Monday, 23 January 2012



In 1915, the nation was temporarily transfixed by the 'Brides in the Bath' murders. At a time of such horror on the Western Front, George Joseph Smith's three murders were a talking point.

A man named as Henry Williams was arrested in London and charged with bigamy. After a whirlwind courtship, he had ‘married’ the genteel, Bessie Mundy, in August 1910, taking off within weeks with her savings. Over the next two years, using a variety of aliases, Williams pursued the same course with several women.

Then, in March 1912, perhaps by chance, he met Bessie again and she forgave him unhesitatingly. Off the couple went to Herne Bay where they set up house at 80 The High Street. This time they made wills in each other’s favour. On 10 July 1912, Williams took his wife to the doctor, concerned that she was having epileptic fits. She had not known that she was suffering fits until her husband told her but her husband explained to her that several nights, in bed, she had had a fit.. Three days later, Bessie was found drowned in a small zinc bath in front of the fire. The doctor had no doubt that she had had a fit. The widower arranged the funeral, asking for it to be ‘moderately carried out’ at the cost of seven guineas. The zinc bath, for which he had paid 37 shillings and 6 pence on approval, he returned later to the hardware store. Now affluent with the money from Bessie’s will, he purchased several houses in Bath and opened accounts in several names in various banks.

Two other women suffered a similar fate. First, Alice Burnham married him on 3 November 1913 and, heavily insured, died in a bath in Blackpool eight days later. She had the cheapest possible funeral. Moving on and calling himself John Lloyd, the constant widower met Margaret Lofty, a clergyman’s daughter with little cash but a good insurance prospect. They married on 17 December 1914 and the following evening, in Holloway, shortly after neighbours heard him singing ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ with harmonium accompaniment, she too was found in the bath. It was a too good a story for newspapermen to ignore. The headline ‘Bride’s Tragic Fate’ in the News of the World led Alice Burnham’s suddenly suspicious father to contact the police.

At the Old Bailey, George Joseph Smith, the ‘Brides in the Bath’ murderer, was tried for the murder of Bessie Mundy who had always believed herself to be Mrs Williams. It was demonstrated in court how, by pulling Bessie's heels, he had submerged her in the bath. Found guilty, Smith was executed at Maidstone Gaol on 13 August 1915.

But what has always stuck in my mind is the image of Smith going back to the hardware shop with the bath which he had on approval. How on earth can you buy a bath on approval? How on earth could he bring himself to return it One thing is sure, this second-hand salesman, was avaricious beyond measure. For his victim's coffins, nothing but the cheapest would satisfy him..

And then the business of singing 'Nearer my God to Thee.' This was to suggest that at that moment all was well in the house. Shortly after this Smith went out to buy something at the local shops and then, on his return, he went almost immediately to a neighbour to tell her that his wife had drowned in the bath. Actually, she was dead earlier than this, lying there while he sang the hymn. And was there a grim humour behind his choice of hymn? Or was he just so insensitive that he did not connect the words with the deed?

And just a last question? Were there only three women who suffered in ths way? Smith toured the country, buying goods for his second-hand business. But from 1910 till 1915 did he meet only three gullible women? Does it not seem likely that this undoubted charmer - unprepossessing to look at though he was - attracted more such vulnerable ladies?


  1. You are right Johnnie, there are probably more cheap coffins and other insurance policies George Joseph Smith left behind!

    1. His wife was unaware of what he got up to on his frequent trips away buying stuff for the shop. He moved on from town to town and no doubt met lots of women. He was poorly educated and certainly not much to look at but he did find a number of women whom he simply defrauded. The ones we know of seem to have been left on the shelf and of course, there were fewer men immediately available as this was wartime. But he is one of the great figures of what is sometimes called the Golden Age of English Murder.

  2. It's amazing he managed to get away with it once, never mind three times, or more. How did he have the gall to return the bath? Obviously an out and out rotter!

  3. He amnaged to get away with it partly because women apeared to fall for him, ugly brute though he was. hen there were the frequent name changes and the moving on from place to place, buying second hand items for the shop.
    I'm not sure if it was gall or the overwhelming greed that seems to have been the source of these actions./