|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 61, September 2005. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.|
"I congratulate you that your labours are now nearly completed. Although up to the present they have not resulted in the detection of any criminal, I have no doubt that if the perpetrator of this foul murder is eventually discovered, our efforts will not have been useless."
So said Coroner Wynne Edwin Baxter to the jury in his summing up at Annie Chapman's inquest on 26 September 18881. He could have been talking to the legion of students who, in the subsequent 117 years, have been doing everything possible to uncover the identity of the culprit.
Baxter is an important figure in the story of the Whitechapel murders. He conducted the inquests into the deaths, chronologically, of Annie Millwood, Emma Smith, Martha Tabram, Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Rose Mylett, Alice McKenzie, the Pinchin Street Torso, and Frances Coles.
This three-year period, the span of the Ripper-related crimes, is but a small passage of time in Baxter's career. At the time of his death in 1920, Wynne Edwin Baxter had been Coroner for London for 33 years, and was known as the 'father of the London coroners'2, using the telegram address 'Inquest, London'. Before that he was Coroner for Sussex for seven years. In all he conducted over 40,000 inquests, from the Brighton Railway murder of Isaac Gold to the victims of German air raids during the First World War. He was an extremely successful and popular coroner, solicitor, politician and businessman in both London and his hometown of Lewes. This is his story.
Wynne Baxter's direct ancestry can be traced to the marriage of William Baxter to Sarah Hull in 1640. Four generations of sons led to the birth on 20 October 1781 at Rickhurst, Surrey of Wynne's grandfather, John Baxter3. John was a printer and book publisher, who initially set up business in the Strand, London, but moved to Lewes and in 1800 founded a circulating library. His first published work was Dramatic Poems, comprising the following tragedies: Gunilda, Usurper, Matilda and Abballa by J Delap in 1803, followed in 1805 by J V Button's The Brighton and Lewes Guide. He is credited with publishing the first cricket rule book, Lambert's Cricketer's Guide4.
On 22 November 1801 John married Charlotte Warner at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London5. Charlotte had been born in Midhurst in 17796. Their first son, John Mann Baxter, was born in 1802; second son George, born in 1804, was the famous picture printer regarded as the inventor of colour printing. His earliest prints were made in the 1830s, his fame reaching a peak as a result of the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. Wynne's father, William Edwin Baxter, was born in 1808. In the late 1820s he went into business with John as Baxter and Son. The pair published mainly local history and biographical books7, based at 35 High Street, Lewes8, and in 1837 founded the Sussex Agricultural Express, a weekly newspaper first published on 4 February9. Five years later it was still the only newspaper in the county printed by machine. On 2 May 1842 William offered the use of his compositors, types and machines at the Sussex Express's office to Mr F Lee, the proprietor of the Sussex Advertiser, following a fire at the latter's offices, despite him being the main local competitor. 10 Always with an eye to the future, on 30 April 1855 William voted to accept the Newspaper Stamp Duties Bill, which proposed to impose a duty of one penny. 11
In 1843 William married Anne Minshall, born in 1818 in Llangollen12. Their first child was Wynne Edwin Baxter, born on 1 May 1844. Wynne was followed by Warner Richardson (1845-1858), Minshall (b1846), Mary Anne (1848-1902), Harrild (1851-1926), and Edith Warner (1859-1931). Sadly Warner contracted diptheria in October 1858 and died a week later (hence Edith's middle name). At grandfather John's request, Wynne wrote a personal memorial: A few reminiscences of Warner Richardson Baxter, who died, after seven days' illness, of diphtheria, October 12, 1858, aged 13 / by his brother Wynne, at his grandpapa's request. This 35 page document was printed at the Sussex Express office13. John Baxter died the following month, on 12 November, aged 77. He was buried at All Saints church on 20 November. A local newspaper reported that he was "followed to the grave by upwards of forty persons employed in his establishment," and that "a number of highly respectable inhabitants of the town were present" at the funeral14.
In the years preceding John's death sons George and William seem to have been at loggerheads, with George greatly insulted not to have been appointed Executor of his father's Will, constantly commenting on the fact that he was the eldest son (first born John died in 1821 aged 19) 15. No doubt with a degree of mischievousness, George gives an interesting insight into the character of William and Charlotte: "I am sorry to say that this disunion of brotherly love has been caused in a great measure by the conduct of Mrs William Baxter, and the extraordinary temper which she displays toward her husband. I cannot help thinking of a circumstance which took place whilst my brother William and his wife were on a visit at my house. After a grand display of her tantrums, my brother saw Mrs William to the railway station, popped her into a carriage for Wales; and, with a countenance beaming with joy at his wife's departure, returned to my house, offered his hand to my wife, and asked her to accept an apology for Mrs William's conduct." 16 After the funeral of their father, George dedicated himself to his printing interests, while William continued the printing firm as W E Baxter. Today the Sussex Advertiser is Sussex's oldest newspaper17.
Wynne was educated publicly at Lewes Grammar School, and privately by Reverend P Frost at Sussex Square, Brighton18. Breaking away from the family printing business, he subsequently studied law and was admitted as a solicitor in 1867. He did not, however, turn his back completely on the print trade, as he was Vice-President of the Provincial Newspaper Society between 1871 and 187719.
1868 proved to be a year of mixed fortunes. Grandmother Charlotte Baxter died on 8 February, although more happily on 11 June Wynne married Kate Bliss Parker at St Mary's, Stoke Newington, the service being conducted by Reverend Thomas Jackson. Kate was born on 8 May 1848 at Becket House, Northampton, to Francis Haslock Parker and Maria Bliss. Parker was a boot manufacturer who became Mayor of Northampton for three years, 1848-1851. The family moved to Mildmay Park, Clissold Road, Stoke Newington and it was here that Kate met Wynne20. The couple lived at 170 Stoke Newington Church Street (telephone no. 550 Dalston). They also had a country property at 8 The Granvilles, Stroud, Gloucestershire (telephone no. 68 Stroud), on a mortgage from Wynne's mother Anne21.
The marriage produced six children, all born in Lewes; Wynne Dallett (15 March 1869-29 September 1926), Edith Marion (May22) Bliss (6 June 1870-23 April 1918), Reginald Truscott (18 November 1871-July 1939), Kate 'Katie' Bliss (b 14 October 1873-12 October 1949), Emily Bliss (29 July 1875-3 January 1881), and Francis William (20 July 1876-14 April 1932).
Eldest son Dallett23 was educated by O. Gaddesdon Machin at Bengeo, Hertford24. He also became a printer, working for a time for W E Baxter Ltd, and trying his luck as a freelance printer from 9 Laurence Pountney Hill in 1892/9325. Dallett married Lizzie Hind of Leicester around 1900 and within ten years had emigrated to Kirkland, Washington State, USA, a small town created in the 1890s when steel baron Peter Kirk moved from Workington and attempted to build a steel mill. Although nothing came from Kirk's venture, he was followed by many people from England seeking to create their own businesses. Dallett and Lizzie opened a grocery store26, before he died at 2pm on 29 September 1926 after a long illness27. Wynne's Will reveals that father and eldest son did not see eye to eye, with Dallett being named as Joint Executor only on the condition that he was living permanently in the UK, and withholding £1,000 (£24,500 today) from Dallett's share of the estate in recognition of sums advanced to set him up in business in the US. Dallett did not attend Wynne's funeral, and was not an Executor of the Will. Following his death widow Lizzie continued to operate the store, but after a series of robberies sold up and returned to her family home in Birstall, Leicestershire28, where she died on 29 October 193629.
Little is known of Edith Marion, except that she lived at Stoke Newington with her father and died suddenly on 23 April 1918 after being taken ill in the street; she was dead on arrival at the Metropolitan Hospital in Dalston30.
Reginald Truscott (Reggie) followed his father into law and became a solicitor, running the Lewes offices of Wynne E Baxter and Son at 8 Albion Street. He passed his Intermediate Examination at the Law Society on 20 June 189531, and gained his MA degree at Cambridge University on 9 December 189732. At the time of Wynne's death Reggie was the Town Clerk of Lewes, appointed five years earlier in 191533. As with his father and brother Francis, Reggie seems to have been a keen essay writer and speaker. His presentation on Human Responsibility, a rather dry essay held in Baxter's personal papers, must have received little interest from its audience as his handwritten comments indicate: "I really did think that this subject would have produced some debate… I am most disappointed in our members." On Wynne's death Reggie was bequeathed the goodwill of the company, and retained the name W E Baxter and Son, although by 1937 was trading as R T Baxter34. He died in July 1939 and was buried in the family vault at Lewes cemetery on 22 July, aged 67.
