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Unmasking Jack the Ripper
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 A Ripper Notes Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripper Notes. Ripper Notes is the only American Ripper periodical available on the market, and has quickly grown into one of the more substantial offerings in the genre. For more information, view our Ripper Notes page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripper Notes for permission to reprint this article.
Who was the Mortuary Photographer?
Adrian Phypers

In which the bestower of silver nitrate immortality is remembered...


SURPRISINGLY, ONE OF the areas most ripe for investigation in the Ripper case is the identify of the person or persons who photographed the victims. Regular readers of this publication will doubtless be familiar with the image of Mary Jane Kelly lying prostrate on her bed, hacked almost beyond recognition. Thanks to the many published works now available, they will also have seen the reverse angle shot from the other side of the bed, in addition to a number of mortuary photos both of canonical and non-canonical victims. Yet nobody seems able to put a name definitively to the man or men who took these pictures. About a year ago, with some help from Stewart Evans and Andy Aliffe, this writer attempted to investigate the subject. A few diehards from Stephen Ryder's Casebook: Jack the Ripper website will have seen the results already, but - the editor of Ripper Notes willing - the piece (which has been largely rewritten) is reproduced here for a larger audience.

Initially, my curiosity was aroused when finding the obituary of one Joseph Martin in a book entitled East End Then and Now, by Winston G Ramsey. It originally appeared in the Daily Herald on 23 December 1933. As a starting point, it seemed sensible to look for other references in the East End press of the period. Superficially, at least, this was very successful. In its edition of 21 October 1933, the East London Advertiser ran an interview with Joseph Martin. Described as 82 years old at the time and living in Canton Street, Limehouse, Mr Martin looked back over his long and eventful life.

Joseph Martin was born in Stepney, where his father had a photographic business. An indifferent scholar, Joseph spent little time at his schools, which included a Ragged School (one organised for poor children) in George Yard, where Martha Tabram was murdered some years later. Something he did develop during his rudimentary education, though, was a love of music. The school had a band, and Joseph was a keen member of it. He very much enjoyed school outings because the band was frequently asked to perform at them.

Leaving school aged nine to assist his father in the photographic business, Joseph became restless. He found Martin senior a difficult man to work for and he yearned for a more adventurous life, as well as one that paid him more than sixpence a week. Eventually, the boy ran away from home on the eve of the Epsom Derby race meeting with nothing besides his flute and the clothes he stood up in.

For many years the Derby was the most prestigious horse racing event in the world. Run over a mile and a half on undulating Surrey downland, the course is shaped like a giant horseshoe. Hundreds of thousands of people packed onto the Downs in the middle of the course, affording them a full view of the race and the opportunity to enjoy themselves in an uninhibited manner. It was this throng which Joseph Martin joined, teaming up with three other wandering musicians and earning himself twenty pounds on that first day of the meeting. The success of this venture led to Martin spending the next two years travelling with his itinerant musician friends and apparently making a comfortable living. Only then did his father trace him and take him home.

Music continued to be a profitable hobby for Joseph Martin. He became quite well known on the music hall circuit. Simultaneously, he developed his photographic skills, eventually opening his own shop in Cannon Street Road, St. George's-in-the-East. After a few years he relocated the business to West India Dock Road, where, he told the ELA reporter, he was in business for forty-four years. During this time he began to act as the official photographer for the Metropolitan Police, and served in that capacity for about fifty years.

Martin recalled that it fell to him to take the mortuary photographs of Jack the Ripper's victims. Many was the time also that he was called out to take photos of headless bodies. Not dwelling on the gruesome details in his interview, Martin recounted some hilarious stories, such as the time he was brought into photograph a corpse which suddenly arose, Lazarus-like, and asked the way out of the mortuary. The man wasn't dead - only dead drunk!

