This murderer did not have the dashing good looks, but he did possess a quality that enabled him to get exactly what he wanted and what he wanted was money. Described as, ‘looking like a mad dog,’ George Joseph Smith would become known as the ‘Brides in the Bath’ killer, who used his charm to wrap any woman he chose around his little finger. George Joseph Smith would befriend women, pulling them into his treacherous web of deceit, before marrying them and as quickly as he married them, he would murder them – taking them for every penny that they had. This case not only offers an insight into bigamy but also highlights the significance of forensic pathology and how cases can be linked between similarities which occur between different cases.
George Joseph Smith was born the 11th January 1872 in the Bethnal Green area in the East End of London. His father’s employment as an insurance agent ensured that the family grew up comfortably, but this did not stop George Joseph Smith from committing crimes of theft from a young age of nine. It was at this age that George Joseph Smith was sent to a reformatory in Gravesend, Kent after being caught stealing. In the 1800’s, reformatory was a quick punishment to avoid children going on to commit other crimes. However, George Joseph Smith spent seven years here, learning new tricks along the way including how to use a false identity. In 1896, aged twenty-four, George Joseph Smith was sentenced to twelve months in prison after coercing a woman into stealing from her employers. George Joseph Smith used the stolen money to buy into property, opening a baker’s shop in the area of Leicester. Just one year after his release, in 1898, was when George Joseph Smith began to venture into serious crime. It began with the marriage of eighteen-year-old Caroline Beatrice Thornhill. Caroline probably thought she was marrying a wealthy business man who she was falsely led to believe was called Oliver George Love. Little did Caroline know but the man she was now married too was George Joseph Smith and further from that, the baker’s shop was now bankrupt. Sadly, the dream Caroline thought she had married into was not real and shortly after their marriage began, George Joseph Smith sent Caroline to work as a maid in London, prompting her to steal from her employers’. Caroline began stealing jewellery and money and to avoid being captured, the couple moved from London to Eastbourne and Brighton. Not only did this movement avoid capture, it also enabled Caroline to continue fleecing her employers’. It was not until George Joseph Smith ran out of money, that he sent his wife Caroline to a jeweller’s to porn some of the stolen jewellery that their time of stealing came to an end. When in the jeweller’s, the pawnbroker became suspicious and called the police and there Caroline was arrested. Caroline was sentenced for one year and this is when Oliver Love – or as he is known, George Joseph Smith disappeared. Following her release, in a chance encounter, Caroline saw her husband walking down the street, and called the police. Caroline testified against her husband in court and George Joseph Smith was sentenced to two years. During this sentence, Caroline migrated to Canada, yet the pair remained married nonetheless.
Following his release from yet another prison sentence, George Joseph Smith went on to bigamously marry a string of money, always for the main goal – money. George Joseph Smith continued to coerce women into either giving him their money or in a sinister turn of events, insuring their lives to then leave them with an empty bank account, or in some instance’s dead. In August 1910, now aged thirty-eight, George Joseph Smith married Bessie Mundy, of a similar age. George Joseph Smith changed his name once more, this time to Henry Williams. Speculation suggests that George Joseph Smith married Bessie for the £2,500 lump sum she had inherited at the passing of her father. If this was the plan for George Joseph Smith, this drastically backfired when it was stated that the money had been left in the hand of trustees. George Joseph Smith decided to convince his wife to hand over just £150 before accusing her of leaving him with a venereal disease and disappeared immediately after. Again, by chance encounter, just eighteen months after leaving, Bessie spotted her husband in Weston-Super-Mare. She forgave him quite easily, happy to have her husband back and shortly after Bessie took him back to her lodgings. Following the reunion, George Joseph Smith suggested they draw up mutual wills where they would both inherit each other’s fortunes following their deaths. This meant that if Bessie was to die before George Joseph Smith he would end up with the sum of £2,500 whereas Bessie would inherit nothing as George Joseph Smith did not have a single penny to his name. George Joseph Smith and Bessie travelled in the following days to Herne Bay in Kent, where George Joseph Smith took up the profession of an art dealer. The pair renovated their house, buying a new bath, which Bessie helped choose. The next days, George Joseph Smith took his wife to the doctors, stating she was having fits and expressing concern for her welfare but this was only the beginning of his plan to get his hands on the £2,500. This was the final living moments of Bessie’s life, as just days later Bessie was found dead after drowning in the bathtub. The doctor who had seen Bessie about her fits received a letter from George Joseph Smith stating that his wife had died in the bath and asked if he could attend. When the doctor arrived, he found Bessie laid naked in the bath, her body floating with her face up. George Joseph Smith provided an alibi stating he had gone out to buy food and when he returned he found his wife dead. Nothing suspicious was recorded and George Joseph Smith was free to bury his wife in a pauper’s grave and collect the prized £2,500.
