Exonerating Michael Kidney
A Fresh Look At Some Old Myths
By Tom Wescott
“While there is not a shred of evidence to support the belief that Elizabeth Stride was murdered by the Ripper this murder is included, for, like that of Martha Tabram, no account of the East End murders would be complete without it.
The murder of Stride was a coincidence and, merely because her body was found in a yard, both Press and public jumped to the conclusion that both this murder and that of Eddows [sic] which took place an hour later, was the work of the Ripper…”
---- William Stewart, Jack the Ripper: A New Theory, 1939
And such is the genesis of a perspective that not only continues to this day, but thrives and multiplies along with the number of publications that appear each year dissecting the Ripper’s crimes – that the murder of Elizabeth Stride is not to be counted among them. But what reason did William Stewart give for so confidently striking her from ‘the list’? He had only one reason, but he clearly felt it was good enough – “In each of the Ripper murders the victim was killed by the throat being cut from left to right. This characteristic alone marked the murder of Elizabeth Stride as not being the work of Jack the Ripper.” What he assumes to be the truth here is that Stride’s killer was left-handed, whereas the Ripper was right-handed. Even the most ardent ‘non-canonical’ today will concede that Stewart was wrong and that all the canonical victims had their throats cut from left to right, which indicated a right-handed killer in each case, not the left-handed murderer that Stewart incorrectly arrives at; it was a mistake that stood uncorrected for almost 40 years until Stephen Knight put the lie to it in his 1976 book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. But 37 years is a long time and far more than enough for the idea of ‘Stride out’ to assume a place in the collective consciousness of researchers coming to the case in the interim.
Once an idea takes hold in your mind, it is not always an easy thing to let go of, even if you come to discover that the reason you adopted the idea in the first place was founded in error. We might simply invent other reasons to support our flawed conclusion. Now, it is not my intention to empirically state that the same hand that slew Catherine Eddowes killed Stride, but simply that the reasons most often given for concluding otherwise are founded in myth, exaggeration, or a confused understanding of the source material.
Anyone who has followed or even occasionally perused the numerous Stride threads that have appeared at Casebook.org since 1996 will be quite familiar with the following reasons given by those who feel Stride could not have been, or was most likely not, the work of the Ripper:
The final and perhaps most convincing reason offered up by ‘non-canonicals’ for supposing that Stride was not a Ripper victim is that a ready-made murderer was already at hand in the person of Michael Kidney, her abusive, alcoholic, slave-driving, jealous boyfriend, from whom she’d permanently separated only a few days prior to her murder. At least, that is the picture often painted of him.
Michael Kidney is reported as having been age 36 at the time of Stride’s murder, though he may have been as old as 39.2 Either way, he was much younger than the 45 year old Elizabeth, who lied to both Kidney and lodging house mate, Charles Preston, about her age, saying she was 36 or 38 years old. In fact, Elizabeth Stride lied to everyone in her life from her friends to her lovers to the courts of law; she had epilepsy, the roof of her mouth was deformed, her husband died on the famous and tragic Princess Alice disaster, the list goes on. All of these lies and certainly more we don’t know about were created to camouflage Stride’s perceived flaws and insecurities. It is crucial to keep this trait in mind when considering evidence relating to things she might have said.
In June of 1889, Kidney was still living at 36 Devonshire Street, the last address he had shared with Liz. On the 11th of this month he was admitted to the Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary for syphilis. He returned on August 17th with lumbago3 and on October 11th with dyspepsia.4 For his last two visits, Kidney gave his address as 12 Thrawl Street, a significant downgrade from his rooms in Devonshire Street. Some researchers see this move as evidence that Kidney was Stride’s pimp and that his circumstances worsened as a result of losing her income. While it is quite possible that Kidney turned a blind eye while Liz turned the odd trick, the fact that he remained in Devonshire Street for at least 10 months following Stride’s death suggests that he wasn’t reliant on her for his upkeep, and most likely his lowered circumstances were a result of his worsening health, which must have effected his work. His declining health and financial situation could be viewed as the fruit of a guilty conscience, but could also be seen as signs of someone very much effected by the loss of a loved one. The same could be said for his drunken behavior at the Leman Street police station on Monday, Oct. 1st, the day following the discovery of Stride’s body.
Michael Kidney arrived at the police station in a cab5 and requested the inspector on duty. He asked the inspector to provide him with a ‘strange, young detective’, believing that the assistance of such a man could aid him in solving the murder of his common law wife. When the inspector refused, an angry Kidney called him ‘uncivil’. Neither the police nor the coroner was able to get from Kidney just what his information was, but there are a few clues left for us to speculate upon.
Some writers, such as Dave Yost6, have taken Kidney’s request for a ‘strange’ young detective to be a misprint, suggesting that it should read ‘strong’, however, this is not the case. Although often missed by researchers, Kidney explained to the coroner why he specifically needed a ‘strange’ – meaning locally unknown – detective: “I thought that if I had one, privately, he could get more information than I could myself. The parties I obtained my information from knew me, and I thought someone else would be able to derive more from them.”
So at some point in the hours between Kidney identifying Stride at the mortuary and his arrival at the police station, Kidney received information from a source he apparently considered reliable but one who curiously did not want to reveal all they thought they knew. A clue to this source is to be found in how Kidney arrived at the police station.
