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On the afternoon of Sunday 17 June, William Vinnicombe and James Lelliot were working in the left luggage room of Brighton train station on the south coast of England. It was the beginning of summer and with little fresh air circulating the room, the men had been trying to locate the source of an increasingly offensive smell. Around 4pm, they came across a new-looking, but cheap, brown suitcase…
On the afternoon of Sunday 17 June, William Vinnicombe and James Lelliot were working in the left luggage room of Brighton train station on the south coast of England. It was the beginning of summer and with little fresh air circulating the room, the men had been trying to locate the source of an increasingly offensive smell. Around 4pm, they came across a new-looking, but cheap, brown suitcase. Recognising the unforgettable smell from his days as a soldier, William Vinnicombe reported their discovery to the railway police. When a Brighton police constable arrived alongside the railway police officer, he decided to contact his superiors. When Detective Constable Taylor arrived, he broke open two locks which secured the case, and when he raised the lid, he was forced back by the stench of human decay. Whilst he was getting a breath of fresh air outside, DC Stacey arrived, and so the two constables returned to the left luggage room. They opened the suitcase, which was less than a meter in length, to find a large paper bag tied with cord. Blood had started to seep through from whatever was inside. When one of the constables tore back a section of the paper bag, he found himself looking at a part of a female torso. It was now DC Taylor and DC Stacy’s turn to call their superior. Chief Inspector Pelling was soon at the scene and took charge. He ordered the suitcase to be removed and taken to the mortuary.
Hello, I’m Fiona and welcome to Turned Up Dead. The true crime story I’m going to tell you today is of the Brighton trunk murders.
I would like to give an additional content warning for this episode: Although brief and not in detail, this episode does mention the death of a newborn baby.
This case, pun unintended, is a historical one and the events I’ll tell you of today took place in 1934. To give you a bit of context, the previous month, Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed by police and shot to death in Louisiana, Donal Duck made his first appearance in the cartoon, The Wise Little Hen,’ and just three days before the suitcase was discovered at Brighton station, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini met for the first time; after which Mussolini described Hitler as, ‘a mad little clown.’
In mid June 1934, New York police asked Scotland Yard for help with the disappearance of a lawyer named Agnes Tufverson. On December 4th the previous year, she had married a man named Ivan Poderjay – and then 16 days later, she vanished. When New York police started to investigate, they discovered that shortly before she disappeared, Ivan Poderjay had purchased a large black trunk. He then boarded a ship from New York to Europe alone. New York Police had tracked him to Vienna, where he was found living with a woman he had married before marrying Agnes. He had most of Agnes’ possessions with him but the trunk was nowhere to be seen. Although New York police thought it unlikely that anything would be found in England, they asked Scotland Yard to help with the investigation on UK soil.
As police searched other left luggage at Brighton rail station for more body parts, and train stations across the UK were on the lookout for similar left trunks, in the mortuary, the Brighton station suitcase and its contents were examined. The trunk-style suitcase measured about 70 by 45cm and was about 28 cm tall and had a missing tray. It didn’t match the description of the missing trunk New York police were looking for. The Brighton torso trunk had been left at the station on June 6, which was nearly six months after Agnes Tufverson was last seen. Even Agnes’ sister suspected Ivan of pushing Agnes’ body through the porthole of his cabin and into the Atlantic as he fled New York for Europe. Police in Brighton ruled out any connection between Agnes and their unidentified woman.
A local doctor said the torso appeared to be from a woman in her early to mid forties. There were no identifying marks and no clothing or belongings had been left with it. Brighton’s Chief Constable Captain Hutchinson said quote, ‘The limbs had been removed carefully but not scientifically.’ ‘The arms, for instance, had not been severed at the shoulder, but a few inches below.’
In an attempt to stop blood from seeping out, the torso had been wrapped in cotton wool and the paper bag had been soaked in olive oil. The cord used to tie the package was window blind cord which had no identifying features and was common in use. The only clue was four letters on the brown paper: F-O-R-D. Ford. The F wasn’t a capital letter and the paper had been torn right before it – straight through a preceding letter. The torn letter looked like it could have been another F, or an L. Brighton police believed it likely to be the suffix, the ending of a word, of a place name such as Oxford.
Chief Inspector Donaldson and Detective-Sergeant Ferroll from Scotland Yard were called in to assist Captain Hutchinson.
