The bigamist serial killer who was caught out by a Blackpool boarding house owner

George John Smith
-Credit: (Image: Free to use)


When George John Smith killed his sixth wife Alice he thought he had, once again, gotten away with murder.

Just after marrying her, despite already being married to five other women, Smith had taken out a life insurance policy for £500. Back in 1913 this was worth the princely sum of £62,000 in today's money.

On December 13 that year, a press report on an inquest into Alice's death revealed she had died in the bath at a boarding house in Blackpool. It was later discovered that Smith had only agreed to take the lodgings after inspecting the bath.

Just over a year later, the owner of the boarding house, Joseph Crossley wrote to detectives in the Metropolitan Police. He included a cutting of the report into Alice's death along with one about the death of Margaret Lloyd who had died in similar circumstances at the home in London which she shared with her husband.

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In his letter, dated January 3, 1915, Joseph expressed their suspicion on the striking similarity of the two incidents and urged the police to investigate the matter.

On launching an investigation detectives discovered that while Alice was not a wealthy woman she had saved money and the life insurance policy raised suspicions. The lead detective, DI Arthur Neil, spoke to the coroners in both cases.

Bernard Spilsbury was key in proving Smith had murdered three of his wives
Bernard Spilsbury was key in proving Smith had murdered three of his wives -Credit:Home Office

Just over a week later the coroner who had presided over Margaret's inquest contacted DI Neil having received correspondence from the Yorkshire Insurance Company. DI Neil asked the coroner to respond 'favourably' and detectives watched Smith's lawyers office hoping for him to appear.

When the murderer showed up, he was surrounded by police, and despite initially denying he was the same man who had married Alice he finally admitted committing bigamy.

Pathologist Bernard Spilsbury had been tasked with linking the deaths of Smith's wives. After carrying out experiments, including one in which a woman had to be resuscitated allowing Spilsbury to prove Smith had drowned another of his wives Bessie Williams, Smith was charged with the murders of Bessie Williams, Alice Smith, and Margaret Lloyd.

During his trial, and in a legal first, 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 elected not to give evidence in his own defence, indicating this to Marshall Hall in a handwritten note.

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.

It took the jury about 20 minutes on 1 July to find him guilty; he was then sentenced to death. Marshall Hall appealed on the grounds that the evidence of "system" has been improperly admitted, but Lord Reading LCJ dismissed the appeal, and Smith was hanged in Maidstone Prison on 13 August 1915 by the hangman John Ellis.