Born as Hawley Harvey Crippen in Coldwater, Michigan (USA) on 11 September 1862, colloquially known as Dr. Crippen. He studied first at the University of Michigan Homeopathic Medical School, then graduated from the Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College in 1884. After his first wife, Charlotte Jane (née Bell), died of a stroke in 1892, Crippen entrusted his parents, living in San Jose, California, with the care of his son, Hawley Otto (1889-1974).
Having qualified as a homeopath, Crippen started to practice in New York City. In 1894 he married his second wife, Corrine “Cora” Turner (born Kunigunde Mackamotski), a music hall singer who performed under the stage name Belle Elmore. That same year, Crippen started working for Dr Munyon’s, a homeopathic pharmaceutical company.
Crippen and his wife moved to England in 1897, although his US medical qualifications were not sufficient to allow him to practise as a doctor there. While Crippen continued working as a distributor of patent medicines, Cora socialised with a number of variety players of the time, including Lil Hawthorne and her husband/manager, John Nash.
Crippen was sacked by Munyon’s in 1899 for spending too much time managing his wife’s stage career. He became manager of Drouet’s Institution for the Deaf, where he hired Ethel Le Neve, a young typist, in 1900. By 1905, the two were having an affair. After living at various addresses in London, the Crippens finally moved in 1905 to 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden Road, Holloway, where they took in lodgers to augment Crippen’s meagre income. Cora had an affair with one of these lodgers, and in turn, Crippen took Le Neve as his mistress in 1908.
After a party at the Crippen home on 31 January 1910, Cora disappeared. Hawley claimed that she had returned to the US and later added that she had died and had been cremated in California. Meanwhile, Le Neve moved into Hilldrop Crescent and began openly wearing Cora’s clothes and jewelry.
After a friend of Cora reported her disappearance, the police started investigating the couple, and they decided to flee to Canada. The couple’s disappearance led police to perform further searches of their house. During the fourth and final search, they found the torso of a human body buried under the brick floor of the basement. Traces of the calming drug scopolamine were found in the torso. The remains were identified as Cora’s by a piece of skin from the abdomen; the head, limbs, and skeleton were never recovered.
Crippen and his mistress were arrested and brought back to the UK. After being brought to trial, the jury found Crippen guilty of murder after just 27 minutes of deliberations. Le Neve was charged only with being an accessory after the fact and acquitted. Crippen was hanged by John Ellis at Pentonville Prison, London at 9 am on Wednesday 23 November 1910.
Although Crippen never gave any reason for killing his wife, several theories have been propounded. One was by the late Victorian and Edwardian barrister Edward Marshall Hall who believed that Crippen was using hyoscine on his wife as a depressant or anaphrodisiac but accidentally gave her an overdose and then panicked when she died. In 1981, several British newspapers reported that Sir Hugh Rhys Rankin claimed to have met Ethel Le Neve in 1930 in Australia where she told him that Crippen murdered his wife because she had syphilis.
Crippen was namechecked in Kate’s song Coffee Homeground.
- Hawley Harvey Crippen. Wikipedia, retrieved 15 November 2023