|A Ripper Notes Article
|This article originally appeared in Ripper Notes. Ripper Notes is the only American Ripper periodical available on the market, and has quickly grown into one of the more substantial offerings in the genre. For more information, view our Ripper Notes page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripper Notes for permission to reprint this article.
By Tom Wescott
Tom Wescott is a frequent contributor to Ripper Notes. His previous articles include "The Ripper in Oxford Street?" and "Jack and the Grapestalk."
Philip Sugden, in his magisterial book on the case, observed that Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols' "sad career of drunkenness and decline has been documented more thoroughly than that of any other victim in the Whitehchapel murder series." This being the case, it is remarkable that we know so little about her murder. We know the when and the where and even how Polly died, but it's what her killer did following the fatal wound to her throat that tells us the most about him, and how hot or cold we get in our pursuit of the Ripper depends solely upon how accurately we assess the data available to us.
It goes without saying that an accurate and detailed account of the crime scene evidence is crucial in understanding the crime itself. In this regard, the modern Ripperologist often finds himself thwarted by the scarcity of reliable contemporary sources and must occasionally read between the lines of what data is available in order to flesh out a fuller picture of what the Ripper left behind in his wake. In no instance is this more necessary than in the case of the Buck's Row horror. With both the post mortem report of Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn and the official transcript of the inquest lost to us by pilfering hands long ago, all we are left with in the way of official sources documenting the wounds made to Polly Nichols is a barebones summary of Dr. Llewellyn's observations by Inspector John Spratling, as poorly constructed as it is brief. Even when we turn to the newspaper coverage of the inquest for enlightenment, we are left only with an idea of how the Ripper chose to leave his mark - a series of haphazard gashes running down and across the lower abdomen. Resorting out of necessity to the popular press of the time we find our ignorance transformed to confusion when the scene they almost unanimously describe - one more like that of Annie Chapman or Catherine Eddowes, with a deep wound running from the pubic area to the breast bone - does not appear to be supported by the more primary materials.
The fallout of such uncertainty has been literary anarchy, the main areas of contention being the extent of the abdominal mutilation and what this tells us about the Ripper's motive, comfort level, and skill up to that point. Philip Sugden believed that the mutilation of Nichols was different from that of Martha Tabram before her but exhibited a "similarly pointless ferocity," continuing on to observe that "cruel abdominal mutilations had laid the belly open from a point just below the breastbone to the lower abdomen." Stewart Evans and Paul Gainey, using almost identical language, concurred with this view. Martin Fido, on the other hand, saw evidence of only one noteworthy cut: "the great gash ran from the bottom of the ribs, just right of the sternum, to the pelvis." Bob Hinton and Paul Begg quoted from press excerpts describing abdominal mutilation similar to that seen on later victims Catherine Eddowes and Annie Chapman but did not offer any commentary or personal observations.1
More recently, investigators including Karyo Magellan and Ripper Notes Associate Editor Wolf Vanderlinden have sounded off on the debate, offering refreshingly detailed insight into how they reached their respective conclusions. Magellan, in his book, By Ear and Eyes, describes (and illustrates) a jagged wound commencing from the base of the sternum, curving towards the left of the abdomen, and ending at a point near the pubis. He believes this to be the only significant injury, the other abdominal wounds as "smaller and superficial." In "The Murder of Martha Tabram: No Ordinary East End Crime," an article appearing in Ripper Notes #25, Vanderlinden took the opposing viewpoint:
In those victims who had organs removed, the killer made no extraneous cuts to the body. The abdomen was laid open and organs taken, but this was not the case with the Polly Nichols murder. Dr. Llewellyn described the injuries to her body as being, "two or three inches from the left side was a wound running in a jagged manner. It was a very deep wound, and the tissues were cut through. There were several incisions running across the abdomen. On the right side there were also three or four similar cuts running downwards."
