“On March 1st 2012, former EastEnders actress Gemma McCluskie, 29, disappeared from her home. About 10 days later, it was discovered that her own older brother, Tony McCluskie (pictured with her above) killed her after an argument at the home they shared, chopped up her body, put the body parts in a suitcase and dumped her in the canal. Their older brother talks about the incident for the first time since it happened.
As Danny McCluskie watched the grainy CCTV footage his world crumbled. It showed the unthinkable, the one thing every part of him had screamed could not be possible. His brother Tony carrying a heavy suitcase containing the mutilated body parts of their beloved baby sister Gemma.
The footage proved beyond doubt that Tony had killed the former EastEnders actress in cold blood, chopped her up then disposed of her like putting out the trash.
For Danny one thing made it even more incomprehensible – Tony had put his arms around him when Gemma disappeared and assuring him they would keep looking.”
“When I look back at it now I just think, you absolute scumbag, you doing that, you had us on the runabout, looking for our sister, you knew full well what you’d done to her,” says Danny, 39, speaking in depth for the first time since the 2012 murder.
“They showed me that bit of evidence. That just persuaded it for me and I went mad. He’s a monster for what he done to my little sister.”
Tony was mostly unemployed, drifting between building jobs and cleaning windows. He was a heavy cannabis user, smoking strong skunk “from morning until night”.
On March 1 Gemma vanished, prompting a police search. Two days later her butchered torso was found in the capital’s Regent’s Canal. Her limbs, in bin bags, were found a week later. Although her head remained missing for six months, she was identifiable from a tattoo on her back.
There was no reason to suspect Tony. He may have been dope-addled but his family had never known him to be violent. Psychologists now believe he was jealous of Gemma’s success, but at the time no one believed him capable of murder.
In the early days he joined in the search, comforting Danny and their separated parents, dad Anthony and mum Pauline.
But the s!ck truth was that he had killed her after a bitter argument. In his drug-fuelled haze he had gone to sleep and let the bath overflow. It was the last straw for Gemma, who told him to get out of the family home.
Then she went to see their mother in hospital, leaving Tony to stew. She returned to find him in a murderous rage. Still high on drugs, he hit her over the head with a blunt object, fracturing her skull in three places with at least two heavy blows. She died from a bleed to the brain.
Then, clinically and coldly, he tried to chop up his sister’s body with a knife. When that failed went out for a meat cleaver, rolls of bin liners and cleaning chemicals.
The next morning, with the body still in the house, he began a cover up, texting his girlfriend: “Morning, sorry crashed out last night. Woke up too late to get back to you. Feeling a bit better today.”
He even sent a text to his dead sister saying he had been to visit their mum.
He wrote: “Hi Gem, letting you know I’m at the hospital. Mum is doing really good and the doctors are pleased with her. Going to look at the throat and swallowing today. Love ya xx.”
He had never once told Gemma he loved her in a message before.
Later that night that he stuffed her mangled body into a suitcase, called a cab and dumped her in the canal.
Brother Danny says: “He took her life away. She didn’t even hit 30 years old, she didn’t get married, she didn’t have kids, he took all that away from her.”
When Tony told the family Gemma hadn’t come home they assumed she was staying with a friend. Danny recalls: “But on the Sunday morning me and a friend met up with Tony and got some pictures developed of Gemma. We took them down to Bethnal Green Police Station.”
Speaking on tonight’s Channel 5 crime documentary Countdown to Murder, he recalls it was difficult to get sense out of Tony. “But I just thought it was just him just stoned out of his nut again,” he says.
Increasingly worried, the family stepped distributed photos and posters and Tony joined in. But two days later police found the first body part in the canal.
Danny recalls Tony’s reaction. “Out of nowhere he walks in and puts his arms round us and he starts saying, please don’t let it be Gemma. I’ll never forget it.”
But their sister was immediately identifiable because of her tattoo.
“That broke me,” says Danny. “I turned round and went to the police officer, I said, ‘You’d better catch whoever did this’. And he kept saying to me, ‘I promise, we’ll catch him, we’ll catch him’.”
It was left to Danny to tell their mother in a moment that still haunts him.
“I ended up breaking down, crying. I was just overwhelmed. I’ve just found out it was my sister and now I’ve had to go and break the news to my mother.
“She’s laying there in hospital, you know, she’s just had a big operation.”
Loyal Danny refused to believe Tony had anything to do with it, even when police questioned him for a second time. “I said to him, you look me in the eye and you put your hand on your heart you ain’t done this to my sister?” he recalls. “And he just said to me, ‘The police are fitting me up’.
My head was all over the place, you know. It was like, this ain’t right. I phoned the police and I said to them, ‘You’d better show me some evidence it’s him, otherwise he’s in that jail, he’s in that jail suffering’.”