|A Ripperologist Article|
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Bill Beadle, Author of Jack the Ripper: Anatomy of a Myth
One of Ripperology's more frustrating aspects is the bewildering variety of names adopted by its cast list. For example, anybody researching William Henry Bury will find that the name is often spelt 'Berry' and even 'Berrey' in official records. Then there are the aliases. Catharine Eddowes was also known as Kate Conway (after her common law husband Thomas), Emily Birrell and Mary Ann Kelly, the name of her boyfriend John's estranged wife. Nobody is quite sure whether Elizabeth Long's surname is correct or whether it should be Durrell, whilst the true identity of suspect Michael Ostrog is anybody's guess.
But Rose Mylett tops them all. In life she was otherwise known as 'Fair Clara,' Catherine Millett, Alice Downey (or Downe) and Elizabeth Davis. Her inquest failed to resolve the issue and a compromise name, 'Elizabeth Myllett' was entered on her death certificate. It is clear from the scanty newspaper reports that the police, obviously piqued by the insistence of a posse of surgeons that she had been murdered, registered their disagreement by disdaining anything more than a cursory check into Mylett's background.
Let's recap. Mylett's body was found in Clarke's Yard off Poplar High Street at 4.15 a.m. on Thursday, 20th December 1888 by Police Sergeant Robert Golding and Constable Thomas Costello. Coroner Wynne Baxter was later to commend Golding for "zeal displayed in obtaining evidence in the case". Precisely why is difficult to fathom unless Baxter was for once attempting to mollify Scotland Yard after his inquest had reached a verdict contrary to them about the cause of death. The police believed that the dead woman had choked to death on her own vomit, a view which has all the hallmarks of believing what you want to believe because no less than four police surgeons (originally five) decided that she had been strangled with a ligature. A press report of the inquest states: "notwithstanding that 24 (sic) days have elapsed since the finding of the body the marks on the neck were still very distinct."
Baxter clearly tried hard to obtain a coherent picture of Mylett's antecedents but without success. Myriad names were bandied about to nobody's satisfaction, least of all the historians. But the truth can be pieced together. There was one important clue, given in the press on 7th January 1889. Mylett's funeral drew only two mourners, a female cousin (unnamed) and, more importantly, the deceased's mother, Margaret.
A trawl through the 1881 Census throws up only one realistic possibility. Margaret Mylett of 46, Thomas Street, Whitechapel. Age 57 in April 1881, she was living with her 56 year old husband Henry, a labourer in a starch factory. Both originated from Ireland, Margaret from Ballinclaugh and Henry from Loughton.
Searching the records at the registry of births, marriages and deaths for Myletts and Miletts, there is once again only one obvious candidate for the murdered daughter, Catherine Mylett born on 8th December 1859 to Margaret Mylett (nee Haley) and Henry Mylett of No. 13, Thomas Street, Whitechapel, labourer in a starch works. This explains why she was alternatively known as 'Catherine Millett'. The dead woman's age has not been ascertained before and is usually given as around 26. Her birth certificate shows that she was in fact two weeks past her 29th birthday when she met her unhallowed end.
The name 'Rose', hitherto given to her by crime historians, is easily explained. It was the alias which she used at the Bromley Infirmary, a fact verified on Christmas Day 1888 by the head nurse there. The Infirmary records show that she had been in and out of it at various times during the 1880s, the last between 20th January and 14th March 1888, always for the same and unspecified malady.
Catherine Mylett seems to have had a different alias for every part of the East End. 'Rose' in Bromley-by-Bow, 'Elizabeth Davis' in Whitechapel, and Alice Downey/Downe in Poplar.
She had a child, a little girl, apparently residing in Sutton at the time of Catharine's death. According to press reports her name was 'Florrie' or 'Flossie'. Research has thus far failed to pinpoint her.
During the last few months of her life Catherine lived at a lodging house, no. 18, George Street, Spitalfields, and seems to have been cohabiting with a man named 'Goodson'.
On the night preceding her death she was seen by an infirmary worker named Charles Ptolomay apparently rejecting the advances of two sailors. Two seamen were in fact seen in Poplar High Street not long before the lady was found. One of them asked a young woman named Green how to get to the East India Dock Road. His fried chimed in: "make haste Bill and we shall be in time to catch the ship." But the two sightings were eight hours apart and in all probability the two men Green encountered were no more than a couple of merchant seamen hurrying to catch their vessel.
The million dollar question is not whether Catherine Mylett was murdered but whether she was killed by the Ripper. There were no mutilations but then there were none inflicted on Liz Stride, also murdered in a yard. Conceivably, without the protection a room afforded, the Ripper was frightened of being trapped in confined spaces.
In all probability it depends on William Bury's candidacy as the Ripper. The walking distance from his lodgings to Poplar High Street is 20-25 minutes and by 20th December 1888, after Bury had sold his pony and cart, Whitechapel and Spitalfields in the other direction were too hot for him.
But we can at least give 'Rose' Mylett her proper Christian name: Catherine.
(With thanks and acknowledgment to Dave Cuthbertson for his research into the Myletts in the 1881 Census.)