|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 66, April 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.|
By Antonio Sironi and Jane Coram
At 1:00 in the morning of Sunday, 30 September 1888, Louis Diemschutz, the steward of the International Working Men’s Educational Club, was returning to the Club in a two-wheeled barrow pulled by a pony. He had spent the day, as he usually did on Saturdays, selling imitation jewellery at Westow Hill Market, near the Crystal Palace. He drove his pony down Commercial Road and turned south into Berner Street. The Club was further down the road. Light could be seen through its windows and the sounds of singing and laughter came from its meeting room on the first floor. As Diemschutz drove through the gates of Dutfield’s Yard and entered the dark passage running alongside the Club, his pony shied to the left. A woman was lying across the passage on the muddy ground. She was dead, but her body was still warm to the touch. Blood oozed thickly from a deep gash in her throat and ran down the gutter into a drain. Within a matter of days, she would be identified as Elizabeth Stride, a 44-year-old, Swedish-born prostitute, and go down in history as the third canonical victim of Jack the Ripper.
But that long, dreadful night was not yet over.
Three-quarters of a mile from Berner Street, within the confines of the City of London, lies Mitre Square. It is a small enclosed square delimited by Mitre Street, Creechurch Lane (formerly King Street), Duke’s Place (formerly Duke Street) and Aldgate. Between King Street and Mitre Square is St James’ Place, formerly known as the Orange Market. In 1888, the Great Synagogue and Kearly and Tonge’s Warehouse stood between Duke Street and the Square. Another warehouse belonging to Kearly and Tonge formed the northwest side of the Square along a house occupied by Police Constable Pearce. Between Aldgate and the Square, stood the Sir John Cass Foundation School. There were three entrances to Mitre Square: a broad passage from Mitre Street; Church Passage, a narrow, covered foot passage from Duke Street, south of the Synagogue; and a narrow foot passage from St James’ Place. On the right of the broad passage off Mitre Street were three unoccupied cottages forming a blind corner with a high fence sealing off the yard between the School and the Square.
I saw the body of the woman lying there on her back with her feet facing the Square, her clothes up above her waist. I saw her throat was cut and her bowels protruding. The stomach was ripped up, she was lying in a pool of blood. (1)
Jack the Ripper had struck again. The dead woman, later identified as Catherine Eddowes, a 46-year-old prostitute, was the fourth of his canonical victims. Although the area was well patrolled, nobody saw or heard anything. Mark my words: Nobody saw or heard anything.
Indeed, this is the question that has puzzled generations of Ripperologists: Did anyone ever see Jack the Ripper? In this article we will consider this aspect of the Whitechapel Murders and look for an answer to this question.
Eyewitness testimony is one of the most widely used types of evidence available. There is a tendency, however, to believe that it is more accurate than it really is. As we will see, eyewitness evidence can be very inaccurate, even when the witnesses are fully confident about what they have seen. Before analyzing in detail the factors that determine the quality of evidence, we will examine the main features of human memory.
Memory is not like a video camera, which can capture all the events that are framed in the direction in which it is pointed, record them and replay them. Our memory cannot do this. We do not absorb information passively in order to replay it exactly as received; our memory is an active, creative process that can be inaccurate for a variety of reasons. For an item of information to be remembered it must go through three main stages: it must be encoded into memory, stored in memory and, finally, retrieved from memory. Problems can occur at each of these stages.
Encoding is the process of storing or representing information in memory. What is encoded depends on the direction where an individual’s attention is directed at a particular time and what is taken in or perceived. Owing to our limited capacity to concentrate, we cannot pay attention to, or take in, all the information in our environment at any particular moment, but tend to focus on what is most important for us at the time. This depends both on the person and on the environment. Information to which we do not pay active attention is rarely encoded and, obviously, something that is not encoded in the first place cannot be remembered later on. Even when we pay attention to something there is no guarantee that it will be encoded.
Since we do not encode everything that we observe, our memory contains gaps. To make sense of these gaps, we may ‘fill them in’ to fit in with our attitudes, beliefs and expectations about a particular event or person. External sources may also be incorporated into memory. For example, if we are told, incorrectly, that a person we have met had a moustache, this information may be incorporated into memory. We may come genuinely to believe the person had a moustache.
We may have encoded information and stored it, but obviously we cannot claim to have ‘remembered’ material successfully unless we can retrieve it from memory. Successful retrieval from memory depends not only on adequate encoding and storage but on other things as well. Retrieval cues can have a considerable effect on our ability to ‘call up’ information from memory.
Eyewitnesses play an important part in crime investigations. The night when Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were murdered, known as the night of the Double Event, offers us the best understanding of the Whitechapel murders and the greater number of positive sightings of the victims and their companions. We will accordingly focus on these two murders only. To understand and evaluate the evidence available, I have referred to modern police techniques. For this reason, it is important to analyse how the reliability of the information that witnesses provide should be assessed. Various factors, such as the nature of the offence and the situation in which it is observed, affect the reliability of eyewitnesses and their capacity to encode and recollect the event, and consequently influence the quality of eyewitness statements. The main factors involved are:
Duration of the sighting: The longer an event or person is observed, the more details are likely to be noticed and recorded and thus remembered.
