I went to the inquest on the body of the woman murdered in Whitechapel as a matter of curiosity rather than of duty. I wanted to see whether the first act is the attempted unraveling of the mystery was so constructed as to have that desired effect, and I may at once express my disappointment. The body of Mary Nichols was found at about four o'clock, a.m., and the evidence of Dr. Llewellyn showed that when he arrived on the spot, twenty minutes later, perhaps, the extremities were still warm. Hence we may take it that at about two or a little later Mary Nichols was still alive, a supposition confirmed by the statement of those who saw her, or fancied that they had done so, at that time near Whitechapel Church. It is no injustice, therefore, to the memory of the murdered woman to class her among the lowest category of unfortunates. This lowest category has in every quarter of the metropolis its haunts, as well as the highest; haunts, admittance to which can be gained at almost any hour in the early morning, haunts which are distinctly known to the police, and if they are not, should be. I am not now speaking of the common lodging-houses to which the like of Mary Nichols repair when their perambulations temporarily cease, either through a "stroke of luck" or from the knowledge that they can be no longer profitable; I am speaking of the most dreadful "dens of assignation and accommodation." That there are such dens about, Ready and Thomas streets, about Buck's-row, there can be no doubt. On the Continent the landladies of any and every such a den would have been summoned to appear before the examining magistrate (juge d' instruction) who had taken the case in hand at the outset-there being no such a functionary as the coroner. They would have been interrogated on the chance that they might have harboured Mary Nichols and her paramour. Edmond Texier, the eminent French journalist, who died about a twelvemonth ago, said that "respectability" was the most tyrannical word in the English language. English respectability thinks itself obliged to close its eyes to the fact of such places existing, for they exist in contravention of the law instead of with its concurrence, as on the Continent. Consequently the hags that preside in them being severely and "respectably" left alone, no possible light could be forthcoming from that quarter. Assuredly it was not expected that they should voluntarily reveal the means of their nefarious livelihood and so risk not only losing the latter, but the infliction of a fine and perhaps imprisonment besides for keeping a disorderly house.
"The public should be spared those revelations of social and moral leprosy," say the purists. "The public's morbid curiosity should not be overfed." It is no doubt on this principle that they have tacitly ignored if not discountenanced the claims-in the interests of criminal detection more efficient than we at present possess-of the hugest metropolis of the Western world to a central morgue, such as at least Paris, Vienna, and Berlin can boast. It is on this principle, no doubt, that they would approve the senseless and maybe unwarrantable action of the police inspector of the Bethnal Green division in shutting the door of the Whitechapel mortuary against any and every would-be visitor, "now that the body has been identified," to use the words-probably the inspector's own-as reported by a workhouse inmate and an amateur "chucker-out" left in charge. Identified as what? As the daughter of a working-man, whose husband had deserted her, who lived with another artisan for some time, then returned to her father, eventually quitted his roof to go into service, where she betrayed her trust, and finally took to the streets, to meet with her doom at the hands of some unspeakable ruffian-mentally responsible or not for his act. Were the police under the impression that the public mistook the murdered woman for a patrician or plebian Lucrece, a noble or proletarian Dinah, who had strayed or been inveigled to the backslums of Whitechapel by a patrician or plebeian Tarquin, been ravished, and dispatched afterwards? The identification has brought us no nearer to the solution of the mystery, but the exhibition of the body to all comers for another day or two might have done this. I say might, not would. Among the thousands that would have been attracted thither-for Londoners are not a bit less curious than Parisians or Berliners, and thousands visit their respective morgues when the victim of a mysterious crime is exposed-there might have possibly been one who had seen Mary Nichols in the society of a man in the last hours of her life. He (the supposed informant) need not necessarily have belonged to Whitechapel. He might have been a tramp, a waggoner, who, wending his way through Whitechapel to the west or south of the capital, had stopped at a coffee-stall and noticed the couple. If under the present circumstances such a person exists, and if he had applied as I did at the mortuary, after the jurymen had viewed the body, he would have met with the same courteous and dunderheaded reply that I got on the authority of the sapient inspector of the Bethnal Green division. A waggoner or a tramp it should be remembered, is not a regular subscriber to the morning and evening papers; a description of Mary Nichols's appearance, dress, and fate may have reached him yesterday through a Sunday paper. In Paris or Berlin he would go straight to the morgue and look in at the window behind which both the body and the clothes in which it was found would be shown. Here an application to the police would be necessary, provided Mary Nichols was not already buried. If the applicant were lucky enough to meet a detective alone, he might be listened to, for the would-be Vidocq would smell professional glory. If there happened to be two or three, he would be snubbed and brow-beaten through professional jealousy. I am not inventing, but stating facts which it would not be very difficult to prove.
