|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 72, October 2006. 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.|
by MICHAEL CONNOR
When Robert Paul walked into Buck’s Row on the morning of 31 August, 1888, he may have disturbed Jack the Ripper and then spent the next thirty minutes walking with him through the streets of Whitechapel. His companion that morning, Charles Cross, is worth considering as a suspect for the Whitechapel murders. Cross may be the innocent man he appeared in 1888, but he may also have been Jack the Ripper. What follows is an examination of Cross as a suspect and conjecture about how he might have carried out the Whitechapel murders.
Little is known of Charles Cross apart from the fact that he was the man Robert Paul found by the body of Polly Nichols. The wounds inflicted on her were brutal and unusual. Later murders ascribed to the same killer would involve even greater mutilations. Had the killer of Polly Nichols completed his cutting or was he interrupted? If he was finished with her body and had discarded it on the pavement before walking away, no one ever reported seeing a man leaving the area. If he was not finished, he should have been disturbed by the arrival of Charles Cross in Buck’s Row. The person found close to the body was Charles Cross—and Robert Paul may have interrupted him.
If Cross was the killer, he had two choices when he heard and then saw Robert Paul coming into Buck’s Row. He could flee or wait for the man to approach. The newcomer could be attacked, if he had seen too much, or could be used to establish the illusion that Cross was just the discoverer of Nichols and not her killer. In the event, Paul had seen very little. In 1888, and after, Cross was accepted as an ordinary carman going to work who had the misfortune to discover a corpse in Buck’s Row.
Our knowledge of Cross is limited to the surviving police records, which are basic and uninformative, and the sometimes contradictory newspaper articles in which he is briefly mentioned. The official records for the Nichols Inquest have not been found. In reporting the inquest on 4 September, 1888, The Times gave Cross’s first name as George. Other newspapers suggested Charles A., Charles Andrew or Charles Allen.
Cross and Paul reported the finding of a body to PC Jonas Mizen (55H) and it was his evidence at the inquest that may have caused the newspapers’s confusion over Cross’s first name. The narrative given in the Morning Advertiser (4 September) explained what happened when Mizen referred to the carman who had spoken to him: ‘The man, whose name is George Cross, was brought in and witness identified him as the man who spoke to him on the morning in question.’
Possibly the wrong name was spoken by Mizen, or a court officer, and noted by journalists. As the Morning Advertiser account continued, it dealt with Cross’s own evidence but now referred to him as Charles Allen Cross. The middle names given by the newspapers, Allen and Andrew, may be a confusion with the pronunciation. Either no one noticed, or bothered to correct, the earlier sentence in which Cross had been called George. The Times reporter may have made a similar error; he caught the carman’s name the first time it was mentioned and did not note the corrected one when this rather unimportant figure came forward to give his evidence.
In considering Charles Cross as a suspect, the time he left his home in Doveton Street is crucial, but the information given by the newspapers was contradictory. The Star (3 September) wrote: ‘He [Cross] was employed by Pickfords. He left home on Friday at twenty minutes past three, and got to Pickfords’ yard at Broad-street at four o’clock.’ The Times agreed, reporting that Cross ‘stated that he left home on Friday morning at 20 minutes past three, and he arrived at his work, at Broad-street, at four o’clock.’ In 1888, Pickfords was a long-established British firm of carriers who are still in business today.
The statement in the Star and Times are incorrect. Cross was with Robert Paul in Buck’s Row at approximately 3.45 and with PC Mizen shortly after, so it would have been impossible for him to have reached Broad Street by 4am. Other newspapers—the Daily News (4 September) and Daily Telegraph (4 September)—said he left home about 3.30 and the Morning Advertiser (4 September) appeared to be offering Cross’s own words, which agreed with this later timing: ‘On Friday morning I left home at half past three.’ These discrepancies are explainable.
