East London Advertiser
Saturday, 27 October 1888.
CLOSE OF THE BERNER STREET INQUEST.
On Tuesday afternoon at the St. George's-in-the-East Vestry Hall, Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, coroner, concluded the inquest into the circumstances attending the death of Elizabeth Stride or Watts, the victim of the Berner-street murder. - In summing up, the coroner said the first difficulty which presented itself was the identification of the deceased. Their trouble was principally occasioned by Mrs. Malcolm, who, after some hesitation, and after having had two further opportunities of viewing again the body, positively swore that the deceased was her sister - a Mrs. Elizabeth Watts, of Bath. It had since been clearly proved that she was mistaken, notwithstanding similar visions which were simultaneously vouchsafed at the hour of the death to her and her husband. If her evidence was correct, there were points of resemblance between the deceased and Elizabeth Watts, which almost reminded one of "The Comedy of Errors." Both had been courted by policemen; they bore the same Christian name, and were of the same age; both lived with sailors; both at one time kept coffee-houses at Poplar; both were nicknamed "Long Liz"; both were said to have children in charge of their husbands' friends; both were given to drink; both lived in East-end common lodging-houses; both had been charged with drunkenness at the Thames police-court; both had escaped punishment on the ground that they were subject to epileptic fits, although the friends of both are certain that this was a fraud; both had lost their front teeth, and both were leading very questionable lives. Whatever might be the true explanation of this marvellous similarity, it appeared to be pretty satisfactorily proved that the deceased was Elizabeth Stride, a Swede. If the evidence was to be relied on, it would appear that she was in the company of a man for upwards of an hour immediately before her death, and that, within a quarter of an hour of her being found a corpse, she was refusing her companion something in the immediate neighbourhood of where she met her death. With regard to the man seen there were many points of similarity, but some of dissimilarity in the descriptions of the witnesses, but these discrepancies did not conclusively prove that there was more than one man in the company of deceased, for every day's experience shewed how facts were differently observed and differently described by honest and intelligent witnesses having every desire to speak the truth. The witness Brown, who saw least in consequence of the darkness of the spot at which the two were standing, agreed with Smith that his clothes were dark, and that his height was about five feet seven inches, but he appeared to him to be wearing an overcoat nearly down to his heels; while the description of Constable Marshall accorded with that of Smith in every respect but two. They agreed that he was respectably dressed in a black cutaway coat and dark trousers, and that he was of middle age, and without whiskers. On the other hand, they differed with regard to what he was wearing on his head. Smith said he wore a hard felt deer-stalker of dark colour; Marshall, that he was wearing a round cap with a small peak, like a sailor's. They also differed as to whether he had anything in his hand. Marshall said he observed nothing. Smith was very precise, and said that he was carrying a parcel, done up in a newspaper, about 18 inches long, and six to eight inches wide. These differences suggested either that the woman was, during the evening, in the company of more than one man (a not very improbable supposition), or that the witnesses had been mistaken on detail. If the man seen in the company of deceased by the three was one and the same person, it followed that he must have spent much time and trouble to induce her to place herself in his diabolical clutches. They last saw her alive at the corner of Fairclough-street and Berner-street, saying, "Not to-night, but some other night." Within a quarter of an hour her lifeless body was found at a spot only a few yards from where she was last seen alive. It was late, and there were few people about, but the place to which the two repaired could not have been selected on account of its being quiet or unfrequented. It had only the merit of darkness. It was the passage way leading into a court in which several families resided. Adjoining the passage and court there was a club of Socialists, who, having finished their more serious work of debate, were recovering their mental equilibrium with song and mirth. The deceased and her fiendish companion must have seen the lights of the club-room, of the kitchen, and of the printing office. They must have heard the music and dancing, for the windows were open. There were persons in the yard but a short time previous to their arrival. In this case, as in other similar cases which had occurred, no call for assistance was noticed. Although there may have been some noise in the club, it seems very unlikely that any cry could have been raised without its being heard by some one of those near. The death was unquestionably one by homicide, and it seemed impossible to imagine circumstances which would fit in with the known facts of the case, and which would reduce the crime to manslaughter. There were no signs of any struggle; the clothes were neither torn nor disturbed. It was true that there are marks on both shoulders produced by pressure of two hands, but the position of the body suggested either that she was willingly placed or placed herself where she was found. Only the soles of her boots were visible; she was still holding in her left hand a packet of cachous, and there was a bunch of flowers still pinned to her dress front. If she had been forcibly placed on the ground, it was difficult to understand how she failed to attract attention, as it is clear, from the appearance of the blood on the ground, that the throat was not cut until after she was actually on her back. There are no marks of gagging, no bruises on the face, and no trace of any anaesthetic or narcotic in the stomach; while the presence of the cachous in her hand shewed that she did not make use of it in self defence. Unfortunately the murderer had disappeared without leaving the slightest trace. Even the cachous were wrapped up in unmarked paper, so that there is nothing to shew where they were bought. The cut in the throat might have been effected in such a manner that bloodstains on the hands and clothes of the operator were avoided, while the domestic history of the deceased suggested the strong probability that her destroyer was a stranger to her. There was, in the evidence, no clue to the murderer, and no suggested motive for the murder. In the absence of motive, the age and class of woman selected as victim, and the place and time of the crime, there was a similarity between this case and those mysteries which have recently occurred in this neighbourhood. There had been no skilful mutilation as in the cases of Nichols and Chapman, and no unskilful injuries as in the case in Mitre-square - possibly the work of an imitator; but there had been the same skill exhibited in the way in which the victim has been entrapped, and the injuries inflicted, so as to cause instant death and prevent blood from soiling the operator, and the same daring defiance of immediate detection, which unfortunately for the peace of the inhabitants and the trade of the neighbourhood, has hitherto been only too successful.
At the conclusion of the summing up the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.