24 December 1888
A STARTLING LIGHT ON THE WHITE-CHAPEL CRIMES.
THE ROPE BEFORE THE KNIFE.
The Police Surgeon Theory that the Poplar Murder was the Work of the Whitechapel Fiend Borne Out by Hitherto Inexplicable Evidence - Why the Murdered Women Never Cried Out.
The Poplar murder has developed under inquiry a startling and sensational aspect. So far, it has passed almost unnoticed. The town has supped so full of horrors that mere murder unaccompanied by revolting mutilation passes
apparently for common-place, and the discovery on Thursday morning in Clarke's-yard, Poplar, of a woman's dead body with the white mark of a strangler's cord around her throat has failed to create any excitement even in the neighbourhood. The police themselves appear to have shared the general feeling of non-interest. The swift and silent method of the Thug is a new and terrifyjng feature in London crime, and this murder is invested with a startling significance by the discovery that it has a possible bearing upon the series of Whitechapel crimes. The suggestion is this: - "Was this Poplar murder another of the series of Whitechapel and the work of the same man? If so, has the murderer changed his methods, or is it not possible that the deed of Clarke's-yard is a new revelation of his old methods - that in the other cases partial strangulation was first of all resorted to, and that when the victims were by this means rendered helpless,
in such a manner as to obliterate the traces of the act?"
The theory is no empty speculation of sensationalism. It derives weight from the fact that it originates with Dr. Matthew Brownfield, of 171, East India Dock-road, who, as the divisional police surgeon of Poplar, made the post-mortem examination of the body found in Clarke's-yard, and who gave evidence at the inquest on Friday. Dr. Brownfield put forward the suggestion on Saturday in an interview with a Star reporter.
"I have no doubt at all," said Dr. Brownfield, "that death was caused by strangulation, of which the mark round the neck of the body is the evidence."
There was a disposition on the part of the police to believe, or to affect to believe, that the mark round the which was spoken of at the inquest was
that it was not caused by the act which brought about the woman's death, but that it had been previously inflicted. Our reporter, therefore, put the question,
"Is there any doubt that the mark round the neck was quite recent, and was simultaneous with death?"
"None whatever. It was a white mark, and there were no signs of "sloughing" or of inflammation coming on around it, as there must have been if it had been borne during life."
"The mark could not have been caused on the day before she died?" -"Impossible! The cord was pulled round her neck, and was kept there until she was dead. Otherwise there must have been signs of inflammation, as I have said." "And the other post-mortem appearances?"
The left side of the heart was full of fluid black blood - particularly filled and particularly black - and the lungs were gorged with the same fluid black blood, meaning that for the space of several respirations she had not breathed before the heart ceased to pulsate. Looking at the condition of all the organs in conjunction with the mark round the throat, my opinion is that death was caused by strangulation by means of a cord being pulled tightly round the neck."
"From the appearance of the mark, you believe it was a thin cord which caused death, doctor?" - "I experimented, and have come to the conclusion that it was
- not thick cord by any means. With such a piece of cord I could produce a facsimile of that mark upon you. I smelt the stomach, and was unable to find any trace of alcohol at all. Neither should I say from the condition of the organs that she was a woman who was much given to drink."
"Do you think, doctor, that the woman met her death anywhere else, and that her dead body was carried to the place where it was found?" - "I think it extremely improbable, considering the great difficulty of carrying a dead body about from one place to another. At the time the body was found death had not taken place more than three-quarters of an hour. I think it very probable she was an immoral woman."
All the facts seemed to combine to one suggestion - that this was the work of the Whitechapel murderer. Our reporter put this to Dr. Brownfield, and it was then that he made the
"The question is," he said, "whether there is not another and still more striking point of resemblance. If this murder was the work of the same man the question is whether strangulation is not the beginning of all his operations. Does he strangle or partially strangle them first, and then cut their throats afterwards?"
Then Dr. Brownfield went on to explain why this was likely. "If his object is mutilation," "he said, he could cut their throats so much more cleanly and deliberately. And this would explain, too, how the murderer would be able to do his work without getting covered with blood."
"But, if the other victims had been first strangled would there not be postmortem indications?" - "If he
of the cord he would obliterate the traces of partial strangulation."
