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Death of the Coventry “Dancing Queen”

“She was found reclining in a chair and was obviously dead from the most apparent glance” – Professor James Webster (examining pathologist)                            

The city of Coventry is the 12th largest city in the United Kingdom, and apart from being known as the place where, in history, Lady Godiva rode naked through the city on horseback to protest against high taxes being levied on the city folk, it is also well known for the mass destruction inflicted upon it during bombing by the Luftwaffe in the Second World War. Indeed, following the most intense bombing campaign of the war on 14 November 1940, so much of the city was destroyed and so much destruction reigned, that Joseph Goebbels coined the phrase “coventried”, which was used by himself afterwards whenever describing similar levels of destruction to other targets. After the war, the city was restored and many families who had lived through began to rebuild their lives. The Mogano family, who lived in the Coventry district of Radford, were one such family.

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Penelope and Carlo Mogano

The Mogano family consisted of 46 year old Carlo Mogano, his 45 year old wife Penelope, and their two sons. Although of Italian heritage, Carlo and Penelope had met on the Isle of Wight, where both had been born and brought up. They had married in the 1930’s, and had moved up to Coventry, where Carlo worked in the Daimler factory. Carlo and Penelope were separated for a while when the house that they lived in was destroyed during the bombings of the Second World War. As a result, Penelope and the two children returned to live in their home town of Ryde on the Isle Of Wight, returning to live in Coventry at a new house following the close of the Second World War.  By 1951, the Mogano family had settled in a house at number 7 Holland Road, Radford, and life adopted a “make do and mend” pattern, as was commonplace back then. Carlo had risen to the position of production manager at the Daimler factory by 1951, with Penelope a full time housewife and mother. The couple were respected and thought of highly amongst friends and neighbours, with their interests centering around family life, their garden, and the old style ballroom dancing – of which the Mogano’s were very enthusiastic about and a scene they were heavily involved with.

Monday 18th January 1954 was a bitterly cold winter’s day, and as usual Carlo and Adrian, the Mogano’s youngest son, had come home from work and school respectively for lunch. Penelope had made their lunch, and had planned to visit the couple’s friends, Mr and Mrs Sydney Worrell, to take afternoon tea with them at 3:00pm. Both Carlo and Adrian left the house to return to work and school at 1:45pm. Adrian was late returning home that day, as he had been asked by his mother to collect laundry on his way home from school, but when he did return at 4:50pm, he found both the front and back doors locked. With no answer after repeated knocking, Adrian waited on the doorstep, thinking his mother had been held up at the Worrell’s house. When Carlo arrived home from work an hour later and Adrian was still on the doorstep freezing, father and son were both perplexed, then concerned, and entered the house.

Entering the house, nothing seemed to be in disarray. The kitchen was clean and tidy and all of the crockery had been washed and put away, although there were no signs of any preparation for the families evening meal. The lounge was tidy, with all brasses polished and the fire cleaned out and swept, ready for that evening. When Carlo went through to the dining room, however, he made a horrific discovery. Slumped in a chair, almost unrecognisable, was the body of his wife. Blood covered the entire room, the walls ran with it and the ceiling, floor and easy chair she was slumped in were saturated with it. Penelope had been savagely, almost maniacally, been battered to death – so viciously had she been attacked that the majority of her head had been caved in. Her face had also been horrifically mutilated. A bloodstained 12inch carving knife lay across Penelope’s lap. Shaken and grief stricken, Carlo ushered his son out of the house and called the police.

Police who arrived on the scene found no signs of any ransacking of the property, and nothing appeared to have been stolen. Whilst the body of Penelope Mogano was taken away for a post-mortem, the house was sealed and a forensic examination of the scene began. House to house enquiries got underway, an incident room was set up, and Carlo Mogano was taken into Coventry Police Headquarters for questioning – as the obvious suspect. After a ten hour interview, he was released the following morning – with police satisfied that he was not responsible for the savage murder of his wife. Carlo remained dignified and mystified as to who would want to kill Penelope, and why, and offered police as much assistance as he possibly could.

“There were no secrets between my wife and myself, and she had no particular dance partner other than me. As far as I know she hadn’t an enemy in the world. I think it was impossible that she knew her attacker” – Carlo Mogano

Shaken by such a brutal crime and believing that they were hunting “a maniac”, the Chief Constable of Coventry Police, Edward Pendleton, was quick to summon the assistance of Scotland Yard detectives. Detective Superintendent John Edmunds and Detective Sergeant Ted Williams were subsequently despatched to Coventry to assist and advise on the investigation. Whilst the Mogano’s life and background was looked at in an attempt to establish a motive and/or any suspects, detectives awaited the results of the post mortem.

The post-mortem report on Penelope Mogano was disturbing, and gives a hint as to the exact horror and brutality of the murder. Extracts from the final report are as follows:

“Obviously she had very grave injuries, she was fully clothed and had injuries of more than three types. The total number of injuries was 25. The first were defensive or protective injuries to her hands which she had held up to protect herself. The second type were severe facial mutilations made with an instrument such as a knife and focused around the mouth. This not only severed the lips but served to cut the tongue in half also. The third group of injuries were the most serious and were inflicted by a blunt instrument, most likely a hammer. So great was the damage that she had no floor to the base of the skull. This had caused considerable damage to the brain, and she was almost bled white. This had been a healthy woman, and the cause of death was shock due to multiple injuries, including gross skull fracture and lacerations to the brain” – Professor James Webster (conducting pathologist)

The pathologist reported that there were no signs of any sexual assault, and with no signs of robbery or ransacking, why had Penelope been targeted and killed in such a brutal, horrific way?

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One of the final photographs of Penelope Mogano

The time of death was estimated at being no later than 4:00pm, but Penelope had never arrived at the Worrell’s house for 3:00pm as expected. She was alive when Carlo and Adrian left the house at about 1:45pm, so this gave police a window of just over an hour, during which it was believed Penelope had met her brutal death. Evidence supporting this timeframe was found in the house also. On the bed in the main bedroom, a clean and laundered dress was laid out. When Penelope was found, she was wearing “house clothes covered by an apron”. Her husband was insistent that Penelope, who took pride in her appearance and dress, would never have gone visiting dressed in such a way, nor would she have invited in any caller dressed in such a manner. The scene almost suggested that Penelope was preparing to change clothes to keep her afternoon tea appointment when the killer struck. Yet there was no sign of a break in, and the killer had locked both doors when leaving – so it appeared that Penelope invited her killer in. This left police with three theories: Penelope had been killed by a stranger posing as an official of some kind; Penelope had been killed by a person that she knew well, or Penelope had been killed by a couple, again people that she knew.

Police investigation into Penelope’s life found nothing that would stand out and mark her for someone wanting her dead. The Mogano’s were the height of respectability, and there was no evidence found of either Penelope or Carlo having an affair. Enquiries revealed that the couple’s social life focused mainly around old time ballroom dancing, where they were active members of Radford’s Savoy Ballroom. From the beginning of the enquiry, police focused upon this, believing the key to unlocking the murder would be found in this line of enquiry.  Perhaps a jealous dance partner? All members of the dancing club were spoken to but this advanced the enquiry no further, apart from police learning one thing. In September 1953, Penelope had made steps to change her lifestyle. The Mogano’s had previously been involved in fostering children, and at that time had a foster child living with them. Without any warning, and for reasons that are unclear, Penelope had withdrawn all involvement with the foster services and the child had returned to the children’s home. She had also resigned from the Radford Townswomen’s Guild, of which she had been an active member, giving the reason that she was exhausted from the regular dances she and Carlo attended, and needed to rest in the afternoons. But from December 1953, she had been seen on several occasions leaving the house in the afternoons with a pair of dancing shoes wrapped in brown paper. Carlo, when asked about his wife’s movements, was unaware of these excursions, and was unable to explain where Penelope had been going. Nor could any of her close friends, who were equally mystified. Had she been taking secret lessons from a dance partner or instructor? Despite a widespread appeal, no-one came forward to say that they had been instructing or dancing with Penelope during this time. Where had she been going?

Holland Road 2014

Police searched the house in its entirety, and a thorough search of all open areas and gardens of Radford was conducted for the murder weapon, considered to have been a 2lb rounded head hammer. Drains were examined, ponds were dredged and Radford common was fingertip searched for the item, but it was never found. They did however manage to recover partial fingerprints from the crime scene, but this trail went cold when none of the partial prints were found to match any fingerprints that were held on police files. All local traders and delivery persons in the area were spoken to and eliminated. A check of all known violent local offenders was made, but one by one all of these were ruled out as suspects. Feeling that the person who committed the murder must have done so in a frenzy and with “maniacal force”, police even made checks with all mental hospitals in the county to ensure that a patient had not gone missing on the day of the murder – but this again drew a blank, as no one was reported as being unaccounted for. Police even took the then unprecedented step of compiling a questionnaire that was distributed to more than 1,500 homes in the Radford area. Simple, to the point and effective, it is reproduced here:

  1. Who are regular callers and what is the reason for them calling? Give date and time
  2. Other callers. Give date and time.
  3. Who called on January 18th? Time.
  4. Do you know Mrs Mogano?
  5. Did you see her on January 18th?
  6. Have you seen her with anyone other than her family?
  7. Who calls at 7 Holland Road regularly?
  8. Have you seen a car near 7 Holland Road?
  9. Are you interested in Old-Time dancing?
  10. Are you a member of the Townswomen’s Guild?
  11. Where were you between 2pm and 5pm on January 18th?
  12. Any other information?

It produced very little information. Nobody reported having heard any screams or shouting coming from 7 Holland Road at the crucial time, and nobody had been seen running from the Mogano house in bloodstained clothing. All people who were spoken to could provide alibi’s for the day of the murder. But the questionnaire and house to house enquiries did produce descriptions of two people that police wished to trace.

Reports came in of a man who had called at at least 20 houses in the Radford area on the pretence of being an electrical inspector. He had managed to con his way into several houses, always ones occupied by lone housewives, on the pretence that he needed to check points and switches for sources that may be causing reported electrical interference. Once inside, he would make what some classed as improper, others directly sexual, advances towards these women. He was described as being aged 25 to 30 years old, 5″2 to 5″6 tall, having thick wavy black hair, a full and rosy complexion, having a “nice, musical laugh”, and speaking with a London accent. He was said to be wearing a dirty, dark blue overcoat and a red plaid shirt, with no tie or hat. Reports of this man came in from all over the county, all stating that he had made improper suggestions and advances. Sightings of a person matching this description were reported as being in one of the pubs close to Holland Road, and intriguingly, lurking near bushes near the Savoy Ballroom in Radford. But perhaps most crucially, the man was reported as having called at the home of a housewife at 1:30pm on the day of Penelope’s murder – at a house just 180 yards away from number 7 Holland Road….

The other person police wished to trace was a man who was seen exiting a telephone box in nearby Heathcote Street, just 300 yards away from Holland Road, on the afternoon of the murder. At about 3:30pm, a witness saw a man leaving the kiosk with a makeshift bandage wrapped around his right hand. The bandage was heavily bloodstained. The man waited for a number of minutes after exiting the kiosk, so the witness, who was sat in a parked car nearby, was able to get a good look at him. He was described as being in his mid 20’s, about 5″6 tall, having dark hair and a sallow complexion, and wearing a black overcoat. After a number of minutes, the witness recalled him running off in the direction of nearby Keresley. What was likely the same man was spotted hitchhiking nearby about 30 minutes later by another witness. Some bloodstains were found in the kiosk, albeit more than a week after the murder, but could never be positively identified as being Penelope’s blood. Despite both witnesses trawling through several logbooks of criminal mug shots that police held on file, neither witness could identify the man they had seen.

Neither this man, nor the “bogus electrical inspector” were ever traced or identified.

