Sometimes life and death presents us with coincidences so uncanny they’re impossible to ignore. Such is the case with the Brighton Trunk Murders, a pair of unrelated slayings that bear eerie similarities.
Both murders occurred in 1934 Brighton, England, and both involved the dismembered body of a woman hidden inside a trunk. The killings led some to dub Brighton “The Queen of Slaughtering Places,” a play on its much more pleasant catch phrase, “The Queen of Watering Places.”
The first of the two murders was discovered on June 17, 1934, when a railway employee investigated an “odious smell” emanating from a plywood trunk that had been left at the station some 11 days earlier. Inside, he found the dismembered torso of a 25-year-old woman. Other train stations were alerted, and soon railway clerks at London’s King’s Cross uncovered a second suitcase that contained the murdered woman’s legs. Her head and arms were never found.
The press called the mystery victim “Pretty Feet” as her legs were said to have feet like a dancer’s. A post-mortem examination revealed that she had been five months pregnant at the time of her death.
Police suspected a local abortionist named Massiah of the crimes, yet no arrest was ever made. Given the butchered state of the corpse, post-mortem analysis could only reveal so much—a definite cause of death was not determined and the victim’s identity remains unknown. Nevertheless, forensics concluded that no interference with the victim’s pregnancy occurred prior to her death, and that someone with no particular anatomical skill had performed the dismemberment.
It was the search for evidence in the first slaying that ultimately led to the discovery of the second trunk murder. While police combed the surrounding area of the train station they found the body of Violette Kaye. She too had been stuffed in a trunk, left in the lodgings of her former lover Toni Mancini.
Kaye and Mancini reportedly led a troubled life together. Kaye, 42, came from London where she worked as a dancer and prostitute. There she met Mancini, 26, a petty thief with a criminal record who worked odd jobs as a bouncer and waiter. The pair moved to Brighton in 1933 and was last seen together in May 1934 at a Brighton café where Mancini worked. Kaye, inebriated, accused Mancini of cheating. The following day, she was nowhere to be found. Mancini told friends she had left for Paris. He even gave away some her belongings.
Soon thereafter, Mancini rented a new place near the train station. Among the belongings he moved into the flat was a large trunk draped in cloth. The case sat at the foot of the bed, where it functioned as a coffee table. It also, according to visitors, leaked revolting liquids and reeked of death.
Mancini was arrested and put on trial, yet ultimately found not guilty. At the time he claimed innocence—telling authorities he had found Kaye’s body in a park and hid the corpse over concerns that police would never believe his story. In 1976, however, Mancini told a different story.
In statements made to a reporter for the News of the World, Mancini claimed that he had been having a fight with Kaye when she attacked him with a hammer. Mancini wrestled the hammer away, and threw it back at her. The hammer struck Kaye at the temple, killing her on the spot.
Regardless of what happened the night Violette Kaye was killed, we do know that Mancini tried to cover up her death. In addition to telling associates that Kaye had skipped town, he also sent a forged telegram to Kaye’s sister in the voice of Kaye, saying that she had found a good job abroad.
Despite their similarities, the twin Brighton trunk murders of 1934 were viewed as separate incidents. In fact, these two killings were not the first “Trunk Murders” to occur in Brighton. More than a century before, a man named John Holloway had murdered his wife Celia and placed her body in a trunk, which he transported by wheelbarrow to a stretch of Preston Park known as Lover’s Walk. There he buried the remains. Holloway was ultimately connected to the killing. He was arrested and hanged in December of 1831.
The Brighton slayings live on in multiple stage and radio adaptations. In 1951, an episode of the Orson Welles radio drama “The Black Museum” fictionalized the death of Violette Kaye, presenting the victim’s sister as the killer. The 1934 trunk murders also served as inspiration for a 1993 play by Brighton playwright Stephen Plaice called Trunks. And one doesn’t have to squint to see a connection in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rope—especially as Mancini concealed his victim’s body in a trunk and used the case as a table while entertaining guests.
Photos (in order): General Photographic Agency / Getty; MacGregor / Getty; General Photographic Agency / Getty; E Dean / Getty