East London Observer
Saturday, 14 September 1889.
HORRIBLE DISCOVERY IN ST. GEORGE’S EAST.
A Mutilated Trunk Found in a Railway Arch.
Who is the Murderer?
A Startling Theory.
Interview with a Detective.
Horror has followed upon horror, and East London is again the scene of as cruel and atrocious a murder upon a defenceless woman as has ever been found outside a novel. There seems to be murder in the air; “Murder” in the biggest of letters and the most flaming of placards catches the eye everywhere; “Murder” seems to be the one topic of conversation amongst all classes of people; “Murder” has been cried through quiet streets at nightfall every night this week by hoarse-voiced news-vendors; the “Murder King” stalks abroad unchecked and unhindered in his terrible course.
The latest horror presents some peculiarities so dissimilar to the previous notorious Whitechapel murders as to add fresh terrors. “Can it be true,” people are asking each other, “that there are two murder fiends in London—one cool, deliberate, and skilful, and the other ferocious, passionate, and horribly and viciously cruel?” And when the evidence is carefully balanced, and when facts are taken into consideration, it would almost seem as if it were really true; and that in addition to a Jack the Ripper, we have also in our midst now, a murder fiend who has hitherto confined his operations to the West End—Whitehall, Battersea, and Chelsea—and whose peculiar modus operandi seems to have been to dismember and calmly dissect his victims. It is a terrible suggestion ; but here is the story of the latest crime, and let the reader judge for himself.
In Pinchin-street, down in St. George’s East, is an ordinary railway arch, 14ft. or 15ft. above the level of the ground, over which is laid the main line of the Great Eastern Railway from Fenchurch-street eastwards. Close by is a branch leading to the huge warehouses constructed by the London and Tilbury Company in Commercial-road, the erection of which necessitated the clearing a large extent of ground of the small and dilapidated buildings which formerly encumbered it. Like most parts of the district lying between Whitechapel and the notorious old Ratcliff Highway, Leman-street and neighbourhood are densely crowded, a large proportion of the inhabitants being Germans, Poles, and Russians, who follow the pursuits of tailoring and bootmaking, polish walking sticks, hawk pictures, and engage in various callings of a similar kind requiring no great physical exertion. The whole district is squalid. No one would be a bit the worse if, by some other great public works, half of it were cleared altogether. Not far from the arch where the headless trunk was found, a pedestrian exploring the neighbourhood would find himself in Berner-street, where Elizabeth Stride was brutally murdered on Sept. 30 last year, and if he proceeded a little further he would traverse the dull and wretched Batty-street, where Lipski foully murdered his landlady, for which he was afterwards hanged at the Old Bailey. That the memory of this notorious criminal is still fresh in the minds of the inhabitants around is shown by the fact that on a black paling opposite the arch under which the unknown body was hidden some one had written the word “Lipski” in large chalk letters. Whether done before the discovery or after no one seems to know, but the name was there. Very curious is it to walk through these streets, to mark the demeanour of the residents, their names and their callings. Most of the names are Polish or Russian; often placards are met with printed in characters which the Roman alphabet knows not, and sometimes the name of the occupant of a shop is painted on the lintel in English and in the language of whatever other nationality the proprietor’s customers mostly belong to. The particular arch where on Tuesday the discovery was made skirts the south side of a narrow and now almost deserted thoroughfare called Pinchin-street, which forms a somewhat tortuous connection between Backchuch-lane and Cable-street, the principal structure within its range being the large oil refinery and colour manufactory of Messrs. Pinchin and Johnson. One side of it consists of railway arches, and the other of a high black paling, behind which is an extent of vacant ground. Over the hoarding the old-fashioned red-tiled roofs of some ancient cottages which have escaped the general clearance around can be seen; but it is a street about which there is nothing striking, save that at first sight it appears to lead out of nowhere into a labyrinth equally indefinite. Whoever placed the body where it was found must have known the locality well. No stranger would have found his way from another part of London to Pinchin-street without asking direction, and anyone with such a burden inquiring for such a place would instantly have excited suspicion. Wherever he came from, the body-bearer had studied the topography of Leman-street, Pinchin-street, and Cable-street, knew how best to get into them, and how quickest to get out. Three of the railway arches mentioned—the first three in Pinchin-street eastwards from Backchurch-lane—are used as a yard for dressing and storing granite blocks for road-making purposes and, also for preparing flagstones as pavement. From six o’clock in the morning there are invariably several men at work in them. The arches are protected from the street by a rough boarding. In the first arch, however, there are at present no men at work, and the boarding which once existed has almost disappeared. Anybody could go into the arch after work-hours, walk right underneath it, and roam at will among the granite blocks, the only person likely to disturb him being a passing policeman. Every 20 minutes or so during the night a constable patrols the street, and invariably turns the bull’s eye of his lamp into the archway to see that it contains nothing unusual. Its aspect is barren and uninviting enough. The walls are brick, and the ground is strewn with rubbish, formed of chips of granite and the variegated débris invariably collected in an empty space.