Francis William (Frank) was also a solicitor, working for Wynne-Baxter and Keeble at Laurence Pountney Hill. It was on his death in 1932 that the company passed to partner Thomas Alfred Warburton. He lived at 170 Stoke Newington Church Street with Wynne and sister Kate. Frank was a keen historian, writing many columns for local newspapers such as the Hackney and Stoke Newington Recorder. One such item, dated 16 July 1923, extols the virtues of the Stephen family, whom Frank seems to have known personally. Private letters from Sir Herbert Stephen, JK's eldest brother, offered family information, which Frank incorporated into the article. He hosted, and was Secretary of, the Stoke Newington Literary and Scientific Society, which met at 170 Church Street to read plays until Wynne's death in 1920. In the late 1920s Frank donated the Baxter family archives to Stoke Newington Library35. Frank died on 14 April 1932. His service was held at Stoke Newington at 11am on 19 April, and he was buried at Lewes at 3pm on the same day36. The whole row of which 170 Church Street was part was owned or held in trust by the Baxter family. Obviously under some disrepair, it was surrendered for demolition following Frank's death37. His Will specified that his collection of colour prints, drawings by and original patents awarded to his Great-Uncle George Baxter was to be sold at auction; this was carried out by Puttick and Simpson of Leicester Square on 28 July 193238.
William Baxter, Wynne's father, died in 1873. W E Baxter, the printing firm and proprietors of the Sussex Express, were run by widow Anne, with Wynne acting as Chairman, until her death in 1897.
Wynne's beloved wife Kate died on 7 September 1915, aged 67. A service was held at Stoke Newington old church at 10.30am on 10 September, and Kate was finally laid to rest in the Baxter family vault at Lewes cemetery at 3.30pm on the same day39.
Following his admission to the bar in early 1867, at the age of 23, Baxter immediately became in demand in Lewes, probably through the good name of his Grandfather and Father. He was appointed solicitor to Lewes Co-operative Benefit Building Society on its formation in 1870, a position he held until his death. In later years son Reggie carried out the duties for the Society from the Albion Street offices. Over the years he was to become a member of the Law Society, the Law Association and the Solicitor's Benevolent Association40.
In 1875 Wynne moved from Lewes to London, starting a solicitor's practice at 9 Laurence Pountney Hill, Cannon Street E1 (telephone no. 642 Bank), and an advertising agency under the name Baxter & Co at the same address.
In 1880, in an attempt to secure assistance to the practice now that he was busier than ever with his Coroner duties, Baxter took on one Henry William Hennicker Rance as partner. The new firm, Wynne-Baxter and Rance, steadily grew in size until 1886 when the firm admitted Edward Meade as a third partner, renaming as Wynne-Baxter, Rance and Meade. This arrangement lasted just two years before the three went their separate ways; Baxter remaining at Laurence Pountney Hill, with both Rance and Meade deciding to form their own companies, Rance at 70 Lincoln's Inn Fields and Meade at 14 Walbrook41.
In 1888 Baxter employed the newly-qualified Jasper Keeble42, who at that time lived at 13 New Cavendish Street43, and renamed the company Wynne-Baxter and Keeble. On 3 August 1888 the company issued a letter to the Justices advising them they were to be sued for unpaid salary due to Wynne Edwin Baxter, Coroner44. The company proved extremely successful and continued working under the same name, from the same address, beyond both Keeble's death on 25 November 191245, and Baxter's own passing in 1920, although Wynne had long since retired from the practice46. From 1891-1896 W E Baxter, the proprietors of the Sussex Express, were based at 9 Laurence Pountney Hill. Various partners came and went, including son Frank, until finally in 1936 the company was being run by Thomas Alfred Warburton, who had been involved in the practice from before 192047, and James Herbert Aston. 9 Laurence Pountney Hill was demolished in early 1936 and the company moved just around the corner to 2 Suffolk Lane. A new property at Laurence Pountney Hill was soon proposed, with the plans and particulars being offered for inspection by the architect, Gervase Bailey48. This is the building that can be seen in Laurence Pountney Hill today. The following year, although still advertising as Wynne-Baxter and Keeble, the company was trading as Elbeek, Cannon, London. In 1939 Thomas Warburton died and his duties passed to son Eric John Warburton, and the company commenced trading as Warburton49. By the 1940s the company was so large it was the official solicitor for Barclays Bank (Dominion, Colonial and Overseas) 50. Although still listed as Wynne-Baxter and Keeble in 1958, the company was actually incorporated into Young, Jones and Co. In 1960 the name was merely listed as incorporated under the Young, Jones and Co. banner, and finally disappeared completely in 1972 when the various companies incorporated under the same name became known simply as Stafford, Clark and Co. A name change to Young, Jones, Hair and Co. in 1975 carried the company forward to 1989, when the present incarnation was borne as Stafford, Young, Jones. The company is today based at 29 Martin's Lane, Cannon Street51.
The Lewes practice, run from Albion Street by Reggie until his death, still survives as Wynne Baxter. In 1970 the firm was renamed Wynne Baxter, Hillman and Carter, reverting to Wynne Baxter from the tongue-twisting Wynne Baxter Godfree with Selwood Leathes Hooper in 2001. Today the firm has 17 Partners and four offices - Brighton, Lewes and Seaford in East Sussex, as well as Lingfield in Surrey - with around 44 lawyers in total52.
From an early age Wynne became interested in local government and in 1868, at the age of 24, was appointed Junior Headborough for Lewes53. His move to London did nothing to diminish his political drive, and he was also appointed Under-Sherriff of London and Middlesex 1876-79, 1885-86, and Junior High Constable in 187854.
His involvement in the City Companies led to his being made clerk to the Worshipful Company of Farriers from 1876 to 1905; the Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyredrawers from 1878 until his death in 1920; and the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights from 1882 to 191355. At a dinner of the Gold and Silver Wyre Drawer's Company on 24 March 1908, which was attended by the Lord Mayor and numerous dignitaries, the Master stated that Baxter was principally responsible for the success of the Company since 1879. Incorporated in 1623, the Company had done well for 200 years but for 50 years in the 1800s had dwindled. Since Baxter became involved it had needed to request a larger livery at the annual Lord Mayor's Show due to overwhelming interest. The Company had become the first among the alder Companies to admit members of the Jewish faith56.
In Lewes, Wynne was elected Senior High Constable for 1880 and 1881, the only recorded instance since 1544 of a citizen of the Borough of Lewes serving for two years in succession, the reason being the imminent incorporation of the Borough. He conducted the application to the Privy Council for the grant of the Charter of Incorporation in 1880 and 1881, and was named in the Charter as Returning Officer. Baxter was elected second with 975 votes, behind Dr W F Crosskey. At the subsequent initial meeting of the new Council on 9 November 1881 he was elected Alderman, an office he held until 1887. He was chosen as Mayor for the first year of the Borough (1881-82), subsequently serving as chairman of the Highways and Works Committee in 1882-8357. The huge painting of Baxter which today hangs in the Assembly Room of Lewes Town Hall was commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyredrawers in 1882 to commemorate Baxter's election as first Mayor. It was painted by Mr Cave Thomas58, and presented to the Corporation by Baxter in November 189459.
Wynne Baxter was appointed Coroner for Sussex on 29 January 1880, a post he held until 1887 when he decided his duties as Coroner for East Middlesex, to which he was appointed the previous year, were demanding too much of his time to be able to successfully handle both roles60. During these seven years in Sussex he presided over hundreds of local cases, most famously the inquest into the murder of retired corn merchant Frederick Gold by Percy Lefroy Mapleton on the 2pm train from London Bridge to Brighton, on 27 June 1881. The Daily Telegraph made newspaper history by publishing the first likeness of a wanted man. Mapleton was eventually captured in Stepney by Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson, and was hanged at Lewes on 29 November 1881. Baxter also conducted the murderer's inquest In the Times of 20 December 1881 Madame Tussauds announced their model of Mapleton had been added.
By 1885, Baxter was also a Deputy Coroner for the City of London and Borough of Southwark. On 13 December 1886 he was elected to replace the late Sir John Humphreys as Coroner County of Middlesex (Eastern District) with 1,401 votes, beating Dr Roderick MacDonald into second place with 1,069 votes61. On 17 December Baxter wrote a letter of thanks in the Times: "Gentlemen, I beg to return you my most sincere thanks for the high honour you have conferred upon me in electing me to the important post of Coroner for the Eastern Division of the County. I trust by a conscientious discharge of the duties of the office to fully justify the confidence reposed in me."
The Coroners' Act of 1888 changed the way in which Coroners were awarded their positions. They were no longer elected, but appointed by local authorities. This goes some way to explaining why Baxter and other Coroners remained in their respective positions for a number of years. Wynne was subsequently named Coroner for the County of Middlesex (South Eastern District) for 1889 to 1891, and then for the City of London (Eastern District) and the Liberty of the Tower of London from 1892 until his death in 1920.
