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London, U.K.
27 September 1888

Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, the Coroner for East Middlesex, in summing up the evidence at the inquest on Annie Chapman, has made a startling, but very plausible, suggestion as to the motive of the murder. The doctor who made a careful inspection of the body discovered that one portion of the internal organs was missing, which had been carefully cut out. The Coroner says that from two medical institutions he has received information that a few months ago they received an application from an American, who wanted to purchase specimens of this portion of the human frame, for which he was willing to give 20 each, and it is suggested that the miscreant who committed the murder knew where to find his market. That this is probable, and that the murderer actually killed the woman for the sake of supplying that market, is a view which those who are acquainted with the modern experiments in morbid anatomy will readily adopt. First let it be admitted that there is a genuine demand amongst students of morbid anatomy for every one of the organs of the human body for the purpose of intelligent dissecting and study. This step from justifiable investigation to needless experiment is not a long one, and it is conceivable that so interesting a portion of the human body as that which the American publishers who sought to buy a number of specimens wished to obtain, would be considered a prize by many a dilettant anatomist, especially if presented in the condition which the Coroner described. But the most serious responsibility attaches to those who offered to cater to so unwholesome a fancy; and the fact that they placed such money value on the organ in question, which - terrible to relate - must be taken from a person who had only a few minutes previously died, renders them blameable, to a large extent, for the fiendish murders which have just disgraced Whitechapel. Three or four points now present themselves for the consideration of the police. The murderer is an educated student of anatomy; has probably very recently purchased a large quantity of glycerine, a wide necked bottle, and a long scalpel. He must have a hiding place near the place where he committed his crimes; he has probably got the awful proceeds of his last night's work in his possession. The only pity is that all these details were not made available by publication long since and that the doctor who examined the body was allowed so long to delay his evidence. Whether the police will be able to make anything of the clue thus offered them remains to be seen.

This solution of the mystery is by no means an improbable one. Our very word "burking" recalls a series of crimes quite as atrocious, if not as repulsive. The high railings that surround London churchyards which were laid out early in the present century recall a time when the human ghouls known as "resurrection men" used to dig up dead bodies from their newly made graves at night, in order to sell them to medical men for anatomical purposes. At Edinburgh an Irishman, named Burke, improved upon this plan by murdering his victims, in order to sell their bodies when they were still fresh. is plan was to kill by suffocation; hence "to burke" has become a short way of saying to stifle or suffocate. Burke, who was hanged in 1829, confessed to having committed no less than fourteen murders of this kind before he was detected. Edinburgh was not the only field for such crimes. At the East end of London, at the back of Shoreditch Church, two men, named Bishop and Williams, carried on a like murderous trade on a spot now known as Columbia gardens. At last they decoyed a poor Italian boy, whom they killed, and whose corpse they sold to the doctors. For this crime they were hanged in 1831. These miscreants first drugged the boy, and then drowned him in a well; they then packed up the corpse in a box, hawked it about to several dissecting rooms, and were finally given into custody by a surgeon at King's College. The usual price was from eight to twelve guineas. Bishop confessed that he and Williams murdered a poor homeless woman in the same way, afterwards selling the corpse to a doctor for ten pounds. A fortnight after the murder of the woman they killed a boy in the same way, and sold him at St. Bartholomew's Hospital for eight guineas. Bishop had lived as a body snatcher for twelve years, and during that time, according to his own account, had obtained and sold from 500 to 1,000 bodies. It has been somewhat too hastily assumed that the latest Whitechapel murder reveals an appalling depth of human depravity which has never before been reached, but the cases that we have cited show that this is not the case, for though the mutilation of Annie Chapman strikes more powerfully upon the imagination, the callous indifference to human life as shown in fifteen successive murders for sordid gain, is really more terrible. Burke, Williams, and Bishop obtained a much smaller sum for the whole body of each victim than the supposed murderer of Annie Chapman might have obtained for a small part.


We are confronted by a fresh and startling incident in connection with the Whitechapel horror. It occurred late last night. The scene of its initiation was the charge room in the Police station at High street, Wandsworth. Shortly before twelve o'clock the sergeant in charge and Inspector Blackmore were accosted by a man, who pushed the door open, and walked deliberately into the room. He was rather above medium height, dark, unshaved, and shabby. He was evidently labouring under considerable excitement.


