Brighton Trunk Murders

Investigating the sensational 'bodies in trunks' cases in Brighton

Within the space of just a few weeks in the summer of 1934 the remains of two womens' bodies were found in trunks in Brighton - one at the railway station and the other in a house close by. The cases were not related. The first was never solved, while the second led to one of Britain's most sensational murder trials, in which the celebrated defence counsel Norman Birkett represented a low-life client, Toni Mancini, who appeared to be doomed by the evidence stacked up against him. But these were not the first of the so-called 'trunk murders' in Brighton. A little over a hundred years earlier John Holloway had killed his wife Celia and trundled her body to a shallow grave in Lovers Walk. He was hanged for his crime at Horsham gaol. David Rowland's illustrated account of these grim events draws on contemporary newspaper reports to capture broth period atmosphere and high courtroom drama.

Here is an excerpt from the book, which recounts the background to the gruesome case of the "first" trunk murder of 1831:

" Celia Bashford was born around 1800 in the pretty village of Ardingly, West Sussex. She didn't grow properly, possibly because of a genetic problem, and attained the height of only 4ft 3in. In reality she looked almost like a dwarf, so that she had to be placed on a high stool in order to perform tasks such as washing or ironing. Around 1824 she met John Holloway who was then just 18 years of age and fell madly in love with him. Holloway was a little on the short side himself, at 5ft 2in. For all that they were suited heightwise, however, Holloway's love for Celia wasn't as strong as hers was for him. Holloway liked Celia but didn't fall in love with her: in fact he was ashamed to be seen with her in public because of her small build and rather odd appearance. Somehow, though, she kept hold of his affections and they were still together in Brighton a year later, which was when she found that she was pregnant."

"She returned to Ardingly and applied to the parish committee for some money both for her and her unborn child. During her questioning she named the father as John Holloway and explained that he wouldn't marry her. The Ardingly authorities immediately called for Holloway's arrest, and he was taken to Lewes prison until he agreed to marry her. He was in prison for five weeks, but he then capitulated and they were duly married in Ardingly. The local authorities were still unhappy with the situation and ordered both of them to leave the village. Holloway became more and more resentful about having had to marry Celia and now felt trapped for the rest of his life. What little love he may have had for her soon disappeared. They made their way back to Brighton and stayed at the workhouse in Elm Grove for a little while. Celia gave birth but the baby was still-born, after which Holloway took to drinking more and more, and became extremely violent to Celia during these drinking bouts. Holloway went to Rye, where he server in the Naval Blockade Service, and here he met Ann Kennett and fell madly in love with her. It wasn't very long before she, too, became pregnant, and Holloway received a visit from the Rye parish committee. Not wanting to be sent to prison again, he claimed that he was single and entered a bigamous marriage with her, using another name. "

Brighton Trunk Murders front cover
  • ISBN 978-0-9539392-8-2
  • Price £8.50