Alice Burnham. Died 12/12/1913
In the eerie glow of a Bobby’s lantern a cheaply made coffin was raised slowly from its penultimate resting place.
This was the second of three disinterments requested by detectives in the February of 1915. The cadaver of 25-year-old nurse Alice Burnham (of ‘Brides in the Bath’ infamy) was removed from her Blackpool grave as local police exhumed her body for a further post-mortem.
Anyone who follows my posts should know I have an inexplicable affection for Alice and I often spend time at her unmarked grass grave.
Alice, a bonny young woman from Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire was the daughter of a coal merchant, she was a devout Baptist and somewhat ambitious for a lady of that time, after taking up teaching ( but failing her final exams) she went on to become a nursery governess before embarking on a career in general nursing.
A subsequent move to Southsea to privately nurse an elderly invalid left Alice with an abundance of savings but a deficit of affection as she was isolated from family and friends.
How her heart must have soared when a dapper chap named George came along and professed to be utterly bewitched by her.
George Smith was very much a product of the late Victorian period, arrogant and self important. In spite of this he went on to bigamously marry a string of women, leaving them with broken hearts and empty purses.
Far from being the gentleman of good character he presented himself to be, he had in fact first been incarcerated at the tender age of nine, where he resided in a reformatory until he reached 16.
By 1910 Smith had changed his modus operandi, leaving destitute women in his wake wasn’t enough anymore and he began his nefarious career as the villain in The Brides in the Bath saga.
Smith, in the role of a loving husband, would whisk his new wife off to a seaside honeymoon, insisting on accommodation with a bath tub. After convincing his spouse to bathe he would approach her as she reclined in the water. Suspecting nothing of his evil intentions they were caught by surprise as he stooped over the bath and deftly slid an arm under their knees, or grabbed at their ankles before swiftly lifting their legs.
On Tuesday 4th November 1913, Alice became Mrs George Smith, she married a man she knew little about which caused a rift between herself and her family.
The following month Alice was thrilled to be whisked off on honeymoon by Smith and on the 9th of December they arrived in Blackpool. The newlyweds marveled at the Blackpool Tower as they walked the short distance to their boarding house.
After inspecting their accommodation George deemed it unsuitable, informing the landlady his wife required the use of a bathtub, luckily for him (but not so for Alice) their host was able to recommend a property at 16 Regent Road.
The couple took the room at Regent Rd, paying a ten shilling deposit to secure their booking. During a brief chat with the owner, Margaret Crossley, Smith complained his wife was suffering from terrible headaches. Mrs Crossley recommended he took Alice to visit her doctor.
Dr Billing was a registered medical practitioner at 121 Church Street, Blackpool, personal physician to the Mayors of Blackpool and the towns pathologist. His name might have been lost in history if it wasn’t for his involvement with the murders, for Doctor Billing examined Mrs Alice Smith ( née Alice Burnham) not once but twice, both in life and posthumously!
At the insistence of her villainous husband Alice was taken for a consultation with the good doctor, where Billing noted “She was a short, pale woman and extremely fat. I examined her tongue which was rather foul, dirty and coated, I believe she was suffering from nothing more than constipation.”
Just after 8pm on the 12th of December, as Alice took a bath, the Crossleys became aware of water dripping through the kitchen ceiling. Her husband was heard calling down the stairs “My wife cannot speak to me – go for the doctor!”
Sadly their next meeting was to be at the Smiths Regent Road lodgings, where Dr Billing had the unenviable job of freeing the body of Alice from the confines of the tub she had been drowned in.
The following day, after a thorough post-mortem examination, he ruled her passing as an unfortunate misadventure and it was recorded as accidental death due to drowning.
(In a strange twist of fate Alice & Dr Billing are buried just yards apart in Layton Cemetery.)
George Smith became a victim of his own success, for once he had seemingly gotten away with uxoricide his hubris and greed drove him to commit the atrocity again and again.
Were it not for a newspaper report ( regarding Margaret Lofty’s watery demise) read with great interest by both the Crossleys of Regent Road and the Father of Alice Burnham, who knows how many other brides may have ended up penniless and lifeless at the hands of the evil Smith.
Mr Burnham couldn’t help but notice that Margaret’s death was suspiciously similar to that of his daughter’s and alerted the police. Mrs Crossley’s son had also written to Scotland Yard voicing his suspicions, including within a periodical clipping he’d saved regarding Alice Burnhams death. Smith was subsequently arrested in February 1915, as he visited his solicitor to discuss his claim on Margaret Lofty’s will.
Smith’s trial was one of the most sensational of the 20th century, the public was so fascinated by Smith’s crimes that for many decades an effigy of him stood in Madame Tussauds’ Chamber Of Horrors. The bath from Regent Road is exhibited in the Black Museum at Scotland Yard.
Bessie Mundy, Alice Burnham and Margaret Lofty finally had their day when In August 1915, Smith was hanged at Maidstone Prison for their murders. He was in fact only tried for for the murder of Bessie Williams in accordance with English law, but the prosecution used the deaths of the other two wives to establish the pattern of Smith’s crimes. All of the women were slain simply for financial gain.
He killed three innocent women, who were desperate for love but were met instead with cruel and untimely deaths.
The lovely Alice was laid to rest in Layton Cemetery, Blackpool, in a paupers grave.
6 thoughts on “The Abominable Ablutions of Alice”
Once again a fabulous and very sad story Deborah, but also very informative and extremely well put together.Many congratulations from me xx
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Thank you so much!
Brilliant local history Deborah.
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Thank you, Alice’s story is what first compelled me to write about local crime.
What an equally horrendous but fascinating slice of dark history, superbly researched and thoroughly well written as always, thank you for sharing them with us.
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Thank you ♥️