Walking time between Doveton Street, where Cross lived, and Broad Street, where he worked for Pickfords, is about 40 minutes. Cross may have told Coroner Wynne Baxter that he usually left home at 3.20 and arrived at Broad Street at four o’clock, but on Friday he was late and left home at 3.30. In the Daily News story, Cross claimed that he was ‘behind time’. If this is what happened, then the Star and The Times recorded his usual timetable, while the Daily News, Daily Telegraph and Morning Advertiser gave the time he claimed to have left home on the day of the murder. Cross may have been explaining why he was in Buck’s Row at a later time than usual.
Walking time between Doveton Street and the Buck’s Row murder site today is approximately six minutes—it would have been quicker in 1888. Even on the basis of this modern timing, if he left home on that morning about 3.30 then he would have been in Buck’s Row about 3.36.
Dr Llewellyn, a local doctor who lived close by, was wakened by the police and came to the murder site. What time was he called? The Daily News and the Evening News (1 September 1888) published a statement by the doctor in which he gave the time as ‘about five minutes to four this morning’. The following day, his Inquest evidence was less precise: ‘On Friday morning I was called to Buck’s Row about four o’clock’.’ (Daily Telegraph, 3 September 1888.) An even more important question may be, what time did he arrive in Buck’s Row? Perhaps the East London Advertiser (8 September 1888) was guessing when they wrote that ‘Dr Llewellyn came in about ten minutes.’ These minor points concerning accurate timing of events are necessary if we take seriously Llewellyn’s opinion that when he first saw Nichols she ‘had not been dead more than half an hour’. Inspector Abberline’s report, written after the Inquest, gave the time for Cross’s finding of the body at ‘about 3.40’.
Cross gave the Inquest the impression that he had just arrived by the body when he was joined by Paul, but Paul said he left home about 3.45. Both men claimed to have been in regular employment and possibly both owned alarm clocks and were giving approximately correct estimates of the time they met—though it is always possible that they were knocked up by local policemen on their beat and were making guesses at the time.
If Cross was lying, and left Doveton Street at his normal time of 3.20, he had time to meet and kill Nichols. If he left at 3.30, he still had time for a blitz attack on Nichols before he was interrupted. A re-enactment, including the policemen walking their beats, would be helpful.
Robert Paul was found by a reporter for Lloyd’s Weekly on the night of the murder and the interview was published on Sunday, the day before Cross gave evidence to the Coroner: ‘It was exactly a quarter to four when I passed up Buck’s-row to my work as a carman for Covent-garden market. It was dark, and I was hurrying along, when I saw a man standing where the woman was. He came a little towards me, but as I knew the dangerous character of the locality I tried to give him a wide berth. Few people like to come up and down here without being on their guard, for there are such terrible gangs about. There have been many knocked down and robbed at that spot. The man, however, came towards me and said, “Come and look at this woman.”’
In this account, Paul placed the man ahead of him ‘standing where the woman was’. Cross claimed to have been in the middle of the road. Paul said that he had been concerned by the presence of the man. Cross said that Paul appeared afraid of him. Cross may have read Paul’s interview in Lloyd’s and in his evidence subtly responded to this testimony which the coroner had not yet heard. The importance of Paul’s interview is its immediacy. Whether it is entirely accurate is of course unknowable.
Two weeks later, Paul gave his evidence to the resumed inquest. Most newspapers, like the Times (18 September), produced this in reported speech and simply wrote that he claimed to have first seen Cross ‘standing in the middle of the road’. However, the Morning Advertiser (18 September) carried what appears to be direct speech. In this account Paul was less specific: ‘As I was passing up Buck’s-row I saw a man standing in the roadway.’ No one bothered to establish exactly how close Cross was to the body when Paul saw him on that dark morning. There was no suspicion that Cross was anything more than the harmless witness he appeared.
The newspapers were not very interested in Charles Cross and their accounts carried little personal information about him. He was simply a carman on his way to work. So unimportant was he that the Star did not even bother giving his name—though mentioning that at the inquest he wore ‘a coarse sacking apron’. No newspaper gave his age. The Daily Telegraph claimed he had worked for Pickfords for more than twenty years. This, if correct, would make Cross at least in his mid- to late-30s and possibly much older.
