Executed Innocent? Poison Dismemberment Murder

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Poison dismemberment
Hawley Harvey Crippen

A poison dismemberment murder?

In England in the year 1910, Michigan, USA-born homeopathist Hawley Harvey Crippen was tried and convicted. The he waas hanged for the apparent Jack the Ripper style poison dismemberment of his wife. She was the aspiring singer, Cora Crippen (stage name, Belle Elmore). Crippen family descendants have wondered, for decades, about the history and validity of the conviction.

Bothersome Detail Leads to Re-investigation

The case bothered forensic investigator and murder by poison expert, John H. Trestrail III. If he was guilty, why had Hawley Crippen dismembered her body? Mr. Trestrail’s findings were broadcast by the Public Broadcasting System. It was in an episode of Secrets of the Dead in the episode entitled “Executed in Error.” The broadcast is well worth viewing by moderately mature audiences. Doing so will enable one is to get the most from what is written in the following paragraphs of this article.
Poison dismemberment

My Take

As I viewed the episode myself, my first inclination was that “Dr.” Hawley was guilty of the crime as charged. By the end of the presentation, I wasn’t so sure. In fact, I was inclined to think him innocent. In part this was due to DNA study, but also because of the work of genealogist Beth Wills, brought in on the investigation. In view of my long term interest in genealogy, I couldn’t resist reexamining the evidence for myself.

I am not expert in matters of DNA determination. I don’t question the findings of the expert involved in the investigation, David Foran. I do feel qualified to speak concerning Ms. Wills findings. She suggested Mrs. Crippen may have returned to the US under the pseudonym Belle Rose. Also that she is found with her stepsister, Bertha Mersinger in New York, in the 1920 census entry, occupation singer.

Ellis Island and the 1920 New York Census

The Ellis Island findings of one Belle Rose, age 38, aboard the Bermudian, seem good. They are not conclusive of anything, but are interesting and possibly suggestive. Although the reading of Belle’s occupation on the 1920 census image looks somewhat like singer, more convincingly, it looks like designer. Especially is this so, since part of the occupation description is millinery. One person identifying herself as Renee, suggests the occupation reads Designer—Wholes[ale] Millinery. This is probably correct.

Poison Dismemberment – My Current Take

My current guess (if you will) is Dr. Crippen did murder his wife. I do not think the remains in the coal cellar are those of his wife. I think finding those remains are probably evidence of another crime!

Further Avenues for Investigation

Poison dismemberment
Charlotte Jane Bell Crippen, H.H. Crippen’s First Wife Waterloo Times-Tribune, 22 July 1910.

What other investigations might help shed light on the truth? Some feel the death of Hawley Crippen’s first wife, Charlotte Jane Bell Crippen, is suspicious. She reportedly died in advanced pregnancy in Utah in 1892.

Also, was the male tissue buried in the coal cellar placed there by Crippen or some earlier resident? If the latter, who was that resident? Was there an unsolved crime in the neighborhood? And what might Scotland Yard reveal if, at some point, they share what they know?

Technical Writings of H.H. Crippen:


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One thought on “Executed Innocent? Poison Dismemberment Murder

  • Michael Weight

    It should be remembered that Dr. Crippen’s father, Myron, was always convinced that his son was innocent right up to the time he, Myron, died.
    Also, was it ever established where the poison was bought that, allegedly, was administered to
    his wife, Cora, and were traces of it ever found in the remains of the body found at the property,
    39 Hilldrop Crescent. Why would he, Crippen, go to the gruesome task of dismembering the
    body and having to dispose of the parts. Were the police so corrupt in those days as to plant
    another body to support a conviction. On the other hand, why didn’t Crippen just go along with
    the truth that his wife had left him and he had taken on a mistress.

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