MURDER ON THE BRIGHTON EXPRESS
MURDER ON THE BRIGHTON EXPRESS:
THE 1881 CASE OF PERCY LEFROY MAPLETON
by Adam Wood
“As the train entered the Merstham tunnel, a Brighton chemist named William Gibson heard four or five loud bangs, which he took to be fog signals. The reports followed one after the other, all in the space of five or six seconds. The train continued on its journey.”
At 3.20pm on the hot afternoon of 27th June 1881, the London to Brighton express train pulled into Preston Park, a mile from its final destination. As the ticket collectors approached the carriages, one saw a thin, sickly looking man sitting in a first-class compartment beckoning him over. As the official arrived at the window, he saw that the passenger’s face and neck were smeared with blood, and there was a clot beside an ear. There was blood between his fingers, blood upon his clothes, blood in the carriage and blood upon the train’s footboard, which also bore the marks of bloodstained fingerprints. The carriage was otherwise empty.
A terrible tale was told of being attacked and shot at by two other passengers, who had now disappeared ‒ apparently from the moving train ‒ before falling into unconsciousness until arriving at Preston Park.
As the passenger stepped onto the platform, it was noticed that a small chain was hanging out of his left shoe. One of the ticket collectors stooped to pull on it, and a gold, white-faced watch emerged. The passenger had, he said, put it there for safekeeping.
So began the extraordinary story of Percy Lefroy Mapleton. During his return journey to south London accompanied by two railway police officers, a body was found by workers on the tracks in Balcombe Tunnel, eighteen miles before Preston Park. Was this one of Lefroy’s attackers, or was there something more sinister behind the discovery?
Illustrated / bibliography / index.
This book is an edited amalgation of the chapter on Percy Lefroy Mapleton in Adam Wood's Swanson: The Life and Times of a Victorian Detective and his book Trial of Percy Lefroy Mapleton.