It goes without saying that a hansom cab is beyond the means and wants of a broke, drunken waterside laborer. However, one was certainly in the possession of Charles Le Grand and his colleague, J.H. Batchelor. Le Grand, a career criminal employed as a ‘private detective’ with the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, had been in Berner Street since just after the discovery of the murder and was also present at the mortuary on Oct. 1st. He was responsible for the ‘breaking’ of Matthew Packer’s famous story in the Evening News edition of Oct. 4th that caused much consternation within all ranks of the police. With Inspector Abberline being out at the time, Inspector Henry Moore ordered Police Sergeant Stephen White to find Packer and get his statement. White must have felt rather put out by this time as it was he who spoke with Matthew Packer only eight hours following Stride’s murder and was told by the 52 year old fruitier that he had seen and heard nothing strange. Now that Packer was being hailed by the press and public as the man who saw the Ripper, White had to protect not only his own reputation, but that of his entire force. He detailed the saga in a report dated October 4th.7
When White arrived at 44 Berner Street, Mrs. Packer informed him that two detectives had taken her husband to the mortuary. While on his way to the mortuary, White ran into Packer with one of the ‘detectives’. As they were speaking, the other detective joined them. Only when pressed to prove their authority as detectives did the men show a card and admit they were really ‘private’ detectives. White noticed a letter in one of the men’s hands addressed to ‘Le Grand & Co., Strand.’ They would not allow White to speak to Packer and induced him to go away with them. Later that day, at 4pm, White found himself back at 44 Berner Street, and as he was speaking with Packer, the two private detectives arrived in a hansom cab and once again induced Packer to go with them, stating that they were taking him to see Commissioner Charles Warren.
It’s worth noting that the first time White ran into the men they were on foot, but when they were preparing a trip to the police station, they did so in a cab. As there doesn’t appear to have been anyone else whisking away witnesses in hansom cabs, we’re on safe ground in concluding that Michael Kidney himself was taken to the Leman Street police station by none other than Charles Le Grand, and that it was probably he who Kidney wanted the ‘strange, young detective’ to elicit further information from. It seems that the vigilance committee, by whom Le Grand and Batchelor were employed, had its own theory of the murders, and it was likely a version of this theory that was conveyed to Kidney.
The Daily Telegraph of Oct. 3rd, reported, “A member of the Vigilance Committee informed our representative last night that a great deal of information about the state of the streets, and suspicious men who frequent them, had been collected by them, and they believed that at least some of it might turn out of value. Although many people think differently, he and some of his colleagues consider that the murders were not the work of one man, or, at all events, that he had associates. Their belief is that at least four or five men were engaged in the murderous plot, and it was in the hope of inducing one of them to turn informer that the committee were so anxious that the Home Secretary should offer a reward. This opinion, however, was formed when what is now known as the "medical requirement" hypothesis gained credence. Several members of the committee even thought they were on the track of the gang, but investigations have neither substantiated the theory nor led to the unravelling of the mystery. Nevertheless, the Vigilance Committee, under the presidency of Mr. George Lusk, continues to meet daily, and focus, as it were, the sentiments of the inhabitants.”
Le Grand and Batchelor would have had no trouble in locating Michael Kidney. All had been to the mortuary on the same day and may have met there, or perhaps through the police contacts of the ‘private detectives’, or even in Berner Street, where Kidney was sure to have gone, and where it is known that Le Grand and Batchelor spent a good deal of time in the days following the murder. A reporter for the Echo newspaper spent the morning of Oct. 1st in Berner Street and describes with irritated bemusement a couple of men who had managed to gather a crowd with their tale of intrigue.
Very little additional information was to be obtained (writes an Echo reporter shortly after noon) concerning the murder of the woman Stride up till noon to-day. Except for a couple of hundred or so of men, women, and children, whose morbid curiosity had attracted them to the scene of the crime, there was nothing to indicate that another of these mysterious murders had taken place. Among the loungers were, of course, many who professed to be in possession of all the details connected with the unfortunate woman's death, but on being questioned, it transpired that the stories which they were obligingly disposed to relate were nothing more than conjecture. Several men who were surrounded by respective groups of eager listeners went so far as to say that the woman Stride had been seen in the neighbourhood of Berner-street about twelve o'clock on Saturday night in company with a middle-aged man of dark complexion, but here the description of the supposed murderer of the woman stopped. In answer to questions, however, neither of the men would father the story, preferring to escape any direct, or to them inconvenient, inquiries on the subject by saying "They had heard so."
It is quite possible these men were Le Grand and Batchelor, offering up an early version of the Packer story.
As regards the vigilance committee theory, the source described a gang of four to five men who met the ‘medical requirement’ imposed on the Ripper following Dr. Phillips’ testimony at the inquest into the death of Annie Chapman, where he described, in a state approaching awe, how Chapman’s killer executed in record time operations that would have taken him much longer. Le Grand and Batchelor must have imparted no more information than this to Michael Kidney, and perhaps under a sworn oath of secrecy, and refused to divulge any further details. It is with this false hope that a drunken, frustrated Kidney entered the Leman Street station and requested a ‘strange, young detective’, in hope that such a man might glean more information from the two private detectives. These seem like the actions of a man in agony trying to find answers and not that of a murderer perpetrating a ruse.
