The violent deaths of two young
women were sensational and achieved great notoriety at the time,
the first of which shows the danger of not listening to the saying
'never talk to strangers'.
Munro, was a dark haired and attractive girl
of seventeen who lived in London with her mother and worked as
a shorthand typist in Oxford Street.
In August of 1920 it was agreed
that Irene, who was an independent girl, could have a holiday
on her own at the seaside.
Irene looked older than her years,
often being taken for in her early twenty's . She had been on
holiday alone the previous year at Brighton, where she was born.
This year she picked Eastbourne, she set off early from London
with no accommodation booked
It was the height of the holiday
season and lodgings were hard to find, but in the late afternoon
Irene Munro found a room to let at 393 Seaside. The landlady,
a Mrs Wynniatt, said she could have the room at thirty shillings
a week from the following day and for that night she could stay
at a neighbour's house at Norman Cottages in Wartling Road.
The next morning Irene walked
down to the beach across the Crumbles. A young naval stoker, William
Putland, who was home on leave in Eastbourne was on the beach,
one of a crowd watching a seaplane take up passengers. Putland
noticed a girl sitting nearby wearing a green velour coat. The
vivid colour impressed itself on his mind and when he saw it again
on two later occasions he was sure that it was the same girl.
William Putland was to become an important witness to later events.
On the morning of Thursday, 19
August, Irene wrote to her mother telling of a walk to Beachy
Head. On the previous day she told her landlady she had walked
to Pevensey and also made a trip into town. Mrs Wynniatt had the
impression that Irene Munro was a pretty and happy young girl,
respectable and sensible. Not, alas, sensible enough as it turned
out. For on the afternoon of 19 August Irene left her lodgings
for a walk returning after a few minutes to fetch her coat, the
green velour. A painter saw the girl walking along with two men.
All three walked away in the direction of the Crumbles, a walk
from which Irene Munro was never to return.
That night Mrs. Wynniatt stayed
up till midnight but there was no sign of her young lodger and
she did not return on the following day. The landlady decided
Irene must have gone to visit her relatives in Brighton but by
Saturday she was feeling more concerned and when her husband saw
in the local paper that a woman's body had been found on the Crumbles
on the previous day the worried couple went to the police to report
their visitor's absence. They were taken to the mortuary where
they were horrified to be shown the body of Irene. Her face was
badly disfigured by a violent attack but the clothes were unmistakable,
especially the green coat.
On Friday afternoon, 20 August,
a Mrs. Weller and her thirteen year old son.
William, had gone for a walk and a picnic on the Crumbles. William
wandered off and running into a small hollow in the shingle he
tripped on something and saw to his horror that it was the foot
of a woman. Rushing back to his mother he told her what he had
seen and they returned to their lodgings.
Their landlady's husband, a Mr
Lamb, went back with William and pushed away the shingle to reveal
the body of Irene Munro. The boy was sent to fetch the police
who found a heavy ironstone brick nearby on which there were bloodstains.
More police arrived and a doctor who decided death had occurred
some twenty four hours previously. The body was taken to the mortuary
and Irene's mother and aunt were contacted and travelled to Eastbourne
at the weekend for the awful duty of formal identification.
Scotland Yard were called in and
on Saturday, 21 August a Chief Inspector Mercer arrived and visited
the scene of the crime. Five men who had been at the ballast workings
on the day of the murder told the inspector they had seen two
men and a girl walking along the tracks. One of the men had his
arm round the girl's waist and all three seemed jolly and laughing'.
They had walked on in the direction of Pevensey, the man with
the girl carrying a stick.
The labourers were asked to go
to the mortuary and all five identified Irene Munro as the girl
they had seen. A post mortem examination indicated that a blow
had been struck on the face, probably with a stick, producing
unconsciousness, the heavy ironstone brick completing the fatal
injury. There were no signs of any other assault. All the details
were reported in the press and Eastbourne hummed with rumour and
Now the hunt was on and the trail
led inexorably to two young men, both residents of Eastbourne
William Thomas Gray and Jack Alfred Field. On 24 August they were
arrested and interviewed by the police. Gray was twenty eight
and married to a local girl. Field was a younger man of twenty,
discharged from the Navy and had previously been in trouble with
the police. Both were out of work and constantly together, sharing
a liking for bars and the cinemas and casual flirtations. Where
they got the money for this easy life nobody knew.
