It did not take London police long to suspect that the brother of British soap opera star Gemma McCluskie had something to do with cutting up and beheading his sister. Tony McCluskie was at the top of the list of possible suspects even before Emma’s torso, arms, legs, and head were found in a London canal.
The self-employed window washer and heavy pot user ended up confessing, a few days after his sister’s body parts were found, that he had killed Gemma, who once played the character of Ethel Skinner in one of the UK’s most famous soap operas, the EastEnders. This, however, was only after he did his best to lead police on a wild goose chase to divert attention away from himself as a suspect.
Tony, now 36, continued to lie when he testified about what had happened on the night that he killed Gemma. According to Tony’s testimony, he claimed that he killed his sister in a fit of emotional distress after she verbally abused him for letting a sink overflow and flood the bathroom of the house he shared with her and their mother, who was in the hospital at the time of Gemma the murder.
But a London jury dismissed Tony’s argument that extenuating circumstances drove him to unintentionally kill his sister. They found him guilty of murder, a conviction that could keep him in prison for 20 years or more.
Decades of Abuse
The overwhelming consensus of Gemma’s friends and relatives was that Gemma, 29, was a passionate and life-loving young woman. As for Tony witnesses reported that he had abused his sister and mother for decades and was jealous of Gemma.
In a particularly scathing description of Tony’s character, Rayif Manur, Gemma’s childhood sweetheart who kept in touch with her until her death, told the Mirror that Tony was a “cold person” who was constantly verbally abusive towards his sister and mother.
Manur described to the Mirror how over the years Tony had become increasingly obsessive regarding his sister, especially after she became a television star in the UK. At one point in 2011, Gemma sought refuge at Manur’s house for a weekend because she was afraid of her brother. Tony treated Gemma as if “she was his property,” Manur told the Mirror.
Citing an unnamed source, whom the Mirror said was a longtime friend of Gemma’s, the Mirror reported that Tony’s abuse was physical as well as mental and that it has been going on since Gemma was a child. She had lived in constant fear of him for her whole life. The source told the Mirror how Tony would become especially violent when he was high on marijuana, which was very often. The friend said that Gemma often had black eyes and showed other signs of physical abuse. She wore sunglasses to hide the black eyes Tony gave her and often had large bruises on her arms.
The friend added that Tony was very obsessive about his sister and acted more like an overly jealous boyfriend than a brother. When she was out clubbing, he would often text her demanding to know who she was with and what she was doing. The friend told the Mirror that Gemma would try to hide from her brother when she was meeting someone because he did not want her seeing other men.
Tony was largely a recluse, spending his free time smoking marijuana or hashish at home and often watching violent programming such as CSI and Dexter. There was much friction between Tony and his mother and sister. They did not approve of his dope-smoking and the fact that he was basically a slob. Gemma and his mother would often confront Tony about smoking marijuana in the house and he would respond by swearing and cursing at them.
Their mother’s poor health made life in the house even more stressful. In the months before her death Gemma worked as a waitress and devoted her free time to caring for her mother, who was suffering from a brain tumor. Her mother eventually had the tumor removed, but suffered complications from the surgery and was back in the hospital on the night that Gemma was killed.
The final straw for Gemma came when Tony left the bathroom water running. She reportedly told him to move out. Tony claimed during the trial that Gemma began swearing at him and threatened him with a knife. He began hitting her, he said during the trial, and after that he did not remember what happened.
According to forensic evidence gathered by police, Gemma was killed after receiving three powerful blows to the head with a blunt object. Tony then dismembered her body on the spot. He initially tried cutting her up her with a knife, but it was not sharp enough. He found a meat cleaver in the kitchen, which he was able to use to cut off her arms, legs, and head. He stuffed her torso into a suitcase and put her arms and legs in plastic bags. A coroner said it could have taken Tony three or more hours to cut up his sister’s body.
In total, Gemma was cut and stabbed 95 times and her body was cut into six pieces. A video camera recorded Tony putting the suitcase into the trunk of a taxi, which he took to a nearby canal. He was also caught on video dragging two large bags alongside the same canal.
After Gemma was reported missing, police determined that she was last seen attending a charity event commemorating the opening of the Royal London Hospital, her brother claimed not to have seen her since she left for the event, and thus began his vain attempts to elude police and detract attention from himself. He told them that the last time he saw his sister was when she left to eat at a local kebab restaurant.
He sent a text message to his sister’s phone the day after murdering her, in which he wrote: “”Love ya xx.” He claimed to be distraught and overwhelmed by her disappearance. At one point during the weeks after her disappearance, he organized a search party with the owner of a local pub and several of its patrons to comb the neighborhood in search of Gemma.
“Where’s my sister,” Tony had cried out during the search, the Mirror reported.
Mutual friends of his and Gemma’s often tried to comfort him, showing their emotional support for Tony, who was able to convince them that he did not know where his sister was and why she was missing.
At one point, Tony did receive a call from a man claiming that he was holding Gemma for ransom. Prosecutors said that Tony couldn’t believe his good luck that someone was about to take the rap for him. Police traced the call and arrested the man in Kent, but they quickly determined that he had nothing to do with Gemma’s disappearance.
Eventually the suitcase containing Gemma’s torso and the plastic bags containing her arms and legs were recovered. Her head was fished out of the canal six months later and dental records were used to confirm her identity.
An Obvious Suspect
Police had their suspicions long before Tony began feigning concern about the disappearance of his sister, but they lacked hard evidence to arrest him. Led by Scotland Yard, the investigation focused initially on neighbor interviews in which people said they heard a loud fight taking place at Tony and Gemma’s house the night that Gemma disappeared; a loud fight followed by an eerie silence. Police arrested Tony shortly after Gemma’s torso was found. They also found human blood in the bathroom and on a knife in the kitchen of the home.
Tony eventually confessed to killing his sister, but tried to have the charges reduced from murder to manslaughter with claims that he was not completely in control of his actions on the night of the murder. He claimed that Gemma’s alleged rage and abuse against him and threats allegedly made while brandishing a knife at him drove him to strike her, but that he did not intend to kill his sister.
Prosecutors, who rejected Tony’s plea of diminished capcity, were able to gather in just a few weeks evidence that proved to the jury that Tony had in fact murdered Gemma. For a murder verdict, the prosecutors had to demonstrate that Tony intended to either kill his sister or cause her serious physical harm, leading to her death.
Prosecutors described in detail how rationally Tony had acted in the immediate aftermath of the murder. That he had hardly acted like a brother consumed by deep guilt and grief after killing a loved one by accident, as he claimed. Instead he tried to cover up the crime, methodically cutting up his sister’s body and dumping it into a canal in hopes that it would never be found.
Besides disposing of her body in a very cold and calculated way, prosecutors also described how Tony tried to derail the investigation. Specifically, they described how he lied about when he had last seen his sister, how he claimed to be disturbed by her disappearance and how his having alerted police about the caller claiming to have kidnapped Gemma had all set the investigation back.
The presiding judge, Justice Fulford, fully supported the jury’s verdict.
BBC reported that Justice Fulford told McCluskie at the end of the trial: “I have no doubt that you killed your sister because she was furious with you for letting a sink overflow in the bathroom. I unhesitatingly reject your account that she had used bad language towards you or that she had belittled you in the past,” he told the court. “Gemma McCluskie was a young woman with a huge zest for life. She was a warm-hearted woman who was loved by a great many people.”