Date Of Execution: 23 Nov 1910
Crime Location: 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden Town
Execution Place: Pentonville Prison
Hawley Harvey Crippen was convicted of the murder of his wife Cora Crippen and sentenced to death.
Some of the remains of Cora Crippen were found buried in the cellar of their house at 39 Hilldrop Crescent. Her head and limbs were never found, and no sexual organs were found with the remains.
It is commonly speculated that he didn't murder her and that the remains were of someone else, possibly even those of a man.
Hawley Crippen was an American doctor and was born in Michigan. He studied to be a doctor at the Cleveland Homoeopathic Hospital and married his first wife who later died in 1890 or 1891 after which he met Cora Turner when she was 17-years old and married her in Jersey City in 1893. He later came to the United Kingdom in 1900 and was followed by Cora Crippen.
A brief overview of the key events in the murder case are detailed below:
When the policeman had been to see Hawley Crippen on 8 July 1910 to enquire about his wife he said that Hawley Crippen had seemed calm but said that he had told him that he was not satisfied with his answers.
However, when he went back to see him on 11 July 1910 he found that he was not at home and not at his place of work at Albion House and so they decided to carry out a full search of 39 Hilldrop Crescent and searched every room and dug up the garden. On 12 July 1910 they examined each room in greater detail and then on 13 July 1910 determined to make a thorough search of the cellar.
The policeman said that the cellar had a brick floor and that when he probed about with a poker he found one place where the poker went rather easily in between the crevices. He said that he then got a few bricks up and then got a spade and dug the clay immediately beneath the bricks and that after digging about four spadesful down, about nine inches below, he came across what appeared to be human remains and then called for the Divisional Surgeon.
On 14 July 1910 the Divisional Surgeon instructed that the remains be put into a coffin and removed to the mortuary. When they were examined by a Master in Surgery they were found to include, besides some tufts of hair, a large piece of flesh composed of skin, fat, and muscle from the thigh and lower part of the buttock of a human being, and another small piece. It was noted that the head was missing, and that there were no bones or parts of bones. It was noted that, all the internal organs were present except for the organs of generation.
On July 15 the Master in Surgery found a piece of skin with some fat attached to it measuring 11in by 9in that came from the upper part of the abdomen and lower part of the chest. He found another piece of skin 7in by 6in which came from the lower part, the front portion of the abdomen. He also found a mark on the piece of skin which after examining for several hours he concluded was the mark of a scar which he said would have been visible upon the skin. He said that when the piece of skin was in position on the human body it would have been in the middle line in front, maybe a little to the left and that it began just above the pubes and extended for 4in or a little over. He said that the whole scar was complete, and that there was a piece of flesh beyond it. He noted that It was quite an old scar.
He said that judging by the way in which the viscera had been extracted, he thought that it must have been done by a person skilled in removing viscera and skilled in dissection although not necessarily skilled in the dissection of human beings, but in evisceration of animals. He said that there was no cut or tear in any part, except where it was necessary for the removal and noted that all the organs were connected together, noting that the diaphragm or the septum between the chest and the abdomen had, of course, been cut round and that such an operation would certainly have required skill. He said that there were none of the organs of generation although observed that some of them might have been removed during life and that the scar he saw was such that might be occasioned by an operation for the removal of the pelvic organs, or the ovaries, or both combined.
He said that he was of the opinion that the remains had been buried for four to eight months and that in forming that opinion he had taken into consideration the place where they were buried, the surrounding materials, which included a lime mixture, and the depth, and the fact that they must have been buried very shortly after death. He also said that he thought that the remains were that of an adult, young or middle-aged, and of stout figure.
The Master in Surgery said that it was quite impossible for them to have been buried there before September 1905.
He also noted that amongst the remains he found fragments of a woman's cotton combinations and a portion from the neck part of a pyjama jacket that had a maker's label on it which said, 'Shirt makers, Jones Brothers (Holloway), Limited, Holloway, N.', which he noted corresponded to other labels found on other garments found in the house.
The Master in Surgery also found some hair in a Hinde curler and a tuft of hair in a handkerchief which he said were between 8in and 2in and partly bleached, and stated that they were from a woman. He noted that the hair included the roots.
