The infamous Dr Crippen, 23rd November 2010 marked his 100th year since his execution. Hawley Harvey Crippen supposedly haunts the Pentonville Prison where he was hanged and interred for the murder of his wife. They say a “bespectacled, sorrowful figure” is seen standing around the unmarked grave.
Crippen was a homeopathic physician and salesman, he was convicted of the murder of his wife Cora Henrietta Crippen. He was also notably the first criminal to be caught with the use of wireless communication. His first wife died of a stroke and his son was entrusted to his parents care. He met Cora in New York, who had the stage name Belle Elmore and had very open affairs.
In 1897 Crippen and his spouse moved to England, he was not however considered qualified to practise in the UK and so worked as a distributor of patent medicines. He was sacked by his manager in 1899 as he spent more time working on his wife’s stage career than doing his job. Having moved around various places they settled in Holloway, London where a lodger was brought in to supplement the meagre wages. Cora decided that the lodger was appealing and in turn Crippen took Le Neve (young typist in the firm he worked for) as his mistress.
January 31st, 1910 there was a party at their home and Cora disappeared, he claimed that she had returned home to California and later on added she had died and been cremated. Le Neve began to wear Cora’s clothes and jewellery, the police first became aware of the disappearance when Cora’s friend (a strongwoman known as Vulcana) reported it. Friends in high places led to more requests for investigations and a house search was made but nothing was found.
The police seemed satisfied but Crippen and Le Neve did not seem to know this and fled in panic to Brussels. They went on a pacific liner the SS Montrose destined for Canada. Inspector Water Dew then ordered a further three searches of the house, and on the fourth they found human remains buried under the brick floor of the basement. The body contained traces of a calming drug, the corpse was identified by a piece of skin but the head, limbs and skeleton were never recovered.
Meanwhile Crippen and Le Neve were disguised on board the ship when a wireless telegram was sent out to British Authorities saying they suspected Crippen of London cellar murder and his accomplice was aboard the ship. Perhaps if he had travelled third class he would never have been spotted but Dew boarded a faster White Star liner and headed off to intercept them. Dew boarded the ship disguised as a passenger and followed him over to Canada. Canada meant that they could arrest him without the need for extradite as they were still part of the English Empire at that time.
When Dew announced who he was Dr Crippen was relieved and had expressed how the suspense was really too much. He held out his arms to enable the handcuffs to be placed on him and Crippen was returned to England on the SS Megantic.
Both suspects were tried separately at the London assizes and stated that they could not formally identify the remains as male or female but they had been able to locate abdominal scar tissue that matched Cora’s medical history. The drug found in the remains matched one that Crippen had brought from a local chemist.
The defence maintained that Cora had fled to America with another man, Bruce Miller, and suggested the previous owner could be something to do with the remains in the house. They also stated the marks on the skin were just folded tissue. The prosecution continued with a pyjama top that Crippen owned, it was not found but the bottoms were in his bedroom and a fragment of the fabric was found with the remains, the prosecution stated that the type he wore were not made before 1908 and so it would not have been the former owners to blame for the human remains.
Throughout the proceedings Dr Crippen showed no sign of remorse, he also showed no concern for his wife but showed concern for his lover’s reputation. After only 27 minutes the jury returned with a verdict of guilty and he was hanged. His grave, as previously mentioned, is unmarked and perhaps one of the reasons his ghost still lingers is that he is waiting for his innocence to be declared… however that is unlikely to happen as in 2009 the court of appeal said they would not hear the case to posthumously pardon him.
The 1962 feature film Dr. Crippen stars Donald Pleasance in the lead role. His story is also retold in a Broadway musical One Touch of Venus. He even boasts a waxwork model at Madame Tussauds in London!