Dark Land: Hunting the Killers
Coming to BBC iPlayer this evening is this new four-part series. It uses contemporary experts to reinvestigate notorious cold cases to unearth possible clues to the killers’ identities.
I am a contributor to one of the films, which explores the murder of showgirl Mamie Shotton, who went missing in 1920. Her body was found 41 years later in a cave on the Gower coastline.
The ‘dark land’ referred to here is Wales because all the crimes occurred there. The first case is the murder of Maureen Mulcahy at Port Talbot in 1976.
Suspicion fell on bigamist George Shotton
The other two are the murders of six-year-old Carol Ann Stephens in Cardiff in 1959 and Muriel Drinkwater, aged 12, in Swansea in 1946.
The Mamie Shotton case is one I researched for an episode of Murder by the Sea on CBS Reality, and it is intriguing. Suspicion fell on her husband, George, a marine surveyor who was 13 years older than his wife.
George Shotton was also a bigamist. When Mamie disappeared from their home in Swansea, her husband had another home nearby where he was also living with his first wife and their son.
The absence of Mamie’s body for several decades meant that police ended up only being able to charge George Shotton with bigamy. When she was discovered, by some pot-holers in 1961, not far from where George Shotton lived, he had already died.
Links beween Shotton and another notorious case?
Dark Land, however, speculates about his possible links to another notorious crime that occurred in the 1930s. Shotton was known to travel around, was arrogant and violent. The programme, hosted by author Dr Nell Darby and produced by Monster Films, looks at how he may have been responsible for more than one horrific crime.
The other crime, which caused a sensation in Britain in 1934, was the first Brighton Trunk Murder. This was the discovery of a torso in a trunk found in left luggage at Brighton railway station.
The victim was around 25 years old and found to be pregnant. Neither she nor her killer were ever identified.
For the programme I trawled through the archive at The Keep, Brighton, reviewing the police reports, before being filmed in Brighton.
Scotland Yard worked tirelessly to break the case but luck was against them. All the potential leads came to nothing and the decision to appeal to the public for information backfired when they were inundated with crank calls and useless tips.
‘It is difficult to speak with restraint…’
One extraordinary moment highlights how unlucky detectives were.
A man called Frederick Claridge, 37, was strolling along under the cliff at Black Rock with his friend, Barbara Naides. Incredibly, they found a female human head in a pool of water.
More incredibly, Claridge convinced his friend that they should not report this horrific discovery to the police. His reasoning was that someone had committed suicide and police had discarded the head.
The Chief Inspector notes, with commendable understatement, ‘It is difficult to speak with restraint as to why a normal and intelligent individual should form this view…’
Two young women lost their lives and their families never got any justice or insight into what happened to them. I’m sure Nell Darby will place their stories firmly and sympathetically at the centre of this documentary, but how strongly will George Shotton be implicated in both?
Dark Land: Hunting the Killers on BBC iPlayer