The Thundersley Tragedy

By 1926 the family of Ettore Piombini and Victorina Pyle had started to run a boarding house business at Kiln Road in Thundersley in Essex. I’m unsure of actual location in Kiln road. The property was referred to as “Sunnyside” in the 1920’s and later “Kit Cat House” on Ettore’s death certificate in 1934.

Kiln Road c.1937

Tragedy struck the family when their daughter Augusta Violetta Piombini died aged 21, due to a wound to her throat inflicted by a razor.

Violetta’s Death Register Entry

This incident was covered in the newspapers nationally throughout the summer of 1926.

Birmingham Weekly Mercury 16th May 1926

A Dutch painter and decorator employed by the Piombini family named Johannes Mommers was tried and found guilty of murder and was subsequently hung at Pentonville prison later in the same year.

A transcript of the above article from the Birmingham Weekly Mercury dated 16th May 1926 appears below.

“Save Me, Mummy!” : Arrest Of a Dutchman.

From Our Own Correspondent. SOUTHEND-ON-SEA. Saturday.

A London man named Johannes Joseph Cornelius Mommers, aged 42. is in custody on a charge of murdering Miss Augusta Violette Piombini, aged 21, who lived with her parents at Sunnyside, Thundersley near Southend-on-Sea.

The tragedy was reported in the strike edition of the Sunday Mercury last week.

The accused, a master house decorator. Carried on a business in Lillie-road, Fulham. He comes from a Dutch family but speaks English well.

The dead girl’s father is a waiter at the Cafe Monica [sic] ( Actually Monico), London. Five years ago he and his wife and two daughters – Augusta was the younger – took up their abode in Essex and have been running Sunnyside as a boarding house, managed by Mrs. Piombini and her daughters.

A few months ago Mommers undertook, to thoroughly repair and renovate Sunnyside. His relations with the Piombini family were very friendly, and about a fortnight ago he became a border at Sunnyside.

Since then, he had on several occasions, been seen in the company of Augusta, a good-looking quiet well dressed girl but their companionship was looked upon as of a purely friendly nature. No suspicion otherwise or that anything was amiss was aroused when they were last seen together at about half-past nine o’clock on Friday evening, 7 May.

Half an hour later the girl, bleeding from a gash in the throat, ran into her parent’s house and collapsed on a bed in an upstairs room. Within two hours she was dead. In the meantime, she had been attended by two doctors, each of whom on seeing the girl, said it was impossible to save her life owing to the depth of the Wound.

When Mrs. Piombini saw her daughter on the bed she called to a neighbour, Mr. Albert Donoghue, who was his garden, “Come at once! Girlie has had her throat cut.”

Mr. Donoghue was quickly on the spot. On reaching Sunnyside’s garden he observed a pool of blood near the door and there was a blood trail up the stairs to the bedroom.

As Mommers had not been seen since 9.30 the police lost no time in searching the countryside. He was arrested on Gray’s Hall-hill and formally remanded on a charge of murdering the girl, and will again be taken before the justice after the resumption of the coroner’s inquest which has been adjourned until next Friday.

When taken into custody. Mommer’s replied, “I am saying nothing.”

On being told by the magistrate. who formally remanded him, that he could attend the opening of the inquest if he wished to do so, he expressed a desire to be present. He did attend and in the course of the proceedings put a question to the dead girl’s mother, ” who, dressed in black and accompanied by the elder daughter, was deeply agitated.

According to Mrs. Piombini’s evidence. Mommners had slept and boarded at her house since 3 May. Two and a half hours before the girl ran into the house with her throat cut, on the night of 7 May. Mommers and the girl had left the house together.

The Coroner: “Had he out with your daughter before that day?”
Mrs. Piombini: “I understand that he went to Southend the previous day and that my daughter accompanied him.”

The mother added that on the morning of 6 May, the accused left the house saying that he was going to London to see her husband. Returning in the afternoon. Mommer’s seemed to be quite rational and sober and that he had seen Mr. Piombini about some money.

Later the same day Augusta said to her mother. “Peter (Mommers) has asked I would mind £400 for him and I said I would have to speak to you about it.”

Continuing, Mrs. Piombini said that in the evening of 6 May Mommers invited her and her two daughters to go with him to the pictures at Southend. The mother declined the offer but consented to the deceased going when Mommers asked, “Can ‘Girlie’ go?”

The Coroner: “Did your daughter say anything when you found her with her throat cut?”
The mother: “She said “Save me mummy! Save me.” I asked her Whether Peter had done it and she gurgled something which I could not understand.”
The Coroner: “How long had you known Mommers on sufficiently familiar terms as to call him ‘Peter’ ?”
The mother: “About five years. He and his wife occupied a bedroom at a house in Fulham belonging to my husband.”
The accused: “Did I take your daughter out every day ?”
The mother: “Oh, no; but you took her out more than once.”
The Coroner: “We shall go more fully into evidence when the Enquiry is resumed.”

John Bull 3rd July 1926

I have a large collection of newspaper articles relating to this incident. All tell this very sad story in some detail. Some were insistent that Violetta had committed suicide. In particular, a “John Bull” Column as shown above promoted this theory.

Leicester Evening Mail – Friday 21st May 1926

The judge at the trial was Sir Montague Shearman shown above. I now have the full case files from the National Archives, which consist of 180 pages of documents including coroner’s reports, letters, witness testimonies, etc.

Sunday post June 25th 1926

There was an appeal that failed, with some newspapers reporting on a statement made by the then Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks to that effect.

UK Calendar of prisoners 1926
Chelmsford Chronicle – 30th July 1926

This was a terrible sequence of events for all parties involved. I currently do not have a single photograph of Augusta Violetta which is quite sad.