The Crime Readers' Association

The Mystery of the Two Suitcases

A Valentine's Crampton of the Chronicle mystery by Peter Bartram

It happened on Valentine’s Day, 1965…


“We’ve got the evening all to ourselves.” My girlfriend Shirley raised her glass of white wine.

I hoisted my gin and tonic. We clinked glasses and wished each other a happy Valentine’s Day.

“It’s great to have a night off from the Chronicle,” I said. “But it very nearly didn’t happen. My news editor wants a front-page story from me by the morning.”

“’Coz he can’t bear to bring out a paper without the byline Colin Crampton in it.”

I looked into Shirley’s mocking eyes. She was every inch the Valentine girl. Her blonde bob of hair curled round her face – and when she smiled, she looked like a happy china doll.

We were at a corner table in the Railway Bell, a pub just outside Brighton station. The Dave Clark Five were belting out Glad All Over on the juke box. A smoochie couple on the next table looked as though they would be by the end of the night.

“So, what would you like for your Valentine’s treat?” Shirley said.

I grinned.

“Before that,” she said. Shirley came from Australia and had a direct way with her. She said what she meant – even if the guy on the receiving end didn’t like it. But I usually did.

“I thought we’d have a quiet dinner at the Four Aces, then home for an early night,” I said.

This time, Shirley grinned.

I was about to suggest another drink before we moved on when a heavy hand landed on my shoulder. I looked round. A thin man with a whiskery chin and watery eyes was looking down at me.

“Colin Crampton, isn’t it?” he said. “You’re that crime correspondent. Remember me? Charlie Dixon. From the left luggage office in Brighton station. You interviewed me six months ago about the body in the cabin trunk.”

I hadn’t forgotten. I had briefly thought I’d uncovered another murder. The first trunk murders had taken place way back in 1934, long before more time. The dismembered torso of a woman turned up in a trunk deposited among Brighton’s left luggage. It was the first of a string of grisly murders the police uncovered.

This time around, the body turned out to be a shop-window mannequin. It had been ordered by a dress shop in the town and they’d forgotten to collect it. I’d been the real dummy for wasting time on a bum tip-off.

Charlie pulled up a chair. “Don’t mind if I join you? Only, I’ve got another hot tip.”

I glanced at Shirley and shrugged.

Charlie missed the body language and ploughed on. “Well, it goes like this,” he said. “Yesterday morning, a tall geezer comes into the left luggage office and hands over a reclaim ticket for a blue suitcase. Battered job it was, with a stain on one side.”

I winked at Shirley. “Man claims luggage sensation. Hold the front page!”

Charlie ignored that and said: “Two hours later, he’s back with a red suitcase – brand new – and deposits it.”

“Man leaves suitcase scandal,” I said.

“I know what you’re thinking. Waste of time. But listen to this bit. This morning, the geezer’s wife comes in with the same battered old blue suitcase and asks us whether we’ve handed over the wrong one. Well, we hadn’t. But she makes a song and dance about it and eventually clears off in high dudgeon.”

“Angry woman in suitcase muddle,” I said.

“Thirty minutes later, the tall geezer is back to claim the red suitcase he’d deposited the day before.”

I took a strengthening pull at my G&T. “No doubt you could write a book about luggage movements at the station, Charlie. But where’s all this leading?”

“Well, here’s the point,” Charlie said. “I happen to know that the tall geezer and his wife live just up the hill from the station in Buckingham Road. I’ve seen the wife come out of the corner house with the bright red door. While I’m on my way to work, you understand. So why should they want to leave suitcases in the left luggage when they live so close nearby?”

“Did you ask them?” I asked.

Charlie’s lips pursed in a disapproving moue. “Couldn’t do that. More than my…”

“…job’s worth,” I said. “So, we’ll never know.”

“There’s something else. I work early shifts. But I mentioned it to Arthur Grover who does lates. He remembers the blue suitcase being handed in originally by a posh bloke two days ago. Pulled up outside in a Bentley. Big maroon job. Arthur wondered why a bloke with a flash car should have such a cheap case.”

