East St. Louis Riots of 1917

The Great Migration saw great numbers of Southern African Americans who traveled north to find jobs and opportunities. One of the places that became a stopping point was the industrial city of East St. Louis. In Illinois across the Mississippi river from St. Louis, East St. Louis was booming due to increased production for World War I. The Aluminum Ore Company and American Steel Company were prominent among those hiring. However, tensions were running high as up to 2,000 people a week were arriving from the South. The rate was so high that Marcus Garvey actively tried to discourage migration to East St. Louis, but still people came.

In February 1917, the workers of the Aluminum Ore Company went on strike. Those on the picket lines were replaced by African American workers. This was not an uncommon practice, as strikes were commonly broken up by hiring African American workers. The National Stockyards had crushed a 4,000 strong union strike using this strategy the year before in July 1916. This pitted white workers against African American ones for the scraps the powerful corporations were willing to throw them. Migration became a foremost concern of the whites of East St. Louis.

Tensions simmered until the first outbreak of violence on May 28, 1917. A city council meeting was called and angry white workers lodged formal complaints against the migration with the mayor. This descended into the regular complaints of atrocities committed against white women. This was a common tactic for lynch mobs as found by studies by Ida B. Wells-Barnett. (For more on her, please see this post:http://www.historynaked.com/ida-b-wells-barnett/ ) The mayor called for the end of “hotheadedness”, but everyone pretty much ignored him. Rumors circulated that after the meeting an armed African American man robbed a white man. The tempers were stoked to a fever pitch by lawyer Alexander Flannigen, who made a speech demonizing the African American residents of East St. Louis. His speech ended with him saying,

“As far as I know, there is no law against mob violence.”

He seems nice. Anyway, that was all it took. Armed bands of white men were mobilized and people were handing out mob justice to any African American they could find. Streetcars and trolleys were stopped and passengers pulled off and beaten while the police watched. The Illinois governor called in the National Guard, but it was only a prelude.

On July 2, 1917, a car full of armed white men rolled into the black section of East St. Louis. The tense situation had become a powder keg. An African American man had been attacked near the Municipal Bridge the day before and rumors were running wild the whites of St. Louis planned to celebrate the 4th by killing and burning the black section of East St. Louis. Into that heightened atmosphere of anger and fear, came this black Model T firing gunshots into random homes on Trendley Street. The police were called and two detectives were sent to investigate. The big problem? They drove down to the scene of the crime in a black Model T.

The officers got to the intersection of 10th and Bond, and found 150 people ready to defend their homes and families. Eyewitnesses say they had “everything except a cannon on wheels.” The men exchanged words with the detectives, who were assumed to be the shooters not investigating officers. As the exchange got more tense, the chauffeur driving the Model T hit the gas to get out of there and the car backfired. All hell broke loose. The crowd opened fire and the car escaped in a hail of bullets, but both police detectives were killed in the process.

The banner of the killed officers were taken up like a battle flag, and there were open calls for anyone to take down the dangerous mob and “wipe out” the “Negro problem”. G.E. Popkess, a reporter for the St. Louis Times, reported hearing a prominent attorney promising a free defense for any man who would “avenge the murders of the two policemen”. The mayor of East St. Louis called for the National Guard, but as the city descended into madness sat with the Colonel in charge in a room and refused to give orders. People were killed in front of the National Guardsmen and they shrugged their shoulders and commented they had “no orders”. Soon buildings were on fire and people were being pulled off streetcars and killed. People escaping the burning buildings were met with gunfire, so that they stayed in their homes and burned to death. The bell at the Truelight Baptist Church began ringing in warning.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Carlos Hurd describes pandemonium in his 3.000 word account of the riots which appeared in the paper on July 3, 1917. He said,

“For an hour and a half last evening I saw the massacre of helpless negroes at Broadway and Fourth Street, in downtown East St. Louis, where black skin was a death warrant.”

