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The Case for Re-canonizing Martha Tabram
Quentin L. Pittman, esq.

The morning after Bank Holiday, 7 August, 1888, waterside labourer John Saunders Reeves descended the stairs at George-yard Buildings to find a woman in a bloody pool on the first floor landing. She had been repeatedly stabbed and was lying dead on her back. The woman was later identified as Martha Tabram. Naturally, when Mary Ann Nichols was found dead in Buck's-row three weeks later, like "poor Martha Tabram" (East London Observer, Saturday, 1 September, 1888), the press and public immediately connected "the third murder of the kind" (British Daily Whig, Saturday, 1 September 1888). This connection, which initially included the death of Emma Smith, strengthened and took shape when Annie Chapman was found dead. However, The Times, on Monday, 10 September 1888, separated the death of Emma Smith from these latest murders, but boldly proclaimed "the slayer of TABRAN, NICHOLS, and CHAPMAN meant murder, and nothing else but murder." As Phillip Sugden points out, Frederick Abberline, Sir Robert Anderson, Edmund Reid, and Walter Dew all included Tabram as a Ripper victim. See Sugden, The Complete History of Jack the Ripper (Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York 2002) at 358. Curiously, though, revisionists routinely dismiss Tabram as a Ripper casualty, and now she is rarely considered a serious, canonical victim. Nevertheless, when reviewing the evidence surrounding her death, and especially when comparing it to that of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, and Catherine Eddowes, there are ample reasons to consider returning Tabram to that list.

The Body Position.

The first common link between these incidents is the position in which the bodies were found, for this generally speaks to a killer's signature. See Ressler, Robert, Ann Burgess, and John Douglas, Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives (Free Press 1988) for more in-depth details. Upon making his discovery of Tabram, Reeves summoned PC Thomas Barrett to George-yard. As reported in the East London Advertiser, Saturday, 11 August 1888, Barrett did not move the body before the doctor arrived, but let it remain in situ, with her hands lying by her side, clenched up and empty. The victim's clothes were thrown upwards, completely disarranged, and the bosom of the dress was torn away. Barrett further testified at inquest that the woman's clothes were thrown up so as to expose the lower part of the body, and the limbs were open, which suggested recent intimacy (East London Observer, Saturday, 11 August, 1888).

The position of Tabram's body is well similar to the position Constable John Neil found Mary Nichols in on Buck's-row. Neil generally described Nichols as lying on her back, with her clothes disarranged. (Daily Telegraph, Monday, 3 September, 1888). A more detailed account of his find and inquest testimony was reported by the East London Observer, Saturday, 8 September, 1888:

Directly he turned his lantern on the body he noticed blood was oozing from the woman's throat. She was lying on her back with her hands beside her body, the eyes wide open, the legs a little apart, and the hands open. Feeling her right arm he found it quite warm. Her bonnet was beside her on the ground.

This position is likewise consistent with John Davies inquest testimony, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Tuesday, 11 September, 1888, regarding Annie Chapman's body:

Directly I opened the door I saw a woman lying down in the left hand recess, between the stone steps and the fence. She was on her back, with her head towards the house and her legs towards the wood shed. The clothes were up to her groins.

Likewise, Inspector Chandler testified at inquest, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Friday, 14 September, 1888, regarding Annie Chapman's body:

I saw the body of a woman lying on the ground on her back. Her head was towards the back wall of the house, nearly two feet from the wall, at the bottom of the steps, but six or nine inches away from them. The face was turned to the right side, and the left arm was resting on the left breast. The right hand was lying down the right side. Deceased's legs were drawn up, and the clothing was above the knees. A portion of the intestines, still connected with the body, were lying above the right shoulder, with some pieces of skin. There were also some pieces of skin on the left shoulder.

This position continues with PC Edward Watkins' inquest testimony, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Friday, 5 October, 1888, regarding the discovery of Catherine Eddowes' body in Mitre-square:

The woman was on her back, with her feet towards the square. Her clothes were thrown up. I saw her throat was cut and the stomach ripped open. She was lying in a pool of blood.

