|A Ripperoo Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperoo, the flagship magazine of the Australian Cloak and Dagger Club. For more information, view our Ripperoo page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperoo for permission to reprint this article.|
George Hutchinson & his statement – An analysis.
BY DEREK F. OSBORNE.
George Hutchinson is a familiar figure to those who have studied the crimes of Jack the Ripper. This labourer gave, in a statement to the police, an eye witness account of a meeting between Mary Jane Kelly and a man she picked up in Commercial Street, the night of her murder. I place before you my observations and conclusions, which I hope you find of interest.
At about 10:45 a.m. on the morning of the 9th of November 1888, Thomas Bowyer knocked on the door of a one-roomed-hovel in Millers Court, Spitalfields. Bowyer was an ex-Indian Army pensioner, who worked as an odd-job man for John McCarthy, the landlord of Millers Court. On this particular morning, he had called at No. 13 for the rent. Receiving no answer to his knock, the pensioner peered through a broken window. On the bed, lay the butchered remains of the 25 year old prostitute known as Mary Jane Kelly.
At about 6 p.m. on the 12th of November 1888, three days after this murder and after the close of the inquest into her death, a labourer by the name of George Hutchinson entered the precincts of Commercial Street Police Station and there made a statement concerning the last, previously unknown movements of the deceased and of a man who had picked her up. A man who became the focal point in the hunt for ‘Jack the Ripper’. Yet the statement of George Hutchinson, cannot be relied upon. For a detailed study of this document and the topography it covers, reveals that it was almost certainly fabricated and we must review his testimony.
Statement of George Hutchinson:
“About 2:00 a.m. on the 9th I was coming by Thrawl Street, Commercial Street and just before I got to Flower and Dean Street I met the murdered woman Kelly and she said to me: “Hutchinson, will you lend me sixpence?” I said: “I can’t. I have spent all my money going down to Romford”. She said: “Good morning, I must go and find some money. She went away to Thrawl Street. A man coming in the opposite direction to Kelly (I.e. from Aldgate) tapped her on the shoulder and said something to her. They both burst out laughing. I heard her say: “All right” to him and the man said: “You will be alright for what I have told you”. He then placed his right hand around her shoulder. He also had a kind of small parcel in his left hand with a kind of strap around it. I stood against the lamp of the Queen’s Head Public House and watched him. They both came past me and the man hung his head down with his hat over his eyes. I stooped down and looked him in the face. He looked at me stern. They both went into Dorset Street. I followed them. They both stood on the corner of the court for about three minutes. He said something to her. She said: “All right, my dear. Come along. You will be comfortable”. He then placed his arm on her shoulder and she gave him a kiss. She said she had lost her handkerchief. He then pulled out his handkerchief, a red one, and gave it to her. They both went up the court together. I went to the court to see if I could see them, but I could not. I stood there for about three quarters of an hour to see if they came out. They did not, so I went away.”
Description of the man:
‘Age about thirty four or thirty five; height five feet six inches; complexion pale; dark eyes and eyelashes; slight moustache curled up at each end and hair dark; very surly looking; dress – long dark coat; collar and cuffs trimmed with astrakhan and a dark jacket underneath; light waistcoat; dark trousers; dark felt hat turned down in the middle; button boots and gaiters with white buttons: wore a very thick gold chain with linen collar; black tie with horseshoe pin; respectable appearance; walked very sharp; Jewish appearance.'
Hutchinson’s eye witness account, was of immediate importance to the police. Furthermore, his recall of events taking place in Commercial Street that night, included a most remarkable detailed description of Kelly’s client. Curiously however, he never furnished a physical description of Mary Kelly. And it appears astonishing that the police seemingly never asked for one, for the butchered remains found on her bed in Millers Court, resembled more a slaughterhouse carcass than a woman. But now as a result of this labourer’s statement, the police were concentrating their efforts in looking for a man of Jewish appearance. News of this filtered through the grapevine of the East End and the newspapers, which must have been greeted with relief by a certain stout man with a red moustache, who was the original suspect sought in connection with Mary Kelly’s murder. But, now thanks to Hutchinson’s testimony, he was no longer a hunted man.
Yet the labourer’s statement, reveals some disturbing anomalies for Hutchinson. Despite all his certainty as to that nights events, which he so ably described, he was curiously unsure as to his own whereabouts on the night in question.
