H.G. Kendall was captain of the ocean liner S.S. Montrose, which ferried goods and passengers between Europe and Canada. When he was in port, the good captain enjoyed keeping up on current events, and like many others before and since, he found the crime news of particular interest. In 1910, Captain Kendall's taste in reporting would leave him with a remarkable tale to tell.
In late July of that year, as the Montrose set sail for Quebec, Captain Kendall glanced out the porthole of his cabin and noticed something strange. Two men, both passengers, had secreted themselves behind one of the lifeboats, and they --- they were holding, squeezing, one another's hands. His curiosity aroused, the captain decided to take a stroll along the boat deck to more closely examine the pair and managed to strike up a conversation.
And what a funny-looking pair they were. The elder man, who said his name was Robinson, was not wearing spectacles, but the captain could see the tell-tale signs that said he usually wore them. In addition the older man had clearly shaved off a moustache and decided to grow a beard. The younger man said very little and coughed a lot. "My boy has a weak chest," explained Mr. Robinson, "and I'm taking him to California for his health."
Father and son? Holding hands? And what of this change in appearance? The captain -- remembering something he'd read recently in the Continental Daily Mail -- excused himself, returned to his cabin, and scrounged up a copy of the newspaper.
And there was the story replete with photographs of Scotland Yard's desperate search for a pair of fugitives. The first: a 50-year-old male sporting a moustache and spectacles; the second: a slim, pale woman. The cause: they were wanted in connection with a bloody murder.
Kendall took as his first order of business a surreptitious search of the Robinsons' cabin. The first clew he found was a boy's felt hat -- which had been stuffed 'round the brim to make it fit a smaller head. The second clew was a woman's bodice.
The captain then abandoned the search in favor of direct observation. He found the mystery pair lunching in the dining saloon and noted the Robinson boy's table manners were remarably ladylike. Over the next couple of days, he continued his surveillance, noting with due alarm that Mr. Robinson carried a revolver. Even so, the brave captain often sidled up to the suspicious passengers for the purpose of engaging in chitchat.
On one occasion, the captain would later recall, Mr. Robinson noticed the wireless antenna on top of the ship and the clickety clackety of Marconi's new contraption. What a wonderful invention, Robinson declared.
He might not have expressed quite that sentiment had he known that the captain, just before steaming out of range of the land-based transmitters, had communicated several anxious messages to the mainland: Have strong suspicions that... murderer and accomplice are among saloon passengers.... Accomplice dressed as a boy; voice, manner, and build undoubtedly a girl.
A wait of several days ensued during which the Montrose was out of range of wireless communication. Then the captain received the dispatch he was hoping for.
On the last night aboard the Montrose, Captain Kendall invited Mr. Robinson to join him the following day to greet the small boat pilots who would meet them when the Montrose reached the St. Lawrence River.
The following morning, the captain introduced his passenger to a pilot who had boarded the vessel. The pilot reached for the hand of Mr. Robinson and said -- "Good morning, Doctor Crippen. Do you know me? I'm Inspector Dew from Scotland Yard."
After a stunned pause, Dr. Crippen saw that the gig was up. "Thank God it's over. The suspense has been too great. I couldn't stand it any longer."
Once again he'd made a statement that in hindsight was a foolish thing to say -- for Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen was executed within the year. His crime: he murdered his wife and chopped up her remains. He disposed of her head and bones and buried her fleshy parts in the basement of their London home. But her suspicious friends grew increasingly impatient with his circumlocutions about where she'd gone. When police unearthed her remains such as they were Crippen and his mistress Ethel Le Neve fled the country -- only to be caught in Captain Kendall's net.
Kendall's eyewitness account of his discovery of Crippen and his mistress was originally printed in Scrapbook 1900-1914 by Leslie Bailey and was reprinted in Eyewitness to History by John Carey (ed.) (Avon Books 1987) -- published in Great Britain as The Faber Book of Reportage. For more details about Dr. Crippen and his crime see the summary of the case by the Metropolitan Police Service.