Hawley Harvey Crippen
Crippen, c. 1910
|Born||September 11, 1862|
Coldwater, Michigan, U.S.
|Died||November 23, 1910 (aged 48)|
Barnsbury, London, England
|Cause of death||Execution by hanging|
|Resting place||HM Prison Pentonville|
|Known for||First suspect to be captured with the aid of wireless telegraphy|
|Charlotte Crippen (died 1892)|
Corrine Henrietta Turner
(m. 1894; died 1910)
|Victims||Corrine Henrietta Crippen|
|Date||c. January 31, 1910|
|July 31, 1910|
Hawley Harvey Crippen (September 11, 1862 - November 23, 1910), usually known as Dr. Crippen, was an American homeopath, ear and eye specialist and medicine dispenser. He was hanged in Pentonville Prison in London for the murder of his wife Cora Henrietta Crippen, and was the first suspect to be captured with the aid of wireless telegraphy.
Crippen was born in Coldwater, Michigan, to Andresse Skinner (died 1909) and Myron Augustus Crippen (1827-1910), a merchant. Crippen studied first at the University of Michigan Homeopathic Medical School and graduated from the Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College in 1884. Crippen's first wife, Charlotte, died of a stroke in 1892, and Crippen entrusted his parents, living in California, with the care of his two-year-old son, Hawley Otto.
Having qualified as a homeopath, Crippen started to practice in New York, where in 1894 he married his second wife, Corrine "Cora" Turner, who performed under the stage name Belle Elmore, and was born Kunigunde Mackamotski to a German mother and a Polish-Russian father. She was a would-be music hall singer who openly had affairs. In 1894 Crippen started working for Dr Munyon's, a homeopathic pharmaceutical company.
In 1897, Crippen moved to England with his wife, although his US medical qualifications were not sufficient to allow him to practise as a doctor in the UK. As Crippen continued working as a distributor of patent medicines, Cora socialised with a number of variety players of the time, including Lil Hawthorne of The Hawthorne Sisters and Lil's husband/manager John Nash.
Crippen was sacked by Munyon's in 1899 for spending too much time managing his wife's stage career. He became manager of Drouet's Institution for the Deaf, where he hired Ethel Le Neve, a young typist, in 1900. By 1905, the two were having an affair. 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 had an affair with one of these lodgers, and in turn Crippen took Le Neve as his mistress in 1908.
After a party at their home on 31 January 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.
Police first heard of Cora's disappearance from her friend, the 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 torso of a human body buried under the brick floor of the basement. William Willcox (later Sir William Willcox, senior scientific analyst to the Home Office) found traces of the calming drug scopolamine in the torso parts. The corpse was identified by a piece of skin from its abdomen; the head, limbs, and skeleton were never recovered. Cora's remains were later interred at the St Pancras and Islington Cemetery, East Finchley.
Meanwhile, Crippen and Le Neve were crossing the Atlantic on Montrose, with Le Neve disguised as a boy. Captain Henry George Kendall recognised the fugitives and, just before steaming beyond the range of his ship-board transmitter, 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 third class, he probably would have escaped Kendall's notice. Dew boarded a faster White Star liner, SS Laurentic, from Liverpool and arrived in Quebec, Canada, ahead of Crippen, and contacted the Canadian authorities.
As 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 31 July 1910. Crippen was returned to England on board the SS Megantic.
The first prosecution witnesses were pathologists that included Bernard Spilsbury who testified they could not identify the torso remains or even discern whether they were male or female. However, Bernard 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, led by Alfred Tobin, 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.
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, and 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, only concern for his lover's reputation. The jury found Crippen guilty of murder after just 27 minutes of deliberations. Le Neve was charged only with being an accessory after the fact and acquitted.
Although Crippen never gave any reason for killing his wife, several theories have been propounded. One was by notable Late Victorian and Edwardian barrister Edward Marshall Hall who believed that Crippen was using hyoscine on his wife as a depressant or anaphrodisiac but accidentally gave her an overdose and then panicked when she died. It is said that Hall declined to lead Crippen's defence because another theory was to be propounded.
In 1981, several British newspapers reported that Sir Hugh Rhys Rankin claimed to have met Ethel Le Neve in 1930 in Australia where she told him that Crippen murdered his wife because she had syphilis.
Le Neve sailed to the United States before settling in Canada finding work as a typist. She returned to England in 1915 and died in 1967. At his request, her photograph was placed in his coffin and buried with him.
Although Crippen's grave in Pentonville's grounds is not marked by a stone, tradition has it that soon after his burial, a rose bush was planted over it. Some of his relatives in Michigan have begun lobbying for his remains to be repatriated to the United States.
Questions have arisen about the investigation, trial and evidence that convicted Crippen in 1910. Dornford Yates, a junior barrister at the original trial, wrote in his memoirs As Berry and I Were Saying, that Lord Alverstone took the very unusual step, at the request of the prosecution, of refusing to give a copy of the sworn affidavit used to issue the arrest warrant to Crippen's defence counsel. The judge without challenge accepted the prosecution's argument that the withholding of the document would not prejudice the accused's case. Yates said he knew why the prosecution did this but - despite the passage of years - refused to disclose why. Yates noted that although Crippen placed the torso in dry quicklime to be destroyed, he did not realise that when it became wet it turned into slaked lime, which is a preservative: a fact that Yates used in the plot of his novel The House That Berry Built.
The American-British crime novelist Raymond Chandler thought it unbelievable that Crippen could be so stupid as to bury his wife's torso under the cellar floor of his home while successfully disposing of her head and limbs.
In October 2007, Michigan State University forensic scientist David Foran claimed that mitochondrial DNA evidence showed the remains found beneath Crippen's cellar floor were not those of his wife, Cora Crippen. Researchers used genealogy to identify three living relatives of Cora Crippen (great-nieces). By providing mitochondrial DNA haplotype, researchers were able to compare their DNA with DNA extracted from a microscope slide containing flesh taken from the torso in Crippen's cellar. The original remains were also tested using a highly sensitive assay of the Y chromosome that found the flesh sample on the slide was male.
The same research team also argued that a scar found on the torso's abdomen, which the original trial's prosecution argued was the same one Mrs. Crippen was known to have, was incorrectly identified. But the scientists found hair follicles in the tissue which should not be present in scars (a medical fact which Crippen's defence used at his trial). Their research was published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
However, the new scientific evidence for Crippen's innocence has been disputed. English journalist and author, David Aaronovitch, said "As to the body being male, well the American team was using a 'special technique' that is 'very new' and 'done only by this team' and working on a single, century-old slide, described by the team leader as a 'less than optimal sample'". Foran responded by saying "tests showed unequivocally that the remains were male".
Traces of the blonde hair found in curlers at the scene are now preserved in the Metropolitan Police's Crime Museum. Another researcher says that they asked to be provided with samples from them for DNA testing, but the request has been denied several times. However, New Scotland Yard was willing to test a hair from the crime scene for a fee, which in turn was rejected by the investigators as "over the top." Researchers have hypothesized that the police planted the body parts and particularly the fragment of the pyjama top at the scene to incriminate Crippen. He suggests that Scotland Yard was under tremendous public pressure to find and bring to trial a suspect for this heinous crime. An independent observer points out that the case did not become public until after the remains were found.
In the Museum of Automata in the Tibidabo Amusement Park in Barcelona, a machine built in 1921 recreates the execution of Dr. Crippen. A waxwork of Crippen was on display from 1910 until 2016 in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds in London. During the Dogger Bank earthquake of 1931, the strongest earthquake recorded in the United Kingdom, the head of his waxwork fell off.