By Debra Arif
Early on Tuesday morning the 4th June 1889, reports began to be circulated about the gruesome discovery of human remains along two separate parts of the Thames. Three boys bathing near the Battersea park side of Albert Bridge had noticed a strange object being nudged by the tide against the muddy foreshore. On investigating the object, the boys were horrified to discover it was a human limb, wrapped in white cloth .The boys wrapped the limb up again and took it straight to the police. The local police immediately alerted Scotland Yard and the assistant divisional surgeon for Battersea, Dr. Kempster. The limb was examined by Dr Kempster who declared it to be a portion of a human thigh from hip to knee; his opinion was that the limb had not been in the water above 24 hours. The white cloth the limb was wrapped in was found to be a portion of an item of ladies underclothing, the waistband of which had the name L.E. Fisher written along it. Fastened to another portion of the material was a piece of tweed seemingly torn from the right breast area of a lady's long Ulster coat.
Just as Inspector John Tunbridge of the criminal investigation department received this first news, reports came in that another portion of human remains had been found at George's Stairs Horselydown, just below London Bridge and about 5 miles from the spot of the first discovery. John Regan, a waterside labourer had been waiting on the river bank, hoping to pick up a days work when he noticed a group of boys pelting stones at a parcel newly washed by the tide onto the foreshore. On examining the parcel he found it contained human remains and he flagged down the attention of a passing police boat. The second lot of remains were taken to Wapping police station by Alfred Freshwater of the Thames Police. Several experienced Scotland Yard detectives and Dr Bond, the chief surgeon to the Metropolitan police proceeded to Wapping to commence investigations. Among the first detectives and police at the scene was Melville Macnaghten, the newly appointed Assistant Chief Constable of the CID as of 1st June 1889.
This second set of remains were described as to consist of the lower part of a female body; the body had evidently not been dead long as Bond noticed a slight ooze of blood from the ragged edges of the cut parts of flesh. Dr Bond was instantly of the opinion that the body part was that of a young woman and that an attempt had been made to carry out an illegal operation, which had been successful. None of the press reports described exactly what was found within this parcel to draw these conclusions from, but according to the medical jurisprudence book ' A system of legal medicine' which contains details from some of Dr. Bond's cases, the contents it contained were flaps of abdominal skin and the uterus of the victim, complete with cord and placenta;
"The flaps of skin and subcutaneous tissue consisted of two long, irregular slips taken from the abdominal walls. The left piece included the umbilicus, the greater part of the mons veneris the left labium majus, and labium minus. The right piece included the rest of the mons veneris, the right labium majus and minus, and part of the skin of the right buttock. These flaps accurately fitted together in the mid-line, and laterally corresponded to the incisions in the lower pieces of the trunk. The skin was fair, and the mons veneris was covered with light sandy hair. The upper part of the vagina was attached to the uterus; both ovaries and broad ligaments were present, and the posterior wall of the bladder. The uterus had been opened on the left side by a vertical cut, six inches long, through the left wall. The organ was much dilated the vessels on the inner surface large and open and the mucus membrane swollen and softened. The uterus measured 10in. long by 7.5 in. wide. The circumference of the os externum was 4in….
....The cord measured 8in. and the distal ends showed a clean cut. The vessels contained fluid blood."
On examining the limb found earlier that morning, Bond concluded that the two body parts corresponded and there were no doubts that they belonged to the same body, further proof that backed this up came from the fact the parcel found at Horselydown was wrapped in a portion of underwear identical to the portion found with the thigh section at the Albert bridge and also contained another portion of the bottom left hand side of a woman's Ulster coat, as before. The whole parcel had been tied up with mohair boot laces and was slightly stained with blood. Further examinations of the thigh, by Dr Felix Kempster and Mr Braxton Hicks found it to be the left one, and most likely that of a young woman within the 20 to 30 age range. Bruises made by finger marks were also found upon the thigh, and these were concluded to have been made before death. On Wednesday 5th June Mr Baxter opened an inquest at the Vestry hall Wapping into the remains found at Horselydown. He expressed doubts as to whether it was a proper case for an inquiry as it was difficult to draw the line as to what part of a body was sufficient enough to warrant an inquest. However, he had decided that an inquiry should be held and he summoned a jury. John Regan and Alfred Freshwater gave evidence at the inquest and repeated their stories. The inquest was then adjourned until the 3rd of July.
There wasn't long to wait before reports of further discoveries of human remains came in. On Thursday afternoon of the 6th June, a gardener at Battersea Park, named Joseph Davis, was at work near some shrubbery when he noticed a parcel laying on the ground in an area that was closed to the public. The shrubbery was situated about 200 yards from the shore of the Thames and was a place not frequented usually by the public or employed staff at the park. On nearing the bundle he noticed an unpleasant smell emanating from it and after opening it to reveal human flesh, he called the police. Police constable Walter Augier 502 V attended, and conveyed the parcel to Battersea police station by means of a garden basket. Dr Kempster, whose surgery was only a few yards from the police station, was alerted to the find by Sergeants Viney and Briggs, Viney being in charge of local inquires into the case. Telegrams were despatched to police headquarters describing the remains found as thus; the upper part of a woman's trunk, probably a portion of other human remains found in the Thames. The chest cavity was empty but among the remains were the spleen, both kidneys, a portion of the intestines and a portion of the stomach. There was also a portion of midriff and both breasts present. The chest had been cut through the centre, thought to have possibly been done by a saw. Kempster was of the opinion that due to the state of decomposure, they were probably looking at another portion of the same remains previously found in the Thames.
That same Thursday afternoon, around 4pm, Charles Marlow, a man working on a barge at Covington's Wharf adjacent to the London, Brighton and South Coast railway at Battersea and coincidentally, almost immediately opposite the spot where an arm belonging to the' Whitehall torso' was found in the previous year, noticed a parcel floating up the river, he fished the bundle, wrapped in portions of a woman's dark coloured skirt and tied with ordinary string, out with a broom. Once again a passing Thames police boat was flagged down and the most recent find was conveyed to Battersea police station to await the scrutiny of Dr Kempster. This latest find was the upper part of a woman's trunk, the arms had been taken off cleanly at the shoulder joints and the head separated from the body close to the shoulders. The chest had been cut down the centre in a similar fashion to the other portion of the trunk. A portion of the windpipe remained within the trunk but the lungs were missing. An earlier supposition that the victim had light red or auburn hair was substantiated on the finding on this portion of the body.
The doctors and police were now gradually building up a physical description of the woman, based on measurements of the various body parts already found and this description was widely circulated. The police regarded the name of L.E. Fisher, stencilled into the underwear found wrapping parts of the body, as an important clue that may lead to her identification. Several people reported missing female relatives that fitted the description, one of these, a red headed girl from Oxfordshire who had gone to London to take up a position in a respectable London household, another a former barmaid from the Old Cock Tavern at Highbury named Laura Fisher. Both women had lost contact with friends and relatives for a period of time. Both ladies however turned up later, safe and well.
By Friday 7th June several other missing portions of the body began to be discovered. A section of the lower right leg and foot were picked up on the foreshore near Wandsworth Bridge in Fulham, wrapped in the same tweed Ulster coat fragments as the previous finds. The left leg and foot were found near Limehouse by a lighterman, this piece was wrapped in the sleeve of the same Ulster. A liver and other portions of supposed abdominal flesh, were also found around this time in the Thames and taken to the doctors involved to be analysed and assessed as to whether they came from the same body or not. The police and large numbers of volunteers, including the Royal Humane society, were engaged in searches and dredging along the river in the Battersea area. A portion of lung was discovered at Palace Wharf, Vauxhall and brought to Dr Kempster at Battersea, all the found pieces were preserved in spirits and doctors were of the opinion that there was no doubt they all belonged to the same body. Portions of the clothing that accompanied the finds were taken along to the Bridge Road police station at Battersea in order that they could be inspected by anyone who may have been missing a female friend or relative fitting the description. An inquest was also held at Pimlico concerning the body of a newborn female child found bundled in ragged, filthy clothing and bedding and dumped in an underground station near Edbury Bridge. There was some suspicion that this may have connection with the case under investigation, based on some press reports that the victim found in the Thames had been delivered of a child recently. The cause of death of this child could not be ascertained however.
