13 September 1888
The inquest into the fourth of the mysterious murders in Whitechapel was resumed yesterday, and a good dead [sic] of evidence was taken, but no light was thrown on the motive for the crime or the identity of the assassin. John Piser, who was lately arrested and set at liberty again, and who is known as "Leather Apron," gave a satisfactory explanation of his movements, and the coroner added that his statement was completely corroborated. The inquest was adjourned until to-day.
Yesterday morning the Queen went out, accompanied by Princess Beatrice and Prince Albert Victor of Wales.
Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Albany, attended by Lady Collins, drove over from Birkhall and visited the Queen.
In the afternoon her Majesty drove, attended by Lady Churchill and the Hon. Harriett Phipps.
Princess Beatrice, Princess Alice of Hesse, and Prince Albert Victor also drove out.
His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, Mrs. and Miss Benson took luncheon at the Cartle [sic], and afterwards had the honour of being received by her Majesty.
The inquest on the body of Annie Chapman, found murdered in the back yard of 29, Hanbury-street, Spitalfields, last Saturday morning, was resumed yesterday at the Working Lads' Institute. Mr. Wynne Baxter took his seat just after two, when only about half of the jurymen had arrived. The rest came in after a few minutes waiting, and proceedings were resumed, the first witness being a brother of the deceased, a young man who seemed to give this evidence with great reluctance, and in so low a tone that few of the jury could have heard anything of it. The publicity into which he was so painfully dragged was evidently very distasteful to him. James Kent came next. He described himself as a packing-case maker, and gave his evidence with a good deal of action, holding up his horny hands before his throat to show how the woman had probably struggled against her assailant, with quite a ghastly effect. He was one of those called in by the man Davies, who had first made discovery of the body. James Green was another, and the questions put to him turned mainly on the probability of anybody having touched the body before the police arrived; but he added nothing very material in the way of information. Mrs. Richardson, who has been alluded to as the landlady of the house, but who explained that she herself rented only a part of it, and sublet some of the rooms, gave evidence turning chiefly on the tenants of the place. She herself had the first floor front and the downstairs back, in which she was accustomed to hold a weekly prayer meeting. On the first floor back lived an elderly man with an imbecile son 37 years of age. She heard no noise during the night of the murder, though if there had been any, she would certainly have heard it. She affirmed, and when afterwards recalled repeated, that she had no knowledge of the yard or the staircase being resorted to for improper purposes; but her son, a rough-looking young man, unaware, it may be presumed, of the line his mother's examination had taken, stoutly affirmed that both yard and staircase had been so used, and when subsequently recalled he not only repeated his statement, but added that his mother had been made aware of it.
Mrs. Hardiman, the proprietress of the cat's-meat shop on the ground floor, followed this witness, but added nothing of importance. John Richardson, the young man already alluded to, was closely examined as to his business in the yard on the morning of the murder. Richardson's appearance and his hoarse voice were not altogether prepossessing, and the Coroner appeared to think the circumstances of his visit required explanation. It was not quite daylight, and he went in to see that the cellar was locked. He admitted that he had a largish knife in his coat pocket, and that all he did in the yard was to glance at the padlock of the cellar, and cut a piece of leather off his boot. He was sent to fetch the knife, which was impounded, but he came on the whole very well out of his cross-examination. The next witness was quite unexpected, and created some little sensation. He was no other than John Piser, the notorious "Leather Apron," and his appearance as a witness was not understood. He took the oath in the Hebrew fashion, and fell at once into an attitude of easy composure, which he maintained without moving a muscle through a tolerably long examination. Piser is an undersized man, with a dark Jewish countenance, scanty black hair, about an inch of whisker down each side of a face the shaving of which had been neglected for the past two or three days, and a well-trained moustache. He wore a broad turned-down collar, a light necktie, and a suit of dark clothes. He spoke good English, and answered all questions in a perfectly calm, clear voice, but with the deliberation of a man who had just been in deadly peril, and still felt the need of the utmost caution. He acknowledged at the outset that he was the man known by the nickname of Leather Apron. He explained that he had on Thursday night last gone to the house in which his brother, sister, and stepmother lived, and he had never left them till he was apprehended. "You were the subject of suspicion, were you not?" inquired the Coroner. "I was the subject of a ----- false suspicion," replied Piser, speaking very distinctly and making an emphatic pause. The Coroner thought he had not been well advised in staying in. "I will tell you why," promptly retorted the man, speaking with quiet impressiveness, "I should have been torn to pieces." He wished, he said, to vindicate his character to the whole world, and Mr. Baxter informed him that he had been brought there partly to give him an opportunity of doing so. His account of himself was perfectly straightforward, and the Coroner explained that his statements had been corroborated. Upon this the foreman of the jury observed that he and his fellow jurymen considered that the witness had cleared himself, and Piser, evidently well pleased, returned his thanks, and bowed all round. He then retired to the back benches, where he was presently joined by Detective-sergeant Thicke, the officer who had apprehended him. His evidence showed beyond doubt that this insignificant, quiet-speaking man, with his plain tale, really was the dreadful and mysterious "Leather Apron" whose reputation had made thousands quake with terror.