In Paris, to which city I shall confine myself, seeing that its morgue is virtually administered like those of Vienna and Berlin, the police have little or no control in these matters. The body once admitted to the morgue "on the formal and printed request" of a Commissary of Police, the greffier (secretary) of that establishment becomes its responsible custodian until relieved of the charge by an order for burial from the Procurator of the Republic attached to the Court of First Instance. Immediately after its reception the body is undressed and washed, the clothes are disinfected. In some special cases the body is dressed again; in others it is merely wrapped in a winding sheet, left partially nude, and the clothes suspended in front of one of the dozen black marble slabs on which the corpses are laid out. The three plate glass windows under the portico afford a full view of the whole of the interior; to arrest decomposition the slabs and their contents are constantly besprinkled with ice-cold water. If the body is identified and the cause of death surmised or ascertained to be suicide or accident it is removed at once, but kept in the basement in the tiroirs a froid (a kind of huge chest of drawers lined with zinc, not unlike a refrigerator) until the family can be communicated with. The ceremony of "confrontation" takes place in an appartement, the description of which merits a whole chapter, for it is perhaps unique in the world's annals of crime. Every chair has its associations. If after three days no information as to identity be forthcoming, the greffier applies for an order of internment to the above-named Procurator, who, through the intermediary of the Prefect of Police, grants said order, provided there is no cause for doubt. Otherwise the body is kept above earth and decomposition retarded by means of chemical injections. French criminal jurisprudence being not at all averse to forcing the criminal into a confession of his guilt, "confrontation" is resorted to whenever it becomes possible, such bodies have been kept as long as a fortnight and three weeks. English justice takes all possible precautions against the criminal betraying himself. But between the criminal betraying himself and the police stupidity suppressing a possible clue from the outside there is a great difference. Experience has taught us by now, and ought to have taught them, that their pretended discoveries were due to accident and to the public. Where they have had no such windfalls as in the last two Whitechapel murders, the Camden Town murder, the Canonbury affair, they have miserably and disastrously failed. If the inspector of the Bethnal Green division be a sample of the average intelligence of his brethren one cannot wonder at these failures. But Mr. Matthews is an intelligent man, and Parliament would not refuse him the grant for a Central Morgue if applied for. Such an institution would at any rate import the element of chance into the detection of criminals. The police evidently do not believe in this element, any more than some of the gamblers at Monte Carlo, who generally come away ruined. But the latter are generally staking their own money; the London police are staking the lives of at lease five millions of inhabitants on the belief in their own infallibility.
The police have not yet succeeded in effecting an arrest in connection with the atrocious murder of Mrs. Nichols, whose mutilated body was found in Buck's-row early on Friday morning; nor have any fresh facts come to light which make it probable that the crime will be brought home to the perpetrator or perpetrators. Active attempts are being made to discover the actual scene of the murder, for the theory that the crime was committed in Buck's-row, where the body was found, is generally discredited. The small quantity of blood found at this spot-considerably less than half a pint-is conclusive against the theory. The wounds in the throat severed both the jugular vein, and the carotid artery, with the result that the body was practically drained of blood. A large quantity of blood must also have flowed from the terrible wounds on the abdomen. Yet very little was found on the clothes of the deceased or on the pavement where she was lying. More than this, the traces of blood which extended for some few yards from yards from Buck's-row, are pretty conclusive evidence that the body was dragged or carried along for some distance after the wounds had been inflicted. This theory is also borne out by the absence of any sounds of quarreling in Buck's-row on the Thursday night or Friday morning.
There are two theories which find favour. One is that the deceased woman entered some house in the neighbourhood for an immoral purpose, and was there murdered and mutilated, the body being afterwards carried to Buck's-row. If this theory be the correct one there ought to be no difficulty in finding the house, as the room in which the murder was committed must have subsequently borne the appearance of a slaughter-house. Unless the people of the house were parties to the murder, it seems incredible that they should not have communicated with the police before this. And even if these people are implicated they would probably find great difficulty in removing all traces of their crime.