Regarding Eddowes, Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown, surgeon to the City of London Police, testified as well, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Friday, 5 October, 1888:

It was lying in the position described by Watkins, on its back, the head turned to the left shoulder, the arms by the side of the body, as if they had fallen there. Both palms were upwards, the fingers slightly bent. A thimble was lying near. The clothes were thrown up. The bonnet was at the back of the head. There was great disfigurement of the face. The throat was cut across. Below the cut was a neckerchief. The upper part of the dress had been torn open. The body had been mutilated, and was quite warm - no rigor mortis.

Seen collectively, the general repose of Tabram, Nichols, Chapman, and Eddowes is indeed similar. All four women were found lying on their backs, with their clothes disarranged. The upper part of Tabram and Eddowes' dress was torn open and their fingers bent. Aside from Nichols, the women's lower clothing was thrown up as well. While these parallels may seem slight, they are an important beginning in establishing a consistent likeness between the attacks on these women.

Method of Approach: The Delivery of Injuries.

The obvious difference between the assault on Martha Tabram and the trio of Nichols, Chapman, and Eddowes is the manner of injury. Generally speaking, Tabram's throat was not cut, she was not disemboweled or mutilated, and her attacker was right-handed. At first glance, these characteristics seem to separate her attack from the others. But through further examination, we find these differences actually strengthen the case to include Tabram as a canonical victim.

Dr. T.R. Killeen, an Irish, medical man whose surgery was located at nearby 68 Brick-lane, examined Tabram's body. His impressions were presented at inquest 9 August, and follows as reported in The Times, 10 August, 1888:

She had 39 stabs on the body. She had been dead some three hours. Her age was about 36, and the body was very well nourished. Witness had since made a post-mortem examination of the body. The left lung was penetrated in five places, and the right lung was penetrated in two places. The heart, which was rather fatty, was penetrated in one place, and that would be sufficient to cause death. The liver was healthy, but was penetrated in five places, the spleen was penetrated in two places, and the stomach, which was perfectly healthy, was penetrated in six places. The witness did not think all the wounds were inflicted with the same instrument. The wounds generally might have been inflicted by a knife, but such an instrument could not have inflicted one of the wounds, which went through the chest-bone. His opinion was that one of the wounds was inflicted by some kind of dagger, and that all of them were caused during life.

We begin by examining the infliction of the wounds, to determine if any similarity exists. While Tabram's throat was not cut, she did receive approximately nine stabs to it. The breast, stomach, abdomen, and vaginal regions were the primary areas assaulted, with a deep wound penetrating the heart, and another penetrating the womb area above the vaginal region. Aside from mentioning that the throat, abdominal and vaginal areas did receive attention, which is consistent with Nichols, Chapman, and Eddowes, this frenzied attack appears dissimilar from its immediate successor. For in the case of Mary Ann Nichols, the throat was cut, and all other blows directed solely at her abdominal region. Dr. Henry Llewellyn examined Nichols' body, and testified concerning the abdominal cuts at inquest 1 September 1888, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Monday, 3 September, 1888:

There were no (other) injuries about the body till just about the lower part of the abdomen. Two or three inches from the left side was a wound running in a jagged manner. It was a very deep wound, and the tissues were cut through. There were several incisions running across the abdomen. On the right side there were also three or four similar cuts running downwards. All these had been caused by a knife, which had been used violently and been used downwards. The wounds were from left to right, and might have been done by a left-handed person. All the injuries had been done by the same instrument.

Upon comparison, we immediately note the 'hand' of these killers was different. Tabram was felled by a right-handed person, and definitely a person whose cuts moved from left to right. Nichols' throat was cut from left to right, but Llewellyn initially testified a left-handed person was responsible for the Nichols attack. This belief, though, changed, for Chief Inspector Donald Swanson's 19 October 1888 report (HO 144/221/A49301C/8a) on the Nichols murder states: "At first the Doctor was of opinion that the wounds were caused by a left-handed person but he is now doubtful."

