The story of Doctor Hawley Harvey Crippen

The CRIPPEN - CRIPPIN Connection - Contents


One of the most celebrated twentieth-century murder cases is that of Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen.   It was the first murder case in which Marconi telegraph signals were used.

 Hawley Harvey Crippen qualified in America as a doctor in 1885 and, at the time, worked for a patent medicine company.  In September 1905, Crippen and his wife Cora moved to 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Holloway, London N7.   Cora took in paying guests, she also had gentleman friends who visited her while her husband was at work.

Cora Crippen was born Kunigunde Mackamotzki, but preferred to be known by her stage-name of Belle Elmore.   Unfortunately her singing talents were not as great as she liked to believe them to be, although she did manage to maintain a career of sorts in the music hall.  Her flamboyantly dressed ample figure was only matched by her meanness, though both were tolerated by her diminutive husband.

Crippen found consolation for this treatment in the arms of Ethel le Neve, a typist who had worked for him for over seven years.  By 1910 Ethel and Crippen had been lovers for three years.  

On 17th January 1910, Crippen  ordered five grains of hyoscine, a poison, from a New Oxford Street chemist.  He collected the poison on the 19th and signed the chemist's register.  On the 2nd and 9th February Crippen pawned some of his wife's jewellery for 3,195.  On the 2nd his wife should have attended a weekly meeting of the Music-Hall Ladies Guild.  However, Ethel turned up with two letters signed by Belle, but not in her handwriting, explaining that she had had to return to America because of a relative's illness and that she would have to resign from the Guild.

As time passed, Belle's friends thought it was strange that they failed hear from her.  On 20th February, Crippen and Ethel turned up at a dinner and ball that had been organised by the Guild.  On 12th March Ethel moved into Hilldrop Crescent and they called themselves Mr and Mrs Crippen.  They went to France for five days, leaving on 16th March and staying over Easter.

The day they departed, a music hall friend of Cora's received a telegram sent from Victoria Station, it said 'Belle died yesterday at six o'clock... Shall be away a week.  Peter.'  Crippen was known to his acquaintances as 'Peter'.  Crippen told people that his wife had died in America and had been cremated.  All went well until 28th June when Mr and Mrs Nash, more friends of Belle, questioned Crippen about his wife's death.  They had recently returned from a music hall tour of the States and were dissatisfied with Crippen's explanation. 

Mr Nash got in touch with a friend of his at Scotland Yard.   Chief Inspector Walter Dew was asked to investigate.  Dew visited Crippen who told him that he had made up the stories about his wife's demise to cover up the fact that she had left him for another man and he didn't want to face the scandal involved.   Dew left satisfied with the explanation but, after the following weekend, decided to pay Crippen another visit. 

He was astounded to learn that Crippen had instructed his partner to wind up their business and that he was going to be absent for some time.   Dew also learned that Crippen had had the office boy purchase some clothing suitable for a boy.  Dew returned to Hilldrop Crescent and during an exhaustive search of the building discovered some loose bricks in the cellar floor.  On prising up the bricks they discovered a heap of human flesh and hair, but no bones. 

Medical examination of the remains gave the information that the corpse was that of a stout female, who bleached her hair and who had had an abdominal operation.  Traces of hyoscine, in sufficient quantities to indicate a lethal dose, were found in various organs.  An arrest warrant was issued for Crippen and le Neve on 16th July.

On 20th July the 'SS Montrose' sailed from Antwerp bound for Quebec.  The ship's commander, Captain Kendall, noticed two of his passengers, Mr Robinson and his 'son', John, and had his suspicions aroused by their unusually affectionate behaviour.  Two days later he radioed to the ship's owners voicing his suspicions.  It was the first time that wireless was used in a murder hunt. 

As the ship steamed into Quebec, a pilot boat came alongside.  On board was Dew, dressed as a pilot.  He had sailed on board the 'SS Laurentic', a faster ship, and reached Canada before them. Dew arrested them both and they were returned to London. 

The trial of Dr Crippen opened on Tuesday, 18th October 1910.  Crippen's defence was that there was no proof that the remains in the cellar were those of a woman, never mind those of his wife.  After a trial lasting four days the jury were out for only 27 minutes before returning with a guilty verdict and he was sentenced to death.  The trial of Ethel le Neve began on 25th October and lasted one day.  She was acquitted.   Crippen was hanged in Pentonville Prison on 23rd November 1910 by Hangman John Ellis.

Exhibits from this murder case are kept on display in the 'Black Museum' at New Scotland Yard.

This information was originally found and linked to: , however this page seems to have closed down. The Metropolitan Police site is

Return to Dr Crippen.

This page was first created April 14, 2002 and last updated Sunday, April 14, 2002.

 © John Crippen, 2001, 2002

Please send comments, enquiries, etc. to [email protected]


Family History