East London Observer
Saturday, 28 March 1891.
He is found ill and Poverty Stricken.
In a Shadwell Coffee House.
He alleges Perjury on the part of Witnesses,
And Communicates some
James Sadler, who was, a few weeks ago, within an ace of being committed for trial for the most recent of the Whitechapel murders, has not by any means improved his worldly position since the time of his discharge.
There was no denying that fact, as the veteran sporting M.C., Joe Farrell—who, the Observer man in quest of copy considered the safest company in such a mission—stopped suddenly in one of the dirtiest and dingiest parts of Shadwell, and knocked at the door of a not altogether inviting-looking coffee shop bearing the legend of “Good Beds.”
There was somebody else at the door when we got there. He was a docky, evidently in search of a bed for the night.
He looked somewhat suspiciously at us visitors, and at last ventured on “What d’ye want, mates?”
“Is Sadler in?” queried Joe.
“Yes,” replied the docky. “But he’s in bed and mortal queer. Shares the same room with me. D’ye want to see him?”
We intimated that we did, and procuring a candle that led a precarious kind of existence in a crazy candlestick, he led the way up the rickety stairs to what he euphemistically called, “the second-floor front.”
It was a small and dingy room, dimly lighted up by the fitful candlelight, containing four single beds with the scantiest of coverings, a superannuated-looking wash-hand stand—and little besides. There was only one bed occupied at the time—the one by the window, and looking out into the dingy street below. It was a restless occupant that the bed contained, for the counterpane and sheet were performing some curious evolutions as they were tossed and tumbled by the man underneath them.
“He’s feverish mate,” says the docky, as he deposits the candle he has brought up on the rickety washstand. “Better not disturb him much.”
Then he leans over the bed and tells its occupant that there’s somebody to see him.
“Somebody to see me?” asks a voice from beneath the clothes, and Sadler—for it is he—sits half-up in bed.
He is wearing a grey check flannel shirt, with a red checked scarf round his throat. His features are pretty well known to the public now—thanks to the unenviable notoriety he gained during the time of his incarceration in Leman-street Station and Holloway Gaol. They are massive, not by any means unintelligent, and are set off by heavy eyebrows and a thick, dark brown beard, extending from the chin.
The sudden movement brings on a painful fit of coughing. When it is over, we explain our mission.
“So you’ve found me out down here,” says Sadler, in a deep and not unpleasant voice. “You newspaper fellows are as smart as detectives. I came down here partly to get rid of the eternal talk, talk, talk, about that wretched affair, and partly—and he smiles cynically—because beggars mustn’t be choosers.”
“You’ve got a nasty cough?” the Observer man begins.
“Yes,” says Sadler, as he applies his mouth to a bottle of medicine standing near by. The police have just about done for me over this affair. Up to that Saturday morning when I was taken in charge at Leman-street, I had always enjoyed good health. For thirty-five years I’ve been a hard-working man, and haven’t had much time to get ill. Twenty-five years of that time I’ve been at sea. The rest of the time I’ve been employed as a docker here; and another bit of time I’ve put in at the Australian diggings. I’ve gone through all kinds of hardships, but the time I spent in the cells and gaols of this civilised country—and the cynical smile is apparent again—over this murder business has just about finished me up.”
“But how was that. You were not treated as an ordinary criminal?”
“No; perhaps it would have been better for me if I had been. When I was taken to Leman-street Station on the Saturday morning, I was put into a draughty, cold, ante-room. During the time I was there, up to the Sunday night, I had to get in and out of all kinds of changes of clothes—some of them damp, and others positively wet—for the purposes of identification. Then, on the Saturday night I got for my bed a plank—worse than that of a prison cell. Add to that the journeyings in that draughty ‘Black Maria’ that I had to do between Holloway and Arbour-square, then remember that I was still suffering from the knocking about I received on the night of the murder, and I think that’ll explain why you find me like this now.”
“You’ve seen a doctor, I suppose?”
