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The Strange Unsolved Mystery of the Brighton Trunk Murders

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Sometimes insidious mysteries pop up in the most unlikely of places. Located in the south of the country of England is the quaint seaside resort of Brighton. It has long been known as a fashionable, posh tourist destination, to this day attracting droves of visitors from all over the country and beyond. It hardly seems like a place for dark, malevolent crimes, but there is a dark history here, for it was once the scene for a series of horrific and mysterious unsolved crimes that have eluded understanding to this day.

On May 10, 1927, staff at Charing Cross railway station in London noticed a fetid smell coming from an unclaimed locked trunk that had been sitting in the luggage department for some time. Unclaimed luggage like this wasn’t all that unusual in and of itself, but the fact that it was exuding such a rancid stench convinced the staff to open it. Whatever they expected to see when they pried the lock open and pulled off the lid could not have been as horrific as the nauseating sight that greeted them, as within the trunk was a headless, armless corpse crudely stuffed inside. Police were immediately notified, and the body was found to be that of a young woman, with her handbag and shoes also stuffed in the trunk along with her, and although the arms and legs had been hacked off, they were individually wrapped in brown paper and shoved into the trunk as well. The time of death was estimated as being 2 or 3 weeks previously, meaning the remains were in quite an advanced state of purification, making it impossible to figure out the identity of the victim. No one was charged for the mysterious crime and the identity of the victim was never determined. It would have remained mostly a forgotten oddity if a series of very similar crimes hadn’t popped up in the quiet seaside town of Brighton seven years later, which would kick off a bizarre, grim mystery that has never been solved.

Brighton during the era

On June 17, 1934, an abandoned plywood trunk was discovered at the luggage office of the Brighton Railway station by a staff member named William Joseph Vinnicombe. There was a smell somewhat like rotten meat coming from it, and William chose to contact police without trying to open it. When authorities arrived, they opened the trunk to find within the dismembered corpse of a woman, along with a piece of paper with the word “Ford” scrawled upon it. The head, arms, and legs had all been hacked away and were missing, but a suitcase was soon turned up at King’s Cross railway station that held the missing legs. The arms and head were never found, and the victim came to be known as “The Girl with the Pretty Feet,” or simply “Pretty Feet” due to the feet’s immaculate, undamaged beauty. A post-mortem examination showed that the woman had been 5 months pregnant, between 21 to 28 years of age, and had been healthy and well-nourished at the time of death. There was no sign that the pregnancy had been tempered with, and the limbs had been rather crudely removed with no particular skill. The exact cause of death of the woman could not be determined, and the meaning of the mysterious note was unsolved as well. Bizarrely at around the same time the body of a newborn baby would be later found wrapped in a blanket and stuffed into a station locker within a Moses basket, although it was found to have no connection to the dead woman.

The main suspect at the time was a local illegal abortionist by the name of Seys Massiah, and although he was investigated and questioned, he was never formally charged or arrested in connection with the case. He would later rather suspiciously flee the country to move off to Trinidad. In the end, the perpetrator would not be found, and the body was never identified. Meanwhile, as all of this was going on, the investigation led to the macabre discovery of yet another mysterious trunk murder. As police went about scouring the area for clues, they came upon another trunk, and you guessed it, it contained yet another dead body. On this occasion police were able to glean the identity of the victim, 42-year-old Violet Kaye. She had moved from London to Brighton with boyfriend Tony Mancini in September 1933, and was known around town as a prostitute and a professional dancer.

It was soon found that the couple had had a rather tumultuous relationship, and so police immediately suspected that Mancini was perhaps the culprit, but he would claim that he had found her dead at their flat and had assumed that a client had killed her. He claimed that he had been afraid of being considered a suspect and had gone on the run. It would turn out that shortly after Violet’s death Mancini had told everyone that Violet had taken a trip to Paris, and that they had been in a major fight after she had accused him of cheating on her. Another suspicious clue was that he had sent a forged letter to Violet’s sister posing as her and saying that she had found a good job abroad. Witnesses would remember that they had seen a trunk in Mancini’s new residence that leaked liquids and smelled terrible. It was all very suspicious, so at the time, Mancini was arrested and charged with murder, but would ultimately be acquitted and walk away a free man. Years later in 1976 Mancini would change his story and say that Violet had been accidentally killed when she had attacked him with a hammer, but he was still never charged with any wrongdoing.

Although there was no connection found between the disparate murders other than the use of a trunk, such gruesome killings so close together in the normally peaceful and quiet resort of Brighton made headlines around the world, where its nickname as “The Queen of Watering Places” was being replaced with “The Queen of the Slaughtering Places,” and it all gripped the country at the time. Although there were no further trunk murders, it has all firmly lodged itself into the annals of great and weird unsolved crimes, and seeing as how much time has passed it will probably remain a grim and gruesome historical oddity.

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