The suitcase had been deposited at Brighton station on June 6, eleven days prior to its discovery and on a Derby Day. Although not held in Brighton, many people, especially those in the sound of England, travelled via train from and through Brighton to get to the horse race in the town of Epsom, just outside London, and so the train station was much busier than usual. The left luggage room attendant who had taken the suitcase was a man named Harry Rout. He told police that he unfortunately couldn’t recall who deposited the case due to Derby Day being so busy. He told police that out of about 90 suitcases left that day, the trunk case was number seventy. According to the attendant’s records, it had been handed in late in the afternoon.
The police began to review cases of missing women local to the Brighton area, however Captain Hutchinson told press that he thought it unlikely that someone would commit a crime and, quote, ‘leave the evidence of it as it were on his own doorstep,’ end quote.
The officers who searched the remaining bags at Brighton station found no other body parts or items connected to the first trunk that day but inside a locker, they found a straw moses basket. It had been in the locker for more than three months and officers were just able to make out the initials VP on the lid. When they opened the basket, they found the remains of a newborn baby girl tucked inside. There was no way to know if she had lived a short while before her death or had been stillborn. The baby girl was never identified.
On Monday 18 June, station attendant William Cope, alerted police to a suitcase that he’d found at King’s Cross train station in London. The suitcase was of a similar trunk style to the Brighton suitcase, and it had been left in the cloakroom on June 7th; the day after the Brighton trunk had been left at the station.
Inside were four packages, each wrapped in oil-soaked brown paper, and tied with string. A police officer opened a package, and, like a repeat of the day before, it revealed part of a woman’s body. Inside this suitcase were a pair of women’s legs and feet.
The trunk was immediately sent to Brighton and Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the Home Office’s famed pathologist nicknamed the modern Sherlock Holmes, was called to Brighton to examine the remains. The remains of a label was visible on the trunk but having no words or image left on it, it wasn’t much help. Pages from two newspapers had been used to pack the legs and feet. Some of the pages were from The Daily Mirror, which was at the time only sold within a fifty-mile radius of central London. The dates on the papers, Thursday, 31 May and Saturday 2 June, narrowed the date of her death to being between June 2 and June 6, when the first trunk was found.
Sir Spilsbury’s post-mortem established that the torso and the legs and feet were from the same woman, who he said had been dismembered by someone with some, but certainly not an expert appreciation of anatomy and that her limbs had been sawn off. Aside from those caused by dismemberment, there were no other injuries and the cause of her death couldn’t be determined. Her organs were sent to London to be analysed for any evidence of poison.
Sir Spilsbury’s examination also revealed the woman to be in her mid-twenties, not in her 40s as first thought. She was about 5’2″ tall, well-nourished and he noted that her feet were well-kept and her toenails had been recently polished and tinted. Based on this Spilsbury concluded her to be from the middle class. The unidentified woman was also around 5 months pregnant.
The discovery of the legs and feet at King’s Cross, about 55 miles away from Brighton, reinforced Captain Hutchinson’s belief that the crime was not local to Brighton. With the woman’s identity still unknown and upon hearing that the women’s feet had been well cared for, the press named the victim ‘The Girl with the Pretty Feet’ or simply ‘Pretty Feet.’
Captain Hutchinson kept the fact that the woman had been pregnant from the public, and told reporters that he was hopeful that further discoveries would be made.
Police widened their investigations to trace women who had recently attended hospitals for prenatal advice. Abortion was illegal throughout the UK in 1934, so backstreet abortionists were now of interest to police.
The police began to discreetly watch known abortionist, Dr Edward Massiah. Being a “back street” abortionist could be very profitable and far from performing abortions in dingy backstreet rooms, Dr Messiah had practices in London and Brighton and provided his services to women from the middle and upper classes. However Dr Messiah was alerted to the police’s interest in him when an officer approached him and questioned him about the dead woman. In response Dr Messiah wrote a list of names. Doctors such as Dr Messiah, wielded considerable power because of who their patients were. The police officer who had approached Dr Messiah said nothing of this to Captain Hutchinson or the Scotland yard inspectors. Dr Massiah left for London shortly afterwards and today he was no longer a person of interest in this murder, not long afterwards a woman died when he was performing an abortion on her. Despite there being a law that explicitly criminalised deliberately ending the life of a foetus or unborn baby, Dr Massiah wasn’t prosecuted for this or the woman’s death. In 1952 he left the United Kingdom, and retired in Trinidad.