Hutchinson stated that he met Mary Kelly on the corner of Flower and Dean Street and that after a few words, she left him to walk down Commercial Street. A man coming in the opposite direction, stopped her and spoke to her. Hutchinson related: “...he then placed his hand around her shoulders. He also had a kind of parcel in his left hand with a kind of strap around it. I stood against the lamp of the Queen’s Head and watched him.” According to his account, Hutchinson was outside the ‘Queen’s Head at the corner of Flower and Dean Street’. But astonishingly, there was no public house by any name at this location. Instead, as a contemporary map reveals, there was only the bleak rise of a tenement block, to be found there. As to the ‘Queen’s Head’: this public house, rather than being located at the corner intersection of Flower and Dean Street, was actually located at the corner intersection of Commercial Street and Fashion Street. And to have reached it, Hutchinson would have to have turned his back on the couple he said he was observing, to walk further up Commercial Street. A distance, according to an Ordnance Survey Map, of one hundred and twenty yards. Therefore, Hutchinson’s contention that he watched a man engage Kelly near Thrawl Street, while he was outside the ‘Queen’s Head’ and that he was able to overhear their conversation, is totally discredited. How could he, by night’s dark cover plus at such a distance, have possibly observed such an innocuous detail as a strap around a small parcel?
In addition to Hutchinson’s uncertainty regarding his position in Commercial Street, we find a most curious break in his narrative. We have worked out that to reach the ‘Queen’s Head’, he would have walked away from the couple he said he was watching. With every step he took, the distance between him and Thrawl Street increased. Yet this episode, this unavoidable walk, is missing or has been erased from his statement. Why? Clearly for a man who could remember or recall the colour of a man’s eyes and eyelashes by night, it is a perplexing omission.
In light of these curious anomalies, I decided it would be worthwhile to examine Hutchinson’s original statement, (which is lodged at the Public Records Office). In doing so I came across a startling fact and one of paramount importance completely absent from the many books published on Jack the Ripper, which have included the statement of this labourer. For the long-held acceptance that Kelly and her client passed him at the ‘Queen’s Head’, is totally at odds with his original statement that he was standing outside another public house, one called the ‘Ten Bells’. And this particular public house we find, was sited at the corner of Church Street and Commercial Street, opposite Spitalfields Market. And this glaring discrepancy in Hutchinson’s testimony, we find was discovered only after his statement, labouriously taken down in longhand had been completed. However it was altered by a simple expediency: The wording of the ‘Ten Bells’ was struck through and substituted by that of the ‘Queen’s Head’.
By such an act, the construction of Hutchinson’s account became more readily acceptable. Yet even this alteration cannot explain or dispel his flawed testimony. Consequently, we are forced to consider that George Hutchinson’s account was a fabrication. The edifice, indeed the very foundations of Hutchinson’s story, rested solely on his points of observation, his locations in Commercial Street. Remove anyone of these key-ins and the whole structure of events he claimed to have witnessed, collapses like a house of cards. And collapse it did, as the police must have discovered.
But why then did the police, in view of this man’s obvious unreliability as a witness, decide to accept his story? To find a possible answer to this question, we must probe a particular social condition, prevailing at the time and understand the enormous pressure the police were under to apprehend the Whitechapel murderer.
When Hutchinson directly identified the suspect in Mary Kelly’s murder as a Jew, he struck a deep well lying beneath the fabric of the East End community. One containing the dark waters of anti-Semitism. And it was one that may have heavily influenced acceptance of his flawed testimony.
Support for such speculation, is not hard to find in the newspaper accounts of the times. In any event, Hutchinson’s contention that Mary Kelly’s last companion was a Jewish man, focuses out the manner in which he brought this fact to the attention of the police:
“ I stood against the lamp of the ‘Queen’s Head’ Public House and watched him. They both came past me and the man hung down his head, with his hat over his eyes. I stooped down and looked him in the face…”. By this act, Hutchinson directly identified the murder suspect. By any standard, (if accepted as true), it was a rude and aggressive act. Not only toward Kelly’s client, but also to Mary herself. What business was it of Hutchinson’s, if Kelly picked up a man? After all, picking up men was the keystone of her trade.
Huitchinson was later to claim that he had known Mary for some three years, and had on occasion given her a shilling or two. But, why should he give her money? He was certainly not her boyfriend. For the past eighteen months, Mary Kelly had been living with a fish porter named Joseph Barnett. If Hutchinson and Mary knew each other, if they were friends, then they certainly never had much to say to one another in that capacity, when they met at Flower and Dean Street. Nor even on Fashion Street, when on her way home and she allegedly passed him again. There were no words exchanged. No nods, no smiles or greetings. There was only an odd silence. Even Kelly’s companion made no remark, concerning Hutchinson’s rude behaviour towards him. In silence the couple moved on, until they arrived at the passage way to Millers Court. Here they stopped, apparently chatted and played with a handkerchief, before going into Mary’s nearby room. Yet there is no covert action here, found on the part of Kelly’s client. Indeed for a man who seemingly tried to hide his face when he passed Hutchinson, he now behaves quite openly, even while Hutchinson hovers nearby. Strange behaviour, from a man contemplating murder!
