Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hawley Crippen & The World's First Media Frenzy Murder Case-- But Was He Really Innocent?

The year was 1910. The setting, 39 Hilldrop Crescent in Camden Town, London. That is where the partial remains of a human was discovered by police who were searching for any trace of Cora Crippen. After showing up to her home to question her husband Dr. Hawley Crippen for the second time, the police found that Crippen had moved out in a rush. At first glance you may assume that Mr. Crippen fled the scene of the crime and was then a fugitive on the run, trying to evade the police. But things aren't always as they appear, as history and now forensic science proves.


Dr. Hawley Crippen was from Michigan and had moved to London in the early 1900's with his young wife Cora Crippen in order for him to provide service to patients in homeopathy, which was quite popular at the time. His expertise in the field provided him and his wife with a decent living for the times. Cora was born of Polish descent and was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her parents changed their names to Mersenger shortly after coming to the United States. Cora dreamed of being a famous singer, even using the stage name "Belle Elmore", but was an unsuccessful during the Vaudeville days.

The marriage was anything but happy. Dr. Crippen was the exact opposite of that of his wife. Cora was a robust, lively, flirtatious lady who spoke her mind. While Dr. Crippen was a quiet, mild mannered and small framed gentleman. While Cora enjoyed parties and gatherings with friends, Dr. Crippen would rather be at home with his head in a book. The unlikely pair most definitely sought the attention of other people during the marriage. It was mentioned that Cora enjoyed drinking and the company of her lover, Bruce Miller. While Dr. Crippen fell for a quiet and kind young lady named Ethel LeNeave.


One day, Cora left Crippen without so much as a note, leaving him to be with Ethel. When Cora's friends realized that Cora was gone, they questioned Crippen endlessly of her whereabouts. He grew tired of them bothering him so he just said "She went back to the United States, she grew ill with pneumonia and died". Of course, this did not sit well with her friends so they requested Walter Dew, the Head Inspector of Scotland Yard to investigate this further.

Dew had been an investigator 20 years earlier for the unsuccessful hunt of Jack the Ripper, where his career as an investigator had taken a downfall. Dew showed up to the residence of Dr. Crippen on that Friday, July 8, 1910. Dr. Crippen had already moved Ethel in and they were living together happily. He told the inspector he had nothing to hide and that Cora had left him for another man. He admitted that he lied to Cora's friends because he didn't want them to know that Cora was cheating on him and he wanted them to leave him alone. He claimed that Cora was not dead, and that her whereabouts were unknown to him. He allowed the inspector to search the property inside and out, and nothing was discovered.

Now, my personal opinion is that Inspector Dew made some sort of threat to Dr. Crippen, something that scared him so bad and that's why he fled back to his homeland of the United States. Imagine if you were in his shoes for a moment, and that people were accusing you of doing something to your spouse. Perhaps even the police were dead set convinced you did something and they threatened you that they were going to get you, no matter what. What would you do? You are in a country that is not your native country, now wouldn't you want to go home? I think that's exactly what Dr. Crippen did because that following Monday when the police came to question him some more, they discovered the home vacant.

By that time the media began to speculate. On the third day of searching the premises, an officer 'discovered' the partial human remains which contained internal organs, hair, skin tissue and a piece of cloth in a small hole under the tile in the coal cellar. He claimed the stench was so bad in most of the house that people in the home investigating could not stomach the smell. Now, I find that quite odd. Dr. Crippen and his mistress were living there along with their dog. They spent most of their day in the bottom level of the house, right next to the coal cellar and yet they noticed nothing of the smell. Also recall that Inspector Dew had came to the home just days earlier and smelled nothing in the house, also noting that he checked out the coal cellar and found nothing unusual. How could the smell suddenly appear?

The remains found prompted Scotland Yard to act on hunting Dr. Crippen down at all costs. It was all over the papers, becoming the first high profile case in history to be played out by the media.


On an ocean liner in the middle of the Atlantic, Captain Kendall noticed that a man who boarded the ship bore a striking resemblance to the man wanted for the murder of his wife back in London. He wired messages to Scotland Yard, which in turn became headlines in the newspapers for weeks. He was convinced that the two passengers on his ship were none other than Dr. Crippen and his mistress Ethel LeNeave. When the ship was about to make port in Quebec, the authorities boarded the ship, capturing Crippen and LeNeave. He was then expedited back to London and held in Pentonville Prison awaiting the trial.

With all the news and speculation swirling around for months, it was obvious that the court of public opinion had already convicted Crippen for the murder of his wife even before the trial. When the trial did start on October 18, there was little hope that he would receive a fair hearing.


Prosecutors called Dr. William Wilcox (toxicologist) as a witness who testified that the victim had been poisoned by hyascine, a anesthesia used in surgical and obstetrical procedures. The defense found it quite odd that Dr. Wilcox knew exactly what poisons to look for in his report, and not following standard protocol of doing different tests to rule out toxins that entered the body.

