The discovery of Mary Money's mutilated body in Merstham Tunnel brought about an investigation that seemed straightforward at first, but proved to be anything but.
The Merstham Tunnel mystery
At 10.55pm on Sunday 24 September 1905, Sub-Inspector Peacock was walking through Merstham Tunnel on the Brighton line when he found the body of a woman.
The body was terribly mutilated. Peacock reported the matter immediately to the Merstham station master who advised local police.
There were no letters or papers of any kind on the body to assist identification and more significantly, there was no money or railway ticket. No report was received of any doors being found open on trains as they passed through the tunnel and in the early stages of the inquiry there was no indication that any untoward incident had occurred on a train.
The first theory was that the woman had walked into the tunnel to commit suicide. A preliminary medical examination, however, revealed that a scarf had been thrust down the woman's throat and this, coupled with the fact that certain marks were found on the wall of the tunnel, gave the case a sinister turn. A description of the dead woman was circulated and on the Monday morning a young man named Robert Money identified the body as that of his sister, Mary Money.
Cause of death
A Home Office expert expressed the opinion that the woman had been dead approximately one hour when found and that bruises and other injuries must have been caused before death, probably as a result of a violent struggle. He also stated that there had been no sexual interference.
The 9.33pm train from London Bridge was scheduled to pass through the tunnel at the crucial period and the guard could not recall certain vital points until some days after he was first interviewed.
At East Croydon, he had noticed a young man with a young woman answering Money’s description in a first class compartment. At South Croydon, he had seen them again, sitting close together. Beyond the tunnel, at Redhill, he had seen the man alight from what he believed to be the same compartment and walk towards the exit.
Further information came from a signalman at Purley Oaks who reported that when the 9.33pm train passed his box, he saw a man and woman struggling in a first class carriage. The signalman seems to have been accustomed to passengers wrestling amorously in first class carriages because he did not attach much importance to it.
Hunt for the killer
The police thought that it was merely a question of checking up on Money’s male acquaintances and the case was solved. But Money did not appear to have any boyfriends.
She worked for a dairyman named Bridger and lived in Lavender Hill, Clapham. On Sunday 24 September, she was on duty and according to a fellow employee named Emma Hone she announced, at 7.00pm, that she was going for “a little walk” and would not be very long. The police began tracing her movements from the time she left Emma Hone to the time her body was found.
A Miss Golding who kept a sweet shop in the station approach at Clapham Junction told them that shortly after 7.00pm Money, known to her as a regular customer, visited the shop and bought some chocolate. Money mentioned to Golding that she was going to Victoria. A ticket collector identified Money from a photograph as a young woman he had seen at 7.20pm. She told him she was going to Victoria. From that moment there was nobody who could say positively that they saw Miss Money until she was found in the tunnel.
A fruitless search
Hone, who lived with Money and knew her very well, had no knowledge of any male acquaintances. At the adjourned inquest, a young London and North Western Railway clerk was asked to account for his movements on the day of the murder. He had known Money for years, and had ‘walked out’ with her. He proved he was miles away at the vital time and was cleared from all suspicion.
When the inquest resumed, Money’s employer and his brother also gave evidence to refute suggestions that they had associated in more than friendly fashion with the victim. Superintendent Warren of the London and South Western Railway Police gave evidence of various experiments which had been carried out in the tunnel with the actual carriages that were on the 9.33pm train on the night of the murder. The verdict, rather surprisingly, was that Money “met her death by severe injuries brought about by a train but the evidence was insufficient to show whether she fell or was thrown from a train.”
There seems little doubt that Money, unknown to her family (with the possible exception of her brother), had a man friend whom she went to meet on that fatal Sunday night. Perhaps she met him at Victoria or at some other station and after they had eaten somewhere (for the autopsy showed that she had had a meal about three hours before her death), the friend suggesting a short journey in a first class carriage. It is well known that a first class carriage on an evening train is a very satisfactory way to secure a little privacy. Perhaps there was a struggle when he was unable to achieve the real purpose of the journey?
Money had a purse when she left Clapham; it was never found. Was it taken to give the impression that robbery was the motive? Or was robbery the motive after all? Was the murderer an acquaintance, or a casual pick-up? Who was the man who left the train at Redhill? He was described as thin, with a moustache, and wearing a bowler – not a very helpful description as bowlers and moustaches were commonplace. He was never traced.
An unsatisfactory feature of the case was the character of Robert Money. He was proved to be an unscrupulous liar and his own end was a tragedy. On 19 August 1912, in a burning house at Eastbourne, were found the bodies of a man, his wife, and one child, and two other children, all of whom had been murdered.
Another woman, the mother of the two children, had received two bullet wounds in the neck, but survived. The man, who had killed the others, was known as Robert Hicks Murray an alias used by Robert Money!
He had married the two women, who were sisters and incredibly enough, neither knew of the marriage of the other.
People asked themselves in 1905 and again in 1912 did Robert Money tell all he knew about the death of his sister?