Before the Inspector could leave his chair the man advanced, and said he wanted to make a confession. Asked his name, he is said to have hesitated before replying. However, eventually he stated he was known as John Fitzgerald. He is unmistakeably an Irishman, and after the usual manner of his countrymen, commenced to tell a lengthy story. This led to the interposition of of the inspector, who duly cautioned the man that any statement might be used against him. However, Fitzgerald was determined to "tell all he knew," as he himself put it, and forthwith asserted that he was the murderer of Annie Chapman, in Hanbury street, Whitechapel. What he said further is reserved by the police. They refuse to divulge any other facts. Fitzgerald was immediately taken into custody and placed in one of the cells. He was not, however, charged in the usual way, being merely detained. Later on, between one and two o'clock this morning, he was conveyed by a sergeant to the Leman street police station in Whitechapel.


Fitzgerald is a stranger to the locality. He is unknown by the police at Wandsworth, and, up to ten o'clock this morning, nothing had been discovered as to his antecedents. During the latter part of last evening he is said to have spent some hours in public houses in the High street. A person who states that he was one of his companions, in the course of the evening communicated a few facts to an Echo reporter this morning.


"I met him in a house not far from the police station," said this individual, an intelligent artisan, who gave his name as John Locus, and said he lived in Wandsworth plain. "He seemed very desirous of conversing with almost everybody who came into the bar, and especially devoted himself to the Whitechapel murder. He explained how he thought the woman was killed, but I really couldn't tell what his theory was. I didn't take much notice of what he said at the time."


"Did he say whether he had been in the locality at all on the night of the occurrence?"

"I don't remember, but I believe he did," was the reply. "He said that he knew Whitechapel very well, and Hanbury street particularly. Then he had a knife in his possession, the blade of which was about five inches long. With this he attempted to illustrate his explanation, and actually knelt down on the floor of the bar as though bending over a recumbent person."

"Did it not strike you as strange that he should throw so much energy into his story?"

"Well, no. I often meet such men in a public house; and the others who were there only laughed at him."


Locus went on to say that Fitzgerald left the public house shortly before he did. He, however, saw him again about half an hour later. He was then leaning against the wall of a house in a dark part of the street. Locus spoke to him, and asked whether he was going home, but he only received in reply an intimation that he had nowhere to go. Locus says he then left him until Fitzgerald presented himself at the police station three quarters of an hour later. Nothing further of his his movements is known.


The police state that, though Fitzgerald had undoubtedly had beer, he was by no means drunk, and, after being cautioned, made his statement very clearly. He will be brought up in the course of the day at the Thames Police court and duly charged.


The startling statement made by Mr. Wynne Baxter regarding the fate of the unfortunate woman Chapman has again stimulated public interest in the terrible crime. The clue afforded is, of course, being followed up by the police who have now had the information in their possession for a week, but it has not transpired whether it has yet led to any tangible result. The inquiries of the police would necessarily extend to America, and on that account it may be some time before fresh facts could be in the hands of the public.


An important point yet to be made clear is as to whether the object of the murderer was the same in the cases of the woman Nicholls and of Annie Chapman. The Coroner, in the former case, when he summed up last Saturday, appeared to think that it was, and, at the time of expressing that opinion he must have been in receipt of an important communication from the sub curator of the Pathological Museum attached to one of the Metropolitan hospitals, to which he referred in his summing up on the body of Annie Chapman. The opinion he expressed last Saturday regarding Nicholls' case thus carries weight. The "shabby genteel" man who was seen in Chapman's company shortly before her murder is being sought for, but up to the present it would appear without success.


From inquiries made at some of the great medical institutions, it has been ascertained that requests similar to that of the American gentleman have before been made, but the peculiar conditions attaching to the requests could not possibly be complied with unless the operation were performed before or immediately after death. Ever since the Coroner communicated the facts to the police authorities no stone has been left unturned to follow up the clue, and active inquiries are still proceeding.


Edward Raby, 22, was charged at the Thames Police court today with assaulting Sarah Haley, of 3 Albert square, Shadwell. Prosecutrix, whose face was bandaged, said between ten and eleven o'clock last night she was walking along Cable street, when prisoner's wife came behind her, and they fought. The accused was there, and Mrs. Raby called out, "Ted!" Raby came up and said, "You ___, you deserve ripping up. Loose my wife." Witness said, "Let her loose me," when the accused kicked her twice in the face, in the nose and mouth. Witness was on the ground when he kicked her. He then kicked her all over the body, and she held him until a constable came. Prisoner was put back for the attendance of the doctor.

Related pages:
  John Fitzgerald
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