“Yes, I was taken in by a friend last night to see Dr. Kay, in the Commercial-road. He said I was suffering from bronchitis, and when he felt my ribs he said that I was worse than I thought, and wanted me to go to the hospital at once.”
“You were treated alright in Holloway?”
“Yes, I’ve nothing to complain of there, except what I’ve to complain of all through the case, that the police, and everybody in their employ, were dead against me, and meant to have me if they possibly could. They tried to get me to incriminate myself in any way they knew how to. What do you think they did in Holloway?”
The newspaper man confessed his ignorance of Holloway and Holloway’s ways.
“Well I hadn’t been in there long before the Governor and the Chaplain, and half a dozen justices—I suppose they were—came along to where I was.
“ ‘How do you feel now Sadler?’ says the Governor.
“ ‘Very sore; especially about the ribs,’ says I.
“ ‘Ah, but I don’t mean that,’ says the Governor. ‘I mean, how do you feel in your mind?’
“ ‘Right enough,’ says I. ‘Why should I feel otherwise?’
“ ‘Don’t you feel uneasy about that murder?’ says he.
“ ‘Uneasy,’ says I. ‘Why should I feel uneasy? I’ve done nothing that I need feel uneasy about.’
“ ‘Ah,’ says he, ‘but what about the knife, Sadler? You know you were drunk on the night. Now tell me, don’t you think you did the murder while you were drunk, and didn’t know what you were doing?’
“ ‘The story about the knife,’ I says, ‘is an infernal lie of Duncan Campbell’s, and if I ever get out I shall have him prosecuted for perjury.’
“But,” puts in the reporter, “you know Campbell swore most positively as to buying the knife from you. Further than that, he identified you. How are you going to get over that?”
“It’s my firm belief,” says Sadler, rising up in bed on his excitement, “that Duncan Campbell was in the pay of the police.”
“That’s a very serious statement to make. How are you going to prove it?”
“Easy enough; and in this way. You may recollect that after I had received that cut in the head from that woman in Thrawl-street or Flower and Dean-street—I don’t know which it was now—I turned round to Frances, the murdered girl. She had stood by and hadn’t lifted a finger to interfere, although I will say this for her, that she warned me from going down the street. She said it was full of thieves, who would think nothing of robbing a drunken old sailor like me. But I wasn’t going to be put off going down that street. I said, ‘I’ve travelled nearly all over the world, and in all kinds of company, and I’ve never yet turned back on anything. I ain’t a-going to fence that street.’ That’s how I came to go down there. Well, after I had been struck on the head with that blunt knife, or bottle, or whatever it was, and after Frances hadn’t lifted a finger to save me, I of course turned to her. ‘You’re a pretty pal,’ I said, ‘to see me knocked about in this way and never to do anything for me.’
“ ‘How could I, Jim?’ she says. ‘You know if I’d lifted a finger for you I should have been marked by three people, and they’d pay me out when they got the opportunity.’
“I see the force of her argument now, poor girl. But I was drunk at the time, and felt mad like.
“ ‘I’ll go down to the ship’ (that’s the “Fez,” the boat I was engaged on). ‘and stay there the night now,’ I said.
“Well you may remember that when I get down to the dock gates I was set upon by some dockers, while the policeman at the gates turned his back the other way. I hear, by the way, that he’s got shifted over that job, and serve him right. Well, I was so knocked about in the ribs, and my head where it was cut felt so bad, that I walked back to Whitechapel towards the hospital. Just near the hospital I met a policeman. You can guess that I looked a pretty scarecrow at that time, what with being drunk, and groaning away over my ribs, and the blood all running down my head.
“That, it seems, was after the murder, and the policeman knew of it, and was on the look out for anybody suspicious, though I hadn’t heard a word about the affair, and didn’t know anything of it for hours after.
“ ‘Hullo,’ says the policeman, ‘what’s the matter with you?’
“ ‘I’ve been out and knocked about,’ I says.
“ ‘Why, your head’s all over blood,’ says he; ‘let’s look if you’ve got a knife about you.’
