Trunk murders

Photo:Kemp Street

Kemp Street

Photo by Peter Crowhurst

Kemp Street: Scene of a grisly murder

By Peter Crowhurst

If you wandered down Kemp Street today, a tranquil little street in the heart of the North Laine, murder would most likely be the furthest thing from your mind. Yet just over 70 years ago a most unusual murder was linked to this very street. In the early morning of the 16th July, the complete corpse of a woman was discovered in a trunk in a house in Kemp Street. The Daily Express had been given a tip off which they had reported to the police.

Violet Saunders dead
When the house at 52 Kemp Street was searched, a body, described by the Express as that of a professional toe dancer known as Violet Kaye, was found. Violet, whose full name was actually Violet Saunders, was 42 years old when she died and said to be quite attractive. She had been living in a basement flat in this street, which is near to the Lewes Road. The killing was achieved by a severe blow to the head, the body left to rot in a trunk.

A letter found
Dancer Violet toured the country in revue shows, and was said, by neighbours who were questioned by the police, to have been on her way to an engagement in France. Violet was the eldest of 16 children and when she was killed, a letter was found addressed to her mother who she had not seen for several years. It told of her recent divorce and re-marriage.

An arrest is made
Tony Mancini, a friend of Violet's, was soon arrested for the murder but claimed that he had found Violet dead on his bed at 44 Park Crescent, and, in a state of panic, had taken the body to Kemp Street. Mancini was put on trial but found not guilty.

Several years ago, I interviewed a local resident who had met Mancini in the 1930s whilst she herself was with a touring circus. She claimed that Mancini had told her he committed the crime. Indeed, in a newspaper article in 1976 Mancini did confess to the murder.

Former industrial usages still to be seen
Today Kemp Street is an attractive street of small terraced houses built in the 1840s, but on closer inspection the former industrial usage of some of the properties can be clearly seen. Number 34 has an original sign still visible, which reveals that in one of its former incarnations it was used as a warehouse or butchers for Argentinean frozen meat. Next door at number 35 a sign for Evening News is clearly visible. Such properties would have had many uses during their lifetimes. 100 years ago number 34 was the Camden Arms whilst 35 was a van works. Opposite them at number 29 was another pub, the Blue Anchor. A further 30 years before then, in 1869, 35 was in use as a corn and coal merchant with numbers 29 and 34 existing as pubs.

With thanks to the 'Encylopaedia of Brighton' by Tim Carder
Added to the site on 28-07-05
This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page
Thanks for this little piece of Brighton history. I am now aged 61, being born in Brighton in 1944, and this is the first time that I have heard of this story. What is even more surprising is that I used to live next door at No.54 Kemp Street. My family lived there from about 1915 until 1947 and I have never been told this tale.
By Michael Drury (26/11/2005)
I am a relative of Violet Kaye/Saunders. On the site you mention she came from a family of 16 children. As far as I am aware the figure should be 9. I would appreciate any details you have in this respect or any other biographical information on her.
By Tom Watts (08/08/2006)

In these matters there is always so many versions of events, that one never knows what to believe. Henry Ford the First claimed history is bunk. The true facts are forever hidden.

By J.W.Risbridger (29/03/2007)

I have with me the front page of 'Evening News' dated 17th July,1934, published from Liverpool, reporting the arrest of Toni Mancini in a London suburb that morning. It also has a report on the scheduled opening of Mersey Tunnel the next day by the King.

By R.Pockyarath (09/04/2007)

I wonder where Michael Drury has been all his life. He must be the only Brightonion who has never heard of Tony Mancini. I lived at 51 Kemp Street from 1941 to 1959. This was next door, so Michael Drury must have lived next but one, on the other side. I knew Mrs Barnard and her son and grandson. She had let the basement flat to Tony Mancini and his infamous trunk (people in the street actually thought she had no sense of smell!) and she was still living there after I moved. I have to add that at that time this murder was still a topic in the street but maybe Michael you led a sheltered life.

By Teresa Nolan (nee Gaynor) (29/07/2007)

In 1967 I was regularly visiting Brighton as at the time I was going out with a girl who was a student at Sussex University. She had friends who lived in Kemp Street, either next door or next door but one to Mancini's old flat, and the story was well-known. In fact, I stayed there a few times, and it was a running joke that I should never use a suit-case large enough to contain my dead body....just in case.