So, one very deep wound with numerous incisions running across and down the abdomen, slashing cuts, which, interestingly, the East London Observer described as "severe cuts and stabs," [emphasis added by Vanderlinden] that were absent from the other victims in which organ removal seems to have been the focus [...] The extraneous slashes and stabs to Nichols' body seem to show that organ removal was not the Ripper's focus in this murder, or else why not get to it and get away? No, it was with Annie Chapman's murder that the killer graduated to disemboweling and removing organs, part of the progression of mutilation which could easily have led from Tabram to Kelly.
Based on Llewellyn's inquest testimony Vanderlinden concluded that the wounds inflicted on Nichols were not similar to those found on later victims; that they were "extraneous" in nature and represent a transition between the frenzy of stabs inflicted on Tabram and the more methodical mutilation/disemboweling of Chapman and Eddowes. As Vanderlinden's essay moved to support Tabram as a Ripper victim, this 'transition' thesis was utilized towards that end. However, if the foundation of this argument - that Nichols suffered only a series of haphazard cuts and stabs not reaching beyond the abdominal region - should happen to be incorrect, then all suppositions drawn from it would fall away as well. Given the absolute lack of consensus among writers regarding Nichols' injuries and the remarkable fact that, to my knowledge, an analytical essay on the matter has yet to be published, I thought it might be worthwhile to focus in on this small but crucial area of the mystery. Perhaps you'll find my conclusions satisfying, but if not, the raw materials are here for you to reach your own. The answers are there, we just have to see them for what they are.
The Primary Sources
Documenting the primary sources for our purpose here will prove a short task, as very little remains left to us, and as we shall see, what does remain is problematic. The first document we'll consider was composed by Inspector John Spratling on August 31st, the morning of the murder. After discovering Nichols' abdominal injuries, he sent for Dr. Llewellyn. Upon arriving at the mortuary, Llewellyn conducted a brief examination, with Spratling following him around, taking down notes as he spoke. Later that day Spratling would produce the first report on the murder, summarizing these notes in the process. He proved to have an unsteady hand and was perhaps not adept at taking shorthand. When compiling The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion [aka Sourcebook], authors Stewart Evans and Keith Skinner found it necessary to add numerous words in brackets in order for Spratling's work to be readable:
"Upon my arrival there and taking a description I found that she had been disemboweled, and at once sent to inform the Dr. of it, l[latter?]2 arrived quickly and on further examination stated that her throat had been cut from left to right, two disti[nct] cuts being on left side. The windp[ipe] gullet and spinal cord being cut through, a bruise apparently of a th[umb] being on right lower jaw, also one o[n] left cheek, the abdomen had been [cut] open from centre of bottom of ribs a[long] right side, under pelvis to left of the stomach, there the wound was jag[ged], the omentium [sic], or coating of the stomach, was also cut in several places, and tw[o] small stabs on private parts, apparently done with a strong bladed knife, supposed to have been done by some le[ft] handed person, death being almost instantaneous."
The report went on to provide a brief description of the murdered woman, as well as her clothes. It misreported that Nichols was missing three teeth when, in fact, she was missing five. More crucial an error than this is the blatantly incorrect statement that her spinal cord had been cut through. This would most certainly be a mistake of Spratling's note-taking, as even a doctor with poor powers of deduction, such as Llewellyn, would not mistake a throat-slitting for decapitation. It is important not to forget these errors when considering the rest of his evidence.
The next report we'll consider comes from an Oct. 19th summary compiled by Chief Inspector Donald Swanson: "Dr. Llewellyn of 152 Whitechapel Road was sent for, he pronounced life extinct and he describes the wounds as, - throat cut nearly severing head from body, abdomen cut open from centre of bottom of ribs along right side, under pelvis to left of stomach, there the wound was jagged: the coating of the stomach was cut in several places and two small stabs on private parts, which in his opinion may have been done with a strong bladed knife. At first the doctor was of opinion that the wounds were caused by a left handed person but he is now doubtful."