In 1913, George Joseph Smith went on to marry twenty five year old nurse, Alice Burnham. Soon after, he convinced his new wife to create a will, leaving all her belongings and money to her new husband. Following this, the newly weds travelled to Blackpool for their honeymoon. As like with the case of Bessie, George Joseph Smith took his wife to the doctors for some medical condition then one morning, George Joseph Smith’s wife Alice was found dead in the bath and yet again George Joseph Smith had gone to visit the shops at the time of her death. The doctor was called, and again nothing suspicious was found and after another pauper’s funeral, George Joseph Smith was free to inherit his wife’s £600.
The year after, in December 1914, after more marriages and more stealing of savings, George Joseph Smith married again. This time he estate agent, John Lloyd and his wife was Margaret Lofty. They married and travelled to London, booking into a room at the Highgate. The landlady of the Highgate later went on to state, ‘I heard the splashing of water upstairs, followed by a large sigh and then the sound of loud music coming from the sitting room. After this, George Joseph Smith left the house and returned telling the landlady he had been to the shop. Upstairs, George Joseph Smith discovered his drowned wife in the bathtub and called immediately for help. George Joseph Smith, again, only went for a pauper’s funeral and tried to cash in again, this time claiming an insurance policy. It was with this death of Margaret Lofty that George Joseph Smith became unlucky, following the publication of a story in the News of the Word.
The strange deaths at seaside towns and cities were only really covered by the local press, but when a newly wed drowns in a bath in London featured in the national newspaper, it was read all over the country. Unfortunately for George Joseph Smith, the readers of this one article featured Alice Burnham’s father, Charles Burnham and William Haynes, from Blackpool who lived near the house where Margaret was murdered. Although the names of the husband were different, the facts of each case were practically identical. Both men wrote letters to the newspaper, and it was not long until the Scotland Yard were alerted of the similar facts of the cases. Detective Inspector Neil took the case on, and shortly after received a phone call from a Dr. Bates with an inquiry from the Yorkshire Insurance Company regarding the death of a female who had died. The woman had been married for only three days before she had taken out a life insurance policy for £700, with the late Mrs Smith leaving all her money to her husband. Detective Inspector Neil requested more information relating to the death in Blackpool. Similarly, Neil found out that the late Mrs Smith had taken out a life insurance policy leaving again all her belongings and money to her husband. Neil advised the coroner to issue a report to the insurance company, insisting that this would draw the suspect to the solicitor’s office, which Neil watched day and night. On 1st February, a man fitting the description of the husband arrived and was arrested for questioning on suspicion of bigamy and suspicion of murder.
Following the arrest of George Joseph Smith, pathologist Bernard Spilsbury was asked to determine how the women had died. Margaret’s body was exhumed and the first task was to confirm drowning as the cause of death. The second task was to determine if the drowning was by accident or by force. Spilsbury confirmed that there was no sign of heart or circulatory disease, but that the death was instant, as if the woman had died of a sudden stroke. Spilsbury suggested that they run some experiments in the same bathtub in which Margaret had died, and this lead to the newpaper’s publishing reports on the ‘Brides in the Baths’. On the 8th February, chief police officer of Herne Bay read the stories and sent a report of another death which was similar to the death of the other two women. The case related to that of George Joseph Smith’s first wife Bessie. Neil sent photographs of George Joseph Smith to the police of Herne Bay for possible identification, and then travelled to Blackpool where Spilsbury had began the autopsy of Alice. The results were the same as Margaret: the lack of violence, the suggestion of sudden death and the little evidence of drowning. When Neil returned to London, he had received confirmation that the man from Herne Bay was in fact George Joseph Smith.
For many weeks, Spilsbury wondered over the bathtubs and the victims, in particular the measurements of the women. Spilsbury noted that the first stage of a fit consists of a stiffening of the body, causing the body to extend. Considering that Bessie was 5 foot 7 and the tub was only 5 feet long, the upper part of her body would have been pushed out of the bathtub causing her head to be far above the water level. Therefore, it was concluded that nobody of Bessie’s size would be able to possibly slide under the water. Spilsbury therefore concluded that George Joseph Smith must have grabbed Bessie’s feet and pulled them up towards him, causing her body to slide under the water. The sudden flood of water to the nose and throat may have caused shock and loss of consciousness and this would explain the absence of any signs of forced drowning. Neil used this information to conduct experiments. It began with pushing experienced diver’s under the water but this showed signs of a struggle. On one woman, he unexpectedly pulled her feet and when he looked at the woman he realised she was not moving. The woman lost consciousness and when she finally came round she reported that the only thing she remembered was the rush of water. Spilsbury’s theory was confirmed and with this George Joseph Smith was charged with the death of Bessie, Alice and Margaret.
The trial began on the 22nd June at the Old Bailey. Although George Joseph Smith could only be tried for the murder of Bessie (as this was the only case they had solid evidence against), the prosecution used the deaths of the other two women to establish the pattern of the death’s. It took the jury only twenty minutes on the 1st July to find George Joseph Smith guilty of murder and sentenced him to death. At the age of forty three, on the 13th August 1915 at Maidstone Kent, George Joseph Smith woke to the day of his execution. Reports say that George Joseph Smith was a wreck and as he was led to the scaffold and the hood was placed over his head, George Joseph Smith cried loudly, “I’m innocent’ before he was dropped to his death.