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George Joseph SMITH






"The Brides in the Bath Murders"
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Bigamist
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: 1912 - 1914
Date of arrest: February 1, 1915
Date of birth: January 11, 1872
Victims profile: Beatrice "Bessie" Mundy, 31 / Alice Burnham, 25 / Margaret Elizabeth Lofty, 38
Method of murder: Drowning
Location: England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Maidstone prison on August 13, 1915
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The 'Brides in the Bath' Murders

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.

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.

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 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.


George Joseph Smith (January 11, 1872 – August 13, 1915) was an English serial killer and bigamist. In 1915 he was convicted and subsequently hanged for the slayings of three women, the case becoming known as the "Brides in the Bath Murders".

As well as being widely reported in the media, the case was a significant case in the history of forensic pathology and detection. It was also one of the first cases in which similarities between connected crimes were used to prove deliberation, a technique used in subsequent prosecutions.

Early life

The son of an insurance agent, George Joseph Smith was born in Bethnal Green. He was sent to a reformatory at Gravesend at the age of nine and later had served time for swindling and theft. In 1896 he was imprisoned for twelve months for persuading a woman to steal from her employers. He used the proceeds to open a baker's shop in Leicester. It was perhaps his last brush with legitimate work.

In 1898 he married Caroline Beatrice Thornhill (under another alias, Oliver George Love) in Leicester; it was his only legal marriage (although he also married another woman bigamously in 1899). They moved to London where she worked as a maid for a number of employers, stealing from them for her husband. She was eventually caught in Worthing, and sentenced to twelve months. On her release she incriminated her husband, and he was imprisoned for two years in January 1901. On his release, Mrs. Love fled to Canada. Smith then went back to his other wife, cleared out her savings, and left. It is unknown how many women he treated in this manner in the years following.

What is known is that in June 1908 Smith married a widow from Worthing, Florence Wilson. On 3 July he left her, but not before taking £30 drawn from her savings account and selling her belongings from their Camden residence. Then on 30 July he married Edith Peglar in Bristol, who replied to an advertisement for a housekeeper. He would disappear for months at a time, saying that he would go to another city to ply his trade, which he claimed to be selling antiques. In between his other marriages, Smith would always come back to Edith with money.

In October 1909, under the name George Rose Smith, he married Sarah Freeman. As with Florence Wilson, he left her after clearing out her savings and selling her war bonds with a total take of £400. It was after this that he married Bessie Munday, and Alice Burnham after that. And between Alice Burnham and Margaret Lofty, in September 1914 he married Alice Reid, under the alias Charles Oliver James. In all between 1908 to 1914 Smith entered into seven bigamous marriages. And in most of these cases Smith was content to go through his wives' possessions before he disappeared.

Two similar deaths

One evening in January 1915 Division Detective Inspector Arthur Neil received a letter from a Joseph Crossley, who owned a boardinghouse in Blackpool. Together with the letter were two newspaper clippings: one was from The News of the World dated before Christmas 1914, about a tragic death of Margaret Elizabeth Lloyd (née Lofty), aged 38, who died in her lodgings in 14 Bismarck Road, Highgate. She was found in her bathtub by her husband, John Lloyd and their landlady.

The other clipping contained the report of a coroner's inquest dated 13 December 1913, in Blackpool. It was about a woman named Alice Smith (née Burnham), who died suddenly in a boardinghouse in that city while taking a bath in her bathtub. She was found by her husband George Smith.

The letter, dated January 3, was written by Crossley, the landlord of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, on behalf of Crossley's wife and a Mr. Charles Burnham, who both expressed their suspicion on the striking similarity of the two incidents and urged the police to investigate the matter.

The hunt

Inspector Neil went to 14 Bismarck Road where Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd had taken lodgings on 17 December. The landlady found it peculiar that before they took the room, Mr. Lloyd examined the bathroom first. The bathtub was fifty inches long and sixty-six inches at the top. Neil found it hard to believe that an adult like Mrs. Lloyd could have drowned in such a small tub, especially since the tub was three-fourths full when Mrs. Lloyd was found. He then went to the coroner, a Dr. Bates who signed the death certificate, and cautiously asked if there were signs of violence on the woman. There were none, except for a tiny bruise above the left elbow. However, what was striking about the whole thing was that Mr. Lloyd had not shown any grief, and ordered the cheapest coffin for his late bride.

