Doctor Crippen: The Infamous London Cellar Murder of 1910

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Executed in Error | Hawley Crippen | Secrets of the Dead | PBS

His plan to commit suicide with broken glass from his spectacles had been forestalled and now, though unable to finish his breakfast, he seemed perfectly calm. The drop broke all the bones in his neck and he must have died instantly. The body was buried in the prison graveyard.


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The Crippen story aroused enormous public interest at the time and Crippen himself has always attracted considerable sympathy. He was a small man, 5ft 3 or 4in tall, bespectacled and moustachioed, an American who had trained originally as a homeopathic doctor. Quiet, mild and polite, a docile husband and apparently entirely unremarkable person, he had a wife who is always described as a blowsy, heavy-drinking nightmare, vain, bullying and promiscuous.

100 years on, DNA casts doubt on Crippen case

She came from a Polish family in New York City, called herself Cora her original name was Kunigunde Mackamotzki and tried without much success for a career as a music hall singer under the stage name of Belle Elmore. The Crippens moved to London in and he worked at a centre for treating the deaf, where one of the typists was an attractive girl called Ethel Le Neve. They fell in love, but the relationship was at first platonic. In the Crippens moved to a house in the Holloway area of north London, 39 Hilldrop Crescent, where they took lodgers.


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  8. Perhaps it was because he was a doctor albeit one not qualified to practise in England but took a life. Or could it be because of the romance of his ill-fated affair? Crippen told police that Cora had run off with another man, but the next day he and Ethel disappeared. In reality Belle Elmore was a tipsy, plump, and unfaithful shrew with inordinate vanity and a miserly streak; her docile and submissive husband chafed at her dominion.

    Belle Elmore was never seen again.

    Crippen said she had gone to America for a few months. The pair walked the deck affectionately hand in hand, and as Kendall observed them further, he became convinced that the boy was in fact a woman and that the father was a wanted man whose photograph he had seen in the newspaper.

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    Captain Kendall was eager not to betray his knowledge of the murder suspects to them, or the other passengers. He began using the wireless telegraph to send messages to the Montreal Star newspaper, which printed them for the public to read. The pair have no baggage. He always was a bit of a philosopher, though he could not have helped being astounded to see me on board the boat. He was quite a likeable chap in his way. Dew retired from active duty three weeks before Crippen was executed.


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    6. Many believe he built up a friendly rapport with Dr Crippen and quit out of sympathy to the prisoner, swearing again he never wanted to play a role in such a human tragedy. Police found the mutilated remains with no head and no bones.

      Newspapers at the time described Crippen as "one of the most dangerous and remarkable men who have lived this century". But according to John Trestrail, the toxicologist who led the new research, poisoners rarely inflict external damage on their victims. In my database of 1, poisoning cases, this is the only one which involves dismemberment," said Mr Trestrail, who heads the regional poison centre in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The discrepancy prompted him to re-examine the evidence in the Crippen case.

      Working with a genealogist, Beth Wills, he set about finding Mrs Crippen's surviving family.

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      After seven years, the team tracked down three distant relatives in California and Puerto Rico. The challenge then was to find viable DNA from samples presented at the trial. At the archives of the Royal London Hospital, in Whitechapel, researchers found the microscope slide which helped hang Crippen. In court, a pathologist, Bernard Spilsbury, identified it as an abdominal scar consistent with Cora's medical history. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down in the egg from mother to daughter and remains relatively unchanged through generations, but the DNA in the sample was different from the known relatives of Mrs Crippen.