Mystery suitcase uncovered in Sunderland care home tells the life story of unknown owner

Staff at a city care home are hoping Echo readers can help them solve a theatrical mystery.

Friday, 28th July 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 11:24 am
Barnes Court Home Manager Mandy Mackley with the discovered suitcase
Barnes Court Home Manager Mandy Mackley with the discovered suitcase

While clearing out a storage area, staff at Barnes Court in High Barnes stumbled across a suitcase containing a treasure trove of memories which has sparked a campaign to find the identity of the owner.

The contents of the suitcase paint a fascinating and vivid picture of the owner’s life story.

The mystery lady on stage

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Among the items were articles of theatre costumes and accessories and numerous photos taken over a number of decades - including several from the Echo.

Comparing them allowed the team to work out which of the ladies featured the case belonged to - but not her name.

They believe she was a resident - but must have lived in the home more than ten years ago.

Some of the photographs were shown to members of the team at Barnes Court who have worked at the home for more than a decade, and to a resident who herself was involved in local theatre throughout her life, but so far no one has been able to identify her.

Anther stage appearance from the mystery woman

“She appears to have been involved in theatre throughout her life,” said manager Mandy Mackley.

“Many of the photos show her on stage with fellow actors as a young woman through to her older years. Several photographs in the collection are marked as ‘property photograph of the Sunderland Echo’, suggesting she acted in locally-staged theatre productions.

“The case also contains many meaningful trinkets, including a ceramic tile displaying The Rooster of Barcelos, one of the most common emblems of Portugal, and a bar of soap from Walt Disney world, suggesting she may have travelled during her life.”

Several ‘clues’ were found in the case as to her identity: an envelope with ‘Mr and Mrs Carney’ written on it, another envelope addressed to a ‘Mrs Hume’ of Penshaw Street, Sunderland; and an obituary clipping from a newspaper for a Freda Margaret Holden, who lived in Witney in Oxfordshire and passed away in 1981, and a photo showing the mystery and two other actresses in full costume but with four names written on the back: Maureen Masheder, Barbara Wilson, Elsie Garland and Dolly Hume.

Photo of the mystery lady (left) and two other actresses. This is the photo that has the four ladies names written on the back.

“She must have been a very popular woman as there are numerous photos taken of her with theatre colleagues, family and friends, including what appears to be her husband and a young boy, presumably to be her son,” said Mandy.

“We were amazed by the contents of the case. From all the photographs, costumes and little trinkets that she kept and treasured you get a real picture of who she was.

“You can tell that she was a real character. I’m sure she would have been the life and soul of any party.”

“Her story has really touched us. It would be wonderful to find out who she was and to be able to return the suitcase to her family. I know I would have loved to have received this if she had been my relative.”

The mystery lady poses with a cat

If you feel that you have any information that could help identify the suitcase’s owner, contact Mandy on 0191 283 3962 or [email protected]

The mystery lady with a man and boy presumed to be her son
The unknown lady (left) with another woman
One of the undated photos taken by the Echo (undated). he mystery woman is pictured front centre with a long black jacket on.
Mandy Mackley looking at a couple of the photos
The mystery lady on stage
Anther stage appearance from the mystery woman
Photo of the mystery lady (left) and two other actresses. This is the photo that has the four ladies names written on the back.
The mystery lady poses with a cat
The mystery lady with a man and boy presumed to be her son
The unknown lady (left) with another woman
One of the undated photos taken by the Echo (undated). he mystery woman is pictured front centre with a long black jacket on.
Mandy Mackley looking at a couple of the photos