The post mortem examination of the torso from Brighton station showed no evidence of an attempted abortion, and with still no match to any local missing women, and having checked up on thousands of women identified from pre-natal hospital records, people started to wonder if the woman had come from abroad. Searches in Brighton, which included parts of Brighton’s South Downs National Park, and door-to-door searches of the surrounding streets had led nowhere.
The seaside city which was known as The Queen of Watering Places, was now being referred to as The Queen of Slaughtering Places.
On June 20th, The Daily Mirror ran a story with the headline: Trunk Crime Described: Psychic Girl’s Amazing vision. An American clairvoyant, Miss Jean Dennis , who had apparently foretold winners of the Derby and the cup final, told the paper that the murderer was man with a dark moustache and short black hair who she thought was a foreigner. The clairvoyant said, quote, ‘The man who did this murder is not poor. He has travelled around. the next discovery will be made in the North of England,’ end quote. When asked where, Miss Dennis replied that the head would be found in Newcastle.
Miss Dennis had spoken with the police who did make enquiries in Newcastle but I found no mention of anything useful, or not, coming from them, so I’m not too sure how amazing her vision really was. However, the first thing she told the paper’s correspondent might have had something to it. She told them, quote, ‘This murder is connected in some way with another murder which, but for this, would never have been discovered,’ end quote.
The paper and string that had been sent for testing in London returned no results and the only lead police had turned out to be nothing. A woman had recognised the handwriting to be hers she had sent the paper bag to a sweets factory and had no idea how it had ended up as wrapping for the body parts found at King’s Cross. Unfortunately the sweets factory was no help either as they had reused the paper but had no idea of which order they had used it for or who they sent it to.
Photographs of the trunk made the front pages and retailers and manufacturers of similar luggage had contacted to police to offer their assistance. However, the cheap, trunk-style suitcase was widely sold and when they tracked down the shop that sold the first trunk, the owner had no record of, nor could he remember who he had sold it to. He did confirm that it would have been sold with a tray, which was missing.
Finally, police got a lead. A newspaper reporter had noticed that a sex worker named Violette Kaye, who he would often see around Brighton, hadn’t been in her usual location for a while. Violette Kay had lived with her common law husband, Toni Mancini, who had recently moved without Violette to 52 Kemp Street, just a five minute walk from Brighton train station. Police had called at the house on Kemp Street during their door-to-door search but no one had been home. Following the new information, police found and questioned Toni Mancini, who admitted that Violette Kaye hadn’t lived with him since May but was convinced that the dismembered woman couldn’t be her because Violette, at 42 years old, was almost ten years older. Violette’s sister had also received a telegram from Violette in May saying that she was leaving the UK to take up a job abroad. The police ruled Violette Kaye out as their Jane Doe and paid no more attention to Toni Mancini.
In 1934, you didn’t always need a passport to travel between France and England and so people started to theorise that the woman had come to Englsnd from abroad, either before or after her death. The woman’s head and arms remained missing and weeks went by with no new evidence or worthwhile tips to follow. That was until the following month, when on July 13th, police got a call from some workmen who had noticed a disturbing odour coming from one of the rooms of the house they were painting. The house was 52 Kemp Street and the room had been rented out to a Mr Toni Manicini.
Rather than go in and search right away, the police decided to watch the house for a while. On July 14 the police spoke with Mancini but didn’t search the property.
With there being no sightings of Toni Mancini at the Kemp Street house for around 24 hours, on July 15th, the police entered the house. The landlady, Mrs Barnard, unlocked the room she’d rented to Toni Mancini and let the investigators in. Inside, the source of the smell was quickly identified as coming from a large trunk. Certain that they had found the woman’s missing arms and head, police opened the trunk. Inside was not only the head and arms, but a whole female body that was well into the stages of decomposition.
Perhaps the American clairvoyant was psychic after all.
Scotland Yard’s Donaldson and Sorrell, immediately rushed to the scene in Flying Squad cars and Sir Bernard Spillsbury was called back to Brighton. The Flying Squad was a specialised team of police which was set up by Scotland Yard to combat theft. To keep up with gangs that stole and made their getaways in high-powered vehicles, the Flying Squad were given some of the fastest cars of the time. In the 1930s, the Flying Squad’s car of choice was a Bentley.
The landlady gave police a description of Toni Mancini, who she said had lived alone in the property. In addition to the body in the trunk, officers found a saw, the tray of another trunk, and the head of a hammer, which appeared to have been burned.
