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ⓘ Mamie Stuart




                                     

ⓘ Mamie Stuart

Mamie Stuart was a 26-year-old English woman who disappeared in 1919, presumed the victim of foul play. Her dismembered body was found in 1961 in an abandoned lead mine in Wales. Her husband was suspected, and later found guilty by a coroners court, of her murder.

                                     

1. Early life

Mamie Stuart christened Amy was born in 1893 in Sunderland to parents James, a ships captain, and Jane. She also had a sister Edith. She was later described by police as being pretty with brown hair and grey-blue eyes, about 5ft 3in to 5ft 4in tall, with "very even teeth with one missing" and "of good carriage". She left home at 15 to appear on stage, becoming a touring dancer and showgirl and starting a dance troupe – The Five Verona Girls.

In July 1917, aged 24, Stuart met a Welsh marine engineer called George Shotton 1880-1958 and married him in 1918. Unbeknown to Stuart, Shotton was already married 7 September 1905 to Mary Leader and had a son, Arthur. Shotton and Stuart lived in Bristol before moving to Swansea, eventually moving to live in Caswell Bay.

                                     

2. Disappearance

Stuart was last seen in November 1919. In letters to her family she had hinted that her marriage was unhappy. In December 1919, a telegram was sent to her parents wishing them a Merry Christmas, but when they wrote back their letters were returned to them marked "house closed".

In March 1920, staff at the Grosvenor Hotel, Swansea, gave a chest left by a male guest in December 1919 to police. They discovered a womans clothing and shoes. These were later confirmed to be Stuarts. There was also a scrap of paper with an address written on it which turned out to be that of Stuarts parents.

William Draper of Scotland Yard took over the investigation. His chief suspect was Stuarts husband George Shotton. Draper quickly discovered he was living in Caswell Bay with his wife and small daughter. It was subsequently discovered he had bigamously married Stuart, although he denied doing so and said that when she walked out on him he had gone back to his wife. Police were told by Stuarts parents that she had complained Shotton had subjected her to domestic abuse. Stuarts parents confirmed that the trunk contained Mamie’s clothing, jewelry and belongings. Shotton admitted to leaving the trunk at the hotel after an argument with Stuart. In letters to her parents, Stuart said she was not going to live with Shotton anymore and that she knew there was something odd about him. An extensive search was carried out, but no trace could be found of Stuart.

Police were not able to charge Shotton with murder, since the law at the time prevented a suspect being tried for murder if there was no body. However, he was charged and found guilty of bigamously marrying her in South Shields in March 1918 and sentenced to 18 months hard labour. Leader divorced him shortly after he was released from jail.

There were subsequently numerous alleged sightings of Stuart in Canada, South Africa, Australia and India. A notable one was by Thomas James, the chief officer of the Blythmoor, who was a friend of her father. He claimed to have seen Stuart in Karachi where she was part of a troop of travelling artists. Though the woman denied she was Stuart and quickly walked away.

                                     

3. Discovery of body and inquest

42 years after she disappeared, on 5 November 1961, Stuarts remains were discovered in a sack hidden behind stones in an abandoned mine shaft at Brandy Cove in Caswell by potholers Graham Jones, John Gerke and Chris MacNamara.

Forensic examination found the bones belonged to a woman aged between 20 and 30 years, between 5ft 3in and 5ft 4in tall, and with one tooth extracted from the upper jaw. This matched the contemporaneous description of Stuart. Also found near her body was a gold wedding ring and diamond engagement ring, which further aided identification of the remains. At the subsequent inquest, 20 witnesses, including her relatives, testified that the rings found in the mine belonged to Stuart.

Police set about tracing Shotton, who had remained the main suspect, but discovered he had died at the age of 78 in 1958 and was buried in Bristol.

At the inquest it was revealed that Stuarts body had been sawn into parts so as to fit into several containers. It was widely reported this was 3 parts, but pathologist Bernard Knight, who had direct knowledge of the case and had extensively examined the remains, wrote in New Scientist in 1996 that it had in fact been sawn into 6 parts.

Retired Mumbles postman William Symons who by that time was 83 testified that in December 1919 he saw Shotton struggling to put a large sack into the back of a van outside the couples Caswell cottage. He even offered to help the man with the heavy load, but did not inform police. Shotton was alleged to have looked shocked and said "oh god, for a minute I thought you were a policeman".