An amusing piece in the Daily Express of 4 October 1920, reflecting on the recently deceased Baxter's career, gave a potted history of the office:
Mr Wynne Baxter held an office that has existed ever since c1194, according to the Calendar of Coroners' Rolls published by the City Corporation, which throws curious sidelights on the history of mediaeval London. Many deaths were caused by falling down the stairs, which were then generally outside the houses instead of inside. There is an inquest recorded of an infant mauled to death by one of the swine which then infested parts of the City. In the fourteenth century two men were shot by arrows - one at Stepney while guarding the crops at the Dean of St Paul's and the other at Tyburn. One inquest held in 1324 was upon a woman who had dropped a lighted candle as she was going to bed and set fire to the house. She and her husband escaped from the burning building, but the latter was so incensed with his wife for having caused the disaster that he pushed her back into the flames and made off.
"The average cost of an inquest [in London] for the seven years 1894-1900 was £3.11s (£235 today62), so that the 25,054 inquests held during that period in which the verdict was natural causes cost over £90,000 (£5,954,805)," stated Mr A Spencer, chief officer of the Public Control Department of the London County Council in his report for the 12 months up to 31 March 1902. The report revealed that Wynne Baxter had conducted the most inquests, 1,642, and had received disbursements of £2,954 (£196,097). 63
Obviously proud of his long period of service, Baxter commented in 1907: "I have held over 30,000 inquests, and have not had one body exhumed yet". 64
Twenty years earlier, in July 1887, he held the inquest of Miriam Angel, who had been poisoned by Israel Lipski at 16 Batty Street. The name Lipski was to become well known in Whitechapel over the next year, as was that of Wynne Baxter.
On 5 April 1888 he presided over the inquest on Annie Millwood at the Baker's Row Infirmary. Annie has been proposed as being a possible victim of an early Ripper attack, for the reason that she had been admitted to the Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary, in Baker's Row, on 25 February after being stabbed repeatedly in her legs and lower torso by a stranger with a clasp knife at her lodgings at 8 White's Row. Annie made a full recovery from her injuries, but died from natural causes on 31 March. Richard Sage, the last person to talk to her, stated: "About 11.40am on the 31st ult., I was standing at the door conversing with the deceased, and my attention being called in another direction I turned my back to her, and after a space of three minutes I returned, to find her lying down with her face on the step." 65 The inquest was held at the Infirmary, which had been built as the Whitechapel and Spitalfields Union workhouse around 1842, on the corner of Charles Street (later Baker's Row) and Thomas Street. In 1872 a new workhouse had been erected in Whitechapel South Grove. At this point the Charles Street site took on the role of union infirmary. In the late 1880s a number of additions and improvements were made, the imbecile wards rebuilt and a new mortuary erected at the south-east corner of the site with an entrance from Thomas Street66. The site later became St Peter's Hospital, Vallance Road and was eventually demolished in the 1960s67.
Just a day before the inquest on Annie Millwood, at around 4.00am on 4 April, Emma Smith had somehow staggered back to her lodgings in George Street having been attacked by three or four youths and horribly injured, her face bloodied and her ear cut, and her perineum torn after a blunt object had been forced into her vagina. The shocked Deputy, Mary Russell, rushed Emma to the London Hospital on Whitechapel Road, where she described her assailants and the details of her assault before falling into a coma and dying three days later. The inquest was held by Wynne Baxter later that day at the hospital. Summing up, he said: "From the medical evidence it was clear that the woman had been barbarously murdered. Such a dastardly assault I have never heard of, and it is impossible to imagine a more brutal case." 68 It was neither the first time nor the last that Baxter would have contact with the London Hospital. On 16 May 1889 he was made a Life Governor, in consideration of a donation he had made of some twenty guineas (£70) 69.
With Baxter unavailable, Deputy Coroner George Collier held the inquiry into the death of Martha Tabram on 9 and 23 August 1888. This was the first time the Working Lads' Institute and Home had been used for a Ripper-related inquest, and the East London Advertiser of 15 September 1888 commented: "A word may be said as to the great advantage there is in selecting such a place as the Lads' Institute for coroner's inquiries. The hall is lofty and light, while there is plenty of room for everyone. The improvement upon the custom of hiring a public house room is manifest, and the new departure inaugurated by Mr Wynne Baxter cannot be regretted." The Working Lad's Institute, 285 Whitechapel Road, was opened in 1885 by the Princess of Wales, with the Prince also in attendance70. The inquests took place in the Alexandra room, a large reading room overlooking the street, with the Coroner's seat being in front of a painting of the Princess71.
Just two weeks later, on 31 August, Mary Ann Nichols was murdered and mutilated in Bucks Row. The inquest, again held at the Working Lads' Institute, commenced on 1 September, and was resumed on 3rd and 17th of the same month. During this time, Baxter heard a multitude of witnesses and gave numerous examples of his direct approach, including this exchange reported in The Daily Telegraph of 4 September:
Baxter, to Henry Tomkins, horse slaughterer: Are there any women about there?
Tomkins: Oh! I know nothing about them, I don't like 'em.
Baxter: I did not ask you whether you like them; I ask you whether there were any about that night.
The question of a reward was raised, with the Foreman of the jury debating whether had a reward been offered by the Government after Tabram's murder the deaths of Nichols and Chapman might have been prevented. He intimated that he would be willing to give £25 himself, and he hoped that the Government would offer a reward. Baxter stated that he understood that no rewards were now offered in any case, which was confirmed by Inspector Helson.
Baxter's summing up on 22 September, reported in The Daily Telegraph of 24 September, reveals that at that time it was thought that both Emma Smith and Martha Tabram were the first killings in the series:
We cannot altogether leave unnoticed the fact that the death that you have been investigating is one of four presenting many points of similarity, all of which have occurred within the space of about five months, and all within a very short distance of the place where we are sitting.
All four victims were women of middle age, all were married, and had lived apart from their husbands in consequence of intemperate habits, and were at the time of their death leading an irregular life, and eking out a miserable and precarious existence in common lodging-houses.
In each case there were abdominal as well as other injuries. In each case the injuries were inflicted after midnight, and in places of public resort, where it would appear impossible but that almost immediate detection should follow the crime, and in each case the inhuman and dastardly criminals are at large in society. Emma Elizabeth Smith, who received her injuries in Osborn-street on the early morning of Easter Tuesday, April 3, survived in the London Hospital for upwards of twenty-four hours, and was able to state that she had been followed by some men, robbed and mutilated, and even to describe imperfectly one of them. Martha Tabram was found at three a.m. on Tuesday, August 7, on the first floor landing of George-yard-buildings, Wentworth-street, with thirty-nine punctured wounds on her body. In addition to these, and the case under your consideration, there is the case of Annie Chapman, still in the hands of another jury. The instruments used in the two earlier cases are dissimilar. In the first it was a blunt instrument, such as a walking-stick; in the second, some of the wounds were thought to have been made by a dagger; but in the two recent cases the instruments suggested by the medical witnesses are not so different. Dr Llewellyn says the injuries on Nicholls could have been produced by a strong bladed instrument, moderately sharp. Dr Phillips is of opinion that those on Chapman were by a very sharp knife, probably with a thin, narrow blade, at least six to eight inches in length, probably longer.
The similarity of the injuries in the two cases is considerable. There are bruises about the face in both cases; the head is nearly severed from the body in both cases; there are other dreadful injuries in both cases; and those injuries, again, have in each case been performed with anatomical knowledge. Dr Llewellyn seems to incline to the opinion that the abdominal injuries were first, and caused instantaneous death; but, if so, it seems difficult to understand the object of such desperate injuries to the throat, or how it comes about that there was so little bleeding from the several arteries, that the clothing on the upper surface was not stained, and, indeed, very much less bleeding from the abdomen than from the neck. Surely it may well be that, as in the case of Chapman, the dreadful wounds to the throat were inflicted first and the others afterwards... I suggest to you as a possibility that these two women may have been murdered by the same man with the same object, and that in the case of Nicholls the wretch was disturbed before he had accomplished his object, and having failed in the open street he tries again, within a week of his failure, in a more secluded place. If this should be correct, the audacity and daring is equal to its maniacal fanaticism and abhorrent wickedness. But this surmise may or may not be correct, the suggested motive may be the wrong one; but one thing is very clear - that a murder of a most atrocious character has been committed.
With Annie Chapman having been found murdered in the yard of 29 Hanbury Street in the early hours of 8 September, Baxter suddenly found himself conducting inquiries into the deaths of two Ripper victims simultaneously.
The inquest commenced on 10 September with Baxter and Deputy Coroner Collier accompanying the jury to view the body. On their return to the Working Lads' Institute, once again the venue, a large crowd followed them through the streets, which had to be broken up by the police on reaching the Institute.