The trunk was taken to the morgue and its contents examined. After spending three hours at the mortuary, Sir Spilsbury stated the cause of death as a depressed fracture to the head that had been caused by a heavy blunt weapon. The blow had been so strong it had driven a piece of skull inside against her brain. The woman’s body had been folded into a foetal position and stuffed into the trunk along with some bloody items of men’s and women’s clothing and covered with an overcoat.
Detectives were sure that the murdered woman was Toni Mancini’s common law wife, Violette Kaye, who Mancini had been telling people had moved to France. Violette Kay’s mother visited the mortuary and the woman was officially named as Violette Kaye.
Before going on the run, Mancini was employed at the Skylark café on Brighton’s seafront. When he wasn’t employed, he committed petty crimes or lived off the money Violette made from sex work. He wanted to be seen as tough – his real name was Cecil Lois England and he was very much English, but he used the name Toni Mancini to make people think he was an Italian gangster. He had also gone by the names Jack Noytre, Tony English and Hyman Gold.
Police forces across the UK were on the lookout for Mancini. In Brighton, the police had to disperse a crowd of people who had gathered outside the town hall in the hope of seeing him be brought in once caught.
It wasn’t long before Mancini was first seen, and then arrested in northeast London. He was arrested and later tried as Jack Notyre but I’ll continue to use Mancini for consistency. When approached by police, he told them, ‘I’m the man. But I didn’t murder her.’ Mancini was promptly transported to Brighton. Detectives soon ruled him out as having any involvement with the still-unidentified dismembered woman found at Brighton and King’s Cross train stations but despite maintaining his claims of innocence throughout his interrogation regarding Violette Kaye, Mancini was charged with her murder.
In 1934, the UK still had the death penalty; death by hanging was the mandatory sentence for being found guilty of murder, so Mancini’s trial was to be a capital case.
Mancini spent most of the next 20 weeks in Brixton Prison awaiting the start of his trial, which was to be heard at the Lewes Assize Court, about 10 miles from Brighton. Public interest was so strong that members of the public wanting to attend the trial needed to apply in advance; admission to the proceedings would be by ticket only. Applications came from all over the UK, and there were even two that came from abroad; one from France and another from Belgium.
With so much of the media and public attention focused on and around Mancini, it was easy to forget the person who had lost their life.
Violette Kaye, born Violette Watts in 1891 or 1892, came from a large family and was one of around ten children. She was also known as Violette Saunders. As a young adult, Violette worked as a dancer and she had performed on stage with the Watson Girls Dance Troupe, and in her own show alongside a man named Kaye Fredericks in an act they called Kaye and Kaye. At some point in her life, Violette turned to sex work and by the time of her death at age 42 she was a heavy drinker and recreational drug user. Violette met Toni Mancini in London and moved with him to Brighton in September 1933. They moved to 44 Park Crescent flat in March as Mr and Mrs Watson. It was said they had a turbulent relationship.
A letter to her mother, who she hadn’t seen for several years, was found with Violette’s possessions after her death. In the letter, which she never got to send, Violette told her mother that she had recently got divorced and had remarried. Violette was buried at the Extra Mural Cemetery on Lewes Road in an unmarked grave.
Toni Mancini’s trial started on December 10th 1934. Thompson’s Weekly News described the scene outside Lewes Assize Court, quote, ‘A solid wall of policemen stood against the iron-railef gates and the massive pillars of the court to guard against any rush. Four deep on the steps a crowd of men and women, each with an air of expectancy, awaited admission,’ end quote.
The presiding judge was Mr Justice Branson. Thompson’s Weekly reported that the court was crowded when he arrived and that, quote, ‘There were many women present. for the most part they were young and fashionably dressed,’ end quote. The writer also added that it was one of the most youthful juries they had ever seen.
The prosecution, led by J C Cassles KC, put forward a strong case based on forensic evidence and witness testimony that Tony Mancini had murdered Violette Kaye sometime between May 10th and May 15th 1934.
The defense, led by Norman Birkett KC, put forward another possible cause of Violette’s death. The defense didn’t need the jury to believe either version of events; they only needed to introduce and raise enough doubt for the jury not to believe what the prosecution were saying.
Sir Bernard Spilsbury, who was no stranger to the courtroom, testified for the prosecution that Violette Kaye’s cause of death was a depressed fracture to the head which had been caused by a blow from a heavy blunt weapon, such as the burnt hammer-head found in Mancini’s flat.
