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.


Sharpe’s Tiger

Sharpe’s Tiger

Bernard Cornwell


328907Richard Sharpe is a private, fighting with the British army in India, and he’s had enough of it. He’s ready to desert when he’s punished for striking the sergeant who is making his life a misery; the capture of a British agent by the Tippoo of Mysore provides him with an opportunity to escape – he’s asked to rescue the agent, a dangerous mission that he hopes to turn to his advantage because to save Colonel McCandless he must desert the army and join the Tippoo’s forces.

Will he desert for real, or will he find a reason to return to the British army and put on that red jacket again?

In the timeline of Richard Sharpe’s career, this book sits right at the beginning, where his rise through the ranks starts, but many of the books in the series had already been written by the time Bernard Cornwell put pen to paper on this one. The gap between the first book he wrote and this one shows; over the years he has become a much better writer, in every sense – there is more to the plot than in his early books, the characters are better developed, the narrative more flowing, and the scenes more richly described, and he manages all of that while retaining the historical accuracy he is known for.

As a fan of history, warfare, and good characters, this book has pretty much everything I want in a read. I especially like the fact that Sharpe is successful at fighting but unlucky in love, he can get the woman, he just can’t keep her; that helps to make him more human and easier to empathise with.

You don’t need to start the series with this book, but if, like me, you like to follow a character from beginning to end, you probably should.

A fun adventure

Tonight I watched the first episode of Sky’s new series, Hooten and the Lady, and I’ve got to say I’m glad I did because it was great.


Lady Alexandra travels to the Amazon on behalf of the British museum in search of the camp of Victorian explorer Percy Fawcett, along the way she encounters an American adventurer, Hooten, when they are both captured by  a tribe of locals. After a trial by combat they have to join forces and make a run for it, eventually finding their way to Fawcett’s camp, where they discover a map to El Dorado.

I won’t give away anything more, suffice to say they encounter adventure and danger and get to know each other a little better.

I really enjoyed this opening episode; there was some nice scenery, beautiful relics, decent characters and good chemistry, all in all it was as much as you could want from the first episode of a new series.

The acting from the two leads, is decent but not great, I don’t expect them to win any awards for it, but they do have good chemistry, which I hope will develop further as the series continues. The writing is on the same level, not award-winning but more than acceptable.

Where this gained some solid points with me is in the location scenes, and in the artifacts, which looked genuine enough in the relatively quick glimpses the audience were given.

Not quite so good is the slightly derivative nature of the characters; there is a mix of Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, and Nathan Drake from the Uncharted games; I even saw a scene that was very reminiscent of one from Romancing the Stone with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.

Overall I’m going to have to give this starstarstarstar2 because despite its flaws it is very enjoyable and I’m looking forward to watching the next episode.

Dead Man’s Hand

I challenged myself a while ago to see if I could write what I consider a micro short, just about 500 words, and what I came up with is a story based on the legend of the dead man’s hand from the death of Wild Bill Hickok, which I saw in the opening episode of the TV series, Deadwood.

Today I thought I would post it up for you all to read, when you’re done I’d appreciate it if you could let me know what you think of my first effort. I had a vague idea of doing a series of vignettes of history, all of a similar length to this, and I’d like to know if it’s worth exploring further.


Red-eyed from lack of sleep, Wild Bill looked around the table at the other players. They were all waiting for him. They had shown their cards, now it was time for him to show his.

He smiled, not much, just enough to show the upper row of crooked, rotted and tobacco stained teeth that filled his mouth and then turned away to spit in the direction of the bronze spittoon in the corner of the tent. He hit the target with a loud wet splat.

He looked around again at the cards already on the table and his smile grew. He had them all beat.

After a solid day of poker this was the last hand, for him at least. He had put his last nickel into the pot and was going to walk away with almost a hundred dollars. He was pleased.

Bill felt the impatience of his fellow gamblers as he turned over the cars one at a time, an impatience that quickly turned to disappointment and anger as he revealed his hand. Ace of clubs, eight of clubs, eight of spades, ace of spades – two pair, a winning hand. He paused to let the fact that he had won sink in and then he reached out to turn over his hole card, his hand froze half way there though as it no longer responded to the instructions from his brain.

The last thing Wild Bill Hickok, one of the most feared gunmen in the American west, saw was his own blood as it crept across the table to cover his final hand. Aces and eights, the hand that would forever be known as a ‘Dead man’s hand.’


What is considered the dead man’s hand card combination of today gets its notoriety from a legend that it was the five-card stud hand held by James Butler Hickok (better known as “Wild Bill” Hickok) when he was shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall on August 2, 1876, in Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon at Deadwood, Dakota Territory. Reportedly, Hickok’s final hand included the aces and eights of both black suits. (source wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_man%27s_hand )