The remains were also examined by a senior scientific analyst from the Home Office who examined portions of the stomach and intestines and kidney and liver for poisons including morphine, strychnine, cocaine, and so on and found that a mydriatic alkaloid was present. He said that there were three types of mydriatic vegetable alkaloids, atropine, hyoscyamine, and hyoscine and determined that the poison that he had found was hyoscine. He said that there was one-thirtieth of a grain of hyoscine in the stomach, one-fortieth of a grain in the kidney and one-twelfth of a grain in the liver, and that the total amount of hyoscine in all the organs submitted to him was two-sevenths of a grain.
He went on to say that Hyoscine hydrobromide was a powerful narcotic poison and that if a fatal dose were given it would perhaps produce a little delirium and excitement at first, that the pupils of the eyes would be paralysed, that the mouth and throat would become dry and that the patient would then quickly become drowsy and unconscious and completely paralysed, and that death would result within a few hours. He said that Hyoscine was not a commonly used drug and that when used it was, if given internally, administered practically by hypodermic injection. He said that it was used as a powerful sedative for cases of delirium, mania, meningitis (inflammation of the brain), also for delirium tremens, and very occasionally as a hypnotic for insomnia and that sometimes it was given in combination with morphine for sedative purposes. He said that in all of those cases it was given hypodermically and that the proper dose for hypodermic injection was from a two-hundredth to one-hundredth of a grain. He also said that as far as he knew, hyoscine was not used as a homoeopathic remedy, noting that he had looked through the English and the American homoeopathic pharmacopoeias, and found that the drug was not mentioned. He said that he thought that in the case that he was working with that the hyoscine was taken by the mouth. He said that it had a rather salty and bitter taste but that it could be administered without a person knowing if it was given in something with a pronounced flavour and sweetish taste such as stout, beer, spirits, sweetened tea, or coffee. He said that the cause of death was, in his opinion, poisoning by hyoscine. He noted that he knew of no legitimate use for hydrobromide of hyoscine, except in the doses he had mentioned, for internal administration and said that after this drug was taken he thought the person would have probably lived for an hour or more, and not more than twelve hours.
It was later shown that Hawley Crippen had bought a considerable quantity of Hyoscine earlier on in the year on 17 or 18 January. A chemist from Lewis and Burrows chemist's shop at 108 New Oxford Street said that Hawley Crippen had called and ordered five grains of hyoscine hydrobromide on January 17 or 18 saying that he wanted it for homoeopathic purposes. The chemist said that he didn't have that quantity in stock and that he had to order it from a wholesale house. He said that during the four years that he had been with Lewis and Burrows they had never had that quantity of hyoscine hydrobromide in stock. He also said that he had known Hawley Crippen as a customer for three years saying that he had from time to time purchased drugs from them, including cocaine, morphia and mercury and that Hawley Crippen had always signed the poisons register book quite willingly when doing so.
The assistant at the Lewis and Burrows said that he handed Hawley Crippen the five grains which was in the form of crystals, in a tube or bottle.
The entry in the poisons book read, 'Name of purchaser, Munyons, per H. H. Crippen, address of purchaser, 57-61, Albion House, name and quantity of poison sold, five grains hyoscine hydrobromide, purposes for which required, homeopathic preparations, signature of purchaser, H. H. Crippen.'.
The senior scientific analyst from the Home Office also noted that he had been told on 2 August 1910 that Hawley Crippen had bought some hyoscine and that he carried out the tests on 20 August 1910.
The senior scientific analyst from the Home Office's tests were also confirmed by a Physician to St. Mary's Hospital who said that the tests carried out were absolutely the right tests, and that he agreed with the senior scientific analyst's results.
During the trial the evidence of the remains of the pyjamas was brought up. It was heard that Hawley Crippen had claimed that the remains must have been put in the cellar before they had arrived at 39 Hilldrop Crescent. However, it was determined that the pyjama material was similar to three sets of pyjamas that were sold by Jones Brothers Ltd, Holloway on 5 January 1909 for 17s. 9d. and which were delivered to 39 Hilldrop Crescent and that two sets and a pair of pyjama bottoms were found in the house. It was also heard that the pyjama jacket found with the remains in which they were wrapped had the label of the clothes shop in them and that they could not have been bought before 1906 as the company, Jones Brothers Ltd, was not formed until that year. It was also heard that that material used for the pyjamas had only been used since 1908.