The other theory is that the crime was committed by one or more of a gang of scoundrels who live by levying blackmail upon unfortunate streetwalkers out late at night, and who make a practice of exacting revenge whenever this blackmail is not forthcoming. It is known that Mrs. Nichols was penniless, as she was refused admission to a common lodging-house on the Thursday night because she could not pay for her bed, and therefore she would be unable to buy off the gang if accosted by them. The weakness of this theory consists in its assumption that the murder took place in the streets, whereas the most careful survey of the neighbourhood has failed to discover such marks of bloodshed as must inevitably have come from the wounds inflicted.
Over and above these two theories there are all sorts of speculations that the murder is a maniac or a Lascar, but none of the known facts lend weight to these suppositions.
The identification of the deceased is now complete, and is confirmed by her father, husband, and son. After the inquest the son visited the corpse with his grandfather, and shortly afterwards the deceased's husband appeared at the mortuary. Father and son did not speak, and evidently did not recognise each other, until old Mr. Walker, the father of the dead woman, said to Nichols, "Well, here is your son." The young man had been brought up by his grandfather and had not seen his father for years. After looking at the deceased, Nicholls said, "There is no mistake about it. It has come to a sad end at last."
Yesterday crowds of people visited the scene of the crime, and hung for hours around the two main gates heading to the mortuary. The popular mind insists on associating the crime with the two previous murders of lost women which have occurred in the same neighbourhood during the present year.
Robert Paul, a carman, has made the following remarkable statement: He says: It was exactly a quarter to four when I passed up Buck's-row to my work as a carman for Covent-garden market. It was dark, and I was hurrying along, when I saw a man standing where the woman was. He came a little towards me, but as I knew the dangerous character of the locality I tried to give him a wide berth. Few people like to come up and down here without being on their guard, for there are such terrible gangs about. There have been many knocked down and robbed at that spot. The man, however, came towards me and said, "Come and look at this woman." I went and found the woman lying on her back. I laid hold of her wrist and found that she was dead and the hands cold. It was too dark to see the blood about her. I thought that she had been outraged, and had died in the struggle. I was obliged to be punctual at my work, so I went on and told the other man I would send the first policeman I saw. I saw one in Church-row, just at the top of Buck's-row, who was going round calling people up, and I told him what I had seen, and I asked him to come, but he did not say whether he should come or not. He continued calling the people up, which I thought was a great shame, after I had told him the woman was dead. The woman was so cold that she must have been dead some time, and either she had been lying there, left to die, or she must have been murdered somewhere else and carried there. If she had been lying there long enough to get so cold as she was when I saw her, it shows that no policeman on the test had been down there for a long time. If a policeman had been there he must have seen here, for she was plain enough to see. Her bonnet was lying about two feet from her head.
At the Working Lads' Institute, this morning, the inquest was resumed by Mr. Wynne Baxter.
Inspector Spratling, of the J division, said that about 1.30 on Friday, he heard of the murder whilst in the Whitechapel-road. He went first to the police-station and afterwards to the scene of the murder. There was a slight stain of blood between the stones. The body had then been removed to the mortuary. He went there with Police-constable Train, and saw the deceased upon an ambulance in the yard, and he took a description of the story. He did not at that time notice the abdominal wounds, but subsequently when the body was placed on the floor of the mortuary he took a more accurate description of the undergarments, and they discovered the injuries on the lower part of the body. The flesh was turned over from left to right and the intestines exposed. He covered up the woman and sent for Dr. Llewellyn. There were no blood marks between the groin and the knees, except, perhaps, very slight ones. He did not feel very well at the time and the sight "turned him up," so that he did not make a very precise examination. The skin of the deceased was clean, but he could not say that it bore evidence of blood having been recently washed off from it. The doctor afterwards made a second examination, and to enable him to do so, the body was stripped by two persons from the workhouse.
The Coroner said the people who stripped the deceased ought to be present, as their evidence might be of importance.
Witness, continuing, said on his next visit to the mortuary the body had been stripped, and the clothing placed in the yard. Amongst them was a pair of stays, but he could not say whether they had been injured in any way.
The Coroner said it seemed likely that these stays could have protected the injured part of the abdomen, and therefore it was important to know what [condition] they were in. In matters like the one under consideration it was the little things that told.
Inspector Spratling said the stays were fastened when he first saw the woman. He did not notice blood upon the petticoats, though he did on the breast part of the dress, and a little on the chemise. Part of the body wounds would be covered by the stays.
The Coroner: I should think that must be so from the evidence of the doctor.