Along the same path, we note Dr. George Bagster Phillips, H Division Police Surgeon, who examined Annie Chapman, believed as well the cuts were made from left to right. He testified at inquest Thursday, September 13, 1888, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Friday, 14 September, 1888:

The throat had been severed. The incisions of the skin indicated that they had been made from the left side of the neck on a line with the angle of the jaw, carried entirely round and again in front of the neck, and ending at a point about midway between the jaw and the sternum or breast bone on the right hand. I am of opinion that they occurred subsequently to the death of the woman and to the large escape of blood from the neck.

Catherine Eddowes wounds likewise suggest the killer cut from left to right. Dr. Brown's post-mortem report, while not identifying a primary hand, specifically states the facial wounds, particularly the cut over Eddowes' nose, extended from the left border of the nasal bone down near to the angle of the jaw on the right side of the cheek. As well, the throat wounds were far deeper on the left side, than right, indicating a natural progression upwards as the killer moved his knife left to right. See Begg, Fido, and Skinner, The Jack the Ripper A to Z (Headline Book Publishing 1991) at 39.

Although the modern trend is to believe the Ripper is left-handed, I believe the evidence suggests otherwise. Given the information on the path and depth of the wounds taken from the medical reports and medical opinions at the time, the killer of these women appears right-handed. At the very least, we can agree the evidence suggests the wounds Tabram, Nichols, Chapman, and Eddowes suffered were inflicted by a person whose instrument generally moved in a similar manner, from left to right.

Method of Attack: Strangulation.

As a killer's modus operandi can alter, another avenue of evaluating Tabram's relation to these crimes is whether strangulation occurred. For strong evidence supports the Ripper strangled his victims, at some point, and then subsequently stabbed them afterwards. In the case of Tabram, Dr. Killeen seems to suggest otherwise. He testified at inquest that he believed all wounds were made while Tabram was alive and she then bled to death. Unfortunately, past this account, we have very little evidence, and nothing to tell us whether the primary indicator of strangulation was even checked - the fracture of the hyoid bone below the jaw. See Brian Innes, Bodies of Evidence (Reader's Digest 2000) at 96. The Illustrated Police News, 18 August 1888, however, did report that Tabram had received severe injuries to the head, the result of "being throttled while held down, and the face and head so swollen and distorted in consequence that her real features are not discernible." Along these same lines, we know as well that Tabram was found on her back, her hands clenched in a repose suggesting strangulation. See Sugden at 362. We likewise have the mortuary photograph, but given its black and white rendering, any inferences drawn from it are accordingly guesswork. That said, the photo does indicate swelling about Tabram's face, an obvious sign of asphyxia, due to raised pressure in the veins. See Innes at 94. It may as well show bruising, which would substantiate the Illustrated Police News report, but again, we have reached the culmination of the photo's usefulness.

Respecting Nichols, strong evidence supports asphyxia occurred. For bruises and abrasions along the jaw indicate, especially when circular in appearance, denote asphyxia. See Innes at page 96. Dr. Llewellyn testified at inquest, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Monday, 3 September, 1888:

On the right side of the face there is a bruise running along the lower part of the jaw. It might have been caused by a blow with the fist or pressure by the thumb. On the left side of the face there was a circular bruise, which also might have been done by the pressure of the fingers.

The evidence concerning Chapman is clear as well. Dr. Phillips testified at inquest, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Friday, 14 September, 1888:

The face was swollen and turned on the right side, and the tongue protruded between the front teeth, but not beyond the lips; it was much swollen.

As read before, Phillips likewise believed the wounds were inflicted subsequent death. Curiously, when seen side by side, Tabram and Chapman's mortuary photos look nearly identical, although this is hardly the medical evidence we would like to confirm Tabram was in fact asphyxiated.

