|A Ripperologist Article|
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The “Lodger’s” Arrest
It pays to read the right newspapers. This was as true in the 1880s as it is today. Regarding the Batty Street Lodger story it’s a case of ‘No Echo, no comment’. And I’m not referring to Mrs. Kuer’s reticence.
More press reports from the Echo newspaper were made available recently by Stephen Ryder and his team for Casebook Press Reports 1. They include some very interesting reports on the Batty Street Lodger story that were not available when Mrs. Kuer’s Lodger 2 was written. These give us some more answers regarding this intriguing incident.
The lodger story was actually first published in that paper on Monday, 15 October, 1888, the day before the reports appeared in other newspapers. This was due to the Echo being an evening newspaper and so getting the details in time for publication that evening.
Looking back at the other reports detailed in Mrs. Kuer’s Lodger on the 17 October the Evening News had said:
On Monday afternoon the truth of the statement was given an unqualified denial by the detective officers immediately after its publication and this presumably because they were anxious to avoid a premature disclosure of facts of which they had been for some time cognisant.
The reference to the story being published on Monday afternoon I took at the time to simply mean ‘being known’ to members of the press. It appears to have been meant literally, being a reference to the Echo.
The first part of the report that appeared in the Echo was the standard report that all the papers published the following morning. This contained the information seen elsewhere that a lodger had returned in the early hours and disturbed the landlady, afterwards leaving a shirt that the landlady later found to have wet blood on the wristbands and sleeves.3 The only notable difference is that in the Echo report it was the landlady who gave the details of the police waiting in the house, whereas other reports say this detail came from neighbours.
But of much more interest is the second part of the Echo report.
GERMAN ARRESTED AND DISCHARGED.
A strange and suspicious incident in connection with the Whitechapel murders has just been explained by the arrest, late on Saturday, of a German whom the police had every reason to suspect as being connected with the murder of Elizabeth Stride, at Berner street. The affair has until now been kept a profound secret; but the matter was, it is asserted, regarded at first as of such importance that Inspector Reid, Inspector Abberline, and the other officers engaged in the case, believed that a clue of a highly important character had been obtained. It appears that Detective Sergeants W. Thicke (sic) and S. White, of the Criminal Investigation Department, made a house to house inquiry in the locality of the Berner street murder. They then discovered that on the day after that crime a German left a bloodstained shirt with a laundress at 22 Batley (sic) street - a few yards from the seat of the tragedy - and remarking, "I shall call in two or three days," departed in a hurried manner. His conduct was deemed highly suspicious. Detectives Thicke (sic) and White, who probably know more of the East end criminals than any other officers, arrested the man suspected on Saturday night. He was conveyed to Leman street Station, and inquiries were immediately set on foot. These resulted in the man's release this morning. Our representative made an inquiry respecting the above incident this afternoon, and ascertained that the shirt had a quantity of blood on the front and on both sleeves.4
This second part was repeated in the Echo on the 16th. The Echo was concurrently running the same reports as the other papers, which continued over the next couple of days, even though these seem to have been based on less information than the exclusive reports to which the Echo had access. That they were using the syndicated reports would explain why there were differences in the accounts that appeared in the Echo reports.
The exclusive part of their report on the 15th contains some very interesting information. That it named the address at this early stage (albeit spelling the street name incorrectly)5 is perhaps an indication of special information as the address was not published in other newspapers until the 17th, although the reporter who produced the syndicated report had spoken with Mrs. Kuer and therefore would have known the address. But more impressive is the early reference to Mrs. Kuer as a laundress, although, at this stage, it didn’t name her. This detail did not appear until the 18th in other newspapers. This second part of the report gives the impression that the man had left the clothes rather than being a lodger as explicitly stated in the first syndicated part.
The man is also described as a German. No other newspapers contained a reference to his specific nationality. Only the Daily News described him as ‘apparently a foreigner’6. The Evening News added the detail that he was a ladies tailor from the West End.7
The report also confirms the detail we had already seen in the Daily News and Evening News (18 October) that the arrest occurred on Saturday, 13 October. The man would have been held for about 36 hours, being released ‘this morning’ (15 October). This means that not only was it considered an important lead, the man was also thoroughly interrogated and the circumstances surrounding the blood on the shirt extensively investigated.