Michael Kidney – The Suspect
While the notion that Stride was killed by someone other than Jack the Ripper goes back as far as the murder itself, the idea of Michael Kidney as the perpetrator did not start in earnest until 1993 and the publication of Jack the Myth: A New Look At The Ripper, by A.P. Wolf. While A.P. Wolf is certainly one of the most talented authors to write about the Ripper, he’s also one of the most imaginative; most myths about the Stride murder in general, and Michael Kidney in particular, are to be found within the pages of his book, and as the text of the book has been available to peruse for free at Casebook.org for years now, it continues to have an influence on new students coming on to the case. There is no question but that Wolf’s theories about the Stride murder influenced a great many books to follow, some of which we will also consider in this section. But to understand the genesis of the Kidney theory, we must start with the blundering error that first convinced A.P. Wolf that Kidney murdered Stride. The following excerpts are from chapter two of his book as it appears at Casebook.org.
‘The final evidence for Michael Kidney's guilt is so surprisingly obvious that it is difficult to believe that it has lain around for so many years without anyone realizing its importance.
One day after the murder of Long Liz - Elizabeth Stride - Michael Kidney arrived in a drunken condition at Leman Street Police Station, Whitechapel. He demanded to speak to a detective, ranting and raving that if he had been the constable in the area where the murder took place he would have killed himself. This is a vital point because Kidney did this before the inquest opened on Long Liz and her body had still not be[sic]identified, in other words nobody knew who the victim was, and even later, after the inquest had opened, she was still being wrongly identified as Elizabeth Stokes. So how then did Kidney know that the latest murder victim was his ex-girlfriend Long Liz before she had even been identified?’
‘There is no doubt now that Kidney did murder Long Liz... going to the police to complain about the circumstances of her death before anyone knew she was dead clinches it.’
‘It is astonishing that the inquest jury were so quickly satisfied with his testimony, particularly after he admitted lying to them. Equally, one can only wonder at the total incompetence of the police in failing to realize that Kidney could not have known that it was Long Liz who was murdered before her body had even been identified, unless of course he had committed the crime himself. Again, as in other inquests on the so called Ripper murders, the attitude of the police is quite unbelievable. The failure of the police in Long Liz's case of not calling the single eyewitness to her murder, Israel Schwartz, to give vital evidence at the inquest is absolute criminal neglect.’
Wolf is correct in only one point in his write-up of Kidney; it would indeed have been absolute and unprecedented incompetence on the part of the police if a man had walked into their station and berated them over a murder that had yet to be discovered and then been allowed to walk about scot-free without serious investigation. It would also be quite the anomaly if this person were to then sit in the jury box at the inquest and deliver the same tale without anyone catching on. Then to consider that 105 years of solid research should follow in the most studied murder series in history, with no one being any the wiser about Kidney and what essentially amounts to his loud and public confession. Of course, the truth is that Stride had been identified at the mortuary by many people, including Kidney, prior to his drunken trip to the police station. Nevertheless, Wolf’s error in reading had convinced him of Kidney’s guilt, and he supported his erroneous conclusion with a host of equally poor miscalculations – that Kidney padlocked Stride in their rooms, that he habitually abused her, that he had lied to the inquest jury. These and many more fallacies continue to plague the research of writers on the case.
Wolf’s writing teaches us more about his lack of faith in the police and his fellow researchers than it does about the Ripper murders, but the impact of his work is everlasting. Remarkably, Stewart Evans pointed this error out to him and he has yet to correct it, though doing so would be simple enough as his work now exists primarily as an online text.
Although Stewart Evans was too wise to be convinced by Wolf’s ‘final proof’, he did follow along in his thinking that Kidney was Stride’s killer, and along with co-author Paul Gainey, summed up his thoughts in a single paragraph in his 1995 magnum opus, Jack the Ripper: The First American Serial Killer (U.K. title ‘The Lodger’).
‘The evidence surrounding the Stride murder is very problematical, and extremely confusing when read in full. The lasting impression is of a domestic dispute-related murder. On the Tuesday before her death, Stride walked out of the home she shared with Michael Kidney, a brutal, heavy-drinking labourer, who was known to have frequently assaulted her. The case does not bear the distinctive stamp of a Ripper killing.’
Here we are again told, without evidence, that Kidney was ‘brutal’ and ‘frequently assaulted’ Stride. We are also told that Stride’s murder resembles a domestic homicide, although I can’t think of one domestic murder that even remotely resembles the Berner Street case. If nothing else, Evans and Gainey could not be accused of playing with the evidence to support their suspect, Francis Tumblety. Quite the opposite, in fact, as they believed Francis Tumblety to have been the fabled ‘Batty Street Lodger’, living at 22 Batty Street, so close to the scene of Stride’s murder that one could have probably heard the singing from the club from at open window at number 22. Also, as far as witness suspects go, the Berner Street murder offers about the only candidate for the tall, fair-haired Tumblety, in the way of Pipeman. Nevertheless, Evans and Gainey did not feel that Tumblety would kill so close to home, so Michael Kidney is brought in as the murderous BS Man, with Pipeman being nothing more than an innocent passerby.
James Tully, in his impressive and woefully overlooked work on the case, 1997’s Prisoner 1167, The Madman Who Was Jack the Ripper, makes equally short work in condemning Kidney, believing him to have been a heartless pimp wanting to punish Stride for leaving him and killing his golden goose.
