On January 11, 1872, George Joseph Smith was born in Bethnal Green, London, as the son of an insurance agent. Smith attended a reformatory school and by age nine was serving time for theft and swindling. In his early twenties, he was imprisoned for 12 months after persuading a woman to steel from her place of employment; he opened a bakery using the funds he acquired from this. Under an alias, Oliver George Love, Smith began his only legal marriage, to Caroline Beatrice Thornhill. While married, she worked as a maid until she was caught for stealing (for Smith) and sentenced to 12 months in prison. Upon her release, she incriminated him and he spent two years in prison. Thornhill fled to Canada when Smith was released from prison, while he returned to another woman, with whom he had a bigamist marriage the year after marrying Thornhill, cleared her savings and abandoned her (Wikipedia).
Smith married again, in 1908, to the widow Florence Wilson; within a month he stole the modern-day equivalent of £3,000 and left her to marry again. He met Edith Peglar when she answered an ad for a housekeeper. During their marriage, he claimed to be selling antiques in other cities and disappeared for months at a time, but always returned to Peglar with money even through his other marriages. In 1909 he married again under the name George Rose Smith to a Sarah Freeman. Like with Wilson, he took approximately £400 from her by emptying her savings and selling all of her war bonds, before taking off on her. After Freeman, he married three more women: Bessie Mundy, Alice Burnham, and Alice Reid. He was in a total of seven bigamous marriages from 1908 to 1914, but most of these marriages he left after taking his wives’ belonging and getting what money he could from them (Wikipedia).
Three of his wives died in similar manners; Bessie in 1912 and Alice in 1913. Margaret Elizabeth Lofty, his final wife, was found dead in her bathtub in Highgate in December of 1914. The investigators were under the same impression that it was nearly impossible to drown in your bath tub accidentally (Blanco).
Bessie was found dead in her bath tub on the 13th of July, 1912, shortly after she had written up a will that left £2,579, 13 shillings and 7 pence to her husband Henry Williams, which was of course, George Joseph Smith. While Smith was questioned in her death, the doctor who examined her, Dr. Frank French, felt that she had an epileptic fit that resulted in her untimely demise (Blanco). Before her death, Smith had convinced her that she had been having epileptic fits and brought her to Dr. French, whom he told that Bessie had been having said fits and coming to with no memory of them. This was likely a preemptive act to cast reasonable doubt that he could have been involved in her death (John 2018). When put to a jury, Dr. French was found to be trustworthy enough on his statements on her death, including that he saw no signs of a struggle on her body, and the jury felt no need to request a post-mortem examination. The jury voted “death by misadventure” and Smith was not charged (Blanco).
Despite the fact that Alice Burnham’s father felt his daughter’s fiancé had an “evil appearance,” Smith married Alice. On December 12, 1913, Alice went to have a bath at the home they were living in and was later found dead in the bath tub. The official cause of death was accidental drowning caused by having heart failure while in the bath. Alice’s life had been insured before her death for £500, which would be paid out to Smith (Blanco).
For Smith’s final wife, Margaret Elizabeth Lofty, life insurance was involved in the signing of her death warrant just as it had been for Alice the year before. Under the alias John Lloyd, Smith found rooms for himself and Margaret in Highgate, London, where she would later die under questionable circumstances just as his previous wives had. Margaret had a will made up naming her husband as her main beneficiary should she die before him, on December 18, 1914. That same evening, Smith left to “get some tomatoes” to make her dinner, as he told the owner of the house, while she was taking a bath. Upon returning home, he made a show of finding her dead in the bath tub (Blanco). The two had been married for less than 24 hours when Smith set his deadly deeds into action (John 2018). While the inquest of her death didn’t take place until the 1st of January, 1915, the cause of death was still reported as accidental just as it had been for his previous wives. Smith was known to have told the underkeeper at her funeral that he wanted the services over with as soon as possible, and attendees claimed to have heard him stating “Thank goodness, that’s all over” when the services came to an end (Blanco). Later, the landlady of the home the two had been in would claim she heard a struggle, as well as a hymn, “Nearer My God to Thee” being played from the rooms the two were in (John 2018).
The Metropolitan Police received a letter from Joseph Crossley, who co-owned the home Alice died in (John 2018), on January 3, 1915, with the newspaper article about Margaret’s death. Crossley reported to the police that her death bore a striking resemblance to the death of Alice Smith a year earlier; this letter eventually led to the end for George Joseph Smith. Police began to investigate Smith and discovered his many marriages, as well as the death of Bessie as well (Blanco). On top of the sham marriages, the doctor who examined Margaret’s body, Dr. Bates, informed the police that he had been called by an insurance company shortly after her death. The company was from Yorkshire; it was the company she had her life insurance policy through. It entitled her husband, as sole beneficiary, to £700, which would be approximately £50,000 today. In hopes to catch her husband, the investigator in charge of her case, Divisional Detective Inspector Arthur Neil asked Dr. Bates to send a report to the insurance company that would result in a payout. All the police had to do was wait until Smith showed up to retrieve his money (John 2018). Smith was stopped by Inspector Neil on February 1, 1915, and on the 8th was remanded until the 15th. Initially, Smith was charged with his bigamous marriages, as entering into a marriage under false pretenses is a crime, while the police continued to investigate the deaths of his wives (Blanco).
On March 23, 1915, Smith was charged with the murders of his wives, Alice, Margaret, and Bessie. He was found guilty after going to trial and sentenced to death. His execution took place on August 13, 1915 (Blanco).
“George Joseph Smith.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Joseph_Smith.
Blanco, Juan Ignacio. “George Joseph Smith: Murderpedia, the Encyclopedia of Murderers.” George Joseph Smith | Murderpedia, the Encyclopedia of Murderers, murderpedia.org/male.S/s/smith-george-joseph.htm.
John, Adam. “George Joseph Smith and the Notorious ‘Brides in the Bath’ Murders.” Kentlive, 17 Feb. 2018, http://www.kentlive.news/news/kent-news/george-joseph-smith-notorious-brides-1219108.