|A Ripperologist Article
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist. 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 ADAM WOOD and DON SOUDEN
On Sunday morning, 30 September, 1888, at a little past 1.30am three men left the Imperial Club on Duke Place in the City. The trio comprised furniture dealer Harry Harris, butcher Joseph Hyam Levy and commercial traveller Joseph Lawende. As they exited the club, the three noticed a couple standing by the entrance to Church Passage. Harris was made uncomfortable by their presence and Levy gave them scant attention, but Lawende took one brief, though good, look at them as he passed. And, as the three men walked away into the night, little did they realize they were soon to enter a place of prominence in JtR lore.
No more than 10 minutes after the three men left the Imperial Club the badly mutilated body of Catherine Eddowes was discovered in nearby Mitre Square. It is widely believed that the couple was actually Eddowes and Jack and that the men who left the club, especially Lawende, had a real look at the face of the Whitechapel murderer. Yet, for all the attention Joseph Lawende has received in the past 119 years no one but his family has ever seen a photograph of the man who saw the Ripper—until now.
It’s always the dream of a researcher to uncover new evidence or illustrative material, but when something of great importance literally lands on your doormat, it’s a dream indeed.
That’s exactly what happened when Adam Wood received an email out of the blue earlier this month from a lady named Melanie Dolman explaining that she was a descendant of Joseph Lawende, and would he like to see a photograph? After a brief, understandably exciting, exchange of emails, Melanie volunteered some family information and agreed to send the photograph for publication in Ripperologist. The original photograph was taken in 1923 to commemorate Joseph and Annie Lawende’s Golden Wedding, and was taken by Wakefield’s Photographers of Chiswick and Brentford.
On the back are handwritten captions, in black and green pencil, of the childrens’ names. They tie in exactly with the results of the 1891 and 1901 censuses:
Eli, listed in the 1891 census as ‘Ellis’ and in 1901 as ‘Eleazar’ was 39 at the time of the photo being taken;
Poppy, listed in 1891 and 1901 as Pauline, was 43;
Harry, listed in 1891 as Henry and 1901 as Harry, 46;
Ruby, not born in 1891 but listed in 1901, 28;
Jack, listed in 1891, but as ‘Julius’ in 1901, 41;
‘Ray’, for some reason not listed in 1891 but named as Rachael in 1901, 37;
Eva, listed in both censuses and aged 49 in 1923;
Lily, aged 35;
Leonard, born on 22 November 1896, aged 27 in 1923;
May, aged 33;
Fanny, aged 37;
and Rose, aged 45 in 1923.
Joseph Lawende was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1847, but by 1891 has become a naturalized British Subject. According to the family, he spoke excellent English, and was a very quiet man, while wife Annie was more forthright.
It is understood by the family that while Joseph married Annie, brother Leopold married her sister.
Joseph remained a happily married cigarette salesman in relative obscurity until the fateful morning at the end of September 1888. Following the discovery of Eddowes's body, the City Police conducted house-to-house inquiries and received a report of a couple that Lawende, Levy and Harris saw. Of the three, Harris said he saw nothing worth repeating, Levy opined the man was about three inches taller than the woman, but Lawende admitted to getting a look, however transitory, of the man’s face.
His description of the man, in a memorandum from Chief Inspector Donald Swanson in Home Office records, was: ‘Age 30 ht. 5 ft. 7 or 8 in. comp. fair, fair moustache, medium build, dress pepper & salt colour loose jacket, grey cloth cap with peak of same colour, reddish handkerchief tied in a knot, round neck, appearance of a sailor.’ But, even that identification is in doubt because Lawende was only able to identify Eddowes by her clothes.
Moreover, Lawende maintained at the time of his initial interview and throughout his inquest testimony that he would not be able to identify the man he saw with the woman outside Church Passage. Nonetheless, the police continued to press him for an identification and many in the field believe that Lawende was the witness taken to the ‘Seaside Home’ to view a suspect.
Swanson would later suggest that the witness did recognize the suspect, but refused to swear to that because of a disinclination to help send a fellow Jew to the gallows. There seems little but Swanson’s own opinion (sparked perhaps by frustration) to sustain that position and for many Ripperologists Joseph Lawende was a honest man who swore to seeing no more than he actually did. He lived a long and fruitful life after his brush with destiny and if he truly was the man who saw Jack the Ripper with a victim scant seconds before a murder, he never sought to make more of that moment than it was.
Joseph Lawende died in January 1925 aged 78. Shortly afterwards Audrey Lavender, youngest of two daughters, was born to youngest son Leonard Lipman Lavender. Audrey is the mother of Melanie.
Melanie advises that Leonard died on 31 October 1983 aged 86. “He was very, very deaf and could barely see. I tried to show him a book mentioning his father and I think he could take it in, but it was hard to communicate.”
It’s interesting to wonder whether Leonard Lavender, and his siblings, were aware of their father’s involvement in the Ripper case. What of other descendants of other witnesses, or suspects? It’s probable that whole families are sitting on dusty photograph albums, wherein lie elusive snaps of those involved, however briefly, in this case nearly 120 years ago.