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The Porthole Murder and A Phantom Cabin

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

Three Castles

Three Murders

A Phantom Cabin

MV Durban Castle

Union Castle Line


After the tales of haunted cabins on Orsova, i was contacted by fellow seadog

Bryan Portwig with tales of murder and a phantom cabin on Union-Castle ships.

In 1947 a young woman travelling back to England on the Union-Castle line ship mv Durban Castle. Her name was Eileen Isabella Ronnie 'Gay' Gibson she was a 21-year old actress who was travelling back to England. Gay Gibson' was her stage name. She had been on a theatre tour in South Africa with Doreen Mantle and was returning to London (where she was living) to perform in theatre at the west end. Gibson's presence on board came to the attention of James Camb a 30-year old steward on the liner. Gibson had been accommodated in cabin 126, B deck, which was in first-class. Camb was seen associating with Gibson, which was against company regulations, and he had been reprimanded over this by a senior officer.

Durban Castle Deck Plan - Red Marks Cabin B126

Durban castle had set sail on 10 October and on the 17th, after a night of dancing, Gibson was escorted to her cabin by two friends at 11:30 pm. Sometime around 3:00 am the following morning, the duty watchman, a man called Frederick Steer, was awakened by a summons that had been activated from cabin 126. When he arrived at Gibson's cabin, steer noted that two lights were lit outside the cabin, one red and one green. One light indicated that the duty steward had been called, whilst the other meant that the duty stewardess had been requested also. Steer thought this strange as usually only one person would be summoned. Steer's knock at the door was answered by Camb, who only half-opened the door and informed him that everything was alright. The duty watchman left as he assumed that as a deck steward, Camb had arrived before him to help the passenger. Others dispute this saying that the duty watchman believed Camb had made good on his boast to sleep with a passenger.

Gay Gibson

In the morning, the female steward for Gibson's deck, Eileen Field, came to clean her cabin. She noticed that the bunk was empty, stains on the sheets, and the porthole was open. later, Captain Patey interviewed Camb, who initially denied any involvement in Gibson's disappearance. When told that Steer saw him inside Gibson's cabin, Camb relented and told a story that neither the Captain nor the ship's doctor could believe. Camb stated that during sexual intercourse, Gibson had died and in a fit of abject panic, because he stood to lose his job and family, Camb pushed Gibson through the porthole. Captain Patey ordered the ship to turn around and to scour the water for Gibson's body. he also contacted the Union-Castle line offices in London asking for the ship to be met by the police when it arrived in Southampton due to "complications". a return cable was sent to Patey instructing him to "padlock and seal off the room; disturb nothing."

When the ship docked in Southampton police officers were waiting to question Camb, who had been confined to his cabin by the ship's crew. Southampton police were assisted by the Metropolitan police on the case and forensic evidence was examined at the met's laboratory this was not uncommon at the time; the Southampton police was quite small and so often asked for help from Scotland Yard. ­­­­­The police in the UK were involved as even though the murder took place off the coast of West Africa

it was a British ship under British authority, so the prosecution was brought by the British authorities.

On Monday 27 October 1947, The Southern Daily Echo reported that Camb, a deck steward from Durban Castle, had been remanded in custody and charged with "murder on the high seas".

Camb was originally sentenced to hang but avoided capital punishment because a no-hanging bill was being discussed by parliament.

Reacting to the news, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said: "The House of Commons has, by its vote, saved the life of the brutal lascivious murderer who thrust the poor girl he had raped and assaulted through a porthole of the ship to the sharks."

Camb's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was released in 1959 but was convicted a number of years later of other sexual offenses and spent his remaining years behind bars.

Camb died in 1979 still protesting his innocence having maintained Ms. Gibson had stopped breathing and was already dead when he threw her body from the cabin's porthole - something he later described as "beastly".


In 1961 stories buzzed over the galley telegraph aboard the Union Castle’s flagship Windsor Castle. The ship was due to depart from Capetown when the crew discovered that one of the ship’s portholes had not been cleaned. However, when the ship was inspected from the inside they found that all portholes were clean.

