Date: 6 Jun 1934
Place: Brighton Railway Station
The body of an unknown woman was found in a trunk at Brighton railway station on 17 June 1934. The legs of the woman were later found in a suitcase at King's Cross railway station.
The case was known as the Brighton Trunk Case No.1 as shortly after another trunk was found at a house in Brighton which became known as Brighton Trunk Case No.2, neither of which were solved.
The trunk was actually deposited in the left luggage office on 6 June 1934, Derby Day, by a man, but not examined for another 11 days, after it had started to smell bad.
When the trunk was opened it was found to have contained the torso of a female wrapped up in brown paper and tied with about six yards of window cord. The trunk itself, which was missing the tray that normally went with trunks of that type was described as brand new, made from plywood, and of a cheap make. The trunk and the torso in total weighed 70lbs. The word 'ford' had been written on the brown paper in blue pencil and a bloodstain obliterated what had evidently been the first syllable or syllables of the word.
When the police reconstructed the know elements of the case, they concluded that the person that had taken the trunk to the railway station could not have done it alone, as the trunk was too heavy and thought that it must have been delivered to the station in a car or other form of transport.
The pathologist that examined the torso said that it was that of a woman under 30 years of age, probably 21-25 years of age, about 5ft 3in tall, with light brown hair and in her fifth month of pregnancy. Her pubic hair was brown, and it was thought that she had shaved her armpits about two days before she died.
The pathologist stated that he thought that she had died in the middle of May 1934.
It was thought that the dismembering of her body had been carried out by a person with some knowledge of anatomy but with no real skill as there were no wounds or marks on the body apart from at the points at which the head, legs and arms had been severed.
Shortly after the trunk was found at Brighton railway station on 17 June 1934, a suitcase that had similarly been left at Kings Cross railway station was opened because of its aroma, and it was found to contain further human remains consisting of two legs, sawn in half, just below the base of each knee joint and with the feet also severed. The contents were also wrapped up in brown paper.
When the pathologist examined these remains, he concluded that they belonged to the torso found earlier at Brighton railway station.
However, the arms and head were never found, which made identification near impossible.
It was noted that whoever had chosen the places to deposit the body parts had deliberately chosen times when the left luggage services would be busy, Derby Day in Brighton and Kings Cross during rush hour when the attendants would be less likely to remember the characteristics of any single depositor. However, the attendant at Brighton said that he recalled the trunk being deposited because he had commented on it being heavy and said that it had been deposited by a man, but said that he could recall nothing else.
The pathologist added that he thought that the woman had come from a middle-class family and had been accustomed to taking a great deal of care over her personal appearance, noting that her feet had been recently pedicured before she died. He also noted that she had taken a size 4.5 shoe and that it was unlikely that she had followed any arduous occupation such as being a domestic servant or factory worker.
The trunk had also contained a common type face flannel and a quantity of cotton wool. It was also said that the trunk had contained a tiny sea parasite which was thought could have only been imported by a sea-faring man.
The trunk was later traced to a store in Brighton where it had been sold, but the store keeper was only able to give a very vague description of who he had sold it to.
Soon after, on 17 July 1934, the police found a second trunk at 52 Kemp Street in Brighton which was found to contain the body of Violette Kaye, also known as Violette Saunders. The man that had lived in the room at 52 Kemp Street where the body was found was later traced to an address in London where he had fled too. When 52 Kemp Street was searched, a tray was found, similar to the one that would have fitted the trunk found at Brighton railway station, however, in the 1985 police report, its stated that there was no evidence to say whether the tray or shelf had been eliminated as having belonged to the trunk found at Brighton railway station, which had been missing its tray/shelf at the time.
The man was tried for the murder of Violette Kaye on 14 December 1934 but acquitted. He had said that he had come home and found Violette Kaye, who was a prostitute, dead, and because he had had a criminal record he had decided to hide her body in the trunk. However, in November 1976 the man confessed to having murdered Violette Kaye. However, the police did not charge him although they did consider charging him with perjury but concluded that there was not enough evidence for it. It was thought that the man died in 1983.
It was noted that the man tried was a gangster and had carried out hits for a crime boss, including marking a person for life for informing on one of the crime boss's relatives.
Another lead, which was later eliminated, came from a woman from Sheffield who said that she had written the word 'ford' on a piece of brown paper which she had given to her married daughter when she had gone off to London to find work. It was heard that the daughter had later stayed in Folkestone with a German girl and that when she left she left her suitcase, which was similar to the one found at Kings Cross, behind with the brown paper still in it. She said that her daughter had said that she had last seen the German girl four days before the trunk was placed at Brighton Railway Station and it was thought that the German girl might have been the murdered girl. However, after some searching, the German girl was found alive and well and no further light could be shed on the case.
In the book Crimes and Cases of 1934 by Roland Wild, he states that the writer of the word 'ford' on the brown paper was later traced to the makers of the trunk who said that an employee had written it.
The investigation into the Brighton Trunk Case No.1 was left with two main lines of investigation open, the location of the head and arms offering identification of the woman's remains, and the location of the crime.
In July 1986, a man contacted the police to say that he had been helping a friend of his take a trunk to Little Somerford railway station. He said that his friend was taking the trunk to the station on behalf of a man that lived in the village and said that as he was loading the trunk, he saw the man whose trunk he thought it was standing nearby with his nephew and a third man who he later said was the man that was acquitted for the murder of Violette Kaye after seeing his picture in the newspaper. He said that the stranger had been on his conscience since he read of the acquittal of the man for the murder of Violette Kaye in 1934. He would have been about 19 years old when the incident happened and the police concluded after investigating his background that his story could be credible.
The man had said that he thought that it was about 4 June 1934 that he had moved the trunk to Little Somerford railway station and it was determined that the newspaper photo that he had referred to was from the 23 July 1934 edition of the News of the World. The police said that the photo of the man was a good facsimile of the man tried, stating that the man had sharp distinctive features and it was thought that there was no doubt that the man did resemble his photo in real life.
The man also said that the man whose trunk he was moving, who was separated from his wife, had been living with a prostitute from London at the time and that neither the man, nor the prostitute were ever seen again. He also said that he had not seen the prostitute on the day that he had moved the trunk.
The man also said that a skull was later found in the river at a spot about 100 yards from where he had noticed a bonfire prior to collecting the trunk. It was thought that the skull was later lodged in the Devizes Museum.
It was thought that if what the man said was true then the writing on the brown paper, 'ford', could have been the end of Little Somerford. The 1986 police report also stated that in the 1934 investigation it was concluded that the first letter could have been a 'D' or an 'L'. However, it also noted that other areas were at the time also strongly associated with the brown paper, namely, Bedford and Dartford.
The 1986 police report stated that the prostitute from London, who was said to have been the partner of the man whose trunk was moved to Little Somerford railway station and who was not seen again was aged nearly 30 with fair brown hair, which was said to have tallied with the pathologist’s description in 1934. However, it was also noted that there was no indication that that woman had been pregnant.
The police stated that the name of the woman was given as Pat and that after some investigations, they had come to the belief that her name had been Phyllis Robinson.
The curator of the Devizes Museum was approached, and it was determined that they had accepted, over the years, numerous skulls and bones on the understanding that they were over 100 years old and generally from archaeological digs across the Wiltshire area. However, it wasn't known whether the curator had the ability to accurately date their submissions. At the time of the report, the skull, as well as the arms were still being looked for.
However, the police said that after some investigations, in 1986, they could find no evidence to corroborate the man's story, which after 52 years was stated as being hardly surprising.
see National Archives - DPP 2/9999