I do not believe Elizabeth Stride(above) was murdered by Jack the Ripper. But that begs the questions, if not “The Ripper”, then who and why was “Long Liz Stride” murdered? Well, I believe the motive for the murder was that Elizabeth Gustafsdotter was a liar. She lied about every detail of her life, and often to no advantage other than obfuscation. She claimed to have given birth to nine children. She had none. She claimed to clean house for a wealthy West End family. She occasionally cleaned rooms in a doss house. She claimed to have been brought to England by a wealthy man. She was a common prostitute in Sweden before London. But Elizabeth was a handsome woman, with light gray eyes, dark brown curly hair, a pale complexion. and a kind and gentle manner when she was sober - all of which made her lies easier to believe.
Her favorite lies were that her husband and children had drown in the 1878 sinking of the “Princess Alice” (above), and that she had been born with a cleft palate. Her husband – John Thomas Stride - actually died of a heart attack in 1881 – at least six years after they separated. During her autopsy, doctors made a special examination of the roof of her mouth, and found no cleft. Being in a relationship with such a liar is exhausting for a sober man or woman. A romantic might want to believe, but the longer it takes for the veil over their eyes to fall away, the greater their anger at the liar.
The truth is Elizabeth had been a domestic servant since she was 17 years old, and since 1862 employed by Mr. Lars Frederick Olafson, in the port of Gothenburg, Sweden (above). Abruptly, in March of 1865, Elizabeth Gustafsdotter registered as a prostitute, had the first of several treatments for venereal desease and in April she gave birth to a still born girl. In July of 1866 Elizabeth moved to London, settling, as most poor immigrants did, in the poverty plagued East End.
When the 26 year old married John Stride in March of 1869, Elizabeth (above in 1872) probably did so as his partner in managing a coffee shop in Poplar (above), near the new East India docks. The two partnered in several coffee shops until 1875, about the same time they parted ways.
What Elizabeth did and where she lived for the next six years is a mystery, but my guess is she was a full time prostitute in one of the hundreds of legal Whitechapel bordellos (above), probably under one of her pseudonyms. The three we know of were Annie Morris, Wally Warden and Annie Fitzgerald.
Then, probably in the fall of 1881, Liz got sick enough she could no longer work. At the end of December she was treated for bronchitis in the Whitechapel infirmary. In January of 1882 she moved into the Workhouse. Later that year she began living “off and on” at a doss house at 32 Flower and Dean Street (above). The following year, for the first time, she moved in with Micheal Kidney.
Iin 1888, the 36 year old Micheal Kidney (above) was 9 years younger than the then 45 year old Elizabeth Stride. He was a dock worker, living at 38 Dorset Street. The job required a strong back and a willing mind. But it was not full time employment for Micheal. He suffered from “lombago” and was an alcoholic, perhaps as self medication for his back pain. But whatever the justification, excessive alcohol consumption gave him something in common with Long Liz Stride. The record does not mark Micheal as a particularly violent man, drunk or sober. I don't believe he beat Elizabeth Stride. But she was a loud and often abusive violent drunk. And with Elizabeth at least a part time prostitute, the couple were not sexually exclusive. But it seems Micheal Kidney wanted to believe they were emotionally exclusive.
The only record we have of how Micheal Kidney felt about Elizabeth was what he said at her inquest. When asked about the many times she left him, Micheal said, “She always returned without me going after her. I think she liked me better than any other man." He added, “I treated her the same as I would a wife.” As to the last time he had seen her, the week of her death, Micheal insisted, “I do not believe she left me on Tuesday to take up with any other man.” . The newspapers described him as “morose”, “rough-spoken” and occasionally “incoherent” after her death - which might be another way of describing an harassed man in mourning.
But like a man waking up from a bad dream, Micheal also displayed at the inquest a belated recognition of Elizabeth's faults. When asked if she was Swedish, Micheal said , “She told me she was a Swede...She said she was born 3 miles from Stockholm...but I have grave doubts about that.” He testified that “She told me she was a widow”, and that “She told me” the couple ran a coffee house. He knew Elizabeth was a constant liar. But he wanted to believe her. But what or who was it that awakened Micheal Kidney to reality?
His name was Isreal Schwartz. He was a recent immigrant, an Hungarian Jew, who spoke very little English. He worked in the Yiddish Theater at the Pavilion on Commercial Road (above). With his wife and 2 children, Isreal had lived on Berner Street until that Saturday, 29 September, 1888. While he worked that night his wife had moved the family to their new apartment at 22 Back Church Lane, which was one block to the west. And forty-five minutes into that chilly Sunday morning, 30 September, Isreal Schwartz walked down Commercial Street and decided to check the Berner Street address, to see if his family needed help. They were already gone, but because of his choice, Isreal Schwartz walked straight into the murder.