With only these few pieces of information, however, Charles Cross should be considered as a suspect for the Whitechapel murders.
Between his home in Doveton Street and his work at Broad Street lay the area in which the murders took place. Going back and forth to work from his home, Cross could choose three ways of walking through the killing area. He could go along Whitechapel Road, or through Old Montague and Wentworth Streets, or follow Hanbury Street. Polly Nichols was murdered on his path to work in late August, but two other killings had already taken place along these routes and one of them could have been committed by him.
In April of 1888, Emma Smith died as the result of an assault she was subjected to in Osborn and Wentworth Streets. Though surely not a Ripper killing, she was lying wounded and dying in Wentworth Street at a time when Cross was walking to work. If he had chosen Wentworth Street that morning, he would have walked right past her. Her killing occurred on streets he knew well, and the murderers had walked safely into the morning. This death may have triggered the later murders and this bloody episode in April may have helped turn a man’s fantasies into reality the following autumn.
Earlier in August, on Tuesday the 7th, Cross could have murdered Martha Tabram in the George Yard Building, just off Wentworth Street, as he was going to work. The timings for some of the deaths in 1888 fit the routine of a working man opportunistically killing women engaged in morning prostitution, and they fit the known timetable of Charles Cross. He may not have been the famous slayer, yet he brings life to the idea of the Ripper as a local, working-class killer.
Eight days after Cross was discovered with the body of Nichols, another prostitute was murdered along one of his routes at a time when he was habitually (or could have been) in the vicinity. The body of Annie Chapman was found that morning in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street. However, there is some doubt here because of uncertainty about what time the murder of Chapman took place.
The generally accepted timing for the killing of Chapman is about 5.30am. Wolf Vanderlinden in ‘“Considerable Doubt” and the Death of Annie Chapman’ suggested serious problems with this assumption and drew attention to the contemporary claims of Dr Phillips who examined her body. Phillips placed the time of death between 3.30 and 4.30. Accept this timing and, as Vanderlinden suggested, we are left with ‘[a] killer who murdered at a time consistent with the deaths of Martha Tabram and Polly Nichols.1
If the traditional time of about 5.30 is correct, though, then it is not impossible that Cross arrived at Pickfords at 4am and began his workday by driving to Spitalfields Market. His wagon may have been being loaded or unloaded nearby while he dealt with Chapman. Ironically one of the witnesses, Elizabeth Long (or Durrell as in some reports), stated at the Inquest that her husband was a cart minder (The Daily Telegraph, 11 September 1888). When Chapman’s body was discovered some of the many market carts were in plain view at the nearby corner of Hanbury and Commercial Streets and The Times (11 September 1888) used their presence in recreating the murder scene for their readers: ‘On Saturday morning, between half past 4 o’clock and 6, several carts must have passed through Hanbury-street, and at 5 o’clock, on the opening of the Spitalfields Market, the end of which the murder occurred was blocked with market vehicles, and the market attendants were busy regulating the traffic.’
Martha Tabram was murdered on a route Cross could have taken to work at a time when he was in the area. Polly Nichols was murdered along his path and he was found near her body. Annie Chapman was murdered on the same route days later. If we knew with absolute certainty what time Chapman was killed the case for or against Cross would become clearer. If it was him, these were not careful and cunningly executed atrocities because he was murdering and carelessly littering his daily path with bodies.
No other suspect is so strongly linked to these three murders. Every day other men walked these streets at similar times, but only Charles Cross was discovered beside a body.
In the Whitechapel Murders of 1888, one element of the possible modus operandi is the same—except in one event. The women were encountered and they led the killer to places in which they felt secure to have sex. The killing that does not fit this hypothesis is that of Nichols. In that instance the killer met and killed her on the street. Perhaps she was too befuddled to suggest a discreet place to go. In this instance he may have been interrupted and could have been caught. Learning from this, the future murders took place in relatively safer environments.
As police struggled to keep pace with the continuing murders, Cross vanished from their investigation. He was part of the Nichols murder paperwork, pigeonholed as the carman witness who discovered her body. With all the newspaper babble of bloodstained madmen, the workman in his crude sacking apron was easy to forget, even as he walked past, or stopped and watched, police detectives investigating the later atrocities.
