On the 6th May 1927 a man deposited a large, black
trunk at Charing Cross Station left-luggage office. He gave instructions
for the trunk to be carefully handled and then left the station in a
taxi. On the following Monday one of the attendants noticed an awful
smell coming from the trunk and becoming suspicious called for a
policeman. The policeman opened the trunk to find it contained five
brown paper parcels, tied with string. Each package was quite heavy and
on opening was found to contain a portion of a body wrapped in items of
clothing, towels and a duster.
The body parts were examined by Sir Bernard Spilsbury
and he concluded that the body was that of a stout woman about 35-years-old.
She had bruises on her stomach, forehead and back and that these had
been caused, while unconscious. The woman had died of asphyxiation. Sir
Bernard believed that the woman had been dead about a week. Also in the
trunk were a number of other items such as, a pair of black shoes, a
handbag, a pair of knickers that had a tab marked 'P. HOLT' and several
items of clothing bearing laundry marks.
From the laundry marks the police were able to trace
the knickers to a Mrs Holt who lived in Chelsea. The police were
surprised to find that she was still alive. Even so the police were
still confident that they were getting closer to the murderer. It was
considered likely that the knickers had been stolen by one of the ten
female servants that Mrs Holt had employed in the last two years. All
the servants were accounted for except Mrs Rolls. The police asked Mrs
Holt to identify the head of the victim and she confirmed it as that of
Mrs Rolls was really called Mrs Minnie Alice Bonati.
She had been married to an Italian waiter named Bonati but had left him
to go and live with a man named Rolls and had subsequently taken his
name. She was 36-years-old and had been working as a prostitute. She had
last been seen alive in Sydney Street, Chelsea, between 3.45pm and 4pm
on Wednesday 4th May.
Meanwhile police had also been trying to trace the
origins of the trunk and had published photos of it in the press. A
shopowner recognised it and identified it as being one that he had sold,
for 12/6, to a dark man of average height with a military bearing. The
next stroke of luck occured when the taxi-driver came forward who had
taken the man to Charing Cross Station. He told police that he had taken
two men to Rochester Row police station some time after 1pm on the
Friday. After he had dropped this fare he was returning when he was
hailed by a man standing outside a building opposite the police station
and he had helped him to carry a large trunk from the building to the
cab. He had taken the man to Charing Cross Station where the trunk had
been deposited. The building in Rochester Row was identified as No. 86.
The tenant of two rooms on the second floor was missing. He was John
Robinson, an estate agent who had been struggling to stay in business.
Police traced Robinson's lodgings in Kennington but
he had left. However, police found a telegram that had been returned and
it was addressed to 'Robinson, Greyhound Hotel, Hammersmith'. This
turned out to be Mrs Robinson, who worked there. Mrs Robinson wasn't his
real wife as he had still been married to another when they married.
Robinson had bigamously married her after he had left his first wife and
their four children. When she found this out she agreed to assist the
police by meeting Robinson as he had requested. On Thursday 19th May she
went to the Elephant & Castle, Walworth, accompanied by Chief Inspector
Robinson was arrested and taken back to be
interviewed at Scotland Yard where he denied any involvement in the
killing. He was placed on an identity parade but the shopkeeper, the
taxi-driver and the porter all failed to pick him out and he was
Chief Inspector Cornish decided to back a hunch and
had the duster from the trunk washed. It revealed the word 'GREYHOUND'
and a further search of Robinson's office turned up a bloodstained match
caught in the wickerwork of a wastepaper basket. Robinson was brought
back to Scotland Yard on the 23rd May. He then made a statement in which
he stated that
"I met her at Victoria and took her to my office. I
want to tell you all about it. I done it and cut her up."
The trial took place at the Old Bailey and opened on
Monday 11th July. Robinson's defence was that he had been accosted by
Mrs Bonati at Victoria Station and they had gone back to his office in
Rochester Row. When they got there he said she had demanded money and
when he refused she had become abusive and had tried to strike him. In
order to protect himself he had pushed her away but she had lost her
footing and had fallen and hit her head on a coal-scuttle. He had, he
said, left the office expecting her to recover and leave but when he
returned the woman was still lying there.
Feeling sure no one would believe him he had been in
a panic. He had bought a knife and the trunk and had dismembered the
corpse and deposited it at Charing Cross Station. He admitted to
everything except an intent to kill. One witness for the defence was the
victims husband Frederick Rolls who testified that the dead woman was an
alcoholic and could become very violent. This statement however true did
not impress the jury and they retired for an hour before returning a
On Wednesday 13th July, 36-year-old Robinson was
sentenced to death. It was perhaps not the murder that had disgusted
everyone but the manner in which he had tried to dispose of the body,
she was left no dignity. He was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 12th
The Trunk Murder
In the 1930s Brighton became notorious for a series of “trunk murders”
when dismembered female bodies were found crammed into separate trunks
at Charing Cross Station in 1927 and two more bodies at King’s Cross and
Brighton stations in 1934.
The seaside resort, best known as a destination for
its illicit weekend trysts, was given the unwanted nickname of “Queen of
Slaughtering Places” and suddenly Brighton found itself to be the crime
capital of England.
The First “Trunk Murder”
On 10th May 1927 staff at Charing Cross railway station in London
noticed an unpleasant smell in the left luggage department where they
found the dismembered body of a woman.
Spilsbury, an eminent police pathologist who had worked on the Dr
Crippen case in 1910, was called in to carry out a post-mortem
examination at Westminster Mortuary. He found a limbless body with its
legs hacked off at the hips and the arms removed from the shoulders.
Each piece had been wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string. The
woman’s shoes and handbag were also in the trunk and the crime had been
committed two-three weeks previously.
A label on the
woman’s clothes led the police to a Mrs. Holt in South Kensington. She
identified the body as that of Mrs. Rolls, who had worked for her as a
cook. Rolls’ real name was Minnie Bonati and she had left her husband
and adopted daughter to become a prostitute.
investigations led them to Rochester Row in Westminster where detectives
interviewed numerous people. The most suspicious character was a John
Robinson who subletted two rooms at number 86 under the name of Edwards
& Co., an estate agent. He had informed his landlord he was bankrupt and
left the building around 9th May.
On 21st May Chief
Inspector George Cornish noticed a label with “Greyhound” stitched onto
on a duster found in the trunk. John Robinson’s wife worked at the
Greyhound Hotel in Hammersmith. Back at Rochester Row police found a
blood stained match and Robinson was taken to Scotland Yard for
Robinson confessed to picking up a woman
at Victoria Station who he took back to his room. He said she demanded
money and when he had refused to give it to her she rushed at him. He
struck her and she fell hitting her head on a chair. Thinking she was
merely dazed Robinson went back to his office in Kennington. The next
day he found her dead and decided to dispose of her body by cutting it
up and putting it in the trunk. On 23rd May Robinson was charged with
defence was that Bonati had died of a heart attack, but the prosecution
argued that the injuries to her head were not enough to have killed her.
On 11th July 1927 at the Old Bailey, Sir Spilsbury argued that Bonati
was in good health and said that the bruises on her chest suggested
someone had knelt on her while holding her down and possibly suffocating
her. The jury believed him and Robinson was found guilty. He was hanged
at Pentonville Prison on 12th August 1927.