Saturday, 21 April 2012

Ethel Le Neve at 313 Hornsey Road

Dr Crippen and his wife Cora Turner lived in Holloway on a road called Hilldrop Crescent that doesn't exist any more.

Cora Turner as 'Belle Elmore' her music hall persona
Wikimedia Commons image 

Dr Crippen
Wikimedia Commons image

It wasn't a happy marriage (look at them - how could it have been?). In 1910 Cora disappeared and Crippen moved Ethel Le Neve in and let her wear his wife's clothes and jewelry. When Inspector Dew of the Met became curious the couple panicked. They fled to Belgium, disguised themselves as a father and son and boarded the SS Montrose to Canada. 

Meanwhile, the police were digging up Hilldrop Crescent. They didn't find a whole body but they identified Cora from a piece of scarred skin and found traces of poison in the soil.  

Inspector Walter Dew (extreme right) searching the garden at 39, Hilldrop Crescent
Wikimedia Commons image

The newspapers found out and made it into a Great British Murder. The kind you would read about on a Sunday afternoon 'preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home, as it were, by a cup of mahogany-brown tea, have put you in just the right mood. Your pipe is drawing sweetly, the sofa cushions are soft underneath you, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about? Naturally, about a murder.'

Even the SS Montrose's captain read about the case and sent this telegram back to England: 'Have strong suspicions that Crippen London cellar murderer and accomplice are among saloon passengers. Mustache taken off growing beard. Accomplice dressed as boy. Manner and build undoubtedly a girl.' 

Inspector Dew boarded a faster ship and was there to arrest Crippen when the SS Montrose reached Canada. They were the first fugitives to be caught by wireless.

Hawley Harvey Crippen and Ethel Le Neve. Credit: Photograph by Arthur Bennett, 1910. Wellcome Library, London.
Photograph by Arthur Bennett, 1910. Wellcome Library, London. 

They both pleaded innocent. Crippen was convicted of murder, Le Neve was acquitted of being an accessory. 

File:Execution of Crippen - Museu d'Autòmats del Tibidabo.JPG
Execution of Crippen - Museu d'Autòmats del Tibidabo
Wikimedia Commons image

After the hanging Le Neve claimed £268 from the Crippen estate and gave her address as 313 Hornsey Road. That house has gone now too, replaced by Islington council housing. 

They may have been innocent. There's now a movement to retry Crippen, backed by people who believe that Cora had run off to America and changed her name to Belle Rose. 


  1. Was this designed as a deliberate tie-in with Marconi Day? If so, good job. If not, well, good job anyway.

    I'm a bit dubious about the move to retrospectively acquit Crippen on the basis that the murdered body in his cellar may not have been his wife. I can see the legal point, but it's not the most reassuring argument.

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  3. No, just luck. How on earth did you know it was Marconi day?

    I think the idea is that the bodies in the cellar might have been aborted fetuses. I don't know what the penalty would have been for that in 1910, but probably not hanging.

  4. Fair enough: I only looked over it briefly. The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford was marking Marconi Day yesterday, but I missed whatever they were doing. I marked it instead by laughing at this cartoon in a bookshop.

  5. hilldrop crescent is off camden road and still there unless you mean another hilldrop crescent

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      You're right. The road's still there but all the houses were demolished and replaced with flats, in part (I think) because of the Crippen case's notoriety. I suppose I should have said that they lived on a road that was demolished and rebuilt, but the shorter version sounded better.

  6. I lived in 313 Hornsey Road as a boy up to the age of six – from 1944 to 1950 – on the first floor with my mum and dad and the first of my brothers. The landlord's company had offices more or less next door. Quite a lot of vivid memories.