Upon further investigation, Neil was able to learn that a will was made on the 18th, three hours before Margaret Lloyd died, and the sole beneficiary was none other than Mr. Lloyd, and the latter submitted the will to a solicitor "for settlement". In addition, Mrs. Lloyd withdrew all her savings also on that day.

On 12 January, Dr. Bates called. He had an inquiry for the Yorkshire Insurance Company about the death of Margaret Lloyd. She had, three days before she was married, taken out a life insurance policy for £700, with her husband John Lloyd as sole beneficiary. Neil promptly asked the doctor to stall in his reply. At once he asked for more data on the Smith case from the Blackpool police. Mrs. Smith likewise took out a life insurance policy and made a will in her husbands's favor, and took the lodgings in Blackpool only after Mr. Smith inspected the bathtub.

Convinced that he was now dealing with the same man, Neil asked the coroner to issue a favorable report to the insurance company. He was counting on the man to get in touch with his solicitor, and he had the office watched day and night. At last, on 1 February, a man fitting Lloyd/Smith's description appeared. Inspector Neil introduced himself and asked him whether he was John Lloyd. "Yes," replied the man. Then Neil asked him whether he was also George Smith. The man vehemently denied it. Inspector Neil, already sure that John Lloyd and George Smith were the same man, told him that he would take him for questioning because of bigamy. The man finally admitted that he was indeed George Smith.

Neil guessed that Smith made that admission because he would rather admit to having committed bigamy than murder. In any case, Smith was under arrest.

Spilsbury enters the case

When Smith was arrested for the charge of bigamy and suspicion of murder, the renowned pathologist Bernard Spilsbury was asked to determine how the women died. Although he was the Home Office pathologist and acted mainly in a consulting capacity, he was also available for direct assistance to the police force.

Margaret Lloyd's body was exhumed, and Spilsbury's first task was to confirm drowning as the cause of death; if so whether it by accident or force. He confirmed the tiny bruise on the elbow as noted before, as well as two microscopic marks. Even the evidence of drowning was not extensive. There were no signs of heart or circulatory disease, but the evidence suggested that death was almost instantaneous, as if the victim died of a sudden stroke. Poison was also seen as a possibility, and Spilsbury ordered tests on its presence. Finally, he proposed to Neil that they run some experiments in the very same bathtub in which Margaret died. Neil had it set up in the police station.

Despite the exhumation being carried out as discreetly as possible, the press got wind of it and stories about the "Brides in the Baths" began to appear. On 8 February the chief of police of Herne Bay, a small seaside resort in Kent, had read the stories, and sent Neil a report of another death which was strikingly similar to the other two.

A third victim

A year before Alice Burnham's death in Blackpool, one Henry Williams had rented a house in 80 High Street, with no bath for himself and his wife Beatrice "Bessie" Munday, whom he married in Weymouth in 1910. He then rented a bathtub seven weeks later. He then took his wife to local doctor, Frank French, due to supposed attack of epilepsy, although Mrs. Williams was only complaining of headaches, to which the doctor prescribed some medication. On 12 July 1912, Mr. Williams woke up Dr. French, saying that his wife was having another attack. He checked on her and promised to come back the following afternoon. However, he was surprised when, on the following morning, he was informed by Mr. Williams that his wife had died of drowning. The doctor found Bessie Williams in the tub, her head underwater, her legs stretched out straight and her feet protruding out of the water. There was no trace of violence so Dr. French attributed the drowning to an attack of epilepsy. The inquest jury was apparently convinced and awarded Mr. Williams the amount of £2,579 13s 7p, as stipulated in Mrs. Williams' will, made up five days before her death.

Neil then sent photographs of Smith to Herne Bay for possible identification and went to Blackpool where Spilsbury was conducting an autopsy of Alice Williams. Again, the results are the same, as with Margaret Lloyd: the lack of violence, every suggestion of instantaneous death, little evidence of drowning. Furthermore, there were no traces of poison on Margaret Lloyd. Baffled, Spilsbury routinely took measurements of the corpse and had the tub sent to London.

Back in London, Neil had received confirmation from Herne Bay. "Henry Williams" was the same man as "John Lloyd" and "George Smith". This time, when Spilsbury examined Bessie Williams, he found one sure sign of drowning: the presence of goose bumps on the skin. As with the other two deaths, the tub where Mrs. Williams died was sent to London.


