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In Roald Dahl's novel Matilda, Miss Agatha Trunchbull has undoubtedly committed enough crimes to spend a long time in prison if she's ever caught.

She used cruel punishments on the students in her school. She kept Miss Honey in slavery throughout most of her childhood, forcing her to do all the housework. When Miss Honey has grown up, Miss Trunchbull stole her wages, and borrowed her inheritence.

But the book suggests one more possible crime to top this.

[…] Miss Honey said, hesitating, “You see, no one could believe that he [Miss Trunchbull's brother-in-law, Magnus] would ever have done it. He was such a very sane and sensible man.”

“Done what?” Matilda asked.

Killed himself.”

Matilda was stunned. “Did he?” she gasped.

“That's what it looked like,” Miss Honey said. “But who knows?” She shrugged and turned away and stared out of the tiny window.

“I know what you're thinking,” Matilda said. “You're thinking that the aunt killed him and made it look as though he'd done it himself.”

“I am not thinking anything,” Miss Honey said. “One must never think things like that without proof.”

Do we ever find out, from the novel or from other sources, whether Miss Trunchbull has indeed killed her brother-in-law?

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    I certainly always thought so; I am sure we were meant to think so. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Jun 1 '15 at 19:50
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    I the movie it's more explicit. She's terrified of the writing; "I will get you... like you got me " – Valorum Jun 1 '15 at 19:52
  • I don’t know if this counts, but an actor who played her said she was a murderer: “This woman is a psychopath, a murderer, a child abuser.” (BBC News) – alexwlchan Jun 1 '15 at 20:02
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Yes.

According to this article in Time Out Magazine, Roald Dahl's widow explicitly confirmed that Miss Trunchbull was a murderer. The clear implication is that she did indeed murder Magnus.

‘In the first draft, I probably enjoyed Miss Trunchbull too much. Roald Dahl’s widow was really supportive, but she said “You must remember Miss Trunchbull is a murderer.” She was right – you’ve got to keep a bit of darkness there. I wasn’t sure about having a man play Miss Trunchbull in case she wouldn’t feel genuinely scary. But when I saw a bloke playing her in workshops, I was converted.

Although I can't find a direct source from the book to back this up, we're left in little doubt. When Matilda makes the chalk write, Miss Trunchbull is initially shocked but not actually terrified. It's only when "Magnus" makes specific allegations ("I will come get you like you got me") that she collapses in fear.

in-book illustration of the poem

"What the blazes is this?" yelled the Trunchbull. It had shaken her to see her own first name being written like that by an invisible hand. She dropped Wilfred on to the floor. Then she yelled at nobody in particular, ''Who's doing this? Who's writing it? The chalk continued to write.

Everyone in the place heard the gasp that came from the Trunchbull's throat. "No!" she cried, "It can't be! It can't be Magnus!"

Miss Honey, at the side of the room glanced swiftly at Matilda. The child was sitting very straight at her desk, the head held high, the mouth compressed, the eyes glittering like two stars.

For some reason everyone now looked at the Trunchbull. The woman's face had turned white as snow and her mouth was opening and shutting like a halibut out of water and giving out a series of strangled gasps.

The chalk stopped writing. It hovered for a few moments, then suddenly it dropped to the floor with a tinkle and broke in two.

Wilfred, who had managed to resume his seat in the front row, screamed, "Miss Trunchbull has fallen down! Miss Trunchbull is on the floor!"

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  • I had actually looked at her reactions at the blackboard, and decided they didn't prove anything. It appears that the Trunchbull's “face has turned white as snow and her mouth was opening and shutting like a halibut out of water and giving out a series of strangled gasps” (which sounds terrified enough to me) already when she was readying “give my Jenny back her house”. For all I know, she might have collapsed even without the “like you got me” part. Besides, the chalk writing doesn't even clearly accuse her of murder, “like you got me” is not specific enough. – b_jonas Jun 1 '15 at 22:17
  • @b_jonas - As I said, it's far from conclusive. Luckily, we have the author's widow to help us with the interpretation. – Valorum Jun 1 '15 at 22:19
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    If the Trunchbull had murdered Magnus, then she might believe Magnus's ghost returned to haunt him for the murder, and I don't think it's the “like you got me” part that would tell her Magnus knows about the murder. – b_jonas Jun 1 '15 at 22:20
  • @b_jonas - Again, the implication is that she killed him in a way that he shouldn't have been immediately aware of (from behind?) – Valorum Jun 1 '15 at 22:24
  • @b_jonas If she believes it's Magnus's ghost, then she would probably also believe he knows she murdered him; this is a common element of ghost tales. Her fear at "like you got me" is because the ghost is saying "I'm going to kill you", not because she's startled at his revelation. – Chris Hayes Jun 1 '15 at 23:29

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