Hurd’s account left the dispassionate journalistic style of the time behind, and he was frank about the indifference he saw from those who were sworn to protect the innocent and outraged at their criminal behavior. He ended his article with the words,

“In recording this, I do not forget that a policeman — by all accounts a fine and capable policeman — was, killed by negroes the night before. I have not forgotten it in writing about the acts of the men in the street. Whether this crime excuses or palliates a massacre, which probably included none of the offenders, is something I will leave to apologists for last evening’s occurrences, if there are any such, to explain.”

Another description comes from young Freda McDonald, who is better known as the international sensation Josephine Baker, who witnessed the riots from her home in downtown St. Louis. She describes hearing a hum like a coming thunderstorm. Then looking out the door and seeing the end of the world.

“This was the Apocalypse. Clouds, glowing from the incandescent light of huge flames leaping up from the riverbank, raced across the sky . . . but not as quickly as the breathless figures that dashed in all directions. The entire black community appeared to be fleeing.”

It is estimated that 7,000 people escaped over the bridges that night for as long as they were allowed to. Young Samuel Kennedy’s family wasn’t that lucky. When their home was set ablaze, his mother, Katherine Horne Kennedy, hid her family in the tall weeds for hours until it was safe to come out. By that time the bridges were blocked, so the resourceful woman built a raft and sailed her family across the river. Tragically, she caught pneumonia on the river and died a week later. In a happy note, Samuel survived and became an alderman in St. Louis’ 18th Ward. A position his son, Terry, went on to fill as well.

Enough was finally enough, and late in the night of July 2, the National Guardsmen finally acted. 200 rioters attempting lynch an African American man were rounded up and put in the basement of city hall. According to St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, Paul Anderson, that seemed to “break the back of the riot” and people began to disperse. Too bad they hadn’t bothered to act twelve hours before as countless lives and property would have been saved. People cautiously came out to survey the damage and hoped it was the end of the violence. In the end, six block of town were burned, which included 300 homes as well as the Public Library and Opera House. Very few African American people were left in East St. Louis. They had fled or were lying dead in the street. The death toll was reported by the Congressional Investigating Committee later that at least 8 whites and 39 blacks died. Later reports mark the death toll as anywhere from 40 to 150. Other estimates place the death toll as high as 250. No one really knows.

NAACP parade protesting the East Saint Louis Race Riot of 1917, New York City. Photo Credit- Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Traveling from Chicago on behalf of the Negro Fellowship League was Ida B. Wells-Barnett (Again, her post is here, and it is worth a read. She is a badass. http://www.historynaked.com/ida-b-wells-barnett/ ) She interviewed the remaining African Americans left in East St. Louis and found a community in shock. After being amongst the refugees, she described it as being surrounded by

“people who had suddenly been robbed of everything except what they stood in . . . dazed over the thing that had come to them and unable to tell what it was all about.”

Later interviews of both white and African American witness depicted a community unrepentant for the level of violence. Sadly, although the East St. Louis riots were one of the bloodiest, it was merely a trend of violence that was being shown nationwide.

The NAACP tried to elicit a response from President Wilson, who had made promises regarding anti-lynching legislation. They organizing what was called the Silent Parade in New York City. On July 28, 1916, 10,000 African American protesters marched down Fifth Avenue. The women and children were dressed in white and the men dressed in all black. It was the first protest of its kind. President Wilson was as silent as the parade. However, the House of Representatives did break with Wilson and begin an investigation into the riots. That investigation found that there was gross incompetence in the East St. Louis police force, which led to the indictment of several police officers. They also stated

“no terms of condemnation applied to the men who were responsible for these appalling conditions . . . can be too severe.”

ER

Ancient Who Dunnit-  The Death of Philip II of Macedon

Ivory bust of Philip II found in a Macedonian Tomb
Vergina Museum

Philip had been the ruler of Macedon for twenty-three years and was currently on wife number seven.  He had turned Macedonia into a force to reckoned with by revolutionizing the army into a efficient fighting force.  He subdued Greece and conquered the surrounding territories.  Now he had a raft of children from his various wives.  His son, Alexander, was from wife number four, Olympias, whom he divorced and was Greek to boot.  Even though Alexander was older, the oldest son did not always get the throne and Philip and wife seven had a young son named Caranus.  In fact, there had been an incident where members of the court expressed opinions that the heir should be a pure Macedonian.  Alexander took exception and words exchanged and Alexander and his mother were exiled temporarily.

