Wife and murder victim of Hawley Harvey Crippen.

Cora Crippen was born in 1875 under the name of Kunugunde Mackamotski. Her parents were of German and Polish extraction. Anxious to appear as "American" as possible, she changed her name to the much less ethnic Cora Turner.

By 1892, at the age of 17, she was in New York, studying opera. She met and married an eye doctor, Hawley Harvey Crippen, 13 years her senior. It soon became clear that the income from his medical practice was not sufficient to her wants, and she persuaded him to take a job with a patent medicine company instead. While he travelled around the country selling medicines, she continued to study opera in New York.

In 1900, Dr Crippen was despatched to England by his employer to manage their London office. Cora joined him before the year was out.

Under the name Belle Elmore, Cora embarked on a music hall career. Having neither the voice, the figure, nor the talent for the job, she was a failure. However, she made numerous friends in theatrical circles, and soon began to live the life of a retired chanteuse under her stage name.

The best descriptions we have of her character and her life come from this period. She was "vivacious and pleasant, fond of dress and display." She spoke with a marked New York accent, and dyed her dark hair auburn.

Even her friends, who saw her better side, knew that she was not kind to her husband. She insisted that he run their house as a boarding house, doing all the cooking and cleaning himself. She then spent the additional income on clothes and jewelry. She completely dominated Crippen, then was unfaithful to him. He, in turn, was so quiet and mild-mannered that he seemed to fade into the background.

However, Dr Crippen was not as beaten down as he appeared. Sometime before 1909, he had fallen in love with a typist, Ethel le Neve. It is uncertain when Cora learned of the affair. By this time, the Crippens' marriage was essentially over. In December of 1909, Cora announced she was leaving Dr Crippen (which he did not mind), and taking their savings with her (which he minded very much).

On January 31, 1910, the Crippens had a music hall couple, the Martinellis, over for dinner. The atmosphere in the Crippen household was strained; the couple had clearly been arguing. The four played whist until 1:30 AM, when Mr and Mrs Martinelli left.

No one saw Cora Crippen alive again.

Her friends received several letters purporting to be from her, resigning her position as treasurer of the Music Hall Ladies' Guild and claiming she had been summoned to the US. Dr Crippen claimed that she died while in America, but her friends became suspicious when Ethel le Neve turned up wearing some of her jewels. They reported their concerns to Scotland Yard.

When questioned, Dr Crippen gave a convincing account of his wife's disappearance: he said she had left him for another man. Cora Crippen's murder might never have been detected, except that her husband panicked and fled with his lover.

Chief Inspector Dew searched the house, and found that the bricks under the cellar were loose. When they were pried up, he found Cora Crippen's remains, wrapped in the shirt from a pair of pajamas. She had been buried in slaked lime, which had preserved her (rather than quicklime, which would have destroyed the body).

Bernard Spilsbury, then just beginning his career as a pathologist, did the autopsy. He noted the following pieces of information about the body:

  • Remains were found on 13/7/10
  • The organs of the chest and abdomen had been removed in one mass
  • Four large pieces of skin and muscle were found, including one from the lower abdomen. This piece had a 4 inch scar on it
  • Gender could not be determined from the body
  • 2.7 grains of hyoscine were found in the remains
  • Hairs were found with the body, some 6 inches long.
  • The pajamas bore a label from "Jones Brothers Limited, Holloway"
  • The head, limbs and bones of the body were missing

At Hawley Harvey Crippen's trial, the scar was identified as being from an operation Cora Crippen had undergone. The remains were therefore those of Cora Crippen.

Hawley Harvey Crippen was convicted of the murder of his wife. His mistress, Ethel le Neve, was acquitted of any involvement. Dr Crippen was hanged at Pentonville Prison, London, on November 23, 1910.

The body parts found under the floor of The Crippen house were buried in Finchley cemetery in early October of 1910. The rest of Cora Crippen’s remains were never found.

For further details about Hawley Harvey Crippen's dramatic flight, arrest and trial, see his node.

At Hawley Harvey Crippen's trial, the scar was identified as being from an operation Cora Crippen had undergone. The remains were therefore those of Cora Crippen.

...Or were they!?

Dun. dun. DUNNNN!

In 2007, forensic science researchers at the prestigious (and, coincidentally, server hosts for your favorite website) Michigan State University concluded based on a mitochondrial DNA evidence that the body found in Dr. Crippen's cellar was not that of Cora Crippen.

It is perhaps ironic, then, that Crippen was essentially convicted based on the forensic evidence presented in court. The facts of the case were plain: there was a body under Dr. Crippen's cellar, it had been poisoned, and it was in such a state of viscera that only a small abdominal scar was used to positively identify the remains as those of the doctor's late wife.

So when a poison expert from Grand Rapids decided to "re-open" the case based on some of the inconsistent evidence, he got permission from the Royal London Hospital Archives and Museum to examine DNA from the small piece of skin containing the tell-tale scar to identify it as Cora Crippen's, one and for all.

The detective business took two steps. First, some nifty labwork to break through the pine sap and formaldehyde used to preserve the tissue, and second, finding living female relatives of Mrs. Crippen to provide a comparison of the DNA.

And the verdict? Not Cora Crippen.

So while it's true that somebody was down underneath that poor doctor's cellar, it wasn't his wife, and since Dr. Crippen went to the gallows protesting his innocence, it seems like this case will join that other famous turn of the century one in the "whodunit?" pile ...

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.