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Press release following the funeral of Penelope Mogano

By the end of February 1954, the enquiry had stalled. Residents of the area were left scared in their own homes, chilled that someone the police described as “a maniac” was still at large. The questionnaire had only produced a few leads, all of which had been investigated but lead to dead ends. 25,000 statements had been taken and each one gave a solid alibi for the person concerned. No murder weapon had been found, and police were still trying to work out a possible motive for Penelope’s death. It led police to issue a statement saying that they believed the killer had been spoken to already, and that somebody was shielding him or her out of misguided loyalty or affection, out of fear, or perhaps out of guilt? When every lead available to investigating officers had been examined as fully as possible and had still not advanced the enquiry, it was eventually wound down. Although the file has never been closed, it was eventually classed some time later as an unsolved murder and was effectively left on file.

It is easy to sympathize with the police here. With the psychological profiling, HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System) computer system that collates all information concerning an investigation so that it is available at a keystroke, and advancements in DNA and forensic science that are investigative tools of today so commonplace, it is easy to overlook the fact that 63 years ago, none of this existed and police had to rely on the “knocking on doors” methods. Due to the lengthy passage of time since Penelope’s murder, the chance of a successful detection of her killer is now minimal bordering upon impossible. The killer would likely themselves be very elderly now, if not dead. Physical descriptions are moot now, and it is unknown if any of the items removed from the crime scene were retained for the possibility of DNA testing using the technology of today. Because it is impossible to ascertain the sex or indeed, number of the killer(s), or a clear motive, it is only the killers psychology that can be examined. Although no fingerprints on file matched ones taken from the Mogano dining room, TTCE believes that this was not the killer(s) first offence – this is a level of violence that is reached. It is easy to dismiss such brutality as “the work of a madman”, but this is unlikely. Although fingerprints were left at the scene, the killer showed enough awareness to be able to be admitted to the house without drawing any attention to themselves or suspicion. They brought and removed a weapon with them, they were also able to leave without being seen, suggesting a focused and organised killer, one likely very familiar with the Radford area, but not necessarily living there at the time. The killer(s) possibly owned or had access to a car also, unique at that time.

What then, was the motive for such a savage killing? Police considered and ruled out several different theories. It was not considered to have been for financial gain, or as part of a robbery gone wrong. Nothing was taken, the house wasn’t ransacked, and a robbery gone wrong would unlikely involve two different weapons. Although the mutilation and violence used is specific and prolific, and suggests someone who hated Penelope, ergo someone that knew her, it is difficult to believe that this as a reason would not have come to light with such an exhaustive in-depth police investigation. No concrete evidence was found to suggest that anyone bore her a grudge, but two bizarre incidents came to light that made police think that the Mogano’s DID have an enemy, perhaps one that stemmed from the dancing circles they were involved in. Just three nights before the murder, the home of Sidney Worrell -who lived nearby to the Mogano’s on Bassett Road and who was a leading figure in the dancing circles the Mogano’s belonged to -suffered an arson attack when person(s) unknown started a fire, using petrol, in his downstairs pantry through an open window. The fire was quickly extinguished and no one was hurt, however. Coupled to this was the fact that three months before Penelope was murdered, person(s) unknown placed petrol soaked rags underneath the bonnet of the Mogano’s car and set it alight. The car was not damaged too severely.