The first witness called at the resumed inquest yesterday was Fontain Smith, a very respectable-looking man, who gave his evidence in a painfully low tone. He said that he was a printer's warehouseman, and had seen the body in the mortuary.
The Coroner-Do you recognise her?-Yes.
Who is she?-My eldest sister.
What was her name?
The Witness-Annie Chapman after she was married. Her husband was a head coachman at Windsor. He died on Christmas Day, 1886. They had lived separate for three or four years. She was 47 years of age. I last saw her alive about a fortnight ago at Westminster. She recognised me first, and I gave her two shillings. She did not tell me where she was living, but she said she was not doing anything. I know nothing of her associates.
James Kent, packingcase-maker, residing at Shadwell, said he worked for Mr. Bailey, 23A, Hanbury-street, Spitalfields. He usually began work at six o'clock. Last Saturday morning he arrived at ten minutes or a quarter past six. The gate of his employer's place was open, but he waited outside a minute or two to see whether any fellow workman would come up. While he was waiting an old man named Davis (the one who discovered the body) ran out of the house where he lived in Hanbury-street and cried "Men, come here." The witness and a man with him named James Green went up and entered the house out of which Davis had come. They passed along the passage to the back door.
The Coroner-Did you see the body of a woman?
The Witness-I did. She was lying in the yard between the back door steps and the fence. Her head was towards the house but not against it. She was lying flat on the ground. Her clothes were thrown back, and you could see her knees. Her face was visible. I did not go into the yard but I went to look at her twice. I do not think anybody went into the yard until the inspector (Chandler) arrived.
Could you see she was dead?-Yes; she had some kind of handkerchief round her neck which seemed "soaked" into her throat. Her face and hands were smeared with blood, as if she had struggled. She looked as if she had been sprinkled with water or something. I did not touch her.
What do you mean by a struggle?-Well, she looked as if she had fought with her hands while lying on her back-as if she had fought for her throat. Her arms were bent with the hands towards the upper part of her body. There were marks of blood on her legs, but I did not see any running blood.
Was there running blood on her clothes?-Well, sir, I did not notice. I was too frightened to look very particularly.
Did you go for the police?-I went to the front of the house to look for a policeman, but could not find one. After that I got some brandy, and then went into the workshop for some canvas to throw over the body. When I returned to the house a mob had assembled and the inspector was in possession of the yard. Everyone that looked at the body seemed frightened as if they would run away. We could see the place out of our shop yard.
Does anybody reach the shop before you?-Yes, the foreman, about ten minutes to six o'clock.
James Green, 36, Acland-street, Burdett-road, said he was a packing-case maker, in the employ of Mr. Bailey, Hanbury-street. He arrived at work about ten minutes past six last Saturday morning, and accompanied the last witness to the back door of the house 29, Hanbury-street. He saw the body, but did not see anybody touch it. He did not think it possible that any one could have done so without his seeing them. He saw Inspector Chandler arrive. The mob had got into the place then, but they were only standing at the back door. They all seemed too frightened to go into the yard.
Mrs. Amelia Richardson testified that she was a widow, and rented the first floor, part of the ground floor, and the cellar workshops at 29, Hanbury-street, where the body was found. She, her son, and another man carried on the business of packing-case making there. Her son was 37 years old. The other man was John Tyler. He ought to begin work at six o'clock, but was often late. Last Saturday morning he did not come till eight o'clock. She had to send for him. Her son, who lived in John-street, Spitalfields, also worked in the market. About six o'clock last Saturday morning her grandson, Thomas Richardson, aged 14, who lived with her, came and said, "Oh, grandma, there's a woman murdered." She had sent him down to see what was the matter, as the "traffic" coming through the passage made her think the place on fire. She went down immediately and saw the body of the deceased lying in the yard. There was no one in the yard at the time, but a lot of people were in the passage. Soon afterwards a constable arrived and ordered the people out. He was the first person to go into the yard as far as she knew. She occupied the first-floor front, and her grandson slept in the same room. She was usually very wakeful, and on Friday night was awake half the night. She woke at three o'clock on Saturday morning.