Distance from the eyewitness to the person/incident: The further away witnesses are from a crime, the lower their ability to record and later remember information about the crime.
Visibility: The time of day and the quality of lighting influence eyewitnesses’ ability to record events accurately and remember them later.
Obstructions: Inevitably, if something obstructs a witness’s view, it will prevent the witness from seeing, encoding and subsequently retrieving the information. Research shows that witnesses tend to underestimate the amount of time that their visual contact with a person was obscured by another object, which suggests that such estimates must be treated with caution.
A reason to remember: We are more likely to remember something accurately if there was something that made it particularly salient or ‘memorable’. For example, we are more likely to observe and record details of an event if the components of the event are intense or unusual in some way.
Time lapse: The longer the delay between the event and our attempt to remember it, the less complete and accurate the account will be.
Violence and the presence of a weapon: One of the most important factors identified above is that of stimulus intensity or impact. The more intense something is, the greater the impact it has on us and the more likely we are to remember it. At the same time, when violence is used, threatened or implied, most witnesses experience stress, which may affect their ability to store the information.
The encoding of the features related to the person or persons involved varies greatly. Witnesses’ descriptions of clothing style tend to be reasonably accurate. Descriptions of clothing colour are less accurate, particularly when lighting is poor. The estimation of age can also be very inaccurate. Generally speaking, eyewitnesses are most precise when they are estimating the age of someone roughly of the same age as they are, because they are more familiar with that age group. The greater the difference between the age of the witness and the age of the offender, the less accurate the witness’s estimate of the offender’s age. The same can be said about the height. While witnesses tend to estimate poorly the height of offenders, they remember more accurately heights that are similar to their own.
Although it is not possible to say with any degree of exactitude when a particular statement by an eyewitness will be accurate or inaccurate, research helps to determine when statements are likely to be less accurate and should be treated more cautiously. We should not expect witnesses to be uniformly accurate or inaccurate when describing aspects of a crime, but we can ascertain which evidence should be regarded as more reliable and which details are more likely to be correct. Finally, memory for actions is better than memory for descriptions. So, for example, even if witnesses cannot describe accurately details of the participants in an event, they might be able to describe the event itself.
The amount and accuracy of the information that witnesses provide may be determined by the way in which they are interviewed. More complete and accurate information is associated with factors such as allowing for free recall, good rapport, open-ended questioning, sensitivity to the negative effects of leading questions and simple patience. This aspect is impossible to analyze since we have no information about the way in which the police questioned witnesses in the Whitechapel murders case.
Bearing in mind the foregoing, we will analyze in detail every single item of evidence available, highlight its main features and evaluate its reliability.
Two labourers, J Best and John Gardner, saw Elizabeth Stride at about 11:00pm on 29 September - two hours before her death. As they entered the Bricklayers’ Arms, a pub located at 34 Settles Street, a woman, later identified as Stride, was leaving with a man. Best and Gardner described her companion as 5ft 5in in height, with a thick black moustache and no beard.(2) He was wearing a billycock hat, morning suit and coat.
Best and Gardner didn’t appear at the Stride inquest. They gave their statement to an Evening News reporter.(3) Bearing in mind the great number of publicity seekers at the time of the Whitechapel Murders, common sense suggests we should handle with care statements published in a newspaper. Perhaps Best and Gardner were not called to the inquest and were not interviewed by the police because their evidence was regarded as unreliable even at the time of the murders.
According to the Evening News, Best stated:
[Stride and the man] had been served in the public house and went out when me and my friends came in. It was raining very fast and they did not appear willing to go out. He was hugging and kissing her, and as he seemed a respectably dressed man, we were rather astonished at the way he was going on at the woman.
The couple stood on the doorway for some time. The workmen tried to persuade the man to come in for a drink but he refused. They then called to Stride: ‘That’s Leather Apron getting “round you”!’ The man and Stride walked off towards Commercial Road and Berner Street. Best remarked to the Evening News reporter: ‘He and the woman went off like a shot soon after eleven.’
The man and woman seen by Best and Gardner at the Bricklayers’ Arms did not behave like a killer and his victim, but rather comported themselves in a way likely to attract attention. Indeed, the witnesses only noticed them because it struck them as peculiar to see a respectably dressed man in the company of a woman who was obviously a prostitute. Apart from that, the witnesses’ description of Stride’s companion may be assumed to be accurate, since the spot was well lit and there was sufficient time for them to take a good look at him. They described his features and clothing in a manner that vividly evokes him.
Yet, even though the witnesses’ statements meet all the requirements of valuable evidence, they are affected negatively by two factors: first, the two hours that elapsed between their sighting and the discovery of Stride’s body; second, their statements are not official records.
We must also ask ourselves some questions. Were these men telling the truth? Was the woman they saw Stride? Indeed, even if she was, the man with her was unlikely to have been Jack the Ripper. The Whitechapel Murderer would hardly have attracted attention to himself by behaving in the way Stride’s companion did. He was a silent killer, able to escape unseen, unheard and undetected from the murder sites. The longer a killer spends in the company of a prospective victim the higher the probability of being seen, noticed and detected. The Ripper’s modus operandi suggests that he spent with a victim no more than the minimum time necessary to approach her, kill her and mutilate her body.