The man who had lived in the Park Crescent Terrace flat before Mancini and Violette moved in was called as another witness for the prosecution. He testified that he’d left a hammer behind when he had moved out of the flat and when handed the burnt hammer-head in court and asked if it had been in the same condition when he left it at the flat, the previous tenant answered, ‘No, it was shining, bright steel.’ During his cross examination for the defense, Birkett raised doubt that it was even the same hammer by asking, quote, ‘It is now in such a state as would make it difficult to recognize in any event? Yes?’
During his cross-examination of Sir Spilsbury, Birkett questioned the pathologist about the traces of morphine he had found in Violette’s organs and of his certainty that the cause of the wound to her head was in fact a hammer. Spillsbury had to concede that the fatal injuries could have been caused by a fall.
This was perfect for the defense who put forward the theory that under the influence of morphine, Violette might have fallen down the steps going down to the flat, which is how she got her head wound, but she then managed to get up and get to her bed, which is where she died. To give more weight to this theory, the defense gave evidence of Violette being a known heavy drinker.
Violette’s sister, Olive Watts, who had been expecting to meet up with her sister before she disappeared, testified that she received a telegram on May 11th apparently from Violette which read, quote ‘Going abroad. Good job. Sail sunday. Will write. – Vi,’ end quote, but that there was a mistake in the address. When shown the handwriting Violette had supposedly written on the telegram form, Olive testified that it wasn’t her sister’s handwriting.
A graphologist, a specialist in handwriting, confirmed that the handwriting on the telegram form matched that on menus that Mancini had written on whilst working at the skylark cafe. The telegram had been sent after Violette’s death, so if it had been an accident, why did Mancini try to cover it up?
When Mancini took the witness box and told his version of events, he didn’t deny his attempts to cover up Violette Kay’s death. Instead he claimed that he had returned to their flat at 44 Park Crescent Terrace, and found Violette on the bed already deceased. He said he thought she had been murdered by a client, or fallen, or even that her old performance partner Kaye Fredericks could have been responsible, but because of his involvement in petty crime, he didn’t think he’d be believed if he went to the police. So he made the decision to hide her body and cover up her death. It was reported that Mancini actually made a good impression in the witness box.
A lot was made by the defense of Violette’s convictions for prostution despite landlord Mr Snuggs’ testimony that it would be untrue to say there are always men coming to the house at night.
He said an old man would visit Violette regularly and he would arrive in his car with a driver. This driver was the last person to see Violette Kaye alive and during the trial he testified that on the 10th of May he had driven alone to visit Violette Kaye and that he had seen her in front of her flat. He reported that she appeared distressed, nervous, excited, that her face and hands were twitching, and as Thompson’s Weekly News reported in 1934, that she was, quote, ‘presenting the appearance of being in one of the stages of drugging,’ end quote. He said that had been other people there too; some men inside the flat.
From the prosecution, the jury heard statements Mancini had made to various people after Violette Kaye’s disappearance. Miss Elizabeth Atrell, a waitress at the skylark cafe, had met up with Mancini at a dance hall. Mancini told her that Violette had left for Paris, and that night they both returned to his flat where Mancini gave Miss Atrell some of Violette’s clothing. He told a similar story to another woman, this time adding that he had received a letter from Violette who was in France.
When in the company of three male friends Mancini said that he had given his ‘missus’, quote, ‘the biggest hiding of her life,’ and said ‘I don’t suppose I shall see her anymore. When I got up this morning she had blown,’ end quote. In his opening statement Mr Cassels KC had told the jury that Mancini also told these men that he had bashed his wife from pillar to post and quote, ‘What’s the good of knocking a woman about with your fists. You only hurt yourself. You should hit her with a hammer same as I did and slosh her up,’ end quote.
The defense made the surprising move of reading out Mancini’s criminal record during the trial. Their reason for doing this was to show that he had no record for violence, and to make the story of finding Violette Kaye deceased but not contacting authorities more plausible.
The defense brought in a number of witnesses who testified that Mancini and Kaye had an affectionate relationship and were quite a content couple.
Birkett, arguing that Mancini didn’t have a motive, asked the court, quote, ‘Why did he do it? That hasn’t been a word, no question, no hint, no suggestion of any kind as to that vital matter as to why he should do it, and upon that vital question, the answer is complete and impenetrable silence,’ end quote.