Pg. 320: ‘All the circumstances point to the fact that Liz had had enough of Kidney and was intent upon leaving him for good. That she was frightened of him is beyond doubt, as is the fact that Kidney would not have been at all pleased to discover that his steady source of income had taken flight.’
Pg. 322: ‘Let us then convict Michael Kidney, in absentia, for the murder of Elizabeth Stride and hasten to Mitre Square.’
Here we are told that Liz Stride was leaving Kidney for good and never coming back, that it is ‘beyond doubt’ that Stride was frightened of Kidney, and that only he could have been her murderer. Tully was indeed in such a hurry to get to Mitre Square that he forgot to give us the evidence for his conclusions!
The next year, 1998, brought us Bob Hinton’s From Hell: The Jack the Ripper Mystery, which served indictments on both George Hutchinson and Michael Kidney. Unlike many authors on the case, Hinton spends a good deal of time on Berner Street, discussing the evidence and offering his insights. As he served as a magistrate and has a very strong knowledge of the case materials, many of his insights are delightfully fresh and deserve serious consideration. However, as with many authors, he seemed to have blinders on when it came to the murder of Liz Stride and the history of Michael Kidney. Indeed, the influence of the authors already discussed, A.P. Wolf in particular, is very apparent in the following paragraphs.
Pg 78: ‘If we were to look at the Stride killings in isolation, discounting the other killings entirely, what path would the police follow. Liz Stride is living with a man, who when drunk becomes violent and beats her up. She has twice had him in court for this offence, once she failed to turn up and the charges were dropped, the second time she gave evidence and he was gaoled. A few days before her murder she apparently had another violent quarrel with Michael Kidney (he denied this) and moved out to lodgings of her own.’
Pg 79: ‘We know that Kidney was violently jealous of Liz Stride, before when he thought she had another man he beat her and padlocked her in their lodgings.’
Pg. 82: ‘Given all these indicators I believe that we are justified in saying that if we were to examine Liz Stride’s murder in isolation, the police would have wanted to interview Mr. Kidney. Because the police wanted to keep Israel Schwartz and his testimony secret, he never gave evidence at the inquest, an inquest where we know Michael Kidney was present, it is interesting to know what would have happened if they had met.’
Hinton is absolutely correct in that we should look at each murder in the series independently. However, his look at the Stride case seems to have told him that whenever Kidney got drunk he beat up Stride, and that she took him to court twice, providing evidence against him and putting him in jail the second time. He also tells us that Kidney, far from being Tully’s heartless pimp, was an insanely jealous man who would padlock her in their rooms whenever he felt another man might be lingering about. We also learn that she left Kidney the last time as a result of ‘another violent quarrel’. Again, we are offered no evidence of any of this. But by the time Hinton’s book came out, five years following Wolf’s, the myths had been so oft repeated that they had become accepted knowledge.
It is not my wish to disparage the authors whose work I’ve quoted here. In fact, it is my sincere hope that none of them become offended that I’ve put their work ‘on the spot’. All of their books offer cases against viable suspects, and I consider Evans and Gainey’s tome to be the model example of how a ‘suspect book’ should be approached. However, we all share the common goal of getting to the truth, and to understand a popular and persistent mode of thought in the field – in this case, Kidney’s culpability for Stride’s murder – it is absolutely essential to study how that mode of thought came into being. It is a singular, if not unfortunate, fact that the opinions of those who have published books on the case are given more weight than those who ‘merely’ publish essays or post on message boards, at least as far as the relatively new researcher is concerned. Therefore, it is important to put the conclusions brought forth in these books in their proper context.
Michael Kidney has been convicted before he had his day in court. It is time now to rectify that.
All we know about Michael Kidney’s character comes from his testimony at the Stride inquest, where he was described by an attending Daily News reporter as “morose”, “rough-spoken” and occasionally “incoherent”. Members of the press must have been clamoring for an interview with him, not only to discuss Liz but also the tantalizing theory he had mentioned in court, all the more tantalizing because Kidney wouldn’t let the police have it. Yet to date no interview with Kidney has been discovered, suggesting he refused publicity. Had he known the speculation that would surround him more than a hundred years later, he might have been a little quicker to set the record straight, but since he did not, we must work with what we have. In this section we will look at each of the favored arguments used by writers to speculate upon Kidney’s guilt in the Stride murder and see how they compare with the facts. We will also consider some important information that will be new to most readers.
That Kidney would padlock Stride into their rooms is one of the most commonly repeated myths, appearing in virtually every book that favors Kidney as the killer (Evans and Gainey being the exception); even Casebook.org, with its barebones, ‘Just the Facts’ approach, has offered the following paragraph for many years now to anyone clicking Stride’s picture and wanting to learn more about her: ‘Their relationship is best described as stormy. He says that she was frequently absent when she was drinking and he even tried, unsuccessfully, to padlock her in (see list of possession at time of death)’. It is difficult to say with certainty just where this myth originated from, but it is almost certainly from the inquest reportage of the Times, which in the pre-internet days of Ripper research was the favored and most accessible newspaper available. Unfortunately, the Times coverage of the Stride murder left much to be desired, and many writers to this day fall victim to its errors or poorly constructed sentences. However, even the Times can’t take all the blame for this particular error, as its coverage of Kidney on this point wasn’t altogether ambiguous:
Inspector Reid: When you and deceased lived together I believe you had a padlock on the door?
