|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 69, July 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.|
In the early hours of 30 September, 1888, the body of Elizabeth Stride was discovered in Dutfield’s Yard adjoining the International Working Men’s Educational Club at no. 40, Berner Street, in the area covered by the beat of PC William Smith 452H. The time was about 1am and PC Smith had passed Stride talking to a man at a time stated by the constable to be between 12:30 and 12:35am. The accepted belief is that Smith saw Stride and this man 25 to 30 minutes before her body was discovered.
At the inquest, Smith said that the man he saw with Elizabeth Stride was about 5 ft 7 in and about 28 years old. He could not see much of his face, but could see he had no whiskers. He said the man was of respectable appearance, wore a hard felt deerstalker hat of dark colour and dark clothes – an overcoat (a cutaway coat according to the account in the Telegraph) and dark trousers – and had a newspaper parcel in his hand about 18 inches in length and six to eight inches wide.
In Swanson’s report of 19 October, the description of the man attributed to Smith is given as: aged about 28, height 5 ft 7 in, complexion dark, small dark moustache, wearing a black diagonal coat, hard felt hat, white collar and tie. As with many aspects of the case, there appears to be a contradiction in the records available. The ‘small dark moustache’ in Swanson’s report seems to contradict the account of ‘no whiskers’ given in the newspaper reports of Smith’s inquest testimony (both the Times and Telegraph reported Smith as saying that), unless by ‘no whiskers’ Smith just meant no beard or sideburns. If he could not see much of the man’s face, then perhaps he could see from the side that he did not have a beard or sideburns, but was maybe unable to clearly see if there was a moustache or not, particularly if it was ‘small’. However, this does not account for the certainty in Swanson’s report that Smith said the man had a moustache. It could be that the newspaper accounts of the inquest testimony missed out some crucial words and Smith actually said ‘no whiskers on his chin’ for example, or it could be that Smith said in his original report that he thought the man may have had a moustache, but the uncertainty was lost in Swanson’s summary of the description. However, the significance of Smith’s sighting has been diminished because of reported sightings of Stride with another man or men at the later time of about 12:45am.
But let’s take a closer look at the events in and around Berner Street that night.
First of all let’s examine the route that PC Smith took on his beat.
From the account at the inquest, his beat started from Gower’s Walk (marked ‘1’ on Map 1), went eastward along Commercial Road as far as Christian Street, south down Christian Street as far as Fairclough Street, eastward along Fairclough Street as far as Grove Street, turning round and back westward along Fairclough Street, as far as Backchurch Lane, then up to Commercial Road taking in the interior roads including Berner Street and Batty Street. Presumably, the circuit was then completed by heading westward along Commercial Road to the start point at the corner of Gower’s Walk. This route is shown in Map 1 below.