Lil Hawthorne was an American singer and comedienne, born in 1877. After various childhood acting roles she headed for the variety stage, aged fourteen, as one of the Three Sisters Hawthorne. There was a fashion for ‘sister’ acts at the time but, unlike many, the Hawthornes were three real sisters. They came to London from New York and in June 1898 the Music Hall and Theatre Review enthusiatically proclaimed they achieved ‘an instantaneous success’. One of their successes was in an operetta The Willow Pattern Plate performed at the Oxford, the Tivoli and the Pavilion – all London halls.
Despite their popularity, two of the sisters returned to America while Lil tried her luck as a solo performer. In 1900 she was starring on the Moss and Thornton circuit travelling to South Shields, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Evening Dispatch described her as ‘the original warbler of several world-known medleys’ adding that she had a sweet voice with due regard for modulation. Sweet Rosie O’ Grady was her most popular song with another favourite being I’ll be your Sweetheart, a song my grandmother sang after a glass or two of Guinness. Reviews suggested she marked a step forward in the entertainment of the music hall, being both charming and refined. The owners of the halls were struggling to cast off their less than savoury image and Lil appealed to their vision of the future. She was also a popular principal boy in pantomime for some years.
In 1899 Lil married John Nash who became her manager and they later became involved in the case of Dr Crippen and Belle Elmore, an aspiring music hall performer but with little talent. Lil Hawthorne and Belle Elmore were both members of the Music Hall Ladies’ Guild where Belle was treasurer. They became friends and the two couples would visit one another and dine together. The Nashes were visiting America when Crippen’s secretary, Ethel Le Neve, visited Melinda May, secretary of the Ladies Guild and gave her a letter. The letter was written by Dr Crippen saying that Belle had gone to America owing to the illness of some relatives and that a new treasurer should be elected for a few months. Nothing was received from Belle herself.
On their return Lil Hawthorne and her husband were told the story of Belle’s illness and death in America. They were worried by the turn of events and John Nash tried, unsuccessfully, to find out where Belle had died and where she was cremated. By this time Ethel Le Neve had moved into the Crippen’s house and was wearing some of Belle’s jewellery. Others in the music hall world were worried and Vulcana, the strongwoman, had approached the police with her fears. John Nash talked to Crippen and was so disturbed he took a taxi straight to Scotland Yard.
Dr Crippen and Ethel Le Neve were arrested en route to Canada on an ocean liner with Ethel Le Neve dressed as a boy. They were posing as father and son but aroused suspicion and the newly invented telegraph was used to relay the information to Scotland Yard. Human remains were found buried in the basement of 39 Hilldrop Crescent, the Crippen’s home. Crippen was found guilty and given the death sentence while Ethel Le Neve was exonerated. Lil Hawthorne and John Nash gave evidence at the trial in 1910 and in 1911 the Treasury authorised payment to them of £100 to cover expenses incurred and loss of earnings. A few years later they moved to America where Lil Hawthorne died of heart problems in 1926, aged forty-nine.
Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and the Monomania collection.