Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen

Act One: The Inspector

"It's grand to be an Englishman in 1910, King Edward's on the Throne and it's the age of men..."

Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman

 

39 Hilldrop Crescent, North London, 1910
39 Hilldrop Crescent, North London,
1910
Number 39 Hilldrop Crescent was one in a block-long row of three-story dull-brick detached townhouses near Camden Road, in Holloway, North London. By 1910, the neighborhood had slightly fallen off the social scale and sat balanced between the starched-collar middle-class and the gingham quilt of working laborers. Yet, the genteelness of the Crescent remained steadfast in appearance, maintaining a picture-perfect aura, just the proper stones throw away from the hustle and bustle of the City of London to remain thoughtful in manner and serene in thought. Cobble-stoned, tree-lined and pert, Hilldrop Crescent, Holloway, didnt match Inspector Dews image as a place of foul play.

This smoky July morning, Dew alit from his carriage and, tipping the cabbie, ascended the long frontal staircase of stone to jingle the doorbell beside it. The brass plaque beside the bell read, CRIPPEN. Dews wait wasnt long before a small, delicate girl of no more than 16 years of age answered. Her dress of simple black and white bespoke a maidservant. Oui, monsieur? she asked. Dew hoped she understood English.

Is your master at home? the detective asked.
Mashter? she was quizzical.
He tried a different approach. Yes, the doctor is he in?
Dotter?

Dew had no idea what the French word was for doctor, so he opted for the generic. Yes, Monsieur Crippen. Is he inside?

This she understood. Faintly smiling back, her confusion fading, she stepped back and bid him enter. Her curtsy was charming.

Thank you, Dew replied. Tell the monsieur that I am calling from Scotland Yard and I wish to discuss something of relevance to

Whether the mention of his place of business frightened her off which it sometimes did to even honest, but unbraced citizens or she was just in a rush to please the inspector wasnt sure but she dashed off smiling toward a flight of stairs off the main hallway. He heard the patter of her tiny feet climbing, and figured she was off to fetch her employer.

The corridor stretching out before him was a long, narrow, dark one that trailed to the back of the house. It was unlit but by the sunlight that wiggled through the frosted transom glass or from the windows in the several rooms that the hall dissected. Peeking into several connecting doorways down the hall, he found a suite of small, although well-fashioned rooms that, while not particularly tidy, displayed a welcoming lived-in quality that he himself, a man of domestic turn, felt comfortable with. From the top of the staircase he now heard approaching boot steps and, removing his bowler, shuffled back toward the door where a polite guest should remain until invited in.

If Inspector Dew thought the neighborhood seemed one of crimeless tone, he was twice surprised by the appearance of the man in question, Harvey Hawley Crippen, whom he had come to interview.

Dr. H. H. Crippen
Dr. H. H. Crippen
"He was a small man in his mid-forties with a fresh complexion, light brown hair, which he brushed carefully over a bald spot, and a straggly sandy mustache above a receding chin," explains Tom Cullen in his book, The Mild Murderer. "His gray eyes, which were magnified slightly by gold-rimmed spectacles, were undoubtedly his most remarkable feature."

While the policeman observed his host, the host, upon instinct, pedantically took in the form of his caller. Crippen saw before him a tall, handsome, lean man of stately bearing in a fine mustache and, like himself, in his mid-forties; he was smartly dressed in blue serge suit, folding an ulster over the crook of his arm and holding a bowler by its brim.

"Hello," the little man no more than 5'5" held out his whitish hand. The policeman shook it and found, while doing so, that it was not as flimsy a hand as it looked.

"Dr. Hawley Crippen?" Dew inquired. The other nodded, not sure to smile or frown. "I am Chief Inspector Walter Dew from the Yard." He flashed an identification badge pinned between the pockets of a billfold. "I need to grab just a twist of your time and ask you a few questions."

"Oh?" Crippen answered. But, Dew noticed, the syllable matched the doctor's expression: guiltless. "I was about to leave for my office...." He stammered a little, and then shrugged. "Why don't we step into the front parlor, if that is all right."

"Quite sufficient," returned the inspector and followed the doctor into a square den of tasteful furniture and a surplus of potted palms. Heavy curtains hung unopened from their valances this morning and the air, which was rather stale, stung with a definite scent of what he instantly perceived as a woman's fine perfume and he hadn't noted such on the maid. Noticing trifles were all part of his work, a secondary nature actually, having been a professional investigator for the past 23 years. In fact, he had won his detective's badge in 1887 in the midst of the Jack the Ripper crisis in the East End.

While the parlor was rather morbid, Crippen's smile shone. The detective liked the fact that Crippen didn't seem at all nervous to have Scotland Yard come rap-rap-rapping at his door. Yes, Dew thought to himself, nothing untoward here.

"Now, how might I help you?" the doctor motioned his caller to a chair as he himself flopped back onto an overstuffed across from him, separated by only a gaming table. Dew noticed Crippen's Yankee accent, not a surprise since he had already learned that the man was from the United States.

