Lover (and motive) of the murderer Hawley Harvey Crippen.
Despite being the other woman in the most notorious murder case of the early Twentieth Century, Ethel le Neve's life begins and ends out of the spotlight. Her early years were merely obscure for the usual reasons (ordinary birth, no great wealth in the family, etc); her later life was deliberately secretive.
Le Neve was born in 1883 in England. By the age of 20, she was a typist at the Yale Tooth Specialists, a patent medicine company based in London. While working there, she met Hawley Harvey Crippen, an American doctor working for a number of patent medicine sellers.
Crippen was an unassuming man, eleven years her senior, known to be dominated by his aggressive wife. Ethel was a shy, soft-spoken woman, either frequently unwell or a hypochondriac. They made a good couple. By 1907, they had become lovers.
Cora Crippen, Dr Crippen's wife, found out about the affair, but did not care. She had numerous lovers of her own, and may have regarded le Neve as a welcome diversion for her husband. However, it was his love for Ethel that caused Crippen to decide to end the marriage late in 1909. This would have troubled Cora no more than the affair with Ethel, but for one thing: Crippen wanted a share in the couple's savings.
In the early hours of February 1, 1910, after a violent row, Crippen murdered his wife with hyoscine. He then cut up the body and buried portions of the torso under the bricks in his coal cellar. (The rest of her body was never found.) He claimed at various stages over the following months that she had returned to the United States, that she was dead, and that she had left him for another man.
Ethel moved in with Crippen and quickly became settled in her life with him. She attended parties with him, wearing Cora Crippen's jewels. There is no record whether she knew, or guessed, that Cora was dead rather than fled. She even answered the door when a detective from Scotland Yard came by. And when Crippen decided to flee London for Canada, she accompanied him, disguised as a boy.
The couple were spotted on the steamship en route to Quebec, cuddling behind a lifeboat. The ship's captain radioed Scotland Yard, and a detective was sent on a faster ship to overtake and arrest them. They were taken back to London for trial: Crippen for murder, le Neve as an accessory after the fact. Crippen shielded his lover throughout his trial, even choosing his plea so that she would not be called on to testify. As a result, he was convicted and she was acquitted.
After Crippen's hanging, le Neve moved to Toronto under the name "Ethel Harvey" (a melancholy tribute to her dead lover). She did not return to London until World War I, when she married a clerk named Stanley Smith. The couple settled in Croydon, South London, and had several children. No one around her realised who she was; it is not known whether she even told her husband. She died in 1967, at the age of 84.
In the 1980's, a team of documentary makers tracked Ethel's later life and found some of her grandchildren. They were astonished to find out who she had been.