Analysis of Best and Gardner’s Evidence
Duration of the sighting: Long enough
Distance from the eyewitness to the person/incident: Very close
Visibility: In full view and enough light
Any reason to remember: Present (The man was kissing the woman)
Time lapse: Not known but estimated at one or two days
Violence and the presence of a weapon: None
While Best and Gardner were not called to the Stride inquest, other witnesses were. Since the Official Records of the Inquest have not survived, I have used the information found in various articles published by The Times and the Daily Telegraph, which covered the Stride Inquest, as reproduced in Stewart P Evans and Keith Skinner’s The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook, and other sources.
At 11:45pm on 29 September, William Marshall, a labourer, was standing on his doorstep when he saw a woman he later identified as Elizabeth Stride. She was on the pavement opposite No 68, Berner Street, between Christian and Boyd Streets, three doors down from where Marshall lived. He noticed her talking to a man about 5ft 6in in height, rather stout, wearing a black cut-away coat, dark trousers and a round cap with a small peak, ‘something like what a sailor would wear.’ He seemed middle aged and had the appearance of a clerk. According to Marshall, the man was ‘decently dressed’. When the couple passed by, Marshall overheard the man’s words: ‘You would say anything but your prayers.’ (4) The next day, Marshall was taken to the mortuary where he identified the deceased as the woman he had seen.
Marshall appeared at the inquest, where Coroner Baxter questioned him. He admitted that the spot where the couple was standing was badly lit. The nearest lamp was about 20 ft off, at the street corner. He added that what attracted his attention first ‘was her standing there some time, and he was kissing her’. When the couple set out in the direction of Ellen Street, they went towards Marshall, but they were walking in the middle of the street and the man was turning towards Stride. As a result, Marshall couldn’t see his face. This affected his descriptions, which are too vague to be of much help in a possible identification.
Marshall said that the man he had seen had the ‘appearance of a clerk’. Yet this seems to be more an impression than a deduction based on the evidence available. He simply said, when questioned by Coroner Baxter, that he felt that ‘clerk’ was the best way to describe the man’s appearance from his clothes and behaviour. He looked more like someone accustomed to doing some ‘light business’ rather than hard work. Marshall thought that he appeared to be an ‘educated man’.
It is interesting that Marshall described the woman as wearing a black jacket and skirt but did not see anything pinned to her jacket. This will be discussed in detail later. Let’s just mention at this point that the clothes worn by the woman seen by Marshall fit the clothes worn by Stride. Could therefore the man who was with her be the same man seen by Gardner and Best? The height fits and also the clothes in general, with a little discrepancy regarding the cap. Besides, only 45 minutes elapsed between the two sightings. Yet, as said above, this sighting was too early in the evening for the man to be Stride’s killer. In addition, Marshall’s sighting took place in far worse conditions than Gardner and Best’s sighting, because the spot was badly lit and the witness just glanced cursorily at the couple.
Analysis of William Marshall’s Evidence
Duration of the sighting: Short
Distance from the eyewitness to the person/incident: Relatively close
Visibility: Limited. The spot was not well lit
Reason to remember: Present
Time lapse: One day
Violence and the presence of a weapon: None
At 12:35am, PC William Smith saw Elizabeth Stride with a man in Berner Street, opposite the International Working Men’s Educational Club, a few yards away from were her body would be discovered. PC Smith described the man as of ‘respectable appearance,’ about 28 years old, 5ft 7 or 8 in, of dark complexion, with a small dark moustache. He wore a hard felt deerstalker hat of dark colour and a black diagonal cutaway coat and dark trousers and was carrying a parcel wrapped in newspaper approximately 6 or 8 inches in width and 18 inches in length. Both he and Stride appeared to be sober. PC Smith did not overhear any of their conversation.(5)
Since it came from a policeman, PC Smith’s account of his sighting of Stride is usually regarded as the most reliable. He recognized her at once when he saw her body at the mortuary and he clearly had seen her face whilst walking his beat in Berner Street. In addition, he had noticed a red rose pinned to her jacket, which corroborated further that she was really the deceased. Unfortunately, he ‘did not see much of [Stride’s companion’s] face except that he had no whiskers.’ In fact, he gave only a vague description of the man, though it agreed in general terms with the description given by Marshall. There is therefore a possibility that they saw the same man, even if at a 50-minute interval. Of course, it is not uncommon for prostitutes to be with a client one moment and another the next, but both men were of respectable appearance and wore similar dark overcoats and dark trousers. Marshall added that the man was ‘rather stout’, a detail that Smith didn’t record. But the man seen by Marshall had nothing in his hand and, more important, the woman with him did not wear a flower on her jacket. If indeed both Marshall and Smith saw Stride, this could be either because she got her flower later, between 11:45pm and 12:45pm, or because, having only glanced quickly at the couple, Marshall didn’t see the red rose pinned to her jacket. On the other hand, the man seen by Smith had a parcel in his hand, which means that he and Marshall might have seen different men.