One fascinating recollection involved the Princess Alice disaster of 1878. Readers may remember that a heavily loaded paddle-steamer of that name was in collision with the collier Bywell Castle near Barking Creek on the Thames. No definitive casualty figures exist, but the death toll was around 640. Most of the victims were day-trippers travelling the Woolwich to Gravesend route. To entertain passengers on these steamboats, which ran from dawn to dusk in the summer, the London Steamboat Company employed musicians to perform live. Joseph Martin was one such musician, and on that fateful day, 3 September, he was due to play on the Princess Alice. His sister and brother-in-law had also arranged to take the same trip. However, the day before, Martin's musical employer informed him that he was required to play at a restaurant in Holborn instead. After fulfilling his engagement, Martin learned with horror of the Princess Alice's fate, but fortunately it transpired that his sister and her husband had missed the boat by a few minutes.

The Advertiser interview was a good start in tracing the Ripper photographer. At least the article confirmed Martin's involvement in photographing the victims at the mortuary (which includes some or all of Tabram, Nichols, Chapman, Stride, McKenzie, Coles and possibly Kelly [we have no evidence for her]), though it offers disappointingly little detail on the subject of Jack the Ripper.

Just two months later, on Wednesday, 20 December 1933, Joseph Martin was killed in a street accident. In his eighties, with defective sight in one eye, yet refusing to wear glasses, he went to cross the busy East India Dock Road near the junction with Stainsby Street at around 5 o'clock in the afternoon. A witness saw him step off the kerb on the south side of the road. Apparently trying to dodge between the traffic, Martin suddenly appeared right in front of Charles King's motor lorry and was hit by the near side wheel, falling on his face. Though King's vehicle was only travelling at about 10mph, Martin received multiple injuries from which he died. An inquest was held three days later at Poplar under the local coroner, Dr R L Guthrie. The jury's verdict of Accidental Death with the driver exonerated was reported in the local press. When giving details of Martin's life, the papers men tioned his photographic career and his taking the mortuary pictures of the Ripper's victims.

A careful comparison of the exact wording used in the press reports shows them to be remarkably similar. It appears highly likely that the inquest reporters lifted some of the ELA October interview to put their brief, potted biographies together. They may also have filched copy from the national newspapers - a common practice - or alternatively, they could all have used the same news agency story. For example, one paragraph of the East End News' report appeared word for word in the Daily Herald of 23 December - some six days earlier.

This doesn't help us for two reasons. The first is that no new facts are added concerning Martin's involvement with the Whitechapel Murders. Secondly, all this apparently lazy journalism doesn't verify Martin's story about snapping the victims independently for us. Thus, what appears to be helpful evidence - namely, several newspapers all telling the same story - many be nothing of the sort. All the stories probably have one common source. Therefore, we need to find some independent evidence that Mr Martin was the Ripper photographer.

The best means of verification, obviously, would be some mention of Joseph Martin in the official Ripper files. To the best of my knowledge, no such reference exists. But this is where Mr Evans comes in. He kindly provided the author with a copy of the back of Martha Tabram's mortuary photograph, on which were printed the words:

'PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE UNKNOWN DEAD. In districts where a skilled operator can - not be obtained, Louis Gumprecht, of 11, CANNON STREET ROAD, E., is willing to attend on a few hours' notice, on the same terms as the Eastern Districts are served. Wire through `H'.'

An identical notice appeared on the back of Frances Coles' mortuary photograph, taken in 1891. The reason for its wording, with its references to skilled operators being unavailable, is that in 1888 there were no official police photographers. In fact, there were none in the Metropolitan Police employ until 1901. Those called in were freelancers, remunerated at the standard rate referred to.

At this point, then, two separate names have surfaced. Given the freelance state of photographers, it might be possible that more than one of them was used to take the pictures. Certainly it is unlikely that the same person who took the Met victims' photos would also have taken those of Catherine Eddowes, because the City of London police would almost certainly have used the services of their own operatory from within the City area. Similarly, the 'on location' photographs of Mary Jane Kelly in Miller's Court may easily have come from a different source. In his interview, Martin talked of taking mortuary pictures - he didn't mention that he also went out on site. The rediscovery of the famous Kelly photograph by Donald Rumbelow in the City Police archives has also given rise to the speculation that their photographer may have been at Dorset Street to take the pictures.

