Tag Archives: True Crime

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 #2

A Murderous Affair

In March 1855 well-to-do Madeleine Smith, aged 19, met a humble clerk, Pierre L’Angelier, aged 31 and, against her father’s wishes, entered into an affair. The couple exchanged a stream of passionate love letters. However, because of the gap in their social status they found it difficult to meet.

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In an effort to keep their affair secret, Madeleine burnt Pierre’s letters, but he kept the 198 epistles she sent to him. The letters reveal that the couple consummated their affair on 6th May 1856. Madeleine’s father, James, found out and forbade any further contact.

Madeleine asked Pierre to return her letters. Besotted with her, he insisted that the affair should continue, or he would send them to her father. Then, on 23rd March 1857, L’Angelier died of arsenic poisoning. The letters were discovered and Madeleine was arrested.

At her trial, Madeleine admitted that she bought arsenic, but insisted it was for cosmetic purposes, not for murder. The evidence placed the Scottish jury in two minds and they returned a verdict of ‘not proven’. Madeleine walked free. Later, she began a new life in America, where she died, aged 93.

Hannah Howe, author of the Sam Smith and Ann’s War Mysteries.

 

 

The Big Cheese

In 1906 two Carlisle colliers, John Torrance and James Miller, were down on their luck. However, they came up with a plan: burgle the local Co-operative Society store. The men planned their burglary and slipped into the store unnoticed. They helped themselves to everything they could carry, though had to leave a great deal behind. One item proved too tempting to leave in the store – a piece of cheese. So they nibbled the cheese, discarded the leftovers and thought nothing of it.

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John Torrance and James Miller were feeling pleased with themselves, until they discovered that no two sets of teeth are identical and that a sharp-eyed policeman had noticed the piece of cheese with the bite marks. Despite the villains knocking out teeth stumps to try to avoid identification, a dentist matched the resulting bite marks with a cast of the suspects’ teeth, leading to a conviction at Cumberland Assizes and a sentence of three years imprisonment.

Footnote: teeth marks in a piece of cheese were later used in Agenda For Murder, an episode of Columbo, when Columbo ensnares a ruthless attorney by matching bite marks on chewing gum with bite marks on a piece of cheese.