February 1, 2011

Where Is Cora Crippen?

Dr. Hawley Crippen's wife Cora disappeared sometime in February 1910. A few months later, he and his mistress, Ethel Le Neve, were arrested and stood trial for her murder. Miss Le Neve was acquitted, but Dr. Crippen was found guilty, in one of the most sensational trials Britain had seen. In November, still protesting his innocence of the crime, he was hanged.

For decades few have doubted Dr. Crippen's guilt. Now, forensic investigators from Michigan State University's School of Criminal Justice have determined that the remains discovered in Dr. Hawley Crippen's coal cellar, long presumed to be those of his missing wife Cora, are not hers. They aren't even female.

Based on the genealogical and molecular data presented here, only
one conclusion can be drawn: the remains obtained from the
Crippen’s cellar at 39 Hilldrop Crescent, London, in 1910 were not
those of Dr. Crippen’s wife. It is beyond the scope of this article to
speculate on whose they were (clearly they were human) or how
they came to be in the Crippen’s coal cellar. It must be noted that
the forensic tools available today are far advanced from those
available in 1910, so it is perhaps not surprising that new (and conflicting) results were obtained, as still  happens. Forensic
science in 1910 was in its infancy, and scientists at the time had to rely on the tools and techniques available to them. DNA testing of
remains, such as those found in the Crippen’s (sic) cellar, would today be virtually automatic, producing far more objective results for personal identification than interpretation of small physical abnormalities in
highly decayed flesh. Finally, in light of the data presented here, we can briefly look
at the outcome of Dr. Crippen’s investigation and trial. As noted earlier, Dr. Crippen proclaimed his innocence throughout, stating before his hanging that ‘‘I insist I am innocent…some day evidence
will be discovered to prove it…’’ The heinous crime for which Dr. Crippen was hanged, which intrigued much of the world in 1910, was illogical in many ways. If Dr. Crippen, described as very mild
mannered, had murdered his wife, why did he openly flaunt her absence by selling many of her possessions, and taking his mistress out socially where she sometimes wore his missing wife’s jewelry? Even more perplexing is the manner in which the body was discarded. If a murderer was successful in killing his victim unwitnessed, then dismembering and disposing of the head, arms, legs, and every bone, why go through the ordeal of carefully sectioning out the victim’s viscera (performed in a single piece with reported surgical skill), and burying these soft tissues, excluding anything that could identify sex, in one’s very own basement, along with a small amount of hair and a pajama top? It is these acts (and others) that have long led historical investigators to wonder whether Dr. Crippen actually did murder his wife and whether the cellar remains were hers.  The judge, Lord Richard Alverston, condemned Dr. Crippen to die by hanging. Before the jury’s deliberation, he stated regarding the remains: ‘‘Gentlemen, I think I may pass for the purpose of
your consideration from the question of whether it was a man or woman. Of course, if it was a man, again the defendant is entitled to walk out of that dock.’’ Sexing the remains was impossible at the time, as were other purely objective methods for their identification.  We are thus left with an instance of historical misidentification. Based on the genealogical and genetic investigations presented here, the remains found in Dr. Crippen’s coal cellar were not only not Cora Crippen’s, they were not even female.

Writers, including Patricia Highsmith ("The False Inspector Dew") have used the Crippen story as the basis for intriguing speculation and this new information will fuel the fire. Whose remains were buried in Dr. Crippen's cellar and why? And where is Cora?

No comments: