identified as forty-four-year-old Violette Kaye. She had been the girlfriend of Mancini and was a known prostitute.
On 10th May 1934, Mancini worked as a security guard at the Skylark Cafe on the seafront. Kaye had been intoxicated when she stormed into the cafe and accused Mancini of having an affair with a teenage waitress. Kaye was never seen alive again.
Mancini decided to come clean. He said he had returned to 44 Park Cresent to find Kaye dead on the bed. The area was high class and Kaye had been making a good career as a prostitute.
Mancini fearing that the police would think he had done the murder, brought a trunk to store her body in, then moved it to Kemp Street, where he used to live. He then fled to London.
The authorities were not convinced and charged Mancini with the murder of Violette Kaye. There was nothing to tie him to the first trunk murder, though.
A Surprise Confession
In December 1934, the case came to trial. Mancini's lawyers built their defence on the fact that Kaye had been found with a large quantity of morphine in her system and was a regular user.
The trial lasted five days. The jury took just over two hours to conclude that Mancini was not guilty of the murder of Kaye. There were no other suspects for the murder.
In a shocking twist to this story, on 29th November 1976, Mancini admitted to a reporter for the News of the World he had killed Kaye. He could now no longer be tried for the case.
He explained that the couple had argued and that Kaye had attacked him with a hammer he kept by the fireplace to break coal. Mancini said he had wrestled the hammer from her, but she had demanded it back. So he hit her on the left temple when he threw it, killing her.
The murder of the woman in the first trunks has never been solved; her identity remains a mystery.