Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen, born September 11th 1862 in Coldwater, Michigan, was a doctor - but not the average medical physician. Crippen studied first at the University of Michigan Homeopathic Medical School and graduated from the Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College in 1884.
Crippen's first wife, Charlotte, died of a stroke in 1892, and Crippen entrusted his parents, living in California, with the care of his two-year-old son, Hawley Otto. Crippen started to practise in New York, where in 1894 he married his second wife, Corrine ‘Cora’ Turner (stage name: Belle Elmore). A mediocre singer whose dreams of becoming a famous diva were undermined by her sheer lack of talent and her vulgarity, though she hoped that her marriage to a man of medical standing would give her the boost up into the opera limelight where she belonged.
In 1897, Crippen and his wife moved to England. However his US medical qualifications were not sufficient to allow him to practise as a doctor in the UK and so he continued working as a distributor of patent medicines. Cora socialised with a number of variety players of the time, including Lil Hawthorne of The Hawthorne Sisters and Lil's husband/manager John Nash.
Two years later Crippen was sacked by Munyon's for spending too much time managing his wife's stage career. He then became manager of Drouet's Institution for the Deaf, where he met Ethel Le Neve, a young typist, around 1903. After living at various addresses in London, the Crippens finally moved in 1905 to 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden Road, Holloway, London, where they took in lodgers to augment Crippen's meagre income. It was here that Cora cuckolded Crippen with one of their lodgers, and in turn Crippen took Le Neve as his mistress in 1908.
Their marriage, mismatched from the start, took a turn for the worse as both husband and wife simultaneously became involved in illicit affairs: Crippen with Ethel Le Neve, and Belle with a Chicago prizefighter-turned-showman named Bruce Miller At some point, rumours of Crippen's affair and Ethel's unexpected pregnancy reached Belle's ears. While nobody knows for certain what happened, it was probably something Belle screamed at her husband during one of their many arguments that caused Crippen to crack, one way or another Belle would have to go.
On 17th January 1910, Crippen purchased five grains of hyoscine hydrobromide (a drug commonly used to quiet violently insane and alcoholic patients at London's Bedlam Institute), and administered it to his wife on 1st February. Unfortunately for Crippen, he gave her too much. Instead of being sedated, Belle went into a babbling and screaming frenzy. Alarmed, Crippen threw all plans for poisoning out the proverbial door and shot her in the head.
What now to do with the body? The ribs and spine were both removed from the body, which went into the bath tub for further processing. The bones went into the kitchen hearth. The torso went under the stone blocks of the cellar. The limbs, head and internal organs, weighted down in a sack containing bricks, went into the Holloway Sanitation Canal.
Meanwhile, the women in Belle's Ladies' Guild were becoming increasingly suspicious of Belle's disappearance and Crippen's lax treatment of Belle's possessions, most of which wound up on Ethel. Numerous inconsistencies regarding her whereabouts, accounts of her fleeing into the arms of Miller, and her supposed death brought the police to Crippen's door. Eventually, Crippen and Ethel decided to escape to Canada with Ethel disguised as a boy. They did not escape the observant eye of the ship's captain Harry Kendall, who had seen their wanted picture in the day's newspaper, and who subsequently telegraphed the police.
Instead of finding sanctuary in Quebec, the couple found the English police and a warrant for their arrest.
Throughout the proceedings and at his sentencing, Crippen showed no remorse for his wife and concern for only his lover's reputation. After just 27 minutes of deliberations, the jury found Crippen guilty of murder. He was hanged by John Ellis, assisted by William Willis, at 9 a.m. on November 23, 1910 at Pentonville Prison, London.
Ethel was, predictably acquitted, she emigrated to the United States on the morning of her lover's execution.