The prosecution received a blow when the defense proved that a pair of Mancini’s blood stains trousers, which the prosecution had brought into evidence, had been purchased after Violette’s death.
On the 5th day of the trial the all-male jury started their deliberations. After just two and a half hours they had reached a verdict. When asked if they find the prisoner guilty or not guilty of murder, the foreman replied, ‘Not guilty.’
The Sussex Daily News reported that the judges only comment was, ‘You are discharged,’ and Mancini left the court a free man.
On the 28 November 1976, the News of the World published an article with the headline: I’ve got away with murder. In the article, for which he was paid, Mancini confessed that he had killed Violette Kaye 42 years earlier in May 1934.
I was unfortunately unable to find the original article but according to the Wikipedia page which references Sussex police records as the source, Mancini, who by then was using his real name, Cecil Lois England, had confessed that Violette Kaye had attacked him with a hammer during a heated fight. He said he wrestled the hammer from Violette, and then threw it at her when she demanded it back. The hammer had hit Violette on the left temple and killed her. In a panic, he stuffed her body into the large black trunk.
I’m not convinced by this story and I think he certainly had a motive to kill Violette. Even Birkett, who had saved Mancini from the gallows, described him as, quote, ‘a despicable and worthless creature.’
Earlier on the day of her death, Violette, whilst reportedly very drunk, had to gone into the cafe where Mancini worked and accused him of being ‘familiar with’ a young waitress who also worked there. The waitress was Elizabeth Atrell, who testified during the trial that Mancini told her that Violette had gone to Paris, and had then invited her back to the Park Crescent terrace flat, where he gave her some of Violette’s clothing.
The driver of the old Man who would visit Violette had seen her on the same day outside the flat looking distressed and under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
It can’t have been much longer after this that Violette was killed.
Mancini brought a large trunk at an open air market. That night, Mancini didn’t sleep in the flat.
On May 11th, he sent the telegram to Violette’s sister in which he claimed to be Violette and said that she had left England for a job.
On the 14th of May the landlord, Mr Snuggs, saw Mancini at the flat with a young woman. Mancini had introduced the young woman as his sister and told him that he was giving up his tenancy and that Violette had run away to France.
On May 15th, the furniture was removed from the Crescent Park Terrace flat and taken to Kemp Street. With the help of a man named Thomas, who knew Mancini as Toni England, Mancini moved the trunk onto a wheelbarrow, and out onto the street. Mancini told Thomas the trunk was full of china. The two men pushed the trunk across a park area called The Level, along Trafalgar Street, and onto Kemp Street. It would have taken about 15 minutes. Once they had got the trunk inside the Kemp Street flat, they placed it at the end of the bed and Mancini put a cloth over it.
After a couple of weeks other residents in the camp Street house started to complain of a foul smell. Martini explains the smell of being a pair of dirty old football boots and kit. During the trial, Cassles KC told that, quote, ‘2 months later the body laid doubled up in the trunk. The accused slept in the flat. Others occupied the room with him at times and he explained the unpleasant character of the trunk in different ways. When his landlady noticed the fluid coming from it, he said it was French polish,’ end quote.
On the 13th of July, workers painting the front of 52 Kemp Street tipped off the police about the odor coming from one of the rooms.
On the 14th of July the police spoke to Mancini but for some reason they didn’t search the property. Mancini spent most of that night in a dance hall. He left the dance hall and, in the early hours of July 15th, he returned to Kemp Street where he packed some belongings, took all his money, and went on the run. Well, he walked around Brighton from around 3am until seven when he got on a train from Preston Park Station just north of the city.
Later on on July 15th the landlady unlocked his door and the police discovered Violette’s body.
In the UK the double jeopardy rule applied to murder until exceptions were made for the most serious crimes by the Criminal Justice Act of 2003. Until then, a person couldn’t be tried again for a crime for which they had previously been acquitted. This meant that even with Mancini’s confession, he couldn’t be prosecuted again.
By confessing, Mancini had inadvertently admitted that he had lied under oath and a prosecution for perjury was considered but not pursued due to a lack of evidence.
Mancini later recanted his confession and not long after died of natural causes.
Justice was never served for Violette Kaye or her family.
