Navigation Links
Science casts doubt on famous British murder case

Ninety-seven years after an American was hanged in London in one of the most notorious and famous murder cases in British history, forensic science at Michigan State University is producing evidence that his execution was a mistake.

Dr. Hawley Crippen was hanged for murdering and dismembering his showgirl wife, then fleeing with his mistress across the high seas with the police in hot pursuit. Loaded with enough sordid details and twists to eventually fuel more than 40 books and several movies, this London case is second only to Jack the Ripper in its sensational notoriety.

Back in 1910, it was forensic evidence that brought Crippen down. Now, David Foran, a forensic biologist and director of MSUs forensic science program, partnering with clinical and forensic toxicologist John Harris Trestrail III, managing director of the regional poison center in Grand Rapids, is combining state-of-the-art DNA analysis with solid sleuthing to show the remains buried in Crippens basement couldnt have been his wife.

This cant be Cora Crippen, Foran said. Were certain of that.

For nearly a century, Crippen, a homeopathic physician, was thought to have poisoned his flamboyant and domineering wife with an obscure toxin, dismembered her body and buried little more than tissue in his London cellar. Crippen was labeled one of the most dangerous and remarkable men who have lived in this century.

Trestrail has been engrossed by the case for 40 years. One of the nations leading experts in poisoning, he knew dismemberment and poisoning dont go together.

There were no identifying parts of the remains found, no head, no bones, no organs of gender. Ive always wondered who is that under the steps? Trestrail said. Was he telling the truth? Now we have the possibility to bring the science of DNA up against actual specimens from the trial to answer the question: Was that her under the steps or wasnt it?

Trestrail formed a team with Foran and Beth Wills, a genealogist from Ionia, to resolve what he saw as inconsistent evidence.

Forans laboratory specializes in ancient and forensic DNA evidence, often working with human remains that are thousands of years old. The nearly 100-year-old microscope slide, sent to Michigan State from the Royal London Hospital Archives and Museum, is the same one the pathologist Bernard Spilsbury used to help hang Crippen. In 1910, forensic pathology was more primitive;

Spilsburys testimony, identifying what he claimed was an abdominal scar consistent with Coras medical history, convinced the jury that these were Coras remains.

Crippen went to the gallows insisting he was innocent.

The present-day challenge: getting past the pine sap that sealed the slide and the formaldehyde used to preserve the tissue in order to examine the mitochondrial DNA that could identify Cora Crippen based on the genetic history of her maternal relatives.

Mitochondrial DNA is the genetic blueprint that is passed down in the egg from mother to daughter. Unlike regular DNA, which comes from the cells nucleus, Foran explained that mitochondrial DNA remains more stable in aged tissue and is easier to retrieve. Also, mitochondrial DNA remains relatively undiluted through generations, offering a reliable familial match.

Forans laboratory has devised methods to extract and isolate mitochondrial DNA. Unable to break through the sap seal, he chipped away at the slides glass cover slip to get at the tissue sample. One of his graduate students recently studied ways to work around formaldehyde fixation to isolate DNA.

The goal: compare the mitochondrial DNA in the slide that convicted Crippen with Wills assignment finding a maternal relative of Cora Crippen. If Hawley Crippen indeed killed his wife and buried some of her remains in the cellar, those remains would share specific DNA characteristics with Cora Crippens current day relatives. To paraphrase the famed attorney in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Johnnie Cochran, if the DNA doesnt fit, you cant convict.

Wills spent some seven years pouring through genealogical records and taking on the somewhat nontraditional task of finding living female relatives of Cora Crippens mother.

Usually, in genealogy, you work backwards, but in this case, we went forward, she said.

As she traced through the family line, she found elderly relatives who remembered talk of a family scandal, one where a woman had been murdered by her husband in London. She ultimately located three grandnieces.

We took a lot of precautions when doing this testing, Foran said. We just didnt stop. We went back and started from scratch and tested it again. The DNA in the sample is different from the known relatives of Cora Crippen.

Crippen was not convicted just of murder but the murder of Cora Crippen, Trestrail said. If that body is not Cora, then thats another trial.


Contact: David Foran
Michigan State University

Related biology news :

1. Papers of DNA Pioneer and Nobel Laureate Francis Crick Added to National Library of Medicine’s Profiles in Science Web Site
2. Kinovate Life Sciences Launches Nittophase?High Performance Solid Support For Oligonucleatide Synthesis
3. Affymetrix Licenses Microfluidics Technology From Caliper Life Sciences
4. Whats really making you sick? Plant pathologists offer the science behind Sick Building Syndrome
5. Science study holds implications for gene therapy and stem cell biology
6. Scientists generate patient-specific stem cells, Science study says
7. Innovative collaboration brings Arctic science into the classroom
8. TrueBlue Archive Will Store Raw Life Sciences Data for Proteomics and Drug Testing
9. Leprosy genome tells story of human migrations, French researchers report in Science
10. DOEs Office of Science sets up program to aid scientists displaced by Hurricane Katrina
11. Sciences Breakthrough of the Year: Watching evolution in action
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/12/2015)... , Nov. 11, 2015   Growing need ... analytical tools has been paving the way for ... determination of discrete analytes in clinical, agricultural, environmental, ... being predominantly used in medical applications, however, their ... sectors due to continuous emphasis on improving product ...
(Date:11/9/2015)... , Nov. 09, 2015 ... addition of the "Global Law Enforcement ... offering. --> ) has ... Law Enforcement Biometrics Market 2015-2019" report ... and Markets ( ) has announced ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... 2015   MedNet Solutions , an innovative SaaS-based ... clinical research, is pleased to announce that it has ... as one of only three finalists for a ... and Growing" category. The Tekne Awards honor Minnesota ... technology innovation and leadership. iMedNet™ eClinical ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... (PRWEB) , ... November 25, 2015 , ... ... and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OPBAP) has been formalized with the ... other AMA team leaders met with OPBAP leaders Capt. Karl Minter and Capt. ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... 24, 2015 , ... The United States Golf Association (USGA) today announced Dr. ... Award. Presented annually since 1961, the USGA Green Section Award recognizes an individual’s distinguished ... , Clarke, of Iselin, N.J., is an extension specialist of turfgrass pathology in ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , ... November 24, 2015 , ... ... of the year and one of the premier annual events for pharmaceutical manufacturing: ... from 8–11 November 2015, where ISPE hosted the largest number of attendees in ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... 24, 2015 , ... The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), led by its ... as Multirotor Grand Prix, to represent the First–Person View (FPV) racing community. , FPV ... embraced this type of racing and several new model aviation pilots have joined the ...
Breaking Biology Technology: