I believe the staid and proper London Times would never have mentioned the brutal murders of aged working class prostitutes had not the screaming headlines of their “tabloid” competition not been so insistent – and popular. But the Times joined the feeding frenzy with their story dated Saturday, 1 September, 1888. “Another murder of the foulest kind was committed in the neighborhood of Whitechapel in the early hours of Yesterday morning, but by whom and with what motive is at present a complete mystery....”
In contrast the left leaning Daily News shared every detail with their middle class readers. They reported, “ A shocking murder...a woman lying in Buck's row...with her throat cut from ear to ear. The body...was also fearfully mutilated...” This latter statement was printed as fact even before the autopsy was reported. “The police have no theory...except that a sort of "High Rip" gang exists in the neighborhood which, "blackmailing" women who frequent the streets, takes vengeance on those who do not find money for them...The other theory is that the woman...was murdered in a house...(then) afterwards ...deposited in the street. Color is lent to this by the small quantity, comparatively, of blood found on the clothes, and by the fact that the clothes are not cut. If the woman was murdered on the spot where the body was found, it is almost impossible to believe that she would not have aroused the neighborhood by her screams...”
But it was the popular London Star which was the most relentless, and with the largest circulation. The editor asked on the front page, “Have we a murderous maniac loose in East London?...Nothing so appalling, so devilish, so inhuman...has ever happened outside the pages of (Edgar Allen) Poe...In each case the victim has been a woman of abandoned character, each crime has been committed in the dark hours of the morning...each murder has been accompanied by hideous mutilation. In the...case...of the woman Martha Turner...no fewer than 30 stabs were inflicted. The scene of this murder was George-yard, a place appropriately known locally as "the slaughter-house."
The Metropolitan Police were not even certain the crimes were connected. But the Star harbored no such doubts, pointing out that the crimes were all “...committed within a very small radius. Each of the ill-lighted thoroughfares to which the women were decoyed to be foully butchered are off-turnings from Whitechapel-road, and all are within half a mile.”
The newspaper went on to point out, “This afternoon at the Working Lads' Institute (above)...Mr. Wynne E. Baxter opened the inquest...The desire that no time should be lost in tracing the perpetrator of the atrocity prompted the Coroner to commence his investigation as early as possible...there was a great amount of morbid interest displayed in the inquiry.” Almost all of it by the tabloid London press.
Presiding over the demi-trial was South-East Middlesex Coroner Mr. Wayne E. Baxter (above), refreshed from his August vacation. He was a consummate professional, a stickler for formalities, but balanced this by his attire at the inquest - white and checked trousers, a “dazziling white” vest, a “crimson scarf and dark coat.” I am tempted to suggest the witnesses must have shouted to be heard over his clothing. And Mr. Baxter's inquest began far ahead of the August one for Martha Tabram, because the very first witness , at 6:30 the afternoon of 1 September, 1888, offered a positive identification of the victim.
Edward Walker had not seen his 42 year old daughter, Mary Ann (above), for more than two years. But he had no doubt that she was lying in the Montague Street Morgue, identifying her by the scar on her forehead. Twenty-two years earlier he had given her in marriage to William Nichols, but after five children, she and William had separated, for which Edward blamed her husband. But at the same time, he admitted he “had not been on speaking terms with her.” He added, “She had been living with me three or four years previously, but thought she could better herself, so I let her go.”
The truth came out when Baxter asked if Mary Ann was a sober woman. Walker responded, “Well, at times she drank, and that was why we did not agree.” But he would go no further, denying that she had might have been a prostitute, saying, “I never heard of anything of that sort...I never heard of anything improper.” And when Baxter suggested “She must have drunk heavily for you to turn her out of doors?”, Edwards insisted, “I never turned her out. She had no need to be like this while I had a home for her.” He reminded the jury, “She has had five children, the eldest being twenty-one years old and the youngest eight or nine years. One of them lives with me, and the other four are with their father.” The father of the victim closed his testimony by saying, “I don't think she had any enemies, she was too good for that.”
After taking testimony from slaughter-house worker Henry Tompkins, who said he had heard nothing on the morning of the murder, the inquest moved on to Police Constable John Neil (above), badge number 97J. He related his discovery of the body, and its transfer to the morgue. Upon arrival there, Neil testified he had begun an inventory of the victim's property - no money but “a piece of comb and a bit of looking-glass...(and) an unmarked white handkerchief...in her pocket”. Shortly afterward, the attendants discovered the victim had been disemboweled, and everything came to a halt until the doctor had arrived.
Dr. Llewelkyn (above) noted his discovery of the body at about 4:00 in the morning, giving time of death at “no more than half an hour” before that. Then, he said, he released the body and returned home. But,
“About an hour later I was sent for by the Inspector to see the injuries he had discovered...the abdomen was cut very extensively.” After briefly recording the injuries, the busy doctor had returned to his duties, until 11:00 the next morning, 1 November, when he did a full post-mortem examination.
“I found (the body) to be that of a female about forty or forty-five years. Five of the teeth are missing, and there is a slight laceration of the tongue. On the right side of the face (above) there is a bruise running along the lower part of the jaw...On the left side of the face there was a circular bruise, which also might have been done by the pressure of the fingers.
“On the left side of the neck, about an inch below the jaw, there was an incision (above) about four inches long and running from a point immediately below the ear. An inch below on the same side...was a circular incision terminating at a point about three inches below the right jaw. This incision completely severs all the tissues down to the vertebrae. The large vessels of the neck on both sides were severed. The incision is about eight inches long. These cuts must have been caused with a long-bladed knife, moderately sharp, and used with great violence. No blood at all was found on the breast either of the body or clothes.” Dr. Llewelkyn found no injuries between the neck and the lower abdomen.
Down the left side of the lower abdomen, running into pubic area, the doctor found “ a wound running in a jagged manner (above) . It was a very deep wound, and the tissues were cut through.” The tissues being the vagina, , bladder and lower intestines. “There were several incisions running across the abdomen. On the right side there were also three or four similar cuts running downwards...The wounds were from left to right, and might have been done by a left-handed person. All the injuries had been done by the same instrument.” And with that disturbing information, Corner Baxter adjourned the inquest until Monday.
The Sunday newspapers were going to splash these bloody details all over the city. And the killer, who ever and where ever he was, must have enjoyed reading them, if he could read English. But the tabloid papers had a noble justification for printing such gory details – the political destruction of Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (above). The Star quoted “A portly superintendent of police” who supposedly said, "Yes, it's true enough...Sir Charles seems to think a soldier and a policeman the same thing. Why we could not carry out our duties but for our long training.”
The Star also quoted an anonymous Detective Inspector as admitting, “...Sir Charles...is not popular ....There is too much of the military about him, and he is a tyrant...” The Star's reporter asked, “The men would be glad to see Sir Charles going?" “Yes”, the detective supposedly answered, “very glad, and it is the rumor in the Yard that he is going....he is destroying the force here with his military notions."
So Commissioner Warren (above), who was on vacation in France, was now being blamed for the inability of the police to catch a criminal the Victorian world never imagined existed.
To a population unaware of the subconscious mind, his crimes were inexplicable. His motives were invisible. He was a mad man who looked and acted sane on most days, a serial killer who was not interested in “high rip” protection rackets or even petty thefts, the usual crimes that trip up murderers. He did not know and did not want to know his victims. He was a predator who blended in among his prey until the moment he struck them down. He was, or soon would be, Jack the Ripper.
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