The fact the bath used by Brides In the Bath murderer George Smith was only 5ft was one of the important factors in his conviction.
And the story behind that and of the killing of 25-year-old nurse Alice Burnham, here in Blackpool, by the notorious bigamist, is re-examined in a new book.
Murder By Numbers: Fascinating Figures Behind The World’s Worst Crimes, by journalist and true crime historian James Moore, looks at the parts played by numbers in some of the UK’s most heinous crimes throughout the last two centuries.
He said: “Someone is murdered around the world approximately every 60 seconds. And from the victims, to the killers, to the detectives trying to crack the cases, numbers are always at the heart of real-life killings.”
Among the cases featured are the Moors Murders – 74,843 was the number of the luggage ticket in this case, Hyde serial killer Harold Shipman – 30mg was the fatal dose of diamorphine he gave to his victims, 435 was the number of hanging carried out by Lancashire pub owner Albert Pierrepoint and 5ft was the size of the bath George Smith used to kill one his victims.
The length of the bath proved to be very significant. It became one of 164 exhibits examined by Dr Bernard Spilsbury, pioneering forensic scientist, one of the legal superstars of the age.
In his book, James writes: “On July 9 1912, Bessie Mundy bought a 5ft cast-iron bath for £1, 17s, 6sm, haggling the price down from £2. Little did she know that, within days, it would become the instrument of her murder.”
Smith then murdered Bessie – his wife – and claimed she had drowned in the bath while he was out.
But Spilsbury considered the length of the bath. As the tub was just 5ft long it was considerably shorter than Bessie’s height – 5ft 7ins. It tapered at the foot end and at the time of her death, it contained just 9ins of water. It had been suggested Bessie had drowned while suffering an epileptic fit. But Spilsbury figured if that was the case, the stiffening and extension of her legs would have pushed her head up out of the water, not underneath it.
By November 1913, Smith had married Alice Burnham. A month later, the couple went on honeymoon to Blackpool. While staying in a boarding house in Regent Road, Blackpool, Smith murdered his new wife – claiming he had found her naked body slumped fully submerged in the bath. He told the inquest she had been suffering from headaches, but felt better after going out for a walk and had returned to take a bath.
Smith said after she had been in the bath for some 20 minutes, he called to her but received no answer.
Dr George Billing told an inquest it was his opinion the deceased had suffered a heart attack and the jury returned a verdict of accidental drowning.
Smith might well have gotten away with it, were it not for the landlady of the Regent Road boarding house, Mrs Adelaide Crossley, who read of the death of another young bride in remarkably similar circumstances exactly one year later.
Clergyman’s daughter Margaret Lofty had been found drowned in her bath, by her husband John Lloyd in their Highgate lodgings in London, just one day after they had tied the knot. Her suspicions aroused, Mrs Crossley reported her concerns to the police, who discovered John Lloyd was none other than George Joseph Smith.
After inquiries, police discovered not only was Smith already married – to a Miss Caroline Thornhill who had since emigrated to Canada – but there was another case in which a young wife had died in the bath.
On February 1, 1915, Smith was arrested and charged with the murder of this first unfortunate ‘bride’, Beatrice Mundy, at Herne Hill, in 1912. Blackpool Police exhumed Alice Burnham’s body for a further post-mortem.
Mrs Crossley told the court how, on the night of the death, she was in the kitchen when she noticed water coming through the ceiling from the bathroom. She said she had heard noises and splashing and later heard the defendant playing Nearer My God To Thee on the harmonium.
Mrs Crossley told the jury she had thought Smith callous, as he told her he would be prepared to sleep in the same room as the corpse. He also demanded she was buried as cheaply as possible, in a public grave.
Money had been the motive for his murders – with Miss Burnham’s life insured for £500 and Miss Mundy leaving him £2,500. It took the jury just 21 minutes to convict Smith and he was executed on August 13, 1915.
• Murder by Numbers: Fascinating Figures Behind The World’s Worst Crimes is published by The History Press, priced £18.99