In October 336, Philip was celebrating the wedding of his daughter, Cleopatra, to King Alexander of Epirus.  They were also celebrating Philip’s upcoming invasion of Asia.  Philip arranged lavish musical competitions and feasts in the bridal pair’s honor.  Everyone who was anyone in Greece showed up to be apart of the party.  At the beginning of one of the competitions after a night of hard drinking, Philip went to the theater of Aegae in procession with twelve statues of the gods.  His bodyguards were dismissed according to some sources and following at a distance according to others.  This was to prove Philip was all powerful and didn’t need such things.

According to the account from Diodorus of Sicily, Philip was having an affair with one of his bodyguards, a man named Pausanias.  This was not unusual in Greek society.  The first Pausanias was upset that the King’s eye had been caught by a second Pausanias.  The first Pausanias had earlier insulted the second Pausanias, who complained to his friend Attalus.  All kinds of unsavory things happened, which resulted in the second Pausanias being killed and the first Pausanias being raped.  Pausanias complained to Philip about Attalus, but he did nothing.  Pausanias was angry and decided to get his revenge on both Attalus and Philip.  When he saw Philip was without his bodyguards, Pausanias rushed forward and stabbed him in the chest with a Celtic dagger.  Then he bolted to escape while half the bodyguards went after him in hot pursuit.  He was killed by one of them, and that was that.  Alexander became king.


Gold Medallion of Olympias
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

But was this really what happened?  Many historians believe Olympias had something to do with the plot.  She and Philip had a contentious relationship, which Olympias urging her brother to declare war on her ex husband.  Incidentally, Cleopatra was marrying this brother, so it is possible since outright war was not possible to move more subtly.  She certainly had a motive.  Even though the Macedonians wanted a “pure heir”, they were less likely to choose a child over a grown man proven in battle.  That would put her son on the throne, and her back in a position of power.  Indeed, once back in the saddle she forced Philip’s seventh wife, Cleopatra Eurydice, commit suicide after she killed her children with Philip.  This was not a woman who played at trifles.

Historians are divided as to whether Alexander was involved in the assassination or not.  He also had motive, and had recently quarreled with his father.  Also, the bodyguards who went after Pausanias and killed him were close friends with Alexander.  It is possible they were silencing him before he could spill the beans about their patron’s involvement.  There are theories that the bodyguards may have executed this plan on their own without Alexander’s knowledge.

What is known is Philip was buried in a lavish tomb and Alexander went out to conquer the known world.  A treasure filled tomb was found in 1977, and historians are undecided whether it was Philip’s tomb or the tomb of Alexander’s successor and half brother, Philip III Arrhidaios.  The skeleton does have a notch in the eye socket which was consistent with a battle wound that left Philip’s face disfigured.  Historians are still divided on this point.

ER

The Affair of the Poisons

Madame de Montespan

Court is treacherous place full of back biting nobles who would sell their own mothers to get ahead.  The Affair of the Poisons was an episode in the court of Louis XIV that exemplified exactly how far one would go to get where they needed to be in court.

It all started with the arrest of the wife of a minor noble, the Marquise de Brinvilliers.  As with most noble marriages, the Marquise did not marry for love.  In fact, she disliked her husband the Marquis enough to attempt to murder him.  She apparently didn’t do a very good job because she didn’t succeed and got caught.  However, this was not the Marquise de Brinvilliers’ first rodeo.  Turns out she and her lover, Godin de Saint-Croix, had systematically killed her father and two brothers.  That way when her husband was out of the way, the two could marry and be rich.  Perfect plan.  Except she got caught escaping the country, and was convicted of being a witch and a murderess, tortured, beheaded and her remains burnt.  They were not messing around.

