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The Magnificent Spilsbury and the case of the Brides in the Bath

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  377 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Bessie Mundy, Alice Burnham and Margaret Lofty are three women with one thing in common. They are spinsters and are desperate to marry. Each woman meets a smooth-talking stranger who promises her a better life. She falls under his spell, and becomes his wife. But marriage soon turns into a terrifying experience. In the dark opening months of the First World War, Britain be ...more
Uncorrected Proof, 292 pages
Published by John Murray (first published March 1st 2010)
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Average rating 3.81  · 
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Leah
Aug 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, true-crime
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...

In 1910, 30-year-old spinster Bessie Mundy was desperate to find a husband. No easy task at a time when young men were heading to the colonies in droves, leaving a surplus of unmarried women behind. Poor Bessie wasn't particularly attractive but she did have the advantage of having an inheritance. A cynic might think this was what attracted handsome, charismatic Henry Williams to her. And when, after making her will in her new husband's
...more
Meaghan
This was excellent. The story of George Joseph Smith's life and crimes is interesting enough by itself (I wrote about him in a guest entry for the blog Executed Today), but Robins also did a good job putting the story in its proper historical context.

Women were supposed to be wives and mothers, and the general belief was that if a girl wasn't married or at least engaged by the time she was in her mid-twenties, there was something wrong with her. It was also very difficult for a single woman to s
...more
Jane
Mar 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed
In June 1915 Britain was at war, and yet a different story filled the front pages of the newspapers and captured the public imagination. The story of the trial of George Smith. He stood accused of marrying a young woman and then drowning her as she bathed. On three occasions.

The three young women were swiftly dubbed “the brides in the bath”, and it is they, not George Smith and not the Magnificent Spilsbury, who are at the heart of this book.

Bessie Mundy. Alice Burnham. Margaret Lofty.

Three ver
...more
Nancy Oakes
As England was heading into and then in the beginning years of World War I, within the short space of three years, three women, all of whom had married George Joseph Smith (who used multiple aliases) died while taking a bath. Each individual death had been legally attributed to natural causes after proper inquests, the doctors finding no evidence of foul play. But early in 1915, Detective Inspector Arthur Neil from the Kentish Town police station was going through his workload and came across an ...more
Gerry
May 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bessie, Alice and Margaret were just three of the women that George Smith, either under his own name or under a variety of aliases, married. But they were the three unlucky ones for they did not survive; others, including the first wife who he kept returning to, were lucky enough to do so.

Blackpool, Bath and Highgate were the locations where Smith settled down, albeit briefly on each occasion, with his new wives. They rented accommodation but Smith always insisted that the rooms they had taken h
...more
Terri
Brought in a charity shop, I picked this book up with the thought of it being a whodunit type murder story. But I was rather surprised to find out that that it was retelling of the real -brides in the bath - murder case back in the early 1900's, back dropped by the tragic Titanic tragedy and WW1. We follow through the three deaths that George Smith committed, Bessie, Alice and Margaret. Each women taking by the appeal of Smith's appearance and smooth ways of talking.

Jane Robins writes British hi
...more
Ali
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I actually picked this book up at a recent bookcrossing meet up here in Birmingham, telling myself grumpily that I didn’t need any more books and I really shouldn’t be taking anything else home with me. Well I am glad I ignored that inner voice – because I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The Magnificent Spilsbury is an enormously readable historical true crime book. Well written and researched it is a truly fascinating page turner. A must for fans of historical murder mysteries and Sherlock Holmes
...more
Rose
Oct 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
In the summer of 1915, the British public experienced a temporary, if morbid, diversion from the horrors of World War I. George Smith, a middle-aged serial bigamist who was accused of drowning three wives for their money between 1912 and 1914, stood trial for murder. The Fleet Street dailies christened it the Brides in the Bath case.

Smith targeted spinsters who were considered past marriageable age. Their gratitude at finding a husband in a world unfriendly to single women weakened their instinc
...more
Sam Woodfield
I reviewed this book for a major book seller pre-release and as a lover of true crime, I really enjoyed it. However, thats not to say that a non-crime fan would not enjoy this read as Robins gives a facinating insight into Britain 100 years ago, and manages to write true crime in a novel-like way making some of the scientific (in the Georgian sense of the word) content much easier to digest.

