History of Crime (England) Part 4

For part 4 of this series I was challenged by one of my readers to find an historical crime that she hadn’t at least heard of; I like a nice challenge (within reason) so I accepted and went looking.

Wikipedia, while not a site to use if you want 100% guaranteed accurate information on a subject, can be a very good reference source, and it came up trumps for me. I discovered an article listing a number of historical crimes for the UK with dates/names of those involved/headline of crime, and on this list was the crime I am going to write about today – the assassination of Spencer Perceval, the only British Prime Minister to have suffered such a fate.

I was immediately interested, as I wasn’t aware a British Prime Minister had ever been assassinated, and went looking around the ‘net for information on this largely forgotten crime, here is what I was able to find.

The assassination of Spencer Perceval

7006314972_9606b047f4_o.jpgSpencer Perceval is a man who accomplished several firsts in his life, though I think it possible that he would not have appreciated doing so: he is the only Solicitor General or Attorney General to succeed to the position of Prime Minister, the only Prime Minister to live his entire life during the reign of a single monarch, and the only Prime Minister to be assassinated.

Perceval was the younger son of an earl, and as such was well-educated, becoming a barrister and then a King’s counsel; it wasn’t until he was thirty-three that he entered politics as a member of Parliament for Northampton. Once he entered Parliament in 1796 he had a meteoric rise, becoming Solicitor General, Attorney General, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Leader of the House of Commons, on his way to becoming Prime Minister in 1809, a bare 13 years after becoming a politician.

I’m ashamed to say I knew nothing about Spencer Perceval before researching this article, which is a shame because he was Prime Minister during some of the most important events of both the 18th and 19th centuries: he was there for the inquiry into the Walcheren Expedition, a failed military attack, the madness of King George III, an economic crisis, the Luddite Riots, and the Peninsular War against Napoleon.

He brought the country through these crises and put it on the road to a better future before being assassinated on 11th May 1812.

7006303164_dfeeef75b0_o.jpgThe assassination was undramatic, Perceval entered the House of Commons on his way to attend an inquiry when a man stepped forward, drew a pistol and shot him. He was senseless, but still had a faint pulse, when moved into an adjoining rooom, he died before a surgeon could arrive, however.

Initially there was concern that the assassination might be the start of an uprising; that was quickly determined to be wrong, though, for the assassin made no attempt to escape (he not only didn’t escape, he calmly took a seat at the nearby fireplace) and revealed himself to be a merchant with a grievance against the government – Perceval being the focus of that grievance, even though he had not personally done anything to or against his killer.

John Bellingham was a businessman who in 1804 was imprisoned for debt in Russia, falsely he believed. The British Embassy refused to help him and after 5 years he was released and able to return to England, where he applied to the government for compensation. His application was denied, despite him writing to just about everyone, including the prince regent, and he developed a sense of grievance that grew until he decided to shoot the Prime Minister.

At trial Bellingham’s lawyer attempted to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, a plea that was rejected when Bellingham refused to agree to it. He was found guilty in short order and hanged on 18th May.

Perceval is considered one of Britain’s forgotten Prime Ministers, who is remembered more for the manner in which he died than for his achievements while in office, yet it cannot be denied that he steered the country safely through some difficult times – there was determined opposite in Parliament to the war in Europe against Napoleon yet Perceval kept the war going, enabling the Duke of Wellington to achieve victory and prevent any interruption in British trade, a vital aspect in maintaining the British Empire.

 

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A history of crime (England) part 3

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

Dr_crippen.jpgHawley 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.”

The_Trial_of_Dr-Crippen.jpgHe 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.