Passing along here at daybreak of Tuesday morning, Police-constable William Pennett, 239 H, made the horrible discovery, the story of which is best told in his own words: —About 25 minutes past five, he says, I came from the direction of Christian-street to Pinchin-street. I went across the road from the northern side, in the direction of the railway arch, and had no particular reason for so doing. As I was crossing, I saw, in the arch, something that appeared to be a bundle. The arch, which was filled with stones, led to a piece of waste ground, on which were three arches abutting on to Pinchin-street. Two of these arches were closed in with fencing to some considerable height. In front of the arch that I first referred to there remained only uprights for some fencing, which had been taken away. The archway had a large quantity of paving-stones in it, and these were piled up. There was also a carriage entrance to the arch from Backchurch-lane. The bundle was, I should say, from four to five yards in the archway, measuring from the pavement. The bundle was near the wall of the arch, on the western side. On going up to it I found that it was a portion of a human body. It was covered by two or three pieces of rag, but what these were I could not say at the time. With the exception of these it was naked. I noticed that the head had been taken from the body, and that the legs were missing. The trunk was lying on the stomach, with the shoulders towards the west. It was very dusty inside the arch, but I did not notice any marks of wheels or footprints. I do not think the impression of footprints would show. There were no clots of blood about. I did not blow my whistle, as I thought it might cause a crowd to assemble. Knowing it was a lifeless body, I waited a minute or two. A man came along with a broom on his shoulder. I said to him, “You might go and fetch my mate at the corner.” He replied, “What’s on, governor?” I answered, “Tell him I have got a job on, make haste.” The man then went up Backchurch-lane towards the adjoining beat. I next saw two constables running towards me, Constable 205 H was acting-sergeant at the time, and he was the fist to get up to me, and constable 115 H was behind him. I said to 205 H, “You had better go and see the inspector, as there is a dead body here.” He ran away in the direction of the station, and 115 H remained with me. It was not very long before I saw Inspector Pinkhorn, who at once gave directions for the arches to be searched. There was a lamp about 9ft. away, and the light from it would have been sufficient to show the bundle during night time. The condition of the trunk was such as it would have been had it been carried in a sack. The arms were close to the body, and the hands close to the abdomen. The left hand was evidently resting on where the gash was. There was no dust or sawdust on the back. The body was lying breast downwards. The chemise was entire, although, at first sight, it had the appearance of being in pieces, as it had been cut open from top to bottom. The arm holes were cut right up to the neck. There was no name on the garment or lettering of any kind.
An hour later, four policemen bore their ghastly burden to the mortuary in the St. George’s Churchyard—a small, brick building, through the ventilators and small window of which the sun’s rays shone. The mutilated flesh was placed upon the slab in the centre of the mortuary, and there it remained until it was examined by the coroner’s jury empanelled on Wednesday.
From external observation, it was agreed that the deceased had been a well-built woman, 5ft. 3in. in height, and between thirty and forty years of age. The measurement across the extended arms was 5ft. 4in., and round the chest 313/4in. The body was absolutely unclothed, but a portion of a linen under-garment, much stained, had been thrown upon it. There were no marks to lead to identification, except a singular partially-healed semi-circular wound, with a flap of skin adhering, on the index finger of the right hand. This wound might have been caused by a bite, or by a nail. It was noticed that both elbows were discoloured, and there were post-mortem marks round the waist, produced apparently by a rope. The head had been removed, together with the legs from the hips, but the arms were intact. The latter were not developed muscularly, and the hands, long and slender, with filbert-shaped nails, showed no signs of recent hard work. No ring-marks were detected, and nothing was noted which would indicate the woman’s position in life, or her calling, although an opinion was expressed that she might have been a factory hand or a rope-worker. The abdominal injuries were an imitation of what have been recorded in previous Whitechapel murders, but scarcely so fiendish in their character—a long slit extending from the waist downwards, exposing the intestines, and another gash over the region of the stomach, laying it partially open. The medical opinion was that death had taken place four or five days ago, and it is understood that the doctors also arrived at the conclusion that the dissecting knife had been used by a left-handed person, who possessed considerable anatomical knowledge as well as physical strength. No hacking was observable, and it was remarked that a saw had been employed as well as a knife.
