Ethel le Neve, who was born Ethel Clara Neave (or Clara Ethel) in Norfolk, is famous for being the young lover of Hawley Hawkins Crippen, Dr Crippen who murdered his wife.
I’d heard of Dr Crippen, of course, but had never been much interested until I found the gravestone of Superintendent Froest who led the investigation into the death of Crippen’s wife, and ordered wireless to be used in order to arrest the murderer before he got to the US. Froest died in Weston-super-Mare and is buried in our village of Uphill.
I found the census record for Crippen and his wife Cora (born Corrine Turner) In 1901 they were living on Store street in Finsbury London. Hawley’s age is thirty-eight and he is recorded as a retire doctor born in the USA; Cora is recorded as aged 20, and born in 1881; however she had shaved five years off her life, she was actually born in 1876.
I also found the census record for Ethel; she is living with her family in Hampstead and somehow the family have adopted a ‘le’ in their name and become le Neave, instead of just plain Neave. Her father Walter William is a dairy manager, he was born in 1860 in Norfolk, and her mother Charlotte Anna, née Jones, was born a year earlier, in 1859, also in Norfolk. Ethel is a type-writer – we would say a typist, the type writer to us is the machine, not the operator, and she’s living at home with her brothers and sister, Adene True, Claud Walter William, Bernard Edward, and Sidney E. The two youngest children are at school, Adene is a type-writer and shorthand copyist, Claud works in a grocers’ shop. There was another son, Wilfred Montague who was not at home at the time of the census, he was only ten so maybe he was visiting family?
Ethel, had been arrested and tried by the next census in 1911 but her parents and family are still living in London, although they are now back to being just plain Neave, the ‘le’ has vanished, understandably! Her father is now a traveller in the coal trade, Bernard is a lawyer’s clerk and Wilfred is a commercial clerk. Adina, who had married Horace George Brock in 1903, was living with her husband and two children, Ronald George and Ivy Ethel – named after her aunt , Ethel who was already famous for all the wrong reasons. The family seems to like name changes and Adina had become Adina Irene, instead of True. Sadly, she died in 1918… I wonder if it was in the flu epidemic because she was only 34.
Walter died in 1941, aged 81, Charlotte three years previously. Sidney, who was their only child who was registered at birth as le Neave, kept his name until his death in 1964.
The name changes, the unusual names for the children, the move from rural Norfolk to London, it makes you wonder whether anything in Ethel’s upbringing led her to become romantically involved with Hawley Crippen, the American doctor married to a music hall entertainer and moving in what would then have been celebrity circles. Did Ethel know Cora (born Corinne and five years older than she purported to be)? Did Ethel know her beloved Hawley had murdered his wife, or did he spin her some tale? Even if he did, how on earth could she bring herself to wear Cora’s clothes and jewellery even if she didn’t know she was dead and buried – or at least her torso was buried, her limbs and head were never found – in the cellar?
Ethel fled to America but she later returned and married a man called Smith; she died in 1967.