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Port Philip Herald
Australia
3 April 1891

THE COLLINGWOOD MYSTERY
THREE CASES OF A SIMILAR KIND IN 13 MONTHS
IS THERE A JACK THE RIPPER ABOUT?
THE BODY NOT YET IDENTIFIED

The mysterious death of the woman who was found about 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon lying in the back yard of a small cottage in Hoddle street, Collingwood, is much talked of today. The woman died, as has been previously stated, in the Melbourne Hospital about a quarter to 8 o'clock last night, from an internal wound in the lower part of the abdomen, from which her life blood had simply flowed away. Several plainclothes constables, detectives, and one carman (?) visited the hospital morgue today and viewed the body. None of them, however, identified the body, which is that of a woman about 30 or 35 years of age. There is a wealth of light brown hair on the head. The features are long, and present a rather delicate appearance. Her teeth are peculiar, inasmuch as on the lower jaw a tooth on each side of the mouth has grown out, and they are what are generally called "dog teeth." The deceased was about 5ft 4in in height, medium or slight build, with eyes of greyish blue. She wore black clothing, which was somewhat the worse for wear. It is supposed that the woman was one of what is termed the "unfortunate" class, though this is not by any means clear at present. Constable W.R. Davidson, the well known Coroner's orderly, attended at the Hospital Morgue today with his photographic apparatus and took a photograph of the body. Dr. Bracewell will make a post mortem examination of the body, in the presence of Professor Allen, some time during the day, and the result will be reported to the Coroner. The inquest will probably be opened tomorrow by Dr. Youl, either at the Hospital or the Morgue. Should, however, the body be not identified during today, the inquest may not be commenced until Monday. Dr. Youl, in this event, may possibly order the body to be removed to the Morgue, where it can be kept in a better state of preservation than would be the case at the Hospital.

It is a very remarkable fact that this is the third death of a similar kind during the last 13 months, and this fact would engender the suspicion that an individual of the Jack the Ripper type has been carrying on his horrible and bloody work in Collingwood. It is very remarkable that in the three cases under notice the three victims were women of doubtful character, that the injuries were inflicted on the same parts of their bodies, and that the fatal wounds were received in Collingwood and its vicinity. Of course, it is quite possible that this theory of wilful murder is incorrect, but on the other hand there is strong presumptive evidence that the assassin's hand had been at work. In the previous cases inquests were held, and open verdicts returned. The medical evidence was not positive in these two cases that death was the result of accident, but merely that "it might have been caused" accidentally. A good deal of the medical evidence was mere theory, and must not in these two cases be trusted to too implicitly.

Experienced police officers and detectives have been struck by the singular coincidence of these three deaths from the same cause, and they now regard them with grave suspicion. The first case was that of a woman unknown, who was found dead on the early morning of the 6th March, 1890, in a right of way off Victoria Parade, which was alongside the brewery in that locality. Blood was traced for some distance to the spot where the woman was found, and it was supposed that she had got injured when getting over a picket fence around some of the neighbouring reserves. This, however, was only mere supposition, and the inquest held did not clear up the matter in any very satisfactory manner. It was shown, however, that the woman had bled to death in precisely the same manner as the latest victim had done. An open verdict that the woman died from an internal wound in the lower portion of the abdomen, but that there was no evidence to show how or in what manner the wound was caused was returned by the Coroner's jury. The body was buried as that of "a woman unknown." Many months afterwards it was ascertained that the woman was named Jane Johnson, that she had been married, but had been separated from her husband some time before her death. She had been very respectably connected, but in her latter days had fallen upon evil times. Drink and dissolute habits had reduced her to the level of a social Pariah, and she went to her death a miserable outcast. So much for unfortunate Jane Johnson.