PC Smith saw Stride 15 to 20 minutes before her estimated time of death. As a result, the probability that the man in her company was her killer is quite high. PC Smith was the only witness who described the man as comparatively young. As said above, while the estimation of age can be very inaccurate, eyewitnesses are most precise when estimating the age of someone roughly of the same age as they are, because they are more familiar with that age group. Since PC Smith himself was only 26 years old, his estimation of the man’s age at about 28 can be considered as quite reliable.
Chief Inspector Donald Swanson considered PC Smith’s evidence as important. In a report dated 19 October 1888, he compared PC Smith’s description of the man seen with Stride with the description provided by another key witness, Israel Schwartz. What Swanson wrote shows that the Metropolitan Police regarded these statements highly. Schwartz’s sighting took place closer to Stride’s estimated time of death but, on the other hand, PC Smith’s statement may be deemed more reliable, since he was a trained police officer and, unlike Schwartz, was not under stress at the time.
Analysis of PC William Smith’s Evidence
Duration of the sighting: Short Distance from the eyewitness to the person/incident: Close Visibility: Good Obstructions: None Reason to remember: None Time lapse: The statement was given the same day Violence and the presence of a weapon: None
At about 12:40-12:45am, James Brown, a dock labourer, was returning home after buying his supper from a chandler’s shop at the junction of Fairclough and Berner Street. He saw a man and a woman standing at the corner of the Board School. She was leaning against the wall talking to a man who had his arm up against the wall. The place was rather dark and after just a quick glance Brown described him as being 5ft 7in tall, wearing ‘a long coat which came very nearly down to his heels’ and a hat. Unfortunately, he couldn’t describe the hat. The man appeared to be of stoutish built. Brown heard the woman saying ‘No, not to-night, some other night’.(6)
Brown’s statement to the police suggests that he saw the couple at about the same time as Schwartz. In 1888, clocks were not always reliable and pocket watches were not that common. Brown estimated the time based on the fact that he had arrived home at 12:10 and not long afterwards went out to get his supper. He didn’t notice the time at the chandler’s shop but simply guessed that it must have been about 12:40 when he saw the couple. Since Schwartz’s estimation of time is not necessarily correct either, a matter of a few minutes’ discrepancy neither affects Brown’s statement nor eliminates Schwartz’s evidence - although the possibility remains that they saw different people.
The real problem with Brown’s description is that he saw nothing pinned to the woman’s jacket. According to the Daily Telegraph, Coroner Baxter asked him ‘Did you notice any flower in her dress?’ and witness replied ‘No’ and later added that he ‘saw nothing light in colour about either of them.’ (7) As Stride wore dark clothes, the red rose would have been the only splash of colour on her and surely the main detail to be noticed and remembered. Five minutes earlier, PC Smith had noticed the flower. And Stride, when found, was wearing a red rose. There is therefore a possibility that another couple was in Berner Street that night.
Brown’s description of the woman’s companion is very vague, partly because ‘the place where they were standing was rather dark’.(8) He didn’t notice any distinctive features of the man’s face and the only particular encoded was the ‘long coat which came very nearly down to his heels.’ William Marshall saw a man wearing a ‘black cutaway coat,’ PC Smith mentioned a man wearing a similar garment and Schwartz saw a man with a ‘dark jacket’.(9) These sightings are incompatible with the long coat coming down to the heels, so perhaps the man seen by Brown was not the man seen by Marshall, Smith and Schwartz. This, together with the absence of the red rose from the woman’s jacket, points to the possibility that Brown saw a different couple. The evidence is also unreliable because the spot was badly lit and the witness didn’t pay much attention.
Analysis of James Brown’s Evidence
Duration of the sight: Short
Distance from the eyewitness to the person/incident: Close
Visibility: Spot badly lit
Any reason to remember: None
Time lapse: One day
Violence and the presence of a weapon: None
In his report of 19 October, Chief Inspector Donald Swanson stated that Israel Schwartz, of 22 Helen Street, Backchurch Lane:
[At 12:45 am]... on turning into Berner Street from Commercial Road, & had got as far as the gateway where the murder was committed he saw a man stop & speak to a woman, who was standing in the gateway. He tried to pull the woman into the street, but he turned her round & threw her down on the footway & the woman screamed three times, but not very loudly. On crossing to the opposite side of the street, he saw a second man lighting his pipe. The man who threw the woman down called out, apparently to the man on the opposite side of the road, “Lipski” & then Schwartz walked away, but finding that he was followed by the second man, he ran as far as the railway arch, but the man did not follow so far. Schwartz cannot say whether the two men were together or known to each other. Upon being taken to the mortuary Schwartz identified the body as that of the woman he had seen & he thus described the first man who threw the woman down: age about 30, 5ft 5in, complexion fair, dark hair, small brown moustache, full face, broad shouldered, dress, dark jacket, trousers black, cap with a peak, nothing in his hand. (10)
The police regarded Schwartz’s evidence as very important. Some students of the case think that Schwartz was the only witness to have seen the Ripper. Others, including Chief Inspector Donald Swanson, had their doubts. In his report he further wrote:
...I understand the Inspector to suggest that Schwartz’ man need not have been the murderer. True only 15 minutes elapsed between 12:45 when Schwartz saw the man and 1:00am when the woman was found murdered on the same spot. But the suggestion is that Schwartz’ man may have left her, she being a prostitute she accosted or was accosted by another man and there was time enough for this to take place and for this other man to murder her before 1:00am.