In the case of Eddowes, the throat was horribly damaged, and the face severely mutilated. To wit, Dr. Brown testified at inquest, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Friday, 5 October, 1888, that haemorrhage from the throat was the cause of her death. However, it is possible Eddowes was subdued by asphyxia, and its effects were obscured by the many brutal injuries to the throat. Consider that the large muscle on her throat was divided through on the left side, and those vessels completely severed. The right vessels were just opened, but the carotid artery was exposed. The larynx was severed below the vocal chord, and the jugular vein opened an inch and a half. See Begg, Fido, and Skinner at 39. Even washed, this area, where the primary traces of asphyxia are found, would be useless, as they were absolutely obliterated. But Eddowes hands were clenched, in a manner similar to Tabram, which may suggest strangulation, but is certainly not conclusive.

Seen collectively, there is ample evidence to suggest Nichols and Chapman were subdued by strangulation. Despite her clenched hands, it is generally impossible to tell from the condition of Eddowes whether this is true in her case. Likewise, it is impossible to say anything except Tabram bore the features of a strangulation victim.

The Pattern of Death.

Another important characteristic in evaluating Tabram's relation to the canonical victims is the pattern of death, or comparing when she died to when the other victims expired. Tabram was murdered sometime in the early hours of 7 August 1888, which was the end of Bank Holiday weekend. Three weeks later, Mary Ann Nichols was murdered on 31 August, 1888, which was the month's final weekend. Two weeks later. Annie Chapman was murdered 8 September 1888, which was a weekend. Finally, three weeks later, Catherine Eddowes was murdered 30 September 1888, which was the month's final weekend. Such analysis could, and has, been extended to religious holidays, phases of the moon, and other events which one could reasonably argue a pattern of death revolves around. But as we have no idea what motivations prompted the aforementioned cyclic pattern, I believe we can leave our examination at the most obvious denominator - the weekend. For in and of itself, the fact Tabram died at the end of Bank Weekend confirms nothing, except to say her death reasonably fits the pattern of death subsequently established in later cases.

Victimology.

Victimology is the thorough examination of victims, in order to develop an understanding of the perpetrator through determining whether any common denominators exist which explain the choice of victims. See Turvey, B. E., Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis (Academic Press 1999). As with the pattern of death, examining this avenue would literally require comparing all facets of each victim in order to establish a thorough denominator. Instead, we will begin with a basic model, but I believe it increases the likelihood Tabram was indeed a Ripper victim.

In the case of Tabram, Nichols, Chapman, and Eddowes, the most obvious denominator common to all four women was they were prostitutes. Looking further, we find that Tabram's last known address was a common lodging house, 19 George-street, Spitalfields. See Sugden at 23. Nichols last known address was 18 Thrawl-street, which is one block north of George-yard, although she is known to have left this address a week before her death. Ergo at 45. Emily Holland, who had shared that Thrawl-street address, believed Nichols had spent the last week of her life at the White House lodging house in Flower and Dean, approximately two blocks north of George-yard. Ergo at 45. As established at inquest, Annie Chapman's last known address was Crossingham's lodging house, in Dorset-street, which was four blocks from George-yard, and directly north of White's-row, where Annie Millwood was attacked 25 February 1888. See Daily Telegraph, Tuesday, 11 September, 1888. Catherine Eddowes last address was Cooney's lodging house, 55 Flower and Dean, although she as well spent time at the Shoe Lane Workhouse. See Begg, Fido, and Skinner at 79-80. Ergo, we find all four women were prostitutes, essentially living within a four or five block radius, known to frequent the area pubs, and all residing at common lodging houses therein.

Upon further examination, we find from Dr. Killeen that Tabram was 39 years of age, stood approximately 5'3, and had dark hair. Mary Ann Nichols, according to Dr. Llewellyn was 43 years of age, stood approximately 5'2, and had dark hair. Annie Chapman, according to Dr. Phillips, was 45 years of age, stood 5'0, and had dark hair. According to Dr. Brown, Catherine Eddowes was 46 years of age, stood 5'0, and had dark hair. Ergo, these women, aside from being prostitutes in the same area, frequenting the same pubs and streets, and residing in the same type of dwelling house within the vicinity, as well greatly resembled each other. Again, I find it curious that the mortuary photographs of Tabram and Chapman are indeed similar, but like the pattern of death, reiterate this rudimentary victimology does not conclusively confirm anything, except to say Tabram indeed fits the pattern of victim subsequently established in later cases.

