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Daily News
United Kingdom
24 December 1888

The Poplar Murder

As will be seen by the account we publish today, two persons have identified the victim of the Poplar murder as a woman of the unfortunate class known as "Lizzie" or "Liz." The murder is a subject of profound disquietude, whatever may be theory of the crime. If the woman found strangled in Clarke's yard at an early hour in Thursday morning be another victim of the Whitechapel murderer, it is dreadful to think that he can change both his method of killing and the scene with perfect impunity. If, on the other hand, a new miscreant has begun a new series of crimes on his own account, then we have two beasts of prey at large in the metropolis instead of one. The police are said to be not quite sure that a murder has been committed, but in matters of this kind they have established their claim to considerable leisure. It seems less absolutely certain that the woman was murdered in the yard in which her body was found. As to the murderer, less is, if possible, known of him than of the author of the Whitechapel crimes, inasmuch as nothing at all is known. Two men are said to have been seen in the company of the deceased within less than two hours of the discovery of the body. The extremely vague personality of most of the victims of these recent crimes is one of the greatest obstacles to detection. Their presence in the streets at all hours of the night is taken as a matter of course, and there is nothing in their dress or manner to suggest the reflection that they ought to be somewhere else. Their manner of life makes them an easy prey for the homicide.

The theory of the crime is that the woman was strangled by means of a cord passed round the hands or wrists of the murderer, and thrown over her head from behind. The marks of the cord are not continuous; and it is supposed that the murderer obtained the requisite pressure by crossing his hands. It is difficult to see how any pressure could have been obtained if the cord did not completely encircle the neck. If the ends were crossed, the marks must still have been continuous. It can, however, serve no useful purpose to discuss that subject here, and it is enough to know that the woman was certainly strangled and, as it seems, certainly murdered. The police are, as usual, completely at fault, though the constable who found the body had passed the spot where it was found six times in the course of the six hours he had been on duty. This seems to lend probability to the theory that the murder was committed was committed elsewhere. A juror at the inquest was, however, able to show, from his personal knowledge, that the neighbourhood is not always patrolled in that way. He had known fights to go on for over an hour in High street, Poplar, without the slightest interruption from the police. It must be said, in simple fairness to the Force, that no imaginable vigilance can preclude the possibility of crimes of this nature. London can never be so completely patrolled as to being every obscure corner of its network of thoroughfares under the eye of the police at every moment of the day and night. Its huge population is, of course, a detective force of a kind, yet much goes on in the streets that no eye in all these millions sees. No conceivable increase of the Force, therefore, can give absolute security. Thousands of people pass along High street, Poplar, in the course of the twenty four hours, yet the murderer was able to make sure that not one should be passing along Clarke's yard in the few minutes he required for his work there. The police seem to fail rather in their detective than in their preventive function. They show little ingenuity in reasoning from the known circumstances of a crime to the manner of its commission. They put to and two together, in fact, no better than the rest of us, yet a proficiency in that science is supposed to be one of the things for which they are paid.


