In part 3 of this series I am going to take a look at a case that is famous in England, though is perhaps less well-known elsewhere in the world. Dr Crippen is a name that many people in the UK know, they will even know that he was a killer, but most will know little about his case; it comes as a surprise when they discover that for all his infamy he was hanged for the murder of only one person, his wife.
Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen
Hawley Harvey Crippen was an American Homeopathic doctor who came to England, with his second wife Corinne (Cora), in 1897 as part of his work with Dr Munyon’s Homeopathic Pharmaceutical company.
In 1899 he was sacked from Dr Munyon’s for spending too much time managing his wife’s career as a would-be music-hall singer. He then became manager of Drouet’s Institution for the Deaf, while there he met Ethel Le Neve in 1903.
In 1908 Crippen and Ethel became lovers, after Cora cuckolded him with one of the tenants they took in to supplement Crippen’s meagre income.
It was January 31st 1910, following a party, that Cora Crippen disappeared. Her husband claimed that she had returned to the US, and had then died and been cremated in California. Following this Ethel Le Neve moved into Hawley’s house on Hilltop Crescent and began to openly wear Cora’s clothes and jewellery.
It was Cora’s friend, Kate Williams, who worked as a strongwoman, that alerted the police to her disappearance, but it wasn’t until they were asked to investigate by John Nash and his entertainer wife, Lili Hawthorne, that the police took it seriously.
Crippen was interviewed by Chief Inspector Walter Dew, and the house searched, but nothing was found. During the interview, Crippen admitted that he had made up the story about his wife dying to avoid the embarrassment of having to tell people that she had left him and returned to America with one of her lovers, a music hall actor by the name of Bruce Miller.
Dew was satisfied, both with the interview and the search of the house, unfortunately, Crippen didn’t know that and he and Le Neve fled to Brussels. They stayed there for a night before boarding the SS Montrose in Antwerp and heading for Canada.
Had he just remained calm, there’s every chance Crippen would have got away with murdering his wife, his sudden flight convinced the police to search the house again, which they did several times. On their fourth search, the third following Crippen’s departure, the remains of a body was found under the brick floor of the basement.
Although only a small portion of the body was found, the head, limbs and skeleton were never located, it was enough for the pathologist to discover traces of scopalmine.
Had he travelled in 3rd class, it’s doubtful that the discovery would have resulted in Crippen’s arrest, but he chose to travel in 1st, with the result that he was seen by the captain, Henry George Kendall, who wasn’t fooled, either by the beard Crippen had grown, or by Le Neve’s disguise as a boy.
Before the ship sailed beyond range of his transmitter, Captain Kendall telegraphed Scotland Yard to report his suspicions that the London cellar murderer and his accomplice were on board and disguised.
Upon receiving this news, Chief Inspector Dew board the SS Laurentic, a faster ship than the SS Montrose, which enabled him to reach Canada ahead of his susect. He boarded the Montrose in the guise of a pilot, and Captain Kendall, who invited Crippen to meet the pilots, brought the two together.
Crippen seemed relieved to be arrested, saying, “Thank God it’s over. The suspense has been too great. I couldn’t stand it any longer.”
He was returned to England for trial, and was hanged at Pentonville Prison on November 23rd 1910.
Le Neve, who was tried separately as an accomplice after the fact, was acquitted. She emigrated to America the morning of her lover’s execution.
Crippen was almost certainly relieved by this outcome since it is apparent that his chief concern throughout his own trial was the reputation of his lover. At his request, he was buried with a photograh of Le Neve.
Why such a relatively simple case has endured in the minds of the British public, I cannot say, but the fact that Dr Crippen was the first criminal to be caught with the aid of radio telegraphy certainly makes it worth remembering.