We don’t know how Schwartz established the time. Yet this is a very important detail. Schwartz’s evidence is crucial mainly because what he saw was very close to the time of Stride’s death. If he had been off just 15 minutes in his reckoning, for example, his evidence would be far less important. Not only that, it could be construed as exonerating the broad-shouldered man.
Schwartz was not called to the inquest. We can only speculate why. There are, at any rate, reasons to doubt his evidence. He was on his way home when he turned in Berner Street, reached Dutfield’s Yard gates and noticed a man stopping and then talking to a woman. Looking carefully at his statement, as reflected in Swanson’s report, we see that the man ‘tried to pull the woman into the street’ and not into the yard, where Stride’s body would be found 15 minutes later. Then the man ‘turned her round & threw her down on the footway’. This was not typical of the Whitechapel Murderer, who attacked his victims from behind and left them no escape.
We don’t know what the woman did after being thrown to the ground because Schwartz, feeling his life was in danger, left the scene followed by the pipe smoker. The broad-shouldered man may have been able to grab her again, pull her into the yard and cut her throat within the space of 15 minutes. The evidence available, however, appears to disprove this hypothesis. Doctors at the scene of the crime stated that there were no signs of struggle and Stride’s clothes were not creased. When found, she still held a packet of cachous in her left hand. This suggests that the attack on her was so sudden as to afford her no possibility to fight for her life. Her attacker must have cut her throat so unexpectedly and so swiftly that she collapsed to the ground in shock. This seems to be inconsistent with the struggle witnessed by Schwartz.
In addition, anyone being thrown to the ground would almost inevitably suffer injuries in the palms of the hands or in the knees. There were no indications of such injuries in the post-mortem report on Stride prepared by Dr George Bagster Phillips which could be regarded as consistent with her having been thrown to the ground a few minutes earlier. (11) It is true that Dr Phillips said at the subsequent inquest that ‘Over both shoulders, especially the right, from the front aspect under the collar bones and in front of the chest there is a bluish discolouration...’ (12) which could be bruising to the shoulders consistent with being grabbed there. But it is possible that it was the Ripper who caused that bruising when seizing Stride prior to cutting her throat. It has also been argued that Stride’s clothing could have protected her knees when she was thrown down to the ground and that she might not have fallen on her hands with sufficient force to sustain grazing in them.
The packet of cachous found in Stride’s hand also points to the possibility that Schwartz did not see her but another woman. In effect, if the woman seen by Schwartz had been Stride, she would most likely have dropped the cachous when thrown to the ground. Yet no cachous were found scattered about the yard or in the street. Furthermore, the behaviour of the woman seen by Schwartz was not that of someone who felt her life in imminent danger. She ‘screamed three times, but not very loudly’. (13) If she had really feared for her safety, she would have tried as best as she could to attract attention to herself and her attacker, possibly even seeking help from Schwartz. She didn’t call out and she didn’t try to escape, react or defend herself. The behaviour of this woman and the broad-shouldered man looks more like a simple quarrel than like a murder attempt.
Again, it is possible that the broad-shouldered man refrained from further violence after he realised Schwartz had witnessed his attack on the woman. Prostitutes were often used to domestic violence and probably to being treated roughly by their customers as well. If the woman was Stride, she may have accepted the broad-shouldered man’s outburst of anger, whatever its cause may have been, as an occupational hazard, and unwarily followed her killer into the darkness of the passage. Be it as it may, it cannot be ascertained from Schwartz’s testimony that the woman he saw being thrown to the ground was indeed Stride and that her attacker was Jack the Ripper.
It is worth noting that Schwartz was on his way home when he witnessed the attack. When he heard the man cry out ‘Lipski’ he ‘walked away, but finding that he was followed by the second man, ran as far as the railway arch’. (14) I find odd that he didn’t continue along Berner Street, turn in Helen Street and reach the safety of his home but instead preferred to stay on the streets until he reached the railway arch. For all we know this was never explained. Schwartz gave his statement at the Leman Street Police Station through an interpreter and inevitably details of what he said were lost in translation.
When violence is implied, witnesses are likely to devote virtually all of their attention to the perpetrators of the crime and what they are doing. Stress leads to a narrowing of focus. The implication of this is that, since attention is concentrated on the perpetrators and what they do, accounts of them and their actions are likely to be both detailed and accurate. However, this will also mean that other more peripheral information, such as the activities of other persons involved, might not be noticed and will, as a consequence, be remembered less well. Reading again Schwartz’s evidence we can see that he was able to recollect and remember almost everything about the attacker including height, build, complexion, moustache, hair, clothes, cap and behaviour, but said nothing about Stride. Even though he positively identified the body as the woman he had seen, the intriguing possibility remains that what he saw had nothing to do with her murder. Israel Schwartz may have been witness to nothing more that a street brawl.