Consider for a moment, another aspect of Hutchinson’s alleged suspect: Here we have a lone, well dressed man, who in the early hours of a cold November morning, was approaching two of the most notorious rookeries in Spitalfields, Flower and Dean Street and Dorset Street. Moreover, his coat is wide open, displaying a thick gold watch chain. A golden invitation indeed to any out-of-pocket villain, who may have been lurking in the shadows. Only a foolish man, one bereft of common sense, would I suggest to have behaved in such a way. And as such, it does not equate with the image of a cunning, street-wise killer. Besides a cold chill, the weather was overcast, with continuous drizzle, reasons enough for any man to keep his coat well-buttoned up.
According to Hutchinson, he and the murderer looked at each other intently. Their faces were only inches apart. And that encounter was just about as close and personal as you can get. Yet in spite of this, the most hunted man in England seemingly threw away his anomity, as carelessly as a child throws away a sweet wrapper. Or so Hutchinson would have us believe.
Hutchinson’s account, although seemingly simple on the surface, suggests something hidden. We study the picture on the canvas, but is there another underneath? For his story as such, appears more suited to a mid-day encounter, rather than one taking place at 2 a.m. May we speculate then, that Hutchinson’s testimony was perhaps no more than the recalled memory of an event that took place a day or days before Mary’s untimely death? Viewed in the light of day, Hutchinson’s account has a more credible ring about it. Picture Hutchinson standing outside the ‘Ten Bells’ one morning, when Mary comes by desperate for money and asks Hutchinson for a loan. But the labourer is broke, so Mary then walks off down the street. A well dressed man approaches, (fat pickings for a prostitute down on her luck.) But in the crowded street, Mary never notices him, until he taps her on the shoulder, (these facts are very clear, in Hutchinson’s account). Their purpose agreed the couple proceed to Dorset Street, where they stopped and chatted. The flirtatious incident regarding the red handkerchief, was more in keeping with a fine day, I suggest, than the dismal weather that prevailed the night of her murder. Bearing in mind that the dry refuge of her room that night, was only yards away. The suspicion that Hutchinson’s story was fabricated, adds another mystery surrounding the death of Mary Kelly, for what did he have to gain from it?
Certainly one other person benefited from Hutchinson’s appearance at the Commercial Street police station – the man with the red moustache, or the man the police originally sought in connection with Kelly’s murder. The moment Hutchinson signed his statement, this individual was cleared of any complicity in her death.
In an attempt to clear the fog of confusion, we must consider the possible motivation regarding Hutchinson’s false testimony. Of course it is not unknown for persons emotionally or mentally unstable, to confess to or offer information in regard to criminal acts that they have not been involved in. Those of low self-esteem, with a desire to gain some recognition or a brief moment of glory in an otherwise drab life, predominate in that order are individuals who hamper police inquiries. Yet whatever role Hutchinson played, he was certainly not overawed or intimidated, it appeared, either by the police or the press.
Considering that this man was placed in the spotlight and electric atmosphere, following the Ripper’s latest atrocity, he comes across as a cool and collected individual. However, in view of Hutchinson’s testimony, we are drawn to it’s most significant effect. The abandoned search for the man with the red moustache. If ever a man needed a saviour, he did and he found one in George Hutchinson. The labourer therefore, we are forced to consider, may have been a friend of the rarest kind or one paid to provide an ‘alibi’.
Probably one of the more curious revelations emerging from this, concerns his self-appointed vigil outside the entrance to Millers Court. That peculiar three quarter hour wait that he claimed to have engaged in, (if his story was a plot to divert suspicion away from the real murderer), deserves some explaination!
Why was it found necessary to include this period of suspecded time? Had not George Hutchinson already delivered the goods? But the nagging suspicion that something lay behind it's inclusion cannot be easily brushed aside. The motive of idle curiosity may, on a fine day, be acceptable. But in the dark and miserable early hours of a cold morning, seems out of place. Picture if you will Hutchinson with his hands plunged deep into his pockets to ward off the chill of the night air, huddled against the wall of a building, waiting to see whether the Jewish man would appear from the room that he entered with Mary Kelly.
According to Hutchinson, his suspicions had been aroused by seeing a well-dressed man in that part of East London, as photographs of the time will verify. Among them, right on Hutchinson's doorstep in Commercial Street, is a photograph of the detectives of Commercial Street Police Station and well-turned out men they are indeed.
Hutchinson tells many things, but who is there to tell us anything about him? We need some evidence, some verification as to the events he claimed took place that night. Of the two parties he stated that he saw, One is dead and the other was never found. Therfore hius witness statement hangs in the air, precariously balanced and uncorroborated. Unless of course, we can find some independent corroboration or support for his story. But was there not a fourth player, who crossed the stage that night?