"Dr. Crippen, I am here for two reasons. First, allow me to express my condolences over the recent death of your wife, Belle. I understand she is sorely missed by your friends and neighbors."

The other nodded in appreciation. "Thank you," was all he said, but his expression urged to hear the second reason.

"But, because of her passing there is, I'm sorry to say, a mystery that seems to be unfolding in its aftermath." The policeman knew the most frank way was the best. "Dr. Crippen, the constabulary has been visited by a number of your wife's professional acquaintances over the past months who...well...to be expedient, harbor doubts about her sudden trip to America, one that culminated, from what I understand, in an equally sudden death abroad."

The host, Dew observed, reacted without surprise as if he had been aware of the gossip. "The Ladies' Guild," he nodded. "I knew they would eventually cause friction." But, his tone was not contemptuous.

"The Ladies' Guild," Dew mimicked. "Then you suspected their behavior?"

"Definitely," Crippen answered. "They have been acting like I'm keeping a secret. I see mistrust in their eyes whenever we perchance meet."

"Your wife was a member of that organization, I understand. Well, they are very saddened by her demise and, I can tell, miss her sorely. They are...what?... actresses as was your wife?"

"Music hall people, mostly singers, dancers, acrobats, mimes mostly retired from the stage a varied lot. My wife, she was a singer, not very famous, mind you, but she enjoyed it. And she was quite involved with the Music Halls Ladies' Guild as their treasurer. They raise money for charities, mostly, to benefit down-on-their luck stage troopers things of that nature."

"Remarkable," Dew whispered, "good for them!" Clearing his throat, and his tone slightly, he continued. "Because of their persistence, my superiors have asked that I visit you in the hope we may unveil this shroud they've laid over your good name. I would like, therefore, to ask you a few questions, Doctor, about your late Belle. I'm sure that after our dialogue I can go back to them and reassure them that nothing out of the ordinary has occurred."

"Inspector, are they under the assumption I've killed my wife or something?"

Dew was taken aback by the other's point-blank retort. But, he appreciated it; the bluntness made his job easier. "Actually, they didn't come out and say that, Doctor, but" he smiled ruefully. "They claim that she had many commitments with them before her flight in February and thought it out of character for her to flee without a personal word. They understand that her trip to the States may have been urgent to nurse an ailing relative, I believe? yet they can't help feeling that certain...er, loose ends, per se, don't altogether tie up."

Dew measured his thoughts, then continued. "Doctor, there's no beating about the bush, I must be direct: What appears to have set the good ladies' tongues wagging forthwith is your taking up here in your residence with another lady in what used to be their friend Belle's home. Miss Le Neve, I believe her name is, is that friend to whom I refer."

Crippen remained unshaken, though he seemed a trifle embarrassed. Dew watched his face as he paused to chase down the right words but, Dew felt, it wasn't the countenance of a guilty party groping for an alibi.

"I know...I know it does look suspicious, Inspector...Belle's trip to the United States, her illness, her passing...all in a matter of a month...followed by my...er, friendship with another woman who's moved in with me so soon after my wife's death. But...well...may we talk man to man?"

"Please!" Dew urged. "And may I light a cheroot while you do?

"Feel free!" Crippen pushed a ceramic ashtray lying on the gaming table closer to his guest. Dew liked this fellow and inwardly hoped he had a concrete explanation. Crippen leaned forward and, bringing his voice down a decibel, and stiffening his manner, he spoke. "Inspector, we live in a strange city, where a man is judged by outward appearances, sometimes prejudiced well, maybe it's not the city, maybe it's simple human nature. Even if you don't commit a transgression, if it affects you directly people will shake their finger in your direction and cite, 'Shame! Shame!' Nevertheless, as if you had had the wherewithal to have prevented the sin. It's either that, or you're met with pity. Both unwanted.

"Inspector" he paused, breathed deeply, and went on, " I guess I'm a bad fibber and the Ladies' Guild saw right through me. I admit: I lied. My wife did not to go to America to visit a sick relative. She did not die. That was all concoction."

Dew sat upright. "Then where is she?"

"Oh. she's in America all right, but...and this is very difficult to admit...she left me for another man, Inspector." He looked glum. "We never got along, her and I, and...I guess I couldn't please her...in many ways. She told me she was leaving for Chicago, but Lord knows if she really went there or not. All I know is she's gone and if she did wind up in Chicago, I suspect it's with a man who is from that town. Bruce Miller's his name a couple of years back here in London he was, pardon the literary light, one of her many flames."

"Then there have been marital problems for some time?"

"For years, Inspector."

Dew smiled softly. He had not been prepared for this frankness, nor for shy, retiring Crippen to be so up and about with him. As the doctor continued, Dew watched his expression, studied his large gray eyes for a suggestion of deceit all the while concealing his own astuteness behind a rhythm of nonchalant exhalations of cigar smoke.

