I don't think it was more than a few seconds after lorry driver Charles Cross and his reluctant companion disappeared around the eastern corner of Buck's Row and Court Street, before Police Constable John Neil appeared at the far western end of passage at Baker's Row. The dangers of his beat were manifest by the length of PC Neil's nightly walk.
Working at the outer edges of Bethel Green - “J” - division, the debonair PC Neil (above) had last passed down Buck's Row, walking on the north side of the street, at about 3:15 that Friday morning, 31 August, 1888. Now, just about 3:45, he was walking down that dark canyon again, west to east, on the south side of the street. As P.C. Neil said later, “There was not a soul about”.
As he approached where the Row narrowed, PC Neil saw what he called “a figure” lying on the sidewalk, her head to the west, toward Bakers' Street, “...lying length ways... her left hand touching the gate.” The gate was the locked stable gate and the woman was lying in the short “driveway” of the Brown and Eagle Wool Warehouse (below, #1). Neil later testified, “I examined the body by the aid of my lamp, and noticed blood oozing from a wound in the throat. She was lying on her back, with her clothes disarranged. I felt her arm, which was quite warm from the joints upwards. Her eyes were wide open. Her bonnet was off and lying at her side, close to the left hand.”
At that moment, Neil heard the distinctive footsteps of a fellow Bobby's wooden souled shoes, and he flashed his lamp toward Brady Street. The Bobby crossing Buck's Row at Brady Street was PC John Thain. He hurried to Neil's assistance. Neil told PC Thain that a woman had been murdered, and added, “Run at once for Dr. Llewelklyn." The doctor, Rees Ralph Llewelklyn, lived at 157 Whitechapel Road, just one block south and half a block west (above, #4), about 300 yards away - and opposite the London Hospital. And as Thain rushed off to fetch the doctor, Neil heard the approach of yet another constable. Neil did not inquire as to where this officer had come from, just sent him immediately to Bethel Green station house at the corner of Ainsely Street and Bethel Green Road, to fetch an ambulance cart. PC Neil knew that mission would take half an hour or more, and so alone in the dark with the dead woman, he waited for the arrival of the doctor.
It was now just before 4:00 in the morning. On his way to Whitechapel Road, PC Thain made a deter to Harrison, Barber and Company, a slaughter-house (map above, #3) on Winthrop Street, where his cloak had been left by the day constable. As he retrieved his garment, Thain told the three men working that night - Henry Tomkins, James Mumford and Charles Britten – that a murder had been committed on Buck's Row, and then hurried off to fetch the doctor. The men had been working since 8:00 p.m. Thursday night, and since the murder scene (above, white arrow) was literally just around the corner, Thomkins and Bitten decided to have a look. They left James Mumford behind to watch the premises.
Dr. Llewelklyn (above) was a 38 year old unmarried graduate of the University of London, who had received his Medical degree in 1874, and was accepted into the Royal College of Surgeons a year later, and made a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1876. After 12 years in practice at the same location, he was also the official Medical Officer for the Metropolitan Police Holborn (E) division on Bow Street. And in one other way he was uniquely qualified to respond to this particular murder scene - although why would not be apparent for several hours. Dr. Llewelklyn was a member of the British Gynaecological Society.
By the time PC Thain returned with Doctor Llewelklyn, it was just after 4:00 in the morning. Thain was surprised to see Thomkins and Bitten had beaten him back, and he took it as his duty to keep those two men away from the body. Dr. Llewelklyn immediately determined the woman (above) was dead, and that she had “severe injuries to her throat. Her hands and wrists were cold, but the body and lower extremities were still warm...I believe she had not been dead more than half-an-hour.” That would have timed the murder just after PC Neil had made his previous pass down Buck's Row. After noting that there were no indications of a struggle and there was very little blood around the neck wounds, and no more than a half a wine glass of blood on the pavement around her - indicating most of the injuries were inflicted post mortem – Dr. Llewelklyn “...told the Officer Thain to see she was taken to the mortuary...” and left to return to his home.
While the doctor was making his exam, PC Neil ordered Constable Thain to take control of the scene while he began pounding on the gate of the Brown and Eagle stable. When no one responded, Neil then went back down the street to the Essex Wharf warehouse, where the night watchman said he had heard nothing. Neil returned to the scene just as the third officer, PC Jonas Mizen, returned from Bethal Green station with the ambulance cart (above). Once the doctor released the body, the two officers loaded the dead woman onto the cart and they began to push her toward the Montegue Street Mortuary.
Just about then, Sargent Kirby from the Bethal Green station arrived to take charge of the scene - or what remained of it. PCs Neil and Mizen were pushing the ambulance toward the Montague Street mortuary,. so, by 4:20 that morning, less than an hour after her murder, not much more than 30 minutes after the discovery of her body, and with two gawkers having already peered at her corpse, the dead woman had been removed from the scene, and a young boy from a house across the street had commenced to washing the blood off the cobblestones. And so far everything that had been done, was according to Metropolitan Police regulations.
It was at the mortuary that things went "pear shaped". It was around 4:30 in the morning when 53 year old Robert Mann, a ten year Whitechapel Workhouse resident because of “confusion” and a Mortuary attendant, opened the shed for Constables Neil and Mizen. They transferred the body to an exam table (above), and left. And then Mann locked the shed again, and went to his spare institutional breakfast. After eating, Mann and his 68 year old assistant and fellow workhouse inmate, James Hatfield, returned to the mortuary, and, trying to be helpful, decided to strip and wash the body.
Perhaps the infirmary nurses who were supposed to preform this function, were unavailable at this time of day. But the two men, one easily confused because of an injury and the other given to “fits”, were left alone with the only valuable piece of evidence in this murder case, to exercise their own intuitive. With Mann's assistance Hatfield cut the clothes off the body, and dropped them on the dirt floor. Before they could do more damage, Detective Inspector John Spratling from Bethnal Green Division arrived. He stopped the morgue attendants from any further tampering with the evidence, and sent for Dr. Llewelkyn to come at once.
It seems likely that neither Mann nor Hatfield ever had any idea what they had done wrong. And it also seems likely that their transgression had no substantial impact on the case. But their errors provided their “betters” with some one socially beneath them to blame for the failure to stop a horror they had not yet even begun to understand.