1930s crimes – the Brighton trunk murders

In the 1930s Brighton became notorious for a couple of unrelated but equally grisly murders.

On 17 June 1934 a foul smell in the left luggage office at Brighton railway station led to the discovery of a woman’s torso. A pair of legs was discovered in another trunk at Kings Cross Station in London the following day.

The post mortem by Sir Bernard Spilsbury confirmed that the legs and torso had belonged to the same victim. He found that the woman had been aged around 25 and was five months pregnant. The crime had been committed two to three weeks previously.

Suspicion fell on a well-connected abortionist called Massiah but nothing was proved and no one stood trial for the murder.

During a house to house search police investigating the torso in the station stumbled across another body in a trunk – this time inside a house in Kemp Street. The victim was Violette Kaye, 42, who had been a dancer and a prostitute in London.

image
Violette Kaye

She had moved to Brighton in 1933 with her much-younger lover, a petty criminal who used the name Tony Mancini. They had a tempestuous relationship and she disappeared after a row over his interest in a young waitress.

Mancini told friends Violette had left him and gone to Paris and her sister received a telegram supposedly from Violette saying she was moving abroad for a job.

At the post mortem Sir Bernard Spilsbury confirmed that Violette had been killed by a blow to the head. Mancini was captured in London. His handwriting was confirmed to match that on the telegram form.

He denied killing Violette, saying he had found her dead in his flat in Park Crescent and assumed she had been killed by one of her clients. Fearing police wouldn’t believe his story because of his criminal record he panicked. He took out a lease for the Kemp Street property and hid the body there.

imageHe was found not guilty.

But in 1976 he confessed to the News of the World, saying that during a row Violette had attacked him with a hammer. He had wrested it out of her hand and thrown it back at her but it had caught the side of her head.

The story may have been the inspiration for a radio drama narrated by Orson Welles called Hammerhead in which the victim’s sister turned out to be the killer.

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