“ ‘I haven’t got a knife,’ I replied. ‘I never carry one.’ ”
“Indeed, now that I come to think of it, I remembered the night before—on Thursday night—when I was in one of the public houses along with Francis, and wanted to cut a bit of hard tobacco, we had to search all over the place for a knife to cut it with.
“However, the policeman searched me, and it’s a good job he did, for he can now prove that what I say is true. He felt all over my pockets and even down to my sea boots.
“ ‘No you haven’t got a knife,’ says he. ‘And now you’d better get into the hospital and have that wound of yours dressed.’ ”
“Now, if you remember, Duncan Campbell swore that I went over to his shop on the Friday morning and sold a knife to him because I said I wanted the money to get drink. In the first place, as I say, I hadn’t got a knife to sell, in the second, I didn’t want a drink, or if I did want it, I had the money to buy one, and I also had a bottle that I had left twopence on the night before, and that I could have got back if I wanted, and then, in the third place, I never saw Duncan Campbell at all. I never saw Duncan Campbell in my life till he came down to Leman-street Police Station to identify me. I don’t want to see him again, because if I do, there’s bound to be a row, and I suppose the police will say, ‘look what a violent temper that man’s got. It only proves that he did the murder.’ At the same time, a man can’t have his neck pretty nigh put into the rope with an infernal lie like that without wanting to have his own back from the man who tried to swear his life away.”
“But do you seriously mean to tell me,” queries the newspaper man, “that you never saw Duncan Campbell until the time that he identified you?”
“Never,” cries Sadler, as he again starts up in bed in his excitement, and there’s a world of conviction about his tone that carries the impress of truth with the assertion.
“Then how do you account for his identifying you in the Leman-street Police Station as the man who sold him the knife?”
“I’ll tell you all about that, and I think that after you’ve heard what I’ve got to say, you’ll agree with me that Campbell was all along aided and abetted by the police, if he wasn’t in their pay. The day that Campbell came to identify me, I was brought out and placed in a line with a lot of other men. There were several of the police there at the time. Campbell came in and went twice along the line without picking out anybody—although goodness knows he might have easily enough picked me out for I was wearing my cap at the time, which was all covered and clotted with blood, and my eyes were all swollen and bruised with the knocking about I’d received.
“Then one of the police came and stationed himself right opposite where I was standing and looked straight at me with his eyes. Campbell was standing by him just at that time.
“ ‘Can’t you recognise him?’ says the policeman—and he was looking as hard as he could at me all the time.
“Then Campbell, he, of course, looked towards where I was standing, too; but even then he didn’t seem quite sure. So he goes all along the line of men again and lifts off their hats one by one. At last, when he comes to mine, and sees the blood on the cap and the wound on the head, he says ‘That’s the man.’ That’s how Campbell identified me, although I’d never seen him and he’d never seen me in my life before.
“But didn’t you complain of the irregular manner in which this identification business was carried out?”
“They didn’t give me an opportunity. As soon as Campbell says, ‘That’s the man,’ they hurried me off to the cells and placed me in custody. But after I was discharged I went to Inspector Moore and complained to him about it. I told him that I meant to prosecute Campbell for perjury. ‘Oh,’ says he, ‘you’d better not. You weren’t taken to the Central Criminal Court. If you were, and Campbell had repeated his evidence there, you might have had ground, but I don’t think you’d better take proceedings now.’ ”
“But I understand,” remarked the reporter, “that you do intend to take proceedings against certain newspapers?”
“Yes, my solicitors, Messrs. Wilson and Wallace, are taking proceedings against, I think, about half-a-dozen newspapers for publishing that villainous, lying, and scandalous so-called interview with my wife during the time when I was charged with the crime. The first action will be against the Daily Telegraph. That comes on, I think, next Thursday, and if the judgement goes against that paper the others will be proceeded against.”
“But excuse me for saying so—you don’t look exactly like a flourishing sort of a man who could afford to employ solicitors in an expensive law suit.”
“You’re right there. I’m just about on my beam ends now. I’ve scarcely got a penny to bless myself with, and only last Saturday I was out looking for a job among the Thames steamboats for the Easter Holidays, but they said I wasn’t fit for work of any kind—and I quite believe it.”