In court Hawley Crippen said that he had not been through a practical course of surgery but had taken a theoretical course and that he had never performed a post-mortem examination in his life, noting that his speciality had been eyes and noses. He said that when he and Cora Crippen came to England they first lived in South Crescent, just off Tottenham Court Road and that later whilst they were in Guilford Street he went off to America from November to May and that when he came back he began to find that there was a change in Cora Crippen's manner and that after they moved to Store Street in 1902 or 1903, he found that she was always finding fault with him, and that every night she took the opportunity of quarrelling with him such that they often went to bed in rather a temper with each other. He said that her behaviour continued, and said that she apparently did not wish to be familiar with him and that he later found out that she had met another man that had taken her out whilst he had been away and that she had become very fond of him and didn't care for him any more. He said that the man that she had been seeing was a music-hall artist and had some kind of automatic orchestra. He said that the situation continued and that when they moved to 39 Hilldrop Crescent they had had separate rooms.
He said that he had first become connected with Munyon's Remedies at Albion House about 15 or 16 years earlier and later became a general manager and acted as advisory physician and had charge of the chemical laboratory up until he went to America after which, when he returned he had another role. He said that he wasn't in the habit of buying drugs for them in England but that he did for himself and other firms and amongst the drugs he had purchased he had purchased a considerable amount of poisons including aconite, belladonna, rhustox, gelsemium, and others, saying that he had bought some from Keen and Ashwell and some from Lewis and Burrows, although he never purchased any drugs from other chemists. He said that he had been familiar with the drug hyoscine for years saying that he first heard of it when he came to England in 1885. He said that he learned the use of it at the Royal Bethlem Hospital for the Insane noting that it was a drug that was greatly used in America, especially in the insane asylums, as well as in ophthalmic clinics. He also said that he had used it himself as a nerve remedy in homoeopathic preparations, in reduced extremely minute doses. He said that he remembered purchasing some hyoscine on 19 January 1910 in the form of crystals for the treatment of nervous diseases and that he dissolved the five grains he bought in alcohol and then dissolved it in an ounce of water, making 480 drops. He said that one drop would be 5/480th of a grain. He said that of that preparation he used, in conjunction with another mixture, consisting of gelsemium, assofetida, and some other homeopathic preparations, four drops would equal 20/480ths of a grain. He said that with a drachm of the another mixture, he used it for medicating about three hundred small discs, to make one bottle of the preparation sent out to a patient of about 150 doses, two tablets to the dose. He said it would be equal to 1/3,600th of a grain to a dose and that the bottles would be sent out in a small paste-board case and on the bottle would be a label giving two tablets as the dose, eight doses a day. He said that the doses would be in the form of small sugar homoeopathic discs, made of cane sugar, to absorb the alcoholic preparations and that the actual amount of hyoscine in two discs would be approximately 1/3,600th of a grain, which was extremely minute. He said that of the hyoscine he purchased on 19 January 1910 he had dispensed about two-thirds although noted that it was extremely difficult to recall the names of patients to whom the preparations had been sent because in addition to Munyon's Remedies, he was attending to another business in which he handled a large number of letters daily, although he said that he could name one patient who had required it.