"I...I panicked when she left that night in February, for I could see the scandal amongst my peers. Inspector, can you realize how a cancer like this could ruin my professional standing? Gossip has crushed many a good man, and a dentist's patients are particularly fickle!" he twittered. Then, reassuming a sober posture, he added, "I was probably more ashamed with myself, really. No man likes to think he can't hold on to a wife."

"I see." Dew pondered, rising, crossing the room, making sense of what he just heard. He turned back with a philosophic gaze. "What about your friend, Miss Le Neve, who...shares your quarters here? Does she know Belle exists or is she, too, misled?"

"She...she believes like the rest of my friends that Belle has died."

The detective grimaced. "Dr. Crippen, do you think it's right to deceive" But the little man edged in.

"Inspector" He shrugged, his face turned stern. "Belle will not be back, I know her more than any other person alive, and since her parting Ethel and I have become as man and wife. We love each other to the bone. But, I couldn't play one against the other, telling our friends one thing and Ethel another. She knows the history of Belle and I," the other answered, "Belle's unfaithfulness to me, our quarrels, our matrimonial disharmony.

"And yes, to answer your question, perhaps I have been deceitful. I suppose now that the truth is out I must be upright with her, too."

"I think you should," Dew concurred. "After all, she lives under the same roof with you and, as you say, she loves you. I think she will under"

"She is a good woman, Inspector, always the lady."

Noticing that the last remark edged of defense, Dew, tugging at his high collar, emphasized, "I'm sure Miss Le Neve is a fine lady."

"And a wonderful help in my business!" Crippen perked. "She's my secretary, you know. In fact," he glanced at his pocket watch, "she's at the office as we speak, catching up on some early work. I was about to head off there in a bit."

"Yes, well I must ask you to remain here a moment longer. I have a tad more business to conduct," the policeman said, sounding less demanding than the words he put forth. "First off, Doctor, we need to find Belle. A formality, you understand. You and I must compose a personal ad for the newspapers, urging your wife to respond, either directly or through an attorney. Either way, her response will be beneficial and help us close this case. Let's say, tie up those loose ends the Ladies' Guild feels haven't been securely looped."

"I agree wholeheartedly!" Crippen replied. "Inspector...you think I'm a mouse, don't you?"

"A mouse? Oh, you mean that old American expression, man or mouse," he laughed. "No, not at all. Seriously, I was recalling that other moral, what Shakespeare said: 'O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!' In this case, Doctor, while trying to avoid a sticky situation, you drew yourself and Miss Le Neve into a rather gummy one."

"Isnt that the truth!" Crippen nodded.

"Be aware that I must inform the Ladies' Guild, at least those who sent me on this wild goose chase, of our conversation. I will be discreet, count on it. But, if I sidestep it, you see, they'll be all over the walls of the Yard with demonstrations 'til I respond."

"It's all for the best," the other maintained.

"And what's the outcome? They'll whisper about you and cite, 'Shame! Shame!' anyway. Ah, there's a lesson to us all here, Doctor! If you had been honest from the start, the worst would have been over by now and you and your lady friend would be maybe not free of social gossip but at least out from under the weight of a heavier suspicion. As for your reputation, that's a part of the game. But," Dew softened, "I completely understand your tactics to masquerade the truth. Don't know if I would have done differently in your case."

Dew was satisfied. He had heard the doctor's explanation, had watched his eyes, his expressions...all seemed sincere. While Belle Crippen's disappearance had the mark of suspicion written across it, the inspector now believed that the suspicion lay with the woman herself, not with her husband who and Dew was sure of this wouldn't intentionally step on a cricket.

Before he departed, the two men together fashioned an advertisement, which would be sent from Scotland Yard to all major gazettes across the world. It was addressed to Belle Elmore (her stage name, the name she preferred), and read:

" Communicate with H.H.C. or authorities at once. Serious trouble through your absence. Twenty-five dollars reward for anyone communicating her whereabouts to Box Number 7, New Scotland Yard."

In making a routine search of the house, Dew found nothing suspicious; no bloodstains, no indication of a struggle of any kind. Crippen explained that a .45 calibre ball-cap revolver lying in the armoire was there for protection, nothing more. Dew then drew up a quick statement, which Crippen read and signed, and the detective felt that a good morning's work had been done. Dr. Crippen remained with him on the porch, gabbing until he was able to hail a passing carriage. With pleasant good-byes, the two men shook hands and parted.

Crippen shut the door, and exhaled, deeply. The floor spun below him. His head throbbed, he twitched. Damn, I thought he'd never leave! What an acting job! He must have picked up something from watching those plays Belle had been in. His greatest feat had been keeping his cool when, following Inspector Dew through his search of the premises, they entered the cellar. Like Poe's Telltale Heart, he thought he could actually hear Belle's heart beating beneath the stone floor.

But, then he remembered. He had cut out her heart and had thrown it in the canal after he had killed her and buried her 'neath the stones.

 

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