Witnesses came forward linking
the two men with Irene Munro and when
interviewed by the police both Field and Gray told roughly the
same story, saying they had spent Thursday together, meeting a
friend called Maud at Pevensey Castle.
They denied knowing Irene Munro
or going on the Crumbles, Gray saying that 'he had never been
there in his life'. Suspicion of the pair remained as although
the railway labourers were unable to pick out either man at an
identification parade. Their friend, Maud, flatly denied meeting
them at Pevensey on the Thursday afternoon that the murder took
place as all that day she was in the house where she was employed
as a servant. This fact was corroborated by her fellow workers.
On 26 August Field and Gray were
released but the police now found more witnesses who had seen
the trio together on the day of Irene's death, including the young
naval stoker, William Putland, with the young girl's brilliant
green coat providing a strong clue. Field and Gray were arrested
again and charged with the murder on 4 September. Two days later
the adjourned inquest resumed and gave a verdict of 'wilful murder'.
Both men pleaded not guilty and were committed for trial at the
On 13 December, 1920, their trial
began at the County Hall, Lewes, before Mr. Justice Avory and
lasted for five days.
Counsel for the Crown prosecution
included Mr. Curtis Bennett KC and Mr C F Gill KC. Field was defended
by Mr J D Cassels and Mr G P Robinson, Gray by Sir Edward Marshall
Hall, KC and Mr. John Flowers. These were all illustrious names
in the courts of the time and an indication of the sensational
aspects of the case. The defence were financed by the magazine
The case for the prosecution was
based on circumstantial evidence. No one had seen the crime committed
and both the accused continued to plead not guilty but a stream
of witnesses were called to give evidence. The brilliant Marshall
Hall made the point that many of the witnesses were uncertain
as to the description and colour of clothes, but the tide was
turning against Field and Gray. Before being charged with the
murder both had attempted to join the army. They had concocted
the alibi concerning Maud Baxter and more damningly, Gray had
tried to persuade another inmate while in Maidstone Prison awaiting
trial, to help him establish another alibi for 19 August.
Field was the only witness for
the defence. He denied much of the evidence already heard but
acknowledged that he and Gray had agreed together to say Maud
Baxter had been with them at Pevensey. He said they knew they
could not prove where they were. Shown a walking stick he admitted
it was one that belonged to his father but said he had not used
it for at least a fortnight before the murder. Gray did not give
In his summing up, Mr Justice
Avory said that there was no doubt that Irene Munro had been murdered.
The joint charge meant that the men were acting together and it
was immaterial which man had actually committed the violence.
Dealing with the question of motive the judge said it could have
been robbery or to combat resistance to an attempted assault.
The jury retired at four minutes
past two and returned an hour later with a guilty verdict for
both men but with a recommendation for mercy on the grounds that
they believed the crime was not premeditated. Neither of the accused
had anything to say in mitigation and formal sentence of death
was passed by the judge.
This was not quite the end of
the dreadful story. An appeal was heard in January, 1921, before
the Lord Chief Justice and two other judges. Both Field and Gray
spoke on their own behalf, each man saying that the other had
confessed to the crime, each man also saying that they had not
been there at the scene. These further statements conflicted once
more with their own previous statements and that of witnesses.
The appeal was dismissed.
At Wandsworth Prison on 4 February,
1921, Field and Gray met their death by hanging.
No one will ever know what actually
happened on that hot Thursday afternoon so long ago. Neither Field
or Gray gave themselves the relief of true confession but only
tried to implicate the other. Irene Munro had been careless, gone
for a walk in a lonely place with two men who were strangers,
and she was robbed of her young promising life.