Louis Gumprecht did indeed run a photography shop at 11 Cannon Street Road, St George's-in-the-East. He was certainly based there by the end of 1864 and possibly as early as 1861. Examinations of the 1871 and 1881 census returns for that address showed that he was not living above his business, as so many shopkeepers at the time did. Using the 1881 census produced by the Church of Latter-Day Saints, it was possible to run a check against all residents named Gumprecht in the county of Middlesex (which encompassed East london). Rather surprisingly, this revealed nobody by the name Louis Gumprecht. Only a Hanover-born publican, George S Gumprecht of 182 St George Street, and his family were listed under that surname. Yet Louis Gumprecht's name last appears in the street directories for 1887. It appears possible, therefore, that the photographer had died or moved away long before this date, but that the business premises continued to operate under his name.

More details undoubtedly wait to be discovered about Gumprecht, but the fact is, he wasn't running the shop listed on the back of the Tabram photograph at the time of her murder. He does not show up in the previous census; he was not running any other business under his own name in London between his disappearance from Cannon Street Road and the mid1890's, and we know that the police would not have employed him directly at this time. All the evidence points to his not having taken the mortuary photograph on which his name appears, or the subsequent ones.

Fortunately, there is a clue as to who did. Succeeding Gumprecht's name on the premises at 11 Cannon Street Road before the end of 1887 was one Joseph Martin. This, coupled with the press reports from half a century later, represents strong evidence that Martin is indeed our man. He was present at the shop until at least the autumn of 1894, but thereafter moved to the shop mentioned in the ELA at West India Dock Road. In those early years, the shop is listed as number 14 and not 62, as the interview stated. This point has not been investigated because it may not be significant. Streets in the East End seemed to undergo renumbering all the time in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A Joseph Martin, photographer, was listed in business for the first time in the 1931 edition of Kelly's Directory, which tells us that he retained his shop in West India Dock Road for at least forty-six years, and not forty-four as stated in the interview.

Brief efforts have been made to trace the photographic business of Martin's father, but with no success. From the boy's attendance at the George Yard Rag School and the reference, 'On the day before the race I left Whitechapel...,' research concentrated on looking for photographers listed in the Whitechapel, Spitalfieds and St George's districts. Nobody named Martin was listed with such a business in the selective issues of Kelly's consulted between 1855 and 1873. It was interesting to note the vast expansion of the number of tradesmen in various aspects of the photographic business in the period 1855-1860, though, immediately following the Crimean War, the first major conflict to be captured on camera. Maybe Martin senior did not register his business for Kelly's, or perhaps he worked for somebody else. No perfect match to the George Yard area stood out, but several places where he could have worked were identified.

If Joseph Martin was the Ripper photographer, the presence of Gumprecht's name on the back of the Tabram photo at a time when he wans't even in business remains a mystery. One of the more plausible explanations is that the stamp used was an old one, inherited by Martin when he took over the shop, which would only have been a year or so previously. As far as any policeman looking for a photographer in a hurry was concerned, the address still held good. If this theory is correct, it implies that Gumprecht had previously acted as a Met photographer and that, on taking over the shop, Joseph Martin just inherited the mantle. Unfortunately, Martin didn't say how he came to hold the post in his interview. But however he came by the job, we case students owe Joseph Martin a debt as the man who preserved for posterity the images of Jack the Ripper's tragic victims.

SOURCES

BOOKS:

Rumbelow, Donald The Complete Jack the Ripper (WH Allen, 1987)

Ramsey, Winston G East End Then & Now (After the Battle, 1997)

CONTEMPORARY DOCUMENTS:

Kelly's Directory, 1861-1934 (various editions)

Census returns, 1871 and 1881 Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths

NEWSPAPERS:

City & East London Observer, 30 December 1933

Daily Herald, 23 December 1933

East End News, 29 December 1933

East London Advertiser, 23 October 1933

And grateful acknowledgement to Andy Aliffe, Stewart Evans and the staff of Tower Hamlets Local History and Archives, Bancroft Library, London, E1.


Related pages:
  Joseph Martin
       Press Reports: East End News - 29 December 1933 
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 21 October 1933 
       Press Reports: East London Observer - 30 December 1933 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 23 December 1933