A WARNING

The following article is about a grisly murder that took place in Brentford in the 1930s and the sighting of a ghost soon after.

A series of gruesome murders across Britain in 1934 and 1935 convinced the nation that a ‘Jack The Ripper’ serial killer was at work…

England Fears Murder Fiend After a Fifth Mystery case!

Mutilated Bodies of Unidentified Women Discovered in Ravine in Scotland!

The murderer, or murderers, had taken every precaution to escape detection. The bodies were stripped of clothes. The feet and fingers had been chopped off. Large pieces of skin had been skilfully removed to destroy tell-tale scars and birthmarks. Faces had been mutilated beyond recognition. Even the blood had been drained, making the task of determining how long the victims had been dead much more difficult.

The list of the crimes makes grim reading:

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  • June 18, 1934 – Brighton “Trunk Murder” No. 1
    The discovery of a woman’s nude body, with the head, arms and legs missing, stuffed in a trunk at Brighton railway station. Never identified.
  • July 16, 1934 – Brighton “Trunk murder” No. 2
    The discovery of another woman’s body, this time identified as Violet Kaye, a faded music hall dancer, crammed into a trunk at the same station. The victim’s boy friend Tony Mancini, known as the “stuttering waiter,” was arrested and tried for murder but later acquitted.
  • Feb. 25, 1935 – Waterloo “Jigsaw Murder”
    The discovery at Waterloo Station, London of a pair of shaved and powdered male legs, wrapped in a copy of the ‘Daily Express’. Never identified.

Then the murderer paid a visit to Brentford. On the morning of March 19 1935 three small boys, playing “pirates” on the banks of the Grand Union Canal, dragged a large sack from the water. Inside was the headless and legless torso of a man. A week later, on March 26, an acid scarred human head was found on a refuse dump at Ealing. Scotland Yard experts believed it belonged to the torso found in the canal. Again, as in each preceding case except that of Violet Kaye, the removal of any tell-tale marks was so thorough that even Scotland Yard’s legendary pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury was unable to make an identification. His only comment on seeing the Brentford torso was “Look at those freckles!” His only clue – three long strands of female hair.

SIR BERNARD SPILSBURY

Shortly after the discovery of the torso reports came in of a ghostly figure seen on the canal bank. Recognising the possibility of a good story, a London journal asked the renowned ghost hunter Elliot O’Donnell to visit Brentford and investigate. Could the spectre be linked in any way with the ghastly murder that had taken place there only a few weeks earlier? As he recorded in his book “The Midnight Hearse” O’Donnell took up the challenge.

“I walked on the tow-path where I met a young bargeman. He told me that he had once seen the body of a woman that had been found in the canal not far from where the torso was discovered, and it was a horrible sight. His detailed description of what he had seen was not comforting, faced as I was with the prospect of spending all night by the canal, and to make it worse he said he did not expect I should meet anyone when it was dark as few cared to go near that part of the canal in consequence of the murder and the rumour it had acquired of being badly haunted.”

ELLIOT O'DONNELL

O’Donnell had already formed an opinion as to who had committed the ghastly murder…

“It was the same old tale of a man making love to a married woman; in such a case one of the men has not infrequently to go, and in this instance it was not the husband.”

He also knew precisely where the torso had been found as the spot was marked with a stake driven into the ground. With that unsettling thought in mind he waited out the night.

“For a while I stood on a bridge and peered into the water beneath, wondering if it contained some such awful body as the bargeman had described. I could well imagine such a spot being haunted. I left the bridge and was drawing near the staked spot when I fancied that I saw a tall white figure on the far side of the canal. In the fitful light I could not determine its sex. It vanished abruptly.”

By now most sensible people would be thinking quite seriously about going home and cleaning out the budgie’s cage. Elliot O’Donnell however had a job to do.

“A few minutes later on turning round I was startled to see the figure approaching me. I now got the impression that it was a woman in a white or light dress. It vanished suddenly and inexplicably when it was within a few yards of me.”

A GHOST?

Could this be the ghost of the dead woman found in the canal as described by the young bargeman or was it the troubled soul of a married woman searching for her dead lover? O’Donnell does not say.

“I did not see it again … but I felt at times the near proximity of a supernatural entity. The darkness, silence and solitude, coupled with the knowledge of the gruesome bodies that had been found in the canal, were sufficient to stir the imagination and generate illusions in people less imaginative and sensitive than myself. I realised this, and yet was convinced…that there were ample grounds for the rumours of the canal banks being haunted.

I was not sorry when the dawn broke and my long vigil ended."

On Monday, April 22, 1935, the American magazine “Time” reported that Sir Bernard Spilsbury had managed to link the shaved legs found at Waterloo Station in February with the headless and legless torso dragged from the canal in Brentford a month earlier.

“To Sir Bernard Spilsbury the freckles on the Brentford Torso were scientific twins of the freckles on the Waterloo Legs… As every English crime fancier recalls, the legs, though obviously male, had been femininely peroxided and powdered. Suspicion has been strong that the murdered man had been living with some other man who eventually slew him when threatened with blackmail. Last week Pathologist Spilsbury did much to dash this theory by discovering on the male Brentford Torso three long strands of hair unquestionably female. At the coroner’s inquest, Sir Bernard, close-lipped as usual, dropped a quiet hint that he now believes the Waterloo-Brentford man, pieced together by his freckles last week, was murdered by a woman.”

Could the ghost on the canal at Brentford be the troubled soul of a woman wondering why her husband had started to shave and powder his legs recently? You could always go there at midnight and ask her yourself!

A few months later the serial killer/s struck again. On October 26, 1935 the chopped up bodies of two women were found in the ‘Devils Beef Tub’ ravine, near Moffat in Dumfriesshire. The only clue to the crime was a business prospectus issued by a London firm that was used to wrap the remains. None of these brutal murders have been solved.

— from Martyn Day