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Camden New Journal - By JAMIE WELHAM
Published: 3 January 2008

The Highgate house where bigamist killer George Smith murdered his wife
House where deadly bigamist murdered latest wife in the bath

Family tell what it’s like living in property that was scene of chilling ‘Bride in the bath’ death

THE spooky chill in the bathroom of the Victorian terraced house in Waterlow Road, Highgate, means that it is rarely used by the Smith family who live there.
Jemma Smith was conscious of it as a child, but her mum Rose waited until her daughter was grown up before explaining that the bathroom was once the scene of a grisly murder by one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers.
In a strange coincidence, the murderer shared Jemma’s (admittedly common) surname.
“Brides in the bath” murderer George Joseph Smith, 41, a failed property speculator and estate agent, drowned the third of his three wives in Jemma’s family home. A new book, Lethal Witness, about Bernard Spilsbury, “the father of forensics” on whose evidence Smith was hanged, recounts the episode in graphic detail.
On December 18, 1914, newly married Margaret Lofty died mysteriously in the bathtub of the house, which is just off Highgate Hill.
She had moved into the address the previous day, following a whirlwind romance with George Smith, under the alias John Lloyd. The 38-year-old spinster, like many women before her, fell under his spell. Little did she know that Smith was a serial bigamist who preyed on vulnerable women to fleece them of their money.
The day before she died, the couple called at the house enquiring about renting rooms on the second floor. The landlady Louise Blatch recalled how Smith was particularly interested to know whether there was a bath.
They moved in the same day, and Margaret was escorted to a solicitor to draw up a will. Smith even convinced her to withdraw her savings from the post office.
On the evening of Margaret Lofty’s death, Louise Blatch was in her kitchen. Upstairs, Mrs Lloyd was having a bath. “It was a sound of splashing,” recalled Mrs Blatch. “Then there was a noise as of someone putting wet hands or arms on the side of the bath.”
A few minutes later she heard the harmonium playing in the sitting room – Smith was playing the hymn Nearer My God to Thee.
He then told Mrs Blatch he was popping out to the shops to buy some tomatoes for supper. When he returned 10 minutes later, Smith raised the alarm screaming that his wife was dead.
The infamous room is still a bathroom, but has not seen much use since 1981 when the family moved in.
Jemma, who lives in the house with her mother and brother, said: “My mum always said that we could sense it as children before we knew because we used to complain that the bath was cold. It doesn’t really bother us now. We use the other bathroom instead. The weirdest thing is that Smith used both of my mum’s names, Rose and Williams, as aliases.”
At the inquest, Smith acted the grieving husband and the coroner recorded “accidental death” caused by drowning, probably following an epileptic seizure.
Within a week Smith had cashed a £700 life insurance policy. The incident might have been quickly forgotten but for a newspaper report which was spotted by the father of Alice Burnham who had died in similar circumstances the previous year. He alerted the police who were also contacted by a Mrs Crossley – the landlady of the property in Blackpool where Alice had “drowned” during her honeymoon.
Mrs Crossley had been suspicious of Smith from the outset. Following a lengthy investigation, Smith was arrested and linked to a further “drowning” of Bessie Mundy, where he had used yet another false name, Williams.
It later emerged that Smith had seven other wives, all of whom he had conned out of money with his ruse. It was the evidence of the Home Office pathologist Dr Bernard Spilsbury that finally nailed him. Examining the bodies and the three bathtubs, Spilsbury concluded that the women could not have drowned without foul play.
In June 1915 Smith appeared at the Old Bailey charged with the murders of Bessie Mundy, Alice Burnham and Margaret Lofty. He was unrepentant throughout the trial, ranting: “I’m not a murderer though I may be a bit peculiar.”
Smith was hanged at Maidstone prison.

* Lethal Witness: Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the Honorary Pathologist. By Andrew Rose. Sutton Publishing £19.99

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