The Belle Crippen mystery!
Another account of an episode in Vulcana’s life is verified by the book Marie LLoyd Queen of the Music Halls and this is the involvement of Vulcana in the Dr Crippen story. For those who are unfamiliar with this story it is famous because for the first time ever a murderer was apprehended with the help of a wireless telegram on board a ship. The (1990) Marie Lloyd book tells the story almost exactly as my father told it to me fifty years ago. The book doesn’t mention Vulcana by name but the details are the same. The wife of Dr Crippen, Belle Elmore was a tireless worker for music hall charities and was treasurer of the Music Hall Ladies Guild of which Vulcana was a vice president. However in 1910 Belle disappears!
Below: Dr Crippen Belles husband.
After a party at their home on January 31st 1910 Belle an American whose real name is Cora Henrietta Crippen disappears. Dr Crippen who is described as a homeopath and perhaps less generously a “quack” Doctor. In a letter purporting to be from Belle to the Guild she says she has returned to America. Meanwhile Ethel “Le Neve” Neave his secretary moved into their home in Hilldrop Cresent and she began wearing Cora’s (Belle’s) clothes and jewellery. The first the police hear of Belle Elmore’s disappearance is when her friend Vulcana (strongwoman Kate Williams) voiced her suspicions to them.
Ethel Le Neve Dr Crippens secretary.
Vulcana had been at the Music Hall Railway association annual dinner in Febuary and Dr Crippen had brought with him his secretary Ethel Le Neve as she now called herself was wearing Belle’s sealskin coat and jewellery. This is less than a month after Belle was supposed to have returned to America and would have been likely to have taken her jewels and coat.
At the end of March the ”Era” printed a death notice: ‘Elmore March 23 in California, USA. Miss Belle Elmore’. Vulcana one of the Guilds vice presidents went to the police to voice her suspicions about Belles disappearance but was told that unless she made a charge, nothing could be done. (This is recounted in Richard Bakers book – Marie Lloyd but does not mention Vulcana by name only that a vice president friend went to the police) However they began to take the matter more seriously when a friend of Belle’s and Vulcana’s – John Nash and his entertainer wife asked a personal friend in Scotland yard to investigate further. This was because Nash and his wife had been to America and had tried to find out more about the death but found no record of it. He went to see Crippen and was not satisfied with his explanation about her death from pneumonia. So Nash too went to the police. My father and I like to think that Vulcana started the ball rolling by being the first to report her suspicions to the police and talking to her theatre friends about the situation. That is what he was told as a young man and I think it rings true! Dr Crippen was then questioned and he admitted he had lied about his wife’s disappearance and he said they had quarreled and she had left him. He was interviewed by Chief Inspector Dew and the house was searched but nothing was found. After the interview and the quick search Dew was satisfied. However Crippen and Le Neve did not know this and fled in panic to Brussels. She was now dressed as a boy and they travelled as father and son.The next day they went to Antwerp and boarded the SS Montrose for Canada.
More searches were being done in the marital home and on the fourth search human remains were found under the brick floor of the cellar.
Above is a newspaper photograph.
The papers were full of the grisly murder and must have been seen by the Captain of the ship who later recognized the fugitives and had a telegraphist send a wireless telegram to the British authorities. “…have strong suspicions that Crippen , London cellar murderer and accomplice are among saloon passengers. Mustache taken off, growing a beard. Accomplice dressed as boy. Manner and build undoubtedly a girl”
Dew arrested them on board the Montrose on July 31,1910 the day it docked.
Crippen and Le Neve in the courtroom.
Dr Crippen was found guilty and was hanged in Pentonville Prison, London on the 23 November 1910 for the murder of his wife. He was the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless communication. Le Neve was tried for being an accessory after the fact and was acquitted. She emigrated to America on the morning of her lovers execution. A lot has been written about this very famous murder trial and the verdict is still discussed and argued about. Whatever the truth about this murder, at the time Vulcana was very pleased to have gained what must have seemed like justice for her friend.