The Eastern Post & City Chronicle
Saturday, 17 August 1889.
INQUEST AND VERDICT - WHITECHAPEL
FROM A CORONER'S POINT OF VIEW.
Mr. Wynne Baxter, coroner for south-east Middlesex, resumed and concluded his inquiry on Wednesday morning, at the Working Lad's Institute, Whitechapel Road, into the circumstances attending the death of Alice Mackenzie, aged about 40, whose mutilated remains were discovered early on the morning of July 17th, in Castle Alley, Whitechapel.
Mr. Reid, detective-inspector of the H Division, watched the proceedings on behalf of the police.
Mr. George B. Phillips, divisional surgeon of police, was recalled, and deposed: On the occasion of my making the post-mortem examination, the attendants at the mortuary, on taking off the clothing, removed a short clay pipe, which one of them threw upon the ground, by which means it was broken. I had the broken pieces placed upon a ledge at the end of the post-mortem table, but they have disappeared, and although inquiry has been made for them, they have not been found, I am informed. The pipe had been used. It did not come from the pocket; it fell out of the deceased's clothing. The attendants were two men I have often seen there before, but the old man I have been in the habit of seeing there was absent, and I was informed was ill. There were one or two marks about the abdomen which you did not hear about before. They were five in number, and were with one exception situated on the left side of the abdomen. The largest one was the lowest; the smallest one was the exceptional one mentioned, and was typical of a finger-nail mark. They were discoloured, and in my opinion were caused by the finger-nails and thumb nail of a hand. I have, on subsequent examination, assured myself of the correctness of this conclusion.
The Coroner: Did you form any opinion as to how long the deceased had been dead when you saw the body? - It is very difficult to form an opinion, but I should think she had not been dead half an hour. Very possibly it was a much shorter time.
Are you of the opinion that death was caused while the woman was lying on the ground and on her back? - Yes.
The injuries to the abdomen, would they have been caused after death, do you think? - Yes.
Have you formed any opinion from the character of the wound in the neck as to the position of her assailant? - Probably he was on the right side of the body.
Was the instrument used a sharp one? - Yes. It must have had a short and pointed blade.
I think you discovered that the first cut was comparatively unavailing? - Whether it was the first or the second cut that was unavailing I am unable to say.
The important cut - whether first or second - would it prevent the victim from crying out? - Probably it would, from the immediate shock. I have already pointed out, however, that the whole of the air-passage was uninjured. Of course she could have cried out before she was placed on the ground.
Are the bruises you mention as being over the collar-bone likely to have been caused by the pressure of a finger? - Yes.
Was there any mark suggestive of pressure against the windpipe? - No.
Did you detect any skill in the injuries? - A knowledge of how effectually to deprive a person of life, and that speedily.
The injuries to the abdomen, were they in a similar position to those you have seen in the previous cases? - No. The injuries to the throat were also dissimilar.
The Foreman: Do I understand that the pipe is a different one from that referred to previously? - Yes. I believe it fell from somewhere about her waist. It did not come from her hand.
Was the instrument used similar to that used by butchers? - Well, butchers use so many different kinds that I could not say. It certainly was not so large as the ordinary slaughter knife.
Would the finger-nail marks on the body be those of her own hand or those of somebody else? - The conclusion I came to is that it was the pressure of another hand. I should think the lower nail mark was produced by a broad nail. The typical mark must have been caused by a pointed nail. I think the marks were caused after the throat was cut.
The Inspector at this point stated that no more evidence was forthcoming.
