The grim gangplank tableau above resolved a sensational and grisly cliff-hanger that captivated both American and European continents back in 1910.
The cast of characters playing out what turned into a transatlantic melodrama was as follows:
Doctor Hawley Harvey Crippen; Belle Crippen, his late and unlamented wife; Ethel Le Neve, Dr Crippen's younger paramour; Captain Kendall, master of the Canadian Pacific liner Montrose; and Inspector Walter Dew of Scotland Yard.
Born in 1860, Crippen was an American who had moved to England and was making a precarious living practicing dentistry as well as representing a firm of patent medicine purveyors. He lived with his unprepossessing wife Belle, who came from a Polish family called Mackamotzki, described by some as "unpleasant, dominating and extravagant." She sang irregularly near the bottom of the bill in local music halls as Belle Elmore. The two were well known in their North London neighborhood and most of those neighbors felt sorry for the poor, bespectacled fifty-year-old American saddled with such an obstreperous mate.
On the night of January 31st, 1910, after the Crippens had come home from a party, the doctor poisoned Belle by administering a dose of hyoscein hydrobromide. Once she had expired, Dr Crippen dismembered her corpse, burned the bones and buried wrapped packages of spousal flesh in his cellar.
To those who subsequently wondered at Belle's whereabouts, Crippen merely reported that she had gone out to America. Simultaneously, he hired and brought to live within the Crippen residence an attractive, thirty-year-old "secretary" called Ethel Le Neve.
Communication from, let alone specific details about, Mrs Crippen's foreign sojourn were sparse, according to the doctor, until he announced finally that his wife had, alas, died in the United States.
Suspicious neighbors informed the police and Inspector Walter Dew was at the head of a team of constables and then forensic specialists who not only searched the house but began excavating portions of the cellar. Belle Crippen's remains were unearthed but her husband and his secretary had, by then, vanished.
The police quest in search of the missing couple became the subject of banner newspaper headlines all over Europe. Photographs of the missing Crippen were published in connection with the story, luridly documenting the discovery of the grisly remains found beneath the doctor's North London dwelling.
One who read about the case with interest was Captain Kendall, in command of the liner Montrose. He had bought a copy of the Continental Daily Mail before sailing from Antwerp on July 20th, and, en route to Montreal, came to the realization that the somewhat eccentric Robinson family--father and son--aboard his vessel might well be the missing pair.
When the master made it his business to strike up a conversation with Robinson pere, he noticed that his mysterious passenger had not only recently shaved off a mustache but had also apparently discarded what must have been habitual spectacles, judging by an unmistakable mark made by absent glasses across the bridge of his nose. Captain Kendall had also noticed that father and son walked the decks hand in hand and from, his vantage point atop the bridge, noted that Mr Robinson frequently squeezed his "son's" hand.
Ever vigilant as an amateur sleuth, Captain Kendall arranged that the pair should be seated at his table in the dining saloon. With the connivance of his Chief Steward, the master gained entry to the Robinsons' cabin and discovered that Robinson fils was using a portion of woman's bodice as a face cloth.
Acting on his shipboard observations, Kendall dispatched the following cable to Scotland Yard:
HAVE STRONG SUSPICIONS THAT CRIPPEN LONDON CELLAR MURDERER AND ACCOMPLICE ARE AMONG SALOON PASSENGERS ACCOMPLICE DRESSED AS BOY VOICE MANNER AND BUILD UNDOUBTEDLY A GIRL.
Years later, the Montrose's master recalled: "I remember Mr Robinson sitting in a deck chair looking at the wireless aerials and listening to the crackling of our crude spark transmitter, and remarking what a wonderful invention it was." Wonderful perhaps but, in his case, deadly.
Inspector Dew, alerted by Kendall's damning cable, raced to Liverpool and embarked on the faster White Star liner Laurentic. It would reach Montreal ahead of the more placid Montrose. In fact, the doughty Scotland Yard inspector arrived with sufficient lead-time so that he could board inbound Montrose at Father Point, disguised as one of the pilots.
Captain Kendall was nervous about the denouement for he knew, from his cabin search, that Crippen was armed with a pistol. He described
the actual arrest as follows:
"...The last night was dreary and anxious, the sound of our foghorn every few minutes adding to the monotony. The hours dragged on as I paced the bridge; now and then I could see Mr Robinson strolling about the deck. I had invited him to get up early to see the 'pilots' come on board. When they did so, they came straight to my cabin. I sent for Mr Robinson.
"When he entered, I stood with the detective facing the door, holding my revolver inside my coat pocket. As he came in, I said 'Let me introduce you.'
"Mr Robinson put out his hand, the detective grabbed it, at the same time removing his pilot's cap, and said: 'Good morning, Dr Crippen. Do you know me? I am Inspector Dew from Scotland Yard.'
"Crippen quivered. Surprise struck him dumb. Then he said: 'Thank God it's over. The suspense has been too great. I couldn't stand it any longer.'"
Crippen was hanged, Ethel Le Neve went free and Inspector Dew entitled his memoirs three decades later I Caught Crippen.
One is tempted to surmise that had the murdering doctor been better prepared for his desperate transatlantic flight, he might advantageously have booked passage on record-breaking Mauretania or Lusitania and not traveled first class so as to distance himself from a similarly inquisitive, amateur detective/captain.
(Your Editor must acknowledge the account of J. B. Priestley in his book The Edwardians for background about the notorious Dr Crippen murder as well as his improvident and doomed attempt to escape by ocean liner to Canada with Ethel Le Neve.)