Analysis of Israel Schwartz’s Evidence
Duration of the sight: Short Distance from the eyewitness to the person/incident: Close Visibility: Enough light Obstructions: None Reason to remember: Present Time lapse: The statement was given the same day Violence and the presence of a weapon: Present
Fanny Mortimer lived on the same side of the street and only three doors north of Dutfield’s Yard, where Stride was killed. (15) Even though Mrs Mortimer didn’t play a central role in the investigation, and even though she didn’t see Stride, she was standing on her doorstep at about the time Stride was murdered nearby. Her statement ties in with other witnesses’ statements and casts new light on what may have happened in Berner Street that night. What she saw or didn’t see is relevant in connection with evidence already discussed. Finally, and more important, Mrs Mortimer raised the possibility that another couple were in Berner Street that night. Although she didn’t appear at the inquest, her statement was covered by many newspapers. On 1 October, the Daily Telegraph reported it as follows:
In his report of 19 October 1888, Chief Inspector Donald Swanson stated that the man with the black bag was Leon Goldstein, who on reading about himself in the newspapers had reported to the Leman Street Police Station and subsequently been ruled out of the investigation. So, according to the Daily Telegraph, Mrs Mortimer went back inside after seeing Leon Goldstein pass by. Shortly afterwards, she heard Diemschutz go by with his pony and cart and then heard the commotion at the club. Assuming that she had heard PC Smith on his beat, she was outside for nearly thirty minutes, from 12:30 -12:35am to 1:00am. However, other people were in Berner Street that night and apparently not one of them saw anyone else in the vicinity. Had Mrs Mortimer actually been outside from 12:30am to 1:00am, she could not have missed Charles Letchford (walking through Berner Street at 12:30am), Joseph Lave (who exited the club via Dutfield’s Yard at about 12:30am, was outside for about 5 minutes, and went as far as the street), James Brown (coming back home at about 12:45am after having bought his supper from a chandler’s shop at the junction of Fairclough and Berner Street), Morris Eagle (returning to the club at 12:40am and trying the front door before going through Dutfield’s Yard), or, of course, the entire Schwartz incident. It is very hard to believe that she could really miss all these people coming and going. So, how can we reconcile all the evidence available?
I was standing at the door of my house nearly the whole time between half-past twelve and one o’clock this (Sunday) morning, and did not notice anything unusual. I had just gone indoors, and was preparing to go to bed, when I heard a commotion outside, and immediately ran out, thinking that there was another row at the Socialists’ Club close by... There was certainly no noise made, and I did not observe anyone enter the gates. It was just after one o’clock when I went out, and the only man whom I had seen pass through the street previously was a young man carrying a black shiny bag, who walked very fast down the street from the Commercial-road. He looked up at the club, and then went round the corner by the Board School. I was told that the manager or steward of the club had discovered the woman on his return home in his pony cart. He drove through the gates, and my opinion is that he interrupted the murderer, who must have made his escape immediately under cover of the cart. If a man had come out of the yard before one o’clock I must have seen him. It was almost incredible to me that the thing could have been done without the steward’s wife hearing a noise, for she was sitting in the kitchen from which a window opens four yards from the spot where the woman was found... A young man and his sweetheart were standing at the corner of the street, about 20 yards away, before and after the time the woman must have been murdered, but they told me they did not hear a sound.
The Evening News reported Mrs Mortimer’s actions adding a detail that is helpful in establishing when and how long she stayed at her doorstep:
...shortly before a quarter to one o’clock [my italics] she [Mrs Mortimer] heard the measured heavy stamp of a policeman passing the house on his beat. Immediately afterwards she went to the street door with the intention of shooting the bolts, though she remained standing there ten minutes before she did so. During the ten minutes she saw no one enter or leave the neighbouring yard, and she feels sure that had any one done so she could not have overlooked the fact.
According to this statement, she went out immediately after having heard ‘the measured heavy stamp’, and she put the time as ‘shortly before a quarter to one o’clock’. Was the man who walked with ‘the measured heavy stamp’ PC Smith on his beat? Well, possibly, but this assumption generates more than one contradiction. PC Smith stated at the inquest he had seen a woman later identified as Elizabeth Stride at about 12:30-12:35am, so if the man whose step was heard by Mrs Mortimer was really him, he estimated the time wrongly. Yet he had in fact established the time quite accurately and cross examination of his statement proved it to be correct. His beat took him about 25 minutes. He stated at the inquest that ‘At 1 o’clock [he] went to Berner Street in [his] ordinary round’ when he saw ‘a crowd of people outside the gates of No. 40’. Stride’s body was discovered at 1:00am or very shortly before - a point corroborated also by Diemschutz, Eagle, PC Lamb and Spooner - so PC Smith had also been in Berner Street at about 12:35am. A 10-minute discrepancy is irreconcilable.
Even assuming that Mrs Mortimer could have missed Brown and Eagle, whose actions were unremarkable and could therefore have gone unnoticed, she couldn’t have missed the incident witnessed by Schwartz at 12:45am. Three men and a woman were involved, a fight took place and the woman was thrown to the ground. We can’t ascertain when Mrs Mortimer went out and how long she stayed at her doorstep, but it is likely that the ‘measured heavy stamp’ was not PC Smith’s. She said she had ‘just gone indoors, and was preparing to go to bed, when [she] heard a commotion outside’. So possibly she went indoors only minutes before Stride’s body was discovered, with a discrepancy of just a few minutes, about 12:55-12:58am. Considering more reliable evidence taken at an official inquest, we could reconcile all statements assuming that Mrs Mortimer went out just after the Schwartz incident, possibly shortly after a quarter to 1 o’clock. This would explain why she saw nobody. However, it is also possible that she overestimated the time she stood at the door.