Michael Kidney: Yes; there was only the one key, which I had, but she got in and out somehow.
From this sentence, countless researchers have concluded that Kidney kept Stride prisoner in her own home, overlooking the fact that he didn’t say ‘she got out somehow’, but that ‘she got in and out somehow’. This is a significant difference. In fact, other papers did a much better job of reporting what Kidney said; the Scotsman of Oct. 6th reported Kidney’s reply to Inspector Reid as follows: When deceased and I lived together, the door was padlocked when we were out. I had a key, and she borrowed one to get in or waited till I came. On the Wednesday before her death, I found she had gone into the room and taken some things, although it was locked.
This makes it clear that Kidney and Stride would leave together, him locking the door behind them. Sometimes she would let herself in, explaining that she borrowed a key, probably from the landlord. In reality, it seems she had applied to the landlord for a duplicate some time before and simply hadn’t told Kidney, as indicated by the fact that the key remained in her possession after she moved away and was found amongst her belongings. Nevertheless, it is nowhere intimated that Kidney at any time kept Stride prisoner in her own home.
Other comments of Kidney’s are often taken completely out of context and painted with the blackest possible motives; for instance, when he states that he was a great believer in ‘discipline’, he meant not that he disciplined Stride, but was responding to questions from coroner Baxter about his career and pension as an army reservist. He was also still steaming about the police handling of her murder.
The Times reported Kidney as having said, “I have cautioned her the same as I would a wife,” again misinterpreted by modern researchers to mean that he would punish or beat Stride. In fact, Kidney never said this, what he actually said being, “I treated her the same as I would a wife,” meaning simply that they lived together as man and wife and he financially provided for her. A reading of his inquest testimony in other newspapers bears this out.
There is absolutely nothing in Kidney’s inquest testimony to suggest an abusive relationship and it seems to go without comment that none of Stride’s lodging house mates held any suspicions against Kidney, even though they were asked point-blank if Stride was frightened of anyone or felt anyone wanted to hurt her.
Regarding the confident assertions of many authors that Kidney ‘frequently abused’ Stride or, in one author’s case, that Kidney indeed served jail time for abusing Stride, all we have in the way of official documentation is that on one occasion, on April 6th, 1887, Stride accused Kidney of assault but failed to turn up at the hearing, so the charges were dropped. While it is well-known that abused women often refuse to press charges, we have only this one accusation over a three-year relationship, and when one considers that Stride was an habitual liar who herself was arrested a record-breaking eight times between 1887 and 1888 alone, it might be wise to extend Michael Kidney some benefit of the doubt. In July of 1888, a little over two months before the murder, Kidney served three days in jail for being drunk and disorderly and using obscene language, but this had nothing to do with Stride, although some authors have assumed it had and used the incident to bolster the idea that Kidney ‘repeatedly abused’ Stride.
In reality, Stride and Kidney were both alcoholics, with Stride seemingly the worse of the two, so there probably was an element of abuse on both sides, although the official records don’t bear this out and previous writers had no cause to accuse Kidney in the manner that has been done. However, at the risk of appearing hypocritical, my own research has turned up an acquaintance of Stride’s who did inform a reporter that Kidney beat and ill-used her. Her statement, which appeared in the Daily News of October 3rd, 1888, is important less for this than for other reasons that shall be seen, so is offered here in full.
The Daily News reporter was interviewing a woman at a mission house where Stride was known, and was told the following:
‘The woman who looks after these mission rooms, “continued the speaker, “was another of the same class, and who used to be an associate of the poor creature murdered in Berner-street. She saw her only last Thursday, and she - that is, the murdered woman - said then that she felt all was coming to some bad end.”
The missionary made mention of another associate of the Berner-street victim. She also was believed to be trying to regain respectability, and it seemed worth while to go down into the depths of the neighbourhood that was formerly known as Tiger Bay to hear what this woman had to say about her former companion. She was found in a small back room at the inner end of a dark court not far from the scene of the murder, and proved to be a vivacious widow with three children, and one eye to look after them with. She first knew the dead woman three years ago, she said, and she was then certainly very pretty, always had a nice clean apron, and was always smart and tidy. She took up with a labourer, said the woman, and “lived indoors with him,” but he beat her and so ill-used her that she was forced to turn out in the streets. She took to drink, and seemed to grow reckless and desperate. For two years she never saw anything of her, but recently the deceased called on her old acquaintance, who had got her own room and a few scraps of furniture about her. The desolate woman congratulated her old acquaintance on having a comfortable home (!) invited her to come and drink with her, and, this being refused, she took out twopence-all she had in the world-and insisted on sharing it for old acquaintance sake. “Oh dear, oh dear!” ejaculated the woman, “ain’t it awful though!” “No doubt all these poor creatures are dreading to go into the streets,” it was observed. “I should just think they was,” was the reply. “Why, they’re a’most afraid to sit indoors. I gets my living among ‘em,” continued the woman with frank communicativeness-“not them as lives at the lodging-houses like her,” she explained; “there ain’t much to be got out o’ them, but the regular respectable ones. I does charing for ‘em, and lor’ bless you they just are scared. ‘I shall turn it up,’ they says. But then, as I says, what have they got to turn to?”