For weeks Spilbury pondered over the bathtubs and the victims' measurements. Supposing, he thought, that Bessie Williams had indeed had an epileptic fit. Its first stage consists of a stiffening and extension of the entire body. Considering her height (five feet seven inches) and the length of the tub (five feet), the upper part of her body would have been pushed up the sloping head of the tub, far above the level of the water.

The second stage would consist of violent spasms of the limbs, which were drawn up to the body and then flung outward. Therefore, no one of her size could possibly get underwater, especially when her muscles would relax on third stage: the tub was simply too small.

Suddenly, he hit upon a possible solution. Using Dr. French's description of Bessie Williams when he found her in the bathtub, Spilsbury reasoned that Smith, under the pretence of a lover's teasing, must have seized Bessie by the feet and suddenly pulled them up toward himself, sliding the upper part of the body underwater.

The sudden flood of water into her nose and throat might cause shock and sudden loss of consciousness. This would explain the absence of injuries and minimal signs of drowning.

To try out Spilsbury's theory, Neil hired several experienced women divers of the same size and build as the victims. He tried to push them underwater by force but there would be inevitable signs of struggle. Finally, Neil did what Spilsbury had suggested: he unexpectedly pulled the feet of one of the divers, and her head glided underwater before she knew what was happened.

Suddenly Neil was alarmed when he saw that the woman was no longer moving. He quickly pulled her out of the tub and it took him and a doctor over half an hour before they were able to revive her. When she came to, she related that the only thing she remembered was the rush of water before she lost consciousness. This despite the fact that she expected the attack and was an experienced diver. Thus was Spilsbury's theory confirmed.

George Joseph Smith was charged for the murders of Bessie Williams, Alice Smith and Margaret Lloyd on 23 March 1915.

Trial and legal legacy

On June 22, he went on trial at the Old Bailey. The prosecuting Counsel were Archibald Bodkin (later Director of Public Prosecutions) and Cecil Whiteley (later KC). Although he could only be tried for the murder of Bessie Williams in accordance with English law, the prosecution used the deaths of the other two to establish the pattern of Smith's crimes; this was allowed by Mr Justice Scrutton despite the protests of Smith's counsel, Sir Edward Marshall Hall. Smith decided not to give evidence in his own defence, indicating this to Marshall Hall in a handwritten note.

It took the jury about twenty minutes on 1 July to find him guilty and he was sentenced to death. Smith's appeal against his verdict and sentence was dismissed, and on 13 August, Smith was hanged in Maidstone prison by John Ellis.

The use of 'system'—comparing other crimes to the one a criminal is being tried for to prove guilt—set a precedent that was later used in other murder trials. For example, the doctor and suspected serial killer John Bodkin Adams was charged for the murder of Edith Alice Morrell, but the deaths of Gertrude Hullett and her husband Jack were used in the committal hearing to prove the existence of a pattern. This use of 'system' was later criticised by the trial judge when Adams was only tried on the Morrell charge.

Popular culture

In his book "Why Britain is at War", Harold Nicolson used the behaviour of George Smith and his repeatedly murderous behaviour as a parallel to Hitler's repeatedly acquisitive behaviour in Europe in the 1930s.

The Smith case is mentioned in Dorothy L. Sayers' mystery, Unnatural Death. The Smith case was dramatised on the radio series The Black Museum in 1952 under the title of "The Bath Tub". There was also The Brides in the Bath (2003), a British TV movie made by Yorkshire Television, starring Martin Kemp as George Smith and the play Tryst by Karoline Leach, first produced in New York in 2006, starring Maxwell Caulfield and Amelia Campbell. This story is the basis for the play The Drowning Girls by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, Daniela Vlaskalic.


Solved: How the brides in the bath died at the hands of their ruthless womanising husband

By David Leafe -

April 22, 2010

The glow of the policemen's lanterns cast eerie shadows over the graveyard, as the church clock chimed midnight and the cheaply made coffin was raised slowly from its resting place.

Inside, was the decomposing body of 38-year-old Margaret Lofty, a vicar's daughter who had been buried just two months previously.

This was the first of three excavations requested by detectives in February 1915. Four days later, the cadaver of 25-year-old nurse Alice Burnham was removed from her Blackpool grave.

Like Margaret Lofty, she had expired suddenly, as had 33-year-old Bessie Mundy, whose corpse was exhumed in Herne Bay, Kent, a fortnight later.

