True Crime Sunday: Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen (Part 1)

Welcome back to True Crime Sunday! This week we’re going to take a look at the first suspect to be caught with the aid of wireless telegraphy, Dr. Crippen.

In 1905, Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippin, a homeopath, and his wife Cora, and aspiring singer, moved into their home and began taking lodgers. It is reported that Mrs. Crippen had an affair with one of the lodgers, and the doctor responded in kind when he took his secretary, Ethel Le Neve, as a mistress in 1908.

Our story takes place in 1910 when Cora Crippen disappeared following a party the couple threw at the end of January. When questioned, Dr. Crippen gave a variety of answers such as she died, returned to America, and she ran off with a lover. It wasn’t long before Ethel Le Neve moved into the home and began wearing Cora’s clothes and jewelry. It was around this time Cora’s friends got suspicious.

They told the authorities of their suspicions, and Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Walter Dew entered the picture. He interviewed Dr. Crippen and performed a search of the house. Nothing was found in the search, and Dew was mostly satisfied with the story the doctor told him regarding what happened to his wife.

Shortly after that meeting, Crippen and Le Neve ran off to Antwerp in order to board a ship to Canada. The timing of their disappearing act was suspicious, and Scotland Yard performed a couple more searches of the house. In the final search, they found a human torso under the flooring in the basement. Scopolamine, a drug for nausea that can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion, was also at the scene. The head and limbs were never found.

The torso was said to belong to Cora. An abdominal scar was used to identify her.

Dr. Crippen and Ethel Le Neve boarded their ship disguised as father and son. Their behavior was suspicious, as were the clothes that Le Neve was wearing. The ship’s captain thought he knew who the couple was and had a telegram sent to Scotland Yard.

Inspector Dew caught up with the ship and boarded disguised as a fellow captain. Dr. Crippen was invited to meet him, and he knew his time was up.

Reportedly, their conversation went as follows: Dew said, “Do you know who I am? I’m Chief Inspector Dew from Scotland Yard.” Crippen responded, “Thank God it’s over. The suspense has been too great. I couldn’t stand it any longer.” Crippen was arrested without incident.

The murder trial started October 18, 1910 and ended four days later with a guilty verdict. Dr. Crippen was hanged in November 1910. Ethel Le Neve was charged as an accessory after the fact and acquitted.

This may sound like the end of the story, but it isn’t. Not quite.

Join me next week when we take a closer look at the trial and some relatively recent developments in the doctor’s case.

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