There is little doubt but that this woman knew Stride, who did indeed ‘take up’ with Michael Kidney about three years before, as was her recollection. She stated that she hadn’t seen Stride for about two years prior to just recently, when Stride turned up again, and that when she had previously seen Stride she had moved out from Kidney’s place on account of abuse. The woman clearly was not aware that Stride returned to Kidney and that her leaving him was somewhat frequent.
Regarding the abusive behavior of Kidney, the woman could be a bit off in her time and this could refer to the same incident in April of 1887 when Stride accused Kidney of assault, or it could be another incident that occurred before this, or it could just be Stride using sympathy to get money to drink. The crucial point about this woman’s statement is that it is the first evidence we have that Stride had been in the Berner Street area not long before her murder was committed. Tiger Bay was in the same neighborhood as Berner Street, so close that many mistakenly thought Berner Street a part of Tiger Bay as well. The reporter even remarked that the one-eyed woman’s back room lodgings were ‘not far from the scene of the murder.’ It is unfortunate that the journalist did not press the woman for more details, such as how recently Stride had paid her a visit. But we do have clues, such as that Stride had apparently told the woman she was staying in a lodging house. If this is true, it means that Stride may have visited her the very week of her murder.
Without wanting to digress from our primary topic too much more, I will quickly mention that it is interesting that the missionary woman should say that the lady in charge of the mission rooms had seen Stride just the Thursday before her death. The mission in question was probably Dr. Thomas Barnardo’s mission in Hanbury Street, as Barnardo claimed that Stride was present in the lodging house at 32 Flower and Dean Street when he visited only the day before. He stated that the women were frightened of the Whitechapel murderer, and one woman called out, “We’re all up to no good, no one cares what becomes of us! Perhaps some of us will be next!” A few days later he identified Stride’s body as one of the women present.
Prior to now I had never given Barnardo’s tale much thought, but as we find corroborating evidence from a mission worker that Stride visited the mission on the following day and told the mistress of the house a similarly bleak prediction (that she was herself coming to ‘some bad end’), this indicates that Barnardo was correct in his identification, and allows us with some degree of accuracy to identify the mission Stride visited on Thursday with that of Dr. Barnardo’s. Stride may even have spent Wednesday night at the mission, leaving on Thursday morning. This would explain why Catherine Lane and Elizabeth Tanner, the deputy of 32 Flower and Dean Street, did not see Stride until Thursday, but the watchman, Thomas Bates, recalled seeing her on Tuesday (the day she left Kidney). Although it may mean absolutely nothing in connection with her murder, I am suggesting that Stride had recently visited the Berner Street area, and was thus not a stranger to it, and was in nearby Hanbury Street only the day before her murder.
I would not, however, go so far as to suggest that Stride’s comments to Dr. Barnardo or the mission worker reveal any knowledge of her killer or impending murder. Stride was an unhappy woman and her outlook appears to have been bleak regardless, and considering our sources are missionaries, it’s certain that Stride would have played upon their sympathies in any way she felt might benefit her.
Moving forward, the next myth we will look at is the oft-repeated suggestion that Stride had left Kidney for the last and final time, with no intention to return, and that knowing this, an angry and/or jealous Kidney went in search for her. That these events took place is absolutely crucial to the argument that Kidney killed Stride. If she hadn’t left for good or if Kidney hadn’t gone in search for her, then the motive crumbles to dust.
Elizabeth Tanner, deputy of 32 Flower and Dean Street, who enjoyed a drink with Liz at the Queen’s Head public house on the last day of Liz’s life, gave the following testimony at the inquest (from the Daily Telegraph, condensed here for only the relevant portions).
Coroner: Do you know any of her male acquaintances?
Tanner: Only of one.
Coroner: Who is he?
Tanner: She was living with him. She left him on Thursday to come and stay at
our house, so she told me.
Coroner: Have you seen this man?
Tanner: I saw him last Sunday. (Oct. 1st)
Coroner: Did she ever tell you she was afraid of any one?
Coroner: Or that any one had ever threatened to injure her?
Coroner: The fact of her not coming back on Saturday did not surprise you, I
Tanner: We took no notice of it…Before last Thursday she had been away from
my house about three months.
Coroner: Did you see her during that three months?
Tanner: Yes, frequently; sometimes once a week, and at other times almost every
Coroner: Did you understand what she was doing?
Tanner: She told me that she was at work among the Jews, and was living with a
man in Fashion Street.
This exchange is very revealing, and is also quite important as it is coming from a woman who had known Stride for six or more years and had recently been spending much time with her. She seems to have been aware of Stride’s penchant for lying, as when she told the coroner that Stride had left Kidney on Thursday to live at their house, she chose to qualify the information with “so she told me”, which meant the same then as it does now, that Tanner was relaying what she was told, for what it was worth, which might not be much. It’s not clear whether both Tanner and Catherine Lane merely assumed Stride had left Kidney on Thursday because that’s when they had first seen her, or if Stride chose to tell them she had left Kidney only that day. For this reason, many commentators assume that Kidney saw Stride on Thursday, two days after she left him, but this is clearly not so. There’s no question that Stride left Kidney on Tuesday and no reason to suppose he saw her after that. Tanner’s evidence conclusively shows that Stride had said she left Kidney after they had ‘had words’, and Tanner merely assumed (or was told by Stride) that this occurred on Thursday.
