I doubt few of us today could find a doctor so close or quick at such an hour. It was just after 5 in the chilly damp morning of Tuesday, 7 August, 1888. The constable dispatched first ran north on George Yard to Wentworth Street (above). He turned right and headed east for half a block, then crossed Osborn Street Then he turned left and headed north on Brick Lane for three blocks to the northeast corner of Henage Street. Not 5 minutes after beginning the task he was banging on the front door of 68 Brick Lane until Dr. Timothy Robert Killeen answered. The constable then waited in the hall while the doctor got dressed and grabbed his medical bag.
Dr. Timothy Killeen was living and working surrounded by his patients, who were mostly dying from malnutrition and its companions: typhoid fever, cholera, syphilis, tuberculosis, measles and food poisoning, to name but a few of the most prominent. They shared polluted water sources, unsanitary food, and breathed foul air. The yearly death rate in Whitchapel and Spitafields was 25 for every 1,000 residents. Many of London's slum dwellers were born, lived and died without ever seeing a doctor.
Timothy had graduated two years earlier from Kings and Queens College of Physicians, at Trinity College in Dublin. And if he were fulfilling a religious and moral obligation, he might have been disappointed. The Tower Hamlets of Whitechapel, Spitafields and Wopping, which had once been occupied almost exclusively by Irish Catholics escaping the Potato famine, was filling now with Russian and east European Jews, running from the pogroms.
But whoever his patients were, it is likely he had seen few as badly injured as this unknown woman on the landing between the first and ground floors of the Blackwell Buildings on George Yard (above). Setting his bag down on the steps, he took out a standard thermometer, which he set on the floor beyond the blood pool. Then he checked his watch, and recorded the time in his notebook. It was just 5:30 in the morning.
He found the victim (above) well nourished, and about 33 years old. His estimate showed he was familiar with the rapid aging a life in Whitechapel could produce. By his careful count the dead woman had suffered 38 separate stab wounds to her neck and chest, as well as one slash in her pubic region. But learning how deep these wounds were, and what internal injuries had resulted would have wait for an autopsy. Gently he lifted the fingers of her left hand. They moved easily, as did the elbow and shoulder joint. The absence of rigor mortis indicated she had died less than six hours ago. He recorded the air temperature as 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Then he inserted the thermometer in the dead woman's nostril.
He lifted her skirt and noted the faint mottling on the bottom of her thighs. By the color he estimated she had been lying here, on her back, for less than four hours. He placed his hand on her forehead, as if judging her temperature in life. She was still warm to the touch. He examined her clothing – cap and jacket, shirtwaist , dress and petticoat, knee high stockings and ankle high boots. The clothing was old and thin, and Dr. Killeen figured his modifying number for this woman should be 1 or 1.10.
Meanwhile PC Barrett had awakened the building superintendent, Francis F. Hewitt. A retired painter, he lived in a ground floor apartment immediately adjacent to the stairwell, with his wife. Although Mr. Hewitt claimed to have heard nothing during the night, his wife, Amy, had heard a cry of “Murder” that evening. But, she added, "The district round here is rather rough, and cries of 'Murder' are frequent.” Francis said such shouts were heard almost every night. Asked to look at the body, still on the stairs, the couple were certain she was not one of their tenants.
Once the Hewitts had returned to their apartment, Dr. Killeen check the thermometer in the victim's nose. It recorded a body temperature of 95.4 degrees Fahrenheit, for a loss of 3 degrees since death. Following the standard formula given in his text books of a 1.5 degree Fahrenheit drop in body temperature for every hour after death, then multiplied by 1.10 to account for her thin clothing, Dr.Killeen could estimate the time of death to have been 2 ½ to 3 hours earlier than his 5:30 examination, or between 2:30 and 3:00 that morning. And that was the time he recorded in his notebook. Next, he told PC Barrett to send for a police ambulance, to transport the body up Wentworth to the Old Montague Street Mortuary, on the grounds of the Whitechapel Union Workhouse.
Being in debt had always been a criminal act in England, but the 1831 Poor Law created public institutions where the injured, the ill or the aged could reimburse the state for their crime of poverty at hard labor for 9 pence a day - the Workhouse. As crusading journalist Margaret Harkness noted, “The Whitechapel Union (above) is...the Poor Law incarnate in stone and brick.”
In exchange for “A little gruel morning and night, meat twice a week”, a cot and a roof, male inmates broke stone for 10 hours a day, six days a week, while the women and children unraveled rope for ships' caulking. They were allowed no privacy and no visitors.
The amenities – uniforms and meager education classes, were intended to fulfill the state's Christian obligation to the less fortunate. A man sentenced to the Workhouse committed his entire family to the same punishment.
Once behind the walls of the 5 story tall Whitechapel Union on New Charles Street, families were immediately separated by sex and age. Over time many families melted into the institution. And yet there were many so desperate they begged to be admitted.
On Thomas Street, to the east of the Workhouse, the ill working poor lined up to be diagnosed at the Casual Dispensary (above) - men in mornings, women in the afternoons, separated to maintain Christian propriety.
But through the Eagle Place gate, between those two brick buildings, in a dirt and dirty courtyard was a bare, windowless dark shed (above), where the inmates paid their final debt to society. They were dissected. It was to this place that the body of the unknown woman, found murdered in a stairwell on George Yard, was taken on the morning of Tuesday, 7 August, 1888.
By 8:00 that morning the body had been removed, and the police had returned to their beats and George Yard had returned to something described as normal. There was nothing left to indicate that a woman had been murdered on the stairwell of the Blackwell Building, except for the blood still puddled on the landing. A few of the moribund came from the surrounding buildings look upon the spot and the blood. About 9:30 that morning, George Crow, resident of apartment number 307, came down the steps on his way to get breakfast. He was a cab driver, and had been working the night before, arriving home just about 3:00 am. He paused upon seeing the blood, and realized it was staining just the spot on the dark stairs, where he had seen a figure sleeping the night before.
Later that morning, at the H division Metropolitan Police station on Leman Street (above), Divisional Inspector Ernest Ellisdon decided to assign the case to 42 year Detective Inspector Edmund Reid. It was an indication of Ellisdon's concern about the bloody murder.
Reid (above, front row center) was a 12 year veteran of the MET, he was, when he joined, the shortest man on the force. But he eventually rose to head the Whitechapel Criminal Investigation Division for a time. A contemporary officer had called Reid, "one of the most remarkable men of the century" He was an aviator - having set altitude records in a balloon - a published poet, a professional actor, a social activist and an accomplished magician. And he was a damn fine police man. If any detective of 1888 could solve this murder mystery, it would be D.I Edmund Reid.
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