Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen

The Epilogue

"Experience is never limited, and it is never complete."

Henry James

 

Number 39 Hilldrop Crescent remained virtually vacant for the next thirty years. In the decade following, a Scottish comedian attempted to turn it into a museum devoted to Crippen, but his timing was off. Londoners either too vividly remembered the ghastly murder or they felt that it was impolite to Ethel Le Neve, who was still very much alive and had suffered enough. Unlived in and unloved, the house met a sad end at the hands of the German Luftwaffe during the bombing Blitzkrieg over London during World War II.

Montrose captain Harry Kendall nearly died four years after the Crippen incident, in 1914, when the ship he than commanded, the Empress of Ireland, sank off Father Point, Quebec, the very spot where Crippen and Ethel had been arrested. More than a thousand lives were lost, but a rescue crew saved Kendall. The captain lived to 91 years old.

In 1914, the same year as the Empress tragedy, the Montrose sank in the shadows of the white cliffs of Dover.

The Crippen case had been the last for Scotland Yard's Walter C. Dew. At 47 years old, he retired from active duty three weeks before Dr. Crippen was hanged. It is believed his decision came about due to the sympathy he felt for his prisoner, swearing he never again wanted to play a role right or wrong in another such human tragedy. Testimony to this is the affectionate way he treats the meek killer in his memoirs entitled, I Caught Crippen, published in 1938. Dew died in Worthing, England, in 1947.

Refusing to live in England where memories were too vivid, Ethel exchanged life in London for that in Toronto. She boarded the Majestic in 1911 the afternoon of her Hawley's death and couldn't bear to look back. She worked as a secretary in Canada for five years, in the meantime writing her memoirs, but eventually yearned to see her family again. In 1916, she sailed back to London.

Not long after her return to England, she changed her name to Nelson and married an accountant, Stanley Smith, from Croydon, England, where the couple lived. Many say that Smith greatly resembled Hawley Crippen. The marriage was blissful and produced a son and daughter. Her husband, however, died young of a heart attack while at work, never knowing that Ethel Nelson had once been the famous Miss Le Neve.

Widowed, she lived between London and Addiscombe where her life centered basically around a few good friends and, mostly, her children. She took up needlework. Cataracts her only old-age complaint, Ethel passed away in 1967, a content grandmother.

Ethel never forgot Hawley Crippen, and kept his memory dear in her heart but in silence. When a successful novelist named Ursilla Bloom played detective and traced her down in 1954, with the object of writing a true-life account of her story with the doctor, Ethel didn't budge. Although the ladies became great friends in the ensuing months, Bloom found her unwilling to talk except in very general terms about Crippen and the period. The book envisioned by Bloom was never written.

One afternoon over tea, however, Bloom drummed up enough nerve to ask the old lady. If Crippen could come back today, would you marry him?

"Her eyes almost pierced me," writes Bloom. "'Yes, I would,' she said."

Curtain down....Finis.

 

 

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