“Because he’d spent all his money on the car.” Shirley chipped in her twopennyworth.

“Well, just thought I’d let you know.” Charlie sloped off to the bar to buy another pint.

Shirley’s eyes narrowed. “You’re thinking of something.”

“It was Charlie’s last point,” I said. “Could be just a coincidence. But the only maroon Bentley I’ve ever seen around Brighton belongs to Hector Summerfield.”

“You mean the slimeball who owns the Majestic hotel?”

“The very same.”

“I knew a chambermaid who worked there. Word among the girls was you kept your back to the wall when he was around. More arms than a gospel choir – know what I mean?”

I nodded. “So why,” I said, “was he depositing a tatty blue suitcase in the left luggage?”

“And why was it collected by the tall geezer?” Shirley said.

“Who later deposited his own red case?” I added.

We looked at each other and both knew our plans for Valentine night had just changed.


“There are three characters in this mystery – Hector Summerfield, the tall geezer, and the geezer’s wife,” I said. “But the only one who’s handled both blue and red suitcases is the tall geezer.”

“All three of them know about the blue case,” Shirley said.

“But Summerfield and the wife don’t know about the red one. So that’s why we start with the tall geezer.”

We were huffing and puffing our way up the hill to Buckingham Road. The street lights were on. The evening was cool. Dinner was postponed.

“There’s another puzzle,” I said. “Why did Summerfield never come back to reclaim the blue suitcase?”


It wasn’t difficult to spot the house with the scarlet door.

We walked up some steps. A helpful card beside the doorbell read: “Bert and Sadie Protheroe”.

I pressed the bell. Footsteps hurried up the hall. The door was opened by a man who could’ve been a poster boy for tall geezers. Six feet three in his socks, I’d have said. Spindly legs and a lanky frame that would give bean poles a bad name.

But he had a welcoming smile on his face, as though he was expecting someone. The smile faded when he saw we weren’t the visitor he’d thought we were.

“Mr Bert Protheroe?” I asked.

He nodded. “And who are you?”

I grinned. “My name is Arthur Grover from the left luggage office at Brighton station. And this,” I stood to one side to let him see Shirley, “is my assistant, Miss Sowerbutts.”

Shirley kicked me in the ankle. I winced.

“We’d just like to clear up a discrepancy in our paperwork,” I said. “It’s about the blue and red suitcases. Shouldn’t take a minute. May we come in?”

Wrinkles furrowed on Bert’s forehead. I thought I saw a flash of fear in his grey eyes.

He glanced at his watch. “I can spare you five minutes. I’m expecting somebody.”

He turned and marched down the hall. We followed. I closed the door behind me but left it on the latch.

Bert led us into a small sitting room crammed with dowdy furniture. He gestured us to a sofa behind the door. We sat.

“Is your wife in?” I asked.

“Sadie’s out. She works as a waitress at the Majestic Hotel. Never gets back until eleven. Often later. Besides, what’s this got to do with her?”

“It’s about the blue suitcase she brought to the left luggage office this morning. The one you’d collected yesterday.”

“Sadie took the suitcase back to the left luggage?” It was clear from Bert’s puzzled frown that he hadn’t known about her visit.

“Seemed she thought the blue suitcase you’d collected was the wrong one. Just so we can check, could you confirm what was in it?”

“I don’t know that’s got anything to do…”

The front door slammed shut and a pair of serious stilettos clicked their way up the hall. A large woman with beehive hair burst into the room.

She was wearing a long and sumptuous mink coat.

She flashed heavily mascaraed eyes at Bert. Didn’t notice Shirley and me sitting behind the door.

“Bertie, I love it, I love it,” she cried. She hugged the coat to herself in an ecstasy of delight. “A perfect Valentine’s present.”

Bert started to speak: “Candy—”

But Candy was brooking no interruptions. This was her moment in the limelight. Nothing was going to stop her being the star of this show.

“And to show how much I love you, you’ll never guess what I’m wearing underneath it.”