Naturally, the whole of the available police and detective forces were quickly on the spot, surrounding the arches, and inquiring at all the adjacent houses, while another force tested a recently-advanced theory, by searching all the cattle boats lying in the river—but all with the same result, that there is at present absolutely no result.
But there is one piece of consolation to be afforded even amid the prevailing feeling of despondency and utter hopelessness of ever being able to trace the murderer or murderers—the detectives are far more sanguine and far more confident than they have ever been since the series of murders commenced, now nearly two year back. They have got at last something tangible and something definite to work upon—the only doubt expressed being as to whether the clues afforded will ultimately lead up to the discovery of the author of the Whitechapel crimes, or the fiend who has been practising in West London. A reporter of the East London Observer had an interview this week with one of the detectives who has the case in hand, and succeeded in getting the following statement from him: —“Personally, I am not inclined to believe that this is the work of the so-called ‘Jack the Ripper,’ the injuries inflicted upon the trunk being in almost every way dissimilar to those inflicted upon the women who have been murdered by him. In the first place, the notorious murderer has only carried about with him, hitherto, a strong, sharp, and short-bladed knife, which could not have cut the head so clean off as is the case with the body of this woman. If you recollect the Mitre-square case, you will remember that the murderer there made a determined attempt to sever the head from the body, and although you may be sure that his physical strength an the blade of his knife were exerted to the utmost, yet he could not get the knife further than the vertebrae of the neck. Then there is this also to be taken into consideration, that having tested this particular knife on his victims so many times, and having found it only too successful, it is scarcely likely that he would try another with the chances of failure, or at all events, of making a blundering job, before him. There is one characteristic about the Whitechapel murderer, whoever he may be, that doesn’t appear to have been noticed before, and that is, that he seems to take a kind of a pride in his horrible work; it may be fiendish, and the abdominal slashes may look to an outsider, bungling and purposeless, but the work on the whole is done with a nicety and a finish, that stamps him as a Past Master in the art of murder. No, Jack is not the man to risk the chance of making a badly finished job. Then again, you have the fact that a saw was used to dismember the body, and skilful as Jack may be with the use of the knife, I don’t think that he is the man to use a saw; and I have yet to learn what I have certainly not learned from my examination of the victim hitherto, that the Ripper has sufficient anatomical knowledge as to be able to remove the legs so cleanly and skilfully as we have found to be the case with this trunk. Once more, the severance of the head and legs, and the fact that the body had been lying about in some place other than the railway arch for three or four days before, exhibit a coolness, and a deliberation, and a want of passion or frenzy of which, I unhesitatingly say, Jack is incapable. What about the abdominal wounds you say? They count for nothing, except to prove my theory that the murder has not been done by the Whitechapel murderer. I have carefully examined them, and although I don’t profess to be much of a physiologist, yet my candid opinion is this, that they are nothing more than a clumsy imitation of the Ripper’s work, purposely designed to throw us off the scent, and to put the murder down to the Ripper. When I say “clumsy,” however, I don’t mean it advisedly. There is every appearance of a thoroughly practised hand—a professional hand in fact—in the abdominal slit; but at the same time there is a straining after making it look an amateurish job, that is only too evident. Whoever the murderer may be, he has evidently been a close observer of the Ripper’s work; he has probably studied the newspaper reports, and he has carefully marked the theory, which has been several times advanced—only, however, to be repudiated by skilled surgeons—that the Ripper is a left-handed man. And this slit in the abdomen has accordingly been done quite purposely with the left hand. Presuming that the murderer of this woman was really a left-handed man, he could not, unless—which is very unlikely—he had an assistant in the work, have taken the head and legs off so cleverly as he has done. Everything, in fact, has been done to throw suspicion away from the actual murderer, and upon the Whitechapel fiend, even to the bringing of the body down here to East London. I am convinced in my own mind that the actual murder did not take place in East London, but more probably in the west, the west central or the south districts. The body would of course in that case have had to be carried from there down to the East End; and of this I am pretty sure, too, that it was brought in some vehicle—probably in an innocent-looking box or bale, and deposited in some house or place in the East End on Saturday night or Sunday. Had it been brought on Monday, the finding of the body on Tuesday might possibly have resulted in the arrival of the box or bale being looked at with suspicion, and hence it is that I place its arrival here on Saturday or Sunday. There need have been nothing suspicious about the covering for the body, whatever it was, for the legs and head, I imagine, were removed prior to the body being brought here, while as decomposition had scarcely set in even when the body was found, there need have been no suspicious smell. The trunk or bale couldn’t have been carried very well by a man; it must have been conveyed in some kind of vehicle, and it is upon that clue that we intend to work first.