All three were at first believed to have drowned after fainting or having a fit in the bath, but suspicions were aroused after it was discovered they had been married to the same man, serial bigamist George Joseph Smith.

His trial later that year, for what became known as the Brides In The Bath murders, was one of the most sensational of the 20th century. And the public was so fascinated by Smith's crimes that for many decades an effigy of him stood in Madame Tussauds' Chamber Of Horrors.

The case would also be hailed as an early triumph for forensic science but, almost 100 years after the first murder, one fascinating question still remains unanswered - as a new book, The Magnificent Spilsbury And The Case Of The Brides In The Bath, by Jane Robins, reveals.

Exactly how did the Bluebeard Of The Bath dispatch his victims? All three were fit and healthy women, fully capable of putting up resistance, and there was no sign they had been poisoned or drugged. Yet all were apparently drowned, with no evidence of violence or struggle.

Only one person knew the answer - and that was Smith himself.

A cold-hearted con-man whose crimes were motivated purely by financial gain, he was born in the East End of London in 1872 and by the age of nine had been sent to reform school for thieving. He left at 16 with a talent for exploiting women.

His first and only legal marriage was in 1898, to a bootmaker named Caroline Thornhill, aged 19. She left him two years later, after he forced her to steal money from her employers, earning her three months in prison. But he had no shortage of victims.

Large numbers of young men emigrating to the colonies, had left British females outnumbering men by more than half a million by 1910. The newspapers were full of stories about women who could not find husbands.

Such spinsters were perfect prey for Smith, a smooth-talking spiv with a slim, muscular physique and a penchant for flashy gold rings and brightly-coloured bow-ties. 

He prowled seafronts and parks in his search for lonely and vulnerable females, mesmerising them with his deep-set grey eyes.

'When he looked at you, you had the feeling that you were being magnetised,' recalled one woman, who encountered Smith during those early years. 'They were little eyes that seemed to rob you of your will.'

Smith gained a woman's trust by going through a bigamous marriage ceremony, then absconded with her savings. Those who lost only their money were fortunate - for soon his crimes would take a far darker turn.

In the summer of 1910, he was walking in Clifton, Bristol, when he met Bessie Mundy, a plain but well turned-out young woman. Her late father was a bank manager and she had inherited from him £2,500, some £150,000 at today's prices.

Smith introduced himself as Henry Williams, a picture restorer from London, and persuaded Bessie to marry him a few weeks later at a register office in Weymouth.

In May 1912, the couple moved to Herne Bay and Smith asked Bessie to make a will in his favour. Afterwards he visited an ironmonger and asked the price of a cast-iron bath. He was told that it cost two pounds.

Two days later, Bessie was sent to the shop with instructions to haggle for a two shilling discount, unaware that she was negotiating the price of her own instrument of death. Smith then persuaded her she was suffering epileptic fits, about which she remembered nothing afterwards.

In truth, Bessie had no history of fits but on Friday, July 12, she happily agreed to be examined by their local doctor and repeat to him the symptoms Smith had described to her.

The following morning, the doctor received a pencil-written note from Smith. 'Come at once,' it read. 'My wife is dead.'

He arrived to find Bessie on her back in the bath, her face still partially submerged. Smith claimed this was how he had found her.

With no signs of anything untoward, the inquest jury declared Bessie had drowned after suffering a fit, clearing the way for Smith to inherit her fortune.

Despite his sudden wealth, little was spent on her funeral. Smith choose the cheapest coffin available and refused to pay for a private plot, so Bessie had to be buried in a common grave. He even returned the bath to the ironmonger and secured a refund.

With the murder weapon disposed of, it seemed Smith had committed the perfect crime. But he had overlooked one thing. Unbeknown to him, Bessie was holding a bar of soap in her right hand when she died and the doctor had noted that her fingers remained clamped tightly around it.

This clue later proved crucial to securing Smith's conviction, but two more women would die before then.

The next was Alice Burnham, a plump and pretty young nurse who met Smith in Southsea in September 1913. On their wedding day on November 4, he took her to a doctor who certified she was healthy enough to take out a £500 insurance policy on her life, with Smith the beneficiary.

That December he proposed that they visit Blackpool on a delayed honeymoon. This seemingly romantic gesture ensured that they were as far away as possible from the scene of his first murder.

Turning down the first boarding house they tried because it didn't have a bathroom, Smith found them rooms with widow Margaret Crossley, then took Alice to the local doctor, claiming that she was suffering persistent headaches.