"And in the present case?" - "The question is whether he did not intend to cut the throat as in the other cases, but was disturbed, and had to leave his work half finished."
The evidence given by Dr. Phillips on 18 Sept. at the Hanbury-street inquest is incontrovertible proof that Annie Chapman was partially strangled before her throat was cut. When Dr. Phillips was called to see the body he found that
between the front teeth, but not beyond the lips. The face was swollen, the finger-nails and lips were turgid, and in the brain, on the head being opened, he found the membranes opaque and the veins and tissues loaded with black blood. All these appearances are the ordinary signs of suffocation. In Dr. Phillip's own words, "I am of opinion that the breathing was interfered with previous to death, but that death arose from syncope consequent on the loss of blood following the severance of the throat." Subsequently, under cross-examination, the doctor said, "I am clearly of opinion that the person who cut the deceased's throat took hold of her by the chin and then commenced the incision from right to left." The Coroner asked could that be done so instantaneously and a person
Dr. Phillips - By pressure on the throat no doubt it would be possible.
The Foreman - There would probably be suffocation? Dr. Phillips was understood to express assent.
Here there is everything to support Dr. Brownfield's theory. The woman's throat was cut all round in such a manner that the mark of strangulation must have been completely obliterated.
Of the Whitechapel murders this is the only case in which there is actual proof of strangulation so severe as to leave its traces after death. But in all the other cases the facts are perfectly consistent with the supposition that the murderer first of all seized his victims in the grip of strangler's cord, and having thus effectually prevented them from crying out despatched them with the knife. For in all the cases the throat was so cut that the mark of the cord would have been obliterated and in some of the cases there are circumstances which have never been explained, but which are reconcilable with the theory of strangulation. For instance, in the evidence of Dr. Phillips given at the
inquest on 8 Oct., there is the following remarkable passage: -
"I have come to the conclusion, both as regards the position of the victim and that of the perpetrator of the deed, that she was seized by the shoulders and placed on the ground. The murderer was on the right side when he inflicted the cut. The absence of noise is a difficult question to account for. She could not cry out after the cut, but why did she not whilst she was being put on the ground.
Dr. Phillips qualified this statement by the suggestion that the woman might have cried out, but without her cries being heard. But, on the other hand, is it not much more likely that there was no cry, and that the reason was that the victim, before being laid down, was rendered by partial strangulation incapable of crying out. In Mitre-square Catherine Eddowes was first laid down on the ground and her throat was afterwards cut. If she had been suddenly seized as the victim of Clarke's-yard was seized, and thus forced upon the ground, there would not necessarily be post mortem indications of the fact.
is a matter of direct and most important bearing upon the question because Dr. Phillips, of course, knows more of the medical bearings of the murders than any other man. So The Star man called upon the doctor at his surgery in Spital-square. Dr. Phillips was disinclined to express any opinion on the matter to a newspaper man, but from another source our reporter ascertained that Dr. Phillips, as soon as he knew of the Poplar discovery, expressed the opinion that it was
He also recalled at once the fact of the strangulation in the Hanbury-street case. With respect to the other murders Dr. Phillips points out that the retraction of the skin following immediately upon severance of the throat would immediately destroy the marks of the cord supposing it to have been first used. But there is also another and a most important point of resemblance which Dr. Phillips is understood to perceive. He has always maintained the opinion that the murderer was a man of considerable surgical knowledge. In this belief the Poplar case confirms him. "The murderer," he says, "must be a man who had
for he evidently knew where to place the cord so as to immediately bring his victim under control. It would be necessary to place the cord in the right place. It would be a very lucky stroke for a man at the first attempt to hit upon the proper place."
Here, then, we arrive at this. That in the opinion of the man who is best qualified to judge the Poplar murderer and the Whitechapel murderer are one and the same man, that the method of preliminary strangulation was certainly employed in Hanbury-street, and was possibly employed in the other cases. Does not this new theory open out a vista of probabilities which, being followed, may lead to the identification of the murderer?
One more word as to the practicability of the theory. Dr. Brownfleld most distinctly asserts that by the employment of a cord arranged on the tourniquet principle the victim could be so suddenly seized as to prevent the possibility of a scream.