Dr. Spilsbury, the Prosecutions pathologist testified that he believed that the remains were that of Cora's, pointing out that the scar she had on her abdomen was apparent on the one piece of skin found. The Defense called their own expert witness that explained that the piece of skin recovered at the scene had sweat glands and hair follicles which was not consistent with scar tissue, thus it was not a scar at all but merely a fold of skin.

Another key piece of evidence Spilsbury claimed was that of the Hyascine poison. He claimed that Crippen would have had access to that type of medicine, being that he was a doctor. He also claimed that a piece of cloth that was mixed in with the remains could be tied to Crippen, as it matched a pair of his pajama bottoms. I find it quite odd that out of the 98% of the body that was somehow disposed of and to this day never found, that the 2% that was found just happened to have a piece of skin that would identify Cora? And what about the pajama cloth? The house was vacant for days after Hawley left, it is not unlikely to assume that the police planted it with the remains to ensure a conviction.

Until just recently the reports have become de-classified and are public record. It shows that the prosecution was aware that Crippen was more than likely innocent. You see, they failed to mention to the jury that a woman reported to Metropolitan Police that she saw Cora speaking to a carriage man and telling him to move 5 trunks of hers to another location around the same time Dr. Crippen claims Cora left him. Also, the banks concurred that Cora attempted to empty out their joint savings account around the same time. Had the jury heard this news, they may have thought twice.

Hawley remained adamant that he was innocent and that perhaps the decomposing remains had been planted there or that they were there before he even moved into the property. All in all he felt he was being framed for something he did not do. After hearing the testimony of both parties, the jurors deliberated for only 27 minutes before convicting Dr. Crippen of murder. He was sentenced to die by hanging.

During the 4 weeks leading up to his execution, Crippen received a few letters postmarked from Chicago, IL. The return address was marked, Belle Elmore Crippen. The letters were short and to the point. One even stated "I have read about your conviction in the papers, I am not going to come forward to help you...good luck". The investigators, prosecution and even Winston Churchill was made privy to that letter and yet no one bothered to admit that Cora was actually alive, therefore Crippen was an innocent man. No one wanted to admit fault that after all the media frenzy and becoming famous for capturing such a heinous murderer, that in actuality they made a mistake. On November 23, 1910 Dr. Hawley Crippen was executed at Pentonville Prison.


Years later, many people still question the guilt of Dr. Crippen. He is known in infamy despite the fact he didn't kill his wife. Some speculate, could he have killed someone else and disposed of their body, perhaps during a botched abortion? Not likely, as said before, the stench was so bad no one could have lived in that home had there been a body decomposing under the floor for any period of time. That proves to me that the police planted those body parts on purpose.

Crippen's family in the United States also felt the brunt of the media frenzy, by the conviction forever tarnishing their well respected name. After many years his story was re-investigated and startling evidence has come to light. The DNA of the remains was tested against those of Cora's distant relatives and there had been no match. In fact, there were 5 distinct differences in the mitochondrial DNA strand showing there was no way that the remains were that of Cora's.

Also, the DNA tests proved that the remains weren't even female, they were that of a male. So the forensic science of 1910 wasn't accurate at all. And it proves that Crippen was in fact an innocent man.

Do you remember the letters that Belle Elmore Crippen had written to Hawley Crippen while he sit in jail awaiting his fate? Genealogists have tracked down that a Belle Rose boarded the oceanliner Bermudian headed for the United States just days before Hawley was hunted down for Cora's disappearance in London. It was apparent she moved to Chicago with Bruce Miller in 1910. Ten years later, the 1920 U.S. Census records indicate that Cora's sister, Bertha Mersenger was living with someone by the name of Belle Rose in Brooklyn. It also states that Belle's occupation was a singer. Interesting isn't it? What a horrible person Cora was for allowing him to die for a murder he didn't commit.

In a letter Hawley Crippen wrote to his beloved mistress Ethel LeNeave he stated that he knew one day the truth of his innocence would be made public to the world, thus clearing his name of such a heinous accusation of murder. Although its was sad that an innocent man died due to corruption and lies, I am glad to see that Dr. Crippen finally received redemption by the recent forensic evidence clearing his name.

J'aime Rubio (Copyright) 2011


  1. hello...

    You had left a comment on my blog at thanks for the comment...I appreciate it.

    I must say, I'm digging your blog. I've just read this post..and the other post about Paul Bern and I was quickly hooked by both stories. Nice investigative research. It's a trip that shady business been around since back then.

    keep up the good work. much respect

  2. Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you do become a follower as I have many many more stories and some Poetry about growing up in the barrio,I think you would enjoy. I really enjoy your site as well and I am following it now....My next story will be about something that happened in East L.A. in the 40's.....coming soon.

    btw- did you read my article about the Black Dahlia? its in my archives.


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