Dr. Harvey Crippen emigrated to London in 1897 with his wife Belle to begin a homeopathic medical sales career. However, one day in 1910, Belle “disappeared”. An inquiry into Belle’s disappearance revealed that Dr. Crippen purchased five grains of the poison hydrobromide of hyoscine at the neighborhood pharmacy just before his wife’s disappearance. Hyoscine, of the poisonous nightshade family, was at the time used in very small doses to treat the “violently insane”. Eventually, police started digging in Crippen’s cellar and found the body of Belle, which contained both a gunshot wound and traces of hyoscine.
Hawley Harvey Crippen (September 11, 1862 – November 23, 1910), usually known as Dr. Crippen, was an American homeopathic physician hanged in Pentonville Prison, London, on November 23, 1910, for the murder of his wife, Cora Henrietta Crippen. He was the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless communication.
After a party at their home on January 31, 1910, Cora disappeared. Hawley Crippen claimed that she had returned to the US, and later added that she had died, and had been cremated, in California. Police first heard of Cora’s disappearance from her friend, but began to take the matter more seriously when asked to investigate by a personal friend of Scotland Yard Supt. Frank Froest
During four searches of their house the police found the remains of a human body, with traces of the calming drug scopolamine.
Trial and execution
During Dr Crippen’s trail the pathologist for the prosecution said they had found large quantities of the toxic compound hyoscine in the remains, and Crippen had bought the drug before the murder from a local chemist.
After 27 minutes of deliberations, the jury found Crippen guilty of murder and he was hanged at 9 a.m. on November 23 at Pentonville Prison, London.
Possible motives for the murder
A theory which was first propounded by Edward Marshall Hall was that Crippen was using hyoscine on his wife as a depressant or anaphrodisiac, but accidentally gave her an overdose and then panicked when she died. It is said that Hall declined to lead Crippen’s defence because another theory was to be propounded.
In 1981, newspapers reported that Sir Hugh Rhys Rankin claimed to have met Ethel Le Neve in 1930 in Australia and that on that occasion, she told him that Crippen murdered his wife because she had syphilis.
The Crippen murder was featured in a popular song:
Dr Crippen killed Belle Elmore
Ran away with Miss le Neve
Right across the ocean blue
Followed by Inspector Dew
Ship’s ahoy, naughty boy!