Before the Marquise de Brinvilliers died, however, she did complain mightily that she was getting punished for something everyone else was doing already.  That made the head of the Parisian police, Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, prick up his ears.  At a party a Madame Bosse got massively drunk, as was wont, and began discussing how she was happy to sell “inheritance powders” to whoever needed them.  Bosse was arrested, which led to a glut of fortune tellers and alchemist being picked up.  They were under torture and started singing like canaries.  As we mentioned in a previous post ( http://www.historynaked.com/torture-execution-everything-not-nice/ ) torture was admissible in a court of law to obtain both a confession and evidence against others.  France had some lovely ones, so it’s not surprising they were accusing everyone and their dog to make it stop.  Real trouble came from the testimony of Magdelaine de La Grange.  La Grange insisted she would be happy to supply the names of much more important people in return for her life.  The names she, and others, gave up were singularly frightening as most of them could put la Reynie in prison for daring to think about investigating them.  La Reynie knew he was in over his head and went to the Marquis de Louvois, Louis XIV’s foreign minister, for help.

Gabriel-Nicolas de la Reynie (1625–1709), 17th century print by Mignard.

The main problem was the finger had been pointed at Catherine Deshayes Monvoison, otherwise known as La Voison or Madame Voison.  Who was she?  Ostensibly, she was a midwife.  However, more famously she was the fortune teller and sorceress to the upper crust.  Her clients included the who’s who of 17th century France including Madame de Soissons, Olympe Mancini, who was the King’s former mistress; Marie Anne Mancini, Olympe’s sister; the Duc de Luxembourg; Marquis de Cessac; Vicomtesse de Polignac; Princesse de Tingry; Duchess de Vivonne; and Marquis de Feuquieres.  The big name that was hushed up was Athénaïs de Montespan de Rochechouart, the King’s current mistress.  

Athénaïs de Montespan de Rochechouart was the clever friend of the King’s former mistress Louise de La Vallière.  Indeed, Louise had introduced them and Athénaïs had used her considerable beauty and wit to usurp Louise’s place in the King’s heart and bed.  Soon she was the formidable maîtresse-en-titre.  However, keeping the eye of a king was hard work especially after bearing seven children.  The King liked them young, and his eye lit upon the beautiful Marie Angélique, who later died after contracting a fever after giving birth to a stillborn child.  According to the testimony of La Voison’s daughter, who was her assistant, these deaths could be attributed to poisoning by Athénaïs.  She also testified that Athénaïs bought aphrodisiacs and participated in “Black Masses” where she lay naked on an altar and babies blood was put over her so she could keep her beauty.  These revelations would tear the court apart if they came out and La Reynie would be quite dead.

To keep all these high nobles out of the public eye, the investigation became secret and they were tried in a special court called Le Chambre Ardente or Burning Tribunal.  There were 442 people implicated in the plot, and at least 218 arrested.  After a five year investigation going from 1677 to 1682, 36 people burned to death after torture, 4 sent to the galleys, 36 banished or fined, 81 imprisoned by lettres de cachet.  Lettres de cachet meant that the king simply decided you needed to spend the rest of your life in prison.  There was no trial, no appeal.  You were just stuck.  It is hypothesized that one of the most mysterious French prisoners of all- the Man in the Iron Mask- had something to do with the affair and earned a lettres de cachet  (For more on him, please see this post http://www.historynaked.com/the-man-in-the-iron-mask-ultimate-man-of-mystery/ ).   Even more were either exiled or fled France to escape.  

When the investigations began to get to close to Athénaïs , the courts were shut down.  Marquis de Louvois was nervous because it was he who encouraged the king’s affair with Athénaïs.  If she was convicted, he could go down with her whether he was involved in her shenanigans or not.  Louis XVI began handing out lettres de cachet like candy to anyone who whispered Athénaïs’ name.  He also had all records of the affair he had access to burned.  People took the hint and shut up.  What Louis didn’t realize was La Reynie kept his copies of the investigation records and hid them away.  They were found centuries later.

As for Athénaïs, she stayed with Louis for eleven more years until she retired to the Convent of St. Joseph with a handsome pension.

ER

Osage Reign of Terror

Anna Brown Photo courtesy of the FBI

The early 1920’s looked like a good time for the Osage tribe.  They were in the midst of an oil boom as large deposits of oil were found on tribal land in north central Oklahoma.  Many members of the Osage tribe were becoming wealthy.  Unlike other Native Americans, the Osage had deeds to their land, unlike other tribes forced onto a reservation.  Under the 1906 Osage Allotment Act all subsurface minerals were tribally owned and held in trust by the United States government.  Revenues from the mineral leases paid the tribe over 30 million dollars.  Each member of the tribe received one share, called a headright, which could be passed to a tribe member’s legal heir upon death.  To receive a headright through inheritance, one did not need to be a member of the tribe.  