During the 1961 inquest the skeleton of Stuart was laid out in the court. The forensic team used a photographic superimposition of the skull that had been discovered over a life-sized portrait of Stuart in order to aid the identification.

The inquest determined that:

  • The remains were those of Mamie Stuart.
  • She had been murdered.
  • Cause of death could not be determined.
  • George Shotton was the murderer.
  • George Shotton had died in Bristol on the 30th April 1958.
  • She was murdered between the 12th November 1919 and 6 December 1919.

In 1961 a coroners court could name a murderer, as in this case, although doing so was subsequently disallowed by the Criminal Law Act 1977.



                                     

4. George Shotton

Stuart had complained of mistreatment by Shotton, and was a victim of domestic abuse. Her parents told police during their investigation that Mamie had said that George was a violent and abusive husband and that she feared for her life. This was substantiated by Mary Leader, Shottons first wife, who had divorced him after he was imprisoned for bigamy - later remarrying. When police re-investigated the case in 1961 she told them that Shotton had a violent temper.

In addition to being found responsible for the murder of Stuart by the 1961 coroners court, Shotton was convicted of bigamy in 1920 and in 1938 was sentenced to 12 months in jail for assault occasioning actual bodily harm on a woman and possessing a firearm. Criminal Records Office CRO file No.17923/20)

After he was released from prison in 1922, Shotton moved to Tintern where he ran a smallholding. The South Wales Echo reported that villagers remembered him "practically running the tennis club". He was remembered in the village as "a charming chap, a real dandy". He eventually moved to Bristol, where he lived for a time in a home for elderly people before suffering a stroke and dying on 30 April 1958 in Bristols Southmead Hospital. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol Grave Number 000405.

                                     

5. Burial

After the inquest Stuarts bones were not returned to her family but were kept in Cardiff University, where eminent pathologist Bernard Knight is said to have used them to teach students. The bones later went missing.

Ms Stuarts great niece Susie Oldnall only discovered the whereabouts of her great aunts remains in 2019 when she was approached by researchers for a programme on the CBS Reality channel about unsolved murders. It was found they were being kept in a cupboard in a Cardiff forensic laboratory. The senior forensic pathologist at the laboratory, Dr Stephen Leadbeatter, had kept the remains - despite being urged to dispose of them - in the hope that her family might reclaim them. He personally took them to Oldnall so they might be interred by her family.

Stuarts body was buried in an unmarked grave in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery in Sunderland next to her parents. At the time, Ms Oldnall commented to the BBC: "Shes been treated with such lack of dignity, and now shes with her parents. Im not religious, but I do feel much better about it now."

                                     

6. Media coverage

Mamie Stuarts disappearance and death have been the subject of media coverage for over 100 years. The disappearance of Stuart was extensively covered, and subsequent sightings of her were also documented by the press. The discovery of her remains in 1961 led to renewed interest in the case, as did the news in 2020 that she had finally been interred by her family.

  • Infidelity, Paul Ferris, Harper Collins, 1999 - a novel based on the case.
  • Skeleton Found in a Gower Mine-shaft, South Wales Evening Post, 6 November 1961
  • Swansea Murders, Geoff Brookes, History Press, 2013
  • 1970 article in The Mumbles Gower News: The Mystery of Mamie Stuart by Haydn Griffiths.
  • Is Missing Mamie Stuart Alive in India?, Daily Mirror, 10 February 1923
  • Scotland Yard Believes There is No Perfect Crime, The Dispatch, 7 December 1961
  • Bodies of Evidence: The fascinating world of forensic science and how it helped solve more than 100 true crimes, Brian Innes, Amber Books 18 July 2012
  • Murder by the Sea, CBS Reality, first aired 7 May 2019.
  • CrimeSolver - First shown 8 June 2005 on BBC ONE Wales.
  • Dan O’Neill: Down Memory Lane - 2011 article on Wales Online
  • South Wales Murders, Bob Hinton, History Press, 2012 - contains many missing police photographs which were presumed lost
  • Crime Files, ITV Cymru Wales, 2015

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