Great Crimes John Escott - chapter 1
Dr Crippen – Murderer
Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen met Cora Turner in New York, in July 1892. He was thirty years old, and was working in a hospital, and she was nineteen. Crippen had been married before, but his first wife had died. He immediately fell in love with Cora, and six months later they were married.
At first they continued to live in New York, and Crippen joined a company which sold medicines. This was Cora’s idea. She wanted her husband to earn more money than the hospital was paying him.
Cora wanted to be a singer, so her husband paid for her to have singing lessons. Her voice was not really good enough, and she wasn’t very successful. Later, when the couple moved to London, she did begin to sing in theatres, although she was never famous.
Crippen was not allowed to work as a doctor in England because he had trained in America, so he continued to work for the American medicine company, and opened a London office for them.
In 1905, the Crippens moved to a house at 39 Hilldrop Crescent. They were not happy together. Cora was a cruel, violent woman, and the couple were always arguing, often because Cora spent more money than they could afford. She also liked to be with other men.
In 1907, Crippen fell in love with his secretary, Ethel Le Neve. Ethel wanted him to leave his wife and marry her, but Crippen would not – or was afraid to – do this.
Then, in December, 1909, Cora discovered that her husband and Ethel Le Neve were lovers. She warned Crippen that she would leave him, and take most of his money with her.
On January 31, 1910, two of Cora’s theatre friends, Paul and Clara Martinetti, came to dinner with the Crippens, and during the evening Cora and her husband argued violently. The Martinettis left early.
The next week, Crippen told neighbours and friends that Cora had gone to America to look after someone who was sick. This came as a surprise; Cora had said nothing to them about a sick friend, or about travelling to America. Then, some weeks later, Crippen sold several of Cora’s rings, and some of her other valuables, and in March, Ethel Le Neve moved into 39 Hilldrop Crescent to live with Crippen.
Later, when Crippen told the Martinettis and other friends of Cora’s that she had become ill and had died in America, they could not believe it and suspected that he was lying. Finally, one of the friends went to the police with the story.
Inspector Walter Dew of London’s Scotland Yard, England’s most famous police station, visited Crippen soon after this and talked with the doctor and Ethel Le Neve. Crippen spoke calmly and confidently about his wife, making no secret of the fact that Ethel Le Neve had been his lover for several years. He also agreed that the story about his wife’s death had been a lie. The truth was, he told the detective, that Cora went to America to live with a lover, Bruce Miller, who had been one of her theatre friends in England, a few years before.
Inspector Dew was not completely happy with this story, but neither was he able to prove that Crippen was lying.
But Crippen was not as confident as he pretended to be. The visit from Inspector Dew had worried him, and after the detective left, he told Ethel Le Neve that they must go away and make a new life for themselves in another country. They began by getting a boat to Holland, then went on to Brussels, in Belgium, where they moved into a hotel for several days.
When Inspector Dew visited Crippen’s office on July 11, he was surprised to find the place closed and Crippen gone. Immediately, he gave orders to search the house at Hilldrop Crescent, and it did not take his men long to find what remained of a woman’s body under the house. She had been poisoned.
On July 15, Crippen read in a Belgian newspaper that part of a human body had been found under the house at 39 Hilldrop Crescent. He quickly got tickets to sail on a ship – the Montrose – which was going to Quebec in Canada. To make any discovery more difficult, Ethel Le Neve dressed as a sixteen-year-old boy, and pretended to be Crippen’s son. They used the name ‘Robinson.’
The ship sailed for Canada on July 20, but the captain of the Montrose, Henry Kendall, had read about Dr Crippen in the newspapers. He remembered photographs of Crippen and Ethel Le Neve, and began to suspect that Mr John Robinson and his ‘son’ were not what they seemed. Sometimes the two ‘men’ held hands, he noticed. And ‘Mr Robinson’ seemed to have had a moustache until recently. The more the captain thought about it, the more sure he became that these were the two people the police were looking for.
Kendall sent a radio message back to his company office in London. The information was passed to Inspector Dew, who left England on the Laurentic, a faster ship than the Montrose, which was also going to Quebec.
The English newspapers quickly heard what was happening and for the next week, helped by information coming from Captain Kendall on the Montrose, began to report the chase across the sea for their readers. It made exciting reading.
Dr Crippen and his lover knew nothing about any of this, of course, and were quietly confident that nobody had recognized them. So it was an unhappy surprise for them when they discovered Inspector Dew waiting for them in Quebec.
Together with a Canadian policeman, Dew boarded the Montrose and arrested Crippen and Ethel Le Neve. They were the first criminals ever to be caught through using a radio message. Dew returned to London with them; they arrived on August 28.
Dr Crippen’s trial, which began on October 18, took just three days. The jury first heard how he had poisoned his wife with hyoscine, then cut up her body and buried it under his house. No one was surprised when they found him guilty of murder.
Ethel Le Neve was tried as an accessory – someone involved in the crime although not there when it happened – but she was found ‘not guilty.’
Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen was hanged on the morning of Wednesday, November 23, 1910, in Pentonville Prison. Hanging was the normal punishment for murderers in England at that time.
Ethel Le Neve went to live in America, but later came back to England using a different name. Later, she married and had children. She died in 1967.
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