Date Of Execution: 13 Aug 1915
Execution Place: Maidstone Prison
Executioner: John Ellis
George Joseph Smith was hanged in Maidstone Prison for the pattern of serial killings known as the "Brides in the Bath Murders".
The son of an insurance agent, George Joseph Smith was born in Bethnal Green, London. He was sent to a reformatory at Gravesend, Kent at the age of nine and later served time for swindling and theft. In 1896, he was imprisoned for 12 months for persuading a woman to steal from her employers. He used the proceeds to open a baker's shop in Leicester.
In 1898, he married Caroline Beatrice Thornhill (under another alias, Oliver George Love) in Leicester; it was his only legal marriage (although he also married another woman bigamously the following year). They moved to London, where she worked as a maid for a number of employers, stealing from them for her husband. She was eventually caught in Worthing, Sussex, and sentenced to 12 months. On her release, she incriminated her husband and he was imprisoned in January 1901 for two years. On his release, she fled to Canada. Smith then went back to his other wife, cleared out her savings, and left.
In June 1908, Smith married Florence Wilson, a widow from Worthing. On July 3, he left her, but not before taking £30 drawn from her savings account and selling her belongings from their Camden residence in London. On July 30 in Bristol, he married Edith Peglar, who had replied to an advertisement for a housekeeper. He would disappear for months at a time, saying that he was going to another city to ply his trade, which he claimed was selling antiques. In between his other marriages, Smith would always come back to Peglar with money.
In October 1909, he married Sarah Freeman, under the name George Rose Smith. As with Wilson, he left her after clearing out her savings and selling her war bonds, with a total take of £400. He then married Bessie Munday and Alice Burnham. In September 1914, he married Alice Reid, under the alias Charles Oliver James. In total, Smith entered into seven bigamous marriages between 1908 and 1914. In most of these cases, Smith went through his wives' possessions before he disappeared.
In January 1915, Division Detective Inspector Arthur Neil received a letter from a Joseph Crossley, who owned a boarding house in Blackpool, Lancashire. Included with the letter were two newspaper clippings: one was from the News of the World dated before Christmas, 1914, about the death of Margaret Elizabeth Lloyd (née Lofty), aged 38, who died in her lodgings in 14 Bismarck Road, Highgate, London (later renamed Waterlow Road). She was found in her bathtub by her husband, John Lloyd, and their landlady.
The other clipping contained the report of a coroner's inquest dated December 13, 1913, in Blackpool. It was about a woman named Alice Smith (née Burnham), who died suddenly in a boarding house in that seaside resort while in her bathtub. She was found by her husband George Smith.
The letter, dated January 3, was written by Crossley, the landlord of Mr and Mrs Smith, on behalf of Crossley's wife and a Mr. Charles Burnham, who both expressed their suspicion on the striking similarity of the two incidents and urged the police to investigate the matter.
Neil went to 14 Bismarck Road, where Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd had taken lodgings on December 17. He found it hard to believe that an adult like Mrs. Lloyd could have drowned in such a small tub, especially since the tub was three-quarters full when she was found. He then interviewed the coroner, a Dr. Bates, who had signed the death certificate, and asked if there were signs of violence on the woman. There were none except for a tiny bruise above the left elbow.
Upon further investigation, Neil learned that a will had been made on the 18th, three hours before Margaret Lloyd died, and the sole beneficiary was her husband who had submitted the will to a lawyer "for settlement". In addition, she had withdrawn all her savings on that same day.
On January 12, Dr. Bates called Neil. He had had an inquiry from the Yorkshire Insurance Company regarding the death of Margaret Lloyd. She had, three days before she was married, taken out a life insurance policy for £700, with her husband John Lloyd as sole beneficiary. Neil promptly asked the doctor to delay his reply. At the same time he requested more information on the Smith case from the Blackpool Police. Similarly, the late Mrs. Smith had earlier taken out a life insurance policy and made a will in her husband's favour, and she took the lodgings in Blackpool only after Mr. Smith inspected the bathtub.
Neil asked the coroner to issue a favourable report to the insurance company. He was counting on the suspect to get in touch with his lawyer, and the office was watched day and night. On February 1, a man fitting Lloyd/Smith's description appeared. Neil introduced himself and asked him whether he was John Lloyd. After Lloyd answered in the affirmative, Neil then asked him whether he was also George Smith. The man denied it vehemently. Neil, already sure that John Lloyd and George Smith were the same man, told him that he would take him for questioning on suspicion of bigamy. The man finally admitted that he was indeed George Smith, and was arrested.
see National Archives - PCOM 8/138, MEPO 3/225B, HO 144/1404/273877, HO 144/1405/273877