The following review appeared in edition 160 of Ripperologist magazine.
THE ANNOTATED I CAUGHT CRIPPEN
EDITED WITH AN INTRODUCTION AND NOTES BY NICHOLAS CONNELLLondon: Mango Books, 2018 www.mangobooks.co.uk hardcover & ebook 331pp; illus; notes; appendices; biblio; index ISBN:9781911273318 (hardback) & 9781911273325 (ebook) £20 hardback & £7.99 ebook
Walter Dew’s start in life did not promise great things. He did not exhibit any academic ability at school and left in 1876 when he was 13-years-old, which was as early as he was able and the law allowed (at least until 1918 when the Fisher Act raised the school-leaving age to 14). He clerked in the offices of a solicitor and then in those of a seed-merchant before following his father onto the railways and becoming a railway porter. In 1882 he joined the Metropolitan Police, which proved to be his metier and he enjoyed a successful career, albeit a largely unremarkable one, rising through the ranks to that of Chief Inspector.
It was in 1910, ironically the year he retired from the Metropolitan Police, that Walter Dew was involved with what is historically the most important case of his career. A sometime music hall artiste who used the stage name Belle Elmore had disappeared and Inspector Dew was assigned to investigate. Her remains were eventually found buried in the cellar of the home she shared with her husband, the American-born Harvey Hawley Crippen.
The mild-mannered Crippen was nowhere to be found. He’d fled with his lover, Ethel le Neve, and they were already aboard a ship, S.S. Montrose, where they were identified and their description was telegraphed to the police. Dew boarded a faster ship and set off in hot pursuit, the public becoming gripped by the newspaper reports of the exciting chase and Detective Dew becoming an international celebrity and the most famous policeman in the country. As most people know, Dew eventually boarded the Montrose and famously greeted Crippen, “Good morning, Dr Crippen. Do you know me? I’m Chief Inspector Dew from Scotland Yard.”
Dew had been transferred very early in his detective career to Whitechapel, where he played a part investigating the Jack the Ripper murders, most famously being the first policeman to reach Miller’s Court and to see remains of Mary Kelly. The sight understandably wasn’t one he was anxious to recall.
In 1938 Walter Dew published his memoirs, I Caught Crippen, which was really three separate newspaper serials, the first recalling the Crippen case, the second his recollections of his involvement in the hunt for Jack the Ripper, and the third a collection of various cases in which he was involved, including that of ‘Harry the Valet’ and the theft of the Duchess of Sutherland’s jewels.
If you haven’t read I Caught Crippen then you should do so, especially Dew’s first-hand account of the Ripper investigation, but a nice copy of the book will set you back several hundred pounds. Round about £500 the last time I looked. More if the book has a jacket. Mango have reproduced the original book as closely as possible and sans a dust jacket, so the “cover” price of £20 is a real bargain.
But as the title of the Mango edition tells us, this is an edition that packs in more than the original book. Nick Connell, the go-to man if you want to know about Crippen, provides a great introduction and appendices containing writings by Dew and writings about Dew by others.
I think this is a fantastic book and I really hope that Mango do other “Annotated” editions of police memoirs, which can be tough going for modern audiences who quite often have no idea what’s being written about. The authors wrote of forgotten crimes, forgotten criminals, and once topical but now forgotten events; and their world, familiar to the audience for whom they were writing, might as well be Mars for all modern audiences know of it. The trouble in this case is that Connell doesn’t really address too much of this sort of stuff in his footnotes.
The thing is, as said above, I Caught Crippen originally appeared as three serialised newspaper features which differed from the text of the book, and a further complication is that the features were published in Scottish and English editions which differed slightly too. Most of Connell’s annotations note the differences between the text of the book and the two newspaper serials on which it was based. Few of these changes make a difference to the meaning of Dew’s narrative and hardly any will interest the general reader. Some, such as whether there was a comma or not, probably won’t matter to anyone at all! It’s stuff for the absolute purist.
But where I think the Dew’s narrative would have benefitted from expansion, the footnotes tell the reader very little. For example, an important figure in the story of ‘Harry the Valet’ (a career criminal whose real name was William Johnson) was a woman who Dew refers to throughout at ‘Miss X’. Connell tells you in a footnote that this mysterious woman was “Maude Richardson, alias Louis Ronald.” But just a name tells the reader very little about this woman who I know led a colourful life (to say the least). Connell could have fleshed out people like Maud Richardson.
There are quite a few books making heavy demands on your loose change – or loose banknotes – this month, but The Annotated I Caught Crippen probably makes the loudest. Dew’s first-hand account of the Ripper investigation is a must-read, despite some errors and questionable statements, and holding such a quality facsimile of the original makes the read so much better. Connell’s notes, subject to my observations, often add a lot to the original text, but his introduction and collection of writings by or about Dew are must-haves.
A great book and hopefully Mango will make huge efforts to follow up with other “Annotated” police memoirs – maybe for their new and exciting Blue Lamp imprint.
Review by Paul Begg.