The lives of Bessie Mundy, Alice Burnham & Margaret Lofty are explored in some depth by Robins, showing th
...more
Josette
Mar 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011-reads
The infamous 'Brides in the Bath' murders of Edwardian England, gripped the country and brought to its attention one Bernard Spilsbury; Home Office pathologist and the 'father of modern forensics'. This book relates the story of the murders, the people involved in bringing the murderer to justice, and the burgeoning role forensic science was beginning to play in criminal trials of the time.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; it's so well written that it reads like a piece of superb detective fiction
...more
Fatatat
Apr 17, 2010 rated it liked it
A well crafted factual rendition of the birth of forensic science in England. The author presents this historical novel jammed full of fact in an easy to read and immensally interesting way with almost no bias or subjectivity, Allowing the readers mind to wander and interpret as they wish.
While reading this book I could easily imagin these events actually happening and found it hard to put down. Captivating
Andrea
Jan 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommended
Historical true crime... dastardly narcissistic and controlling man... women desperate to be married... class revenge... this book has it all. I read it in one day and enjoyed every minute of it. I did like the way the author interspersed the stories of the poor women's lives and deaths with the growth / re-emergence of forensic science in the court's witness box. I thought she re-created the essence of pre-war Britain very well. ...more
Jo
Jan 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The mysterious case of the Brides in the Bath, women who died suddenly after they were wed. Interspersed with a kind of biography of Bernard Spilsbury, the man considered the 'Father of Forensics'. Simply written with little sensationalism, the author presents the facts and explores the advancement of science in crime fighting. Interesting read. ...more
Deanne
Feb 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good factual accoumt of the crimes, the trial and Sir Bernard Spilsbury's involvement. ...more
Robert Hepple
Published first in 2010, 'The Magnificent Spilsbury and the case of the Brides in the Bath' is a true-crime account of a series of murders around 1910-1914 involving, as the title suggests, newlyweds drowned in the bath. The book concentrates on the work of Doctor Spilsbury, an early practitioner of forensic medicine, and a tenacious Police Inspector Neil. Neil recognised the possible link in the deaths due to their similar characteristics, combined with a similar description of the husbands of ...more
Chiara
Jan 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
The book is a very quick and quite informative read.
The author does a great job in setting the scene in which the events took place, and shows how age, gender and class played a great role in this case.

The case of the “wives in the tub” seems to have brought the role of forensic doctors into the spotlight. The evidence presented by an “expert”, especially if said expert seems knowledgeable and can speak in an eloquent but understandable manner, is able to influence the jury greatly - even if i
...more
Irene Fischer
Jun 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was very interesting and I enjoyed reading it. It sort of told of the development of the field of forensic. I was especially intrigued because due to weather I was unable to see the play reenacting the murders of the three women in bathtubs; I am sorry I missed the play. The book also gives a glimpse into the mindset of a cold blooded killer. A fascinating bit if information was that early in the 19th century, in Paris, autopsies were public...and many people went to see them as if the ...more
RA Ratterman
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
The tale of serial killer George Joseph Smith, pathologist Bernard Spilsbury, and the genesis of forensic science is a captivating one. I especially enjoyed the alternationg chapter layout, never a dull moment.
A good historical transcript and overview filled with interesting details and information.
Read for personal research. I found this book's contents helpful and inspiring.
Overall, a good book for the researcher and enthusiast.
Related News Article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/ar...
...more
Cleopatra  Pullen
Mar 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is about Bernard Spilsbury a forensic pathologist whose scientific mind was compared to that of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes through his appearances at murder trials as an expert witness in Edwardian Britain.

As a backdrop to the man himself, Jane Robins retraces the story of three suspected murders known at the time as The Brides In The Bath because in each case the woman in question had been found dead in the bath shortly after being married. In the case of the first two women
...more
robyn
Aug 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a really good read. I can synopsize it in a very few words: a man marries a young woman, insures her life, then drowns her in a bath. Then does it again. And again. Only gets caught because someone, thankfully, notices the very similar stories in a newspaper and alerts the cops.

