The Killer Who Got Away With Murder
By the spring of 1920 the police in South Wales were convinced that glamorous ex-chorus girl, Mamie Stuart, 26, had been murdered. Compounding their frustration was the belief that they knew who had killed her – George Shotton, a dapper marine surveyor. There was just one problem: Mamie Stuart was nowhere to be found. This was nothing new for Mamie; she had always been a butterfly. At age 15, she had left home in Sunderland to gone on the stage. On one of her return visits she met Shotton, who also came from Sunderland. He was 13 years older than Mamie, but she fell heavily for him and the couple married on March 25, 1918. After living in a succession of rooming houses and hotels they eventually settled in a remote cottage called Bonavista, overlooking Caswell Bay, on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales.
And then, just before Christmas 1919, both had vanished. Coincidentally, at about the same time, a male guest had checked out of a hotel in nearby Swansea, leaving a leather trunk. When, by the following March the trunk had still not been claimed, the hotelier contacted the police. Inside were two dresses and a pair of shoes, all slashed to ribbons; some jewelry; a bible; rosary; and a manicure set. There was also a scrap of paper bearing the address of Mamie Stuart's parents. Mr and Mrs Stuart identified the contents as belonging to their daughter, and told the police that they had been trying fruitlessly for months to contact her. Both feared for her safety. They handed over a letter written by Mamie in which she expressed great trepidation about her violent husband: "The man is not all there. I don't think I will live with him much longer. I am very much afraid of him. My life is not worth living." Mrs Hearn confirmed that Mamie had once begged: "If I am ever missing, do your utmost to find me, won't you?"
Shortly afterward a cleaner at the cottage found a leather handbag behind the bedroom dresser. It contained a sugar ration card in Mamie's name and £2 ($8) in change. By this time detectives had discovered what Mamie Stuart never knew – that George Shotton already had a wife. He had married May Leader on September 7, 1905 in Newport; furthermore, he, May and their child, were living in an isolated house, barely a mile from the cottage that he and Mamie called home.
Did Mamie Have A Secret Lover?
Shotton was tracked down and arrested. He admitted knowing Mamie and leaving the trunk at the hotel, but denied that they had married. He claimed to have last seen her in early December, when they had quarreled over her infidelity and parted. Partial corroboration for this story came with the discovery of a letter penned by Mamie to a male admirer: "I will … be with you shortly, and we can make up for lost time ... My old man seems to know quite a lot ... but what the eyes don't see the heart can't grieve for. Am just dying to see you and feel your dear arms around me."
Acting on the belief that Shotton, consumed by jealousy, had killed Mamie and disposed of her body, detectives searched every inch of the cottage and garden. Nothing was found. Police fanned out and scoured the surrounding countryside, all to no avail. The missing woman's description, circulated throughout Britain, also failed to produce a single worthwhile lead, which meant that when Shotton stood trial on July 28, 1920 the charge sheet read 'bigamy' alone. His defense – that someone else had assumed his identity and married Mamie on March 25, 1918 – was laughed out of court, especially after his admission that he had spent that very night with Mamie at a hotel. "You have no idea what became of the other man, I suppose?" the judge asked dryly. "No," said Shotton, to hoots of derision. On being sentenced to 18 months hard labor, Shotton collapsed and had to be carried from the dock. Grim-faced detectives watched Shotton leave for prison, convinced he was taking the secret of Mamie's whereabouts with him. Two months the search for Mamie was officially closed down. Over the years there were various reported sightings of Mamie in places as far afield as Canada and, in 1923, in India, where a Thomas James, who had lived in the same Sunderland street as Mamie and had known her for 16 years, spotted a woman in a theatrical troupe whom he believed to be the missing woman. When he approached her, she denied knowing him and hurried off. Nothing came of this and gradually interest in the missing chorus girl dwindled away – until fate played a hand.
Four Decades Later
On Sunday November 5, 1961 three cavers exploring a disused lead mine in Brandy Cove – about a mile further along the coast from Caswell Bay – made a gruesome discovery. Behind some rocks, almost hidden by a thick stone slab, lay a sack full of human bones. Nearby was a black butterfly comb – a tuft of dark brown hair still attached – and two rings, one a gold wedding band.
The remains were taken to the Forensic Science Laboratory at Cardiff, where Home Office pathologists, Dr William James and Dr John Griffiths, reassembled the bones into a complete skeleton. Cause of death was undetermined; it might have been strangulation or stabbing, there was nothing to say definitely. The body had been sawn into three sections, through the spine, the upper arms, and the thighs. Judging from the pelvis, the victim was female and she had been approximately 5 feet 4 inches tall, the same height as Mamie Stuart. By examining the sutures in the skull, which fuse together at a predictable rate and are generally sealed by age 30, the experts thought that the woman had been in her mid-twenties at the time of her death. In sex, height, and age, the skeletal remains matched Mamie Stuart's description. Scraps of clothing and shoes found in the mineshaft were dated to the early 1920s. An elderly lady, a close friend of Mamie's, identified the rings as belonging to the long-lost girl, while hallmarks put the date of manufacture between 1912-1918. Conclusive identification came by superimposing a photograph of the skull over a life-sized portrait taken of Mamie during her theater days. The result left no room for doubt – after 41 years, Mamie Stuart had been found.
Incredible Story From The Past
At the coroner's inquest, held in December 1961, the court heard a startling tale. Bill Symons, an 83-year-old ex-mailman, recalled an afternoon in 1919 when he had been making his rounds and happened to see George Shotton struggling with a heavy sack outside his cottage. As Symons approached, Shotton glanced up, saw the mailman's blue uniform and nearly fainted. Gathering his wits quickly, he exclaimed, "God! For a minute I thought you were a policeman." When Symons offered to help carry the sack to Shotton's yellow van, which was parked on the road, Shotton hastily declined and hefted the sack alone. The incident had ended with Shotton driving off in the direction of Brandy Cove. Symons had thought nothing of the incident at the time, and even after Mamie's disappearance became public knowledge, he had been reluctant to contact the police, thinking that he was just being foolish.
With such overwhelming evidence the coroner's jury decided that the skeleton was, indeed, that of Mamie Stuart; that she had been murdered; and that the evidence pointed to Shotton as the murderer. Which raised the inevitable question – where was George Shotton?
Three weeks later, after a search involving Interpol and nine police forces, the ex-marine surveyor was tracked down – to a cemetery in Bristol, England. He had died penniless and alone, aged 78, in a local hospital in 1958. The man who got away with murder had escaped justice by just three years.
Nowadays in Britain no coroner's jury would be allowed to name a suspected murderer: the Criminal Law Act of 1977 forbade such action. Ironically, the last person so named was the infamous Lord Lucan, who vanished just after the 1974 killing of his children's nanny. He, too, has never been found.