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.


A brief history of law enforcement – Part 2

As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, the Bow Street Runners were the beginning of modern policing, and they operated from 1750 – 1839, finally being made redundant 10 years after the police act of 1829 established the Metropolitan Police. This brings me to Part 2.

The Metropolitan Police

220px-Robert_Peel_Portrait.jpgIn 1829, Sir Robert Peel, Home Secretary in the cabinet of Lord Liverpool, gained Royal assent for the Metropolitan Police Act, which came into effect on September 29th, establishing what is considered to be the first modern and professional police force in the world.

In creating the Metropolitan Police Force, Peel intended to established a centralised police force that would both investigate crimes and arrest those responsible, and act as a visible deterrant to crime. The intent was also for it to be politically neutral, and to operate as an organ of the judicial system, rather than as an organ of the government, which was the situation on the continent.

Initially three main groups remained separate from the Metropolitan Police, they were:

  • The Bow Street Patrols (both foot and mounted)
  • The Police Office constables, who operated under the control of magistrates
  • And the marine police, who handled the policing of London’s waterways

By 1839, however, these groups had been integrated into the Metropolitan Police and a new force, the City of London Police, had been established to deal with police matters within the City of London proper, which is a 1 mile² 2.9km² area covering most of what is considered to be the original city from ancient times.


This map is from 1939, 100 years after the establishment of the City of London Police, but the territory remains the same.

The Metropolitan Police are responsible for all policing matters, excluding the City of London, within a radius of 16km from St Paul’s.

Bobbies or Peelers

The Metropolitan Police was established with a force of 1000 officers, known affectionately as ‘Bobbies’ and less affectionately as ‘Peelers’, both names coming from the man responsible for their founding. They wore blue tail-coats and top hats, which were intended to distinguish them from the red-coated soldiers and convince the populace that the army was not being deployed to handle civilian matters, and were armed with a wooden truncheon and a rattle with which to signal a need for help.


To further separate the police from the army in the eyes of the populace, they were given differently named ranks, the only exception being that of sergeant. Additionally, Sir Robert Peel published publicly what were known as his Peelian Principles, which stated

  • Every police officer should be issued an warrant card with a unique identification number to assure accountability for his actions.
  • Whether the police are effective is not measured on the number of arrests but on the lack of crime.
  • Above all else, an effective authority figure knows trust and accountability are paramount. Hence, Peel’s most often quoted principle that “The police are the public and the public are the police.”

Primary sources



Coming in part 3, the establishment of detectives.