The Coroner said they had now come to an end of the inquiry. No fresh evidence was forthcoming, though it had been necessary to adjourn the inquiry in case new facts should be brought to light in the interval. There did not seem to be any doubt as to the identity of the woman. Alice Mackenzie had apparently been living in that neighbourhood for some 10 or 12 years, but where she came from - whether from Peterborough or not - it was impossible to say. The character of the woman was variously described. The witness M'Cormac, with whom she had been living latterly, stated that she was a hard working, industrious woman, and faithful to him. There was grave doubt about this description, however. She was in all probability one of the lowest kinds of prostitutes. There was evidence that tended to show that at the time of her death she was the worse for drink. The two women standing in Flower and Dean Street saw her between half-past eleven and twelve o'clock, and that was the last time she was seen, as far as the evidence was concerned. A constable was in Castle Alley at 12:25 and the body was not there then. It was found there at 12:50, so that in the interval of 25 minutes the woman must have met with her death. There were plenty of persons who would have heard any scream or noise during this period, but no one actually, as far as they knew, did hear anything. In this respect the case was similar to those that had preceded it. There were other points of similarity. The various victims lived in lodging-houses; they were apparently prostitutes; they were the worse for drink; their bodies were found lying down, and the injuries were all of a similar character, speaking generally, death being caused by a severance of the arteries in the neck, and the abdomen being mutilated. Of course, this did not exclusively show that all the crimes had a common author, but it was clear that if in the present case the murder was not by the same person as the preceding ones, it was an imitation of them. There was as far as they knew - and this was another point of resemblance between the various crimes - an utter absence of motive. He thought they would agree with him that the police had acted with caution, ability, and discretion, but their action had all been unavailing. They were as far as they ever were from knowing why these unfortunate women were murdered, and who the murderer was; and under these circumstances they could do nothing but return an open verdict. But with all this light being thrown upon the character of the Spitalfields neighbourhood it was to be hoped that something would be done to make such crimes as this impossible. It must now be patent to all the world that there was in this district a class of people such as could not be found in such numbers in any other part of London, or of any other city; and the question arose, should this state of things continue? It was not a matter for them to deal with; it was for a higher power to suggest a remedy; but it certainly appeared to him that there were two ways in which the problem ought to be attacked. Firstly, it ought to be attacked physically. Anyone who knew Spitalfields and its vicinity must feel that the houses there were many of them unfit for habitation. They must be cleared away and fresh ones built. Of course, there were the main streets, which were some of the finest in London; and possibly any one coming from the West End and only seeing those spacious thoroughfares, might come to the conclusion that all that was said about the deplorable condition of the East End was an exaggeration. It was the wretched little alleys and bye streets that needed to be pulled down. These were physical alterations that were needed. Then there was the moral question. The population was, as he had said, of the same character - not varied like that of a moderate-sized town or village, where each person had an influence upon every one else. It was a seething population of around 20,000 persons, none of whom were capable of elevating each other. Of course, he knew that the opinion was held that it was proper that this particular class of persons should be kept together rather than be distributed over the town; but if they were to be kept together in this way he maintained that every effort ought to be made to elevate them. He was constantly struck by the fact that the efforts of all charitable and religious agencies were comparatively unavailing here. It was true that a great effort had been made - of late years especially - for the moral development of the East End, but the effort was perfectly inadequate. One found a single church for 21,000 inhabitants, and if one went a few hundred yards westward one found a church for almost every dozen inhabitants. If one went still further to the westward one entered districts where such a thing as a poor man was unknown. He trusted that as a result of the recent revelations every one of the West End parishes would have a mission localised in the East End. Unless something like this were done it was utterly impossible that these dreadful crimes could be put a stop to. Cases of starvation were constantly coming under his notice.
The Jury, after a brief deliberation, returned a verdict to the effect that Alice Mackenzie was murdered, though by whom there was no evidence to show. The foreman added that the jury endorsed every word that had been said by the coroner with reference to the condition of the East End. The alleys and courts there were nothing more or less than harbours for vice and filth. Castle Alley itself was an especially bad instance of such bye-ways, and the jury desired the coroner to communicate with the local authorities and state their opinion that steps should be taken to open Castle Alley at the point where it joined Whitechapel High Street, and that steps should further be taken to prevent its remaining in its present filthy condition.
The Coroner said he should not fail to do as requested.
CORONER BAXTER aimed at something in his summing up to the jury over the Whitechapel murder, no doubt, although it seems difficult to me to know exactly what he was driving at.
He got inextricably mixed in the facts. He and the jury had met to adjudicate upon the Whitechapel murder, but the coroner spoke only of Spitalfields. He dilated upon the blind and dark alleys, but Castle Alley is neither the one nor the other, as the evidence of the police-constables proved.
He spoke of that "class of persons" - referring to the deceased - as not to be met with in any other part of London, and of there being 20,000 of "that class" in Spitalfields (Whitechapel?) I should like to know where Mr. Baxter gets his figures from, and also his authority for saying this "class" is not to be met with in any other part of London.
Mr. Baxter's knowledge of the metropolis is further made clear by the startling assertion that Westward "a poor man is unknown." Surely the reporter has played tricks with the coroner's speech, and put words into his mouth he never dreamed of uttering.
The cry of pull down and clear away, seems to suppose that lodging houses and small cheap tenements make the poverty. They surely accommodate the poverty which is the inevitable outcome of a seething population of four millions massed within so limited an area as London.
But Coroner Baxter's suggestion for the West to have missions in the East for the benefit of the poor is very excellent. Only it is not new, for good folk who have money and titles and spare time have been for years in the habit of leaving their homes in Belgravia to work in the midst of the poor in Whitechapel. And this work of sympathy is doing great good to the people and to their habitations; quietly it is true - so quietly in fact that Mr. Baxter apparently has no idea of its existence any more than he is aware that there exists "that class" in Southwark, or that there are any poor people at the West End.