Her hands deftly slipped the mink from her shoulders and it fell to the floor.

“Jeez,” said Shirley, “I’ve not seen a bum like that since the hippo house at the zoo.”


“When Candy walked in with the mink, it all became clear,” I said.

Shirley and I were sitting at the window alcove table at the Four Aces. The lights were low. The music was soft. We were eating lobster Newburg and drinking champagne.

We’d hastily made our excuses and left while Bert was recovering his composure and Candy what remained of her modesty.

“When Bert told me that Sadie worked at the Majestic, I realised Summerfield must have given her the ticket for the blue suitcase he’d deposited in the left luggage,” I said.

“But why?” Shirley asked.

“She’s been having an affair with Summerfield,” I said. “He wanted to give her a mink coat as a Valentine’s present.”

“Expensive present,” Shirley said. “The bloke must be loaded.”

“He is. But plainly Sadie couldn’t take home an expensive coat without Bert asking some awkward questions. So, Sadie and Summerfield devised a sneaky plan. Summerfield stashed the mink in the blue suitcase and deposited it in the left luggage office. He gave the reclaim ticket to Sadie. She crumpled it and rubbed it on the ground. Made it look like it had been lost and trampled. Then she showed it to her husband Bert and pretended she’d found it in the street.”

“Sneaky. But why didn’t Bert insist on handing the ticket in as lost property?”

“I imagine any woman who’s attracted Summerfield’s interest has a strong mind of her own. She probably used the finders-keepers argument on Bert. He looked like the kind of bloke who’d agree to anything to avoid an argument.”

“Yeah. Let us in, didn’t he?”

“The really cunning bit of Sadie’s plan was to persuade Bert to go and collect the case. If he believed she’d never seen the case before, Sadie could have had nothing to do with the contents.”

“All the time thinking that when he got the case home, opened it and found it contained a mink, he wouldn’t be able to resist giving the coat to her,” Shirley said.

“Exactly. But she’d overlooked one important point.”

“Other women love mink coats,” said Shirley.

“And Bert obviously opened the case before he took it home. He discovered the mink and decided that it would make the perfect gift for his own bit-on-the-side, Candy.”

“So, he transferred the mink to the red suitcase and stashed it in the left luggage office while he arranged to have it delivered to her as a Valentine’s gift.”

“And probably filled the blue suitcase with some cheap cast-offs from Mangy Mabel’s second-hand clothes shop before giving it to Sadie,” I said.

“She must have been furious when she opened the case,” Shirley said.

“But she couldn’t say so. She can’t be sure what’s happened to the coat. Perhaps she wonders whether someone in the lost property office took it. And she can’t raise the matter with Bert without blowing open her affair with Summerfield.”

“And he won’t want to alert his own wife that he’s been playing away from home.”

“Trouble is I don’t have a story to satisfy my news editor. None of them are going to own up to what’s really happened.”

“So, no big scoop,” Shirley said.

“But we’ve learnt something.”

“What’s that?”

“There’s a lot of truth in that old proverb ‘love will find a way’.”

Shirley shot me a wicked grin. “And I suppose you’re going to show me the way you had in mind.”

“I’ll raise a toast to that,” I said.

We clinked glasses and drank a Valentine’s toast to lovers everywhere.


Author’s note. I based this story on a real caper which took place in Paris in 1953. The real-life Sadie was called Henrietta. Her husband (Bert in the story) was a tradesman from Aix-en-Provence and her lover (Summerfield) was a rich leather merchant. Henrietta’s husband recovered the suitcase with, she thought, the mink in it. But when she opened it, out fell a pair of old pyjamas and a shaving brush. Henrietta screamed blue murder – and the case ended up in the divorce court where custody of the mink coat was the central question.


Peter Bartram is the author of the Crampton of the Chronicle mysteries. The latest is The Family Tree Mystery:

Read more about Peter here:

View all stories

Join the CRA

Joining the CRA is FREE. There are no lengthy forms to fill out and we need nothing but your email. You will receive a regular newsletter but no spam.