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Stories from the Crime Museum

The Brighton Trunk Murders

On the 17th June 1934 William Joseph Vinnicombe, a cloak room attendant employed by the Southern Railway at Brighton Railway Station, had noticed an offensive odour in the cloakroom and decided to make an inspection in order to determine the origin of the smell. He discovered that it emanated from a trunk which he found was locked. He summoned Detective Bishop of the Railway Police who opened the trunk. That officer found the trunk contained human remains. Brighton Police were informed, and Detective Stacey examined the trunk and discovered several layers of brown paper and, near the hinges, a quantity of cotton wool on which was soaked what appeared to be blood. A parcel filled the trunk tied by sash cord. When opened it was found to contain limbs and head from a human body.

Doctor Pulling, the Brighton police surgeon, said in his opinion that the torso was the remains of a female aged between 40 - 45, whose death had occurred in the preceding three weeks. It was at this stage that the Chief Constable of Brighton called for assistance from Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police sent down Chief Inspector Robert Donaldson. [see picture]

Donaldson concentrated his initial enquiries on the depositing of the trunk. He questioned Henry George Rout who had expressed the view that the trunk was handed to him for deposit. Donaldson said of him; "I sought by every conceivable means to endeavour to assist and persuade him to concentrate in an effort to stimulate his thoughts to enable him to supply us with some detail of the person who had lodged the case, but it was of no avail, for he declares to this day that he cannot remember who deposited the trunk, and that at the time he received it nothing untoward occurred."

The next development was the arrival of Sir Bernard Spilsbury, who carried out the post-mortem examination on the 19 June 1934. He indicated that the woman had been well nourished and that the amputations had been effected with a sharp cutting instrument, the bones having been sawn across. He made the interesting discovery that the woman was between 4 and 5 months pregnant and the pregnancy had not been affected. He said death had occurred not long before the trunk had been deposited. He thought that the person who had committed the dismemberment was not skilled in anatomical knowledge.

On the 18 June another trunk had been discovered at Kings Cross Station in similar circumstances, and it contained two limbs. Very few clues were yielded by the cases, and it was decided to attempt to proceed with the case by way of identifying the deceased. In respect of the earlier age assessment of the Brighton torso, Sir Bernard Spilsbury believed the victim to be aged around 25 years old.

It was also realised that the cases were quite new, and had apparently been purchased for the sole purpose for which they had been used. All the materials in both cases were tested and no significant clues given, as a result of which the police tried an appeal through the press. Hundreds of letters were received, including some that Chief Inspector Donaldson described as "persons suffering from mental derangement".


A major investigation commenced, but little progress was made until a representative of the press informed the police that he had information that Violet Kaye was missing, and that there were several peculiar features connected with her disappearance. Donaldson paid a lot of attention to this as Kaye was aged 42, had previously borne a child, and was a known prostitute in the Brighton area. From his enquiries a man named Mancini had been associated with her. In his words "It was deemed advisable to interview him in order to clear the matter up."

On the 14 July 1934 Mancini was interviewed by Donaldson and gave the name of Cecil Lois England.

He gave evidence to show that he was at work on the dates affecting the deposit of the cases at Brighton and Kings Cross. Mancini also went under the name Jack Notyre. After the interview Donaldson found no grounds for detaining him or charging him. However, he took the step of having him followed, and his movements were unsuspicious.

Donaldson also took the precaution of having an officer check his lodgings at 52 Kemp Street. A large black trunk was discovered at Kemp Street, and this contained the body of Violet Kaye. The owner of these premises said that in May he had seen Notyre and another man carrying a large black trunk, and that he had noticed fluid and an unpleasant smell coming from it. He had asked his wife to speak to Notyre about this.

Police were alerted to locate Notyre and on the 17 July two Metropolitan Police Constables of R Division observed him in the Eltham Road, Lee area of south east London and arrested him. As a result of this action 'Mancini', who gave the name of Jack Notyre, was charged with wilful murder and he appeared at Brighton Police Court, and was finally committed to trial at Lewes Assizes. However, the case against him failed as it was proved that 'Mancini' could not possibly have deposited either of the torsos in the trunks at either Brighton or Kings Cross Railway Stations.

As regards Violet Kaye, on the 14 December 1934 the jury announced that they found Mancini not guilty of her murder after 2 hours and 18 minutes deliberation. Mancini said in his defence that he had come upon Kaye's body suddenly, and thought the police would not believe him as he had a criminal record, so he decided to keep the matter a secret and placed her in a trunk.

It was felt by Sir Bernard Spilsbury, who gave expert forensic evidence at the trial, that death had been caused by a hammer blow, although suggestions were also made that her skull had been fractured by accident in a fall. When the verdict was announced Mancini appeared to hear it in a state of collapse, and it was some moments before he appeared conscious of what had happened. The Judge's only comment was 'You are discharged'.

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