The mystery surrounding the murder at Poplar has in no way diminished. The police had up to a late hour last night made no arrests; in fact, they have made very little progress regarding the case. A very large number of persons have visited the mortuary for the purpose of identifying the deceased, but it was not until yesterday afternoon that her identity was satisfactorily established. Only two persons have been able to thrown any light on the identity of the unfortunate woman, and one of these is a young woman named Alice Groves, resident in Whitechapel. She called on the Coroner's officer, Mr. Chivers, who resides in High street, Poplar, on Saturday night, and made the following statement, which, if correct, brings the time at which the deceased was strangled within a very narrow compass. She said: "My name is Alice Groves. I live at 18 George street, Spitalfields. I am an unfortunate, and I identify the body as that of another unfortunate whom I had known for some time past and was intimate with. I knew her by the name of 'Lizzie.' I last saw her alive on Thursday morning at 2.30. She was standing outside the George, Commercial road, and was in the company of two men. She was then the worse for drink. I passed her and went home." This statement is regarded as of the utmost importance, inasmuch as it leaves only one hour and forty five minutes to be accounted for between the time of the deceased last being seen alive and the discovery of her corpse by Sergeant Golding at 4.15. The other person who has identified the body and given the police the deceased's name and localities she frequented is Mrs. Hill, of Simpson's row, High street, Poplar, which is about thirty or forty yards from Clarke's yard, where the body was found. Her statement of identification corroborates the statement made by Alice Groves in several particulars. She visited the mortuary yesterday afternoon and recognised the body as that of Alice Downey, alias "Fair Alice," alias "Drunken Liz," an acquaintance who had latterly been leading a loose life in the East end. She, however, was unable to give the address at which the poor woman had been residing, but stated that she was known both in Whitechapel and at Bow. It was only occasionally that she visited Poplar, which she did on Wednesday last. She informed Mr. Chivers that she saw the deceased at half past 11 on the night preceding the murder, and that she then complained of being without money, and added that she did not know what to do. Mrs. Hill gave her some pence and bade her "Good night." She was perfectly sober. Hill added that Downey had been an inmate of the Bromley Sick Asylum, which institution she quitted about a month since. As far as the movements of the deceased can be traced, it would appear that she proceeded into the East India Dock road after leaving Mrs. Hill, and thence walked along until she reached Commercial road, which is a continuation of the East India Dock road. In this thoroughfare she must have spent a considerable time. After having been seen in the company of two strange men in the Commercial road by Alice Groves at 2.30 a.m. on Thursday, it is supposed that she walked back to the East India Dock road - which is the main thoroughfare through Poplar - where another link in the chain of circumstances is discovered. Whether she was in the company of the two men during this period is, of course, not known; but it has transpired that late on the night of Wednesday or early on Thursday morning an engineer, whose name has not transpired, while passing along the East India Dock road, near the Eagle tavern, noticed a woman's hat within the railings of a garden in front of a private dwelling. He though nothing of the matter at the time, but on hearing of the murder the police were told of the incident, and are carefully following up this slight piece of evidence. It will be remembered that the deceased was without her hat when found in Clarke's yard, therefore this curious discovery sets up a new theory. There were no indications of a struggle in the yard where the woman was found, and serious doubts have arisen as to whether the woman's life was taken in the yard or not. The discovery of the hat which is supposed to have belonged to Downey in the East India Dock road shows that the woman must have been helplessly intoxicated or rendered powerless by her assailant or assailants. It is pointed out, and with some degree of reason, that the woman's life may have been taken elsewhere than in Clarke's yard, and that, supposing her assailants to be the two men with whom she was last seen it would have been a very easy task to have carried her from the spot where her hat was found to the yard in which she was discovered. With regard to the manner in which the woman's life was taken, it is supposed that it was done by a sailor, actuated by jealousy. This received support in many ways. It is thought from the marks on the neck that the cord used was a "laid" cord, which comprises four plaited strings, which when made is about the thickness of a bootlace. In support of the supposition that a seafaring man is responsible for the death of Alice Downey, it is stated that this would be about the thickness of a lanyard, and the peculiar knots, as described by Dr. Brownfield at the inquest, through which the cord was passed in order to produce strangulation, are such as would be found in a lanyard, while, moreover, the loops at one end and the knife at the other, would have enabled its owner to bring into play force which could not possibly have been acquired with a piece of string. Furthermore, this would account for the cord being taken away. regarding the phial which was found in the deceased's possession, together with money and other things, which conclusively prove that robbery was not the motive of the person guilty of this murder, some curious facts have transpired, which undoubtedly clears or tends to clear up the mystery surrounding it. Although the phial was quite empty when found, a medical expert who has since examined it concludes that it had contained sandal wood oil. A chemist residing in the neighbourhood believes the bottle to have been given to a postman who purchased some sandal wood oil at a large chemist's in the East India Dock road some time before Wednesday last. It is believed the bottle and also its purchaser can be identified. At the forthcoming adjourned inquest, which is fixed for the 2nd of January, some further important medical evidence will be adduced. On this occasion Dr. Harris will then be called, and will give his theory of the murder, and certain post mortem inferences arrived at by Dr. Brownfield and corroborated by Dr. Harris will, it is expected, give the case a still more mysterious aspect.

From the Buck's row Board School, Boys' Department, Whitechapel, E., the headmaster, Mr. A. Harrison, send an appeal for funds to meet the expenses for the boys' usual Christmas treat. The district is a very poor one.

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