A second murder took place on
the Crumbles in 1924 and was known for years afterwards as 'The
Bungalow Murder'. A few cottages, once Occupied by coast guards,
stood isolated on the beachland at the border of Eastbourne and Pevensey. One, called the
Officer's House, was a neat whitewashed
building and in the spring of 1924 was leased for two months at
a rent of three and a half guineas a week to Patrick Herbert
Mahon, a man of thirty four, using the name of Wailer.
Mahon had taken on the bungalow
ostensibly as a romantic hideaway fohimself and his mistress,
Emily Kaye, and on 7 April 1924 Emily
traveled to Eastbourne and moved into the bungalow believing that
this was the start of a new life with her lover.
Oddly enough she was also a shorthand
typist but unlike Irene Munro she was not a foolish young girl
but a woman of thirty seven, tall, fair-haired and coolly attractive.
A thoroughly nice person according to a cousin who said a better
girl never lived'.
However, the warning bells had
not rung for Irene Munro and they did not ring for Emily Kaye.
She worked for a firm of accountants in London and had met Patrick
Mahon who often called at her office and soon began an affair
with him. She knew he was married but believed he would leave
his wife and that they would start
a new life together. She also knew by chance that Mahon had previously
been in prison for a bank raid but she was pregnant and very much
in love with the dark good-looking Irishman. She readily agreed
to leave her job and embark on the venture he proposed.
Unfortunately for Emily she did
not know that Patrick Mahon was an indefatigable and practised
womaniser with an unsavoury past which included fraud as well
as the bank raid which had landed him in prison for five years.
He had married a young Irish girl
when he was twenty one and his wife, Mavourneen, had stood by
him when he was imprisoned. Now Mahon was involved with a woman
who did not take the affair lightly, who was pregnant, and who
expected him to leave his wife. He was in a fix.
Having installed Emily in the
Crumbles cottage Mahon continued to go home to his wife most days
during the week. True to form he struck up a new acquaintance
with a young woman at Richmond, an Ethel Duncan. Never one to
miss another romantic interlude he arranged to take her out to
dinner during the following week.
On 11 April Mahon returned to
Eastbourne and moved Emily's large travelling trunk to the bungalow.
He then returned to London, apparently to make arrangements to
secure a passport but on Saturday, 12 April, he went to an ironmonger's
shop in Victoria and bought a large cook's knive and a tenon saw.
He returned to Eastbourne and
Emily, and the two were together
in the bungalow for the next
On Tuesday evening, 15 April,
Emily Kaye met her fate. Afterwards Mahon swore that her death
was an accident, the result
of a quarrel about their future and that she had fallen heavily
and hit her head.
Mahon dragged the body into the
spare bedroom and locked the door. The next day he returned to
London, met Ethel Duncan and took her out to dinner. Incredibly
he invited her to spend the coming Easter weekend with him at
the bungalow on the Crumbles, to which the unsuspecting girl agreed.
On the morning of Good Friday
Mahon was back in Eastboume and a further horror began. He dismembered
Emily's body with the saw and knife bought in London and the dreadful
parcels were put in Emily's trunk in the spare bedroom.
In the evening Mahon met Ethel
Duncan at Eastbourne station and they spent the weekend together
at the bungalow. Ethel saw the trunk in the spare bedroom and
Mahon said he was it was full of valuable books he was looking after for a friend. While
she was there he screwed up the door. Ethel Duncan did not find
his behaviour suspicious and on Easter Monday she returned to
her home in London.
During the following week Mahon
built a fire in the sitting room grate and burned Emily Kaye's
head, which had been severed from the body. Other parts followed,
disposed of in the same way, then the torso was further dismembered
and boiled in stewpans in the kitchen so that they could be
cut into smaller pieces. Mahon put most of these last remains
into a Gladstone bag and threw them from the carriage window of
a train when he later travelled to Waterloo Station in
It was then that he made the first
and only mistake in his cold and methodical plans. He left the
Gladstone bag at the left luggage office at Waterloo station and
while he was away from home on the weekend of 25 April
his wife searched the pockets of his suits and found the cloakroom
Mavourneen had been worried by
his absence over the two previous weekends and believed he might
be frequenting racecourses and returning to his old ways. She
said nothing to her husband but enlisted the help of a private
investigator, John Beard.