As can be seen, this is a near verbatim reproduction of Spratling's summary, with a few significant changes: the last sentence has been altered to reflect Dr. Llewellyn's change of opinion regarding the handedness of the killer; the description of all bruising has been omitted, and all reference to the throat injuries was reduced to the single, erroneous mention that her head had nearly been severed from the body.
This effectively concludes all descriptions of Nichols' wounds that are found in the official files. With the inquest transcripts missing, it is necessary to turn to the newspapers of the day to see what transpired. Fortunately, the newspapers generally agree on what Dr. Llewellyn had to say, so we can be reasonably confident in accepting his Sept. 2nd testimony as reported the next day. The following is from the Daily Telegraph of Sept. 3rd:
On reaching Buck's-row I found the deceased woman lying flat on her back in the pathway, her legs extended. There was very little blood round the neck. There were no marks of any struggle or of blood, as if the body had been dragged. I have this morning made a post-mortem examination of the body. I found it to be that of a female of about forty or forty-five years. Five of the teeth are missing, and there is a slight laceration of the tongue. On the right side of the face there is a bruise running along the lower part of the jaw. It might have been caused by a blow with the first or pressure by the thumb. On the left side of the face there was a circular bruise, which also might have been done by the pressure of the fingers. On the left side of the neck, about an inch below the jaw, there was an incision about four inches long and running from a point immediately below the ear. An inch below on the same side, and commencing one inch in front of it, was a circular incision terminating at a point about three inches below the right jaw. This incision completely severs all the tissues down to the vertebrae. The large vessels of the neck on both sides were severed. The incision is about eight inches long. These cuts must have been caused with a long-bladed knife, moderately sharp, and used with great violence. No blood at all was found on the breast either of the body or clothes. There were no injuries about the body till just about the lower part of the abdomen. Two or three inches from the left side was a wound running in a jagged manner. It was a very deep wound, and the tissues were cut through. There were several incisions running across the abdomen. On the right side there were also three or four similar cuts running downwards. All these had been caused by a knife, which had been used violently and been used downwards. The wounds were from left to right, and might have been done by a left-handed person. All the injuries had been done by the same instrument.
It is perfectly understandable how someone confining himself only to the sources above might conclude that Nichols did not suffer a vertical wound running from chest to pubis, as did most later victims. After all, such a wound is not spelled out in clear language. However, a purist confining himself only to the official files, and thus only to the reports of Spratling and Swanson, would reach the inevitable, though erroneous, conclusion that Nichols' head was hanging on only by part of the backbone. That is not to say the official reports should be disregarded - far from it - merely that, along with Llewellyn's inquest testimony, they should be analyzed more closely and considered with care before any conclusions are drawn. As Spratling was the sole source for Swanson's comments, his statement must be the one we use for our purposes here.
That Spratling was not a wordsmith is obvious, but it would be unfair of us to expect him to have been. He was also not a medical man. As a field investigator with an overflowing workload, there's little doubt that writing such reports for his superiors would be seen by him as a tedious, time-consuming task. A study of his August 31st Nichols case report bares this out, as it is a relatively short paper consisting of six hurriedly composed paragraphs, each covering a different topic or area of the investigation, with the medical evidence afforded the least amount of attention. It was written during the course of a very long day for Spratling and only hours after the discovery of Nichols's body, when all the details of the crime had yet to be fully understood. Given this, a certain amount of error is to be expected, and leeway must be given by the researcher when considering the report as evidence.
We'll begin our analysis by isolating the portion describing the abdominal injuries: "...the abdomen had been [cut] open from centre of bottom of ribs a[long] right side, under pelvis to left of the stomach, there the wound was jag[ged], the omentium [sic], or coating of the stomach, was also cut in several places, and tw[o] small stabs on private parts, apparently done with a strong bladed knife?" What first must be observed is that Spratling confines himself to commas for punctuation. This includes the use of commas to separate his description of different wounds. He utilizes no other form of punctuation, instead relying on words to let the reader know whether he's adding to a previous thought or beginning a new one.
