Wireless Telegraph Helps Police Track Fugitives


After digging about five inches into the clay beneath the bricks, Dew was suddenly staggered by the stench of carrion. He uncovered some small parcels of human flesh that had been carefully dissected from a corpse by some skilled anatomist. All of the tissue came from the region of the victim's torso. There were no bones; they had been dissected out and disposed of elsewhere. The flesh was wrapped up in a man's pajama top and a woman's cotton undervest. Buried with the remains was one metal hair curler, on which was a tuft of long hair dyed strawberry blonde, but dark brown at the root.
The remains had not rotted away because they were sprinkled with slaked lime, a chemical which preserves flesh. Apparently the killer had intended to douse the remains with quicklime, which destroys flesh, but he had carelessly applied the wrong chemical.
Scotland Yard printed posters reading, "Wanted by the Metropolitan Police for MURDER AND MUTILATION," with photographs of Dr. Crippen and Miss Le Neve. Newspapers across Europe and the United States ran headlines about the crime and the manhunt for Dr. Crippen.

Some people who knew Dr. Crippen refused to believe the grisly tale told by the newspapers.

"Dr. Crippen is one of the nicest men I ever met," said Mrs. Emily Jackson, landlady of Ethel Le Neve.

"A more humble unassuming little man I never met, and to me it seems unthinkable that Dr. Crippen would have committed such a dastardly crime," said Dr. Gilbert W. Rylance, Dr. Crippen's business partner.

"Dr. Crippen is docile as a kitten…quite incapable of murdering his wife," said Professor Munyon, a manufacturer of patent medicines and Crippen's former employer.
Scotland Yard received many messages from people who claimed to have spotted Dr. Crippen on streets and railway stations. A Liverpool barber reported having shaved the doctor's mustache, while a Ramsgate beach attendant reported renting a deck chair to the fugitive physician.

Inspector Dew noted, "On two occasions a gentleman who was unfortunate enough to resemble Crippen facially was [arrested and] brought to Scotland Yard…On the first occasion he took the experience in good part, but when the same thing happened a second time he was highly indignant, and said it was getting to be a habit."

In Antwerp, Belgium, a sea-captain named Henry Kendall read about the case in the newspapers. On July 20, as his ship was beginning a voyage to Canada, Captain Kendall noticed that one of his passengers resembled a newspaper photograph of Crippen.
Captain Kendall later wrote:

I happened to glance through the porthole of my cabin and behind a lifeboat I saw two men. One was squeezing the other's hand. I walked along the boat deck and got into conversation with the elder man. I noticed that there was a mark on the bridge of his nose from wearing spectacles, that he had only recently shaved off a mustache, and that he was growing a beard. The young fellow was very reserved, and I remarked about his cough.

"Yes," said the elder man. "My boy has a weak chest, and I'm taking him to California for his health."

I returned to my cabin and had another look at the Daily Mail. I studied the descriptions and photographs issued by Scotland Yard. Crippen was fifty years of age, five feet four inches, wearing spectacles and a mustache; Miss Le Neve was twenty-seven, five feet five inches, slim, and pale complexion. I then examined the passenger list and ascertained that the two passengers were traveling as "Mr. Robinson and son." I arranged for them to take meals at my table…

In the next two days we developed our acquaintance. Mr. Robinson was the acme of politeness, quiet-mannered, a non-smoker. At night he went on deck and roamed about on his own. Once the wind blew up his coattails and in his hip pocket I saw a revolver.
After observing Robinson for two days, Captain Kendall gave his wireless operator a message for Liverpool: "Have strong suspicions that Crippen London cellar murderer and accomplice are among saloon passengers. Mustache taken off, growing beard. Accomplice dressed as a boy. Voice, manner, and build undoubtedly a girl. Both traveling as Mr. and Master Robinson."

When this message was delivered to Scotland Yard, on Friday, July 22, Inspector Dew felt confident that Captain Kendall had correctly identified Dr. Crippen and Miss Le Neve. The fact that the female suspect was disguised as a boy seemed to confirm the sea-captain's suspicions.

After making some inquiries, Inspector Dew learned that Captain Kendall's ship, the Montrose, was a slow boat. It took eleven days for the Montrose to carry her 280 passengers from Antwerp to Quebec. Inspector Dew could race to Canada ahead of the suspects by sailing on the fast White Star liner Laurentic, which crossed the Atlantic in seven days.

When the Laurentic set sail from Liverpool on Saturday, July 23, Inspector Dew and a team of police officers were aboard. As the ship raced toward Canada, her wireless operator sent a message to the Montrose:

"Will board you at Father Point…strictly confidential…from Inspector Dew, Scotland Yard, on board Laurentic."

Aboard the Montrose, Mr. Robinson was sitting in a deck chair near the wireless antenna. He heard a crackling sound as messages passed back and forth between his ship and the Laurentic.

"Do you know what they are saying over the wireless?" Mr. Robinson asked one of the officers of the Montrose, who happened to be standing nearby.

The officer shrugged.

Mr. Robinson said, "What a marvelous invention the wireless is. We are lucky to be living in this age of progress."

