A Thoroughly Despicable Creep Creates A Perfect Triple "Coincidence"
The "Brides-in-the-Bath" Case of 1912 - 1915 remains a crime classic to this day. Rarely was so unusual a murder method used by a criminal (and used so often). Rarely has a criminal appeared so devoid of any traits that would make him likable or accessible to other human beings. George Joseph Smith was a human parasite, living off the dreams and hopes of spinster women. Even before he turned to murder for insurance and inheritances, Smith married and deserted women quite frequently.
George Joseph Smith was born in 1872, and apparently turned bad fairly early. He was in juvenile court in his early years, and (with one brief exception) in and out of jail many times. The one exception was a period of a few years where (the records are not quite clear) he went into the military, and may have even worked in a London club as a gymnasium instructor. But he usually returned to type, as a con-man who preyed on women. He was legally married but forced his wife to hire herself as a servant and steal from her employers (until she got her brothers to beat up the violent Smith, and she fled to the United States). Despite the fact that their was a legal Mrs. Smith abroad, Smith treated the marriage as de facto dead, and willingly married women and robbed and deserted them for years. He used many names besides "Smith". One he actually used was "Love".
Beginning in 1912 Smith married three women, Beatrice Mundy, Alice Burnham, and Margaret Lofty. In each case the woman involved was infinitely his superior in upbringing and class. In the first case only did he have a past relationship which the woman failed to realize showed he was contemptible (he had deserted Ms Mundy after they got married, and even accused her of giving him a venereal disease). But he somehow managed to get her to forgive him, take him back, and even tell her family she was happy at this rapprochement. Then she mysteriously began suffering dizzy spells. He took her to a doctor who prescribed a medication for her. That was on a Thursday. On Friday Mundy drowned in a freak accident in her bathtub. A coroner's inquest ruled accidental death before the end of the weekend, and shortly Smith was contacting Mundy's solicitors regarding her will and her estate.
The same was repeated (almost flawlessly, except for the dates and the locations - but always on honeymoons and in lodging houses. Burnham was next, and this intelligent nurse went through the same series of events, ending with her drowning in a bathtub. Within a few months Ms Lofty did too. Each time this happened Smith collected up to 2,500 pounds in inheritances or insurance. But the last time he hit a snag - Alice Burnham's father (who never liked Smith) read about the inquest on Lofty, and contacted Scotland Yard. Chief Inspector Arthur Neil, one of the Yard's "Big Four" did an investigation that took close to four months, involving hundreds of witnesses. In February 1915 Smith was arrested. The trial followed in May.
With the assistance of forensic expert Dr. Bernard Spilsbury Neil nailed Smith. The investigation had shown an odd triple coincidence in the way Smith had married three women, had gone on holiday/honeymoon with each, had taken them to a doctor each time, had been widowed in the wife's tragic accidental bathtub drowning, and had a rapid inquest on a weekend, followed by insurance claims or calls to a solicitor about property and wills. It looked odd, but it just might be a crazy coincidence. Neil also had found Smith's criminal past. But where was there any proof it was not an accident? Here Spilsbury came in - he tested the ways of drowning with an accomplished female swimmer. Spilsbury knew that Smith showed no evidence of a scratch or mark that showed a struggle with a victim. He tried every trick he could think of with the swimmer to get her head under the water - but she constantly fought back. Finally, out of desperation, Spilsbury pulled the woman down by pulling her legs up! Her head went underwater, her arms wedged into the sides and unable to get her up. Spilsbury was just able to revive her - the swimmer told him the water just pushed up her nose and knocked her out.
Despite the arguments of Smith's brilliant barrister, Sir Edward Marshall-Hall, Mr. Justice Scrutton allowed evidence of all three murders to be used, as they showed a well-oiled machine type system here. The jury heard the evidence - they also heard Smith's constant yelling out in court, attacking every witness and the police. In the end they convicted Smith. He was hanged in June 1915. Accounts show he was in a state of collapse when taken to the gallows.
The method he invented has only been used (as far as I know) once: in 1954 Ronald Chesney tried to kill his estranged wife "in a bathtub accident" with an alibi set up to show he was not in England when she died. Unfortunately, the untimely appearance of a witness to his being in the house with the wife led to a second murder, and the alibi (based on a stolen passport) was wrecked by delays in flight - Chesney ended up killing himself. The method has also been used in one film: RETURN FROM THE ASHES, wherein Maximillian Schell successfully makes his step-daughter's death look like a drunken accident while drinking champaign and bathing.
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