As an example, let's analyze the following excerpt: "?under pelvis to left of the stomach, there the wound was jagged, the omentium [sic], or coating of the stomach..." By inserting the word "there" after the first comma, Spratling tells us which wound was jagged. By contrast, after the second comma he begins a new thought about the coating of the stomach. His entire report reads this way, with each paragraph a long, rambling sentence and each individual thought separated only by commas. The purpose of discussing this is not to belittle Spratling's prose or cast doubt about his competency. He was an experienced investigator and anything he has to say must be given the highest priority. However, if we're to analyze what he wrote and thought we must first understand how he wrote and thought.
With this in mind, let us now reconsider the remarks most pertinent to our purposes here: "...the abdomen had been [cut] open from centre of bottom of ribs a[long] right side, under pelvis to left of the stomach, there the wound was jag[ged]..." Commentators have always taken this to describe a single wound to the abdomen, but on closer examination, it appears to describe two separate wounds - one appearing towards the right of the abdomen, the other towards the left - separated in the sentence by a comma. Spratling's listing of the injuries runs from most to least severe (or perhaps most to least obvious, as they appeared to Llewellyn), therefore we'll assume the first mentioned was the most severe, this being the abdominal wound that was "open from centre of bottom of ribs along right side."
Obviously, to be an abdominal wound, as Spratling states, it could not have commenced at the "centre of bottom of ribs" and gone up the body, so it must have proceeded downward, opening the abdomen - or else the breastplate was the point of termination and the wound had commenced in the abdominal area. The "centre of bottom ribs" puts the wound as commencing just below the breastplate. Such a wound - running from the sternum down over the abdomen - is just such a wound as the ones the Ripper inflicted on Chapman and Eddowes. It was through this kind of opening that he reached to retrieve Eddowes' kidney.
The second wound is described by Spratling as extending from under the pelvis to the left of the stomach, likely shorter in length and less obvious than the first. The report continues and mentions in vague terms that the "coating of the stomach" was cut in several places, indicating that these wounds were not as deep as the first two. Significantly (as we shall see), this portion of the report ends with the mention that the "private parts," or vagina, were stabbed twice.
We'll now move on to the inquest testimony of Dr. Llewellyn, focusing on his description of the abdominal wounds: "There were no injuries about the body till just about the lower part of the abdomen. Two or three inches from the left side was a wound running in a jagged manner. It was a very deep wound, and the tissues were cut through. There were several incisions running across the abdomen. On the right side there were also three or four similar cuts running downwards." It is quite curious that he devotes twice as much time to discussing the wounds to the throat as he does the far more complex series of abdominal injuries. Also curious is the absence of any mention of stabs to the vagina, protruding bowels, or the wound towards the right side of the body that topped Spratling's list of injuries. This cannot be contributed to forgetfulness, but instead is likely to be the result of self-censoring on the part of Llewellyn. Within days Dr. George Bagster Phillips would stand in front of Coroner Wynne Baxter and attempt to do the same thing, albeit with much less subtlety. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Llewellyn felt the same discomfort as Phillips did in publicly discussing such sensitive material. Unfortunately, such modesty - sensible though it may have been at the time - does little to aid the modern researcher, whose last resort for enlightenment is the contemporary press.
But before we turn to the newspapers, let's see what information we can glean from Llewellyn's inquest comments. His statement that "there were no injuries about the body till just about the lower part of the abdomen" is often taken to mean that no part of the body above the abdomen was injured, even though that clearly contradicts Spratling's description of a wound between the bottom ribs. What the doctor is attempting to convey is his impression that all the wounds commenced in the lower abdominal region. His rather terse, throwaway description of the more minor wounds to the abdomen - "several incisions running across the abdomen ... three or four similar cuts running downwards [on the right side]" - is to be as good a description of these wounds as we're likely to get, pending the discovery of the post mortem report or some similar document. Until that time, we simply cannot be sure where or how they appeared.