On Friday 8th June the left arm and hand turned up in the river Thames off Bankside. Dr Kempster described the hands as pale delicate and genteel and evidently that of a person who was in a superior position in life, although the nails had been bitten down to the quick. There were marks from a ring being removed later discovered on the left hand, indicating the deceased had probably been married. Vaccination marks were also found upon the arm. This time the limb was wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string.
On the Saturday afternoon the buttocks and the bony pelvis, with all the organs missing, were picked up near Battersea steam boat pier. These parts were all found to correspond with other parts found among the first discoveries at Horselydown a few days earlier. The bladder was said to have been cut through in the pubic arch. According to the Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper of Sunday 9th June, a strange discovery was made on examining the buttocks closer. A fine piece of linen, approximately 9.5in. by 8in., possibly a handkerchief, was found rolled up and pushed into the back passage. There is no mention of this discovery in the 'A System of legal medicine' description of the pelvis find;
"The third portion of the trunk consisted of the pelvis from below the third lumbar vertebra. The thighs had been taken off opposite The hip joints by long, sweeping incisions through the skin, muscles and tissues down to the joint, the heads of the bones neatly disarticulated....
....The pelvis contained the lower part of the vagina and the lower part of the rectum, the front part of the bladder including the urethra. The vagina was flaccid, the mucus membrane healthy, and still showing rugae. There was no rupture of the vaginal walls or fourchette, nor was there any swelling or congestion of the part."
The right thigh was also found the same day in the garden of Sir Percy Shelley's Chelsea house, which was being rented out to another occupier at the time. It was very much decomposed and wrapped in some more portions of the now familiar Ulster coat as well as what appeared to be the coarse fabric pocket of an apron, similar to those used by meat or fish salesman or costermongers.
On the 10th June the right arm and hand were found floating in the Thames off Newton's Wharf near Blackfriars Bridge. The only portions of the body still missing were the heart, lungs, head and neck and the intestines. By Tuesday the 11th June no further human remains had been discovered and it was doubted whether any further portions would turn up, although on the 12th June the remains of a male foetus, of approximately 5 or 6 months gestation, was found floating in the river near Whitehall, in a jar similar to the ones used for pickles, the doctors were undecided if this had any connection to the case in hand.
Drs Bond, Hebbert and Kempster then made their final examination of all the remains at the Battersea mortuary in preparation for making their final report to the Commissioners of Police. It was conclusively established that the remains were that of a woman under the age range of twenty five, and approximately 5ft. 5 in. tall with bright sandy coloured hair. It was believed from the condition of the hands, showing no signs of hard labour or manual work, that the murdered woman had occupied a better position in life than was indicated by the clothing found with the body.
On Saturday the 15th June, the inquest on the circumstances surrounding the death of the woman whose mutilated remains were found over a 12 day period in June, in and around the Thames, was opened at The Star and Garter Battersea by Mr A. Braxton Hicks, coroner for Mid Surrey. No less than 23 witnesses were in attendance that day. Dr Thomas Bond handed the coroner a lengthy report on the medical findings and the description of the woman was again repeated including the fact that she was pregnant by about seven to eight months and undelivered at the time of her death, the unborn child having been removed, by an incision into the uterus after the mother's death. Dr Bond went on to state that as part of the stomach was missing there was no way of knowing if the victim had been administered drugs of any kind, but he had seen no trace of instruments having been used for an unlawful purpose. The cause of death could not be determined as the head, throat, lungs and heart had never been recovered, although attempts had been made to recover the head using the dog, Smoker, who had been successful at discovering missing parts in the Whitehall case. He also stated that the medical men had concluded that the mutilation of the body had showed skill and design, not the anatomical skill of a surgeon but the technical skills employed by a person involved in the occupation of cutting up animals, namely a butcher or horse knackerer. The similarity of design in the cutting up of the body in this case to that of the previous Rainham mystery and the Whitehall case was remarked upon.
