Last night at meeting for members of Alumnae Theatre Company, The Drowning Girls director Taryn Jorgenson gave us a look behind the play, as it were. The juicy murder case known as “The Brides in the Bath” was so sensational in its day, it was more reported on than the news of World War I. Yet the crimes of George Joseph Smith were only discovered after his third victim was found drowned in a bathtub – it was the first time that crimes had been linked (as is common nowadays with serial killers), and forensic pathology used to solve them.
George Joseph Smith (born 1872) called himself George Love when he married 18-year old Caroline Thornhill in1898 – his only legitimate marriage. After the bread shop he owned went bankrupt, George sent his wife to work as a maidservant, and encouraged her to steal from her employers. She was caught and went to prison; George disappeared.
Over the next few years – still legally married to Caroline! – he married three women under different aliases, and swindled them out of their money. In total, Smith had seven bigamous marriages between 1908 and 1914. Three of the marriages resulted in murder, and those are the stories told in the play The Drowning Girls.
In 1910, George (calling himself Henry Williams) married Bessie Mundy. He persuaded her to sign over an inheritance to him, then left her – accusing her of infecting him with “the bad disorder” (Bessie relates this incident in the play). But when she unexpectedly saw her “missing” husband by chance, some 18 months later, she forgave him! He managed to set up the circumstances and drown her in the bathtub very shortly after.
Just over a year later, in 1913, George Smith married Alice Burnham. (Alice is the second bride in The Drowning Girls.) Less than a month after their wedding, he again had taken her money and drowned her in a bathtub.
In 1914, Smith (using the alias John Lloyd), married Margaret Lofty, a spinster in her late 30’s. Using similar techniques as for his previous two victims, he swindled and drowned unlucky Bride #3. In a town called Bath – how’s that for irony? The father of Alice Burnham (Bride #2), noticed a newspaper story about Margaret, and was suspicious because of the similarities to his own daughter’s death a year earlier. He asked Scotland Yard to investigate. DUN-Dun-DDUUUN!
Tune in tomorrow for Part II…