On the evening of Friday, December 12, three days after they arrived in Blackpool, Mrs Crossley noticed small drops of water seeping through her kitchen ceiling while Alice was having a bath upstairs.

At that moment, Smith appeared in the kitchen and struck up a conversation, presumably to give himself an alibi. Shortly afterwards, he went upstairs and 'discovered' his wife dead in the bath. Once again, there were no signs of anything suspicious.

The inquest jury decided that Alice had drowned after fainting.

Alice had been married to Smith just over a month when she died, but his next victim Margaret Lofty lasted barely 24 hours.

Posing as moneyed land agent John Lloyd, he met her in Bath the following November and they married on December 18, 1914, shortly after she had insured her life for £700.

The couple began their brief honeymoon in Highgate, North London, with Smith taking his new wife to a local doctor on their wedding night.

Like Alice Burnham, she was said to be suffering headaches.

The following evening, their landlady Louisa Blatch was ironing in her kitchen when the sound of splashing came from the bathroom above. This was followed by the noise of wet hands rubbing along the side of the bath and then a sigh.

A few minutes later, Mrs Blatch heard strains of the hymn Nearer My God To Thee being played on the harmonium in the Lloyds' sitting room. Then the front door slammed, only for John Lloyd, alias Smith, to knock on it a few minutes later explaining that he had popped out to buy some tomatoes for his wife's supper but had forgotten his key.

These elaborate efforts to prove he was anywhere but the bathroom when his wife died were unnecessary.

Margaret's death was recorded as misadventure, bringing his murderous earnings to £3,700, around £190,000 today.

He might have killed yet more innocent women if Alice Burnham's father had not read newspaper reports about Margaret Lofty's death.

Suspicious about the similarities between her demise and that of his daughter, he alerted the police and Smith was arrested in February 1915, as he visited his solicitor to discuss Margaret Lofty's will.

With the Kent police suggesting that the death of Bessie Mundy might also be linked to the murders, witnesses came forward to identify Smith - and the grim exhumation of the bodies began.

No evidence was found of foul play, but Home Office pathologist Bernard Spilsbury was struck by the fact that Bessie Mundy was still holding on to a bar of soap when she died.

If she really had suffered a faint or a fit, as her inquest had suggested, her hand would have relaxed and let the soap go.

This suggested that she - and, by implication, the other women - had died very suddenly, without time to put up a fight.

But the question was: how? The theory Spilsbury advanced in court was that Smith had pulled their legs sharply out of the bath, sending their head underwater so fast consciousness was lost instantly.

Modern science gives this some credibility. The rushing of water down the throat could put pressure on the vagus, one of the main nerves in the neck, causing a rapid slowing down of the heart rate and an instant faint. Yet most people suffering 'vagal inhibition' do not die, recovering quickly afterwards.

One of the most intriguing theories is that Smith hypnotised his victims, an idea suggested by George du Maurier's best-selling novel Trilby, published in 1894.

Featuring the character of Svengali, an evil hypnotist who mesmerises the heroine into a life of servitude, this was followed by newspaper reports in 1905 about the activities of American bigamist George Witzoff.

This real-life Svengali persuaded more than 100 women to marry him by means of hypnosis - and robbing each of their life savings.

Might these stories have inspired the evil crimes of George Smith? And could this explain the extraordinary acquiescence of his wives in signing over their lives, reporting to doctors their purely imaginary symptoms and sinking below the bath water at his suggestion?

This seems far-fetched, but it was the view advanced by Smith's own barrister, Edward Marshall Hall. After his client was found guilty and sentenced to hang, he wrote of his conviction that Smith had indeed killed his wives, but not in the way suggested in court.

'I had a long interview with Smith. I was convinced that he was a hypnotist,' he said. 'Once I accepted this theory, the whole thing was explained.'

There are problems with this theory. Hypnotists say it is not possible to persuade a subject to do something that will harm them. And Bessie Mundy's grip on the soap seems inconsistent with the idea she had relaxed into a trance.

Others suggest Smith terrified his wives into accepting their end. But the truth is, it is unlikely that we shall ever know.

In August 1915, Smith was hanged at Maidstone Prison, protesting his innocence to the end - and taking with him the secret of how he killed three innocent women, who were desperate for love but were met instead with cruel and untimely deaths.



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