Hawley Crippen went on to describe the last night that Cora Crippen had been at 39 Hilldrop Crescent at the dinner party on 31 January 1910. He said that before the night Cora Crippen had often threatened to leave him, especially when she was in a temper and that it was a very frequent threat of hers. He said that the tempers that she got into were over very trivial matters and that she was always finding fault about trivial things. He said that on 31 January 1910, two guests came to dinner with them between six and seven, at the request of Cora Crippen. He said that while they were there Cora Crippen had picked a quarrel with him upon a most trivial incident. He said that during the evening the male guest wanted to go upstairs and as he had been to their house many times and knew the place perfectly well, he let him go up by himself. However, he said that when the guest came down he seemed to have caught a chill that the guest and his wife then left, after which he said that Cora Crippen got into a great rage about it. He said that he didn't recollect all she did although he said that she said a great many things and abused him and said some very strong things. He said that she said that if he could not be a gentleman then she had had enough of it and could not stand it any longer and that she was going to leave. He said that that was similar to her former threats, although on that occasion she said something that she had not said before and that that was that after she had gone it would be necessary for him to cover up any scandal there might be by her leaving him and that she told him that he might do it in the very best way he could. Hawley Crippen said that he came back the next day at his usual time, which was about half-past seven or eight o'clock, and found that the house was vacant. He said that he did not see Cora Crippen that morning as they had retired very late the night before and, as was the usual thing, he was up and out of the house before she was up. He said that he went to business as usual that day and that at some time during the day he called on the wife of the guest that had felt a chill and asked her how her husband was and said that she answered, 'No better'.
Hawley Crippen admitted that he had told friends that Cora Crippen had left him and that she had afterwards became ill, and that subsequently her death had taken place. He said that he made those statements because Cora Crippen had particularly told him that he must do the best he could to cover up the scandal and that he had wanted to hide anything regarding her departure from him in the best way he could, both for his own sake and hers.
He said that he recollected the visit of the Inspector and the statement he made to him about his wife not being dead and that she had just left him and gone to America and said that the statement was quite true. He said that the Inspector was very imperative in impressing on him that he must produce his wife or he should be in serious trouble and that he had also said that if he did not produce her quickly the statement that he had made would be in the newspapers. As such, he said that the next morning he made up his mind to go to Quebec.
It was noted that when the boat that he had taken to Canada, the Montrose, had arrived, Hawley Crippen was found to have two notes on him indicating that he had considered jumping overboard and committing suicide. In court he said that in fact he had made a deal with the quartermaster whilst the ship was two days away from Quebec and that the quartermaster would smuggle him and his girlfriend off of the ship and make a splash to make it look like they had jumped over and that he would leave the notes behind. He said that the quartermaster had come to him when he was sat in the wheelhouse and told him that the Captain knew who he was and had told him that the police intended to arrest him when the boat arrived but said that he could help him escape. The first note had read, 'I cannot stand the horrors I go through every night any longer. As I see nothing bright ahead, and money has come to an end, I have made up my mind to jump overboard to-night. I know I have spoilt your life, but I hope some day you can learn to forgive me. With last words of love, yours, H.', and the second note had read, 'Shall we wait until to-night, 10 or 11 o'clock, if not what time.'. He said that the quartermaster took them downstairs at the agreed time but that somebody came along and prevented them from going on. However, he said that he kept the notes as the quartermaster had told him that they would try again the following day. However, he said that he had expected the Inspector to come on board at Quebec at one o'clock at night and had been surprised when he had come on board earlier at Father Point.
It was also heard in court that when the Inspector arrested Hawley Crippen, Hawley Crippen had said, 'I am not sorry, the anxiety has been too much.'. However, Hawley Crippen said that he was referring to the fact that he expected to be arrested, because the lies he had told would cast such suspicion on him, and that they might hold him for perhaps a year, in prison, until they found Cora Crippen. It was also heard that when Hawley Crippen had been arrested he had said, 'It is only fair to say that she (his girlfriend) knew nothing about it. I never told her anything.', but in court Hawley Crippen said that what he meant by that was that he had never told her about talking to his wife before she went away about the scandal. He said that he had only told her that Cora Crippen had gone, and that afterwards he had told her that she was dead. He said that those were the only two things he told her, and that she knew nothing about the letters or the lies he had disseminated.
He went on to say 'My wife had a scar on the lower part of the abdomen, from the pubic bone upwards, towards the navel, in the middle line. It was from an operation for ovariotomy, that was done about twelve years ago, I believe, shortly before we came to England for the first time. The scar was about 4 1/2 inches long. It was a small scar, because only the ovaries were removed. It came very close to the navel. My wife used to bleach her hair. I sometimes helped her to bleach it. She was very particular over it. She applied the bleaching fluid about every four or five days. She was very anxious that nobody should ever know she had any dark hair at all. She was very particular about her hair. I noticed that only the very tiniest portions of her hair near the roots were dark, after they began to grow. I did not at any time administer hyoscine to my wife. I have no idea whose remains were found at my house in Hilldrop Crescent. I knew nothing about them until I came back to England.'