The poor facilities led to Baxter bemoaning the lack of a proper mortuary, his comments reported in the Daily Telegraph of 13 September:
The fact is that Whitechapel does not possess a mortuary. The place is not a mortuary at all. We have no right to take a body there. It is simply a shed belonging to the workhouse officials. Juries have over and over again reported the matter to the District Board of Works. The East-end, which requires mortuaries more than anywhere else, is most deficient. Bodies drawn out of the river have to be put in boxes, and very often they are brought to this workhouse arrangement all the way from Wapping. A workhouse inmate is not the proper man to take care of a body in such an important matter as this.
Dr George Bagster Phillips agreed, adding:
As on many occasions I have met with the same difficulty, I now raise my protest, as I have before, that members of my profession should be called upon to perform their duties under these inadequate circumstances.
The mortuary is not fitted for a post-mortem examination. It is only a shed. There is no adequate convenience, and nothing fit, and at certain seasons of the year it is dangerous to the operator. As a matter of fact there is no public mortuary from the City of London up to Bow. There is one at Mile-end, but it belongs to the workhouse, and is not used for general purposes.
It is at Annie Chapman's inquest that Wynne Baxter is noted for several things; his shortness with the police, his insistence that medical testimony be given in full, and a 'theory' presented during his summing up, which we shall come to later.
With Dr Phillips extremely reluctant to disclose the full nature of the mutilations, Baxter pressed him for details:
The object of the inquiry is not only to ascertain the cause of death, but the means by which it occurred. Any mutilation which took place afterwards may suggest the character of the man who did it… Whatever may be your opinion and objections, it appears to me necessary that all the evidence that you ascertained from the post-mortem examination should be on the records of the Court for various reasons, which I need not enumerate. However painful it may be, it is necessary in the interests of justice.
Phillips: I still think that it is a very great pity to make this evidence public. Of course, I bow to your decision; but there are matters which have come to light now which show the wisdom of the course pursued on the last occasion, and I cannot help reiterating my regret that you have come to a different conclusion. On the last occasion, just before I left the court, I mentioned to you that there were reasons why I thought the perpetrator of the act upon the woman's throat had caught hold of her chin. These reasons were that just below the lobe of the left ear were three scratches, and there was also a bruise on the right cheek. When I come to speak of the wounds on the lower part of the body I must again repeat my opinion that it is highly injudicious to make the results of my examination public. These details are fit only for yourself, sir, and the jury, but to make them public would simply be disgusting.
Baxter: We are here in the interests of justice, and must have all the evidence before us. I see, however, that there are several ladies and boys in the room, and I think they might retire.
Having persuaded Dr Phillips to give his evidence in full, Baxter proceeded to point out the terrible conditions in Spitalfields during his summing up on 26 September:
She lived principally in the common lodging houses in the neighbourhood of Spitalfields, where such as she herd like cattle, and she showed signs of great deprivation, as if she had been badly fed. The glimpses of life in these dens which the evidence in this case discloses is sufficient to make us feel that there is much in the nineteenth century civilisation of which we have small reason to be proud; but you who are constantly called together to hear the sad tale of starvation, or semi-starvation, of misery, immorality, and wickedness which some of the occupants of the 5,000 beds in this district have every week to relate to coroner's inquests, do not require to be reminded of what life in a Spitalfields lodging-house means.
In the early hours of 30 September the 'Double Event' murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes took place. With Eddowes's inquest being presided over by City Coroner Samuel Langham, Baxter conducted the inquiry into the death of Elizabeth Stride at the Vestry Hall in Cable Street.
On day three, 3 October, Baxter questioned Stride's common-law husband, Michael Kidney, who seemed to have private information that might help capture the murderer:
Baxter: Had you any information that required the service of a detective?
Kidney: Yes. I thought that if I had one, privately, he could get more information than I could myself. The parties I obtained my information from knew me, and I thought someone else would be able to derive more from them.
Inspector Reid: Will you give me the information directly, if you will not give it to the coroner?
Kidney: I believe I could catch the man if I had a detective under my command.
Baxter, to laughter: You cannot expect that. I have had over a hundred letters making suggestions, and I dare say all the writers would like to have a detective at their service.
Kidney: I have information which I think might be of use to the police.
Baxter: You had better give it, then.
Kidney: I believe that, if I could place the policeman myself, the man would be captured.
Baxter: You must know that the police would not be placed at the disposal of a man the worse for drink.
Kidney: If I were at liberty to place 100 men about this city the murderer would be caught in the act.
Needless to say, Kidney's suggestion was not taken up.
Questioning Dr Blackwell, Baxter, in an example of his no-nonsense coronership, dispelled the suggestion that the murderer might be a slaughterman:
Blackwell: With respect to the knife which was found, I should like to say that I concur with Dr Phillips in his opinion that, although it might possibly have inflicted the injury, it is an extremely unlikely instrument to have been used. It appears to me that a murderer, in using a round-pointed instrument, would seriously handicap himself, as he would be only able to use it in one particular way. I am told that slaughterers always use a sharp- pointed instrument.
Baxter: No one has suggested that this crime was committed by a slaughterer.
Blackwell: I simply intended to point out the inconvenience that might arise from using a blunt-pointed weapon.
Similarly, Baxter offered the answer to the possibility of Stride's husband and children perishing in the Princess Alice disaster, which is still mooted today, during his questioning of Sven Ollsen of the Swedish Church:
Do you remember that there was a subscription raised for the relatives of the sufferers by the Princess Alice?
Baxter: I can tell you that there was, and I can tell you another thing - that no person of the name of Stride made any application. If her story had been true, don't you think she would have applied?
Finally, during his summing up on 23 October, Baxter once again drew comparisons between the victims:
There had been no skilful mutilation as in the cases of Nichols and Chapman, and no unskilful injuries as in the case in Mitre-square - possibly the work of an imitator; but there had been the same skill exhibited in the way in which the victim had been entrapped, and the injuries inflicted, so as to cause instant death and prevent blood from soiling the operator, and the same daring defiance of immediate detection, which, unfortunately for the peace of the inhabitants and trade of the neighbourhood, had hitherto been only too successful.
On 20 December 1888 the body of Rose Mylett was found in Clarke's Yard, High Street, Poplar. The inquest was held on 21 December 1888 and 2 and 9 January 1889 at Poplar Town Hall. 72
Drs Brownfield, Hibberd and MacKellar concurred that death was of 'homicidal intent' caused by strangulation using string, a mark of an eight-of-an-inch deep being around the neck, with some scratches above it. When the body was placed in its coffin a bruise had developed to the left of the mark.
Dr Bond, however, disagreed and felt that the death was not murder, having expected to find the skin broken if that were the case. The usual signs of strangulation, such as protrusion of the tongue and clenching of the hands, were absent, and nothing at all suggested death from violence.
Baxter stated in his summing up that the conflict of medical opinion meant that the case had to be considered very carefully. He wondered why, if it was indeed a case of strangulation, the supposed string used had not been found. He made special mention, reported in the Times of 10 January 1889, of the fact that 'doctor after doctor went down to view the body without his knowledge or sanction as coroner. He did not wish to make that a personal matter, but he had never received such treatment before. He did not think any disrespect to him was intended when several doctors were sent to view the body.'
With the Ripper scare seemingly over after a prolonged period without a murder similar to the horrors of the previous year, it must have come as some shock when the body of Alice McKenzie was found in Castle Alley in the early hours of 17 July 1889. Her throat had been cut, with superficial mutilations inflicted to her lower torso.
The inquest commenced on 17 July at the Working Lads' Institute. At the end of the second day, on 18 July, Baxter adjourned the inqury, while commenting that he felt the prostitutes of Whitechapel had it in their power to stop the murders. His comments were published in the Times of 19 July:
The Coroner said the inquiry would be adjourned until the 14th of August. In the meantime he hoped there would not be another affair of this kind. People having the character of the victims had it entirely in their hands to prevent this kind of thing. If they could only be induced not to assist the man who did this sort of work it would be stopped, but unfortunately it was hoping against hope, because they would lend themselves to it.
