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A bag of bones: the story of a dancer who was searched for 30 years and buried after 100

'17.05.2021'

Source: Lenta.ru report

One hundred years ago, British tabloids vied with each other about the mysterious disappearance of Mamie Stewart, a young dancer from Wales. Inspector Scotland Yard rummaged through the town where she spent the last years and revealed its dark secrets, but missed the criminal. "Lenta.ru" figured out the story, the point at which was set only recently.

Photo: Shutterstock

In March 1920, the owner of the Grosvenor Hotel in the Welsh city of Swansea contacted the police. The case was the most ordinary and did not portend that one of the most sensational stories of the time would begin with it.

It was about forgotten things. Shortly before Christmas, a middle-aged man was visiting Grosvenor. When the guest left, his leather suitcase remained in the room. Almost three months passed, but no one returned.

The suitcase had to be taken to the police. Inside was a Bible, a cross, a manicure set, a pair of women's shoes and two dresses cut into pieces. The only clue there was a piece of paper with an address in the city of Sunderland, which was located on the other side of the country.

This was the address of the old naval captain James Stuart, who lived in Sunderland with his wife Eleanor. He immediately recognized dresses and shoes from Grosvenor. They were worn by his unclean daughter, 26-year-old Mamie Stewart, who had recently moved to Swansea.

Three months ago, Mamie sent a telegram in which she congratulated her father and mother on Christmas and called to visit her in Wales. Since then there has been no news from her, and the reply letter returned with the note "the house is closed." Parents were afraid that something had happened to her daughter.

Cottage by the sea

Mamie had given rise to excitement before. Since childhood, she dreamed of fame, and at age 15 she left home to become a dancer. She managed to achieve some success and even assemble her own dance troupe, which was called "Five Girls from Verona." They toured all over England and, despite their young age, could fend for themselves. When the organizer of one of the speeches refused to pay, Mamie won a fee through the court.

In 1918, the girl married the 39-year-old ship engineer George Shotton. He was a surprisingly charming man, able to persuade anyone. For his sake, Mamie left the stage, touring and nomadic life. They moved to Wales and rented a secluded cottage overlooking the sea.

Judging by the news from Swansea, the marriage was not very happy. Mamie complained that no one was living in the neighborhood, and felt isolated from the world. But most of all, her husband’s oddities frightened her. After the wedding, he changed, often disappeared in the middle of nowhere, and after returning he could have beaten.

Recent letters sounded particularly alarming. “If I stop writing, please wire Mrs. Hearn and ask her about me,” she asked her father and mother. “George doesn't have everything at home.” I’m probably leaving him soon. It makes no sense to live like that. ”

The fears of the parents were not in vain: the girl really disappeared. Inspector William Draper from Scotland Yard took up the investigation. On his instructions, the police spoke to the Mrs. Hearn mentioned in the letter. Mamie's friend remembered that one day she took a promise from her to find her if she disappeared.

Conversations on such topics rarely start for no reason. Everything indicated that the girl was afraid for her life. And, it seems, the source of her fears was her husband - George Shotton.

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Double life

Inspector Draper made inquiries about Shotton and almost immediately found out an interesting fact: Mamie was not his first wife. Back in 1905, a ship engineer married a woman named Mary. She was alive, well, and living near Swansea. It took no more than 15 minutes to get from her home to Mamie's Cottage.

Shotton led a double life and carefully concealed it from both wives. Mary did not know that on one of her departures, her husband exchanged her for a young dancer. In turn, Mamie did not even know about the existence of a rival. This is where her husband disappeared - he ran to another wife to see her and the child.

During interrogation, Shotton readily admitted that he had stopped at Grosvenor before Christmas and had really forgotten his suitcase. But everything else, he said, was not true. Mamie is not his wife, but just a lover, besides the former. And, of course, he did not kill her. Mamie left him in early December, when he convicted her of infidelity.

As evidence, Shotton showed a suspicious letter that she wanted to send to the boyfriend. “My fellow believer seems to know something,” wrote Mamie. “But, as they say, out of sight - out of mind ... I'm dying how I want to see you, to be in your arms again.”

Inspector Draper believed that the answer was obvious. Shotton admitted that he knew about Mamie's betrayals. Most likely, he was seized with jealousy, and he killed his young wife, and then got rid of the body. One thing was missing - evidence. You can’t be accused of murder if no one has seen the victim and does not know whether she is really killed.

The police rummaged through the cottage where Mamie lived, and combed its surroundings, but found nothing suspicious. Finding witnesses also failed, although ads with a verbal portrait of the missing were distributed throughout the UK.