Sounds good, right?  Not so much. There was a lot of envy from white people in Oklahoma and all over the country.  The press referred to them as “the red millionaires and the plutocratic Osage.”  This new found wealth brought trouble the wealthiest among the tribe were dying under suspicious circumstances.  Soon the most dangerous place in the United States was on the Osage Indian Reservation, and that period of time became known as the “Osage Reign of Terror”.

In May 1921, a group of hunters discovered the body of Anna Brown in a remote ravine in Osage County.  She was a member of the Osage tribe, and at first police chalked up her death to alcohol poisoning.  Her body was found in an advanced state of decomposition, and as we mentioned in earlier posts, coroners were not trained in the CSI methods we are familiar with today.  (For more on this, please see these posts:  http://www.historynaked.com/chuck-norris-prohibition/ and http://www.historynaked.com/frances-glessner-lee-dioramas-death/ ).  Anna’s sister was Mollie Burkart nee Kyle.  The two girls grew up in an Osage lodge and following the traditional tribal ways.  Because of the oil deposits found on their land, the family became wealthy.  At the time of Anna’s death, Mollie was living in a mansion and married to a white husband with two children.  Mollie had been looking for her sister for weeks after she mysteriously disappeared.  After the body was found, Mollie pressed for more investigation and an undertaker found a bullet wound in the back of Anna’s head.

A string of tragedies befell Mollie’s family.  Her mother, Lizzie Kyle, died unexpectedly two months later.  The poor woman seemed to waste away and no one could figure out what was happening.  Finally, Lizzie’s body withered and she passed away from the mysterious illness.  Like her daughter, her death was attributed to “bad whiskey”.  Mollie and Anna had another sister, Rita Smith, who lived in a home not far from Mollie’s.  One night after going to bed, Mollie was awoken by a loud bang.  She went to her window and saw an ominous orange light from her sister’s house.  It was found later, someone planted a bomb under the house and when it went off, it killed Rita, Rita’s husband, William E. Smith, and their housekeeper, Nettie Brookshire.  Mollie’s cousin, Henry Roan, was found shot in the head, much like Anna.  George Bigheart, another of Mollie’s relatives, became ill and was taken to the hospital in Oklahoma City.  It was determined there he was poisoned.  Between 1921 and 1923, at least two dozen members of the Osage tribe died under suspicious circumstances.

There was some attention from the press, but they and the sheriffs were willing to write this off.  Even though it was extremely obvious these were homicides no one would do anything.  One man was poisoned by strychnine and witnesses describe him as jerking as if electrocuted.  One body found was so mutilated the autopsy could not determine cause of death.  Yet all of these were chalked up to natural causes or suicide.

Rita Smith and Nettie Brookshire pictured in front of their summer home.

Mollie wasn’t going to take this lying down.  She issued rewards and hired private investigators.  However, this was the 1920’s and private investigators were a mixed bag.  Most of them were on the take.  The tribe approached a white oil man named Barney McBride.  They knew McBride to be an honest man, and he genuinely wanted to help.  He went on their behalf to Washington DC to try and get federal help.  As befitting a man of the times, he brought with him a gun and a Bible.  When he arrived at his boarding house in Washington, he received a telegram to be careful.  Later that night, he was kidnapped, and his murdered body was found naked and beaten.  He had been stabbed at least 20 times.   Another man named W.W. Vaughn, tried to help the Osage.  He had been called in by George Bigheart from the hospital in Oklahoma City.  He called the local sheriff and told him he had evidence to charge someone with murder and was coming home.  He was thrown from the speeding train and his neck was broken.  People were terrified and many Osage fled Oklahoma for other parts of the country, mainly California.  Children were not allowed outside, doors were locked and lights hung so houses were always illuminated.

