Thursday, 24 December 2015

The ‘Gladstone Bag’ Murder

The so-called ‘Murder Bag’, based on a murder where a Gladstone bag featured prominently, represents one of the most important breakthroughs in crime detection.  The story begins with a particularly macabre murder in Eastbourne in 1924, centering on Patrick Mahon, a salesman whose wife believed he was having an affair and decided to investigate.  Mrs. Mahon found a left luggage ticket in her husband’s pocket for an item held at Waterloo station which she expected to contain love letters or other proof of her husband’s infidelity.  She employed a private investigator to access the Gladstone bag.

The presence of Mrs. Mahon’s investigator, John Beard, led to local police getting involved and placing a watch on the Gladstone bag until Mr. Mahon arrived to collect it and was taken into custody.  At Scotland Yard the bag was opened and Mahon asked to explain the contents which included female underwear, a scarf and a knife, all coated in blood.

Eventually Mahon led the police to a bungalow in Eastbourne where the eminent pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury discovered two saucepans filled with boiled flesh and dishes and boxes containing flesh and fat alongside a large quantity of burnt bones in the fireplace and outside in a coal box.  Spilsbury found in the region of one thousand bone fragments which were later identified as belonging to Emily Kaye who had died at the house.  Mahon claimed he was defending himself when she attacked him and that she hit her head and died as a result.  But the head, the piece of evidence that may have proved his story, was missing from the rest of the body.

The story goes that Mahon had placed the missing head in a Gladstone bag which he took by train to Waterloo station and disposed of the head through a window on the train while placing the bag itself in Waterloo’s left luggage office.

When Beard arrived at the station to retrieve the luggage there was something about the Gladstone bag that prompted him to alert Scotland Yard.  That’s ‘something’ was probably a piece of blood stained fabric poking out from the bag.

However, despite long and complicated arguments by defence lawyers no reason was found to support Mahon’s claim of self-defence to the charge of murder and he was hanged on September 3rd, 1924.

Spilsbury claimed the case was the most challenging of his entire career and had equipped him with new skills and insights, the body of which became known as ‘The Murder Bag’ and became essential training for police involved in murder cases. 

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