In May 1920, Shotton was arrested. Inspector Draper could not prove that he was involved in the murder, so he accused him of bigamy. In court, a man argued that it was not he who married Mamie, but a certain intruder who pretended to be him. The judge did not believe and sentenced him to 18 months of hard labor.

Bag of Bones

The high-profile case did not leave the newspaper pages for a long time. Readers wrote that they saw Mamie alive, and in the most unexpected places: in Canada, in South Africa, in Australia. An acquaintance of her father, who served as a senior commander on the steamer Blitmur, assured me that he had seen her in the troupe of wandering artists who performed in Karachi.

There was only enough public interest for a couple of years, after which Mamie Stewart was forgotten for a long time. The continuation of its history had to wait over 40 years.

In November 1961, three young cavers went down into an abandoned lead mine in Brandy Cove, not far from Swansea. In the depths, a terrible find awaited them: a bag with a human skull and darkened bones from time to time. Nearby, they found things: a mother-of-pearl button, a chain, two gold rings, scraps of decayed fabric and a black comb with stuck hair.

Cavers left the bag underground, climbed to the surface and went to the police. The police had to squeeze into the narrow passage one at a time, and the most slender ones were selected: there was no way to get through the cave with a belly. The bones were sent to the criminology laboratory in Cardiff, where they were studied by pathologists William James and John Griffiths. They found that some bones were divided in two, as if after death, the body was cut into three parts. Despite this, they managed to collect a whole skeleton.

Judging by the characteristics of the pelvic bones, these were the remains of a woman. Pathologists measured the height of the deceased: 162 centimeters. The hardest thing was to determine age. The cartilaginous growth zones at the ends of the bones managed to harden, and this happens by the age of 25. At the same time, the seams on her skull never fused. It followed that she was older than 24 years old, but younger than 28. Shreds of clothing made it possible to date the remains of the 1920s.

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The police suspected that the bones might belong to Mamie Stewart. Growth and age coincided, a comparison of the skull with the surviving photograph also confirmed the similarity. When the found things were shown to Mamie's aged friend, she recognized her engagement ring, albeit without much confidence. But most importantly - this time, a witness, whom Inspector Draper so lacked, agreed to speak in the coroner's court.

83-year-old postman Bill Simons said that he delivered mail at the end of 1919 and met George Shotton, who was dragging a large bag with difficulty. "Help?" Asked Simons. Shotton looked up, saw the blue uniform of the postman, and nearly lost his senses. “Oh my god,” he breathed. “I thought you were from the police.” The engineer refused help, single-handedly loaded the bag into the van and drove off in the direction of Brandy Cove.

The jury agreed that the remains of Mamie Stewart were found in the cave. “She was killed,” the coroner insisted. “Can you imagine at least some reason to cut the body if a person committed suicide or became a victim of an accident?” He had nothing to object, and the history of the aged postman finally convinced the jury that the killer was the husband of the disappeared girl - George Chotton.

Shotton was again wanted. Interpol was involved in the operation: the British police had reason to suspect that he had moved to the United States. The search turned off only three weeks later, when his grave was found in the west of England. Shotton did not live up to a three-year sentence and died in 1958 at the age of 78. In recent years, the criminal has lived in poverty and loneliness.

Last way

In 2019, the story of Mamie Stewart was continued thanks to her grand-niece, 75-year-old teacher Susie Oldnall from Oxfordshire. The missing dancer was her grandmother's sister, so she knew almost everything about her. But no one told her one detail: it turns out that the remains found in the mine were not interred. They stayed at Cardiff University, where the examination took place. From time to time, bones were taken out of the closet and demonstrated to students.

“I thought: no, you can’t leave it like that,” says Oldnall. She decided to learn more about Mamie and was surprised to find that no investigation documents had been preserved. The materials of the case died after the terrorist attack launched by the Irish separatists, and the Grosvenor hotel, where they found her belongings, was destroyed by a fire. There is nothing left.

As a result, Oldnall wrote to pathologist Stephen Leadbitter, who worked in the Cardiff laboratory. He confirmed that he knew about the remains, and readily agreed to help organize the burial. Oldnall bought the coffin, the familiar archivist Margaret Headley helped find the graves of Mamie's parents, and Leadbitter personally brought the bones from Cardiff.

In December 2019, four people gathered at the cemetery in Sunderland. “We lowered the coffin into the grave, laid flowers, said a few words and went home - that’s all,” says Oldnall. Exactly one hundred years after the murder, Mamie Stuart finally rested in peace.

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