In desperation, the tribe contacted a little known branch of the Justice Department- the Federal Bureau of Investigations.  It was their first murder investigation.  However, the Bureau had just come under control of an ambitious young man named J. Edgar Hoover.  He was itching to remake the Bureau in his image and coming up with a conviction here would be a win.  Hoover recruited a frontier lawman named Tom White.  White put together a team of undercover agents, who were all experienced frontier lawmen, surprisingly for the time including a Native American agent.  They hit the reservation in the spring of 1923 looking for answers.  What they found was a vast criminal conspiracy.  The names that kept coming up were William K. Hale, Byron Burkart and John Ramsey.

William K. Hale, “King of the Osage Hills.” Photo courtesy the FBI.

Hold up.  Wasn’t Mollie’s name Burkhart?  Well spotted.  Ernest Burkhart was Mollie’s husband and Byron Burkhart was Ernest’s brother.  The sordid tale that came out was especially sick because of all the family ties and the long term planning involved.  William K. Hale was a wealthy cattleman and the self proclaimed “King of the Osage Hills”.  Apparently his extensive banking and business connections weren’t enough because he lusted after the Osage oil money.  He convinced his very pliable nephew, Ernest Burkhart, to marry Mollie Kyle.  Then systematically had her family murdered so that she would control their headrights.  By the time the murder plot was discovered, Mollie controlled about 2 million dollars worth of headrights.  Mollie was also dangerously sick with what turned out to be poisoning.  If Mollie died, all her headrights would go to her husband, then if he accidentally turned up dead….well, that would all go to dear Uncle William.

Under interrogation, Ernest Burkhart tied John Ramsey to the murder of Henry Roan.  Ramsey sang like a bird and fingered Hale in the Roan murder as well as the firebombing of the Smith house.  Testimony also revealed Hale had taken out a $25,000 insurance policy on Henry Roan with himself as the beneficiary.  Nice.  Byron Burkhart and Kelsie Morrison were fingered for Anna Brown’s murder as they was last seen with her.  It was found this was done at Hale’s behest.  The defendants were tried in state and federal courts at Guthrie, Oklahoma City, Pawhuska and Bartlesville.  The initial trials were rife with jury tampering and corruptions.  Eventually, Hale was convicted and sentenced to “hard labor for the rest of your natural life at Leavenworth prison.” Kelsie Morison, John Ramsey and Ernest Burkhart were also sentenced to life imprisonment at Leavenworth.  Byron Burkhart turned state’s evidence and got off.

Despite Osage protest, Burkhart, Hale and Ramsey were all paroled.  Burkhard even received a full pardon from the governor of Oklahoma in 1965.  The only good thing that came out of this was a law in 1925 that stated headrights could not be passed to anyone who wasn’t a tribal member with more than one-half Osage blood.  No more murders for headrights.  However, I think Joseph E. Tinker, an Osage, said what I am thinking.  He said: “In our minds there is no doubt that Hale was the ringleader in the mass murder of our tribesmen. His good conduct in prison does not mitigate that fact. I personally think he should have been hanged for his crimes.”  Amen and amen.

ER

The Crippen Murder

A Page from the scrapbook of Scotland Yard Detective Charles Belcher, who worked on the Dr Crippen case. Pictures show Dr Crippen and his wife Belle Elmore

Hawley Harvey Crippen was a meek little man with a big problem.  His wife was a cheating, gold digging narcissist.  To complicate matters, he was in love with another woman.  How did he get into this predicament?

Crippen was born to a prosperous family in Coldwater, Michigan in 1862.  Despite the fact the family was comfortable, they instilled in young Hawley a strict work ethic.  Crippen completed a degree an M.D. from Cleveland Homeopathic Hospital after graduating from the University of Michigan.  He set up practice in Brooklyn, NY and married a nurse named Charlotte Bell and the two had a son.  Bell died suddenly, and Crippen sent their son Otto to be raised by his parents in California.  In September 1892, his life changed when seventeen year old Cora Turner appeared in the Brooklyn office.  Cora appeared as a much older woman with a voluptuous figure, a mature attitude and flexible morals.   However, Cora was not was not what she seemed.  Cora was born Kunigunde Mackamotzki in Brooklyn, NY in 1873.  She left home at 16, and changed her name to the more Anglicized Cora Turner.   She was an aspiring actress and singer, and parlayed her charm into monetary success.  In fact, at the time she met Crippen she was living in an apartment paid for by a married man.  In exchange for what can euphemistically be called companionship, she received room, board, clothes and voice lessons.  Why she was seeing was deemed “female problems”, but would be more accurately described as a pregnancy.  Crippen’s notes say she had a miscarriage or “something”, however, that may have been code for an abortion.