Baxter touched on this subject again during his summing up at the resumed inquest on 14 August:
There is great similarity between this and the other class of cases which have happened in this neighbourhood, and if this crime has not been committed by the same person, it is clearly an imitation of the other cases. We have another similarity in the absence of motive. None of the evidence shows that the deceased was at enmity with any one. There is nothing to show why the woman is murdered or by whom. I think you will agree with me that so far as the police are concerned every care was taken after the death to discover and capture the assailant. All the ability and discretion the police have shown in their investigations have been unavailing, as in the other cases. The evidence tends to show that the deceased was attacked, laid on the ground and murdered. It is to be hoped that something will be done to prevent crimes of this sort and to make such crimes impossible. It must now be patent to the whole world that in Spitalfields there is a class of persons who, I think, cannot be found in such numbers, not only in any other part of this metropolis, but in any other metropolis; and the question arises, should this state of affairs continue to exist? I do not say it is for you to decide. The matter is one for a higher power than ourselves to suggest a remedy. But it certainly appears to me there are two ways in which the matter ought to be attacked. In the first place, it ought to be attacked physically. Many of the houses in the neighbourhood are unfit for habitation. They want clearing away and fresh ones built. Those are physical alterations which, I maintain, require to be carried out there. Beyond this there is the moral question. Here we get a population of the same character, and not varied, as in a moderately-sized town or village. Here there is a population of 20,000 of the same character, not one of whom is capable of elevating the other. Of course there is an opinion among the police that it is a proper thing that this seething mass should be kept together rather than be distributed all over the metropolis. Every effort ought to be made to elevate this class. I am constantly struck by the fact that all the efforts of charitable and religious bodies here are comparatively unavailing. It is true a great deal has been done of late years, especially to assist the moral development of the East-end, but it is perfectly inadequate to meet the necessities of the case. If no other advantage comes from these mysterious murders, they will probably wake up the Church and others to the fact that it is the duty of every parish in the West to have a mission and localize work in the East-end, otherwise it will be impossible to stop these awful cases of crime. Here is a parish of 21,000 persons with only one church in it. There are not only cases of murder here, but many of starvation. I hope at least these cases will open the eyes of those who are charitable to the necessity of doing their duty by trying to elevate the lower classes. 73
These comments drew a strong reaction from The Eastern Post and City Chronicle of 17 August:
Coroner Baxter aimed at something in his summing up to the jury over the Whitechapel murder, no doubt, although it seems difficult to me to know exactly what he was driving at.
He got inextricably mixed in the facts. He and the jury had met to adjudicate upon the Whitechapel murder, but the coroner spoke only of Spitalfields. He dilated upon the blind and dark alleys, but Castle Alley is neither the one nor the other, as the evidence of the police-constables proved.
He spoke of that "class of persons" - referring to the deceased - as not to be met with in any other part of London, and of there being 20,000 of "that class" in Spitalfields (Whitechapel?) I should like to know where Mr Baxter gets his figures from, and also his authority for saying this "class" is not to be met with in any other part of London.
Mr Baxter's knowledge of the metropolis is further made clear by the startling assertion that Westward "a poor man is unknown." Surely the reporter has played tricks with the coroner's speech, and put words into his mouth he never dreamed of uttering.
The cry of pull down and clear away, seems to suppose that lodging houses and small cheap tenements make the poverty. They surely accommodate the poverty which is the inevitable outcome of a seething population of four millions massed within so limited an area as London.
But Coroner Baxter's suggestion for the West to have missions in the East for the benefit of the poor is very excellent. Only it is not new, for good folk who have money and titles and spare time have been for years in the habit of leaving their homes in Belgravia to work in the midst of the poor in Whitechapel. And this work of sympathy is doing great good to the people and to their habitations; quietly it is true - so quietly in fact that Mr Baxter apparently has no idea of its existence any more than he is aware that there exists "that class" in Southwark, or that there are any poor people at the West End.
Despite Baxter's hope for no further murders to take place, less than a month later, on 10 September 1889, the remains of a woman's body was found under a railway arch in Pinchin Street. At the inquest held at the Vestry Hall, Cable Street, on 11 and 24 September, Divisional Surgeon Mr J Clarke estimated death to have taken place at least 24 hours earlier, with the body decapitated and legs cut off. The mutilations caused Baxter to ask Dr George Bagster Phillips if they were similar to those inflicted on Mary Kelly. Dr Phillips replied:
I have not noticed any sufficient similarity to convince me it was the person who committed both mutilations, but the division of the neck and attempt to disarticulate the bones of the spine are very similar to that which was effected in this case. The savagery shown by the mutilated remains in the Dorset-street case far exceeded that shown in this case. The mutilations in the Dorset-street case were most wanton, whereas in this case it strikes me that they were made for the purpose of disposing of the body. I wish to say that these are mere points that strike me without any comparative study of the other case, except those afforded by partial notes that I have with me. I think in this case there has been greater knowledge shown in regard to the construction of the parts composing the spine, and on the whole there has been a greater knowledge shown of how to separate a joint.
Seemingly satisfied, in his summing up Baxter remarked that "It was a matter of congratulation that the present case did not appear to have any connexion with the previous murders that had taken place in the district, and the body might have, for ought they knew to the contrary, been brought from the West-end and deposited where it was found." 74
In the early hours of 13 February 1891, the body of Frances Coles was found in Swallow Gardens. The prime suspect was James Sadler, who was already in custody. He had been in Frances's company for much of the previous day, and The Times of 24 February reported how a witness at the inquest, Duncan Campbell, told of purchasing Sadler's knife, which could now be of significant importance:
On Friday, the 13th of February, I was staying at the Sailor's Home, Well-street. Between 10:15 and 10:30 I came down from my bedroom and stood by the fire in the hall. A man came in at that moment and sat on a seat by the fire. He got up and said, "Mate, I am nearly dead. I have been out all night and I got robbed. I am dying for a drink." He produced a knife… He said, "Will you buy it?" I gave him a shilling and a bit of tobacco for it. That was what he asked for it. I kept the knife until Saturday afternoon, and then, being short of money, I went to Mr Robinson in Dock-street, and asked him to lend me 6d till the Monday, when I would pay 9d for it. He replied that he would buy the knife for 6d and sell it back again on the Monday for 9d. I gave him the knife and took the 6d, and said I would buy it back on the Monday for 9d.
Robinson, a marine store dealer, corroborated Campbell as to the sale of the knife, and added "when I saw the knife, I said it looks like 'Jack the Ripper's' knife", to which Wynne Baxter asked "So you have seen Jack the Ripper's knife?" The reply was as equally pithy: "On Sunday I cut up my dinner with it."
Summing up on 27 February, Baxter stated that the case had "many characteristics in common with the murders which had preceded it." Unusually for an inquest in the series of Whitechapel Murders, a suspect had been detained and Baxter advised the jury that it had to decide, "taking well into consideration Sadler's drunken condition, the conflicting evidence as to times and the connected account given by him of his movements before and after the murder was committed, whether they could fairly charge him with the deed, or must attribute it to some person or persons unknown."
The jury found that the deceased was wilfully murdered by some person or persons unknown, but said that they thought the police did their duty in detaining Sadler.
This proved to be the last inquest into a victim connected with the series of Whitechapel Murders. Baxter's handling of the inquiries is chiefly remembered for the comment he made during his summing up at the inquest into the death of Annie Chapman on 26 September:
It has been suggested that the criminal is a lunatic with morbid feelings. This may or may not be the case; but the object of the murderer appears palpably shown by the facts, and it is not necessary to assume lunacy, for it is clear that there is a market for the object of the murder. To show you this, I must mention a fact which at the same time proves the assistance which publicity and the newspaper press afford in the detection of crime. Within a few hours of the issue of the morning papers containing a report of the medical evidence given at the last sitting of the Court, I received a communication from an officer of one of our great medical schools, that they had information which might or might not have a distinct bearing on our inquiry. I attended at the first opportunity, and was told by the sub-curator of the Pathological Museum that some months ago an American had called on him, and asked him to procure a number of specimens of the organ that was missing in the deceased. He stated his willingness to give £20 for each, and explained that his object was to issue an actual specimen with each copy of a publication on which he was then engaged. Although he was told that his wish was impossible to be complied with, he still urged his request. He desired them preserved, not in spirits of wine, the usual medium, but in glycerine, in order to preserve them in a flaccid condition, and he wished them sent to America direct. It is known that this request was repeated to another institution of a similar character. Now, is it not possible that the knowledge of this demand may have incited some abandoned wretch to possess himself of a specimen. It seems beyond belief that such inhuman wickedness could enter into the mind of any man, but unfortunately our criminal annals prove that every crime is possible. I need hardly say that I at once communicated my information to the Detective Department at Scotland- yard. Of course I do not know what use has been made of it, but I believe that publicity may possibly further elucidate this fact, and, therefore, I have not withheld from you my knowledge. By means of the press some further explanation may be forthcoming from America if not from here.
This statement met with approval with the East London Advertiser, who fell on the suggestion of a motive with almost palpable relief, commenting on 29 September:
A POSSIBLE CLUE.
It is not often that a coroner has the opportunity for such lucid remarks as those made by Mr Wynne Baxter at the inquest on the woman murdered in Spitalfields. As a rule an inquest is one of the most formal affairs possible; but the present case is one of exceptional interest, and certainly the facts unveiled and the theory built up upon them lift this inquiry far above the rank of the commonplace "quest". No mere slaughterer of animals could have carried out these operations. It must have been some one accustomed to the post-mortem room. So much is certain. But the inadequacy to the motive is what makes the crime so incomprehensible to most of us. Considerable light, however, has been let in on this part of the subject by a circumstance which Mr Wynne Baxter communicated to the jury. The curator of the Pathological Museum, it appears, had been called upon by an American who required exactly the portions of the body missing from the murdered woman in order to illustrate some medical publication, and he was willing to pay £20 for each specimen. "Is it not possible," asks the coroner, "that the knowledge of this demand may have incited some abandoned wretch to posses himself of a specimen?" It is, indeed, more than probable that such was the case, and the incident seems to throw a feeble ray of light on what has hitherto been a dark and inscrutable mystery. The crime seemed utterly purposeless. If the object appears inadequate now, such an objection must arise from those who do not know for what slight reasons murder is committed. The motive almost always appears out of proportion to the danger, and it is just this blundering want of balance between means and end which affords the principal safeguard in the way of detection. Much is to be hoped from the publicity that will be given by the Press to this latest revelation, which really would appear to merit the title of a "clue". One had got almost weary of a word so often abused by being made to stand for what meant nothing and led nowhere.