He then said 'On the early morning of February 1 I was left alone in my house with my wife, then alive and well. I know of no person in the world who has seen her alive since, no person who has ever had a letter from her since, no person who can prove any fact to show that she ever left that house alive. The last I saw of her would be between two and three in the morning, when we retired. I breakfasted at home that morning. I prepared breakfast myself. I nearly always did. My wife seldom came down to breakfast. We were usually very late retiring, and I was off probably at 8.30 in the morning. Occasionally I would take her up a cup of coffee in the morning, not often. In the evening of February 1 I returned home at my usual hour, about half past seven. It might have been 7.25 or 7.35. If I said in my statement to the Inspector, 'I came to business the next morning, and when I went home between five and six p.m. I found she had gone', that was probably right. I cannot trace it back. As she had always been talking to me about her man, I thought she had gone to him in America. That was the only guess I could make. I have made no inquiries as to what steamers were going to America about that time, or whether any woman answering to the description of my wife had about then taken passage to America. I cannot say what clothing my wife took with her. She had a lot of trunks and boxes in the house. I believe one was missing; I do not know whether she took any box with her. I have not inquired at the cabstand near the house to ascertain whether a cabman had called to take away a box from my house. I have not inquired of the neighbours as to whether my wife was seen to leave the house, nor of tradespeople as to whether they called at the house on that day. So far as I know, no such inquiries have been made since my arrest. I recognise the importance to me of finding anyone who saw my wife alive after the two guests left, but I have made no inquiries. I have not conducted my own defence. There have been no inquiries made, as far as I know. This is a point that did not occur to me, and I did not suggest any inquiries to my solicitors.'.
When he spoke of the cellar he said, 'I had been living at 39 Hilldrop Crescent for five and a half years. During all that time the floor of the cellar had not been disturbed to my knowledge. I was not always at home, and there were many times when my wife was out of the house for hours. I have been in the cellar. We had gas fires upstairs and only used coal in the kitchen range at times. Occasionally I brought coal from the cellar. I know that these remains were found in the cellar. I was told so by my solicitor when I was brought back to England. So far as I know they were not put there during my tenancy. I do not say that it is impossible, because there were times when both I and my wife were away. I admit that it is improbable that without my knowledge or my wife's the remains could have been put there during our tenancy, but there is the possibility.'.
When he gave evidence in court about the pyjamas he said, 'The two suits of pyjamas, exhibit 76, are mine. I bought them myself at Jones Brothers in September 1909. I usually had three pairs at a time. The odd trousers, exhibit 48, is part of a suit I had before I bought exhibit 76, probably a long time previously, but after I went to Hilldrop Crescent. It would be shortly after I went there. I usually had at one time a set of three suits. There should be another suit belonging to exhibit 76 to complete the set. Exhibit 48 is the only remains of the set of three I had previously purchased. My wife never bought pyjamas for me. I bought my own. It is not the fact that my wife bought the suit of pyjamas of which exhibit 48 is the trousers at Jones Brothers' winter sale on January 5, 1909.'. However, on being pressed he said 'I won't say she did not buy them. She bought me some. I do not know whether she bought these or not. When I said just now that she never bought any for me, I should not have put it so positively. I will not swear that exhibit 48 is not part of a suit bought by my wife on January 5, 1909, but I think this is not a recent pair of trousers at all. Looking at the fragments of a pyjama jacket in the jars, exhibits 79 and 80, they appear to be a similar pattern to Exhibit 48. At almost every sale, say in September, January, and midsummer, there were pyjamas bought either by me or my wife. I cannot say what lot this comes from.'.