By Big Gee (14/01/2008)

My Great great grandfather Frederick Vaughan and his first wife Catherine (nee Godard) lived at 29 Kemp Road as shown on the 1851 Census, presumably before it was The Blue Anchor. He is listed as a Boot Maker and she as a Shoe Binder. He became a Town Missionary, then a Congregational Minister, then an Independent Minister and moved from Brighton to Evesham and then Broadwinsor in Dorset. At the time of the Census, his brother Joseph (Apprentice Shoe Binder) is living with them. Frederick and Catherine had five children. After he was widowed, he took a second wife and they had two more children. The son of this second marriage is my Great Grandfather, Herbert Lawrence Vaughan. Not sure what my religious ancestor would have made of living in a property that went on to become a pub!!

By Nicola Hayek (03/03/2008)

It was my Great Uncle that used to own the house and rented out the flat to my dad. The rest of his family lived in Blackman Street.

By Mark Barnard (15/06/2008)

I read somewhere that the houses were renumbered after the 'trunk murders'. Does anyone know if this is true or not? (Reason for curiousity is that my great grandfather (Elvey Cork) was living at numbers 22, 28 and 38 on the 1861, 1871 and 1881 censuses respectively; I would be interested to know if these houses have the same numbers now.)

By Jeanette (20/06/2008)

I was just searching for a map showing Kemp Street when I found this article. It has freaked me out, as I discovered only the other day that my Father's Mother's side of the family lived at 52 Kemp Street, according to the 1881 census! Their surname was Martin. Head of house was Isaac (aged 81) wife Sarah (74) born Ireland, son William (27) married to Florence (25) + 2 children Florence (3) & Catherine (5 months).
Isaac was a Carpenter & William a Paper Hanger & Painter.

By A Gardiner (04/07/2008)

Is it possible that the Tony Mancini mentioned in connection with the Brighton trunk murder is the same Tony Mancini who murdered a doorman outside a London nightclub in (I think) 1944 and was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint? I would dearly like to know as the doorman was my uncle.

By Arnold Desmond (26/08/2008)

In 1961 I was employed as a junior clerk with a firm of solicitors in Grand Parade: Messrs F.H. Carpenter & Oldham, who were Mancini's solicitors. I can remember being shown a pair of Mancini's blood-stained trousers and a hammer, both of which I was told had been used as evidence by the prosecution, but in spite of which he was aquitted. I wonder what today's DNA tests would reveal?

By Revd Peter Allsworth (13/10/2008)

I am researching this murder for a video presentation, so any additional information would be useful, or anyone willing to be interviewed about that period would be fabulous.  I am not convinced the numbers were changed at all. It's claimed that Violet's house at Park Terrace was demolished, but that isn't true. I think those claims were made to stop people snooping about.  Arnold's uncle must have been a different gentleman as Tony Mancini confessed to the murder in 1976 in one of the newspapers.

By Richard Vobes (12/12/2008)

Thank you so much for this brilliant article, it helped me immensely as I am at college studying drama and our devised piece will be the trunk murder of Violet Saunders. I will be playing Violet! so thanks again really provided an excellent insight into the character of Violet.

By F King (30/09/2009)

Yes, I am puzzled about the renumbering of Kemp Street after the Trunk Murder. How on earth could it be done? My Great Grandfather lived in Kemp Street in the 1870s.

By Maurice Packham (12/02/2010)

My great grandfather and family lived in Kemp Street in the 1870s. George Packham was born in Albion Street, Brighton in 1839 and died in Ditchling Road Brighton in 1914. He had a Marine Store in Gloucester Road where the Post Office building now is. He bought houses in Brighton. How could a street be renumbered?

By Maurice Packham (12/02/2010)

I live at 52 Kemp Street now. The house is still rented out to students. Needless to say they kept the story quiet when we looked around the house! We had never heard of the trunk murders. The house is a bit scary feeling.

