27 September 1888
The inquest on Annie Chapman's body has ended in the inevitable inconclusive suspect. The facts so far as they are known, and a theory of motive, supported by some internal probability and not unsupported by external evidence, were clearly stated in the coroner's address to the jury. His matter was less open to criticism than his manner. In dealing with a sensational subject he was not able to refrain from a certain amount of word-painting which did not very well accord with what ought to be the business-like accessories of a coroner's inquest. Nor are we quite sure that he was right in thinking that the publicity which was given to the medical evidence has been instrumental in furthering the ends of justice. To begin with, all that is now known to the public has long been known in quarters which can be trusted with confidential information. More than this, the light (if it is light) which has been thrown on the criminal's motive, though it will multiply the number of amateur detectives and assist their irresponsible efforts, may, and probably will, give the criminal a better chance of escape. He knows that the false scent which he had laid is not being followed, and that justice has found the right track.
But have we really hit upon the right scent? The coroner seems to feel no matter of doubt, and his opinion has been formed upon a close, a careful, and a competent examination of all the evidence. Outrageous and inhuman as the motive is which he suggests it is not an impossible motive. The coroner's theory has certainly a high degree of plausibility. Where no better theory can be suggested it is tempting to accept the best that has been offered. But that is not the way to catch an artful and determined criminal. Let the coroner's theory be provisionally accepted; let it be acted upon and tested. But that is no reason why other theories and other clues should not be considered and followed up. There is no reason why the work of investigation should be concentrated on one line at a time. Why not have several sets of independent workers, each following out its own idea by its appropriate methods? It may be that the different lines of inquiry will eventually be found to converge on a single point. That will be success or the nearest thing to success. But to adopt any single theory, however plausible it may be, is to give the criminal an unnecessary advantage. If it is a wrong theory, precious time has been thrown away. We do not want to hunt the criminal according to the rules of sport. He is not game that deserves to have law.
The Central News understands that a man, who said his name was John Fitzgerald, gave himself up at Wandsworth police station last night and made a statement to the inspector on duty to the effect that he was the murderer of Annie Chapman in Hanbury street, Whitechapel. He was afterwards conveyed to Leman street police station, where he is now detained.
A later despatch from the same news agency says:- The man in custody at Leman street is a plasterer or bricklayer's labourer. He says he has been wandering from place to place, and he is believed to have been more or less under the influence of drink lately. He has not yet been formally charged, but is merely detained pending further inquiries. His description does not tally with that given at the inquest of a man seen on the morning of the murder. It seems that Fitzgerald first communicated the intelligence to a private individual, who subsequently gave its purport to the police. A search was made, and Fitzgerald was discovered in a common lodging house at Wandsworth. He is known to have been living recently in Hammersmith. His self accusation is said to be not altogether clear, and it is even reported that he cannot give the date of the murder, so that the authorities are not inclined to place much reliance on his statements.
The Press Association says:- As a consequence of the startling statement made by the coroner yesterday, public interest in the fate of the unfortunate Annie Chapman has been stimulated afresh, and today the subject again occupies the foremost place in our conversation. The clue afforded by the coroner is of course being followed up by the police, who have now had the information in their possession for week; but it has not transpired whether they have yet obtained 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 case of the woman Nicholls as in that 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 the 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.
REMARKABLE STATEMENTS BY THE CORONER
Mr. Wynne Baxter, the coroner for South-east Middlesex, yesterday resumed the inquiry at the Working Lads' Institute, Whitechapel, into the circumstances attending the death of Mrs. Annie Chapman, aged forty eight, the widow of a coachman, late of Windsor, who was murdered in the back yard of 29 Hanbury street, Spitalfields, on the morning of the 8th of September. There being no further evidence forthcoming, the coroner proceeded to sum up. Having recalled the facts of the case and the condition in which the body of the murdered woman was found, the coroner went on to say that two things were missing - namely, the woman's finger rings and a part of her body. He continued:-
The body had not been dissected; but the injuries have been made by some one who had considerable anatomical skill and knowledge. There are no meaningless cuts. The organ has been taken by one who knew where to find it, what difficulties he would to contend against, and how he should use his knife so as to abstract the organ without injury to it. No unskilled person could have known where to find it or have recognized it when it was found. For instance, no mere slaughterer of animals could have carried out these operations. It must have been some one accustomed to the post mortem room. The conclusion that the desire was to possess the missing abdominal organ seems overwhelming. If the object were robbery, the injuries to the viscera were meaningless, for death had previously resulted from the loss of blood at the neck. The amount missing would go into a breakfast cup; and had not the medical examination been of a thorough and searching character it might easily have been left unnoticed that there was any portion of the body which had been taken. It has been suggested that the criminal is a lunatic with morbid feelings. This may or may not be the case, but the object of the murderer appears palpably shown by the facts, and it is not necessary to assume lunacy, for it is clear that there is a market for the missing organ. To show you this, I must mention a fact which at the same time proves the assistance that publicity and the newspaper press afford in the detection of crime. Within a few hours of the issue of the morning papers containing a report of the medical evidence given at the last sitting of the court, I received a communication from an officer of one of the great medical schools that they had information which might or might not have a distinct bearing on our inquiry. I attended at the first opportunity, and was informed by the sub curator of the Pathological Museum that some months ago an American had called on him and asked him to procure a number of specimens of the organ that was missing in the deceased. He stated his willingness to give £20 apiece for each specimen. He stated that his object was to issue an actual specimen with each copy of a publication on which he was then engaged. He was told that his request was impossible to be complied with, but he still urged his request. He wished them preserved, not in spirits of wine, the usual medium, but in glycerine, in order to preserve them in a flaccid condition, and he wished them sent to America direct. It is known that this request was repeated to another institution of a similar character. Now it is not possible that the knowledge of this demand may have incited some abandoned wretch to possess himself of a specimen? It seems beyond belief that such inhuman wickedness could enter into the mind of any man; but, unfortunately, our criminal annals prove that every crime is possible. I need hardly say that I at once communicated my information to the Detective Department of Scotland yard. Of course I do not know what use has been made of it; but I believe that publicity may possibly further elucidate this fact, and therefore I have not withheld from you the information.
In concluding his remarks upon this part of the subject, the coroner said:-
"Surely it is not too much even yet to hope that the ingenuity of our detective force will succeed in unearthing this monster. It is not as if there were no clue to the character of the criminal or the cause of his crime. His object is clearly divulged. His anatomical knowledge carries him out of the category of a common criminal, for that knowledge could only have been obtained by assisting at post mortems or by frequenting the post mortem room. Thus the class in which search must be made, although a large one, is limited. Moreover, it must have been a man who was from home, if not all night, at least during the early hours of the 8th of September." The jury found "that Annie Chapman was murdered by some person or persons unknown."