Admittedly, Sarah Lewis only had a walk-on part, but her testimony throws a revealing light on Hutchinson's account of his vigil in Dorset Street. At about 2:30 a.m., this woman passed along Dorsett Street to visit a friend in Millers Court. She saw a man opposite the Court. In evidence she said: "He was stout, not very tall and wore a wide-awake hat." Now what was Hutchinson to say about this woman who passed him at this time? Surprisingly, we find that the 'watchman' had nothing whatsoever to say about her. Hutchinson in his meticulous account for the early hour of the 9th of November, completely failed to mention her.
Yet he could hardly have missed her, because she walked straight by him to enter the court he was watching so intently. For a man who could recall the smallest detail, such as the colour of a man's eyelashes by night, it is an inexplicable omission. Unless of course, Hutchinson was never in Dorset Street.
Some commentators on this mystery, have assumed that the man seen by Sarah Lewis must have been George Hutchinson. That assumption must not be taken for granted. For a report in my own local paper, revealed that Hutchinson was 'a man of military appearance'. This description we find does not equate with that given by Sarah Lewis. Indeed her description fits that of another man who was in Dorset Street but a few hours earlier. The man who accompanied Kelly to her room before midnight and the original suspect in her murder: 'The stout man with the red moustache'. Might not we consider then that the man Sarah Lewis saw, rather than being Hutchinson, was actually the murderer himself?
To find a speculative explanation we must go back to midnight, or just before the time when Mary entered her room with the stout man. Mrs. Cox, a neighbour of Mary Kelly who said "goodnight" to her as she entered her rented room, told the Inquest: "She was so drunk she could hardly answer me". Now alcohol we know is a great percusor to sleep. Kelly I suspect, after survising her client and following his departure , would in the normal course of events consider her inebriated condition, have ventured out again on a miserable night when the pickings on the streets would have been surely slim.
As to the motive for her murder, it might be argued that the Ripper needed none, but the man who walked openly with her to her room, (carrying beer), may not have entertained any idea of murder, hence this public outing. However it has been well documented that Mary could become extremely quarrelsome when drunk. What then, if Mary had tried to hike up the price of her favours, an argument stemming from her drunken demands brike out, (igniting the Ripper's fury), then this culminated in an irrevocable settlement of accounts?
As to the Ripper's habit of carrying a knife, might it not also have served the purpose of self-protection? For might not this killer have feared violence from the numerous ruffians to be found amoungst the local populace?
In the aftermath of Mary Kelly's death, her killer now suddenly realized that there were two witnesses to his pressence in Dorset Street: Mrs. Cox and Sarah Lewis, and he desperately needed an aliby....Enter Hutchinson! Yes that three-quarter hour period, that curious sentinel claimed by Hutchinson, still requires some explanation. It is reasonable to assume that the Ripper, after his butchery, left Mary's room at about 2:00a.m., (it is medically stated that she died between 1:00a.m. and 2:00a.m.), then returned to his own abode, only to discover he had left some incriminating item behind? Consequently he was compelled to return to Millers Court to retrieve it.
Taking up a position from acoss the street, he waited to see if the coast was clear before entering Mary's room. It was about this time that Sarah Lewis passed by and entered the court herself. When all was quiet, the murderer crept back into the room that contained the evidence that might have incriminated him, before fleeing once more into his own residence. Hutchinson's evidence diverted suspicion away, not only from the killer's midnight outing with Mary Kelly but also his presence in Dorset Street. A friend indeed for a man in need!
A minor puzzle in Kelly's room surfaced with the discovery of some old chared clothing that was found in her fireplace. These it has been suggested were burnt to give the Ripper extra light as he attended to his ghastly work, but for a killer so well versed in the art of dispatching and disembowelling his victims in near darkness, it hardly appears a necessary requisite. The purpose of burning such clothing I suggest, may have equally served another purpose: that of plunging the room into darkness. For by extinguishing the fire that was already burning in the grate, the murderer would have obliterated any tell-tale flickers of light thrown against the room's only window. By this act, he would have delayed the discovery of her body.
Interestingly by this act we observe a significant change in the Modus Operandi: The astonishing, reckless behaviour exhibited by him in his street murders is now edged with a sense of caution. Hardly surprising yet somewhat late in view of the unprecedented manhunt that was in full swing to find him.
As to the speculative scenario I have laid out to explain in some degree the reasoning or motive behind George Hutchinson's behaviour, I accept that others may find counter-argument in presenting their own points of view, but no argument can remove the stain of suspicion that will forever blot the statement of George Hutchinson.