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Stories from the Crime Museum

The 'Brides in the Bath' Murders

Smith as Oliver George Love in 1900
Smith as Oliver George Love in 1900

George Joseph Smith (alias Oliver George Love, Charles Oliver James, Henry Williams and John Lloyd) was found guilty of the murders of Bessie Williams (nee Mundy) who was found dead in a bath in 1912, Alice Burnham who died in a bath at Blackpool in December 1913, and Margaret Elizabeth Lofty who was found in a bath in Highgate in December 1914.

It was significant that when the case was under investigation Divisional Detective Inspector Neil formed the opinion along with the pathologist Dr Bernard Spilsbury that it would be impossible for anyone to accidentally drown in any of the baths in question.

Smith whilst married to Bessie Williams
Smith whilst married to
Bessie Williams

On 13 July 1912 Bessie Williams was found dead in her bath at 80 High Street, Herne Bay. It was ascertained that five days before her death she had made a will in favour of her husband, Henry Williams (alias George Joseph Smith) by which he benefited to the amount of �2,579, 13 shillings and 7 pence. Smith was questioned closely, but the opinion of the doctor who examined Bessie at the time of her death apparently convinced the jury.

Dr Frank French said he believed she had had an epileptic fit, and thought the cause of death had been asphyxia brought about by drowning. Asked if he had seen any signs of a struggle on the body he replied that he had seen none. The last question at the inquest was whether the death had been due to anything else other than drowning. The doctor replied: " I have no reason to suspect any other cause than drowning." The jury did not wish for a post mortem and returned a verdict of 'Death by misadventure'.

The death of Alice Smith on 12th December 1913 saw George Joseph Smith at work again. Alice's father had severe doubts about his prospective son in law, describing him during the engagement as being of 'very evil appearance', and yet the marriage went ahead nonetheless.

On the evening of her death Alice went for a bath at the apartments, owned by Mr & Mrs Crossley, where she and her husband were staying, and never returned.

Joseph Crossley noted when her body was found sometime later that her head was at the foot of the bath. The inquest held on the 13th December returned the verdict that Alice had 'Accidentally drowned through heart failure when in the bath.' Alice, it transpired, had insured herself for �500.

Life insurance was also the death warrant for Margaret Elizabeth Lloyd (nee Lofty). John Lloyd (otherwise known as George Joseph Smith) took rooms with his wife in a boarding house at 14 Bismark Road, in Highgate, London.

On the afternoon of 18 December 1914 Margaret Lloyd had visited her solicitor in Islington and made a will in favour of her husband. Later that evening 'John Lloyd' told the owner of the house that he was going out to buy some tomatoes for his wife's supper whilst she took a bath.

When he returned he called out to his wife and, getting no answer, entered the bathroom and found her dead in the bath. The inquest took place on the 1st January 1915 and a verdict of accidental death was recorded.

When the hearse drew up at the funeral Smith told the undertaker Herbert Francis Beckett: "I don't want any walking, get it over as quick as you can", and after the funeral was over he was heard to say: "Thank goodness, that's all over."

On January 3 1915 Joseph Crossley wrote to the Metropolitan Police and enclosed a newspaper cutting about the death of Margaret Lloyd, remarking how similar it was to the death of Alice Smith 12 months previously in Blackpool. Thus started the downfall of Smith.

Upon investigation the details of Smith's sinister life emerged. George Joseph Smith had been born in Bethnal Green on the 11th January 1872. In 1898 he married Caroline Beatrice Thornhill. In 1908 he married Edith Peglar, (in the name of Oliver George Love) although his first wife was still alive. In 1910 when he married Bessie Mundy, Edith Peglar was still alive. From that moment murder and money took over his life.

Smith after his arrest in 1915
Smith after his arrest in 1915

Divisional Detective Inspector Neil stopped Smith on the 1st February 1915 in Uxbridge Road in London. On the 8th February Smith appeared at Bow Street Police Court and was remanded till the 15th of February.

He was initially charged with causing a false entry to made in a marriage register, but the ensuing enquiries revealed the darker side of the case.

On the 23rd March he was charged with the murders of Bessie Williams, Alice Smith, and Margaret Lloyd. He was eventually found guilty and sentenced to death. He was executed at Maidstone Gaol on 13 August 1915.

Charles Matthews, Director of Public Prosecutions wrote on the 1st July 1915 to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police concerning Divisional Detective Inspector Neil:

"I feel I ought not to allow any interval of time to pass without expressing the acknowledgement which in my opinion, the administration of justice is under to Divisional Detective Inspector Neil, and to the officers who served under him, for their untiring, able, zealous, and intelligent efforts, which played so conspicuous a part in securing the conviction which was this day obtained of the above named malefactor."

Under ordinary circumstances the investigation would have been conducted by a Chief Inspector from the Commissioners Office, but it was felt that Neil had so much ability it was better to leave the case in his hands.

The case was an intricate one, and it is alarming to imagine how far Smith may have gone had Crossley not written the letter which led to his downfall.