The Bath Tub Murders

Did you know that there’s a Saskatchewan connection to the infamous Bath Tub Murders of 1912-1915? I was browsing the newspaper archives the other day, came across an article and then of course had to tell you about it.

The Boston Daily Globe – April 18, 1915

George Joseph Smith was a serial killer and bigamist born in Bethnal Green, London in 1872. He started his criminal career very early, committing acts of theft and fraud.

In 1898, under the alias George Oliver Love, he married a woman named Caroline Beatrice Thornbill in Leicester. The couple moved to London, where George immediately sent Caroline off to work as a maid so she could steal for him from her employers. She was eventually caught and sentenced to 12 months. Upon her release, she incriminated her husband who was sentenced to two years in January 1901. Terrified of her husband, she fled to Canada when he was released and ended up living in – you guessed it – Saskatchewan.

In 1908, he married two women. First was Florence Wilson, a widow from Worthing, whom he married in June. He left her a month later on July 3, but not before drawing money from her savings account and selling her belongings from their Camden Town residence in London. By July 30th he was getting married again, this time to a woman named Edith Peglar, who’d answered his ad for a housekeeper. Between all his other marriages, he would always return to Peglar, bringing money.

Smith repeatedly married women and cleared out their bank accounts before disappearing, until the day he came up with a much more sinister plan. In 1910, he’d married a woman named Beatrice Mundy under the alias Henry Williams. She was living off the interest of an inheritance from her mother, an inheritance he desperately wanted to get his hands on. When her family refused, he stole approximately $500 worth of gold from her and left.

In March of 1912, he ran into her again. He begged her for forgiveness and persuaded her to give him a second chance. This time, he convinced her to make him the beneficiary of her will, leaving him her inheritance in the event of her death. He rented a home for the two of them in Blackpool, and when the wheels were in motion for getting the will made up, he rented a bathtub and had it sent to their home. Weeks later, the will now made and sealed, he took his wife to a local doctor, saying she suffered from epileptic seizures, although she only complained of a headache. On July 12, 1912, he came and woke the doctor, saying his wife was having another seizure. The doctor checked on her and promised to come back the following afternoon, but the next morning he was informed by Williams that his wife had died.

The doctor went to the house and found Beatrice in the tub, her head under water with her legs stretched out straight and her feet out of the water. There were no signs of violence, so the doctor attributed the drowning to epilepsy and Williams was awarded his wife’s money, as was listed in her will, drafted five days before her death.

The Liverpool Echo – March 23, 1915

In September of 1913 George met Alice Burnham and by November they were married. He soon convinced her parents to send the $500 she had saved and convinced Alice to get life insurance in his favour. On December 10th, they arrived in Blackpool and George enquired at boarding houses until he found one with a bathtub. The next evening, Alice told the landlady she would like a bath. The landlady drew the water, then went downstairs. George came into the kitchen a little while later, telling her that he’d been out to buy eggs for breakfast. He went upstairs and soon began calling for the landlady. The woman ran upstairs and found him holding his wife’s head. She thought it odd that the woman, in a boarding house full of strangers, hadn’t locked the bathroom door to take her bath.

George Smith testified at the inquest on December 13th and the death was ruled a drowning.

On September 17, 1914, George married a woman named Alice Reid using the name Olive Charles James and three months later he married another woman, Margaret Lofty, using the name John Lloyd. Soon after their marriage, Margaret had a will drawn up with George as the sole beneficiary and three hours later, she was dead. She’d also withdrawn all of her savings that same day.

Apparently, the couple had gone on a walk, and when they returned to their boarding house (at which George had specifically requested to inspect the bathtub before getting a room), Margaret asked the landlady if she could have a bath. The same scenario repeated itself, this time with George telling the landlady he’d been out buying tomatoes, before going up and ‘finding’ the body of his wife. Once again, the landlady thought it was odd that the bathroom door was unlocked.

In January of 1915, Division Detective Inspector Arthur Neil received newspaper clippings for the deaths of Margaret Lofty and Alice Burnham with requests to make an enquiry. He inspected the tub where Margaret Lofty had perished and found it rather small, too small he thought, for a woman to drown in. He investigated both deaths and after realizing that their husbands matched the same description, he had the insurance for Margaret Lofty released so he could stake out the insurance company. When ‘Mr. Lloyd’ arrived to collect the life insurance, Neil was waiting for him and got him to admit that he was also the husband of Alice Burnham. At that point, George probably thought that the worst he’d get caught for was bigamy. But as Neil continued his investigation, he found out about the drowning of Beatrice Mundy as well and the deaths became far too coincidental to ignore.

None of the women had any defensive wounds on their bodies, certainly nothing that would have shown up after the frantic struggle of someone being held under water. But it was from the description of Beatrice Mundy’s body when she was discovered in the tub that the answer was eventually discovered. Neil figured out that George would grab the women by the ankles and suddenly yank them forward, causing their head to go underwater and the water to rush up their nose, resulting in them immediately losing consciousness and drowning without a struggle.

The Boston Daily Globe – March 24, 1915

George Smith went on trial for the three murders on June 22, 1915. His first wife, Caroline Thornbill, was called back from Saskatchewan to testify. He was found guilty on July 1, 1915 and was hanged on August 13, 1915.

The Liverpool Echo – Aug 13, 1915

It was in September of the same year that journalists in Saskatoon put together that George Smith might have spent some time in their city. A man that matched George Smith’s description going by the name of Arthur William Cooper arrived in Saskatoon in 1908 and purchased a store from a Mr. B. A. Archibald with a forged letter of credit. He took possession of the store and started selling off the stock at ridiculously low prices and ordering more from wholesale firms. When these firms became suspicious and asked the local bank to cable the London bank for verification of his notes of credit, the reply came back as unknown. The man, whose real name was William George Smith (or so he said), was arrested and released on $200 bail. He immediately disappeared. Apparently, George Smith’s wife, Edith Peglar, confirmed that he’d disappeared for a while after their marriage and when he returned he’d told her he’d been in Canada, but there’s no way to know for sure if it was the same man.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Sep 16, 1915

And that’s the story of the Bathtub Murders and their small connection to Saskatchewan!

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Information for this post came from the Wikipedia page for George Joseph Smith and the following editions of the Saskatoon Daily Star: April 17, 1915, June 25, 1915 and September 16, 1915. Pictures came from Wikipedia, the Boston Daily Globe, and the Liverpool Echo.

If you’d like to read more historical true crime from Saskatchewan, give these a try:

The Murder of the Bromley Five

The Mysterious Murder of the Hansons

The Murderous John Bronch

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