Christie's to sell Crippen's watch

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The Independent Online
A Gilt pocket watch which Dr Crippen, one of the 20th century's most notorious murderers, gave to his mistress Ethel Le Neve just before he was hanged, is to be sold at Christie's, Kensington, on 30 April. Whereas a standard Edwardian pocket watch of this kind might go for pounds 200, the connection with Hawley Crippen - who murdered and dismembered his wife, Cora - means this watch could fetch around pounds 2,000.

The sale also includes letters about the watch from Miss Le Neve to her friend Rex Manning, copies of Crippen's statement to the police, and a letter from him authorising his solicitor to sell all the belongings at his home, 39 Hilldrop Crescent.

Mrs Crippen's remains - only a torso - were found buried in their cellar. Her husband told friends she had gone to America to visit a sick relative, but they became suspicious and called the police. Scotland Yard's pursuit of the fugitive Crippen and Le Neve caused such excitement that the papers ran daily reports of the police boat SS Laurentic gaining on the SS Montrose at three-and-a-half knots.

Miss Le Neve was acquitted of being an accessory to murder and, after Crippen's execution in 1910, left the country. She later returned to England and married the book-keeper Stanley Smith to whom she never revealed her identity. Ethel gave the watch to him as a rather infelicitious wedding present.

The watch was then bequeathed to Ethel's confidante Mr Manning in 1962, the only person with whom she shared her secret. He describes the watch as a "silent witness" in his records, which are being sold with the watch. He wrote: "Before her passing, at over 80 years of age, she presented the watch and a ring to me, a friend, who, knowing her identity, had faithfully kept safe her secret over the long years ... To whom shall mementoes of such an unforgettable tragedy pass from me? This I have yet to resolve."

Mr Manning's nephew turned out to be that recipient. But, feeling it would be inappropriate to profit from such grisly relics, he is donating the proceeds to Leukaemia research.

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