The report also only mentions the man being suspected in the case of the Elizabeth Stride murder. However, that may be simply because the Metropolitan Police were involved in the investigation of just that murder and not that of Catherine Eddowes.
The naming of specific police officers (such as Reid and Abberline) may have been for effect by the newspaper but it could be an indication of special information from a police source. That Sergeants Thick and White were named as the detectives who had conducted the house-to-house enquiry, received the information about the shirt and arrested the German again indicates special information.
It could be that the Echo genuinely had inside information which dismayed police officials who then took measures to ensure no further details got out and in fact attempted to make it look like the details already published were incorrect by issuing denials about an arrest, though these denials had apparently started at the weekend (13th and 14th)8. However more details would be published in the Echo the following day.
One thing that is strange is that none of the details in the second part of the Echo report made it into the other newspapers.
An argument could be made to suggest that the ‘highly suspicious [conduct]’ of the man ties in with the lodger moving about in the early hours and having changed some of his clothes which appeared in other reports. However, the second part of the Echo report implies the man was not a lodger at the house and this is confirmed in later reports. That Mrs. Kuer was German raises the possibility that the nationality of the man was confused with hers. However, this does not appear to be the case as the report on the 17th (shown below) refers to a German leaving the shirt with Mrs. Kuer, ‘also a German’. Mrs. Kuer is also named in this report for the first time.
THE BLOOD-STAINED SHIRT
The laundress at 22, Batty-street, where a German left a blood-stained shirt, is Mrs. Kuer, also a German. The man, who was arrested, as already stated, and liberated, explained the blood-stains by the fact that he was with a friend who was cutting his corn, when the knife slipped and inflicted a wound, when the injured man stanched the cut by using the sleeves of his companion’s shirt. There were, however, extensive stains upon the front of it as well, and this the man asserts was done by the blood spurting on to it. Mrs. Kuer denied that she gave information to the police, who were told of the circumstances by a neighbour. Mrs. Kuer says the man had occasionally called with a shirt to be washed. She feels certain she says that the man is entirely innocent of any such offence as was at first suggested by the police. Inspector Reid, Inspector Helson, and other detective officers are pursuing their investigation. A man was arrested and taken to Commercial-street Police-station last night, but was released shortly afterwards.9
The reference at the end to an arrest the previous night in the report shown may not have been related to the incident. However, there is an indication in the report that the investigation was continuing despite the release of the German. Again the syndicated report that appeared in other newspapers on the 17th was included in the Echo (not included in the above excerpt), which has different details to the Echo’s exclusive reports. The syndicated account made much of the proximity of the house in Batty Street to the scene of the murder in Berner Street and also of the various passages nearby which allowed different points of entry. This obviously suggested that the house was used as a hideout or lodgings by the killer rather than simply being used as a laundry service.
Tying this in with the other accounts, it appears the German returned to 22 Batty Street on Saturday the 13th and was promptly taken by waiting detectives (Thick and White) to the station for questioning. He was seemingly held for two nights until the morning of Monday the 15th of October when he was released. It also provides a third source for the story as told by Carl Noun in his letter and Mrs. Kuer in her interview.10
While this account provides more details of the story given by Mrs. Kuer in her interview, one aspect of Mrs. Kuer’s explanation of events is still puzzling.
She denied that the man for whom the police were searching was one of her lodgers, and asserted that he simply had his washing done at the house. He was a ladies tailor, working for a West-end house, and did not reside in the Leman-street district. She explained the presence of blood on the shirt by saying that it was owing to an accident that occurred to a man (other than the one taken into custody) who was living on the premises, and that the police would have known nothing of it but for her having indiscreetly shown it to a neighbour. The woman denies that the detectives are still in possession of her house.11
The question asked was why the German customer was arrested if he hadn’t got the blood on the shirts. Mrs. Kuer’s interview implies the man who got the blood on the shirt lived (or had lived) on her premises. If he was still living at the house during the police surveillance, then surely the story about how the blood got on the shirt would have been explained long before the man was arrested, unless this explanation was a lie conceived later to protect the German. Even if the police still wanted to take the German in for routine questioning, it would not be required to detain him for about 36 hours. Mrs. Kuer’s comment that the police would not have known about it but for her having shown the shirt to a neighbour implies that she may already have known about the origins of the blood before the police were involved and that she would not have said anything to them at all had it not been for the neighbour. This report in the Echo confirms that the details were given to the police by the neighbour and not by Mrs. Kuer. However, if she had known about the origins of the blood then surely she would have told the police.
According to Mrs. Kuer, the person who actually got the blood on the shirt ‘was living on the premises’,12 which may imply that the friend had formerly lived at 22 Batty Street.
If the friend was no longer living at Mrs. Kuer’s this would explain why the reason subsequently given for the blood being on the shirt was not known until the arrest and questioning.
It also could still be the case that the friend had been a temporary lodger of Mrs. Kuer while Carl Noun was away and had left during the week (or earlier) before Noun returned on 6 October.13
As this person would have known Mrs. Kuer if he was living or had lived there, he would probably have told his German friend about her laundry service, which was why the man (a tailor who worked in the West End and who did not live in the district14) had then used her to clean his laundry a few times.
On the other hand, it could be that this person had never lived at Mrs. Kuer’s. The report of Mrs. Kuer’s interview said that the accident had ‘occurred to a man (other than the one taken into custody) who was living on the premises’. The ‘premises’ may not have been a reference to Mrs. Kuer’s house, but to the premises where the accident took place (the workplace or actual lodgings of the German and his friend). Language or translation problems may have resulted in a misleading statement. In this case, Mrs. Kuer would probably not have known about how the blood got on the shirt before the arrest.
Of course, a question still remains as to why it took the German so long to return for his shirts. If he left them on 30 September (or 1 October at the latest) then it was 12 or 13 days before he returned to pick them up after having said he would return in two or three days. It may be that he had heard about the police interest in his shirt and had decided to keep a low profile fearing that it would look bad even if he were innocent.
Another question would be in regard to the circumstances of the blood getting on the shirt. However, the story—as available to us—is so condensed that too much analysis into the exact way the accident had happened and how the blood had got onto the shirt would be pointless. The police would have looked into the full circumstances anyway. That Abberline considered the matter of such importance would have meant he was probably directly involved in the questioning of the German and probably also of his friend in order to confirm the arrested man’s story.
Since it appears that neither the German nor his friend lived at 22 Batty Street, no link can be made to anyone leaving their lodgings in that area on that night.
Tying the reports with Carl Noun’s letter and Mrs. Kuer’s interview as published in the Evening News and Daily News of 18 October, the events now seem clearer.
The German left some shirts with Mrs. Kuer on 30 September or possibly 1 October (whichever was considered ‘the day after’ the murders, committed in the very early hours of 30 September). She found blood on one of them and, initially suspicious, had shown it to a neighbour, only to obviously later regret her action. Mrs. Kuer felt that the man would not be guilty of the murders and would have preferred to drop the matter. However, during the house-to-house enquiries the neighbour who had been shown the shirt told Detective Sergeants Thick and White about it. The police then called on Mrs. Kuer and took possession of the shirt and set up surveillance on the house for when the man returned. The matter was considered of considerable importance by Inspector Reid, Inspector Abberline and other senior officers.
The man returned on Saturday, 13 October, and was promptly taken into custody where he was held for about 36 hours until the morning of the 15th. The blood was explained by a friend had who got it on the shirt while cutting his corn. It obviously took quite a while to satisfy the police, but eventually they believed the incident had an innocent explanation. However, the report in the Echo on 17 October suggests that the investigation was continuing despite the innocent explanation given and the release of the German.