Sadly, justice wasn’t to be served for the first Brighton trunk murder victim either. After exhaustive police enquiries, and looking into the cases of over 700 missing women, the investigation into the death of the woman found in the train station trunks came to a standstill. The woman’s head and hands were never found and to this day, the identity of the woman known only as the Girl With the Pretty Feet remains a mystery.
So what do I think? Please remember that these are just my own thoughts and that I have no background in law or law enforcement.
The Brighton trunk murders and Mancini’s trial for murder was big news and it was reported across the UK and abroad. Whilst researching this episode I found the number of articles from US newspapers and a couple of applications to attend the trial came from France and Belgium.
Even though these murders and the trial happened almost 90 years ago, I see similarities with similar crimes and trials today.
As with high profile cases today, the story was sensationalized by the media and the people involved gained a celebrity-like status. Just like more recent killers from Ted Bundy to Chris Watts, Tony Mancini was romanticized by media and the public. Thompson’s Weekly News reported quote, ‘Most women would call him handsome. He has long dark eyelashes and brown eyes with a narrow mouth setting an oval face,’ end quote. That makes me feel a bit sick to be honest.
An illustration from a very dramatised comic book style telling of the events surrounding Violette Kaye’s death, shows a crowd of people, many of whom are women, clambering outside the court. The caption reads quote, ‘Pajama Girls fight to see Mancini outside Brighton police court’, end quote.
Something else that I didn’t like but I still see in the media today all the double standards applied to reporting
A present day example of this was highlighted recently by Oprah in her interview with Prince Harry and Megan. In 2018, alongside a picture of Prince William’s wife, Kate touching her pregnant stomach, the Daily Mail tabloid wrote quote, ‘Not long to go! Pregnant Kate tenderly cradles her baby bump,’ end quote whereas when they published a picture of Megan touching her pregnant stomach in 2019, they wrote, quote, ‘Why can’t Meghan markle keep her hands off her bump experts tackle the question that has got the nation talking: is it pride, vanity, acting – or a new age bonding technique?’ end quote.
A similar thing happened with the way the media in 1934 spoke about the two victims of the Brighton trunk murders. The unidentified woman who was thought to be from the middle classes was called the Girl with the Pretty Feet, whereas Violette Kaye, a sex worker who lived in one of the poorest areas of Brighton, was described in an unfairly negative light.
As with serious and such publicized criminal cases today, there were some big names involved and there was the opportunity for some of the key players to make a name for themselves.
Mancini’s defense lawyer Norman Birkett KC went on to sit as a judge on the Nuremberg trials of German war criminals and a few years after Mancini’s trial, judge Mr Justice Branson was the judge for the breach of contract trial between Warner Brothers and actress Bette Davis.
I’m glad to see that some things have changed since the 1930s; there being many more female jurors for a start, and in the UK, the legalization of abortion and the abolishment of the death penalty.
So, did the jury reach the correct verdict? Based on what I was able to read about the trial and the arguments given and evidence shown by both the prosecution and defense, I believe the jury did reach the correct verdict. Mancini’s lawyer did an excellent job and I don’t think the prosecution was able to prove that Mancini had murdered Violette beyond reasonable doubt, however I do believe that he did murder her. I’m not sure that they would have got a prosecution if Mancini could have been tried again even after his confession. The pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury who would later be nicknamed the father of forensics, did agree that a fall could have caused Violette’s injuries which might be enough for a jury to not be convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt even with a confession; even if they believed Mancini was guilty, there is still the chance that Violette fell and this was a capital case. Although, Sir Bernard Spilsbury did have and does have quite a few critics.
I think Mancini certainly had a motive; the waitress from the cafe. I didn’t see any mention of her from what I was able to find about the trial and wonder if the prosecution had highlighted this, the verdict would have been different.
Overall it’s just really sad that neither women got the justice they deserved.
To finish this episode on a lighter note, I did notice one more positive change since the 1930s and that’s that we are considered younger for much longer nowadays; the ‘old man’ who would visit Violette Kaye was 56 years old!
Thank you for listening to Turned Up Dead. All sources for this episode can be found at turnedupdead.com
Remember, if you listen carefully, even the words of liars will tell you the truth.
d’Enno, D. (2003). Foul Deeds & Suspicious Deaths Around Brighton. (n.p.): Pen & Sword Books.
Historical Newspaper Articles
- Timaru Herald, 9 August 1934, page 9, accessed via: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz
- Daily News (New York) 12 Aug 1934, page 164, accessed via: https://www.newspapers.com
Blogs and Online Articles