How Island Played Its Part in the Downfall of the Doctor

South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales), November 23, 2010 | Go to article overview

How Island Played Its Part in the Downfall of the Doctor


Byline: Dan O'Neill

THEY hanged the "monster," Dr Harvey Hawley Crippen, in Pentonville Prison 100 years ago today. But his march to the gallows began 13 years earlier in our own South Wales, a death sentence, you could say, handed down from a rock in the Bristol Channel.

Because, on May 13, 1897, George Kemp, a Cardiff Post Office engineer, raised a flag on the island of Flat Holm, a signal telling the great inventor Guglielmo Marconi that he had successfully transmitted a radio message from Lavernock Point, three miles away. The age of radio communication was born, our little patch present at its nativity.

It would kill Crippen. When Marconi came to Britain in February 1895, the 33-year-old Crippen was living in Cleveland, Ohio, a diffident little man married to Belle Elmore, a bawdy, second-rate music hall performer. Never was there a man so unlikely to leave his name as a symbol of evil - unjustified, we now know, with moves under way to secure a posthumous pardon.

Crippen was celebrating his fourth wedding anniversary when Marconi began his experiments in Lavernock, though celebrate is hardly the word. Belle, then just 21, was a brash, crude and extravagant woman who dominated her husband, raucous chalk to his timid cheese. She wanted to see the "greatest city in the world", a London packed with music halls and pubs, and her extramarital sex life began as soon as they arrived.Crippen found work as manager of an American patent medicine firm while trying to keep up with Belle and her shop-soiled new friends - although she never stopped taunting him in front of them.

Then, in 1907, a shy young typist named Ethel Le Neve started work in Crippen's office. He fell in love with her and, surprisingly, his passion was reciprocated.

So all the elements for one of the "crimes of the century" were in place: browbeaten husband, domineering wife, and a shy and pretty young girl, everything Belle was not, who adored her boss.

Crippen still lived with Belle until, on the night of January 31, 1910, she went too far. That night, in front of her rowdy friends, Belle (real name Cora) humiliated him once too often.

There was a row and nothing more was seen of Belle - until bits of her on a soup plate were passed around the legendary Old Bailey during one of the most memorable of all British murder trials.

Crippen claimed that soon after their quarrel his wife had gone back to America.

It seemed the logical end to a troubled marriage. …

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