|A Ripperologist Article|
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by MICHAEL CONNOR
Charles Cross is a serious suspect for the Whitechapel murders.
The detail of Cross’s involvement with the murders is fairly straightforward. He lived at 22 Doveton Street, Bethnal Green, and worked as a carman or cart driver for Pickfords. On the morning of 31 August 1888 he was walking through Bucks Row on his way to Pickfords’ depot in Broad Street when he found the body of Polly Nichols.
Charles Cross is not an uncommon name and though he has not previously been traced in any British census, he may be present in the 1891 records.
Not unreasonably, Cross, who claimed to have a stable work record, could be expected to be living at the same address or in the same area when the 1891 census took place. In that census there is a man of interest in the expected geographic setting.
On census night this person lodged at the Victoria Home in Whitechapel Road, very close to Doveton Street. The man, who might be the witness Charles Cross, appears in the census as “Charles Crass”.
Cross is a common name, but Crass is uncommon. In the online nineteenth century British census records it is noticeable that sometimes these names were confused. Either the census taker made a slight mistake or his writing was wrongly transcribed when indexes were compiled. For example, a couple shown as Charles and Emma Crass in one census reappear in another as Charles and Emma Cross. These are the same people as their ages and places of birth are consistent across the years. In another instance, the surname for a man and his wife is given as Cross, but, on turning the page, their children are named Crass.
In the 1891 census Charles Crass may be the carman Charles Cross who lived in Doveton Street in 1888. If the name Crass is correct then there do not seem to be any other previous census records for him. Because Crass is an uncommon name, it is easier to trace an individual with that surname through the different census years. Charles Cross has not been identified in other census records because there are so many people with that name that it has proved impossible, so far, to positively identify the correct man.
The 1891 census, however, notes that Charles Crass was married, aged 45, employed as a labourer, and born at “Cambridge West Beach”.
If we assume that this is “our” Cross, and that the age he gave was approximately correct, this would fit the Daily Telegraph claim in 1888 that he had worked for Pickfords “for over twenty years”. Employment as a labourer may mean that he had left Pickfords, or perhaps that the type of work he did for them had changed. There is no explanation for why a married man with a job was a lodger in a men’s home. Though, his wife may have been dead or the marriage had collapsed or the claim was not true. In the census there does not seem to be a woman named Crass who appears to be living apart from her husband in London.
Of course, nothing is straightforward. There is no place called West Beach in Cambridgeshire. There are places called Waterbeach and Wisbech. Nor does a Charles Crass or Cross appear to have been born at Waterbeach or Wisbech in 1845—and in the previous ten years there does not seem to be a Charles Crass or Cross born in Cambridgeshire who may be the 1891 adult. After this 1891 recording, Charles Crass disappears from future census returns. If it was indeed Charles Cross, then he too appears to be absent from future returns, although he may be hiding among the men with the same name. Or was he one of the “CCs” who appear in census records as patients, prisoners or inmates? Did he go overseas? Did he die a pauper’s death? Did he live on, perhaps into the 1920s? The mysteries may be no more than the usual problems encountered by genealogists doing family research, but this genealogical puzzle could be well worth solving. Still, assuming that Crass was Charles Cross, then in 1888 he would have been about 43. When they were murdered Tabram was 39, Nichols 43, Chapman 47, Stride 45, Eddowes 46, Kelly 25, and Alice McKenzie 40. As a killer, Cross would have been murdering, with the obvious exception of Kelly, within his own generation.
The Charles Cross who was in Bucks Row in 1888 was never a Ripper suspect. This ordinary carman in his ordinary apron at the Nichols’ inquest may have been a 43-year-old local working man, married, in a settled position, simply on his way to work when he found a body. That he might have been mutilating Nichols when interrupted by Robert Paul was never considered by the police conducting the investigation, but it should have been.
Ripper books have maps of the murder sites that end just beyond the place where Nichols was murdered. If they continued only a few streets further to the east, they would have included Doveton Street. Every day, going to and from work, Charles Cross walked backwards and forwards through the killing area. Following his daily timetable he was present in the area about the time Martha Tabram was murdered; he was discovered beside the body of Polly Nichols, and Annie Chapman was murdered along his route to work.
If police investigators went back and worked through the paperwork of the Whitechapel murders from the beginning, his name should have emerged as a person worth investigating. The possibility that the murderer was a local person was taken seriously: at the end of September the Metropolitan Police issued posters appealing for information on women “murdered in or near Whitechapel, supposed by some one residing in the immediate neighbourhood”. Cross’s connection with at least three murder sites should have brought him to their attention.
Given the more extensive injuries in the later crimes, it would have been reasonable for contemporary investigators to consider, as they reviewed the series of crimes, whether the murderer had completed his mutilation of Polly Nichols or whether he had been interrupted. These thoughts would have drawn their attention to Charles Cross. If the crime was incomplete, Charles Cross should have found a man beside the body. Cross neither saw anyone nor heard anything, but perhaps there was a witness.
On the night of the murder, when his memory should have been fresh and uncontaminated by reading newspaper accounts, Robert Paul told a reporter that when he walked into Bucks Row that morning, “I saw a man standing where the woman was.” The man was Charles Cross.
Consider some of the Whitechapel murders as morning killings committed by a local man on his way to work and the others as crimes that occurred on his return journey. If you do then Charles Cross, found beside the body of a victim and close by when others took place, is an obvious suspect.
Cross and Robert Paul notified Constable Mizen of the presence of Polly Nichols’s body. Mizen, not realising the seriousness of what he was told, allowed the two men to continue on to work. Jack the Ripper may have been caught in the act, and have been allowed by a police officer to walk away from the crime in the company of a witness—someone who did not realise the importance of what he had seen.
The murders were opportunistic. Most were quickly done in public places and victims were discarded where they were killed. From the murderer’s point of view these crimes were possibly unsatisfying—and this could explain Mary Kelly’s extensive mutilations.
Working for Pickfords, Cross may have travelled throughout Britain in the years before and after 1888. He may have killed before, and may not have stopped in 1888. In July 1889 Alice McKenzie, like Catharine Eddowes, could have been killed while Cross was returning home to Doveton Street, or the Victoria Home in Whitechapel Road.
Like the contemporary police, later theorists—with several notable exceptions—have shown little interest in Cross. In part this may be due to the intellectual appeal of their far more complex theories—and the ordinariness of Cross. He was not a gentleman, or a Mason, or a relative of a policeman, or a middleclass suicide, or a demented doctor, or a famous painter. He was the almost unknown local man who had not heard the retreating footfall of Jack the Ripper and was found beside a dead woman. Charles Cross is not the most romantic solution to the Jack the Ripper murders, but he may be the right one. On Charles Cross there is more to say, and more to discover.