On the same day the Pall Mall Gazette published a letter by one Charles Jerningham, a scathing attack on Baxter entitled The Coroner and the Whitechapel Murders:
Three weeks have now passed since Annie Chapman was discovered and mutilated in a squalid back court in Hanbury street, and this, the last of a series of terrible outrages that have recently been perpetrated in Whitechapel, within a few hundred yards of each other, already promises to join the majority of undiscovered crimes of cruel London. Mr Wynne E Baxter, the coroner before whom the case has been investigated, may certainly be congratulated on the fascinating and astounding theory he propounded on Wednesday in his charge to the jury, though he can scarcely be congratulated on his powers of logical sequence. According to Mr Baxter, an American gentleman called some months back on the curator of the Pathological Museum, and having explained that he was publishing a medical work, with each copy of which he was desirous of issuing an actual specimen of the part treated therein, he offered the forementioned official £20 for every such specimen he could procure for him. Without wishing to appear frivolous, surely I must ask at what price a work whose "supplement" is to cost £20 is to be published at; and if the cost of production is expected to be covered by the publishing price, where a market is to be found for so costly a work? But the most ingenious part of Mr Baxter's theory now follows. According to him, a market for such specimens of the human frame having been found to exist, the hour brings forth the man, and a ruffian is found who, tempted by the reward, hastens to procure the object of the American gentleman's desire. Did it not strike the coroner that under the circumstances the murderer left himself no loophole for escape? A work published with so unusual a "supplement" must at once attract considerable notice; and, considering the world wide excitement caused by the late murders, would the author not be immediately called upon to account for every specimen in his possession, the dates on which procured, and every conceivable data relating to each? Had the murderer's object been the one suggested by Mr Baxter, would he not rather have inveigled his victim or victims into some secluded place, where his crime could have been committed without at once being detected, and therefore not only at once stopping his or her depredations, but beside at once closing his market? Why, again, should he in each case have so arranged the appalling details as specially to intensify the sensationalism of his crimes and so attract the notice of the entire civilized world to them? Again, why within a few weeks commit three different crimes all almost precisely similar in their details, and all in precisely the same neighbourhood, instead, say, of committing one in Whitechapel, another in Bermondsey, and a third in Camberwell? Does this not rather show that the murderer lives in and is acquainted with the locality where the murders were committed? And yet Mr Wynne E Baxter remarks: "There is little doubt that the deceased (Annie Chapman) knew the place (the little back court where the murder was committed, one out of hundreds similar to it in the neighbourhood), for it was only three or four hundred yards from where she lodged. If so, it is quite unnecessary to assume that her companion had any such knowledge.
May I ask Mr Baxter which of the two had most need of security - the woman who entered the court for an immoral purpose, or the man who, according to him, deliberately entered it to commit a terrible murder followed by a long and delicate surgical operation. But, again - which is even more astounding - Mr Baxter asks us to believe that this human fiend, a comparative stranger, if not a total one, to the locality, at six o'clock on a light September morning, in a neighbourhood where at that hour half the inhabitants are up and hurrying to their work, quietly issues out of No. 29, Hanbury street, "with a brown hat on his head and a dark coat on his back," reeking with blood, with every proof of the crime about his person - a crime which he has not only taken no pains to conceal, but every detail of which he had prepared with almost fiendish ingenuity so as to create excitement, and with the knowledge that within a very few hours it must be the main topic of conversation throughout the town - and walks carelessly to some distant spot through the now fairly crowded streets, unnoticed and unsuspected, and calmly remits, probably by parcel post, the desired specimen to his American patron.
Following the 'Double Event' murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, the East London Advertiser withdrew its backing of Baxter's 'theory' and on 6 October published a rebuttal under the title 'A Thirst For Blood':
It is obvious that these new crimes go far to upset the theory advanced by the coroner, Mr Baxter, that the murders were committed in order to supply an American publisher with specimens of internal female organs. There was, indeed, something intrinsically absurd about parts of Mr Baxter's theory. It was, for instance, incredible that any medical book should be issued with portions of the human body attached in bags, or in some other manner. Booksellers do not sell books in this fashion. Moreover, no rational object would have been attained. A diagram would have answered the purpose equally well for medical use, and except as a ghastly and sensational means of advertisement the enormous sum paid for the actual organ would have been thrown away. There still remained the possibility, however, that part of Mr Baxter's theory might have been false, and part true. The American might have required these organs, although not for the purpose suggested. But the murders of Sunday render any further conjectures on the theory superfluous. No man in his senses would have risked his life, while the attention of the whole of London was still aroused, by committing a similar crime in order to earn a paltry sum of £20. A man may be ready to kill a person for the first time to gain a much smaller sum, but he would certainly not do so when he knew that in consequence of the notoriety of the first crime he would certainly be arrested if he tried to sell his ghastly booty. We are, therefore, forced to return to the maniac theory as the only one which at all fits in with the barbarous circumstances attending the murders, and the complete absence of motive.
Assurances have been given by responsible officers of the medical schools attached to all the London hospitals, with two exceptions, that no such extraordinary application was ever made to them of the nature described by Mr Wynne Baxter, the coroner, in his summing up at the inquest of the woman Chapman. At the schools of the University College Hospital and of the Middlesex Hospital the authorities decline to give any information as to whether the "American student" did prefer his singular request to them or not. From certain admissions of the gentlemen concerned there does not appear to be reason to doubt that to one or of these two institutions belongs the distinction of having given certain information to the coroner which he subsequently communicated to the Scotland-yard detectives, and upon which he based the theory which has caused such consternation. After Mr Baxter had insisted that Mr Phillips, the police divisional surgeon, should no longer withhold the most important part of his evidence respecting his post-mortem examination of the body of Annie Chapman, and when the report was published, it is clear that on the next day the coroner received a communication from an official connected with a leading London hospital, and that in consequence he attended at the pathological museum belonging to the institution, where some one made him acquainted with the outlines of a rumour which had circulated in the dissecting rooms during the past summer, and to which not the slightest importance was attached until the murder in Hanbury-street occurred and the startling medical evidence was published. The rumour, at most, appears to have been an idle one, and in respect of the sum mentioned to the coroner - namely, £20, as the price offered, and the object of the American, as stated by him - the story is discredited. At the Middlesex Hospital the official who on other points refused to elucidate the matter; characterised the tale, as far as the above details are concerned, as a silly story. Furthermore, at University College, where pains were taken to return an unqualified answer of "no information," it was hinted that the story as it has been made public had in some way, become mixed with error, and that it was very certain that it provided no explanation of the motive of the crime.
Unfortunately for Mr Jerningham and the East London Advertiser, Baxter didn't mean this 'theory' as any such thing. He simply related the story to illustrate "the assistance which publicity and the newspaper press afford in the detection of crime", commenting that the published medical evidence given at the previous court sitting may have reached the ears of and "incited some abandoned wretch to possess himself of a specimen". This information had been given to him by "an officer of one of our great medical schools", so was hardly Baxter's 'theory'.
If guilty of anything, it would seem Baxter ignored the correct procedure of passing on the information, as stated in the Kerry Evening Post of 3 October:
Mr Wynne Baxter, the ablest perhaps of the coroners, evidently "wound himself up" for his charge to the jury in the Whitechapel murder case. His address was carefully prepared, and of very high merit from a literary point of view. In one respect he laid himself open to criticism. His "startling revelation," as the papers called it, was based upon personal information. It was doubly improper, according to technical rules, for it was evidence given by himself not under oath, and it was "hearsay" evidence. The persons from whom he derived his information ought in strictness to have been called before the jury.
Perhaps the theory Baxter actually ascribed to most was revealed in the Evening News of 1 October 1920. While mentioning in its obituary that Baxter presided over the Ripper inquests, the paper states that he attributed these crimes to the Fenians. "Dr Baxter advanced his theory to the Home Office, who told him he was not alone in his opinion."
In the years following the Ripper murders many prominent figures faded from public view; Baxter, however, was as high profile as ever, cases coming before him keeping his name in the newspapers. A year after being made a Life Governor of the London Hospital, he was back in its halls conducting the inquest into the death of Joseph Carey Merrick, the Elephant Man, who had died on 11 April 1890. The inquest took place on Tuesday 15 April, a report being published the following day in the Times.
