Mamie Stuart: Sunderland burial for 1919 murder victim

By Catherine Lee
BBC News

  • Published
Mamie StuartImage source, Family handout
Image caption,
Mamie Stuart was last heard from at Christmas 1919

A woman whose body was found more than four decades after she went missing in 1919 has finally been buried.

Mamie Stuart's dismembered body was discovered in 1961 in an abandoned lead mine in Wales, 42 years after her family last heard from her.

Last year, her great-niece found out Ms Stuart's remains had been stored in a cupboard in a Cardiff forensic laboratory for almost 60 years.

She has now been laid to rest alongside her parents in Sunderland.

The burial was possible thanks to the efforts of Ms Stuart's great-niece Susie Oldnall and a forensic pathologist she described as an "absolute stalwart".

Bigamous marriage

Ms Stuart was born in Sunderland and left home in her teens to work on the stage as a dancer.

In 1918 she married George Shotton, a Welsh marine engineer, and they set up home at various addresses in Wales.

Her last contact with her family was at Christmas 1919, who reported Ms Stuart, then aged 26, missing.

Her husband was questioned on suspicion of murder but there was not enough evidence to charge him, although it did emerge Shotton had married her bigamously and so he served a prison term for that.

In 1961 bones and jewellery were discovered in an abandoned mineshaft on the Gower peninsula in Wales and were later identified as belonging to Ms Stuart.

By then Shotton had died, but suspicions remained that he had murdered his wife.

Image source, Family photo
Image caption,
Susie Oldnall says she "feels much better" knowing that her great aunt has been laid to rest

Mrs Oldnall, whose grandmother was Ms Stuart's sister, described the story as "an exciting thing to tell friends".

"She was a doll, apparently a bit of a one, left home in her teens to go on the stage," she said.

"But she was strong too, I heard something about her being part of a dance troupe which didn't get paid so she took out an injunction.

"Then she got married and went away with him, but they were a close family so when she didn't get in touch they knew something had happened to her.

"It was pretty sensational at the time, there was a big manhunt looking in all parts of the world, then it was a big thing when the body was found, but we thought that was it."

'Not having this'

However, when Mrs Oldnall was approached for a programme on the CBS Reality channel about unsolved murders, she learned Ms Stuart's remains had not been buried but were being stored in the laboratory.

Mrs Oldnall said: "So her story had gone from something finished to this. I'm not religious but I thought it was awful.

"She had this turn in life and was murdered and cut up and put in a cave in the dark for 40 years, then for another 60 she was in a cupboard, brought out every now and then, presumably to show budding pathology students.

"I thought, no, no, I'm not having this."

She got in touch with the laboratory's senior forensic pathologist Dr Stephen Leadbeatter, whom she described as "an absolute stalwart, very supportive".

"He told me that he hadn't known what to do with the remains," she said.

"People were telling him to get rid of them but he said 'I don't like doing that because you never know if a relative will come forward', and of course you don't, but in this case I did."

Image source, Family photo
Image caption,
Mamie Stuart is now buried alongside her father James (pictured) and mother Jane

It was decided Ms Stuart should be laid to rest with her parents James and Jane.

Unsure where they were buried, Mrs Oldnall contacted Margaret Hedley, a family history researcher based on Wearside, who tracked them down to Bishopwearmouth Cemetery in Sunderland.

Mrs Oldnall obtained a casket from a friend and contacted Dr Leadbeatter to collect the remains.

"But he told me, no he'd come to me," she said.

"And he did, on a Sunday, driving all the way to Uffington [in Oxfordshire].

"He didn't want me to have them hanging around for a long time, so after he drove back and my husband and I set straight off."

Image source, Google
Image caption,
The family are now buried in an unmarked grave in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery

The burial took place at Bishopwearmouth Cemetery in December.

"We put the casket in, there were some flowers, we said a few words, and then we drove home, that was it," Mrs Oldnall said.

"It's rather a weird thing. All the records to do with Mamie have been destroyed.

"I think there was a fire in the hotel where a suitcase of hers was found, then the police station with records had been bombed - in the way almost as if her trail had been wiped out.

"She's been treated with such lack of dignity, and now she's with her parents.

"I'm not religious, but I do feel much better about it now."

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