The second case was that of Catherine Smith, who was found lying on the footpath in Islington street, Collingwood, near Dr. Singelton's Night Shelter, on the night of 12th February. The woman was unconscious and in a dying state. She expired on the way to Melbourne Hospital in a cab. The woman was also wounded internally in the lower part of the abdomen. Death resulted from hemorrhage caused by this wound and exactly similar to the case of Jane Johnson. An exhaustive enquiry was held by the District Coroner and a jury touching the death of Catherine Smith, and a verdict precisely the same as that given in Johnson's case was returned. It was supposed that the deceased fell when she was trying to get up, a stick she carried for support (of) a bad leg inflicting the wound. Dr. W.G. Craig's evidence at the inquest was to the effect that the iron ferrule at the bottom of the stick "could have caused the wound." There was a deal of mystery attending the death of the woman. It was shown at the inquest that the deceased left her daughter's residence at Williamstown about 5 p.m. to go to Collingwood. About a quarter past 9 o'clock that night she was seen by Constable Vickers sitting on a doorstep in Victoria Parade. She was asked what she was doing there, and she said that she was taking a rest, as she had been selling papers all day. This story was manifestly incorrect, as she did not leave her daughter's residence at Williamstown until 5 o'clock in the evening. The next they heard of her is that she was found lying in Islington street, Collingwood, unconscious and dying. How she got into Islington street from Victoria Parade was never ascertained. It was proved, however, that the woman had been drinking, and that she smelt strongly of alcohol when she was found in the place referred to. Nothing further has since been ascertained respecting the deaths of Jane Johnson and Catherine Smith, and the result of the Coroner's inquiry in these two cases cannot be regarded as altogether satisfactory. Now we are confronted with a third mystery of a similar character. Of course it is possible that the investigation of the police in this case will result in the conviction of the person or persons who are guilty of such fiendish cruelty to the poor unfortunate who came by her death in such a horrible manner. Meanwhile, the strange and peculiar coincidence of the three cases referred to justifies the public being placed in fresh possession of the facts and details of the two previous cases. Whether the Jack the Ripper theory will hold water remains to be seen. Most probably it will not. Nevertheless, the surroundings in these cases are of such a singular and similar nature that they deserve more than a passing word of comment.

THE KNIFE FOUND BURIED IN THE FIREPLACE.

The shocking murder of the unfortunate woman in Hoddle street, Collingwood, last evening has caused quite a sensation in that city. After the two brothers Finnegan were arrested, Sergeant Devine ordered plainclothes Constables Gleeson and Carter to accompany Constable Youlden and make a thorough search of the place. The house was in a filthy condition and as there was no gas, the dim light of a candle prevented a thorough search being made. The bedroom, from which the bed had already been removed by the police in consequence of it being saturated with blood, presented the appearance of a struggle having taken place. The flock in the bed was strewn about the room and the ticking was torn in the struggle. There was a pool of congealed blood just outside the kitchen, and Sergeant Devine ordered that this should be covered over, as well as the blood which was found at the gate. A long and patient search resulted in a knife, an ordinary table one, being found in the fireplace. It was broken in the blade and the bone handle was completely burned away except a small portion which was charred. This Sergeant Devine took possession of, and the Collingwood police made every inquiry last night to find out the identity of the unfortunate murdered woman, but were unsuccessful. This fact has been established, that both the accused (John Finnigan) and the victim were seen in company at the Clifton Hotel where they had a drink each. They were last seen at the Yorkshire Stones (?) Hotel, in Hoddle street, close to the house where Finnigan lived. The woman had a brandy and soda, and went out. She was not very drunk, but partly under the influence of liquor. She disappeared from sight, and was only seen again when Constable Youlden was asked by the man Finnigan to take her away.

The prisoner Frank Finnigan was brought before the Collingwood Court today and remanded.

This morning Plainclothes Constables Gleeson and Carter and Constables Sullivan and Manson went to the hospital in the hopes of identifying the woman. The only identity they could establish, however, was that the two latter recognised her as the woman who was with John Finnigan yesterday afternoon in Peel and Wellington streets. Sergeant Devine has requested Constable Davidson, the Coroner's orderly, to take a photograph of the woman, and this will be done today.

THE FIRST DAY IN COURT
JOHN FINIGAN BEFORE THE BENCH

The discovery of the woman (unknown) in a dying state in a yard at Hoddle street, Collingwood, yesterday afternoon, was mentioned in the City Court today, when John Finigan was called before the Bench on the charge of "maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm on a woman unknown."

Finigan is a young man, about 22 years of age, sturdily built and of a dark countenance. He was not represented by any lawyer.

Constable Youlden said that at 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon he arrested Finigan, who came to him and informed him that a woman was lying in his yard in Hoddle street, bleeding. Witness went to the place, and finding what Finigan had told him to be true, he took the woman to the Melbourne Hospital. Dr. Bracewell examined the woman and said that she had been wounded. Finigan made several statements about the case, and frequently contradicted himself. The woman since her admission to the hospital had died, and in view of the contradictory statements made by Finigan, Youlden arrested him. He applied for a remand for a week, and the application was granted.