When the Laurentic entered the St. Lawrence River, Inspector Dew went ashore at Father Point. The Montrose entered the river the next day, July 31, 1910. Inspector Dew came aboard the Montrose with the river pilots, and went straight to the Captain's cabin. Captain Kendall later recalled:

I sent for Mr. Robinson. When he entered I stood with the detective facing the door, holding my revolver inside my coat pocket. As he came in I said, "Let me introduce you."

Mr. Robinson put out his hand, the detective grabbed it, at the same time removing his pilot's cap, and said, "Good morning, Dr. Crippen. Do you know me? I'm Inspector Dew from Scotland Yard."

Crippen quivered. Surprise struck him dumb. Then he said, "Thank God it's over. The suspense has been too great. I couldn't stand it any longer."

This moment marked the first time in history that a fugitive had been tracked down by wireless telegraph.

Ethel Le Neve was arrested in her cabin. Neither she nor Dr. Crippen would admit knowing anything about the mutilated corpse in the cellar at 39 Hilldrop Crescent.
According to Inspector Dew, Dr. Crippen was very anxious to protect Miss Le Neve. Dew wrote, "Crippen's love for the girl, for whom he had risked so much, was the biggest thing in his life…He never seemed to care so much what happened to himself, so long as her innocence was established."

Dr. Crippen and his mistress were tried together in London in October of 1910.
The prosecutors argued that Dr. Crippen must have coolly planned his wife's murder far in advance of the act. Laboratory analysis of the human remains in the Crippen's basement had turned up traces of hyosin, a sedative drug that is fatal in large doses. Dr. Crippen had never purchased hyosin until shortly before his wife's disappearance, when he had suddenly purchased a large quantity.

Dr. Crippen's attorney advised him to plead guilty and throw himself on the mercy of the court, but the doctor rejected this strategy when he learned that Ethel Le Neve would be forced to take the stand to testify. He was afraid that she might incriminate herself.
"Tell Ethel not to worry," Crippen told his legal team. "Tell her I will take all the blame. Give her my heart's love."

A law clerk who worked for Crippen's attorney complained that their client seemed disinterested in his own defense.

"He couldn't seem to concentrate on his own case [during consultations with his lawyers]. He began to ask us about Ethel directly we arrived and he would still be talking about her when we left."

The clerk was astonished by Crippen's mild, calm manner. "To look at him, you would not believe that he could kill a mouse," the clerk said. "To all outward appearances he might have been a client slightly perturbed at the prospect of a summons for riding a bicycle without a light."

Ethel Le Neve did not testify at the trial. Dr. Crippen stuck to his original story: his wife had run off to Chicago, and he had lied to Miss Le Neve, telling her that his wife had died in California.

On October 22, 1910, the jury returned its verdict. Dr. Crippen was guilty of murder. Ethel Le Neve was not guilty.

From his death cell Dr. Crippen wrote Miss Le Neve: "We shall meet again in another life. We have always been so entirely one in heart and soul, thought and deed, even in flesh and spirit, I cannot believe otherwise but we shall be together in that other life I am going to soon."

Dr. Crippen walked to the gallows on November 23. His last request, which was granted, was that a photograph of Miss Le Neve be buried with him.

Ethel Le Neve assumed a new identity, settled in South London and resumed her career as a secretary. In 1916 she married an accountant, with whom she had two children. She died in 1967 at the age of eighty-four.

SOURCES: The Mild Murderer; The True Story of the Dr. Crippen Case. by Tom Cullen. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston. 1977
The Detectives. by Frank Smith and Myles Ludwig. J. B. Lippincott Company. 1978.

My thanks to Old News publishers Nancy and Rick Bromer, and the author Richard Sheppard, for allowing us to reprint this story of Dr. Crippen. If you're a history buff, Old News should be on your reading list. Published in newspaper format, each issue contains well-researched articles on historical events. Old News is published monthly (except August); subscription rates in 1993 were: $15/year (except Pennsylvania residents add 6% tax - $15.90). Dr. Crippen's article contained nine photographs, of which I only reprinted one. Old News, Susquehanna Times & Magazine, Inc., 400 Stackstown Rd, Marietta, Pa 17547-9300; telephone (717) 426-2212.

Additional Data on Dr. Harvey8 Hawley CRIPPEN (Myron Augustus7, Philo H.6, Bradley5, Ezra4 (wife Tabitha Crippen*), John3, Jabez2, Thomas1). (* Tabitha's: Joseph, Jabez, Thomas] from the files of Kathryn (Crippen) Warner. [Warner gives his name as Hawley Harvey CRIPPEN]. He married #1 Detroit, Wayne Co, MI, 2 Dec 1887 [L1/38] Charlotte J. Bell, daughter of Arthur and Susan (MADDEN) BELL. They had one son, Otto CRIPPEN. Charlotte died Salt Lake City, UT, about 1890-91. He met Cora Turner (aka Belle Elmore, her stage name) about 1893. Between 1884-87 he was a physician in Detroit, in 1888 he removed to San Diego, CA.

You'll also find new information on the family of Hawley Harvey Crippen posted on our Bulletin Board.



Webmaster: Donna Younkin Logan
Snail Mail: PO BOX 252, Walkersville, MD 21793
Email Donna - Click here


powered by FreeFind