Do you mean that you did not go to sleep again?-No, I might have dosed, but that's all.
Did you hear no noise?-No.
Who occupies the first floor back?-An old gentleman called Walker, that makes lawn tennis rings. He sleeps there with his son. The son is 27 or 28 years old. He is not right.
Is he a lunatic or weak-minded?-He is weak-minded.
Is he inoffensive?-Very.
Who occupies the two rooms on the ground floor?-Mrs. Hardman occupies the front with her son, aged 16. She has the shop, where she sells cats' meat. The son goes out with cats' meat. The back room is mine. I use it to cook in, but on Friday night I had a prayer meeting there. When I went to bed I locked the room and took the key with me. It was still locked when I came down to see the body on Saturday morning. The top floor is occupied by Mr. John Davis and his family and a little old lady that I keep out of charity-Mrs. Sarah Cox. The second floor front is occupied by Mr. Thompson, his wife, and an adopted little girl. He is a carman, and on Saturday morning I heard him at ten minutes to four get up and go to his work. I heard him leave the house. He did not go into the back yard. As he passed my room I called out "Good morning, Thompson." The two Misses Cooksley live in the second floor back. They work in a cigar factory. When I went down to see the body on Saturday morning all the tenants were in the house except Mr. Thompson and Mr. Davis. The front and back door are always left open. You can go into any of the houses about there at all times. They are all let out in rooms. I have lived there about 15 years.
A Juryman-You have property there?
Have you ever had anything stolen?-No, although I have sometimes left my room doors unfastened at night.
You consider them all honest people in the neighbourhood?-Yes.
The Coroner-Did you ever know anybody to come into the passage or the lobby of the house during the night?
Witness-Yes; a short time ago there was a man on the stairs. I called out, and Mr. Thompson, who was going out about half-past 3 or 4 o'clock, asked him "What are you doing here?" The man said, "I am waiting for the market." Mr. Thompson said "You've no right here, guv'nor." I can hear anybody going through the passage. Being wood, it sounds.
You mean if you are awake?-Yes, and the least sound wakes me.
But it is evident two people went through on Saturday morning?-Yes; but that being market morning there is such a bustle.
Did you hear anybody go through the passage on Saturday morning?-No, sir; I did not.
People frequently do go through, don't they?-Yes; they go into the back yard.
I suppose sometimes people go through who have no business there?-Yes, sometimes; but on Saturday morning nobody went through. If they did, they must have been very quiet.
They must have gone quietly intentionally?-Yes.
A Juryman: If people went through in that quiet way it would be for an immoral purpose. Do you allow that sort of thing?
The Witness-No; I should not allow any stranger to go through the passage if I knew it.
Mrs. Harriet Hardiman said she lived at 29, Hanbury-street, and sold cats' meat there. She occupied the ground-floor front room. On Friday night she went to bed at half-past ten. Her son lived in the same room. She slept very soundly that night, and did not wake till about six o'clock on Saturday morning, when she heard people tramping through the passage. Thinking there was a fire, she sent her boy to look. Coming back, he said, "Don't upset yourself, mother; it's a woman's been killed in the yard." The witness did not go out of her own room, and did not see the sight. She had heard nothing that night. People often went through the passage of the house, but she never got out to see who they were. She had never seen the deceased in her life to her knowledge.
John Richardson, son of a previous witness, said he lived in John-street, Spitalfields, was a porter in Spitalfields Market, and helped his mother with her packing-case business. About a quarter to five o'clock on Saturday morning he went to 29, Hanbury-street, to see if the cellar where they made the packing cases was all secure, because a few months back somebody broke into it and took two saws and two hammers.
The Coroner-Do you go every morning to see if the cellar is secure?-No; only on market mornings, when I am out early and there's a good lot of people about. I have done so for some months. Is that all you went for?-Yes, sir.
A Juror-His mother said there had been no robberies.
The Witness-She forgot. If you will ask her, you see that it is right.
The Coroner-On other than market mornings do you leave the cellar to take care of itself?-Yes, sir.
Was the front door open on Saturday morning.
The Witness-No, sir; it was shut. So was the back door. I opened it and sat on the back steps to cut a piece of leather off my boot.
What sort of a knife did you use?-One four or five inches long.