A sailor was lowered over the side to inspect the porthole. He reported back that he could see a cabin but it had no access door. A full search was made from deck to deck, all bulkheads and partitions were tapped. Finally, a section of the wall forward of the crew quarters was found to sound hollow.

An officer ordered that hole be broken through. Through this hole, an abandoned cabin just as the sailor described could be seen, but it did not have a porthole. The crew came to the conclusion that it had been walled up when the ship was built which explained the lack of a door. This did not explain the missing porthole. The hole was boarded up and a guard was posted. The sailor was again sent over the side when he looked through the porthole he could not see any sign that a hole had been bashed through the bulkhead

A first-class cabin on Windsor Castle

Rumours buzzed around about the porthole and by the time the ship docked in Southampton hardly a man was left onboard had not heard about the mystery porthole. The press got wind of the story, when reporters were invited to inspect the ship the unclean porthole was nowhere to be found.

Two More Union Castle Murders

Kenya Castle

In 1963 a man was found dead in cabin No23 on Kenya Castle. According to Chief Officer Patrick Beadon, the senior night watchman was found dead in his bunk with a blanket over his head. On the cabin floor lay one of the ship's nightwatchman bleeding with several cuts to his arms and legs.

According to the ship's log, 63-year-old Jones had died from a skull fracture. A manuscript kept by Charles Jones was found in his cabin, he was writing his autobiography. The document revealed that Jones had been a Major in the army during the first world war. He was also a musician and had been a bandleader on a Cunard liner. Later In life, he worked as a night watchman for Union-Castle.

After the liner Kenya Castle docked in London a member of the crew 39-year-old Kenneth Lang was charged with murdering Charles Long on the high seas July 27th, 1963.

Rotherwick Castle

The third Union-Castle murder took place on Rotherwick Castle a refrigerated cargo ship plying between London and South Africa.

Four young girls boarded the Rotherwick Castle in Cape Town for a party with the crewmen. The girls had racy reputations. Working as sex-for-sale girls, they operated from the Cape Town waterfront, often getting on board for custom. Although two of the girls got off the ship before she sailed, the other two decided to stow away.

The girls described as leading a life of "easy virtue," hid in the cabin of 17-year-old crewman Steve Marley.

During a party, Michelle knocked back half a bottle of scotch as well as beer and brandy. Uncontrollably shouting and dancing, she accidentally trampled on a model boat Marley had specifically bought for his mother.

Her friend Charlene described her friend's last moments at the murder trial.

"Steve Marley came into the cabin and told Michelle to be quiet and shut up. She kept on screaming, 'Steve, I love you.' Michelle was lying on the floor. Marley said, 'I am going to kill you.' He took his hand and placed it on the back of her head and placed her head in the pillow which was also on the floor.

"I was sitting on the settee. Then I saw Steve put a cord of rope and tie it around her neck. Michelle said I can't breathe.' Steve shouted, 'Die, bitch, die.'

The teenager later told the hushed courtroom his only motive had to been to keep Michelle quiet because she was drunk and shouting after the party.

He claimed he had only hit her "only the once" and had put his hands around her neck to make her "flake out" before putting her under the bed where she was covered by a blanket so she could sleep it off. When he returned at midnight, he found her dead.

In his summing up, the judge, Mr Justice Lawson delivered a scathing attack on ethics on board the Rotherwick Castle.

"It is a very tragic case that evokes a certain amount of disgust and a certain amount of shock and horror," referring to a "deplorable lack of morals on the part of a number of persons on that ship."

He commented: "You might think these two young girl prostitutes who did not mind who they had sexual intercourse with or who they went to bed with."

Marley was acquitted of murder and convicted of manslaughter.

Jailing Marley for five years, the judge told him: "You have had the ordeal of having to stand trial on a murder charge. You are a man of excellent character and excellent record, and you come from a good family background. Everyone speaks very highly of you.

"I think there was a great deal of provocation about what had happened that night."

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