Doctor Crippen: The Infamous London Cellar Murder of 1910

BOOK: Doctor Crippen: The Infamous London Cellar Murder of 1910

For Barbara

First published 2013

Amberley Publishing
The Hill, Stroud
Gloucestershire, GL5 4EP

Copyright © Nicholas Connell 2013

The right of Nicholas Connell to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without the permission in writing from the Publishers.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978-1-4456-1015-3 (PRINT)
ISBN 978-1-4456-2020-6 (e-BOOK)


List of Illustrations


Foreword by Richard Whittington-Egan

1 - The Case of the Missing Actress

2 - The American Dentist

3 - The Cellar

4 - The Fugitives

5 - The Inquisitive Sea Captain

6 - The Arrest

7 - The Return Voyage

8 - The Crooked Solicitor

9 - Pre-Trial Proceedings

10 - Rex v. Crippen Part One: Prosecutors and Defenders

11 - Rex v. Crippen Part Two: The Trial

12 - Rex v. Crippen Part Three: The Verdict

13 - Rex v. Le Neve

14 - Let the Law Take its Course

15 - The Execution

16 - Ethel

17 - Peter and Belle

18 - The Innocence of Dr Crippen: An Old Myth Resurrected

19 - The DNA Dilemma

20 - The Aftermath of the Crippen Case

Picture Section




1. Hawley Harvey Crippen. (Author’s collection)

2. Cora Crippen. (Author’s collection)

3. Alias Belle Elmore. (Author’s collection)

4. Lil Hawthorne, who informed Scotland Yard of Cora Crippen’s disappearance. (Author’s collection)

5. Superintendent Frank Froest. (Author’s collection)

6. Chief Inspector Walter Dew. (Stewart P. Evans)

7. 39 Hilldrop Crescent. (Author’s collection)

8. The remains of Cora Crippen. (The National Archives)

9. The basement of 39 Hilldrop Crescent. (The National Archives)

10. Inspector Dew (far right) and colleagues in Crippen’s back garden. (The National Archives)

11. Police wanted poster for Crippen and Le Neve. (Author’s collection)

12. Charlotte Bell, Crippen’s first wife. (
The Umpire

13. Dr Augustus Pepper. (
The Lancet

14. Inspector Dew at the coroner’s inquest. (
Illustrated Police News

15. Ethel Le Neve disguised as a boy. (
The Bystander

16. Captain Kendall of the
. (
The Graphic

17. The
lounge. (Author’s collection)

18. The
bookstall. (Author’s collection)

19. Captain Kendall observing the Robinsons. (
Illustrated Police News

20. Sending a wireless message from the
. (
Illustrated Police News

21. Assistant Commissioner Sir Melville Macnaghten. (Author’s collection)

22. Inspector Dew boarding the
at Liverpool. (
Illustrated Police News

23. The Crippen story dominated the news. (
Daily Chronicle

24. A typically inaccurate depiction of the arrest of Crippen and Le Neve. (Author’s collection)

25. Home Secretary Winston Churchill. (
The Graphic

26. Sergeant Mitchell, Crippen and Inspector Dew board the
at Canada. (Author’s collection)

27. Inspector Dew escorting Crippen off the
at Liverpool. (Author’s collection)

28. Arthur Newton, Crippen’s solicitor. (Author’s collection)

29. Crippen and Le Neve at Bow Street magistrates’ court. (Author’s collection)

30. Inspector Dew giving evidence at Bow Street. (
The Bystander

31. Cora Crippen’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery. (Author’s collection)

32. Brixton Prison. (Author’s collection)

33. Sir Charles Mathews, Director of Public Prosecutions. (Author’s collection)

34. Lord Chief Justice Alverstone. (Author’s collection)

35. Richard Muir, prosecuting counsel. (Author’s collection)

36. Travers Humphreys, prosecuting counsel. (Richard Whittington-Egan)

37. Samuel Ingleby Oddie, prosecuting counsel. (Author’s collection)

38. Cecil Mercer, prosecuting counsel. (Author’s collection)

39. Edward Marshal Hall, who was unable to defend Crippen. (Author’s collection)

40. Alfred Tobin, defence counsel. (Author’s collection)

41. The Old Bailey. (Author’s collection)

42. Gilbert Rylance (in top hat) and Paul Martinetti arrive at the Old Bailey. (Stewart P. Evans)

43. Inspector Dew outside the Old Bailey. (Stewart P. Evans)

44. The jury for Crippen’s trial. (
The Bystander

45. Crippen being led away after receiving his death sentence. (
Illustrated Police News

46. F. E. Smith, Ethel Le Neve’s defence counsel. (
The Graphic

47. Judge Darling of the Court of Criminal Appeal. (Author’s collection)

48. Pentonville Prison. (Stewart P. Evans)

49. The execution of Dr Crippen. (
Illustrated Police News

50. The rosary held by Crippen and the ring he wore when executed. (Richard Whittington-Egan)

51. Scottish comedian Sandy McNab outside his new home, 39 Hilldrop Crescent. (Author’s collection)

52. An early edition of Ethel Le Neve’s memoirs. (Stewart P. Evans)

53. One of Ethel Le Neve’s newspaper memoirs. (
Thomson’s Weekly News

54. Ethel Le Neve in 1928. (
Thomson’s Weekly News

55. Donald Pleasence portrayed Crippen sympathetically in 1962, along with Samantha Eggar as Le Neve. (Author’s collection)

