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GREEN VALLEY GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY

From the Green Valley News, Sunday August 29 2010, page A10


Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

The Strange Case of Dr. Crippen

The disciplines of genealogy and criminal science are often united today in problem solving. A most recent example of collaboration is the one-hundred-year-old case of Dr. Hawley Crippen.

In 1910, Dr. Crippen, a native of Coldwater, Michigan, was accused in London, England of poisoning his wife and dismembering her body. Scotland Yard investigators searched his house four times, finally finding the remains of a body believed to be that of Cora Turner buried under his brick basement floor.

By the time the body was discovered the doctor had fled England with his lover who disguised herself as a boy. When their ship docked on July 31 in Quebec, the doctor was surprised to find authorities waiting to arrest him. He is said to be the first fugitive caught via use of the wireless telegraph.

Dr. Crippen was returned to England and tried for murder. His trial lasted 5 days with the jury deliberating 22 minutes before finding him guilty on October 22, 1910. He was sentenced to hanging and speedily dispatched.

Fast forward 100 years. A forensic biologist, Professor David Foran of the University of Michigan, obtained a DNA sample from the glass slide originally used as evidence in Crippen's murder trial. Beth Wills, a Michigan genealogist, spent seven years searching for a female descendant of Cora's mother who would consent to DNA testing.

Testing revealed the descendant's DNA not only did not match the sample from the murder victim, but the test revealed a Y chromosome. The body could not be Cora Turner's as it was a male body.

So why did the doctor flee England? Why did his lover travel in disguise? And why did the doctor say to the arresting officers, "I'm not sorry; the anxiety has been too much."

A San Diego genealogist, Jonathan Menges, disputes the new findings because no birth certificate exists for Cora Turner and therefore the genealogical evidence linking her to a living relative is flawed. Also the recent DNA results were debuted in a television documentary rather than published or peer reviewed.

Professor Foran, however, does plan to publish his work in the Journal of Forensic Science, and he is satisfied with the genealogical connection.

Meanwhile in 2006 author John Boyne wrote and published Crippen: A Novel of Murder. The book will be reissued next year. Boyne says, "I think Crippen probably did kill his wife. His actions suggest guilt . . . ." And in Salt Lake City a separate group in is investigating the mysterious disappearance of Dr. Crippen's first wife.

A distant cousin of Crippen's now wants the conviction overturned. He says every time he travels to England customs officers make nasty remarks about the name "Crippen." British authorities have declined to reopen the case and Dr. Crippen may well have been guilty, just not guilty of murdering the victim who led to his conviction. Despite the campaign to clear Crippen's name, his statue remains in Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London along with other famous murderers.

If you'd like to know more, Boyne's book is available on Amazon.com. A "Google" search for "Crippen murder" produced 259,000 hits. Sometimes life is stranger than fiction.


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