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Guglielmo MarconiOn this day April 25, 1874, Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi, the first Marquis of Marconi, was born in Bologna, Italy.

An entrepreneur and keen business man, Marconi founded the wireless telegraph & signal company that ultimately became the Marconi Company.

On 13 May 1897, Marconi sent the world’s first wireless communication over open sea.

The experiment, based in Wales, witnessed a message transverse over the Bristol Channel from Flat Holm Island to Lavernock Point in Penarth, a distance of 6 kilometers (3.7 mi). The message read “Are you ready“.

On 17 December 1902, a transmission from the Marconi station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, became the world’s first radio message to cross the Atlantic from North America.

Marconi died in Rome on July 20, 1937 at age 63, after a series of heart attacks. He received a state funeral in Italy. As a tribute, all radio stations throughout the world observed two minutes of silence the next day.

His inventions live on. His company’s involvement with sending distress signals from the Titanic are legend as well as the involvement in the case of Hawley Harvey Crippen.

In 1910, Crippen was convicted and later hanged for the murder of his wife Cora. For some, the deciding factor was a chunk of human flesh, unearthed from the basement of the Crippen home. This piece of flesh had a scar similar to one Cora had on her body. It was shown to the jurors.

That scar was examined in 2007 for mitochondrial DNA (from the maternal line) and as it turned out, it did not match the mitochondrial DNA from other members of Cora’s family. Mitochondrial DNA has played a major role in identifying the Dauphin and Anastasia Romanov. It is passed down from mother to daughter. Unlike regular DNA, it remains more stable in old tissue and is easier to retrieve. In fact, the DNA results in the Crippen case showed that the scar tissue came from a male.

The Crippen family is still trying to clear Hawley’s name. They want his conviction overturned, the release of his remains from the United Kingdom’s Penton Ville Prison burial grounds, and a burial of those remains in Ohio. However, UK authorities said “that Crippen’s living family members weren’t closely related enough to him to have legal standing sufficient to raise questions about the hanged man.”

Author John Boyne wrote a book about the famous Crippen case. He describes how ardent trial observers have always said that what sealed Crippen’s guilt was his suspicious flight with his mistress, Ethel le Neve. Ethel was disguised as a boy and posed as Crippen’s son Edmund. Hawley and Ethel, posing as father and son, boarded the SS Montrose to sail to Canada. They were recognized by the ship’s captain.

Even more unluckily for them was that the SS Montrose was the first ship to carry the Marconi telegram system. The ship’s captain alerted Scotland Yard. The Yard’s inspectors were able to take a faster passage and met the SS Montrose as she arrived in Quebec.

In December 2009, the UK Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), having reviewed the case including the DNA results, declared that the court of appeal will not hear the case to pardon Crippen posthumously. The CCRC is a non-departmental public body. It aims to investigate possible miscarriages of justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In Boyne’s book you get the impression that Crippen planned the flight because he suspected Ethel’s involvement in Cora’s disappearance. le Neve never made it clear what really happened. What we cannot doubt though is that these two really loved each other. In her letters, she referred to Hawley as “Hub.” Crippen’s last wish was to be buried with those letters. “It is said that Ethel’s dying wish was that a locket containing a faded likeness of her former lover be placed close to her heart before her coffin was closed.

The torso found under the Crippen house is from a man. This leaves us with the question: what happened to Cora? Nobody knows for sure but it keeps authors’ creative juices flowing. Another aspect of this case is of course, the power of the government. If the prosecution does not prove its charges the defendant must walk free. That should include a posthumous correction and publication.

If you are interested in the forensic aspects of this case, watch this short movie “Executed in Error”  and hear from Dr. John H. Trestrail III what really happened in this case.

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