Coroner Baxter, ever quick on his game, tried to slip Kidney up by stating (in the form of a question) out of the blue, “You had a quarrel with her on Thursday?” to which Kidney immediately replied, “I did not see her on Thursday.”
A point of significance here is that although Stride was seeing Tanner socially on a regular basis, she never at any time suggested she was frightened of Kidney or being abused by him, a point strongly enforced by the medical evidence, which reported no signs of abuse (other than some minor bruising left only that evening, presumably by her murderer or a recent client). Frequent abuse over a three-year period will leave its mark, particularly on the body of a middle-aged woman, yet Stride was free of any such indicators.
Another important point is that Kidney, allegedly on the hunt for Stride, never once showed up looking for her at the one place she was most likely to be found, 32 Flower and Dean Street.
From the evidence we’ve collected, the worst we can say with any certainty about Kidney is that he abused Stride early on in their relationship, but even on this there must remain some doubt considering our only source is Stride herself, an intelligent woman who knew how to play on people’s sympathies and could not seem to help herself from lying about virtually everything.
It is curious that she would choose to lie to her friend about where she and Kidney were living, telling her it was on Fashion Street. Compounding this curiosity is that, of all the streets in London, Catherine Eddowes should have chosen to give to the police a false address of ‘6 Fashion Street’ in the hours before her murder. This may just be one of the many little coincidences that plague the case (and make it so compelling), or there may be something to it we just don’t see yet.
It should be clear that Kidney was telling the truth when he said he had no reason to assume Stride wouldn’t be returning to him. After all, she had gone off like this before and had always come back. But he had another reason to assume she’d come back, and that is the fact that when she left on Tuesday, she took nothing with her. She returned the next day when he was gone and took her Swedish hymn book and (presumably at this time) her long piece of green velvet. No doubt she took the velvet because of its financial value and the hymn book because of its sentimental value. She chose to leave the hymn book with their neighbor, Mrs. Smith, saying she would be back for it. No doubt she was worried that Kidney might do something with her more prized possessions once he realized she wasn’t returning right away. Apparently, Liz did not trust Mrs. Smith enough to leave the velvet with her. But if she was not planning to come back at all, why leave belongings temporarily with a neighbor? It simply doesn’t add up if one is to believe that Stride and Kidney had taken their final bow together.
Moving forward to the murder itself, virtually every writer who feels that Kidney murdered Stride has implied or stated outright their belief that Schwartz’s BS Man was Kidney. This is a circular argument because they steadfastly believe that BS Man’s behavior was not fitting with their perception of Jack the Ripper (as discussed earlier in this essay) and therefore wasn’t the Ripper, but had to be Stride’s killer, and Stride’s killer was most likely her abusive boyfriend Michael Kidney, thus Kidney and BS Man must be one and the same. This all sounds well and good, but like the other persistent myths about Kidney and the Stride case, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Schwartz got a good look at his man before and after BS Man’s ‘attack’ on Stride, so we would expect the more pertinent points of his description to be accurate. According to Swanson’s summary of the police report, BS Man was 30 years old, 5’ 5” in height, fair complected, with dark hair, small dark moustache, full face, broad shoulders, and wearing a dark jacket and trousers and a black cap with a peak. This description is in keeping with what Schwartz told the Star newspaper, adding the detail that he was ‘respectably dressed’. Kidney was between 36 and 39 at the time of the murder, and probably appeared older than his age, so it is doubtful he’d register in anyone’s mind as being ‘about 30’, but on this point we will give Schwartz the benefit of the doubt. We do not know Kidney’s height, and even if we did, height along with age are where witnesses can often be mistaken, so unless Kidney should turn out to be a dwarf or outlandishly tall, we couldn’t in good conscience use this as an identifying characteristic. However, Kidney was a waterside laborer and probably deeply tanned, so it is difficult to reconcile this with a ‘fair complection’, and as Kidney was very poor and would have had no cause to own good clothes, it would require a healthy imagination to describe him as ‘respectably dressed’. A press artist at the inquest did a good job capturing the likenesses of those giving testimony, and Kidney was no exception, so we have in our possession an extremely good idea of what Kidney looked like; he was not stout, nor full-faced, nor apparently broad-shouldered. More damning is the fact that he sported a very full and obvious moustache, whereas BS Man had a small moustache. This is not a point at which Schwartz would have been in error. If you would have difficulty imagining yourself looking upon Francis Tumblety, even for half the amount of time Schwartz had to witness BS Man, and coming away describing him as having a ‘small moustache’, then you must conclude that when Schwartz described BS Man, he was describing someone very different from Michael Kidney.
Supporting this conclusion is Kidney’s behavior after the murder. He went willingly to the police, identified the body, volunteered a statement, drew additional attention to himself by going back drunk and raving, then appeared not once but twice at the inquest. And if he were BS Man, then he did all this knowing that at least two people, and possibly more, had seen him attacking Stride and would quite likely be at the inquest as well. And it should be noted that his behavior is more in keeping with a bereaved loved-one and quite in contrast to Catherine Eddowes’ steady, John Kelly - generally held up as the sympathetic antithesis to Kidney – who while identifying the body had the presence of mind to sift through Eddowes’ bonnet looking for money she may have stashed away. And there is no record of Kelly pressing the police for justice in the way Kidney had.