What do you usually use that knife for?-I had been using it to cut up a piece of carrot for the rabbit, and I afterwards put it in my pocket.
Do you generally keep it in your pocket?-No.
Why did you put it there on this occasion?-I suppose it was a mistake on my part.
When you had cut the piece of leather off your boot did you leave the house?-Yes. I tied my boot up and went out. I did not close the back door. It closes itself. I shut the front door. I was not in the house more than two minutes at the most. It was not quite light, but enough for me to see.
Did you notice any object in the yard?-No, sir. I could not have failed to notice the deceased if she had been there then.
You have heard where she was found?-Yes, I saw the body.
How came you to see it?-A man in the market told me there had been a murder in Hanbury-street. He did not know at which house. I saw the body from the adjoining yard.
When did you first think your boot wanted cutting?-It hurt my toe and I cut a piece out the day before, but I found I had not cut enough.
Then all you did at Hanbury-street was to cut your boot?-That's all, sir.
Did you go into the yard at all?-Not at all, sir.
I thought you went there to see that the cellar was all right?-Yes; but you don't need to go into the yard to see that. You can see the padlock of the cellar door from the back door steps.
And that was the sole object you had in going there?-Yes, sir.
Did you sit on the top step?-No, the second step.
Where were your feet?-On the flags of the yard.
You must have been quite close to where the body was found?-Quite right, sir. If she had been there at the time I must have seen her.
Have you seen any strangers in the passage of the house?-Yes, lots; plenty of them, at all hours.
Men and women?-Yes; and I have turned them out. I have seen them lying down on the landing.
Do they go there for an immoral purpose?-They do. I have caught them.
A Juror-His mother said she never knew anybody to go for an immoral purpose.
The Coroner-Has your knife been seen by the police?
The Witness-No, sir.
Have you got it with you?-No.
The Coroner-Go and get it.
The witness went away to obey this order, accompanied by a policeman.
Mrs. Richardson, recalled in her son's absence, said she had never had anything stolen from her house.
The Coroner-Have you ever lost anything from the cellar?
The Witness-Oh, yes; I have missed a saw and a hammer, but that is a long time ago. They broke the padlock of the cellar door at the time. My son now comes to see whether it is all right almost every morning before he goes to market.
Do you understand that he goes down to the cellar door?-No, he can see from the steps.
Have you ever had suspicion that the house or the yard was used for immoral purposes?-No, sir.
Have you said something about a leather apron?-Yes, my son always wears a leather apron at his work in the cellar.
It is rather a dangerous thing for anybody to wear a leather apron at present. Have you ever washed your son's apron?
Yes, sir; I washed it last Thursday, because I found it in the cellar mildewed. He had not used it for a month. We are so slack. I put it under the tap in the yard and left it there till Saturday morning, when the police took it away. There was a pan of beautiful clean water under the tap on Saturday morning about half-past seven, after the body was moved. It could not have been disturbed. It was in the same position as on Friday night.
Has your son ever spoken to you about finding strange men on the first floor landing?-No.
John Piser, one of the men lately arrested and liberated again, was sworn in the Jewish manner, and not cautioned. He gave his evidence in an intelligent, collected manner, but with a slight trace of nervousness: I live at 22, Mulberry-street, Commercial-road East, and am a shoemaker.
Are you known by the nickname of Leather Apron?-Yes, sir.
Where were you on Friday night?-I was at 22, Mulberry-street, Commercial-road East.
What time did you go home?-I never went out from Thursday night.
Where did you come from?-From the West-end.
What time did you reach home on Thursday night?-About a quarter to eleven o'clock.
Who lives there?-My stepmother, brother, and sister.
How long did you remain indoors?-Till I was arrested by Sergeant Thicke on Monday last at 9 p.m., I had never left the house from Thursday night.
Why were you remaining indoors?-Because my brother advised me.
You were the object of suspicion?-I was the object of a false suspicion.
The Coroner-It was not the best advice that could be given you.
The Witness-I had proofs that I should have been torn to pieces.
You are not in custody now?-No, sir. Pardon me; I wish to vindicate my character to the world at large.
The Coroner-Yes; you are called her partly to give you the opportunity of doing so. Can you tell me where you were last Thursday week? (It was on the following morning at four o'clock that Mary Ann Nicholls was found murdered in Buck's-row, Whitechapel).
The Witness-I was staying at Crossmann's common lodging-house in Holloway-road. I passed the night there, going in about two, or quarter-past, on Friday morning. I had previously had my supper there. During the interval I had been after a fire, but did not get to it. A policeman said he thought it was at the Albert Docks. I left the lodging-house at eleven o'clock on Friday morning.