And Sadler takes up his medicine bottle again and applies himself to it.
“Then who are paying the expenses of the legal proceedings—if it’s a fair question?”
“I’m not quite sure, but I think I have to thank the Star for that, and also for paying for the barrister who defended me during the inquest and my hearings at the police-court.”
“Of course, those statements alleged to have been made by your wife in that interview of which you complain—the statements, I mean, about your meeting her in Aldgate when you were disguised, and about your knowing all about the previous murders—were false, then?”
“False, lying, and scandalous,” cries Sadler. “It’s true that I met her once after I had come from sea, some years ago, somewhere in East London—I forget where just now—but as for being disguised—well, it’s such rubbish that I don’t care about talking of it. I haven’t got the patience for it. As to knowing anything about the other murders, if you’ll believe me, I don’t think there’s a man in London who can read, who knows less about those other murders than I do. I was at sea most of the time when they occurred, and I had other things to think about than them when I was on shore.”
“But how do you account for a woman—and more that all, for your wife—making statements of that kind which were likely to place you in a very serious position?”
“I can’t make it out. I don’t believe she ever said any such things. There was no ill-feeling between us that I am aware of. It is true we are separated, but that was because our tastes didn’t exactly suit each other. She was always too fond of dress, and of flirty ways for me. I, on the other hand, was always a hard-working man, always willing to do what I could for a living, and never shirking my share of duty. But I always treated her well. Whenever I came home from sea, the very first thing I did when I got my wages was to send down her money to 3, Skinner-street, Chatham—that’s where she lives. On the Friday of the murder I sent her down £2.”
“And about Frances, the murdered woman. Had you known her long?”
“Yes; off and on, for some time past. I stayed with her when I came home the voyage before last. She was always a quiet, inoffensive kind of girl, and we always got on well together. There was never a shilling difference between us. When I first knew her she was a very reserved kind of girl, keeping herself to herself, and never mixing with any other women of her class. When I came home last time, though, I found her very much altered so far as her position went. She had come down in the world like they all do in time, but even then, she hated the women with whom she had to associate. Many a time on that Thursday night when she was murdered, and when we were going from one public-house to another, drinking, she would say to me, ‘Don’t go into that bar, Jim. There’s a lot of rough characters there. I don’t like them, and if they see me with you they’ll want a share of your money.’ She was rather weak-minded in that way.”
“Have you any theory of your own about the murder, Sadler?”
“It is as much a mystery to me a it is to everyone else. The only thing that can make me account for her being at the place where she was found murdered is this. You may recollect I told you a little while back that after the row we had in Thrawl-street or Flower and Dean-street, when I was attacked, I told her I was going back to the ship to stay the night. I believe that she was hard up, and that, knowing she was always welcome to share in any money I ever had, she was on the way to the ‘Fez,’ where she expected to find me.”
“During the time you were drinking with her on Thursday night, did she ever hint to you or tell you that she was going to meet anybody that night?”
“Never. I don’t believe she ever intended to meet anybody.”
“Just one question more. You may remember that at the time you were before the magistrate at Arbour-square you complained of the way in which you were treated in the matter of food. Was they any foundation for that complaint?”
“Plenty. On that particular day at seven o’clock in the morning I had a couple of slices of bread and butter for my breakfast—nothing more. A little after two o’clock on the same day I was dragged before the magistrate. I had had nothing to eat all that time, and I think you will agree with me there was plenty of time between seven in the morning and two in the afternoon for those two slices to get down. I didn’t know whether or not I was to have anybody to defend me, and thought I should have to fight my own case. More than that I knew that all the police were against me, and I felt that I wanted all my wits about me if I was going to get off. It wasn’t the way exactly to enable a man to defend himself from so serious a charge, to keep him without food all that time, was it? But after I left the dock I was treated all right as regards food in the Arbour-square Station.”
And with that the reporter found his way down the rickety stairs again and so into the murky streets below.