Magazine article History Today

The Execution of Dr Crippen

Magazine article History Today

The Execution of Dr Crippen

Article excerpt

Hawley Harvey Crippen was 48 years old when he was hanged in London's Pentonville prison at 9am that Wednesday morning. He had spent the previous hour with the Roman Catholic prison chaplain and two warders. 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 hangman, a Yorkshire barber named John Ellis, who had spent time with him the day before, recalled that' Crippen came across to me as a most pleasant fellow" He was smiling as the cap was put over his head on the scaffold. The drop broke all the bones in his neck and he must have died instantly. The body was buried in the prison graveyard.

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. 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 1897 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 1905 the Crippens moved to a house in the Holloway area of north London, 39 Hilldrop Crescent, where they took lodgers. Crippen came home one day and found Cora in bed with one of them. She had been unfaithful to him before and he and Ethel now began an affair. Ethel was his 'wifie' and he was her 'hub'.

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On February 1st, 1910 Cora Crippen vanished. Her husband said she had gone back to the United States for a few months. In March Ethel moved into the Hilldrop Crescent house with Crippen, who now gave out that Cora had died in America. Cora's friends grew suspicious, Scotland Yard was alerted and Detective Inspector Walter Dew talked to Crippen in July. …

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