Category Archives: Mini Mystery

Mini Mystery – The Wireless Murder

On 13 July 1910, Inspector Walter Dew of Scotland Yard called at 39 Hilldrop Crescent where, in the cellar, he found the remains of Cora Crippen. Married to Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen (pictured), a doctor of homeopathic medicines, Cora had been poisoned with hyoscine, the only time hyoscine has been used to commit murder.

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The Crippen’s marriage had been stormy. A would be music hall singer, Cora had indulged in a number of affairs, while Dr Crippen had taken up with his secretary, Ethel Le Neve, a woman twenty-one years his junior. Inspector Dew suspected Dr Crippen of murder, but he couldn’t locate the doctor.

Meanwhile, on the SS Montrose, a steamship bound for Canada, the ship’s captain, Henry Kendall, became suspicious of two passengers, John Philo Robinson and his sixteen year old ‘son’; rightly so, because Crippen had shaved off his moustache while Ethel had cut her hair short and donned boy’s clothing.

Captain Kendall informed Scotland Yard. In haste, Inspector Dew boarded the SS Laurentic and moments before Dr Crippen and Ethel could disappear into the vast continent of North America, he arrested Crippen, the first man to be captured by wireless telegraphy.

 

The Da Vinci Crime

Leonardo Da Vinci’s iconic painting, the Mona Lisa, measures just 76 x 53 cm and is owned by the French government. The painting can be found on display in the Louvre. However, on Monday 21st August, during the long hot summer of 1911, it disappeared.

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Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa on wood, not canvas, so the thief had not rolled up the masterpiece. The police found a left hand thumbprint at the scene, but in those days only the prints on the right hand were kept on file. Rewards totalling 80,000 francs were offered, to no avail.

Initially, the French police suspected Pablo Picasso of the theft. He was questioned, but released without charge. Then, two years later, on 10th December 1913, the Mona Lisa reappeared in Florence when a young man, Vincenzo Perugia, tried to sell the painting to an antique dealer for 500,000 lire. The antique dealer summoned the police and they arrested Perugia.

Perugia went on trial in Florence in June 1914. He claimed that he had stolen the Mona Lisa out of patriotic duty. This defence endeared him to the Italian public and he was sentenced to just one year fifteen days imprisonment.

 

 

 

The First Great Train Robbery

On the night of 15th May 1855, three boxes of gold, valued at over one million pounds in today’s money, were placed aboard the guard’s van at London Bridge Station. However, when the boxes arrived in Paris, railway officials discovered that lead shot had replaced the gold. Who had carried out this audacious robbery? Investigator Mr Rees was put on the case.

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The trail led to Pentonville prison where Edward Agar, a professional criminal, was awaiting transportation to Australia for passing false cheques. In fact, he’d been set up by a fellow thief because of his affair with the thief’s mistress. Bitter about the set up, Agar confessed to the robbery, implicating his former mates and revealing that there was no honour amongst this gang of thieves.

Until Agar’s confession, the authorities had been clueless, the French blaming the English and the English blaming the French in comical fashion. However, love and lust are no laughing matter, as Agar later discovered when he succumbed to the charms of his erstwhile mistress.

In 1979, a film starring Sean Connery presented a highly fictionalised version of events where the master criminal escaped.

 

Mini Mystery #6 Hard to Swallow

Adelaide de la Tremouille (pictured) was born on 19th December 1855. She married Edwin Bartlett, a wealthy London grocer, on 6th April 1875. For ten years the couple enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. Then, in 1885, they met the Rev George Dyson. The Rev Dyson and Edwin enjoyed long conversations, particularly about marriage and relationships. During one of those conversations, Edwin revealed that if he should die, he would like the Rev Dyson to marry Adelaide. Sure enough, on 1st January 1886, Edwin did die, of chloroform ingestion.

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The police investigation revealed that, when alive, Edwin had allowed the Rev Dyson to kiss his wife. This led to suspicion and the arrest of Adelaide Bartlett for murder. The Rev Dyson who, on 28th December 1885, had bought four bottles of chloroform, was also arrested, but his case was dismissed.

At the trial, the jury wrestled with one question raised by the post mortem: how did the chloroform reach Edwin’s stomach without burning his throat or mouth? No one could supply an answer and although the medical experts found the verdict hard to swallow, the jury allowed Adelaide to walk from the court, a free woman.

 

Mini Mystery #5 Stand and Deliver!

Stand and Deliver!

You have probably heard of Dick Turpin, but who was he and what happened to him?

Dick Turpin was baptised on 21 September 1705 at Hempstead, Essex. He established himself as a butcher, stealing stock from local farmers. Later, while on the run, he resorted to robbing smugglers who roamed the local coast.

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On 4 May 1737, Turpin murdered Thomas Morris while out poaching. With a £200 bounty on his head, Turpin fled to Yorkshire. Apparently, he rode the 200 miles from London to York on his mare, Black Bess, in fifteen hours, but this feat was probably achieved by John Nevison, aka Swift Nick, another highwayman.

Under the name of John Palmer, Turpin dealt in horses. Unsuccessful, he ended up in York’s Debtors’ Prison where, on 6 February 1739, he wrote to his brother-in-law asking for help. However, his brother-in-law refused to pay the sixpence delivery charge and returned the letter to the post office where James Smith recognised the handwriting. Smith travelled to York and identified Palmer as Dick Turpin. Turpin was duly arrested, Smith pocketed the £200 reward and a legend was born.

 

Mini Mystery #4

The First Getaway Car

On 21st December 1911, a French anarchist gang made history by using the first getaway car. The car, a 1910 Delaunay-Belleville luxury limousine (pictured), registration number 783-X-3, was stolen on 14th December 1911 by four members of the gang who changed the plate to 668-X-8.

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A week later they used the car to intercept a bank messenger en route to a bank in Paris. At 8.25 am the messenger arrived by tram carrying a satchel and briefcase. A gang member grabbed the satchel and briefcase, but the messenger would not let go. Shots were fired, wounding the messenger. With the satchel and briefcase in their hands, the gang jumped into their getaway car, executed a screeching  U-turn and sped away.

They left the car in Dieppe, which suggested to the police that they had fled across the channel. However, they were still in France. In hiding, they opened the satchel and discovered 5,126 francs while the briefcase contained 130,000 francs-worth of useless cheques and bonds. If only they had looked inside the messenger’s jacket where they would have discovered a wallet crammed with 20,000 francs.

 

 

Mini Mystery #3 – Piltdown Man

In September 1912 Charles Dawson, a respected country lawyer, made a shocking discovery. He found a prehistoric humanoid skull in a gravel pit near Piltdown Common, Sussex. The skull proved Charles Darwin’s 1859 Theory of Evolution. Or did it?

Dr Arthur Smith Woodward of the British Museum joined Charles Dawson on his archaeological dig. Together, they found fossilized bone fragments, flint tools and fossilized teeth. Experts were called in and they confirmed that Piltdown Man was half a million years old and the missing link between ape and man, a fact they announced to the British public on 18th December 1912.

However, in November 1953 a group of palaeontologists tested the skull and pronounced it a fake. The skull was indeed human, but the teeth and jawbone came from an orang-utan.

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Who perpetrated the hoax? The prime suspect is Charles Dawson, a man ambitious to prove his credentials as a geologist. But what of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (pictured), a man interested in science, a neighbour of Dawson’s and the creator of Sherlock Holmes? Did Conan Doyle perpetrate the hoax and thus create a real-life mystery?