Dr. Crippen was immediately smitten, and began courting the young woman even though he was thirteen years her senior.  Although Dr. Crippen was not physically handsome, she was interested in his M.D. and the possibility of wealth it brought with it.  Cora used Dr. Crippen as a ticket out of her situation with the married man, and worked her considerable wiles on him.  When Cora told Crippen her married paramour had asked her to runaway with him, he claimed he couldn’t stand it.  The two were married on September 1, 1892. Cora was still having problems with her “female complaint” and was in pain.  A doctor suggested she have an ovariectomy, an operation to remove her ovaries.  This was a serious step as surgery was in its infancy and not always safe.  Despite misgivings, Cora went through with the operation.  Later, she liked showing off her scar to friends and family.  Since she was no longer able to have children, Cora threw herself into her singing career.  Unfortunately, with the panic of 1893 and the waning demand for homeopathy, Cora was forced to give up her voice lessons and the couple had to move in with Cora’s step father.  Cracks began to appear in the Crippen marriage as what once seemed vivacious and charming, now seemed volatile and wearing.  

The couple moved to Philadelphia, where Crippen got a job with a homeopathic mail order business named Munyon’s Homeopathic Remedies.  He impressed his managers with his intelligence and work ethic and he rose to general manager in 1895.  Cora resumed her voice lessons.  Although they were thriving in Philadelphia, both J.M. Munyon and his son Duke noted was caused much worry by his wife’s behavior.  She took notice of men other than her husband and seemed to take joy in their attentions, and this was visibly upsetting to the Crippen, whom the Munyon’s described as being a “gentle” soul.  Rumors flew that she was having affairs.  

Despite his family troubles, Munyon promoted Crippen to open the company’s first overseas office in London.  Originally, Cora stayed behind to pursue her career in New York.  She wrote to Crippen she was giving up her dreams of opera and moving to vaudeville.  This upset Crippen, who worried it was too tawdry.  He urged her to come to London, where variety as it was called, enjoyed a bit more upmarket reputation.  Even the Prince of Wales partook of variety on occasion.  Cora reluctantly agreed and once in London, pursued her theatre career with vigor.  However, Cora was less pliable and friendly.  She cast up men she had met in New York as well as on the trip over to Crippen.  Her moods swung to all of the extremes and her temper was nasty, and only improved when Crippen agreed to fund a variety act starring Cora.  The critics hated it and called her the “Brooklyn matzoball”.

Some career moves later and the loss of money from Cora’s variety show sent the Crippens to a more down market home.  Cora would not give up though and attended to stick at variety and had started singing again.  To rid herself of her former failure, she went by a new stage name-  Belle Elmore.  The marriage continued to degrade and Belle was active in an affair with a man named Bruce Miller.  He tended to visit Belle at least two times a week and escorted her to restaurants.  Crippen was past being jealous and later said he was simply grief stricken. On the career side, Belle became involved with the Music Hall Ladies’ Guild, and they were charmed by the same things that Crippen had been charmed by.  However, they didn’t have to live with her.

In 1901, Crippen hired a new secretary- 18 year old Ethel Le Neve.  Ethel was quiet and intelligent.  She treated Crippen with respect, which was something he was not used to anymore.  The two became close, and soon Crippen was head over heals with Ethel.  However, he was still married to Belle.  At this point the two were living separate lives- Belle carrying on with her lovers and theater friends, and Crippen carrying a torch for his secretary.  The two of them were inseparable, but Crippen didn’t pull the trigger on an affair because of his strict religious upbringing.  What pushed him over the edge was finding Belle in bed with one of their borders.  The marriage for all intents and purposes was over.  However, Belle took on the role of a jealous wife with zeal and enlisted her friends in the Music Hall Ladies’ Guild to spy on her husband.  They reported back of intimate dinners between Crippen and Ethel.  Soon there were reports Ethel was pregnant.  This struck Belle to the heart as she was unable to have children, plus a woman of her dramatic temperament and no fear of playing the hypocrite could not resist the opportunity to play the injured party.  It became clear she had to go.

