22 December 1888
Yesterday morning, Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, coroner for South east Middlesex, opened an inquiry at Poplar town Hall into the circumstances attending the death of a woman, unknown, whose body was discovered lying in Clarke's yard, High street, Poplar, on Thursday, under circumstances which lead to the supposition that she was the victim of foul play. Inspector Parlett, K division, attended to watch the case for the Commissioner of Police.
Police sergeant Robert Golding, 26K, stated that at 4.15 a.m. on Thursday, he was on duty in High street, Poplar, in company with Police constable 470K. Whilst passing Mr. Clarke's yard he saw a heap of something lying some distance up the yard. He went up and examined it, and found it to be the body of a woman, apparently dead. She was lying on her left side, with her left arm under her. The right leg was under her, and the left at full length. The body at that time was warm. the clothes were not disarranged. The body was lying parallel with and under the wall. He left the constable in charge, and went for the divisional surgeon, whose assistant came and pronounced life extinct. the body was then removed to the mortuary, where witness searched it and examined the clothing. he found one shilling in silver and two pence in bronze, together with a phial, which was empty. the woman was wearing a black dress made of alpaca, a brown stuff skirt, a red flannel petticoat, and white drawers and chemise. She also had on a dark tweed double breasted jacket, blue striped stockings, and side spring boots. She had no hat on, and her hair was all rough and fell over her face. One earring was on the right ear.
Witness said that he did not meet anyone in High street while he was patrolling it. He examined the ground but could not find any marks as if a scuffle had taken place there. The features of the woman were familiar to him, and he believed she was a girl of the streets.
Thomas Dean, a blind maker, of 159 High street, Poplar, deposed that he passed through Clarke's yard late on Wednesday night. He did not notice the body then, and he must have done had it been there. Witness knew that women of ill fame were in the habit of frequenting the spot, which was open to nay one, there being no gate. His house was right opposite the yard, but during the night he heard no noise.
Mr. Matthew Brownfield, of 170 East India road, Poplar, divisional surgeon of police, deposed that at 4.30 a.m. on Thursday morning he was called by the police to a woman who had been found lying in Clarke's yard. His assistant, Mr. Harris, attended and pronounced her dead. Witness made a post mortem examination yesterday morning. He found the body to be that of a woman about 30 years of age, 5ft 2in high, complexion fair, hazel eyes, and moderately stout. She was well nourished. Blood was oozing from the nostrils, and on the right side was a slight abrasion. On the right cheek was a scar apparently of old standing. The mark on the nose might have been caused by any slight violence. On the neck he found a mark which had evidently been caused by a cord drawn tightly round from the spine on the back to the lobe of the left ear.
He had since found that the mark could be produced by a piece of four fold lay cord. Beside that mark the impression of the thumbs and the middle and index fingers were plainly visible on each side of the neck. There were no injuries to the arms and legs. On opening the brain he found the vessels engorged with a dark, almost black fluid blood. The lungs were congested and the heart normal. The kidneys were congested but not diseased. the stomach was full of meat and potatoes which had only recently been eaten. There was a little fluid, and that and the food had been Irish stew. There was no smell or sign of poison in the stomach. The cause of death, in witness's opinion, was suffocation by strangulation. There were no signs of a struggle except the mark on the cheek.
The Coroner: Do you think she could have done it herself?
Witness: No, I don't think so. If she had done it I should have expected to find the cord round the neck, but it was not, nor has any cord been found near the spot.
The Coroner: To what do you ascribe the finger marks?
Witness: I think they were made in her efforts to pull off the cord.
The Coroner: I think you said that the string had not gone right round the neck, but only from the spine to beneath the left ear, travelling round by the throat. How do you account for that?
Witness: I think the murderer must have stood at the left rear of the woman, and, having the ends of the string wrapped round his hands, thrown the cord round her throat, and crossing his hands, so strangled her. Where the hands crossed would be just where the marks of the cord are absent.
The Coroner: Do you think the woman was held like that for any length of time?
Witness: I think the cord was pulled till after death had ensued. The cord being tight would prevent the woman from calling our for help. I may say that having studied the question as to the position of the man and the force used, I think it quite possible that the cord was run through two holes or rings and then twisted by a turn of the wrist till death ensued.
The Coroner said that the law only allowed him to call in one doctor, but the jury had the power to summon a second one if they thought it necessary. Now Dr. Harris's evidence was most important to the inquiry, but before that evidence could be got the jury must give him (the Coroner) power to summon Dr. Harris. It seemed very much as if a foul murder had been committed, and all available evidence should be got before the jury concluded the case. Under these circumstances, he thought it would be better to adjourn at this point, and give his officer and police time to make inquiries.
This was agreed to and the inquiry was then adjourned.
High street, Poplar, at the best of times when business is in full swing is not particularly well lighted. It is a dirty, narrow thoroughfare, and in the neighbourhood of Clarke's yard, as there are several private houses facing the street, the illumination is poor. Clarke's yard is a long, narrow lane leading from the main thoroughfare down to some workshops and stables. It is about eight or ten feet wide; it is not lit up; one of the two gates which formerly kept out intruders at night at night time has disappeared, and lately the yard has become a nuisance from a sanitary point of view, while it is much frequented by women of the unfortunate class. The tenants of the workshops and stables are usually passing up and down until close on midnight. But on the night of the murder no one seems to have gone through the yard after ten o'clock. At that hour it was moonlight, and certainly nobody was there then. The discovery was made at four o'clock in the morning, and the outrage had then not long been committed. It may be added that disturbances with abandoned women are of frequent occurrence in the locality, especially soon after midnight. The affair up to a late hour last night was still enshrouded in mystery, one of the chief difficulties of the police arising from the fact that the deceased is totally unknown. Two or three inquiries have already been made of the police by women who have missed companions, but all efforts at identification have proved futile.
Some colour is given to the suggestion that "Jack the Ripper" has adopted a new style of assassination by a complaint recently made at Dalston Police court by a woman that a man had attempted to strangle her in a somewhat similar manner. The force of detectives in the Poplar district has now been considerably increased, and no efforts are being spared to clear up the mystery.