By Jade van Drie-Brown (21/03/2010)

Regarding possible renumbering: My genealogical research has taught me not to get hooked on a particular dwelling just because the censuses give a house number. My experience shows that early numbering was consecutive: 1,2,3 etc down one side to the bottom then continuing similarly from the bottom back to the top on the other side. Then came the present day standard of odds one side, evens the other, both from the same end. It is possible that the post office influenced this better system. The road where I was born (not Brighton) has been renumbered 4 times since 1871 as has the road of my father's birth and in spite of the 1901 and 1911 census details nobody is sure of the actual house - so frustrating. I am also fascinated by both the Brighton Trunk Murders and Kemp Street but am reserving my judgement as to which particular house/basement. Nevertheless, Kemp Street looks pleasant enough today.

By David Newman (26/08/2010)

Had another look at Kemp Street this afternoon. Since the numbering is still consecutive 1,2,3 etc down one side and up the other I don't think it has been renumbered as have some streets following gruesome events - some have even been renamed as a consequence. Any renumbering in or after 1934 would almost certainly have resulted in the current 'odds and evens' system. So I believe number 52 in the 1930s is still number 52 today.

By David Newman (28/08/2010)

Interesting article. When a teenager I worked at #35 when it was the Evening News office, printing the Stop Press and delivering papers to shops. At the time I was told the building had previously been an abbatoir, being shown 'meat hooks' on the walls. Unlike other neighbouring properties, there was not a cellar, due to the drains required for the abbatoir. This could be wrong though, and I've not checked any historical sources. It's odd that the building has been maintained with a paint finish as an Evening News office - can a preservation order / listing require this? The newspaper was closed down in 1980, with the Brighton office only being used as a lock-up for a delivery van by then.

By John Foulkes (08/10/2010)

Hello. Does anyone know where in Italy was Tony Mancini born? Also, I have just viewed a programme regarding the Trunk murders, I saw no pictures of Mancini but they stated he was good looking and a real Mediterranean charmer. I then viewed pictures on the internet and he is real ugly, and that is being kind!

By Laurence Hilton (12/07/2011)

You should read the account of the Brighton Trunk Murder by Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the Home Office pathologist. His account of this and other local murders is well worth reading; warning "don't read late at night in bed"!

Editor Note: Perhaps you could point visitors towards where they can access this report Peter?

By Peter Groves (12/07/2011)

Yes sorry I should have said; it's in the book Bernard Spilsbury, His Life and Cases by Douglas G Brown & E V Tullett, first published in 1951. It can be found on the net very cheap, or even second hand junk shop. Of course the Mancini case was regarded as the 'Second Brighton Trunk Murder' the 'First Brighton Trunk Murder' being just some months before on Derby Day 1934 when an "offensive smell" was found coming from a plywood trunk that had been left in the cloakroom at Brighton Station which, when opened, contain the torso of a woman. Very soon afterwards the legs and arms were found in another trunk at Kings Cross Station. Spilsbury was the pathologist on both these cases, and many others in the surrounding area, but don't read this book late at night!!

By Peter Groves (13/07/2011)

Just checked the book and it states that "he was known as Tony Mancini and looked as Italian as his name implied, however he was English and his real name was England". How strange is that?

By Peter Groves (13/07/2011)

Hello. Okay are you saying he was born and bred English, or was he born in England from Italian Stock? Either way where was this man born, how many names did he have and was there any particular reason why the name Mancini was chosen?

By Laurence Hilton (20/07/2011)

Having searched to see where he originated from, the only detail is London. His real name was Cecil Lois England. However, he used the following aliases: Jack Notyre, Tony English, and Hyman Gold. In 1976 on his death bed, he confessed to the murder. I too would be interested to know more.

By Jennifer Tonks (20/07/2011)

Having become intrigued by this line of query, I thought I'd look up Tony Mancini myself. He was born Cecil Lois England on 07th January 1908 at New Cross and died in Croydon in 1987. His parents were Albert Edward England (b. Bishopsgate, 1875) and Lydia Lois [nee Mourne] (b. Bermondsey, 1882). There were at least two siblings, Glady (b. 1904) and John (b. 1905). Evidently the grandparents were also of British descent, so no real Italian connection. Regards, Andy.