What we do know about them is that they weren't particularly deep and seemed to run in the same direction as the more severe wounds in their vicinity: on the right side, we find three or four cuts running downwards, quite possibly false starts for the larger wound on that side brought about by the fact that the Ripper was performing his mutilations under the stays Nichols was wearing that - although rather loose for their purpose3 - would have been somewhat constricting for a man attempting to maneuver a large knife and his upper arm. The darkness combined with the stays would have allowed for no visibility, forcing him to work by feel. The constriction caused by the stays would have been even more pronounced at the sides, likely explaining the "jagged" wound described by both Spratling and Llewellyn.
If the hypothesis that the minor wounds were the by-product of the Ripper's working conditions is correct, it effectively disposes of the idea that they were the work of a man in a frenzy, ala Tabram. In fact, the evidence itself points conclusively away from a frenzied killer. Aside from the two stabs to the privates, there were no stab wounds at all, only cuts. The minor cuts were not deep as would be expected in an attack of anger, and even more telling is that during the course of his frustration the Ripper never once lost his cool and attempted to cut through the stays. Instead, he appears to have learned from this and thus forth never allowed the clothing of his victims to become an obstacle.
With this interpretation of the official evidence in mind, we'll now take a look at the contemporary press reports of the murder.
The Secondary Sources
Anyone who has followed the Ripper mystery is aware of both the pitfalls and advantages of the contemporary press. In light of how scarce the primary source material has become, the newspapers of the day are a godsend in helping us fill in the blanks. However, it should go without saying that one must use extreme caution when utilizing the newspapers as sources. Having read through every contemporary article available to me that covered the Buck's Row murder, I have selected a few for presentation here that I feel to be reliable and therefore instrumental in better understanding both the murder and the investigation as it ensued.
The first article we'll consider was one of the very earliest to see print and is important because the source is clearly official. In an age before people (particularly those of little means) carried identification with them, a murder investigation would literally remain at a stand-still until the victim could be identified and leads produced. Investigators would quickly utilize the press to spread word of the crime and a description of the deceased. Such was the case with the Buck's Row murder. Reporters were given access to Nichols' body, her clothing, and even Dr. Llewellyn himself. What follows is a report circulated by the Central News Agency and published in newspapers on the very day of the murder. The details betray a police source and thus must be taken seriously. Even the mistakes apparent in the article provide insight into how chaotic the inquiry was in its first hours:
Scarcely has the horror and sensation caused by the discovery of the murdered woman in Whitechapel some short time ago had time to abate when another discovery is made which, for the brutality exercised on the victim, is even more shocking, and will no doubt create as great a sensation in the vicinity as its predecessor. The affair up to the present is enveloped in complete mystery, and the police have as yet no evidence to trace the perpetrators of the horrible deed.
The facts are that Constable John Neil was walking down Buck's-row, Thomas-street, Whitechapel, about a quarter to four o'clock this morning, when he discovered a woman between 35 and 40 years of age lying at the side of the street with her throat cut right open from ear to ear, the instrument with which the deed was done traversing the throat from left to right. The wound was about two inches wide, and blood was flowing profusely. She was discovered to be lying in a pool of blood.
She was immediately conveyed to the Whitechapel mortuary, when it was found that besides the wound in the throat the lower part of the abdomen was completely ripped open, with the bowels protruding. The wound extends nearly to her breast, and must have been effected with a large knife.
A GHASTLY SIGHT.
As the corpse lies in the mortuary it presents a ghastly sight. The victim seems to be between 35 and 40 years of age and measures five feet two inches in height. The hands are bruised, and bear evidence of having engaged in a severe struggle. There is the impression of a ring having been worn on one of deceased's fingers, but there is nothing to show that it had been wrenched from her in a struggle. Some of the front teeth have also been knocked out, and the face is bruised on both cheeks and very much discoloured.
Deceased wore a rough brown ulster, with large buttons in front. Her clothes are torn and cut up in several places, bearing evidence of the ferocity with which the murder was committed.
The only way by which the police can prosecute an inquiry at present is by finding some one who can identify the deceased, and then, if possible, trace in whose company she was last seen.
