October 22nd, 1910 – The Infamous Dr. Crippen


On October 22nd, 1910, the infamous Dr. Crippen was convicted at the Old Bailey, in London, of poisoning his wife, but what became of his lover Ethel Le Neve?

Hawley Harvey Crippen, usually known as Dr. Crippen, was an American homeopath, ear and eye specialist and medicine dispenser. Having qualified as a homeopath, Crippen started to practise in New York, where in 1894 he married his second wife, Corrine “Cora” Turner (stage name: Belle Elmore); she was a would-be music hall singer who openly had affairs.


Hawley Harvey Crippen (September 11th, 1862 – November 23rd, 1910)

In 1897, Crippen and his wife moved to England where he worked as a distributor of patent medicines but was fired in 1899 for spending too much time managing his wife’s stage career.

Crippen then became manager of Drouet’s Institution for the Deaf, where he met Ethel Le Neve, a young typist, around 1903. After living at various addresses in London, the Crippens finally moved in 1905 to 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden Road, Holloway, London, where they took in lodgers to augment Crippen’s meagre income. Cora cuckolded Crippen with one of these lodgers, and in turn Crippen took Le Neve as his mistress in 1908.

After a party at their home on January 31st, 1910, Cora disappeared. Hawley Crippen claimed that she had returned to the United States, and later added that she had died, and had been cremated, in California. Meanwhile, his lover, Ethel “Le Neve” Neave, moved into Hilldrop Crescent and began openly wearing Cora’s clothes and jewellery.


Corrine “Cora” Turner AKA Belle Elmore

Police first heard of Cora’s disappearance from her friend, strongwoman Kate Williams, better known as Vulcana, but began to take the matter more seriously when asked to investigate by a personal friend of Scotland Yard Superintendent Frank Froest, John Nash and his entertainer wife, Lil Hawthorne. The house was searched, but nothing was found, and Crippen was interviewed by Chief Inspector Walter Dew. Crippen admitted that he had fabricated the story about his wife having died and explained that he had made it up in order to avoid any personal embarrassment because she had in fact left him and fled to America with one of her lovers, a music hall actor named Bruce Miller. After the interview (and a quick search of the house), Dew was satisfied with Crippen’s story. However, Crippen and Le Neve did not know this and fled in panic to Brussels, where they spent the night at a hotel. The following day, they went to Antwerp and boarded the Canadian Pacific liner SS Montrose for Canada.

Their disappearance led the police at Scotland Yard to perform another three searches of the house. During the fourth and final search, they found the remains of a human body, buried under the brick floor of the basement. Pathologist Bernard Spilsbury found traces of the calming drug scopolamine. The corpse was identified by a piece of skin from its abdomen; the head, limbs, and skeleton were never recovered.

Dr. Crippen Escape

Crippen’s escape from the 1962 film “Dr. Crippen.”

Meanwhile, Crippen and Le Neve were crossing the Atlantic on the Montrose, with Le Neve disguised as a boy. Captain Henry George Kendall recognized the fugitives and, just before steaming beyond the range of his ship-board transmitter, he had Telegraphist Lawrence Ernest Hughes send a wireless telegram to the British authorities: “Have strong suspicions that Crippen London cellar murderer and accomplice are among saloon passengers. Mustache taken off growing beard. Accomplice dressed as boy. Manner and build undoubtedly a girl.” Had Crippen travelled 3rd class, he probably would have escaped Kendall’s notice. Dew boarded a faster White Star liner, the SS Laurentic, arrived in Quebec, Canada, ahead of Crippen, and contacted the Canadian authorities.

As the Montrose entered the St. Lawrence River, Dew came aboard disguised as a pilot. Canada was then still a dominion within the British Empire. If Crippen, an American citizen, had sailed to the United States instead, even if he had been recognised, it would have taken extradition proceedings to bring him to trial. Kendall invited Crippen to meet the pilots as they came aboard. Dew removed his pilot’s cap and said, “Good morning, Dr Crippen. Do you know me? I’m Chief Inspector Dew from Scotland Yard.” After a pause, Crippen replied, “Thank God it’s over. The suspense has been too great. I couldn’t stand it any longer.” He then held out his wrists for the handcuffs. Crippen and Le Neve were arrested on board the Montrose on July 31rd, 1910. Crippen was returned to England on board the SS Megantic.

Dr. Cribben Arrested

Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen (right) leaving the liner “Montrose” escorted by Chief Inspector Dew.

Crippen and le Neve were tried separately at the London assizes, held at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, London; Crippen’s trial took place from October 18th to 22th and Ethel le Neve’s on October 25th, 1910.

The pathologists appearing for the prosecution, including Spilsbury, could not identify the remains or even discern whether they were male or female. However, Spilsbury found a piece of skin with what he claimed to be an abdominal scar consistent with Cora’s medical history. Large quantities of the toxic compound hyoscine were found in the remains, and Crippen had bought the drug before the murder from a local chemist.

Crippen’s defence maintained that Cora had fled to America with another man named Bruce Miller and that Cora and Hawley had been living at the house since only 1905, suggesting a previous owner of the house was responsible for the placement of the remains. The defence asserted that the abdominal scar identified by pathologist Spilsbury was really just folded tissue, for among other things, it had hair follicles growing from it, something scar tissue could not have; Spilsbury noted that the sebaceous glands appeared at the ends but not in the middle of the scar.

Ethel Le Neve Neave

Ethel “Le Neve” Neave

Other evidence presented by the prosecution included a piece of a man’s pyjama top supposedly from a pair Cora had given Crippen a year earlier. The pyjama bottoms were found in Crippen’s bedroom, but not the top. The fragment included the manufacturer’s label Jones Bros. Curlers with bleached hair consistent with Cora’s were found with the remains. Testimony from a Jones Bros. representative, the store that the pyjama top fragment came from, stated that the product was not sold prior to 1908, thus placing the date of manufacture well within the time period of when the Crippens occupied the house and when Cora gave the garment to Hawley the year before in 1909.

Throughout the proceedings and at his sentencing, Crippen showed no remorse for his wife and concern for only his lover’s reputation. After just 27 minutes of deliberations, the jury found Crippen guilty of murder. He was hanged by John Ellis, assisted by William Willis, at 9 a.m. on November 23rd, 1910 at Pentonville Prison, London.

Le Neve was charged only with being an accessory after the fact and acquitted. She emigrated to the United States on the morning of her lover’s execution. At his request, her photograph was placed in his coffin and buried with him.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


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