Were the two incidents connected, and was it somehow tied in with the dancing circles? It seems unlikely to have been some sort of grudge concerning dancing – as said before, any grudge or falling out would surely have been noticed by other club members and would have come to light during police enquiries. It is more likely that the two incidents of attempted arson were malicious pranks committed by youngsters out of devilment. Serious, determined arson aimed at a specific target would have been successfully carried out and brutal savage murder is a massive jump. It cannot be said definitively if it was a personal attack – although the severe mutilation and use of more than one weapon would suggest that the killer had targeted Penelope specifically. Police at the time of the initial investigation considered the possibility that the killer was a woman, or part of a couple. There are several aspects of the crime that suggest either as a possibility. Penelope may have allowed a female that she knew into her house because she didn’t recognise her as a threat. This woman may then have carried out the assault – most likely a hammer attack first that would have incapacitated Penelope and rendered her unconscious – then carried out the mutilation and cleaned up, perhaps hiding any bloodstained clothing with an overcoat when leaving. Or it could have been a couple, again that Penelope knew, and the couple could have wielded a weapon each? It is unlikely that anyone in 1954 seeing a couple leaving the murder scene would have associated them with murder. It did not happen – couples did not kill. It took the deeds of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley a decade later to make people aware that indeed, couples DO kill. Of course, with the lack of definitive evidence available concerning the Penelope Mogano case, this must all remain speculation.

Purely because Penelope had not been raped or interfered with, TTCE does not believe that the motive for the killing being sexual should be discounted purely for these reasons. TTCE had a very interesting conversation with retired police officer and published true crime author Chris Clark concerning the case. Chris is the author of the definitive book concerning other crimes committed by Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe (Chris’ book is reviewed here) and is very approachable and deeply knowledgeable concerning cold cases. Chris offered the opinion during our discussion that a possible suspect in Penelope’s murder is infamous Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel. The crimes of Manuel are well documented enough that recapping them here serves no purpose, but Manuel, who was hanged in 1958, is long suspected to have committed other murders across the UK. He was very familiar with the Coventry area, at one time living there, and was a known sex offender and deviant who was known to use a knife and blunt instruments as weapons. It is entirely possible that a sexual deviant killed Penelope, gaining sexual gratification from inflicting pain and seeing fear, and Manuel would certainly fit this criteria. It is possible that the killer gained arousal and masturbated from seeing the destruction inflicted. Possible, but unfortunately can never be proven. However, TTCE recognises the credibility of Manuel as a suspect very highly.

Whoever did kill Penelope Mogano, and why, remains today as much of a mystery as it did from that fateful day in 1954. Carlo Mogano lived for another 32 years afterwards, never knowing who had killed his wife right up until his death in March 1986. No one has ever come forward to confess to the murder, and no serious suspects have ever been publicly named, nor anyone ever charged in connection with the crime. Frustrating as every line of enquiry seemingly lead to a dead end, it seems that sadly due to the passage of time, coupled with the absence of any clear evidence pointing to any suspects, the murder of Penelope Mogano may forever remain in the annals of UK unsolved murders.

The True Crime Enthusiast

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8 thoughts on “Death of the Coventry “Dancing Queen” Leave a comment

  1. Another great read, it makes perfect sense that the killer was experienced given the ease at which access and exit was gained.

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  2. I think the killer was known to the victim, the violence used suggests jealousy or hatred. The murderer knew when Mrs Mogano would be alone in her home, it was a planned crime committed by someone who knew her well living in her locality. The two arson attacks are linked to the crime, and I believe that
    the partner of the murderer knew of their guilt but kept quiet.
    I think it strange that Mr Mogano and his two sons never made any appeals in the years after the murder for information that may have lead to a conviction. I remember as a child that a neighbour of ours was called upon to recover the chair that Mrs Mogano was found in,Mr Mogano later remarried and continued to dance with his new wife, an aunt of mine knew them from her interest in dancing.

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  3. Whomever she was meeting to “give dance lessons” sounds like the killer to me. The way her mouth and tongue was mutilated suggest the killer was keeping her quiet in a sense, silencing her. But why? Maybe he/she thought she was going to tell someone about their meetings, it sure seems like she hadn’t told a single person up to that point not even her best friend. The authorities believe a woman or couple may be to blame well this makes sense to me if a woman discovered these meetings and went to talk to/ confront her about them and either didn’t like the answer she got or went crazy with a jealous rage. I do hope the murderer’s identity is discovered someday, it sucks they never had to pay for their crime under man’s law but under God’s law now that’s a different story.

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  4. I’m afraid I can’t read a word because of the background patterns. A pity, as I’m interested in this case, and I’d like to know what is written here..

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