This story is reproduced from The Black Country Bugle - a local paper which carries many fascinating stories. The tale of Vanishing Violet appeared in March 2004
The Strange Case of Vanishing Violet
We all love a good mystery, whether it’s a gripping detective yarn, or a real event. So when people suddenly go missing, speculation inevitably runs riot. Remember the respective disappearing acts of Lord Lucan, and Midland M.P. John Stonehouse? The media ran wild with weird and wonderful theories.
Back in Edwardian times, such cases attracted the same media interest. So when a former Wolverhampton resident disappeared, in odd circumstances, tongues were set wagging. In January 1909, an incident known as the “Welsh Cliff Mystery”, involving the disappearance of former Wolverhampton socialite, Violet Charlesworth, seized the public’s attention. The whole country wanted to know what had happened to Violet. The real-life Edwardian mystery was enough to baffle even Agatha Christie’s great fictional detective, Hercules Poirot!
At its heart, was pretty, young Violet Charlesworth, reported to have been involved in a tragic car accident in Wales. In the early hours of a moonlit January morning, Violet was said to have been hurled to her death, over the cliffs near Penmaenmawr. But, despite a thorough search of the area, there was no trace of Violet’s body. And the explanations given by the “survivors” of the accident just didn’t add up.
The papers went into feeding frenzy, as the plot thickened. Violet was supposed to have been travelling with her sister and her chauffeur, both of whom suffered only minor injuries in the alleged accident. Suspicions were further aroused since the car had only suffered “trivial damage”. So what had really happened, and where was Violet?
The stories given out by the sister and chauffeur were extremely shaky, fuelling widespread rumours that Violet had faked her own death. Soon, there were countless reported sightings of her across the country as gossip about the vanishing lady reached fever pitch.
Violet was said to have been seen boarding a ship at Holyhead, obviously fleeing abroad. Other reports told of sightings in Ireland and Sussex. Then, a man called Roberts came forward with an alleged eye-witness account. Roberts claimed he’d been in the vicinity of the alleged tragedy when he heard the sound of an approaching car engine. He described seeing the car on the brink of the cliffs. The next minute he heard the sound of breaking glass. He also claimed that Violet’s sister told him there had been an accident, and that a lady had gone over the cliff. Roberts said he searched the area, but no body was found on the rocks below, or in the water.
Violet was something of a shadowy character, so it’s little wonder her disappearance caused such speculation. Originally from Stafford, she was well known in Wolverhampton social circles. Wulfrunians described her as always being smartly dressed, with a pretty figure. But few really knew much more about her. For a while, she lived in Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton. Apparently, in some style! She was known as “lady of wealth” and had a reputation for speculating, on a large scale, on the Stock Exchange.
Whatever her circumstances, Violet was a familiar figure in the Tettenhall Road and Whitmore Reans areas of Wolverhampton. She was frequently seen out walking with her inseparable companion, a massive St Bernard dog. By all accounts she was friendly, often stopping for a chat with local tramworkers. Sporting the latest fashions, the attractive young woman cut quite a dash, with a faint air of romance and mystery about her. Which, on its own, was enough to get her noticed. And, to the delight of local gossips, it was generally thought she’d inherited a great fortune.
But, as time passed, and Violet was nowhere to be found, uglier rumours surfaced. A Derby woman claimed Violet had borrowed £500 from her, on the strength of a will she was expecting to come into. So was Violet a clever con artist, on the run from her victims, and other creditors?
It seemed Violet may have owed vast sums of money. She certainly had lavish tastes, and maintaining her expensive lifestyle, and cars didn’t come cheap. After her disappearance, a London stockbroker claimed she owed him more than £10,000, which she’d lost on dodgy business deals. Not surprisingly there were many rumours she was on the run, and heading for a new life in Australia!
Vanishing Violet was shrouded in mystery, and public speculation ran wild. There were rumours of a secret and shameful romance. And, in those distinctly “unliberated” times, when women weren’t even allowed to vote, as a wealthy, young, single female on the loose, she was seen as a threat. Was she a calculating con artist, a goldigger on the make? Or did she simply run up too many debts with her taste for the good life? Did she really plunge to her death in Wales? Or did she fake a fatal accident, to start a new life elsewhere? We’ll probably never know.
The only certainty is that Violet’s creditors were asking the same questions. Just weeks after her disappearance, a 25th birthday party for the missing Violet was held at her last known address. Creditors and other interested parties filled the house in St Asaph, in Wales, but they waited in vain. Violet never showed up.
Disgruntled creditors seized her household possessions. But with Violet’s debts amounting to £13,000, money from the sale of her furniture barely covered the rent she owed.
According to one of her friends, Violet had an artistic streak. Apparently, she was a songwriter, with enough confidence in her work to send a song, entitled “Come Back to Scotland”, to the King. Another copy was sent to famous Scottish comedian, Sir Harry Lauder. But this tiny glimpse into her character is just one piece in a puzzling jigsaw of a life. And the vanishing lady remains an enigma.
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