It took us crime historian types a week to fully fathom the implications of the DNA results in the Crippen case. Now that some of the pure shock has worn off, we're voting not to rewrite the books. CLEWS heard from E.J. Wagner (whose new name is "Edgar," since she won that award for her brilliant rendering of the history of forensic science, The Science of Sherlock Holmes). She offers four reasons why the DNA results should not be taken as proof of Crippen's innocence. Says E.J. --
The "proof" rests on a few assumptions.
1. That the slide is indeed the proper one. Chain of custody was not as carefully kept in 1910 as might be desired.
2. That the woman known as Cora Crippen was biologically related to the individuals who gave the DNA samples. Keeping adoptions secret was very common in 1910 - many adoptees in that period never knew their biological heritage differed from that of their parents.
3. That the woman married to Dr Crippen had not assumed another's identity. Cora Crippen was known to change her name. She began life as Kunegunde Mackatmotski.
4. The rare chimera possibility.
All that had been definitely proven is that slide labeled as that of Cora Crippen does not match the donated samples of individuals who are believed to be biological relatives.
As far as I'm concerned, If the human remains (and "remains," in this context, is horrifyingly appropriate) weren't those of the woman known to the world as Mrs. Crippen, then one could reasonably conclude that Crippen was a multiple murderer. And yet those who were involved with the DNA testing maintain that they are proof that Dr. Crippen was innocent!
If Crippen committed no crime, then how does one explain a corpse in his cellar? Planted evidence? At the time the remains were found, Scotland Yard merely suspected a murder. However strong, it was a suspicion. There were no eyewitnesses. They had nothing definitive to demonstrate that anyone by any name had met her demise at Dr. Crippen's hand. Would Scotland Yard's best men have planted these remains at the risk of bringing on their own ruination if Cora turned up alive after all?
January Magazine's J. Kingston Pierce wrote a nice summary of the new Crippen puzzle in which he quotes Dr. Crippen's great champion, Raymond Chandler. Said Chandler: “I cannot see why a man who would go to the enormous labor of deboning and de-sexing and de-heading an entire corpse would not take the rather slight extra labor of disposing of the flesh in the same way, rather than bury it at all.”
Gosh, I can't see why he did that either. But let's back up the truck, Mr. Chandler! In the real world, idiots abound; in the fictional realm, everything is supposed to make sense.
He wonders why Crippen didn't dispose of the entire corpse? That is the wrong question. The more appropriate inquiry is, why did Crippen murder the woman, rather than simply divorce her (or simpler yet, abandon her) in the first place?
Actually the answer to both questions is the same: Dr. Crippen was a moron.
Better men than Hawley Crippen have made similarly egregious errors that in the end cost them everything. Crippen was far from the first man of higher learning who had trouble disposing of the entire corpus delictum. Recall the case of Dr. Webster, the Professor (!) of Chemistry (!!) from Harvard University (!!!) and the stubborn remains of poor Dr. Parkman.
As crime historian Albert Borowitz observed in A Gallery of Sinister Perspectives: "It is only natural that a student of the crimes of brilliant people will propound [a] question: Are they as ingenious in the perpetration of murder as in their nobler pursuits? The answer is disappointing, for the artist or intellectual is often observed to be a bungling criminal."