On January 17, 1910, Crippen ordered five grains of the poison hydrobromide of hyoscine, from a chemist who supplied medications for his dentistry practice.  This was a drug used as a sedative and used in small quantities to subdue mental patients.  The theory goes that Crippen tried to sedate Belle, and then invited over his friend Dr. John Burroughs to “find” her body.  He had already laid the false trail that Belle was in ill health with Burroughs.  Instead of being sedated, Belle had become hyperactive and Crippen was forced to shoot her with a revolver.  Crippen then cut the body into pieces and hidden it under the floor in stone cellar.  Then began an elaborate ruse that Belle had returned to America to tend to a sick relative.

Except that they were terrible planners, Crippen tried to lay another false trail to America where he then had Belle conveniently die.  However, he let Ethel wear Belle’s jewelry.  She wore a particularly beloved piece of Belle’s jewelry to a Guild Ball.  The ladies knew venal Belle would never have left these pieces and began inundating Crippen with inquiries as to where Belle was, where she was buried etc.  They called in Scotland Yard and Chief Inspector Walter Dew began to investigate.  Again, Crippen got hasty.  During his interview with Inspector Dew, he told him Belle had left him for another man and he made up the story out of embarrassment.  Dew believed him and was about to let the matter drop when Crippen and Ethel ran.  Once it was known they had disappeared, Dew searched the house and found the body under the cellar floor.  It was identified by the ovariectomy from so long ago.

The press went wild as the gruesome murder was reminiscent of the Ripper murders twenty years earlier.  Immense pressure was put on Scotland Yard to solve the case by the public, the press and even a young Winston Churchill, as the Home Secretary.  Crippen and Ethel tried to escape to Canada aboard the steamer SS Montrose.  Ethel was dressed as a boy and was posing as Crippen’s son.  However, this ruse was seen through by the captain of the Montrose, who had received word of the fugitives via the new wireless radio.  Again, another mistake because if Crippen had sailed to the US, Dew would have no jurisdiction over him since he was a US citizen.

The two were arrested by Inspector Dew when the SS Montrose docked in Canada with thousands of readers following along in the newspapers.  They were taken aboard another ocean liner to return back to England to stand trial.  Crippen and Ethel were not allowed to see each other but once on the voyage home.  Crippen begged Inspector Dew to allow him to see Ethel as if he was convicted they would never meet again and she had been “his only comfort”.  Inspector Dew allowed Crippen to stand at the door of his cabin, while Ethel stood at the door of hers thirty feet away.  Dew described the meeting as profoundly sad, and the two never spoke just exchanged a small hand gesture.  They never spoke again.

Ethel and Crippen were tried separately in London.  Crippen for murder and Ethel as an accessory after the fact.  Crippen was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.  Ethel was acquitted.  Crippen was executed at Pentonville Prison in London on November 23,1910.  He asked to be buried with his letters to Ethel and a photograph of her. On the same day Ethel left England and worked in Canada for five years before returning.  After five years, she returned and married.  She died at the age of 84 in 1967.

Theories abound as to whether Crippen actually did the murder.  Erich Larsen believes that Crippen just snapped after years of abuse.  Forensic toxicologist, John Trestail, is revisiting the case with DNA expert David Foran.  They have found the 100 year old tissue claimed to be Belle Elmore’s did not match DNA from living relatives.  However, this has been controversial as Jonathan Meges, a genealogist from San Diego, believes the people thought to be relatives of Belle Elmore were not, so there was no wonder the DNA didn’t match.  Foran’s investigation also found that many of the body parts were not even female.  Based on these findings, James Patrick Crippen, a living relative of Hawley Crippen, is formally requesting the British government pardon Hawley Crippen.

ER