Is there anything else you want to say?-No, sir.
Do you call Holloway-street the West-end?-No, sir. By that I mean Peter-street, Westminster. Last Thursday I arrived at home from Peter-street, Westminster.
The Coroner-It is only fair to say that I believe the witness's statement is completely corroborated.
The Witness (bowing several times)-Thank you, sir. I am quite satisfied, and I hope you are. Mr. Thicke, that has my case in hand, has known me for upwards of eighteen years.
The Coroner-I don't think you need to say any more.
The Witness-Thank you, sir; so long as you believe that I have clean hands.
Detective-Sergeant Thicke deposed that on Monday morning he apprehended the last witness at 22, Mulberry-street.
The Coroner-When people in the neighbourhood speak of "Leather Apron," do they mean Piser?
The Witness-They do, sir.
Has he been released from custody?-He was released yesterday about 9.30 p.m.
John Richardson, re-called, handed to the Coroner a small table-knife with half the blade broken off. At the request of the Coroner he had been home to fetch it. It was the one with which he cut a piece off his boot last Saturday morning while sitting on the back doorstep at 29, Hanbury-street, and appeared to be a very ineffective weapon.
Henry J. Holland testified that he was one of the persons who saw the deceased lying dead in the yard behind 29, Hanbury-street. He went into the yard, but did not touch the body. Then he went for a policeman, whom he found in Spitalfields Market. The officer said he could not come, and the witness must get a constable outside the market. The witness went back, but could not find any other policeman. Inspector Chandler arrived soon after.
A Juror-Did the policeman in the market give any explanation why he could not come?
The Witness-I told him it was a similar case to that of Buck's-row, and he said I should find two constables outside the market, but he could not come. I reported his conduct at the Commercial-street station the same afternoon.
The Coroner-There does not seem to have been much delay before Inspector Chandler arrived.
Inspector Helson-The constables in the market have instructions not to move from their posts.
The inquest was then adjourned till two o'clock today.
The police continued their inquiries and investigations yesterday, but their labours have been entirely without reward, and it is now beginning to be admitted, even in official circles, that the detectives are once more at fault. The slender clue afforded by the blood trail in the yard of No. 25, Hanbury-street was eagerly taken up, but so far it has not resulted in anything that can be described as important evidence. Some persons who have examined the marks have expressed some doubt as to their [sic] being blood stains, but on the whole there is good reason to believe that they are really the tracks of the assassin. In regard to the blood-stained paper found in Bailey's packing-case yard, adjoining No. 25, Hanbury-street, there is practically no room for doubt that it was used by the murderer to cleanse his hands, and thrown by him where it was found. The little girl Laura Siekings and other inmates of Nos. 29, 27, and 25 have been questioned by the police, and the paper has been handed over to the police doctors for more scientific examination. The man Pigott is still an inmate of the workhouse infirmary, and it is stated that his mental condition has not materially improved. The idea that he was connected in some way with the recent terrible crimes has not been entirely abandoned, and he is still kept under surveillance, while diligent inquiries are being made into his antecedents.
Another arrest, on suspicion, was made at Holloway, but it was speedily ascertained that the man was a harmless lunatic, and he was sent to the workhouse infirmary.
The relatives of the murdered woman Chapman, who occupy respectable positions in life, have taken charge of the remains, which will be interred privately.
A woman named Mrs. Durrell made a statement yesterday to the effect that about half-past five o'clock on the morning of the murder of Mrs. Chapman she saw a man and woman conversing outside No. 29, Hanbury-street, the scene of the murder, and that they disappeared very suddenly. Mrs. Durrell was taken to the mortuary yesterday, and identified the body of Chapman as that of the woman whom she saw in Hanbury-street. If this identification can be relied upon, it is obviously an important piece of evidence, as it fixes with precision the time at which the murder was committed, and corroborates the statement of John Richardson, who went into the yard at a quarter to five, and has consistently and persistently declared that the body was not then on the promises. Davis, the man who first saw the corpse, went into the yard shortly after six o'clock. Assuming, therefore, that the various witnesses have spoken the truth, which there is not the slightest reason to doubt, the murder must have been committed between half-past five and six o'clock, and the murderer must have walked through the streets in almost broad daylight without attracting attention, although he must have been at the time more or less stained with blood. This seems incredible, and it has certainly strengthened the belief of many of those engaged in the case that the murderer had not far to go to reach his lodgings in a private house.