On 1 May they went together to
Waterloo and retrieved the Gladstone bag. Beard was no fool and
although the bag was locked he probed into one end and found something
that prompted him to call Scotland Yard. When the police arrived
they took a small piece of cloth from the bag which revealed human
blood. Mavourneen was sent home, still unaware of the find, to
return the cloakroom ticket to Mahon's suit.
Now a trap was set. Two detectives
kept watch on the left luggage office
and on 2 May Mahon collected the bag prior to another trip to
Eastbourne. As soon as it was in
his possession the police pounced and Mahon
was taken to Cannon Row police station and confronted by the
Contents which included a few pieces
of blood stained clothing, a large Cook's
knife and a canvas tennis racket bag with the initials E B K.
He remained cool and told the
police he supposed 'he had carried meat home for the dogs' in
the bag, but finally after hours of interrogation he admitted
the death of Emily Kayc and his disposal of the body.
Two police inspectors were sent
to Eastbourne to the Officer's House and what they found there
was a scene described by the experienced Home
Office pathologist, Bernard Spilsbury, as the most gruesome he
had ever come across. There was a terrible stench in the small
bungalow as four parcels still remained in the trunk in the bedroom.
The presence of the police and
the pathologist soon became known and while Spilsbury made his
painstaking study of what was left of poor Emily Kaye, a task
which took eight hours, a crowd of horrified people gathered outside.
On the following Tuesday Mahon
was charged with murder at Hailsham magistrates court and the
next day an inquest was held at the bungalow, attended by Mahon
at his request.
A thousand sightseers surrounded
the building, booing and jeering as the accused man was led in
under heavy police escort.
Strenuous efforts to find other
parts of the body were made but despite searching nearby areas
and digging up the garden of the cottage, nothing was found.
The inquest resumed in May and Patrick
Mahon was sent for trial at Lewes Assizes on 15 July.
Sir Henry Curtis Bennett led for
the prosecution and Mr J D Cassels defended Patrick Mahon. The
unfortunate Ethel Duncan, considerably distressed, spent an hour
in the witness box and maintained she had seen nothing to arouse
her suspicion during the weekend she spent with Mahon. As the
trial continued and the macabre story unfolded two jury-men collapsed.
They were replaced and Mahon gave evidence for more than five
The story he told was of a woman
infatuated with him and one who had drawn him reluctantly into
an affair. He told the court on the evening of Emily's death they
had a furious quarrel and according to him he was attacked by
At this point he broke down in
tears and still sobbing went on to relate that
in the struggle they fell and Emily's head hit the coal scuttle.
This, he said, must have caused her death and, because he was
in a state of fear and shock he remembered little of the next
hours except that he went outside. When he returned he panicked
and decided to conceal everything.
At the end of this dramatic story
Mahon's counsel asked him: "Did you desire the death of Miss
Kaye?" Mahon, calm again,
replied: "Never at any time".
The defence did its best to plead
that Mahon was the victim of extraordinary circumstances rather
than cold hearted murderer, but members of the jury, who had no
knowledge of his previous record, were not convinced. The cause of death given by the accused
man was refuted by the pathologist who said a fall on a coal scuttle
would not have caused injuries that would have had such a rapidly
Most damning of all for the jury's
opinion of Mahon's character was his assignation with Ethel Duncan,
at a time when he had a wife and child at home and a mistress
in a bungalow at Eastbourne. He was found guilty of murder.
The bungalow on the Crumbles became
a strange tourist attraction when the lease was taken over by
a group of entrepeneurs of doubtful taste but sounds business
instinct. Visitors were charged a shilling each for guided tours
of the cottage and as the queues increased cold drinks were served
from the front gate. There was considerable local protest and
for two weeks the bungalow was closed, only to open again with
the entrance fee increased tols 2d as coachloads of the curious
continued to arrive.
Before his execution on Wednesday
3 September Mahon wrote a kind and loving letter to his wife from
his cell. Mahon's wife remained loyal to the end !