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Life After Trial The Crippen Murder and Ethel Le Neve Part 1

About Ethel Le Neve mistress to Mr. Crippen and possible accomplice to murder, history of the crime and her trial.

ETHEL LE NEVE (1883-1967)

Before: Ethel LeNeve, secretary, bookkeeper, and mistress of Hawley Harvey "Peter" Crippen, was a key figure in one of the most sensational crimes of the 20th century. The discovery in 1910 of the dismembered body of Crippen's wife, Belle, resulted in a trial which took on all the trapping of a three-ring circus. People queued up hours in advance to gain admittance to the courtroom, and stories of the trial monopolized the headlines. Crippen even had the dubious honor of being enshrined in Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors. Ethel's story is far less well known.

The middle-aged Dr. Crippen was a partner in a London dental office when 17-year-old Ethel LeNeve came to work there in 1900. Although not a conventional beauty, she had a wistful attractiveness and displayed all the qualities lacking in Crippen's wife: gentility, modesty, compassion. Miserably unhappy in his marriage, Crippen quickly responded to Ethel's open admiration. By 1906 they had become lovers (or, as they considered themselves, "husband and wife"), conducting their affair circumspectly in run-down hotels far from home and office.

The situation remained largely unchanged until February, 1910, when Crippen's wife suddenly disappeared. Belle's friends were not satisfied when Crippen explained that she had gone to California to take care of family business and had unexpectedly died there. Their suspicions were further aroused when Ethel moved into the Crippen house in March and began appearing in public on Crippen's arm, wearing Belle's jewelry.

Scotland Yard finally was persuaded to pay Crippen a visit. The day after Inspector Dew showed up for routine questioning. Crippen and LeNeve fled. Detectives returned to search the house thoroughly and discovered, buried under the cellar floor, the mutilated remains of a body. Laboratory tests of the tissue revealed the presence of hyoscine, a deadly poison.

Meanwhile, traveling as Mr. and Master Robertson, Crippen and LeNeve had slipped aboard a ship bound for Quebec. Ethel had bobbed her hair and outfitted herself in men's clothes to enact the part of Crippen's son. However, the ship's captain, who had read accounts of Belle's murder in the papers, noticed that the Robertsons were overly affectionate for father and son, and that the boy was strangely feminine in walk, figure, and voice. He wired Scotland Yard of his suspicions. Crippen and LeNeve were apprehended as soon as the ship docked and were returned to London, where Crippen was charged with the murder of his wife and Ethel was named as an accessory.

Saddled with an incompetent solicitor and barrister, Crippen made matters worse by deliberately failing to put up a believable defense. His only concern was for Ethel. He refused to allow her to be called as a defense witness, and he told his solicitor, "Tell Ethel not to worry. Tell her I will take all the blame."

Crippen was found guilty of willful murder and sentenced to hang. Four days later, Ethel's trial began. The defense convincingly portrayed Ethel as an innocent young woman, led astray by Crippen's "masterful" personality. After only 20 minutes' deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty.

Crippen had willed his estate to Ethel, which came to pound68. This, plus the money she received from the sale of her serialized autobiography, enabled her to leave London. Almost at the exact hour of Crippen's execution, Ethel LeNeve, registered as "Miss Allen." boarded ship for New York and disappeared into a new country and a new life.

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