Various witness testimonies were then heard, describing the finding of the various portions of the body, including the testimony of Joseph Churcher, sub inspector of the Thames police, who had found the buttocks and pelvis. He repeated the fact, that this portion of the body had a piece of linen placed inside it. The full details as reported in the earlier Lloyd's article were not however mentioned in the inquest press reports. At this point it was stated that the identification of the victim was still a mystery and very few people had been to view the remains or clothing by that time. The inquest was then adjourned for two weeks.
All earlier press reports of the incidents relating to the finding of the various body parts contained an explanation by the medical men, Bond in particular, that the victim in this case most likely met her death as a result of an 'illegal operation' performed upon her, this had become the accepted motive for the victim's death. The general consensus was that the victim's identity was destroyed to shield the person or persons involved in the operation. At the inquest, Dr. Bond and the other medical men were to give their final opinion that there was no evidence to suggest the victim had actually died as the result of an illegal abortion as first thought. There were no signs of any instruments being used to effect this, and the removal of the foetus had definitely occurred after the death of the mother.
As a result of Bond's findings, the crime now appeared motiveless, and speculation in the press became rife, although some papers did report the fact that police still believed the victim to have met her death as a result of an abortion. Although it had been tentatively, but not seriously mentioned before, it wasn't long before the name of 'Jack the Ripper' was thrust into the mystery. There had been some previous press mention of two letters; one received at the Leman Street police station a couple of days before the first discoveries in the Thames. The letter was headed "He is not dead but liveth" and continued that the writer was about to "recommence operations" in that neighbourhood and signed 'Jack the Ripper'. The second letter, coming after widespread reporting of the case on 7th June, went on to say "I see you have not caught me yet? Look out for the pieces." and was also signed 'Jack the Ripper.' Not much importance was attached to either one by police or press at the time though and even their actual existence was brought in to question.
On June the 26th, via the central news agency and coinciding with fresh reports that the victim had now been possibly identified as an unfortunate named Elizabeth Jackson, came news of previously undisclosed information that 'various circumstances connected with the fate of this victim had led to a belief that she was really a victim of the Whitechapel fiend, Jack the Ripper.' It was reported that this information involved;
"a nameless indignity inflicted upon the corpse, which it was then considered advisable to suppress in the published reports. That indignity was of a character instinctively to suggest the handiwork of the most brutal of murderers"
The exact nature of this 'nameless indignity' was not described in these accounts. However, there are two aspects of this case which went unreported in the press coverage of the murder, the lone Lloyd's weekly News report of Sunday 9th June, that, on the finding of the buttocks and pelvis, it was discovered that a piece of fine linen had been inserted into the back passage of the victim, and the fact that Elizabeth's uterus had been 'operated on' and removed from her body after death. This second fact was only disclosed at the inquest.
In the 11 days since the last inquest, the Metropolitan police, acting on information received, had been investigating the possibility that the victim was a missing homeless unfortunate named Elizabeth Jackson. Elizabeth was born and brought up in the Chelsea area and was well known by police there. She had not been seen by most family or friends since the end of May and her father had expressed concern in a letter to another of his daughters, that the Thames victim may have been his missing daughter Elizabeth.
The identification came about by means of the clothing of the victim, her description, pregnant condition at the time of her disappearance and also the fact that Elizabeth had a scar on her wrist as a result of a childhood accident. This was investigated by the doctors and by lifting away a small amount of skin from the slightly decomposed arm of the victim they were able to locate traces of similar scar on the wrist.
