Quentin L. Pittman, esq.
At first glance, Fairy Fay, as the name suggests, does indeed appear to be a mythical creature, having sprung from journalist Terence Robertson’s inkwell early in the Autumn of 1950. However, the mystery surrounding this often dismissed Chapel dweller could be the key to learning Jack the Ripper’s identity. Fairy Fay was born when, in an article for Reynolds News, Robertson christened her, “for want of a better name”, and stated she was the Ripper’s first victim, having been attacked on Boxing Night, 1887. Inspector Edmund Reid supposedly headed the investigation, but to no avail. The perpetrator was never caught. From there, her legend grew, when author Tom Cullen, as quoted here from his 1965, fourth edition of When London Walked in Terror, wrote Fairy Fay was “the rather whimsical name the press gave to the unidentified woman whose mutilated body was discovered near Commercial Road, on the night of Boxing Day, December 26, 1887.” Cullen reprinted Robertson’s suggestions that Fairy Fay was killed after midnight, upon leaving a Mitre-square Pub, while taking a shortcut home. But as for the actual location of the alleged crime, Cullen merely states “in the dim warrens behind Commercial Road she was struck down and carved up by an unknown assassin.”
But as Nicholas Connell and Stewart Evans suggest in their highly recommended, The Man Who Hunted Jack the Ripper, Robertson’s Fairy Fay was probably a conglomeration, originally based on Lillie Herbert and Margaret Hames (or Hayes, as The Times identified her). As for Lillie Herbert, alias ‘Tot Fay’, read Connell and Evans for further elaboration on this colourful woman, as I will dwell solely on Hayes. From the inquest into the death of Emma Smith, The Times, on Monday, 9th April, 1888, reported Hayes, who lived at 18, George-street, Spitalfields, where Emma Smith lived as well, “deposed to seeing Mrs. Smith in company with a man at the corner of Farrant-street and Burdett-road. The man was dressed in a dark suit and wore a white silk handkerchief round his neck. He was of medium height, but witness did not think she could identify him.”
Later, during the same day of the inquest, The Times quotes Hayes further stating:
“... she had last seen Emma Smith between 12 and one on Tuesday morning (3rd April, 1888), talking to a man in a black dress, wearing a white neckerchief. It was near Farrant-street, Burdett-road. She (Hayes) was hurrying away from the neighbourhood, as she had herself been struck in the mouth a few minutes before by some young men. She did not believe that the man talking to Smith was one of them. The quarter was a fearfully rough one. Just before Christmas last she had been injured by men under circumstances of a similar nature, and was a fortnight in the infirmary.”
As Connell and Evans state, from this attack, Hayes sustained face and chest injuries, and was then admitted to the Whitechapel Infirmary on 8th December, 1888, being released on 28th December, 1888. Seemingly, this testimony would appear to be the foundation for the alleged Boxing Night victim, with Hayes’ George-yard residence being one block east of Commercial-street. As for Cullen’s assertion Fairy Fay was “carved up”, perhaps this was his own “rather whimsical” embellishment of the chest and facial injuries Hayes’ sustained. What is definite is that for the period alleged, Christmas 1887, no viable record outside the attack on Hayes exists, which legitimately matches Cullen or Robertson’s victim. Furthermore, there were no mutilated corpses found during this period, and records indicate Robertson’s claimed inquest into the Fairy Fay atrocity is wholly fictitious.
As we know, the only witness testimony to the actual assault of Emma Smith was from Smith herself. Approximately four to five hours after Hayes had last seen her in Limehouse, Smith appeared at her George-yard dwellings, well brutalized. She had been beaten, and as London Hospital’s house surgeon George Haslip confirmed, her peritoneum was ripped. In this dazed condition, after losing a fair amount of blood, Smith told witnesses, as told by the lodging house’s deputy keeper, Mary Russell, “she (Smith) had been set upon and robbed of all her money.” The culprits were said to be “three men, but she could not describe them.” At hospital, Smith had further alleged to Haslip that one of the three men “was a youth of nineteen.” Furthermore, en route to London Hospital, Smith had pointed out where the attack had occurred, which was outside the Taylor Brothers Mustard and Coca Mill, at the corner where Brick-lane, Osborne-street, Old Montague-street, and Wentworth-street converged. (From the Saturday, 7th April, 1888 inquest into the death of Emma Smith, as reported by The Times, on Monday, 9th April, 1888.)