Finally, it is interesting to note that she saw a couple in Berner Street. In her own words: ‘...a young man and his sweetheart were standing at the corner of the street, about 20 yards away, before and after the time the woman must have been murdered, but they told me they did not hear a sound.’ James Brown also saw a couple ‘standing at the corner of the Board School,’ exactly on the same spot where Mrs Mortimer had seen a couple. Brown didn’t see a red rose pinned to the woman’s jacket and described her companion as dressed in a ‘a long coat which came very nearly down to his heels’ while PC Smith noticed the flower in Stride’s jacket and described her companion as dressed in ‘a dark diagonal cutaway coat’. These details are irreconcilable. Brown and PC Smith probably saw different men and possibly different women too. Brown’s description of the woman is very vague. He only remarked he had noticed no flower, admitting also that the spot was badly lit. Yet he was ‘almost certain that the deceased was the woman to whom his attention was attracted’.16 Most likely, Brown didn’t see Stride with the man seen by PC Smith but the couple seen by Mrs Mortimer.
The body of Elizabeth Stride was discovered by Diemschutz at 1:00am. Even though the Ripper was almost caught, he was able to leave the scene of the crime undetected. Only 45 minutes later, he claimed a second victim, Catherine Eddowes, whose body was found by PC Watkins in Mitre Square. In marked contrast to the Berner Street Murder, we have only one positive sighting of Eddowes. Yet this sighting took place only nine minutes before the discovery of her body. If the woman seen was really her, there are good chances that the man in her company was the Ripper.
At 1:30am, Joseph Lawende, a commercial traveller in the cigarette trade, Joseph Hyam Levy, a butcher, and Harry Harris, a furniture dealer, left the Imperial Club at 16-17 Duke Street. Lawende established the time by the Club clock and his own watch. They had spent the evening drinking together and delayed their departure from the Club only because of the rain. The distance between the Club and the Church Passage was nine or ten yards. It must therefore have been about 1:35am when Lawende, who walked a little ahead of his companions, noticed a woman and a man talking at the corner of Duke Street and Church Passage. He only glanced briefly at the couple, but could later remember and describe what he saw. His statement could in fact be of prime importance. Of all the sightings of victims in company of a man, Lawende’s sighting, if proved reliable, would be the closest to the estimated time of the victim’s death.
Joseph Lawende stated that the woman he saw was standing facing a man with her hand on his chest, but not in a manner to suggest that she was resisting him. Lawende described the man as 30 years old, 5 foot 7 inches tall, fair complexion and moustache and medium build. He was wearing a pepper-and-salt-coloured jacket which fit loosely and a grey cloth cap with a peak of the same colour. He had a reddish handkerchief knotted around his neck. Overall he gave the appearance of being a sailor. (17) Lawende later identified Eddowes’s clothes as those worn by the woman he saw that night. Joseph Hyam Levy, one of Lawende’s companions, said that he was on the opposite pavement to the couple and took only passing notice of them. He remembered very little of what he saw. He described the man as three inches taller than the woman, who was, in his opinion, perhaps 5ft high. He didn’t give any other particulars. The third man, Harry Harris, saw nothing.
As many authors have noted, there’s the feeling, reading Levy’s statements at the inquest, that he was being evasive. On leaving the Club at half past one, Levy said to Harris: ‘I don’t like to go home by myself when I see this sort of character about. I’m off.’ (18) But the couple had done nothing to attract their attention. It is a mystery why Levy made this remark and it is a real pity that this was never explained at the inquest. Levy corroborated the time given by Joseph Lawende by stating at the inquest that when they came out of the Club it was ‘...3 or 4 minutes after the half hour’. (19) When they went down Duke Street into Aldgate the couple were still talking on the same spot.
The description of the man Lawende and his friends had seen at the top of Church Passage was kept secret at the inquest and made public by the Police Gazette only on 19 October 1888. Lawende’s evidence was mainly affected by the fact that he hadn’t seen the woman’s face. He recognized her at the mortuary only by her clothes, raising the doubt whether the woman seen was indeed Eddowes. At the time of her murder, Eddowes was wearing a straw bonnet in green and black velvet with black beads and black string worn tied to the head, a black cloth jacket trimmed round the collar and cuffs with imitation fur, an old white apron, a dark green chintz skirt with three flounces, a man’s white vest, a brown linsey bodice, a green stuff petticoat and a piece of red gauze silk worn as a neckerchief. (20) The spot in the passage where the man and woman were standing was badly lit, but Eddowes’s clothes were more noticeable than Stride’s. It was not unusual for a woman to wear a white apron; Mary Kelly was also described wearing such a garment by Walter Dew. But a dark green chintz skirt with three flounces and a red gauze silk worn as a neckerchief must have been quite distinctive features to note and encode. Levy estimated Eddowes’s height accurately as 5ft tall. As a matter of fact, she was identified by her height and her clothes.