Witness said the stays were not tight fitting, and by raising them, without using force, the whole of the wounds could be seen.
The Foreman: Can we see the stays, for that is important.
The Coroner: We must do so.
Witness continuing, said he had examined Buck's-row carefully, but found no stains of blood or marks of a suspicious character. He afterwards examined the Great Eastern Railway yard and the embankment, and other open spaces, but he found nothing-neither blood nor weapon. A carman named Green had [swilled] away the blood from the pavement in Buck's-row after the body had been removed. Witness had made further inquiries, but could not find any one who had heard screams.
Henry Tompkins, of 12, Coventry-street, said he was in the employ of Mr. Barr, and he was working all night in the slaughter-house in Buck's-row. He started work between eight and nine, and left off about 4.20 next morning, and had a walk to where the body was lying. A policeman had passed the slaughter-house about 4.15, and said a woman had been found murdered in Buck's-row. I had previously left the slaughter-house with a companion at 12.20, and returned about 1 a.m., or a little later, when I recommenced work. None of us left the place again until 4.20. They were all quiet in the slaughterhouse-say from two o'clock. All the gates were open, but I heard no noise from the streets after I returned at one o'clock. I heard no cries whatever. No one came to the slaughter-house except a policeman, and I saw no one pass.
The Coroner: Are there many women about at that time?
Witness: I know nothing about that. (Laugher.) I did not notice any when I left the slaughterhouse at 12.20 until I got into the Whitechapel-road. There were plenty there, of all sorts and sizes-both men and women.
The Coroner: Supposing any one had called for assistance-"Murder" say-in Buck's-row, would you have heard it?
Witness: It might have been too far away. I should not hear it from where we saw the body. Two of us went to the body first, and a mate followed us later on. The doctor was there when I arrived, and also three or four policemen. I believe there were also two men there, but do not know who they were. I waited in Buck's-row until they took the body away. By that time probably ten or a dozen people had come up. I heard no statement as to how the body got there or where it came from.
By a juryman: The policeman who told us about the murder, came to the slaughter-house for his cape, which he had left there earlier on, because it was a fine night.
Inspector Helston was next examined. He said: I first received information of the murder at 6.45 on Friday morning, and went to the mortuary shortly after eight. The body was then dressed in a brown ulster, which had seven buttons down the front, five of which were fastened. Two or three buttons at the front of the dress near the breast were unfastened. She had a petticoat of coarse grey material, and a flannel petticoat underneath. Her stays were fastened up the front, and there were imitation laces at the back. The stays were fairly tight; but, in my opinion, they were shorter than usual. Underneath the stays she wore a chemise and a piece of coarse flannel. There was no blood on the flannel, but there was on the back of the chemise. There were stains of blood on the abdomen, but not on the thighs. There were no signs of violence below the abdomen, and there were no bloodstains on either of the petticoats. The back of the upper part of the dress near the neck had absorbed a great deal of blood; and the upper part of the ulster was also saturated. The hair was clotted with blood.
The Coroner: Was the skin of the thighs clean?
The Coroner: Did it strike you that they were unusually clean-that they had been recently washed?
Witness: No; there was nothing to show that. There was a circular bruise on the left cheek, and her left eye was slightly discoloured as if by a blow on the cheek. There was another discolouration under the right jaw. The wounds in the abdomen were fairly visible before the clothes were removed, showing that they might have been inflicted whilst the clothes were on the body. None of the wounds were beneath the stays. They were below the bottom of that garment. I afterwards went to the spot where the body was found in Buck's-row. It had then been recently washed, and there was no sign of blood either on the pavement or the gates close to. I also examined the pavement from Buck's-row to Brady-street. With the exception of one stain at the Brady-street end of the row, which might have been blood, I found nothing that I could connect with the murder.
By a Juryman: Did it not strike you as very strange that you did not find more blood, considering the nature of the wounds?
Witness: No; I found enough blood at the back of the dress to account for the blood that flowed form the wound in the throat. The blood from the other wounds probably flowed into the abdominal cavity.
Police-constable Mizen, of the H Division, said on Friday last, about a quarter to four, he was in Baker's-row, at the end of Campbell-street. A man who had the appearance of a carman passed him and said, "You are wanted in Buck's-row."
A man named Cross was here brought into the room and identified by witness as the man to whom he referred.
|Press Reports: Evening News - 14 September 1888|
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|Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 22 September 1888|