While it is well established that extortion gangs, particularly the Old Nichol gang, roamed the area, I find certain things regarding Smith’s assertions troubling. First, the motive of robbery is suspect, although said gangs existed. Clearly, three men could have easily overpowered the forty-five year old woman and taken whatever meagre earnings she possessed without doing such damage to her. While this is supposition, for such acts of violence did occur, it would seem such a beating would have rationally ensued if she had no money to give them, as we shall see, but this is not what Smith stated. Likewise, the location of the crime is suspect. This corner, indeed the area outside the Mill, was well patrolled, with a night watchman on duty. And yet, as Chief Inspector West stated during the Smith inquest, no constables on that beat had seen any signs of such a disturbance. While a patrolling constable may have passed a collapsed woman once or twice, or missed an altercation, it is indeed a stretch to imagine a beaten and bleeding Smith being missed repeatedly for several hours, especially when constables had strict orders to usher loiters along. Therefore, maybe the attack occurred later than the one thirty Smith alleged, and likewise, closer to her lodgings. Nearby George-yard, where Martha Tabram was later attacked, is a strong possibility. Thus, both the location and story may have been invention. As well, there are the common denominators to consider. Smith’s age, appearance, and profession fall into the general category of women attacked. Additionally, the locations of the wounds she sustained are worth noting, as is the fact she was attacked on a holiday weekend. Finally, the idea for her story may have generated from her association with Margaret Hayes, who received such a beating in December. But why would Smith lie?
Possibly for the same reason Ada Wilson, a Mile End prostitute, lied about her attack the month before. Wilson invented a story that while home alone, she heard a knock, answered the door, and found a man there, who subsequently forced his way in, then demanded money. After receiving none, the man cut her throat. Wilson’s tale purports a robbery gone awry, yet strong evidence contradicts it. For Rose Bierman, lodging at number 9, Maidmans-street, is quoted in The Eastern Post & Chronicle, Saturday, 31st March, 1888, as saying:
“Ada Wilson, the injured woman, is the occupier of the house, but at the time of the outrage she was under notice to quit. I knew Mrs. Wilson as a married woman, although I had never seen her husband. Last evening she came into the house accompanied by a male companion, but whether he was her husband or not I could not say. She has often had visitors to see her, but I have rarely seen them myself, as Mrs. Wilson lives in the front room, her bedroom being just at the back, adjoining the parlour. My mother and I occupy two rooms upstairs.”
Why would Smith lie then? Possibly for the very same reasons Wilson lied - pride and appearance. Being robbed was one thing, but admitting you were an unfortunate, and your client had savagely wounded you was quite another offence altogether.
To wit, I have made some suppositions, but given the scant details available regarding the Hayes and Smith incidents, we will probably never know more than the aforementioned. However, when considering these events, perhaps now one can understand why some members of the police at that time, including Walter Dew, considered Smith to be the Ripper’s first, true victim. While I am leery of projecting modern ideas on past events, if we cast our present understanding of sexual killers on these crimes, and consider the Smith incident in relation to the area’s other attacks, then there is a strong possibility that Jack the Ripper’s first victim was not Mary Ann Nichols. Generally, this type of killer “builds” from bodily assault to murder, and a pattern of “building” behaviour can be established. See Ressler, Robert, Ann Burgess, and John Douglas, “Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives”, Free Press, 1988, for more in-depth details. If this is true of Jack the Ripper, then perhaps the killer began not in August, but in February, with the awkward, unseen attack on Annie Millwood in White’s-Row. Then in March, he ventured to Mile End, where coincidentally Annie Millwood was recuperating at the South Grove Workhouse, and attacked Ada Wilson. After a narrow escape, he then returned west, to his epicentre, where in April he crudely attacked Smith. Seen in this context, the killer, while learning his craft, would be exhibiting a natural escalation, which he further refined in a frenzied, early August attack on Martha Tabram. This attack was within yards, if not in the same location, as the Smith incident. By the time of Nichols’ death, on 31st August 1888, he had become a phantom, killing machine.
I would not say these postulations are definitely what occurred. However, I do believe these are reasonable possibilities, which may offer a key to identifying our perpetrator. During the months of May, June, and July, 1888, no such attacks occurred. Why? Most persons concentrate solely on the absence of crimes in October, 1888, but during these summer months, there was no increased police presence or patrolling vigilantes to contend with. Perhaps our man, during the summer of 1888, was not in a position to commit such offences in this area? Given the cyclic nature of these crimes, both before and after Tabram, the theory that the killer may have been in jail, hospital, or abroad during that summer may be more plausible than he simply stopped for three months. Is it not possible as well that such a person could have been detained in some manner for both the summer and October of 1888? Alas, more questions, and more records to examine, but I do think the importance of Fairy Fay is clear.
In many ways, she completely embodies the Jack the Ripper saga. Fact and fiction have been woven together for so long, that certain aspects of this mystery are now completely taken for granted when perhaps they should not be. If, however, we continue to research these crimes, and all of the genre’s facts and archetypes, someday we may inadvertently stumble upon that coveted grail. For as Walter Dew believed, someone, somewhere, shared this killer’s guilty secret - now let’s just hope they wrote it down!