|A Ripper Notes Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripper Notes. Ripper Notes is the only American Ripper periodical available on the market, and has quickly grown into one of the more substantial offerings in the genre. For more information, view our Ripper Notes page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripper Notes for permission to reprint this article.|
In which the bestower of silver nitrate immortality is remembered...
SURPRISINGLY, ONE OF the areas most ripe for investigation in the Ripper case is the identify of the person or persons who photographed the victims. Regular readers of this publication will doubtless be familiar with the image of Mary Jane Kelly lying prostrate on her bed, hacked almost beyond recognition. Thanks to the many published works now available, they will also have seen the reverse angle shot from the other side of the bed, in addition to a number of mortuary photos both of canonical and non-canonical victims. Yet nobody seems able to put a name definitively to the man or men who took these pictures. About a year ago, with some help from Stewart Evans and Andy Aliffe, this writer attempted to investigate the subject. A few diehards from Stephen Ryder's Casebook: Jack the Ripper website will have seen the results already, but - the editor of Ripper Notes willing - the piece (which has been largely rewritten) is reproduced here for a larger audience.
Initially, my curiosity was aroused when finding the obituary of one Joseph Martin in a book entitled East End Then and Now, by Winston G Ramsey. It originally appeared in the Daily Herald on 23 December 1933. As a starting point, it seemed sensible to look for other references in the East End press of the period. Superficially, at least, this was very successful. In its edition of 21 October 1933, the East London Advertiser ran an interview with Joseph Martin. Described as 82 years old at the time and living in Canton Street, Limehouse, Mr Martin looked back over his long and eventful life.
Joseph Martin was born in Stepney, where his father had a photographic business. An indifferent scholar, Joseph spent little time at his schools, which included a Ragged School (one organised for poor children) in George Yard, where Martha Tabram was murdered some years later. Something he did develop during his rudimentary education, though, was a love of music. The school had a band, and Joseph was a keen member of it. He very much enjoyed school outings because the band was frequently asked to perform at them.
Leaving school aged nine to assist his father in the photographic business, Joseph became restless. He found Martin senior a difficult man to work for and he yearned for a more adventurous life, as well as one that paid him more than sixpence a week. Eventually, the boy ran away from home on the eve of the Epsom Derby race meeting with nothing besides his flute and the clothes he stood up in.
For many years the Derby was the most prestigious horse racing event in the world. Run over a mile and a half on undulating Surrey downland, the course is shaped like a giant horseshoe. Hundreds of thousands of people packed onto the Downs in the middle of the course, affording them a full view of the race and the opportunity to enjoy themselves in an uninhibited manner. It was this throng which Joseph Martin joined, teaming up with three other wandering musicians and earning himself twenty pounds on that first day of the meeting. The success of this venture led to Martin spending the next two years travelling with his itinerant musician friends and apparently making a comfortable living. Only then did his father trace him and take him home.
Music continued to be a profitable hobby for Joseph Martin. He became quite well known on the music hall circuit. Simultaneously, he developed his photographic skills, eventually opening his own shop in Cannon Street Road, St. George's-in-the-East. After a few years he relocated the business to West India Dock Road, where, he told the ELA reporter, he was in business for forty-four years. During this time he began to act as the official photographer for the Metropolitan Police, and served in that capacity for about fifty years.
Martin recalled that it fell to him to take the mortuary photographs of Jack the Ripper's victims. Many was the time also that he was called out to take photos of headless bodies. Not dwelling on the gruesome details in his interview, Martin recounted some hilarious stories, such as the time he was brought into photograph a corpse which suddenly arose, Lazarus-like, and asked the way out of the mortuary. The man wasn't dead - only dead drunk!
One fascinating recollection involved the Princess Alice disaster of 1878. Readers may remember that a heavily loaded paddle-steamer of that name was in collision with the collier Bywell Castle near Barking Creek on the Thames. No definitive casualty figures exist, but the death toll was around 640. Most of the victims were day-trippers travelling the Woolwich to Gravesend route. To entertain passengers on these steamboats, which ran from dawn to dusk in the summer, the London Steamboat Company employed musicians to perform live. Joseph Martin was one such musician, and on that fateful day, 3 September, he was due to play on the Princess Alice. His sister and brother-in-law had also arranged to take the same trip. However, the day before, Martin's musical employer informed him that he was required to play at a restaurant in Holborn instead. After fulfilling his engagement, Martin learned with horror of the Princess Alice's fate, but fortunately it transpired that his sister and her husband had missed the boat by a few minutes.
The Advertiser interview was a good start in tracing the Ripper photographer. At least the article confirmed Martin's involvement in photographing the victims at the mortuary (which includes some or all of Tabram, Nichols, Chapman, Stride, McKenzie, Coles and possibly Kelly [we have no evidence for her]), though it offers disappointingly little detail on the subject of Jack the Ripper.
Just two months later, on Wednesday, 20 December 1933, Joseph Martin was killed in a street accident. In his eighties, with defective sight in one eye, yet refusing to wear glasses, he went to cross the busy East India Dock Road near the junction with Stainsby Street at around 5 o'clock in the afternoon. A witness saw him step off the kerb on the south side of the road. Apparently trying to dodge between the traffic, Martin suddenly appeared right in front of Charles King's motor lorry and was hit by the near side wheel, falling on his face. Though King's vehicle was only travelling at about 10mph, Martin received multiple injuries from which he died. An inquest was held three days later at Poplar under the local coroner, Dr R L Guthrie. The jury's verdict of Accidental Death with the driver exonerated was reported in the local press. When giving details of Martin's life, the papers men tioned his photographic career and his taking the mortuary pictures of the Ripper's victims.
A careful comparison of the exact wording used in the press reports shows them to be remarkably similar. It appears highly likely that the inquest reporters lifted some of the ELA October interview to put their brief, potted biographies together. They may also have filched copy from the national newspapers - a common practice - or alternatively, they could all have used the same news agency story. For example, one paragraph of the East End News' report appeared word for word in the Daily Herald of 23 December - some six days earlier.
This doesn't help us for two reasons. The first is that no new facts are added concerning Martin's involvement with the Whitechapel Murders. Secondly, all this apparently lazy journalism doesn't verify Martin's story about snapping the victims independently for us. Thus, what appears to be helpful evidence - namely, several newspapers all telling the same story - many be nothing of the sort. All the stories probably have one common source. Therefore, we need to find some independent evidence that Mr Martin was the Ripper photographer.