The police traced Elizabeth's movements up until the time of her disappearance. She had been a frequenter of common lodging houses in the Chelsea area and was last known to have lived at a house in Turk's Row, close to the Chelsea Barracks. Police discovered she had not been seen in any of her usual haunts or been an inmate of any casual wards, workhouses or hospitals in London since her disappearance. Given that she was destitute, the only option if she had left the London area would have been for her to tramp on foot, but because of her physical condition, police thought this would have been difficult for her and most unlikely. The lodging houses that Elizabeth had lodged from time to time and the areas she promenaded at night were all within a short distance of Battersea Bridge, the area where it was believed that the lighter parts of the body were disposed of from.
Elizabeth had boasted to friends, in particular a close friend nicknamed 'Ginger Nell,' that she had been in the habit of remaining in Battersea Park, the area where the upper portion of her trunk had been discovered, after the park gates had been closed to the public. The park was also known to be one of the areas the unfortunate 'promenaded.' This information gave rise in some newspapers to the theory that Elizabeth had been accosted, murdered and dismembered in the park itself, and that there were serious grounds for connecting the murder of Elizabeth Jackson with the Whitechapel atrocities.
Other reports suggested the idea that there were two main theories connected with this case. One being the abortion theory again, the other one being the fact that Elizabeth had been in the habit of sleeping outdoors on the Chelsea Embankment and on disclosure of this fact had been warned, again by her friend 'Ginger Nell,' that she should be wary of the rough character of the waterside labourers and their treatment of homeless unfortunates. It was believed she may have fallen victim to one of these rough characters that frequented the areas around the Thames and may have been murdered outdoors alongside the Thames or else met her death on board a vessel there. Again a curious 'plugging' is mentioned in support of this theory, In these reports the 'plugging' is described as something that had been undertaken on Elizabeth's bony pelvis, the portion of the body it will be remembered that was found along with the buttocks. The significance of this act was that it was supposedly some sort of technique associated with people who had 'marine,' (in a couple of reports written as 'medical') knowledge. This 'plugging' description seems to back up the earlier Lloyd's article of 9th June. In his book 'Days of my years,' Macnaghten recounts some of the details of the murder of Elizabeth Jackson from his own recollections of being involved in the case, his last paragraph on the subject recalls that;
One of the last portions of the body which turned up was enveloped in a curious piece of white cloth, such as is used by certain students engaged on a particular kind of work.
Although Macnaghten uses the term 'enveloped' in reference to this white cloth, it may be a direct reference to the find in the bony pelvis as he uses the word 'curious' to describe it. The pelvis was among the last parts of the body to be found and there was also the press reports suggesting this find was significant in pointing to the type of occupation the murderer may have engaged in, as Macnaghten also hints at. No other parts of the body found can be described as being wrapped in anything out of the ordinary, although there was one other wrapping used that could have hinted at the occupation of the murderer, this was the right thigh, found wrapped in the pocket of a costermonger's apron .
On Monday July 1st the inquest into the death was resumed before Mr. Braxton Hicks. Elizabeth Jackson's mother, sisters and various friends and acquaintances of Elizabeth's were present and gave witness testimony to the effect that they were convinced beyond doubt of the identification of the body found in the Thames as that of Elizabeth Jackson, only Elizabeth's brother, James Jackson, expressed any doubts as to the identification, on account of the description of the 'genteel' hands. Mention was also made of the fact that up until late April, Elizabeth had been living and travelling with a millstone grinder named John Faircloth, who up until that point had remained untraced. Police expressed their eagerness to interview the man Faircloth, whose photograph was in the process of being circulated around various parts of the country, with a view to locating him. Faircloth, a former soldier and punished deserter from the 3rd battalion Grenadier Guards, was said to have been the father of Elizabeth's child and she had passed herself off as his wife, even wearing a cheap brass ring to carry this off. He was also known to have 'ill used' Elizabeth as attested to by various witnesses. Police also made it known that the deceased had been seen alive and in the company of a man a little over twenty four hours previous to the first discoveries in the Thames. The inquiry was then adjourned again until Faircloth, and the man seen with Elizabeth on the alleged night of her death could be located by police, descriptions were given of both men. The inquest ended with the coroner making an order for the remains to be buried in the name of Elizabeth Jackson.