Two Weapons and Two Soldiers.

No discussion of Martha Tabram would be complete without mentioning Dr. Killeen's suspicions two weapons were employed, and the two soldiers connected to Tabram and George-yard on the night she died. As for the weapons, Killeen's testified at inquest, as reported in The Times, 10 August, 1888, that he did not believe the same instrument was used to inflict all the blows upon Tabram. Particularly, he believed the wound to the chest-bone required a stronger instrument than an ordinary chiv, and perhaps "some kind of dagger" was used to make this wound. The obvious answer to Killeen's opinion is the sole assassin in fact used two weapons to commit this crime. Although the evidence in the Nichols, Chapman, and Eddowes' cases suggest a single instrument was used, there is speculation at least two weapons were used in the murder of Mary Jane Kelly. However, the use of a different weapon in the commission of these crimes does not preclude the inclusion of any particular one, for killers routinely turn to different weapons for various reasons. Another answer to Killeen's opinion is perhaps he was wrong, for after all, Killeen's expertise was medicine, not weaponry. Some instruments, such as a ripper chisel, would indeed allow a killer to make cross cuts, short thrusts, and deep stabs.

The two soldiers are a far more vexing and intriguing factor. For Tabram and Mary Ann Connolly, otherwise known as 'Pearly Poll', as reported at inquest by The Times, Friday, 24 August 1888, were in the company of two soldiers the night Tabram was murdered. According to Connolly, she last saw Tabram alive at quarter of midnight, at the corner of George-yard. Connolly further stated, as reported by The Times:

When they separated, the deceased went away with the private. They went up George-yard, while witness and the corporal went up Angel-alley. Before they parted witness and the corporal had a quarrel and he hit her with a stick. She did not hear deceased have any quarrel. Witness never saw the deceased again alive.

According to Connolly, Tabram was alive and headed to George-yard around quarter of midnight. An hour later, Joseph and Elizabeth Mahoney entered George-yard. Mrs. Mahoney testified at inquest that she accompanied her husband Joseph to their residence at George-yard and noticed no one on the first floor landing. See Begg, Fido, and Skinner at 182. Mahoney then left their residence to procure food in nearby Thrawl-street, returning approximately five minutes later, and again, she noticed no one on the first floor landing. Ergo at 182. But could the Mahoneys have simply missed the body on the first floor landing? Mrs. Mahoney testified further, as reported by East London Observer, Saturday, 11 August, 1888:

It is quite possible that a body might have been there, and that I did not notice it, because the stairs are very wide and were completely dark, all the lights having, as usual, been turned out at eleven o'clock. I did not get up till half-past eight in the morning, and during the night my attention was not attracted by a noise or disturbance of any kind.

Despite this reserved answer, two things seem to indicate if Martha Tabram had been lying prostrate on the first floor landing the Mahoneys indeed would have seen her. The first is Alfred Crow's testimony at inquest. Crow, who returned home to George-yard Buildings at approximately half past three the same morn, passed the same way as the Mahoneys, and observed the landing under similar conditions. As reported by East London Observer, Saturday, 11 August, 1888, Crow stated:

As he was passing the first-floor landing he saw a body lying on the ground. He took no notice, as he was accustomed to seeing people lying about there. He did not then know whether the person was alive or dead. He got up at half-past 9, and when he went down the staircase the body was not there. Witness heard no noise while he was in bed.

