October 18, 1947
Off the western coast of Africa, Pacific Ocean
Actress Eileen Isabella Ronnie “Gay” Gibson (21) is pushed through the porthole of a ship
Gibson was traveling on the Durban Castle when she met deckhand James Camb (31) and began to associate with him. After several days of casual conversation, Camb visited Gibson’s cabin in the early morning hours of October 18. Shortly thereafter, Camb pushed Gibson through a porthole in her cabin. A friend checked on Gibson after dawn, found her quarters to be in disarray, bloodstains on her bedsheets, and her porthole open but no sign of Gibson otherwise. An investigation into her disappearance was soon launched.
Night watchman Frederick Steer told investigators he had responded to a call light being pressed in Gibson’s cabin and, when he knocked on the door, a man he recognized as Camb opened the door partially before quickly closing it. Steer did not investigate further and returned to his post. Due to Steer’s statement and fresh scratches to his neck, shoulder, and wrist, Camb was held for questioning, which began on the ship and extended to Scotland Yard after the ship docked.
The events leading to Gibson being tossed overboard are not entirely clear. According to Camb, Gibson had invited him to her cabin and the two engaged in sexual activities, during which Gibson began frothing at the mouth and went limp. The ship’s crew were strictly forbidden from fraternizing with passengers and, panicking, Camb threw Gibson from the ship in the hopes her death would be written off as falling overboard.
In Camb’s words: “I went back and knocked on her cabin door at 1 o’clock, but she wasn’t in. I smoked on the forward deck for an hour and went back again at 2 o’clock. She let me in. We talked about the dullness of the ship’s dances. She was lying in bed and I saw she had nothing on under her yellow quilted robe. I slipped into bed beside her. Then an intimacy, you might call it, took place. With, of course, her consent. Suddenly she clutched me and was foaming at the mouth. Then she was very still. I felt for her heartbeat. I couldn’t find it. She was very still then.”
The prosecution asked Camb why, if Gibson was scantily clad during their activities, why a set of her pajamas were missing and, if she had initiated consensual intercourse why her diaphragm was found in her luggage. Camb had no answers to these questions. He was convicted after the jury deliberated for 45 minutes and sentenced to death. England was in the midst of a capital punishment debate which led to Camb’s sentence being commuted to life. He was released on parole in 1959, received 2 years probation after molesting a 13-year-old, and returned to prison to serve the remainder of his life sentence after he was convicted of indecently assaulting minors in 1971. Camb was released again in 1978 and died of heart failure the following year. He protested his innocence until his death.
Recent evidence has been brought forward to indicate Camb may have been truthful regarding Gibson’s death. Fellow actress Doreen Mantle has stated Gibson had health issues and fainted more than once during rehearsals, displaying blue-tinged lips while unconscious. Additionally, Mantle’s and Gibson’s colleague Mike Abel witnessed Gibson faint during which time she frothed from her mouth.
Gibson’s body was never recovered.
Latto, Richard. “Porthole murder: Did Gay Gibson die from natural causes?” BBC. March 22, 2018. Accessed: October 18, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/uk-england-hampshire-43478495
“James Camb — 1947.” Criminal Encyclopedia. November 12, 2016. Accessed: October 18, 2019. https://justcriminals.info/2016/11/12/james-camb-1947/
“What Was Justice In This Case?” Sunday News [New York, New York]. January 23, 1948