July 6, 2016


THERE ARE SOME MALEFACTORS down the years whose names only make us shudder because we know the deeds with which they have become associated. In themselves, they are just ordinary names, commonplace even. West, Brady, Hindley, Sutcliffe, Shipman, Haigh – take a look in your local telephone directory, and you will find them by the dozen, all, we assume, leading blameless lives. But our man here is something of an exception – Crippen. It has a nasty little bite to it, consonants crunching into vowels. Say it over. It sounds sinister, doesn’t it?

crippenHawley Harvey Crippen was never a doctor, in the accepted sense. He was at best, a purveyor of quack medicines and homepathic cures to the gullible. He may even have been a backstreet abortionist, but that has never been proved. He was born in Michigan in 1862, but emigrated to England in 1897 with his second wife Cora. Cora was a second rate music hall entertainer and Crippen, tired of her charms, took up with a young typist named Ethel Le Neve.

In 1910, Cora disappeared. Crippen claimed that she had left him and returned to America. Ethel Le Neve was duly installed in her place at 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Hollway (sketch, right). A friend of Cora HilldropCrippen eventually raised the alarm, as she suspected foul play. The house was searched, and nothing was found. Crippen and Le Neve, however, were spooked, and fled to the continent, where they bought a passage on a steamer bound for Canada.

The guilty couple’s disappearance triggered more exhaustive searches of the house and , eventually, the remains of a woman were found under the basement floor. The discovery filled newspapers around the English speaking world. Meanwhile, on board the SS Montrose, Le Neve had cropped her hair and disguised herself as a boy, but the Captain had his doubts and sent a radio telegram to Britain. With great alacrity Chief Inspector Walter Dew, no doubt smarting that he had accepted Crippen’s earlier story at face value, took an express boat to Canada, and arrived in Quebec before the SS Montrose.

Crippen and his ‘boy’ were duly arrested, brought back to England, and were duly tried. Crippen was found guilty and was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 23rd November 1910. Le Neve? She escaped with a minor conviction and left for Canada on the morning of her lover’s execution. The mundane is never far away in these dramas, however, and Le Neve returned to England, changed her name, and died in relative obscurity in 1967, in Croydon of all places. Below is a composite of Ethel Le Neve contrasting her feminine and boyish modes.


Further reading:
Dr Crippen by Katherine Watson

The Mild Murderer: The True Story of the Dr. Crippen Case by Tom Cullen

DEADLY DECEIT … Between The Covers

Deadly Deceit

In a former life Jean Harrod was a British diplomat who served all over the world. One hopes that she gave the lie to Sir Henry Wotton’s famous assertion that a diplomat was “an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” Now she has retired from that demanding role, and is free to give full reign to her vivid imagination.

She has settled in Yorkshire, and in addition to writing plays, she has embarked on a series of crime thrillers featuring British career diplomat Jess Turner. The second of these is Deadly Deceit, and opens with Turner being sent to the seemingly exotic British Overseas Territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands, TCI for short.

She is on a troubleshooting mission, as the Governor has been involved in a mysterious near-fatal car accident, and someone with the proverbial ‘safe pair of hands’ is required to step into the breach.

Crime fiction has a much used trope – that of ‘The Odd Couple’. Nothing to do with Neil Simon’s immortal characters, of course, but think of Holmes and Watson, Wolfe and Goodwin, Dalziel and Pascoe, Morse and Lewis. They tolerate, irritate, admire and, occasionally, infuriate each other, but the device allows writers to have great fun with the law of opposites. Readers were introduced to Jess Turner’s ‘other half’ in the first book in the series, Deadly Diplomacy. He is Queensland cop DI Tom Sangster. As you might expect, in order to be a foil for the urbane and sleek Turner, he has to be a bit of a rough diamond. Sangster is no fool, however, as his crime clear-up rate testifies.

Given the fact that Turner and Sangster live worlds apart, Jean Harrod will have to continue coming up with convincing reasons for them to meet up. In this case, it is TCI’s proximity to the stricken island republic of Haiti. Boatloads of Haitian migrants are arriving on TCI, and the patience and compassion of the locals has been wearing pretty thin. Sangster’s homeland has its own problems with ‘illegals’ of course, and he has been attending a conference in Miami – a short flight from TCI – with US Immigration officials.

Turner and Sangster uncover a nasty racket in people smuggling, which involves not just shady villains down at the waterfront, but some very eminent people. Although there are a couple of grisly killings, and a very convincing description of a tropical hurricane, I would class this novel as a romantic thriller. It’s none the worse for that, however, and it makes a refreshing change to have central characters who are neither near-alcoholics, black-humoured nor self destructive. I have not had the pleasure of meeting the author, but I suspect that there is a little something autobiographical about Jess Turner. Deadly Deceit is out now. Buy now on Amazon.



WRITERS OF GORY CRIME NOVELS need a fertile – if not downright disturbing – imagination, but it is difficult to think of anyone who could have invented Dennis Nilsen. Between 1978 and 1983 he murdered – and then butchered – a series of young men who had been lured into his houses, 195 Melrose Avenue and 23 Cranley Gardens. On the face of it, the two properties (below) couldn’t look less sinister if they tried.

DN houses

Both houses are harmless suburbia writ large. They might be the subject of a gently mocking John Betjeman poem, but Houses of Horror – surely not? Think again!

dennis-nilsen-000Nilsen (left) preyed on young men who were often lost and alone in London. He murdered them, so he claims, so that they would not leave him. To ensure their continuing post-mortem presence, he would wrap their bodies in polythene and conceal them beneath the floorboards, regularly spraying with with deodorant as the corpses putrified. When he tired of this game, he would dismember what was left of his young victims, and then try to dispose of the body parts via the toilet. Sometimes, when this was too difficult, the limbs were boiled to remove the flesh, thus making disposal more straightforward. When he had access to a garden space, at Melrose Avenue, many of the victims were eventually consumed by that most normal of activities – the garden bonfire.

Nilsen’s catalogue of horror closed in 1983 when an employee of Dyno Rod discovered the cause of the smell and the drain blockages near the house in Cranley Gardens. Nilsen was duly arrested, and confessed to the murders. At his trial, the only major dispute was the question of his sanity, and his fitness to stand trial. He was found guilty of six counts of murder and one of attempted murder.He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum stipulation of twenty five years. It would be a brave – or suicidal – Home Secretary who would ever agree to his release.

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