By Andy Grant (22/07/2011)

Well thanks but I thought this fellow would have several pseudonyms and it looks like he is difficult to trace or pin down, so I am going by the picture and I would say he is not 1930s English, he is 100% Italian and I strongly believe Mancini is his real name.

By Laurence Hilton (22/07/2011)

Thanks Andy, much appreciated. You found out more than I could, well done. Sorry Laurence, but I think you will find Andy is right.

By Jennifer Tonks (24/07/2011)

Hello. My interest was due to the fact that I married a Mancini born in this country. Both her parents were born in Italy in 1927 and 1936 from Italian stock going back centuries in the same villages, and I have a photograph of this man in his late teens/ early twenties with the background showing clearly large distinct buildings that were still standing in 1981 when I visited the Father-in-law's village. I stood in the very same spot being informed what relation this man was to my wife and not being disrespectful, perhaps at the time I was making the comparison with the photo and buildings as I had just visited the Mother-in-laws village which was almost totally raised to the ground during WW2 with both villages being very close to Monte Casino. No need to apologise Jennifer and I want Andy to be right but when I next go to Italy I will certainly visit my Father-in- law's village again and view any and all records available.

By Laurence Hilton (02/08/2011)

Cecil Lois England was a customer of mine when I was a subpostmaster in a suburb of Liverpool in 1976, we got on well and had a chat when he collected his pension. One day he told me he was writing a book and would I like to read the draught copy, which I did. It was a sordid tale of underworld vice etc. and not easy to read as it would seem the writer was quite illiterate. He wanted the copy typing up and I suggested a typist friend, who he met at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. My friend duly typed his copy into a legible transcript and returned it to him, with a bill for the agreed fee. Sometime later on pension day he informed me he was going to London for a few days; I never saw him again! A week or so later a lady and a young man came to the counter and asked to speak to me. The lady informed me she was his wife and did I know anything about his disapearance, I told her I knew nothing at all apart from his London trip. She then handed me a book on murder crimes written I think by Edgar Lustgarten, highlighting the 'Murder in the Trunk', which she had recently found in her home. Needless to say after reading the book Cecil Lois England and Tony Mancini would seem to be one in the same person. I've often wondered what happened to Mr England and presume, as previously stated, he died in 1987. I believe he was born and bred an Englishman in Greenwich January 1908. Maybe he liked the noteriety of the name Tony Mancini?

By James (10/09/2011)

Hello James. Regarding the draught copy, if Mancini was born in Italy circa 1900, he more than likely received no eduction so yes he may have been illiterate or James, was the draught more translation errors/poor grammar?

By Laurence Hilton (30/10/2011)

I am currently writing a book in Liverpool, and would be very interested to speak to James, regarding Mr England / Mancini. If the moderator/admin could pass on my email address to James, that would very helpful.

By Caroline (20/07/2012)

I have heard this story many times from my mother Patricia Davis. She was a young girl living in Blackman Street at the time and when the news broke about a murder she was forbidden to go anywhere near Kemp St by her father! A few of the other local children did go up there though and she said they came back with tales of how whilst bringing the body out, her head fell off and rolled down the steps and all the kids ran away screaming. Typical kids tales I suppose. Imagination is a wonderful thing! I can also remember her telling me that there was also another possible murder at Brighton station after this one. The station was sealed off as someone noticed blood dripping from one of the lockers there. The police with trepidation opened up the locker to discover someone had left their Leg of Lamb in there a little too long! As I said before, imagination!

By Karen Bryant (11/08/2013)

I'm currently in the process of making a documentary on this case, I'm a third year media student based in Hastings. I am appealing to anyone here who may be willing to talk to me via email/telephone/whatever your preference is to give me some insight into the case. My email address is daniel.df.coles@gmail.com. 

By Daniel Coles (13/10/2016)

To A Gardiner: Just seen this - I'm also researching my family who lived in this house for a huge chunk of the 19th century and a previous comment on here must be a relation of mine. My 2 x great grandparents were Isaac and Sarah Martin (Mason). My great grandfather was their 3rd youngest son Charles Martin, so if my relation is reading this please comment so we can get in touch.

By Debbie Lakin (08/01/2017)

Hello Dr E, all comments are seen by the editing team and approved - or otherwise - by us. Best wishes. 

By Dr E (13/10/2017)

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