Hawley Harvey Crippen (11th September 1862 - 23rd November 1910) 

Wikipedia entry (


the inquest


The Daily Mail cover Crippen's arrest



the trial


Prisoner (48) is an Americsn 'Dr', who for many years has done business in England selling quack medicines like 'Munyon's remedies', as a 'throat and ear' specialist and as a dentist. About 18 years ago he married, as his second wife, the deceased Cora Crippen (37), known latterly on the music-hall stage as 'Belle Elmore'. Prior to their marriage she had been kept by a man in America. They settled in London and to outward appearance lived on good terms, but according to the prisoner had not cohabited [sic] for the last 5 years. During the last 3 years he has been on intimate terms with his typewriter [sic] Ethel Le Neve (27).

The National Archive: Public Records Office Home Office 144/1719/195482




Ethel Le Neve



the body and the scar


Cora Crippen


the remains in the cellar of 39 Hilldrop Crescent


On 13th July 1910, in the cellar of 30 Hilldrop Crescent, police discovered what appeared to be human remains, mixed with lime, wrapped in a pyjama jacket. The pieces of tissue were removed to a mortuary, where they were examined by Augustus Pepper (of St Mary's Hospital).

Pepper concluded that the remains were human and included:

  • thigh/ lower buttock tissue
  • heart
  • lung
  • liver
  • kidneys
  • spleen
  • stomach
  • pancreas
  • two pieces of skin - one piece measured 7 x 6 inches and contained a 'scar' (of which he had 'not the slightest doubt').


The head was missing, as was the lower abdomen (and genitalia). Specimens were transferred to St Mary's where, on 8th August 1910, William Wilcox examined the 7 x 6 inch piece of skin and identified hairs at one end resembling public hairs. This piece of skin was then examined by Spilsbury on 9th September.


the microscope slide from the Crippen case - is it a scar?

Source: wikipedia


Spilsbury found that the epidermis had autolysed; the remains of sebaceous glands were visible within the dermis of samples from the skin piece but not in the middle of a section from a suspected scar - in a 1 1/2 inch length of 'denser and thinner' dermis. His view was that the area of altered skin indicated an old, and probably stretched, scar. Cora Crippen was known to have had an oophorectomy (ovarian removal operation) and had a low-abdominal scar; the presence of the scar in the piece of tissue found at Hilldrop Crescent was therefore powerful evidence of identification. Mitochondrial DNA evidence from tissue contained on microscope slides retained by Spilsbury now places identification of the remains as being those of Cora Crippen have been placed in doubt.

Crippen was known to have purchased 5 grains of hyoscine in a chemists in Oxford Street; toxicological analysis of tissues found at Hilldrop Crescent revealed hyoscine, and Wilcox estimated that there had been 1/2 a grain of hyoscine in the body; 1/4 to 1/2 a grain would have been a fatal dose, according to him.


I have examined microscopically the section ... to see whether there was any gland or hair follicle in it ... I have failed to find any hair follicle or sebaceous gland in that area. If there had been any in that area, I certainly would have found them.

Spilsbury to Alfred Tobin KC for the defence.


I have an independent position of my own. I am responsible for my own opinion which has been formed on my own scientific knowledge and not in any way influenced by any supposed connection with Mr Pepper. I have absolutely no doubt in my own mind as regards the scar.

Sir Bernard Spilsbury's response to defence Counsel at trial.


Defence medical experts - Drs Turnbull and Wall - thought that the skin sections were from the thigh, and not the abdomen, and were of the opinion that the microscopic sections demonstrated a skin fold rather than a scar, although they changed their minds in court, agreeing that the skin originated from abdominal wall.

Turnbull always maintained that the sections examined were not of a scar; those faded H&E sections were examined in 2002 by Professor Bernard Knight who could not detect definite indications of scar tissue (Rose A in Lethal Witness 2007).

Samuels (2010) provides additional information regarding the nature of the flesh found in the cellar of Crippen's house; Professor Newcomb apparently demonstrated the preserved flesh to medical students at St Mary's Hospital Medical School in 1949, and stated that it contained a skin fold rather than a scar, as he had detected hair follicles 'which would not have been present in a scar'. Further, Dr David Foran (State University of Michigan) analysed DNA samples from tissue preserved from the 1910 trial and, having compared DNA results with Cora Crippen's surviving relatives, concluded that the flesh did not come from her (and was from a man!).

The judge, Lord Richard Alverston, condemned Dr Crippen to die by hanging. Before the jury's deliberation, he stated regarding the remains: "Gentlemen, I think I may pass for the purpose of your consideration from the question of whether it was a man or a woman. Of course, if it was a man, again the defendant is entitled to walk out of that dock." Sexing the remains was impossible at the time, as were other purely objective methods for their identification. We are thus left with an instance of historical misidentification. Based on the genealogical and genetic investigations presented here, the remains found in Dr Crippen's coal cellar were not only not Cora Crippen's, they were not even female.

David Foran et al in "The conviction of Dr Crippen: new forensic findings in a Century-old murder". Journal of Forensic Sciences 2011; 56:233-240


Has anybody here seen Crippen,

C R I double- P E N?

Has anybody here seen Crippen? -

Seek him up and down.

He's done a bunk to Canada

And left his wife in a coal cellar.

Has anybody here seen Crippen,

Crippen from Camden Town?

Sung to the tune of 'Has anybody here seen Kelly?', a popular song of 1910 (listen to this tune on Youtube here) (Goodman J. Bloody versicles: the rhymes of crime 1993 - at Google books here)




Inspector Dew arrests Crippen

39 Hilldrop Crescent, nr Holloway, London


 39 Hilldrop Crescent in 1910


flats in the place of 39 Hilldrop Crescent now

Crippen multimedia



  • Dr Crippen film

Notable Trial Series - Crippen

Secrets of the dead - executed in error?


Watch Executed in Error on PBS. See more from Secrets of the Dead.

the ballad of Doctor Crippen



Here's a little story,

A touching tale of woe:

Happened here in London

'Bout fifty years ago.

A little Yankee doctor

Created quite a din,

All because he gave his

Dear wife a Mickie-Finn.

Funny little dentist,

Crippen was his name,

Pulled his patients' teeth out

With very little pain.

In his little surgery

He was so up-to-date-

Ultra-modern equipment

To do you while you wait.

Ethel was his sweetheart,

His secretary and nurse;

He loved her by appointment

But flies got in the ointment

When that handsome Lasher

Had had enough of Belle.


Funny little fellow,

Crippen was his name.

Might not get to Canada-

Let's hope so just the same.

Poor old Doctor Crippen,

The net is closing in;

Someone on the Montrose

Has set the police on him.


Funny little fellow,

Ethel by his side,

There in the Old Bailey

For murder they were tried.


When the trial was over,

The jury, sad to tell,

Found old Crippen guilty

Of killing poor old Belle.


Then one early morning

The hangman took his toll;

May the Lord have mercy

On poor old Crippen's soul.


Funny little fellow,

Crippen was his name;

See him for a sixpence

In the Hall of Fame.

Extracts from Bloody Versicles. Goodman J 1993

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