By John Macklin

The handsome bronzed man stood smartly to attention in the dock of London’s Old Bailey Number One court. A mauve silk handkerchief protruded from the breast pocket of his well-pressed blue suit.

It was hard to believe that this confident relaxed man was on trial for his life. Indeed there were many barristers in the sombre court-room on that autumn day in 1925 who were convinced that Patrick Mahon would walk out a free man.

His counsel, J.D Cassels KC, was reaching the climax of his cross-examination and Mahon had stood up well. Now came the vital question: “Did you desire the death of Emily Kaye?” “Certainly not”, Mahon replied “Never at any time.”

Then an extraordinary thing happened. As his confident and cocky reply rang out, a shaft of lightning flashed against the window-panes and lit up the courtroom, followed by a violent crack of thunder.

The effect on Patrick Mahon was dramatic. His confidence vanished and his face turned ash-grey. His eyes were full of fear as he slumped back in the witness-box and Mr Cassels hurriedly finished his cross-examination.

He knew what thunder and lightning evoked for his client… memories of a spring night the previous year when he committed murder in a whitewashed bungalow at Crumbles on England’s southern holiday coast.

To the day he died, a few weeks after his Old Bailey conviction, at the end of the hangman’s rope, Mahon never forgot seeing the head of the dead woman starkly illuminated by lightning. He wrote to a friend from the condemned cell: “I might have got away with it I except for what happened in the courtroom. That knocked the stuffing out of me…”

No one could deny that although handsome and intelligent, Patrick Mahon was a thoroughly bad man. The company who gave him a well-paid job as a sales manager never knew about his record which included robbery, assault and forging cheques.
Because of it he had to kill Emily Kaye, who had found out about his past and threatened to expose him unless he eloped with her overseas. The problem was that Mahon was married already. He was also only 34 and Emily was an overweight and dowdy 40-year-old.

Eventually he agreed to spend a weekend with her to discuss the situation and rented the bungalow at Crumbles, a remote shingle beach near Eastbourne. After the weekend, Emily was never seen alive again but there was nothing to connect Mahon with then disappearance until his wife found a left-luggage ticket in his pocket.

When police traced the ticket to a left-luggage locker at London’s Waterloo station they found a suitcase containing a cook’s knife and several possessions belonging to Emily Kaye.

At first Mahon denied everything. Then he made a statement admitting Emily was dead and that he had tried to burn her body in an attempt to destroy the evidence. “It wouldn’t burn,” he said. “And after the lightning it seemed to come alive again. I ran out of the house but its presence seemed to follow me. Then when then storm was over I went back and finished the job.”

But he continued to deny that he had killed Emily, claiming that she had attacked him in the bungalow because he refused to go away with her. He said that during the struggle she tried to kill him with an axe but slipped and suffered a fatal blow when she fell and hit her head on a fender.

The police didn’t believe him but at the trial Mahon put up a performance which would have done credit to a professional actor and which seemed to impress the jury. Indeed all was going well for Patrick Mahon until the flash of lightning. Then he went to pieces. When he was asked for a categorical denial that he had murdered Emily Kaye, thunder once more rumbled overhead and Mahon was unable to answer.

The jury was no longer impressed and neither was the judge and Patrick Mahon was found guilty and sentenced to death. From prison he wrote several letters saying that every time he slept he had nightmares about lightning flickering on Emily Kaye’s face, making it come alive.

He wrote: “She has come back from the grave to haunt me for eternity. She was in the courtroom when the lightning flashed and I knew then that I was doomed.”
On the day of Patrick Mahon’s execution, the weather was overcast and sultry and thunder once again rolled around Wandsworth Prison at he took his last steps to the gallows. Was it only an amazing coincidence that the moment Mahon plunged to his death through the gallows trapdoor, a shaft of lightning hit the gaol and tore a weather-vane off the execution block?

Read Stranger Than Fiction every week in Ireland’s Own