56. Crippen’s effigy saved from the 1925 flood at Madame Tussaud’s. (
Illustrated Police News

57. A hoax letter, purportedly from Cora Crippen. (The National Archives)

58. A genuine letter from Cora Crippen. (The National Archives)

59. Margaret Bondfield House, built on the site of 39 Hilldrop Crescent. (Author’s collection)

60. Inspector Walter Dew in retirement. (Author’s collection)

61. Walter Dew’s autobiography. (Author’s collection)


This book was written in a period when many archives and libraries were experiencing cuts in staff and budgets. Despite this, the following repositories still managed to provide a great service; the British Library, the British Library Newspaper Library, Cambridge University Library, Camden Local Studies and Archives, Hertfordshire Central Resources Library, Islington Local History Centre, Metropolitan Police Records Management Branch and the National Archives.

It is due in no small part to their assistance that so much long-forgotten information about the 1910 North London cellar murder has come to light.

In his book
Jack the Ripper The Bloody Truth
, Melvin Harris acknowledged Richard Whittington-Egan ‘who insisted that I write this book – and wouldn’t take no for an answer!’ I owe Richard a similar acknowledgement for persuading me to take another stroll down Hilldrop Crescent, for his continuous encouragement and for writing the foreword.

I would also like to thank the following for their invaluable help in finding material and supplying information: Kathleen Arthur, Stewart Evans, the late Stuart Goffee, the late Jonathan Goodman, Michael James Moore, Robin Odell, the late Heather Odgers, Jon Ogan, Mark Ripper, Neil Storey and Molly Whittington-Egan.


So many times since its ur-enactment has the cautionary tale of little Doctor Crippen and the basement burial of the filleted, headless and limbless cadaver of his whilom spouse, in the obscurant gloom of the coal cellar of their villa on the Camden Town–Holloway outskirts of Edwardian London, been rehearsed that there might seem to be little left in the way of remains to pick over in the disturbed and disturbing earth and accumulated coal dust of their North London home, No. 39 leafy Hilldrop Crescent. But this is not the case.

Time and ill repute may have swept the old house away. So that No. 39 exists now, like some Holmesian locus – Pondicherry Lodge or the Copper Beeches – only in the imagination, cosseting its secrets.

Were its rooms and passages loud with the echoing dissonances of angry tirades of accusation and bitter counter-accusation, as limned by Filson Young in his introduction to the account of the case which he edited in Hodge’s Notable British Trials
series? Or heavy with the sullen silences of angry outbursts recollected in protracted disharmonies?

In the eye of the mind, one sees again, anew, the dark, below-stairs breakfast-room, unappetisingly cheek-by-jowl with the basement burial ground; the view through its grubby, net-curtained window of lingeringly Victorian fern-drenched garden. One sees, too, the grandish flight of stone steps to the front door, up which the visiting Martinettis ascended to dine and play whist with the Crippens on the last night of Belle Elmore’s life.

Gone now; all gone. No. 39 annihilated by the breakers’ hammers of the katabolic fifties to smithereens of uncharted eternity, its old bones of Victorian stone giving way to the bland new clay bricks of a block of council flats. Out in the silent stretches of the night the ear of memory catches the cackle of the crystal wireless telegraph apparatus sparking, in weird bluish incandescence, dot-and-dash Marconigram signals across the Atlantic to snare a fleeing murderer in its electric web.

Hawley Harvey Crippen, anonymous in life, has, in ignominious death, been metamorphosed into worldwide post-mortem celebrity as
most memorable of murderers. In recent times his supremacy has been questioned, his reputation libelled, by the importation into this classic case of a disquieting element of dubiety.

Was Crippen, as has been contemporaneously mooted, an innocent? Mr Connell confronts the derogatory whisper, pursues careful research, and delivers up a pretty convincing answer to this mean-minded attempt to deprive Dr Crippen of his hard-earned homicidal status.

The recent DNA juggling does not impress him. He brings, with noteworthy effort, his big analytical guns to bear. Unsubstantiated speculation is put to flight.

So, what manner of man was Peter Crippen, as he was wont habitually to designate himself? The generally received portrait is that of a humble, unassuming little personage, good-natured, kind-hearted, ever willing to do anyone a good turn, described by more than one acquaintance as the last man in the world that you would think capable of murder.

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