You may be familiar with a brief film sequence of four people cavorting eerily in a suburban garden, which is now thought to be the first moving image ever shot. It was taken on a Sunday afternoon in October 1888 by a French inventor called Louis Le Prince in, of all unlikely places, the Leeds suburb of Roundhay. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth catching on YouTube, together with two other brief snatches from the same time of horse-drawn wagons crossing Leeds Bridge and Le Prince’s teenage son Adolphe playing the melodeon.
If his name is now obscure it is because within two years Le Prince had disappeared, his invention, which he was in the process of patenting, subsequently being patented by Thomas Edison. What happened to him has long been conjectured. He apparently disappeared after getting on a train to Paris following a visit to his brother Albert in Dijon, but his body was never found, either on the railway line or in the Seine. His wife, Lizzie, believed Edison was implicated in his murder – the Wizard of Menlo Park was probably ruthless enough – but Paul Fischer has come up with an altogether more intriguing, though prosaic, solution. His biography of Le Prince is not the first, but it is entertainingly written and tells with clarity the story of how he coaxed the first moving images on celluloid film through a projector.
All three of these true crime stories relate to figures who were eminent in their day but are now largely forgotten. Their deaths came within the space of just a few years, surrounded not so much by mystery as by intrigue. Perhaps that is the reason why each of