So the lodger does not appear to have existed as such. The customer story is confirmed by three different sources (Mrs. Kuer, Carl Noun and the Echo reporter’s source—possibly someone from the police)15. By the time the story was first heard on Monday the 15th (or possibly the day before) the full details were possibly already being corrupted. The detail about someone who apparently lived at Mrs. Kuer’s getting blood on the shirt may have been confused and this was the reason the man being searched for was thought to be a lodger of Mrs. Kuer’s. The detail about the landlady being disturbed in the early hours could simply be a distortion of the German appearing early (though not in the early hours) on Sunday morning with the shirts. That he was supposed to have changed his clothes could be a corruption of him handing over his shirts.
Matthew Packer also seems to have played his part in the misreporting of the story. Boy does that man have a lot to answer for!
An Echo reporter called yesterday afternoon upon Mr. Packer, the Berner-street fruiterer, where the murderer bought the grapes for Elizabeth Stride. It now appears that the man was known by Mr. Packer, who positively asserted, “I had seen him in this district several times before, and if you ask me where he lives I can tell you within a little. He lodges not a great way from the house where Lipski, who was hanged for poisoning a woman, lived.” “How many times have you seen him?” was asked Mr. Packer. “About twenty; and I have not seen him since the murder.”16
Packer may have been the source of the detail that the lodger had been seen by others in the vicinity (‘numbers of people have seen the same man about the neighbourhood’17). Although this detail had been reported two days before the Packer interview, it could be that Packer had already spoken to another reporter. Reference to ‘numbers of people’ could simply have been an exaggeration, or a confusion of Packer’s claim to have seen the man a number of times (about twenty in fact!). Packer even said the man he had seen with Elizabeth Stride lived not far from where Lipski had lived at No. 16 Batty Street perhaps to deliberately link his story with that of the ‘Batty Street Lodger’. Alternatively it could be that Packer’s story had helped to create the mistaken belief that the man lived at Mrs. Kuer’s rather than merely leaving his shirts there to be cleaned.
A further report appeared on the 18th regarding a suspect in the area.
THE SUPPOSED CLUE
The supposed clue on which the police are now working is said to relate to a man living in the locality, but not to the visitor to Batty-street. The inquiries are not sufficiently advanced to enable them to make an arrest, even should their suspicions ultimately prove to be well-founded.18
The argument could still be that the police invented the ‘customer’ story to put the press off-track and Mrs. Kuer repeated it in less detail for her interview. However the part about the man’s corn seems unnecessarily detailed for this purpose. Just saying that someone else had accidentally cut themselves and used the shirt to stem the blood would be sufficient. That the source – if it was someone from the police - appeared to also give information about the investigation continuing would also point against the police instigating this false story in order to end press interest, although this may have been a detail unrelated to the ‘lodger’ story or may not have been from the same source. However, other than the Echo report all other indications are that the police were simply denying the story, even denying that a man had been arrested, suggesting that the details in the Echo were not invented by them for the purpose of covering up the true story.
There are also still indications in the reports that the arrest and release did not end the matter. The reports speak of continuing investigations and a further arrest. The further ‘arrest’ may however simply have been related to the friend being taken in for questioning or these details could have been unrelated to the so-called ‘Lodger’ incident, but related to the investigations into the murders as a whole.
A couple of questions can still be asked but it appears the Batty Street Laundry Customer is not connected to any of the murders.
Special thanks to Stephen Ryder and to Coral Kelly, Chris Scott and Spiro for the reports. Thanks also to Debra Arif, Neil Bell, How & Nina Brown, Jane Coram and Don Souden.