The cases which came before him in the early 20th Century must have seemed a world away to Baxter from gentle inquests in Sussex when first elected Coroner in 1880. In the ten years before his death, he would preside over inquests into the deaths of Lettish Anarchists, German War spies, and victims of mass bombing.
On 16 December 1910 the police were alerted to the hammering heard in a building next to a jeweller's shop in Houndsditch. When one of the unarmed investigating officers was fatally shot, a street battle was started by a small gang of Lettish anarchists under the leadership of Peter Piatkow, better known as Peter the Painter. Three more policemen were shot and killed, while most of the gang made their escape, only to be captured in the following days.
On 1 January 1911, an informant told police that two or three of the gang, possibly including Peter the Painter himself, were hiding at 100 Sidney Street. Worried that the suspects were about to flee, and expecting heavy resistance to any attempt at capture, on 3 January 200 cordoned off the block and the Siege began. The defenders, though heavily outnumbered, possessed superior weapons and great stores of ammunition. The Tower of London was called for backup, and word got to Home Secretary Winston Churchill, who arrived on the spot to observe the incident firsthand. Six hours into the battle, a fire began to consume the building. When the fire brigade arrived Churchill refused them access to the building. The police stood ready, guns aimed at the front door, waiting for the men inside to attempt their escape. The door never opened. Inside the remains of two members of the gang, Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow, were recovered (both were also known by numerous aliases). No sign of Peter the Painter was ever found.
Baxter held the inquest into the deaths of Svaars and Sokolow at Horseferry Road Court on 18 January. Baxter summed up that the inquest was a most unusual one, with the jury returning a verdict of justifiable homicide in the case of Sokolow, and suffocation in the case of Svaars. Baxter informed Churchill on his departure that the depositions would be sent to him for a signature. 75
Between November 1914 and April 1916 Baxter held inquests into the deaths of eleven German war spies, including the infamous Karl Lody, who had been captured in the UK and tried and executed at the Tower of London. 76
In 1917 the biggest explosion ever to have taken place in London destroyed a large area of Silvertown in the East End. Brunner, Mond & Co had been making soda crystals and caustic soda on the site for 20 years, and from September 1915 were producing nine tonnes of TNT per day. Just before 7pm on 19 January 1917, a fire broke out in the TNT plant, and a huge explosion ripped through the Brunner-Mond works and the Silvertown area. A large part of the factory was instantly destroyed, together with several nearby streets. The explosion was so great that red-hot lumps of metal rained down on the surrounding area and started fires for miles around. The glare from these fires could be seen as far away as Maidstone in Kent and Guildford in Surrey. The shock wave from the explosion was felt across the City and Essex; the blast was heard as far away as Southampton on the south coast and Norwich in East Anglia. More than 900 homes in the surrounding area were destroyed or badly damaged, with more over 60,000 properties were damaged to some degree. The cost of the damage was estimated at a quarter of a million pounds, more than £34million today.
The day after the explosion the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, visited the scene. The King and Queen also made a brief tour of the devastated docks. 69 people lost their lives in the immediate blast and a further four died shortly afterwards from their injuries, with more than 400 injured. The bodies were laid out in the corridors of the London Hospital, and Baxter conducted the inquest into the deaths of more that 60 victims, many unidentified, on 23 February 1917. The jury found that the explosion was due to accidental cause, and returned verdicts of Death by Misadventure. 77
Six months later, around noon on 13 June, the Germans launched the first daylight air raid over London. 17 Gotha biplanes were flown from Belgium, dropping bombs over various locations in East London. 162 were killed and a further 426 injured in the raid. One bomb exploded in the infants class of the Upper North Street School in Poplar, killing 18 and maiming a further 27 children, most of them 5-year olds. This was the highest death toll from a single air raid on Britain during the war78. On 15 June the inquests opened, with Wynne Baxter presiding over 20 at Poplar. 79
A year before his death Baxter gave an interview revealing the changing face of the office, which brings to mind his determination to move major inquests such as that of Martha Tabram to the Working Lads' Institute:
When I first took office, I had 35 beadles, each of whom acted as Coroners' officers in the various districts. All inquests were held in public-houses, and I have been in some appalling places at times. One beadle in particular, a Dickensian character with a red nose, used to make bargains with the hotel-keepers. Instead of paying them the 10s fee for the use of the room, he would round up the jury for an hour or so beforehand and get them to drink the time away before the inquest, in this way recompensing the landlord. The curious fact about crime that I have observed in my long experience is the great lessening of it in the East End since the war. The East End is better than ever it has been in my knowledge of it. The crimes are being committed in the West End instead. 80
None of Baxter's inquest papers, including the Ripper files, have ever been discovered, despite searches in the various Government archives, personal family files, educational institutions, and archives of Wynne-Baxter and Keeble. The correct deposit for inquest papers, the London Metropolitan Archives at Northampton Row, holds extensive volumes of Coroners' Registers for the Counties of Middlesex and London (catalogue COR/A), including the Western District for 1856-1930, the North Eastern District for 1921-1932, and the all-important Eastern District for 1925-1934. Not a single file from Baxter's 30,000-plus inquests during 1886-1920 is held. It's possible that these were destroyed, but given Baxter's precise and studious nature it seems impossible that he didn't store the papers somewhere.
In what little spare time he had, Baxter collected the works of John Milton, and studied the Diatomacae (microscopic plants). He was considered one of the country's leading experts on the life and works of Milton, often speaking on the subject to the Stoke Newington Public Libraries Committee, where he was Chairman from 190581, and other organisations82. On the opening of the Library's extension on 11 June 1904, Baxter gave an account of the life of Andrew Carnegie, who had financed the works to the tune of £4,45083. As part of the nation's celebration of Milton's Tercentenary in 1908, the Library held an exhibition on 9 December, to which Baxter lent "from his fine Milton library of three thousand volumes… some of his chief treasures. Under the glass cases… there appeared, in fact, an array of first editions which comprised practically every issue of every book or pamphlet in the lifetime of Milton. The only missing first editions were the Maske of Comus, Lycidas, the tract of Education, and the two issues of the Accedence commenc't grammar; they were all represented by facsimiles." 84 Baxter also gave a presentation on 'The Portraits and Homes of Milton', illustrated by 'lantern slides'85. Following his death his extensive collection of Milton works, rare English and Italian books from the 16th and 17th Centuries, as well as other personal property was auctioned by Hodgson & Co on 12 and 13 July 192186. The catalogue lists some 583 items, including an 11th century psalter and a 13th century Bible87. His collection of rare books on botany and the diatomacae were being advertised for sale in Wheldon and Wesley's catalogue by 192288.
A report of Baxter's funeral89 tells of an article in a 1909 issue of The Bilbiophile, which gives an insight into his home at 170 Stoke Newington Church Street:
For twenty or thirty years Mr Wynne Baxter has been amassing - I use the word in no derogatory or greedy sense - a library of works by and on the second greatest figure if all our huge army of men of letters. You are welcomed by a bust of Milton, you leave with a bookplate on which is engraved his portrait. There is no putting old wine into new bottles in this collection. The old volumes are in an old house. It was built in the reign of Queen Anne, and formely sheltered Beaconsfield's grandfather. Isaac Disraeli, Leach, Dickens and Thackeray have hallowed it by their presence. Would that the walls could re-echo the kindly chat of the compiler of Curiosities of Literature, and the writer of Vanity Fair. And the huge iron chair, at the back of the door in the hall could unfold many a romance of the days of highwaymen and such-like worthies.
Baxter's keen interest in microscopy led to his translating and publishing, in 1893, Henri Van Heurck's The Microscope. Van Heurck was one of the 19th Century's leading authorities on diatoms. Baxter was for some years the Treasurer of the Royal Microscopical Society, to whom, in the early 1900s, he presented a number of old microscopes. These are today in the Society's collection, in the care of the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford90. His shelves were full of the writings of experts such as Ehrenberg, Prichard, Schmidt, Chase and Cleve, as well as over 20 years' collections of The Microscopical Society's Journal, 20 volumes of The Quekett Microscopical Journal, and the American Monthly Microscopical. 91
Baxter was also a member of the Archaeological societies of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Gloucestershire92, with his main involvement being that of the society of Sussex, of whom he was made a Life Member in 186393. After his death his collection of archaeological papers, some 41 volumes, were sold at auction94.
In Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, Stephen Knight proposed that non-Freemason Baxter was trying to investigate the Ripper murders himself, leading to friction with the Metropolitan Police, led by Sir Charles Warren and Dr Robert Anderson, who were part of a Freemason plot to conceal the truth behind the killings. In fact, Baxter was a prominent member of the South Saxon Lodge, as was his brother Minshall, who was inducted in 186995. In his personal files is an original print of a photograph taken by photographers Charles Dixon of Gravesend, showing the Lodge c1910. South Saxon, lodge no. 311, received its warrant in 1796. It was, until 1979, one of just two lodges in Lewes, the other being Pelham (1303) 96.
