As a culture, we love the idea of love. Stories like Romeo and Juliet, romantic comedies, tales of tragedy and triumph in the name of that most blessed emotion, all seem to strike a chord. But we must always remember that love can also make us do foolish things.
The tale of Ernest and Helga’s runaway marriage is one that we’ve heard many times. A Father denies permission to marry, so the couple must run away if they want to be together. We’d like to believe that they lived happily ever after, but unfortunately, this is not that kind of story.
It was a cold October day in the Scottish highlands. Well, technically Edinburgh, but as close to a highland getaway as Ernest and Helga were going to get considering the circumstances. They had only known each other a few weeks, but they were in love. So in love, in fact, that they were making the ultimate commitment to one another that Friday: Ernest and Helga were getting married.
Helga was a country girl, from a rich family. Her father, Helmut, was an old-fashioned kind of man and Helga’s sheltered existence left very little room for finding love. Helga’s days were spent feeding the farm animals and pining for a love she feared she may never know. Then, one day, she decided to respond to a lonely hearts advertisement she saw in the paper.
After three weeks of communication, Ernest, who originally came from Holland, decided it was time that he and Helga got serious. He traveled to Helmut’s farm with the intention of asking him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Charming and intelligent, Ernest seemed like a fine match for his little girl, but Helmut suggested they wait until Christmas.
Helmut Konrad wanted to take the measure of Ernest’s true intentions and to assess whether or not he could provide for his daughter. But young hearts are hard to tame. Helmut’s refusal to grant permission right away drove the 21 and 18-year-olds to do the one thing they could do: elope. Ernest and Helga left in the dead of night and headed to Edinburgh, Scotland to be married.
Three Weeks’ Rent
The couple arrived in Edinburgh and discovered the charming lodgings at 9 Torphichen Street. The place was owned by a kindly, elderly man named Herbert Wood. As soon as they arrived Herbert could see how in love the two were. They paid him three weeks’ rent in advance, and before long had applied to be married in a Scottish registrar’s office.
The soon to be newlyweds became pretty close to Herbert Wood and his wife during the course of their time there. The Woods were even asked to act as witnesses to the wedding in the coming days. On Friday October 13, Mr. and Mrs. Wood witnessed the wedding and even joined the couple for drinks and a meal afterwards….
As they sat and ate together, Helga spoke of their plans for afterwards. She explained that Ernest’s plan was to become a financial adviser and she would in turn become his secretary. She explained that she’d run away from her parent’s farm in Germany and that due to her father’s intransigence, she had no intention of ever returning home.
An Evening Stroll
When the meal was done, the four of them returned back to 9 Torphichen Street. Ernest and Helga said thank you and goodnight, and returned to their room. A few hours later, Mr. Wood heard them coming down the stairs and out the front door. He couldn’t understand: where could the newlyweds be going?
The couple didn’t return right away and the Woods went to bed. Then, Herbert was awoken in the early hours of the morning by a knock at the door. He opened it to find a dazed looking Ernest Dumoulin covered in mud, his right arm bandaged, and flanked by two police officers. His bride was nowhere to be seen.
Body on the Crags
Earlier that night, a merchant seaman strolling along the foot of Salisbury Crags, had noticed something in the rocks. When he came forward to identify what it was, he found that it was the body of a young woman. She looked to be about 18-years old.
Looking for Help
He called the police, who arrived on the scene and discovered the body. Before they could investigate further, they encountered Ernest,running down the path looking for help. He confirmed the truth, the body in question did indeed belong to Helga Dumoulin and that they had only been married for a few hours.
He explained that the reason they had left after the wedding was in order to go to Salisbury Crags to watch the lights of Edinburgh. As they climbed up the crags, Helga lost her footing and slipped. There was nothing that Ernest could do but watch as his new wife fell to her death. Pretty soon the sad story spread throughout Edinburgh.
At the time of the report, there was no evidence to contradict Ernest Dumoulin’s account of events. It was sad, but accidents happen. Dumoulin was not arrested and after cleaning himself up, spent the night alone in what would have been his and Helga’s honeymoon suite. He sat by himself for the next day, playing the haunting theme of the blockbuster film, Love Story, over and over again.
A Country Weeps
Initially the general public were heartbroken for the young man. On the following Monday, detectives arrived at the house and took him in for questioning. It was procedure after all. Herbert Wood took the opportunity as a chance to straighten up in Ernest’s room. As he dusted and cleaned up, he discovered a rather unusual piece of paper.
Sitting on the table in the room was an ominous piece of paper that described a £412,368 life insurance police for Helga Dumoulin. The policy had apparently been taken out the day before Helga died. Herbert couldn’t believe it. Ernest had seemed like such a nice young man, and so genuinely in love. Still, he knew what he had to do, he took the paperwork straight to the police.
The police decided to err on the side of caution and keep Dumoulin in custody while they investigated the obvious import of this new information. They went to the local office of Hambro Life Assurance and confirmed that not only had he taken the policy out the day before the wedding, but that Dumoulin had tried to claim the policy the morning after Helga had been found on the rocks.
It was clear that Ernest Dumoulin had conspired to murder his new bride, now they just had to find out why. An extensive background check found that Dumoulin was a failed financial adviser in Germany who turned to running small cons to make a living. He met Helga through the Lonely Hearts ad and knew immediately that the lonesome daughter of a rich farmer was the perfect mark for a lucrative new scheme.
Dumoulin had pushed Helga every step of the way, even going so far as to engineer their eloping to Edinburgh. He convinced her to withdraw the money from her savings and when they arrived in Scotland, used his financial know-how to obtain a £10,000 credit towards a number of insurance policies in Helga’s name.
No Sign of a Fall
Dumoulin denied all accusations and continued insisting that Helga had slipped and fallen from the cliff. Unfortunately for him, forensic experts noted there were very few scrapes and bruises on Helga’s body. She couldn’t have slipped, she would have had to be pushed. Then he tried to say they had fought and he pushed her in self defense. Obviously, no one bought this story either.
The jury felt convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that Ernest Dumoulin had killed his wife in an attempt to collect the insurance money. He was sentenced to life in prison.