Another suspect of the Whitechapel murders was arrested in November:
Shortly before Mr. Bushby left the bench at the close of the day’s business at Worshop-street [sic – Worship Street] Police Court on Saturday a Swede, named Nikaner A. Benelius, 27 years of age, and described as a traveller, living in Great Eastern-street, Shoreditch, was placed in the dock charged with entering a dwelling-house in Buxton-street, Mile End, for an unlawful purpose, and with refusing to give any account of himself. Detective Sergeant Dew attended from Commercial-street station, and stated that the prisoner had been arrested that morning under circumstances which rendered it desirable to have the fullest inquiries made as to him. Prior to the last murder (of Mary Kelly, in Miller’s Court) the prisoner had been arrested by the police and detained in connection with the Berner-street murder; but was eventually released. He had, however, remained about the neighbourhood, lodging in a German lodginghouse, but having, the officer said, no apparent means of subsistence.19
Nikaner Benelius was arrested for alarming Harriet Rowe by just walking into her house and grinning at her when she asked him what he wanted. He had then left and she followed. He stopped to ask a policeman a question and Harriet Rowe informed the constable, PC Imhoff 221H about the incident whereupon Benelius was taken in. He claimed to have gone into the house to ask for directions.20
That he was said to have been detained in connection with the Berner Street murder is reminiscent of the early Echo report referring to Mrs. Kuer’s customer being questioned in connection with the murder of Elizabeth Stride (though obviously there would have been quite a few questioned for that murder and it has already been noted why that would be stated in connection with the investigation by the Metropolitan Police). But the story also makes reference to a German lodging house. This may be a reference to Great Eastern Street21 rather than Mrs. Kuer’s, but it could be, if he lived at a German lodging house, that was how he got to hear about Mrs. Kuer’s laundry service. Benelius was said to be Swedish whereas the man who left the shirts was said to be German, but confusion over the German lodging-house and the fact that Mrs. Kuer was German could account for this detail. Also he was said to be a traveller whereas Mrs. Kuer’s customer was said to be a ladies’ tailor.
There’s nothing to show any definite link but could it be that Benelius was the man who left the blood-stained shirt at Mrs. Kuer’s?
2 Ripperologist 81 (July 2007)
3 For example, Daily News, 16 October 1888
4 Echo, 15 October 1888
5 That the address was spelt incorrectly is possibly an indication that the address had just been heard and wrongly transcribed by the Echo reporter and he had not actually been to the street where he could verify the spelling. This may suggest therefore that his source was not Mrs. Kuer.
6 Daily News, 18 October 1888
7 Evening News, 18 October 1888
8 Evening News, 17 October 1888
9 Echo, 17 October 1888
10 Evening News, 18 October 1888
15 Carl Noun would only have known from Mrs. Kuer how the shirts came to be left as he was away until 6 October. However, he would likely have been in the house when the German was arrested so would have written from his own experience of that. The details of the first Echo report on the 15th suggest a police source, though the details published on the 17th regarding how blood got on the shirt could have come from Mrs. Kuer since they had obviously spoken to her (as had other reporters that day for her interview published on the 18th) as she stated she had not informed the police about the shirt and that she did not believe the man was guilty of the crimes.
16 Echo, 18 October 1888
17 Daily News, 16 October 1888
18 Echo, 18 October 1888.
19 Manchester Guardian, 19 November 1888
20 Morning Advertiser, 19 November 1888
21 No. 90 according to The Star, 19 November 1888
|Batty Street Lodger|
|Dissertations: Is there an Echo around here? An Addendum to Mrs Kuers Lo...|
|Dissertations: Mrs. Kuer’s Lodger|
|Press Reports: Echo - 15 October 1888|
|Press Reports: Echo - 16 October 1888|
|Press Reports: Echo - 17 October 1888|
|Press Reports: Echo - 18 October 1888|
|Press Reports: Evening News - 17 October 1888|
|Press Reports: Evening News - 18 October 1888|
|Press Reports: Pall Mall Gazette - 17 October 1888|
|Press Reports: People - 21 October 1888|
|Dissertations: Cadosch – The Other Side of the Fence|
|Dissertations: Smith's Beat|
|Message Boards: Nikaner Benelius|
|Press Reports: Daily News - 19 November 1888|
|Press Reports: Daily News - 24 November 1888|
|Press Reports: Manchester Guardian - 19 November 1888|
|Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 19 November 1888|
|Press Reports: Star - 19 November 1888|
|Press Reports: Star - 23 November 1888|
|Press Reports: Times [London] - 19 November 1888|
|Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - Nikaner Benelius|