Lawende took more than a passing glance at the couple because of what Levy said to Harris: ‘I don’t like to go home by myself when I see this sort of character about. I’m off.’ (21) According to Levy, he said this when they left the Club, and they left the Club together, even if immediately afterwards Lawende walked a little ahead of his companions. This would have been enough for Lawende to focus on the couple and notice and encode the scene. He was also very close to the couple: ‘The man and woman were about nine or ten feet away from me,’ he would state later. (22)
The three Jews were not the only witnesses to have seen a couple near Mitre Square. In an uncorroborated account in the Daily Telegraph, 13 November 1888, we read that:
About ten minutes before the body of Catherine Eddowes was found in Mitre Square, a man about thirty years of age, of fair complexion, and with a fair moustache, was said to have been seen talking to her in the covered passage leading to the square. [The description] was given by two persons who were in the Orange Market and closely observed the man. The City police have been making inquiries for this man for weeks past, but without success, and they do not believe that he is the individual described by Cox. (23)
Analysis of Joseph Lawende’s Evidence
Duration of the sight: Short
Distance from the eyewitness to the person/incident: 9 or 10 feet
Visibility: Badly lit
Any reason to remember: None
Time lapse: The statement was given the same day
Violence and the presence of a weapon: None
Did anyone ever see the Ripper?
Our analysis suggests we must take especially into consideration the evidence of PC Smith and Joseph Lawende. While we should not expect their descriptions to be totally accurate, their evidence and the details they give should be regarded as the most reliable to be had. Their recollection was affected by gaps and lacunae, but they both probably described the same man. They saw him in the company of the victim and, as far as time and place were concerned, very close to the murder site at the time of the murders. Lawende and PC Smith saw what looked like a typical punter on the point of picking up a prostitute and behaving in such a manner as to attract as little attention as possible to himself. The couple were very discreet and kept their voices low. They didn’t even arouse the suspicions of a policeman like PC Smith. The man’s attitude was so unremarkable as to deflect PC Smith’s attention, preventing him from encoding and remembering his appearance.
Was he the Whitechapel Murderer? Very likely. I don’t claim to know the Ripper’s identity. But I am sure he was someone who could move about unheard and unnoticed, someone so average in his appearance he could avoid being noticed and suspected. He was probably dressed like a perfect nobody, an East Ender among hundreds of East Enders, with no distinguishing features except perhaps a ‘cap with a peak’. To minimise the chances of being seen, he must have approached his victims stealthily and won their confidence with just a few words. He certainly knew what he was doing. His MO left his victims no way out. He was a fast worker and carried out his crime in the space of only a few minutes. Then he left as he had arrived; unnoticed.
Jack the Ripper has just avoided detention again, vanishing down a grim, gaslit alley in Whitechapel in the year 1888. But this time we have seen him.
Special thanks to Jane Coram, who was of great assistance during the preparation of this article. Thanks also to Tyler Hebblewhite and Ivor Edwards, the administrators of www.jtrforums.co.uk, on whose message boards I gained a deep knowledge of some aspects of the Whitechapel Murders which I hope is reflected in this article. Thanks to Veronica Motta. Thanks to Eduardo Zinna.
Baddeley, A.: Human Memory Theory and Practice; Begg, Paul: Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History; Begg, Paul: Jack the Ripper: The Facts; Chisholm, DiGrazia, Yost: The News from Whitechapel: Jack the Ripper in the Daily Telegraph; Eddleston, John J.: Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopaedia; Edwards, Ivor: Jack the Ripper’s Black Magic Rituals; Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook; Evans, Stewart P, and Paul Gainey: Jack the Ripper: First American Serial Killer; Fido, Martin: The Crimes, Detention and Death of Jack the Ripper; Gudjonsson, G.H.: The Psychology of Interrogations, Confessions and Testimony; Magellan, Karyo: By Ear and Eyes; Rumbelow, Donald: The Complete Jack the Ripper; Sugden, Philip: The Complete History of Jack the Ripper.
1 Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook, Robinson, London, 2000, page 201.
2 Begg, Paul: Jack the Ripper: The Facts, Robson Books, London 2004, page 144
3 Begg, Paul: Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History, Pearson, London 2003, page 176
4 Sugden, Philip: The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, Robinson, London, 2002, page 204
5 Sugden, Philip: op. cit., page 201; Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: op. cit., page 167
6 Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: op. cit., page 166
7 Daily Telegraph, 5 October 1888, page 3
8 Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: op. cit., page 166
9 Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: op. cit., page 123
10 Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: op. cit., page 123.
11 Magellan, Karyo: By Ear and Eyes, page 77
12 Daily Telegraph, The Times, 4 October 1888.
13 Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: op. cit., page 123.
14 Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: op. cit., page 122.
15 Chisholm, Alexander, Christopher-Michael DiGrazia and Dave Yost: The News from Whitechapel: Jack the Ripper in the Daily Telegraph.
16 Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: op. cit., page 173
17 Police Gazette,19 October 1888
18 Begg, Paul: op. cit., page 172
19 Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: op. cit., page 213
20 Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: op. cit., page 203
21 Evans, Stewart P, and Keith Skinner: op. cit., page 213
22 Daily Telegraph, October 12, 1888, Page 2 23 Daily Telegraph, 13 November 1888