In 1883 Baxter was the subject of an attempted restraining order by law booksellers Sweet, who tried to prevent him and his publisher Butterworths from selling the fifth edition of Baxter's The Judicature Acts and Rules of 1873 and 1883. The charge was that Baxter's marginal notes were directly copied from a book published by Sweet, The Judicature Acts and Rules by Lely and Foulkes. Baxter managed to convince Judge Pearson that he had made the margin notes coincidentally while 'travelling every day by rail to his office in London' by virtue of the underlining and comments being in pencil, red and blue ink - a sure sign they had been made on different occasions. He was acquitted with costs paid, although Pearson did comment on the 'miraculous coincidence …which would always remain unexplained'97.
In 1879 Baxter was appointed Honorary Secretary, along with James Whitehead - later Lord Mayor of London 1888/1889 - to the Sir Rowland Hill Memorial Fund98.
Sometime around his 76th birthday, in 1920, Baxter's failing health was a cause for concern and there were reports of his impending retirement99. Finally, after the third inquest of the day at Poplar Coroner's court on Wednesday 15 September, Wynne Edwin Baxter suffered a heart attack and was rushed home100. Despite rallying for a time he was confined to bed, attended by Dr Lewis Smith101, and died at 9am on 1 October102.
The funeral took place at 10am on 6 October103. The coffin was adorned with massive brass fittings and covered in floral tributes, and was conveyed to the church on a wheeled hand-bier from 170 Stoke Newington Church Street, with mourners following on foot in silence104. Along the route, the blinds of private residences were drawn and the Public Library and many of the shops were shut and exhibited black shutters or boards. The church bells of St Mary's, the scene for the service, played Abide With Me as the procession approached. Some 52 years earlier Wynne had married Kate at the same church. The service, opened to the playing of Angels ever Bright and Fair by Sister Ada on the organ, was conducted by Reverend Crombie and assisted by Reverend Le Couteur. Le Couteur took the opening prayers and read the 90th Psalm105. Baxter had been Churchwardern at St Mary's for over 25 years, retiring only in 1918106. The Mayor of Stoke Newington, local magistrates, the Acting Coroner for East London, Dr E K Houchin, and men from H Division were in attendance, along with many others such as Dr Waldo, Coroner for the City of London, and Walter Schroeder, Coroner for Islington and Hon Secretary of the Coroners' Society for England and Wales. Official bodies such as the Worshipful Body of Founders, the Hackney Board of Guardians, the War Pensions Committee and the Stoke Newington Conservative and Unionist Association were represented, along with A Jackson and Thomas Warburton of Wynne-Baxter and Keeble. The only hymn was Thine for Ever, God of Love, with the church bells ringing out For ever with the Lord107 as the cortege left St Mary's for Lewes. A simple inscription of "Wynne Edwin Baxter, died 1st October 1920, aged 76 years" adorned the polished oak coffin108.
In Lewes, a brief service was presided over by Reverend Mackay-Clarke, Rector of All Saints109, before the body was interred in the family vault110 by the verger, S Foster111 (see back cover). The family mourners were Reggie, Katie and Frank, Wynne's sister Edith and brother in law Frederick Harrild, along with the Mayor of Lewes and a complete set of members of the Corporation. WM Bro. S Langridge of the South Saxon Lodge and several brethren dropped sprigs of acacia into the entrance to the vault. Also in attendance were Danford Thomas, representing the London Coroners, and G Vere Benson, Coroner for East Sussex, representing the Coroners' Society of England and Wales, as well as employees of W E Baxter Ltd. Among the dozens of floral tributes was one inscribed "In loving memory, from the officers and men of H Division, Metropolitan Police" 112.
The flag at Lewes Town Hall was flown at half-mast in recognition of Baxter's contribution to his place of birth113. A year beforehand, Baxter had purchased the Pells from the Abergavenny estate in order to present it the people of Lewes as a 'public pleasure resort'114; this survives and flourishes today. Despite living out of the town for a great many years, he maintained a keen interest in local life. He had served as Clerk to the Lewes Provision Market; as Governor of the Lewes Exhibition Fund; as member of the Committee of the Lewes National Schools; and as Director of the Lewes Victoria Hospital. In Stoke Newington he had filled the position of Manager of Barn Street School, active in the education of young people, and served on the Licensing Bench of Stoke Newington115.
His Will, written on 22 December 1915, named Reggie and Frank as two of the Executors, the third being Dallett, and was proved on 13 November 1920. Wynne-Baxter and Keeble acted as Solicitors to the Executors and in an advertisement in The Times of 30 June 1921 requested any parties with an interest in Baxter's property to make it known by 8 August 1921. His Estate had a gross value of £29,319.19.11 (£720,052 today), with a net value of £17,940.12.5 (£440,593).
Major Francis Danford Thomas, son of Baxter's contemporary George Danford Thomas, and Deputy Coroner for the City and Southwark, was appointed his successor as Coroner for the Liberty of the Tower116. Baxter's successor as Coroner for the Eastern Division of the County of London was Dr R L Guthrie, at that time Deputy Coroner for North East London117. A. Charles Knight, Under-Sherriff of the City of London, was appointed his successor as Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyredrawers118.
What sort of man was Wynne Baxter? Traditional thinking has seen him portrayed as a fussy, publicity-seeking busybody. However, this has been based on knowledge gained solely from his coronership of the Whitechapel murders. Baxter's father and grandfather, well versed in local business and politics, would no doubt have instilled in Wynne at an early age an understanding of how to conduct himself in public life. His subsequent movement into law and local politics in his early 20s, and his experiences in the following 20 years, would have left him well-known in such circles by 1888 in both London and Sussex. He was, by 1886, already Deputy Coroner in London, and in the newspapers daily - "no name was commoner in the newspapers" said the Manchester Guardian of 2 October 1920.
An insight into Baxter's personality was given in the Hackney and Stoke Newington Recorder of 8 October 1920: Reviewing his career and his many associations with public life, a characteristic which stands out pre-eminent is the unbounded energy which he always displayed in all his undertakings. No task was too great, and the driving force of his indefatigable zeal and resourcefulness was an inspiration to many. At all times courteous and accommodating, and ever ready with kindly sympathy and advice he made hosts of friends, and in his quiet unassuming way he endeared himself to all with whom he came in contact. Possessed of an even and jovial temper, he was ideally suited for the position of coroner, which he held for so many years. No matter what the nature of his inquiries was, and no matter how excited witnesses became when giving evidence before him he always maintained the placid manner and unruffled demeanour which stamped him as a man of cool and calculating mind.
Such was his calm professionalism that in big cases he would have his summing up typeset at the Sussex Express offices, and then produce the proof slip in court and read it off119.
Was he a fussy coroner? Over fastidious? Compared to Roderick MacDonald's handling of the inquest into Mary Kelly's death, certainly… but looking at Baxter's long record, and the consistent testimonials of his character given by various sources, the feeling is that he was a balanced, calm and fair individual. The Manchester Guardian's obituary stated:
The father of the London coroners… was a white-haired old man with the quiet air of a scholar. A coroner can have few illusions left about life, but Mr Baxter was always quiet, impartial, and patient, and in his treatment of witnesses neither over 'soapy' nor needlessly stern. Whatever the case was, sensational and the centre of stormy passions or merely humdrum and squalid, the old Coroner was always the same, concentrating his dispassionate mind coolly on the truth and nothing but the truth with the same detached interest as he gave to his microscopic inquiries into diatoms or to some problem in archaeology.
Perhaps the last word should be left to Wynne Baxter himself, who stated on 26 September 1888:
I cannot conclude my remarks without thanking you for the attention you have given to the case, and the assistance you have rendered me in our efforts to elucidate the truth of this horrible tragedy.
The research undertaken for this article would not have been possible without the kind assistance of the following people, for whom 'thank you' is scant reward: Andrew Aliffe; Chris Coopey of Wynne Baxter; Esme Evans, Honorary Librarian of Sussex Archaeological Society Library; Dr Peter Evennett of the Royal Microscopical Society; Bridget Fry of Churchill College, Cambridge; Elizabeth Green and the staff of London Borough of Hackney Archives; Jonathan Hopson of the Victoria and Albert Museum; Bridget Howlett, Senior Archivist at the Corporation of London; Ric Latham of Bow Windows Bookshop, Lewes; Dr Graham Macklin of The National Archives; Bryon Parkin of The New Baxter Society; Alan Stein; Sandy Stevens of Lewes Cemetery; Keith Torrance; Helen Wenham of Stafford Young Jones; and Alison Whittlestone of the British Library.
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|Press Reports: Times [London] - 2 October 1920|