As he approached the open gate beside the International Working Men's Educational Institute at 40 Berner Street, Isreal saw a woman standing just inside the gateway to Dutfield's Yard. A man stopped and spoke to her. The man then grabbed the woman. She called out. The man turned the woman around, with her back to him. She called out again. The man shoved her to the ground, back inside the yard.
Mr. Schwartz crossed away from the confrontation, to the east side of Berner Street. But within a few steps he heard more noises (shouting?). He turned to look, but a man smoking a pipe suddenly stepped out of the dark and shouted something, startling Mr. Schwartz. The man who had attacked the woman now pointed at Mr. Schwartz and shouted something that might have been “Lipski”. Isreal Schwartz broke into a run, heading south on Berner Street, being chased by all the horrors of the pogroms and Whitechapel anti-semiticism until he found shelter under the railroad aqueduct arches. When he felt safe he headed to the new apartment.
Less than ten minutes after Isreal saw this woman pushed to the ground, Elizabeth Stride would be found on the same spot, with her throat slashed. I believe the woman Isreal Schwartz saw attacked was Liz Stride. And the noises that caused Isreal to look back were, I think, a killer venting his rage at the woman as he cut her throat. Schwartz described the attacker as about 30 years old, about 5 feet 5 inches tall, with broad shoulders. He had a fair complexion, dark hair and a small brown mustache. At the time investigators thought Isreal Swartz was a reliable eye witness. But what does that mean?
Doubts have been raised about eye witness reliability since Hugo Munsterberg's 1907 book “On the Witness Stand.” Yale Professor Edwin Borchard identified false eyewitness memory as the leading cause of wrongful convictions as far back as 1932. And according to a 2010 column in Scientific American, “...73 % of the 239 convictions overturned through DNA testing were based on eyewitness testimony. One third of these...rested on the testimony of two or more mistaken eyewitnesses.” The authors then list the reasons for eye witness unreliability - extreme stress, presence of weapons, disguises, racial disparity and brief viewing times.
Having experienced the pogroms, Isreal Schwartz was already suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as his behavior at the murder scene clearly shows. Further, the sudden emotional crises gave him tunnel vision. There was also the racial disparity between himself and the perpetrator. And Mr. Schwartz had at most one or two seconds on a badly lit street and from some distance, to make his identification. And when you add that his description was made through an interpreter, it becomes impossible to find any reliable element in his description of the killer. His statement only proves when, where and how the murder happened. And none of what he reliably saw fits the method used to murder Martha Tabem, Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman or Catherine Eddowes.
To many people in Whitechapel that Saturday had an anxious air. The solid gray overcast kept the temperature down to a chilly 68 degrees Fahrenheit, but held that level even after the unseen sun set at 5:42 p.m. Then about 10 minutes before 10:00 p.m. a cold front slipped through and the clouds dumped the moisture they could no longer hold. About 11:00 p.m. laborers J. Best and John Gardner ran into Elizabeth Stride in the doorway of the Bricklayer's Arms Pub, a few hundred yards across Commercial Road from Berner Street. Both men knew Long Liz, but not the man with her. He was about Liz's height, with a black mustache and “weak sandy eyelashes”, wearing a mourning suit, a "billycock" - aka a derby hat - and a coat. According to Best, “It was raining very fast and they did not appear willing to go out. He was hugging and kissing her, and as he seemed a respectably dressed man, we were rather astonished at the way he was going on at the woman."
At about 11:45 p.m. worker William Marshall was standing in the doorway of 64 Berner Street, south of Fairclough, when be spotted Elizabeth Stride across the street, sheltering in the doorway of number 63 Berner. She was kissing a man wearing a short black cutaway coat. Marshall heard the man say, “You would say anything but your prayers.” The rain ended just before midnight, dropping 3 tenths of an inch.
An hour after the last sighting, about 12:35 a.m., now Sunday, 30 September, 1888, Police Constable William Smith noticed Elizabeth Stride and a man “acting like two lovers”, across the street from the Workers Club. He describes the man as clean shaven, about 28 years old, wearing dark clothes and standing about 5 feet 7 inches tall. Less than ten minutes later Isreal Schwartz see's Elizabeth Stride assaulted in the entry way to Dutfield's Yard. Ten minutes after that she is found dead in the Yard.
If the police had not been expecting another Ripper murder, who would have been their number one suspect? Who had the strongest motive for cutting off the endless stream of lies spilling from Long Liz Stride? Who would have been most hurt by her affectionate treatment of another man that night? Was Micheal Kidney on Berner Street that Saturday night and Sunday morning? Had he been stalking Elizabeth off and on since Tuesday, when she failed to return home as he expected? Until somebody invents a time machine, we will never know. And it is doubtful, even then - since we now know that even an eyewitness to history cannot be trusted to see anything but what they think they see. But it seems clear to me, Liz Stride's killer was not Jack the Ripper.