The double event, the killings of Elizabeth Stride and Catharine Eddowes, could have been performed by Cross. However, serious arguments that Elizabeth Stride was not victim of the Ripper have been put forward and with some of these I tend to agree.
The killing of Catharine Eddowes may not have been the work of a killer searching Whitechapel streets for victims, but done by Cross on his way home from work. Her murder just a part of a very ordinary, working class Saturday night out. Cross, after spending the night drinking in the Aldgate pubs near Pickfords, could have killed Eddowes on his way home because she was found along his path. She was in the usual age group for the victims, she was available, was probably still showing the effects of drink, and the place she took him to offered safety for what he wanted to do. He dropped or discarded the apron fragment in Goulston Street just before he turned into Wentworth Street on his way back to Doveton Street. The infamous graffito probably had nothing to do with him.
The Ripper was an opportunistic killer. The women offered themselves to him and set up their death scenes. They became his victims when they encountered him at a time and in a place in which he felt safe in carrying out his fantasies.
The murders, so far, could have been done going to and from work. Does the killing of Mary Kelly fit this template or was it an adventurous change in the killer’s modus operandi? Was it a holiday treat? A man who had got away with so much may have felt like experimenting.
Kelly was younger than the other victims and was butchered inside her room. The time she died is unknown and contemporary suggestions were contradictory. Dr Bond estimated her time of death between one and two o’clock that morning. Both Sarah Lewis and Elizabeth Prater heard a cry of murder about 4am—which would conveniently fit Cross’s workday timetable. But it was a holiday, the day of the Lord Mayor’s Show, though some men obviously still had to work. Conversely, accept Caroline Maxwell’s evidence and the murder took place sometime between 8 or 8.30 and 10.45am when the body was discovered. Listen also to Maurice Lewis and she was still alive at 10am. Only the confusion is clear.
Killing inside was something new. In Peter Sutcliffe’s 1981 police statement he said that when he killed Patricia Atkinson, in her flat, it was the first time he had seen the blood: ‘before it had always been dark but this time in the light I saw lots of blood on the bed and on the floor.’2 This was the experience of Jack the Ripper when he killed Kelly. Taken to her room, it was the first time he saw clearly what he was doing, and he also saw the bloodstains on his own clothes. It would have made sense to put on some of the men’s clothes which Maria Harvey had left in the room and burn any of his own marked clothes.
The killings were a very small part of Jack the Ripper’s life. They took up little time, they earned him no money, and he otherwise went on living his normal life. Put together the minutes it took to do the killings in 1888 and they add up to only a few hours in a man’s life, and the life they belonged to may have been that of Charles Cross.
Cross is worth serious consideration as a suspect. Decide that a member of the royal family, a painter or a mad Freemason killed these women and you can plot the events and invent connections, but take a real man, for whom only a few facts are known, and it becomes obvious how little was really known about the murders in 1888. Cross lived in Doveton Street and worked in Broad Street and we know what time he left for work. Even a relatively simple matter of cross-referencing these times and possible routes with the killings is impossible for, generally, we can’t even be sure what time the murders occurred.
Cross, a poor workingman, was Nobody. He was a familiar yet unknown part of Whitechapel, a blur in the street. Look for a murderer after the finding of Martha Tabram’s body and there is no madman running away, just workmen trudging to work. Look about after the death of Annie Chapman and your view of a suspicious foreigner is obscured by the carts blocking Commercial Street. Cross was visible and was exactly the sort of person everyone expected to find on the streets. Whatever lay hidden behind the sacking apron, or what he looked like without it, he belonged in Bethnal Green and Whitechapel. What differentiates him from any other anonymous shadow is that he was found in Buck’s Row beside the body of Polly Nichols, when he should have been far away on his way to work. Unless, of course, he was just a Pickfords’s carman, ‘behind time’.
1 Ripper Notes, April 2005
2 Michael Bilton, Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper (London 2003) p. 667.