This story was first published on Jul 23 2011, in the Montreal Gazette.
That Dr. Hawley H. Crippen and his former stenographer, Ethel Clara Leneve, are aboard the Canadian Pacific steamer Montrose, now on the high seas bound for Montreal, is Scotland Yard’s firm conviction.
The Gazette, Tuesday, July 26, 1910
The net was drawing tight around Hawley Crippen. The whole world knew it, though the fugitive homeopath remained completely in the dark.
Crippen, then 47, was an American who had moved to London. He was unhappy in his marriage. His wife, a singer under the stage name Belle Elmore, made no secret of her extramarital affairs.
After a party at the couple’s home in January 1910, Elmore disappeared. First Crippen claimed she had run off with her latest lover, then that she had died and been cremated. Crippen himself had a lover, his secretary Ethel Le Neve, and with Elmore gone Le Neve moved in.
Suspicions grew about Elmore’s fate, and the newspapers gleefully covered the investigation. However, when Chief Inspector Walter Dew of Scotland Yard interviewed Crippen that July, he sensed nothing untoward. But Crippen didn’t know this. In a panic, he fled with Le Neve, boarding the Montrose, a Canadian Pacific ship bound for Montreal.
Dew could not ignore their sudden flight. He went back to Crippen’s house, dug up the cellar floor and found human remains. Crippen looked like his man after all, but where was he?
The Montrose’s skipper, Harry Kendall, had been following the Crippen case and felt there was something fishy about two of his passengers. They were John Robinson and his son, also named John. Except for one thing: young John appeared to be female. There were “his feminine voice, his carriage and the well-developed bust and hips which were not usually found in lads.”
The Montrose was equipped with a newfangled device, the radio-telegraph. Kendall wired his suspicions back to England. It all fit together. Dew immediately boarded another ship bound for Montreal, the Laurentic. It was faster than the Montrose, but fast enough to get here first?
The Gazette had a story each day about the transAtlantic race. And so it was that readers learned the Laurentic reached the lighthouse and pilot station at Pointe au Père, near Rimouski, on July 29. The Montrose was more than a day behind.
Inspector Dew was waiting. So was an army of reporters, including The Gazette’s John Bassett (later president and chairman of the newspaper).
Early Sunday morning, the Montrose pierced the sheets of fog and rain hanging over the St. Lawrence. She was met by a tender. But in addition to the pilot who climbed up the rope ladder to the liner’s deck were Dew and two Quebec police detectives. “Crippen immediately recognized the man from Scotland Yard, and answered his beckoning finger like a sheep dog follows the call of his master,” Bassett later concluded. The fugitive exclaimed, “I am glad the suspense is over. The anxiety was too great for me to bear.”
He and Le Neve have the dubious distinction of being the first murder suspects to be arrested thanks to wireless telegraphy.
Dew was pursued up the ladder by Bassett and the other newsmen who had reached the Montrose on another boat. Bassett reported there was nothing prepossessing about Crippen, and “it seemed almost a travesty to handcuff him.” Le Neve, slightly taller, had been weeping but “it was evident, in spite of her tear-stained face, that she was a decidedly pretty girl.”
Scarcely had the two been arrested when the Montrose started up again. The reporters had their story but no way to report it. Thanks to the Montrose’s wireless, however, several including Bassett, were able to order a tugboat to meet them when they paused at Grosse Île for the mandatory health check.
It was dark and the weather was foul. No one was anxious to leap over to the tug’s pitching deck. Finally, one man said he’d try. He made it, and in his pocket were Bassett’s story and another for the Toronto Globe.
The tug raced to Quebec City, where the reporter raced to the telegraph office. The Gazette, together with the Globe, had scooped the world.
Dew returned with Crippen and Le Neve to London. Le Neve was acquitted, but though doubts persist to this day about his guilt, Crippen was condemned to the gallows, which he met on Nov. 23.