By July 8th came news from Scotland Yard that a man named John Faircloth, fitting the description of the paramour of Elizabeth Jackson had been located in Tipton St John, Devon. Sergeant Pope of the Devonshire constabulary communicated with Scotland Yard and Inspector Tunbridge of the Criminal Investigation Department was sent to Tipton to find Faircloth and bring him back to London. Faircloth was found and proved to be the man wanted to help with inquiries into Elizabeth's death. He proceeded willingly and voluntarily back to London, stating that he had heard no news whatsoever of Elizabeth's death, and being an illiterate man, had been unable to read anything of the matter. He was however, willing to answer any questions he could to help in the inquiry and would give a full account of his life with Elizabeth and their subsequent split.
As a result of Faircloth's return to London, the previously adjourned inquest was resumed earlier than had been scheduled. On Monday 8th July, Mr. Braxton Hicks again resumed his inquiry into the death of Elizabeth Jackson, Faircloth being the main witness at the inquest. His life with Elizabeth and his whereabouts at the time of her death, and since, were discussed in great detail. The inquest was then adjourned again until the 25th July so as to allow the police to thoroughly check out Faircloth's story and continue with their investigations.
On July the 17th, between these two inquests, came the reports of the murder of Alice Mckenzie in Castle Alley, Whitechapel. These reports again included comment from The Central News Agency that it was thought by not a few people, that the Thames mystery was also the work of the wretch, believed to have left off after the Mary Jane Kelly murder of 9th November 1888. This was owed principally to the fact that the various portions of the body found, seemed to show that the murderer had taken a fiendish delight in performing mutilations upon it.
On the 25th July, Mr. Braxton Hicks opened his very last enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Elizabeth Jackson. Inspector Tunbridge stated that after exhaustive and thorough efforts by police, the exact whereabouts of the man Faircloth, at the time of the murder of Elizabeth Jackson had been confirmed without a doubt. He was found to have been nowhere in the vicinity of London or within travelling distance for a period of time before the murder. Faircloth had a solid and witnessed alibi for the days leading up to the murder of Elizabeth. The Coroner then stated that was all the evidence. He remarked that this case was somewhat different to the cases that had unfortunately occurred in Whitechapel. This was a case in which a woman had died under circumstances that in themselves were excessively suspicious. He went on to say that everything on the body pointed to the conclusion that the body was that of Elizabeth Jackson and suggested to the jury that a verdict of wilful murder, by some person or persons unknown should be returned. A verdict in accordance with the coroner's direction was reached and the jury complemented the police engaged on the case on their vigilance and the ability they had shown in bringing the matter to an issue.
The previous press claims that the murder of Elizabeth Jackson could be linked to the Whitechapel fiend; Jack the Ripper soon lost their momentum. By the time of the discovery of the Pinchin Street torso in Whitechapel in September 1889, the press were linking the murder of Elizabeth Jackson to this more recent murder. The two murders were also linked by the press to the previous Rainham and Whitehall mysteries. Inspector Tunbridge, who had been in charge of the Jackson murder investigation, was brought in to view the Pinchin Street torso, along with detectives who had been involved in the other similar cases. It was reported that the general opinion of these detectives was that the mode of dismemberment in all these cases was strikingly similar and there was also an opinion expressed that these murders were of a 'different origin' to the Whitechapel atrocities.
Debra Arif, January 2008.
Newspaper sources used (all between the dates of 4th June and 29th July 1889)
Aberdeen Weekly Journal
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser
Daily News (London)
The Ipswich Journal
The Newcastle weekly Courant
The Preston guardian
Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper
Birmingham Daily Post
The Pall Mall Gazette
The Times (London)
The Illustrated Police News
Days of my years. Sir Melville L. Macnaghten, New York; London, 1914
A system of legal medicine, Allan McLane Hamilton.
The Thames Torso Murders of Victorian London by R. Michael Gordon
Many thanks also to Rob Clack and Neil Bell for all their help.