And the story really is that simple; George Joseph Smith is like a shark, single-mindedly dispatching his prey. And his prey is all of a sort, vulnerable, impressionable young women. They're not in the story for
...more
Damaskcat
Nov 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This marvellously readable book is much more about Bernard Spilsbury’s work than his life. The framework used for it is the chronology of the famous ‘Brides in the Bath’ case in which George Joseph Smith disposed of three of his wives by drowning in order to collect their savings and their life insurance. It is the story of a conman in an age when respectable young women were desperate to marry and have their own homes rather than be left to eke out a miserable and lonely existence in a boarding ...more
Alison C
Mar 04, 2015 rated it liked it
The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath is a non-fiction history by Jane Robins in which she explores the sinister deaths of a string of almost-"spinster" women, mysteriously drowning in rooming house baths within a few days or weeks of marrying. The years involved range from approximately 1908 to 1915, the places primarily the seaside towns of England, and the individual involved in all the cases was the multiple-aliased George Joseph Smith (aka Henry Williams aka John ...more
Caroline
Jul 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book charts one of the most famous murder cases of the era George Orwell called 'our great era in murder', roughly 1850 to 1925 - the Brides in the Bath. I had heard of this case before, but I didn't know very much about it. I certainly didn't know the extent of George Smith's victimisation of women, the number he had married and abandoned, not just murdered.

Robins intersperses each chapter narrating the course of Smith's crimes with a chapter about Bernard Spilsbury and his evolution into
...more
Anne
Feb 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
This non-fiction book tells fascinating story of the 'real life' Sherlock Holmes - Dr Bernard Spilsbury, and how forensic science emerged into the world of the police. Jane Robins is a writer and journalist.

The Brides In The Bath case fascinated the whole of England and the book covers each case in detail. It is fascinating to read of how these women all fell under the spell of one clever con-man and how unmarried women of those times were so desperate to become wives that they all gave up their
...more
Jenn
Sep 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
When I was 14 I received the Geography Prize for my year, and for some unbenown reason I chose `Famous Murders' as my prize book. This included the infamous `Brides in the Bath' case, and I remember being transfixed and appalled in goulish fascination.

Well, I still am transfixed and appalled, but Jane Robins' very readable book puts the case in context at least. In describing the `Brides' she changes them from being merely victims to real people, vulnerable women desperate to marry in a society
...more
Dawn
Jan 15, 2012 rated it liked it
I bought this book at The Secret Book & Record Store in Wicklow Street, Dublin to soothe my crime drama appetite in the days leading up to the new season of Sherlock on BBC. I was roped in by the promise of a face-off between a dastardly Edwardian serial killer and a founding father of forensic science, the "real life Sherlock Holmes," Sir Bernard Spilsbury. It's a swift and solidly entertaining read, but it lacks the energy and allure of Erik Larson's Thunderstruck. The difference is that Jane ...more
Lisa
Sep 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'd heard of this book in a Financial Times review years ago and finally bought it online from a UK bookseller since I couldn't get it in the US. It was too quick a read. I enjoyed the alternating chapters between true crime from 1914 and the beginning of forensic science. I also liked the way the author developed the social environment of the times, describing women's rights and social systems in England at the time. It was entertaining and I learned a lot. I've already recommended it to others ...more
Helen
Mar 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read, featuring crimes very much of their time. I already knew of 'the Brides in the Bath', but it was good to get some in-depth background on the cases, and to ponder what motivated Smith, and the poor women who were fooled by his dubious charms. Made me very grateful to be a woman in the 21st century, and not around in the early 20th century! ...more
T.A.
Mar 27, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I chose this as I wanted to know more about the start of forensic science but there was far to much detail about what was happening elsewhere in world events and what was excepted of women in those days. I personally found this distracting from the crimes themselves and didn't enhance the book in anyway. ...more
Desiree
Feb 13, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
Interesting. The behind-the-scenes of early 20th century forensics, and though it is a report on real facts, it is writting in such a way as to be very captivating and interesting. Definitely a book to read
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Jane Robins began her career as a journalist with The Economist, The Independent, and the BBC. She has made a specialty of writing historical true crime and has a particular interest in the history of forensics. She has published three books of nonfiction in the UK, Rebel Queen (Simon & Schuster, 2006), The Magnificent Spilsbury (John Murray, 2010), and The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams (John Mur ...more

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