Alone, the fact Crow saw a body does not mean the Mahoneys would have seen one if it was there to see earlier. However, evidence suggests that after Elizabeth Mahoney returned to her residence, a man and woman were occupied in George-yard. Before PC Barrett was called by to the scene by Reeves, the waterside labourer, he encountered a man loitering outside George-yard, who was waiting on a chum off with a girl. See Sugden at 23. The man resembled a private, Grenadier Guardsman, with one good conduct badge, stood approximately 5'10, looked young, possibly in his twenties, and had a fair complexion, brown hair, and small, brown moustache turned up at the ends. Ergo at 23. It is important to note that Barrett never validated this man was a Guardsman or the existence of the 'chum' in George-yard. Perhaps there was no such person, or perhaps the man was simply telling the truth. Either way, a strong suspicion falls on the man Barrett encountered, as the next person known to enter that place, Crow, saw a person lying on the first floor landing. Again, this alone is not conclusive proof. Although I will not detail the subsequent events regarding the soldiers, let it suffice to say that despite repeated attempts to find both the man Barrett encountered and the soldiers Connolly claimed she and Tabram had been with, police were unable to successfully identify these men.

It is here where the plot thickens, for the possible presence of two men at George-yard is reminiscent of Dutfield-yard, where two men were seen, possibly in the presence of Elizabeth Stride. Although I will not delve into this realm, I would note Israel Schwartz description of the 'pipe-smoking man' who stood opposite the street when Stride was allegedly pushed down was "age 35, height 5'11, complexion fresh, hair light brown, moustache brown…" Ergo at 202. However, please note that the general description concerning the suspects in the murderers of Nichols, Chapman, and Mary Jane Kelly were much shorter than this, and rather more like Schwartz' description of the man who possibly pushed Stride - "age about thirty, height 5'5, complexion fair, hair dark, small brown moustache, full face, broad shouldered." Ergo at 202. I do not suggest the men involved in Stride's death were the same men involved in Tabram's demise, but merely remark upon the curious similarity.

Conclusion.

Was Martha Tabram murdered by a soldier or soldiers? Was she a Ripper victim? The intelligent answer to both seems to be 'perhaps'. The primary characteristic that separates her from the canonical five is Tabram's throat was not cut, although she did suffer nine stabs to that specific locale. Perhaps the lack of this cut is good reason to exclude her, as the subsequent victims did suffer this wound(s). On the other hand, Tabram's murder came before the canonical five, and perhaps the killer's style was evolving and escalating. Arguendo, if the posing of the victim's body, and not the cut throat, is indeed the Ripper's signature, than Tabram clearly joins this list, for a killer's style intensifies as the killer learns through experience what provokes him. The important constant is not completely similar wounds, but according to Ressler, Burgess, and Douglas, the killer's savage degradation of the victim. Whatever the case, it is curious, when comparing the evidence of Tabram's murder with that of Nichols, Chapman, and Eddowes, that we find (1) the bodies of all four women were found similarly situated; (2) the assailant(s) of all four women cut from left to right, and may have been right-handed; (3) Nichols and Chapman were likely strangled, and evidence suggests Tabram was possibly strangled; (4) evidence suggests all four women suffered unnecessary wounds after death; (5) all four women died on a weekend; (6) all were prostitutes in the same area, frequenting the same pubs and streets; (6) all resided in the same type of common lodging house; and (7) all four women greatly resembled each other. The aforementioned is an incomplete list, and in no way conclusive, for if anything arises from re-examining the details of Martha Tabram's death, it is that some particulars, perhaps long taken as fact, could well do with some debate.


Related pages:
  Martha Tabram
       Home: Timeline - Martha Tabram 
       Dissertations: Martha Tabram: The Forgotten Ripper Victim? 
       Dissertations: The Silence of Violence: A Witness to the Tabram Murder E... 
       Message Boards: Martha Tabram 
       Official Documents: Martha Tabram's Inquest 
       Press Reports: Bradford Observer - 14 August 1888 
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       Victims: Martha Tabram 
       Victorian London: George Yard 
       Witnesses: Mary and William Bousfield 
       Witnesses: P.C. Thomas Barrett 
  Quentin L. Pittman
       Dissertations: The Importance of Fairy Fay, and Her Link to Emma Smith