…. 1910, saw the hanging of Hawley Harvey Crippen (born 11 September 1862), usually known as Dr. Crippen. An American homeopathic physician and salesman, Crippen was hanged in Pentonville Prison, London, for the murder of his wife, Cora Henrietta Crippen. He was the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless communication.
Crippen was said to be a mild, quiet, polite man, only 5ft 3 or 4inches in stature. His wife is described as a ‘blowsy, heavy-drinking nightmare, vain, bullying and promiscuous’. Calling herself Cora, she came from a Polish family in New York city, though her original name was Kunigunde Mackamotzki – what a nightmare that would be to research! She tried to make a career as a music hall singer under the stage name of Belle Elmore but without much success.
The Crippens moved to London in 1897 and in 1905, they moved to 39 Hilldrop Crescent, in the Holloway area of North London, where they took lodgers. One day, Dr. Crippen came home and found Cora in bed with one of them. This was not the first time she had been unfaithful to him and Crippen began an affair with an attractive typist, Ethel Le Neve, who he met whilst working at a centre for treating the deaf.
Cora Crippen vanished on 1 February 1910 and Dr. Crippen stated that she had gone back to the United States for ‘a few months’. However one month later, Ethel moved into the Hilldrop Crescent house, with Crippen now proclaiming that Cora had died in America. Friends were suspicious and alerted Scotland Yard and after Detective Inspector Dew spoke to Dr Crippen in July, he subsequently fled to Brussels with Ethel. The police searched the house at Hilldrop Crescent and found the remains of a body beneath the coal cellar.
Crippen and Ethel sailed from Antwerp for Canada on the liner, Montrose. She posed as his teenage son but the captain grew suspicious of their ‘overly loving’ behaviour. D.I. Dew pursued them across the Atlantic in the faster liner, the Laurentic. He reached the Gulf of St Lawrence ahead of Crippen’s liner and was waiting to arrest them.
Crippen was found guilty of Cora’s murder but his heroic efforts succeeded in persuading everyone of Ethel’s innocence. Tried as Crippen’s accomplice, she was acquitted. The trial is fully documented online.