Did the Radio Telegraph lead to a Miscarriage of Justice?

In an earlier blog, we learned how Cooke and Wheatstone’s telegraph played a central role in the capture of the murderer John Tawell as he travelled by train from Slough to London. In an analogous case, the murderer Dr Hawley Crippen became the first criminal to be caught using Marconi’s new radio telegraph.

Dr Hawley Crippen












Crippen and his mistress Ethel “Le Neve” Neave were identified as they sailed across the Atlantic in July 1910. The captain of the SS Montrose, Henry Kendall, became suspicious of the couple, and telegraphed the following message to his office in London using the Marconi radio system:

“Have strong suspicions that Crippen – London cellar murderer and accomplice – are amongst saloon passengers. Moustache taken off. Growing beard. Accomplice dressed as boy. Voice manner and build undoubtedly a girl. Travelling as Mr and Master Robinson.”

As a result of this message, Inspector Dew of Scotland Yard boarded the White Star liner Laurentic, and managed to arrive at the St Lawrence riverbefore the SS Montrose. Disguised as a tug boat pilot, he boarded the Montrose and arrested Crippen. Crippen was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 28th November 1910.

Crippen has acquired a particularly ghoulish reputation in the public mind, and a waxwork of him has been exhibited for many years in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud’s in London. However, a century after the crime was committed, DNA analysis now suggests that the mutilated body found in the cellar was not that of Crippen’s wife, Cora, as was alleged at the trial. Indeed, it even suggests that the body was that of a man. Whether this proves that Crippen was innocent is debateable, but there is now a campaign to clear his name.

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