IT was under the cover of darkness that they moved his body in a wheelbarrow from one house to another.

Ada Mabey, 56, was so devoted to her son, who had endured severe learning difficulties, she persuaded her 60-year-old husband, Harry, not to report his death and his corpse was concealed for a staggering 15 years in a sea chest.

What followed became known as 'The Skeleton Case' with the unique investigation led by Detective Chief Inspector Lucey and Sergeant Percy Chatfield.

Acting on a tip-off, the officers went to their home in Albany Road, Southampton, and Mrs Mabey led them to a ramshackle chicken shed, partly covered by rubbish, in the back garden.

Removing a blanket, Lucey had the chest's nailed-down top removed to make the grim discovery.

Her husband, a 30s (£1.50) a week attendant on a hospital ship, was arrested at work.

Daily Echo: The couple arriving at court.

The couple, who were fully cooperative with the inquiry, were transported to the old Bargate police station in one vehicle, followed by the skeleton in another.

The body was then transferred to the public mortuary where the post-mortem was conducted by the eminent Home Office pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury who established that their son, christened Harry James Mabey - nicknamed 'Tredge', had died from natural causes.

It was later revealed he was aged 18 when found dead in bed covered by clothes by one of his sisters, Florence, after her mother had given birth to another child in the house.

The couple had four other boys and three girls, three living with them. When they returned home, they found it empty and it was not for a few hours they discovered the reason for their absence. Gladys Mabey, 18, was tidying up the house when an Echo reporter called. She looked stunned and had hardly recovered from the shock of her parents being arrested.

"Father went to work early on Saturday morning and when I left later, Mother was in the house doing the housework. She was gone when I returned in the afternoon and then I heard she had been taken away by the police. I did not know why at the time. When my brother Ernest came home, he went to the Bargate (police station) to see if he could see mother and father but he was not allowed to."

Questioned about the sea chest, she replied: "It's been there for as long as I can remember and I was so used to seeing it that I never thought to ask what it contained." She then added she had been unaware of Harry's existence.

He had been born in 1890 in Freemantle, and according to his mother died in October 1909. The family were then living in Dudley Terrace but a year later moved to Albany Road. Chatfield naturally was curious to know how they had transported him without suspicions being raised and she replied: "We brought him home in a barrow after dark, wrapped in a blanket."

Daily Echo: The seas chest that contained the body.

Nothing more was heard for 10 years but in 1920, Mrs Mabey told her brother-in-law 'Tredge' had died in the workhouse infirmary. It was not until September 13, 1923, that the truth emerged when police visited their home, following a tip-off.

Hours later, they appeared in court. Echo readers were told they were an ordinary, homely pair. He was short, sported a distinctive white beard and walked with a pronounced limp. Ada, described as having 'pleasant features,' wore a navy blue costume and a hat.

They faced a joint charge of 'unlawfully disposing of a certain dead body so as to prevent the coroner from holding an inquest on it when an inquest ought to be held.' He faced a separate charge of 'neglecting to bury a dead body which he was legally bound to bury.'

At their trial at Hampshire Assizes, prosecutor Percival Clarke delivered the understatement of understatements in his opening address to jurors: "This case is one of an unusual nature."

Stressing there was no suggestion the couple had killed their son, he commented: "How he came to his death is a mystery and will remain a mystery. One cannot speculate on it. I do suggest on behalf of the Crown there was no foul play. I think his death was a genuine case of grief to the poor woman, and when she found him, she hated the thought of parting with his body, from which life had gone, and she conceived the idea of packing him away in a sea chest where he remained for 15 years."

Leonard Mabey, another son, staunchly defended his mother who he said had done her utmost to look after the sickly child. "She treated him better than the rest of the family."

Daily Echo: The house the family lived in.

Sgt Chatfield recalled the poignant moments she had found her son dead and concealed him in the chest. Weeping during the interview, she confessed: "It is the body of my boy. I will hide nothing. You will have the truth."

After confirming the circumstances of how he was found dead, she sobbed: "How can I rest? It is the beginning of the end. It cannot be said I neglected him. I loved him. He was my first child. My husband knew he was there."

During the course of his interview with Inspector Lucey, Mabey said he had wanted to report Harry's death but was persuaded not to do so by his grief-stricken wife. "I came home one day and saw my boy dead in bed. I went downstairs and saw my wife. I said to her 'I am going to fetch the police.' She begged me not to do so."

Giving evidence, Mabey told jurors he had no intention of stopping a coroner's inquiry into his son's death, but Clarke asked: "What did you think was your duty as a father, to keep him there to rot or bury him?" He replied: "I think he ought to have been buried.

Clarke - "Don't you think it was among your duties to inform the police or someone?"

Mabey - "Yes, that's what I intended to do."

Clarke - "You know if you could not afford to bury him, the Guardians would bury him for you."

Mabey - "Yes, sir."

Clarke - "Did your wife persuade you not to call the police?"

Maybe - "Yes, that's true."

Clarke - "Was she so passionately fond of him?"

Maybe - Yes, passionately fond of him."

Clarke - "How long were you going to keep him, until you die?"

Mabey - "I expect so, or until it was found out."

With that question, Clarke concluded his brief cross-examination and sat down.

On the instructions of her barrister, Mrs Mabey did not give evidence.

Daily Echo: Sir Bernard Spilsbury (left)arriving in Southampton to be met by Dr. Thomas (centre) and D.I Lucey

In his summing up, Mr Justice Greer told jurors the defendants might have acted without real consideration of what they were doing at the time. "There is no question in this case that the body was concealed by the woman but it is entirely for you to say if it was done for the intention of preventing anyone knowing anything about it. He took no part in putting him in the box but he knew it was done and knew it ought not to have been done."

The case lasted just three hours with jurors taking only eight minutes to convict them, the foreman urging the court to be merciful because of their age.

The judge told the couple: "I do not suppose you realised at the time what a serious thing you were doing. I hope the way I am going to treat you will not make the public think it is a light matter to conceal a body. At the same time, I feel you acted with no intention of committing any serious crime. You have also suffered considerable punishment by the anxiety on your minds that you must have had all these years."

He then passed a sentence of six days imprisonment which, because of the time they had served on remand, meant their immediate release.