One of the greatest unsolved English murder cases is The Merstham Tunnel Mystery that happened in 1905. The body of 22-year-old Mary Sophia Money, 22, was found in a railway tunnel on the South-Eastern Railway line south of London. Mary was a bookkeeper employed at a dairy in Lavender Hill where she lived with the owner Mr Bridger and his family. Her body was so badly mutilated that only the laundry number 245 on her undergarments enabled an identification.
She had worked with her brother Robert, a dairy farmer living in Kingston-upon-Thames, where the rest of her family also lived. But fifteen months before, Mary left Kingston to go and work at Mr. Bridger’s dairy in Lavender Hill. Robert had arranged that new job for her.
Robert identified his sister’s body with some difficulty. He told police she was not the suicidal type adding that she did not have any boyfriends and was not engaged to get married. Bridger was only able to identify Mary because of the ‘245’ printed on her undergarments, which was the number of his shop and used by their laundress to distinguish Mary’s clothes from those of the Bridger family.
Curiously, Robert – her brother – also knew about this laundry mark. It seems an unusually intimate detail to be aware of.
Body found in the Merstham railway tunnel – an Edwardian murder mystery!
Mary was discovered by a railway sub-inspector, William Peacock, at 10.55pm on Sunday, September 24, 1905. She was lying 400 metres inside the tunnel. Her head was smashed in, left leg severed, left arm “reduced to a pulp”.
The railway authorities believed Mary had walked into the tunnel with the intention of committing suicide. The police disagreed, convinced early on that she had been murdered. They raised three possibilities:
- Mary was attacked on a train, gagged, and thrown from it
- Mary may have committed suicide by jumping out of a train
- Mary walked into the tunnel deliberately and was hit by a train
The Coroner examined her remains and concluded she had been the victim of a terrible murder. Mary was quite strongly built and had put up a bit of a fight. There were finger marks on her right arm and a slight abrasion on her mouth. About a foot in length of her veil had been rolled into a ball and crammed into her mouth. This certain made suicide look a lot less likely.
Mary Money’s last movements before being found in the Merstham Tunnel
Let’s retrace her steps on the final evening of her life. She worked on Lavender Hill in the Clapham area of south London at a dairy owned by the Bridger family and was on duty that Sunday. In the evening, after dinner with the Bridgers, she told a work colleague, Emma Hone, that she was off for a walk at just after 7pm. She didn’t want to be accompanied, preferring to be alone. But Mary had no intention of returning to work.
Instead, she went down to Clapham Junction station buying a chocolate from a sweet shop there and telling the owner, who she knew, that she was taking a train to Victorian station – one of the main rail hubs in London. That was a lie. In fact, she either went to Charing Cross and took the 9.33pm train to Reading or went to London Bridge and got a Brighton train. Because it was one of these trains that passed through the Merstham Tunnel at the time of her death.
Her employer, Mr Bridger, sent a telegram to Mary’s brother, Robert, the next morning telling him that his sister had just left the dairy without any explanation, declaring she was going for a short walk. Bridger and his family waited up until 1am for her to come back. He eventually went to bed concluding she had either gone to see friends in Islington, her brothers at Kingston, or her sister in Kennington.
Hone lived with Mary at the dairy and knew of no boyfriends. Her brother Robert also said there was no boyfriend or betrothed. But it turned out Mary did have several male admirers and one voluntarily claimed to police that they were engaged to be married.
A witness claimed seeing Mary with another man in a first class railway carriage heading south. This was a signalman at Purley Oaks who thought the man and woman were having a very amorous tussle in the carriage. On the other side of the tunnel, a man got off at Redhill station but no woman. The man described as having a hat and moustache could have been any gentleman of this period so not strong as evidence.
As Mary’s body showed evidence of a meal being eaten three hours before her death, one theory was that she and a man had gone for dinner before getting on the train. But the timescale would also fit her last meal with the Bridger family before going for the ill-fated walk.
The Merstham Tunnel Murder Mystery deepens
But how did Mary come to be found in the Merstham Tunnel? The police looked for evidence of her being robbed. Mary’s purse, money, and railway ticket were missing. But…she was still wearing jewellery including a gold neck chain and locket set with sapphires and diamonds. Another locket had pearls.
In terms of being attacked, possibly sexually, before death – her clothes were ripped in various places though the police struggled to ascertain how much was due to her assailant and what the moving train had caused.
The absence of a railway ticket was held up as evidence by the train authority that she had never bought one. Neither had she fallen or jumped from a train. Mary had walked into the tunnel to commit suicide. The police did not accept this version of events. And neither did her brother, Robert. They maintained this was a murder case.
For years afterwards, Robert took it upon himself to conduct his own investigation of his sister’s death producing evidence to prove it was murder. However, his amateur detective work irritated Scotland Yard and also caused some to wonder if he was the perpetrator. At one point he threatened libel action against a group of amateur sleuths who suggested he had done in his own sister.
The Coroner’s Court jury was not wholly convinced that Mary had been murdered and an open verdict was returned. This became an unsolved murder mystery. But it was about to take a very unexpected turn…
Robert Money – himself a murderer
Seven years after Mary’s alleged murder in 1905, a man called Robert Hicks Murray committed suicide after taking the lives of his wife Edith; his 13 month daughter Peggy; and two children, Stanley Paler aged three and Winifred aged two whose mother was Edith’s sister, Florence. Robert shot Florence twice but she survived.
Now take a deep breath – because this is where it gets complicated. Robert Hicks Murray was none other than Robert Money. And he was married bigamously using a false identity to both Edith and her sister, Florence.
He killed Edith and Peggy first then waited for Florence and her kids to arrive. He shot Florence, killed her children, set fire to the house, then killed himself. Somehow, the sisters were unaware of him being married to the other and having children. Make of that what you will.
Merstham Tunnel murder mystery case re-opened
With Robert Money now exposed as a murderer and bigamist, journalists went back to look at the death of his sister. What new lessons could be learned? Why, for example, had Robert been very insistent that Mary had been murdered?
One view was that Robert had emphasised murder over suicide because in fact, his sister had indeed taken her own life. The signs of struggle were nothing of the sort. Mary had intentionally walked into the tunnel and been hit by a train. But why?
One motive was that she had been stealing money from the Bridgers to fuel her gambling habit and lost the lot. To protect his sister’s reputation and maintain the fiction she had been murdered, Robert burned incriminating evidence including betting slips. Then banged on about her being murdered.
Bridger had noticed that money paid over the counter to Mary was not finding its way to the till and moved her to another role. At the same time, Mary began telling friends that she was engaged to Bridger’s son Arthur and they would be married soon. This was apparently untrue.
The Money family had been reasonably well off and owned several properties. The siblings were intelligent and resourceful. But they seemed to spend their way through money, one way or another. Robert’s multiple murders followed a downward trend in his finances. While Mary may have committed suicide when her gambling related theft from her employer was about to be exposed.
On many websites today, the original police view that it was murder prevails – and that it’s an unsolved murder. But in 1912 – after her brother’s appalling multiple murder – the ascendant view was suicide.
DISCOVER: More unsolved 19th century murders!
Merstham Tunnel – scene of a previous murder mystery
Merstham Tunnel had achieved notoriety before. In 1881, a banker, 64-year-old Frederick Isaac Gold, was murdered by Percy Lefroy Mapleton, a 22-year-old journalist.
He attacked Gold while sitting opposite him in a train carriage as they went through the Merstham Tunnel and their fight continued for half an hour until the banker was thrown from the train in the Balcombe Tunnel. Lefroy was arrested, tried, and hanged at the town of Lewes.