When we consider the evidence of the Stride murder, we see none of the signs of a domestic murder. Stride was not in any way abused, no one heard any yelling or screaming, there were no signs of any struggle, and her killer efficiently dispatched her with a single swipe of his blade. There was absolutely no passion or anger in the murder at all, and Michael Kidney was, if nothing else, a passionate person when unhappy, as his behavior at the police station and his overall demeanor at the inquest attests to.
The final and perhaps most remarkable argument proposed for Kidney’s guilt is the notion that the investigating police never considered, or were close-minded to the idea, that the killer could have been anyone other than Jack the Ripper. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. Another woman, Eddowes, had been murdered on the same night in City Police territory, which must have put considerable additional pressure on the Metropolitan Police to discover their killer. Even if they could have solved just this one murder, the press, which clearly favored the City Police due to their more open attitude about sharing information and offering a reward, would have shifted their light across the boundary. The investigation into Stride’s murder was exhaustive by any standards, and like all such crimes, they started with her closest associates.
In Chief Inspector Donald Swanson’s lengthy report of Oct. 19th, he states, ‘The body was identified as that of Elizabeth Stride, a prostitute, & it may be shortly stated that the enquiry into her history did not disclose the slightest pretext for a motive on behalf of friends or associates or anybody who had known her.’ A little later on, Swanson reports that, ‘The numerous statements made to police were enquired into and the persons (of whom there were many) were required to account for their presence at the time of the murders & every care taken as far as possible to verify the statements.’
We know that Kidney was one of the ‘many’ inquired into, and as a recently separated partner, he would have topped the list of priority inquiries, yet we are told here by the man overseeing the investigation that his statement was taken, his alibi investigated, and he was cleared of all suspicion.
Michael Kidney was cleared of the murder of Elizabeth Stride in 1888, and now in the 21st century, he must once again be found ‘Innocent’.
Although the relationship between Kidney and Stride appears to have been a stormy one, and quite likely physical at times, there is absolutely no evidence that Kidney was habitually abusive, and indeed quite a lot of evidence (medical and otherwise) that he was not. The popular idea that Kidney locked Stride in their rooms is without a doubt untrue, as are the suggestions that his inquest testimony indicated a violent man, or that he had any reason to suspect that Stride had left him for good. He clearly did not go looking to find her, otherwise he would have first gone to the lodging house at 32 Flower and Dean Street where she had been staying when he met her and where she went to stay every time she left him. He certainly couldn’t have expected to find her standing in a dark gateway in Berner Street.
Michael Kidney could not have been BS Man, assuming Schwartz got even half his details correct. Kidney provided a statement and an alibi and put himself up to the scrutiny of witnesses at two different inquest hearings, proving he had nothing to hide.
The circumstances surrounding the Stride murder indicate a quiet, efficient, passionless murder; if Kidney murdered Stride, then the crime is an anomaly in the annals of domestic homicide and not at all in keeping with their ‘stormy’ relationship.
Kidney’s health and financial situation deteriorated rapidly in the year following Stride’s death, and it’s likely the one led to the other. I believe that Michael was truly in love with Liz, or at least emotionally dependent upon her.
Michael Kidney, along with all of Stride’s close associates, was thoroughly investigated and his alibi confirmed. As desperate as the police were to catch her killer, they were able to clear Kidney of all suspicion.
All arguments given to eliminate Stride from the Ripper’s tally, save that she wasn’t mutilated, are shown to have no merit whatsoever; and it is only from this misguided doubt that Kidney was ever offered up as an alternate killer to begin with.
Michael Kidney did not murder Elizabeth Stride, but somebody did.
“The case for discounting Elizabeth as a Ripper victim is not as weighty as it first appears. The differences between her injuries and those inflicted upon Polly Nichols and Annie Chapman do not oblige us to take the view that she was slain by another hand.’
---- Philip Sugden, The Complete History of Jack the Ripper
I would like to first thank the late Adrian ‘Viper’ Phypers for conceiving and initiating the ‘Casebook Press Project’, and Stephen P. Ryder, Chris Scott, and the many volunteer transcriptionists for taking Adrian’s ‘project’ and making it a legacy. Ripperology without this ever-growing body of work would be unfathomable. I would also like to thank Stewart Evans for his inspiration, and the numerous friends and fellow posters at the Casebook who encourage me and/or challenge me on all matters Stride-related – Debra Arif, Glenn Andersson, Fisherman, Harry Mann, Simon Wood, c.d., DYLAN, Neil ‘Monty’ Bell, Don Souden, tji, Adam Went, Lynn Cates, Maria B, and countless others. I would like to thank Howard Brown for, many moons ago, pointing out to me the fact that Kidney’s detailed likeness ruled him out as BS Man.
|Dissertations: Exonerating Michael Kidney|
|Press Reports: Times [London] - 4 October 1888|
|Press Reports: Times [London] - 6 October 1888|
|Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - Michael Kidney|
|Dissertations: Old Wounds: Re-examining the Bucks Row Murder|
|Dissertations: The Silence of Violence: A Witness to the Tabram Murder E...|
|Dissertations: Thomas Bulling and the Myth of the London Journalist|