He then discussed his reasoning for leaving the country in a hurry saying, 'I first made up my mind to leave London the morning after the Inspector called on me, July 9. After what he said to me I thought, well, if there is all this suspicion and I am likely to have to stay in gaol for months and months and months, perhaps, until this woman is found, I had better be out of it. I really thought that I might be kept in prison for months, on suspicion. The Inspector had told me that the woman had disappeared and must be found. I did not understand the law enough to say on what ground I could be kept in prison. I have read or heard of people being arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the disappearance of other people. I cannot put it in legal phrase. I cannot define the charge, except that if I could not find the woman I might very likely be held until she was found, that was my idea. No other idea than that entered my head. If I could not produce the woman the Inspector had told me that I should be in serious trouble. That was the reason why, after seeing the Inspector, I contemplated fleeing from the country'.
He went on to say, 'The only idea I could think of was to take her away out of the country, where she would not have this scandal thrown upon her. I had not made up my mind to go when I said to a woman, 'If anything should happen to me, give the envelopes to my girlfriend.' After the Inspector left me on the 8th I studied the whole matter over and consulted my girlfriend as to what she would like to do, and on the following morning I made up my mind to leave. I thought I was in danger of arrest and I fled the country, in a false name, shaving off my moustache, leaving off wearing glasses in public, taking my girlfriend with me, also in a false name, posing as my son. We went to Brussels and Antwerp, staying at hotels together as Mr and Master Robinson. When the Inspector boarded the Montrose at Father Point I recognised him at once, although he was disguised as a pilot. I had not expected to see him. Up to that time I had not thought about what charge would be made against me. The Inspector said, 'Good morning, Dr. Crippen' and I said, 'Good morning.'. If he then said, You will be arrested for the murder and mutilation of your wife, Cora Crippen, in London on or about February 2', I would not say that I took that in. I did not pay much attention to what he said, because I was in such a confusion; I was so very much surprised and confused that I did not quite have my right senses. The Canadian officer, cautioned me. I realised that I was being arrested for the murder of my wife. I remember hearing that. Up to that time I believed that she was alive. I did not question the Inspector as to how he knew that she was dead. I put no question at all. I made no reply. Just later I did say to him, 'I am not sorry, the anxiety has been too much'. I meant the anxiety of thinking that I might be pursued from London. I still say that I did not understand the nature of the charge which would be brought against me, yet I had felt anxiety. When the handcuffs were put on me, because, as I was told, I had written that I would commit suicide, and I said, 'I won't, I am more than satisfied, because the anxiety has been too awful', I meant the same thing. When I said to the Inspector, 'It is only fair to say that my girlfriend knows nothing about it', that was after the warrant had been read to me, and I knew, by the warrant, that she was charged jointly with me with the murder. I did not mean by 'nothing about it', that she knew nothing of the murder. I meant that she knew nothing about any of the circumstances beyond what I have already said that I had told her. By 'it', I referred to the disappearance and the lies that I had told, which I knew would throw me under suspicion, from what the Inspector had told me. I had never told her about my lies or my letters or the suspicious circumstances which brought about my arrest. As to how I induced her to disguise herself as a boy and cut her hair short, I told her that the Inspector had said that there would be serious trouble if I did not find Mrs Crippen. My girlfriend told me that she had made a statement, the same as I had. I explained to her that that statement involved her in describing that she lived with me, and that my statement gave the same, and that there would be a scandal which would turn her folks against her, and that the Inspector had said that if I did not produce Mrs Crippen there would be trouble for me, and the only way I saw for us would be to escape this by going away to another place where we could be alone and start a new life together. That is all I told her to persuade her to do that.'.
The jury retired for less than half an hour and then returned with a guilty verdict.
He was executed at Pentonville Jail on 23 November 1910.
Later, in 2010, it was reported that DNA analysis was carried out on the scar tissue that was recovered from the cellar at the Michigan State University which concluded that the sample was not from Cora Crippen's family and that it also wasn't female. However, it was also said that the results were disputed, both by people very familiar with the case as well as people familiar with DNA testing that said that there were no birth certificates for Cora Crippen's relatives and that the evidence had not been open to peer review.
see National Archives - HO 144/1718/195492, HO 144/1719/195492, MEPO 3/3154, MEPO 3/198, PCOM 8/30, CRIM 1/117, DPP 1/13
see Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 02 January 2018), October 1910, trial of CRIPPEN, Hawley Harvey (48, dentist) (t19101011-74).
see Illustrated Police News - Saturday 23 July 1910