In Buck's-row, naturally, the greatest excitement prevails, and several person in the neighbourhood state that an affray occurred shortly after midnight, but no screams were heard, nor anything beyond what might have been considered evidence of an ordinary brawl. In any case, the police unfortunately will have great difficulty in bringing to justice the murderer or murderers.
The woman murdered in Whitechapel has not yet been identified. She was wearing workhouse clothes, and it is supposed she came from Lambeth. A night watchman was in the street where the crime was committed. He heard no screams, and saw no signs of the scuffle. The body was quite warm when brought to the mortuary at half-past four this morning.
This article clearly describes a wound "extending nearly to the breast," as deduced earlier from the primary sources - a wound that would later become a staple of the Ripper murders. On its own and uncorroborated, the presence of this detail could be considered an exaggeration of the person compiling the report. Thankfully, we are in no way short of corroboration. On the very day of the murder, the Star newspaper ran the same Central News press release as the other papers, but followed it with an exclusive report, unquestionably emanating from someone who had bore witness to Nichols' body and effects as they lay in the mortuary. Where the official sources allow, the details found in this impressive report are fully corroborated, establishing credibility for the source. What follows may be the most detailed description available of the primary wounds inflicted on Polly Nichols bu Jack the Ripper:
Writing at half-past eleven a.m., our reporter says:-
The body appeared to be that of a woman of 35. It was 5ft. 3in. in height and fairly plump. The eyes were brown, the hair brown, and the two centre upper front teeth missing, those on either side being widely separated. This peculiarity may serve to identify deceased, of whom at present writing nothing is known. Her clothing consisted of a well-worn brown ulster, a brown linsey skirt, and jacket, a gray linsey petticoat, a flannel petticoat, dark-blue ribbed stockings, braid garters, and side-spring shoes. Her bonnet was black and rusty, and faced with black velvet. Her whole outfit was that of a person in poor circumstances, and this appearance was borne out by the mark
"LAMBETH WORKHOUSE, P. R.,"
which was found on the petticoat bands. The two marks were cut off and sent to the Lambeth institution to discover if possible the identity of deceased.
The brutality of the murder is beyond conception and beyond description. The throat is cut in two gashes, the instrument having been a sharp one, but used in a most ferocious and reckless way. There is a gash under the left ear, reaching nearly to the centre of the throat. Along half its length, however, it is accompanied by another one which reaches around under the other ear, making a wide and horrible hole, and nearly severing the head from the body.
THE GHASTLINESS OF THIS CUT,
however, pales into insignificance alongside the other. No murder was ever more ferociously and more brutally done. The knife, which must have been a large and sharp one, was jobbed into the deceased at the lower part of the abdomen, and then drawn upward, not once but twice. The first cut veered to the right, slitting up the groin, and passing over the left hip, but the second cut went straight upward, along the centre of the body, and, reaching to the breast-bone.
Internal evidence suggests the source for this report was quite different from that circulated by the Central News Agency, which described Nichols as "...between 35 and 40 years of age and [measuring] five feet two inches in height," whereas the Star reporter described her as "a woman of 35 ... 5ft. 3in. in height and fairly plump." The Star also made the rational suggestion that Nichols' missing teeth could aid in her identification, which indicates the knowledge (or perhaps simply a more accurate observation) that her teeth had been missing prior to her murder and were not knocked out by her killer, as implied in the original Central News source.4 The description of Nichols' clothing is remarkably consistent with that found in the official papers but clearly emanates from a different source, as descriptions of individual items vary in perspective. In fact, if the Star report is to be believed, Nichols' bonnet, though new to her, was not in reality a new item, but was instead "black and rusty, and faced with black velvet."5
What is most significant here is the detailed description of the two primary wounds to Nichols' abdomen. Let us compare this with Spratling's description:
Insp. Spratling: "The abdomen had been [cut] open from centre of bottom of ribs a[long] right side."
Star reporter: "went straight upward, along the centre of the body, and, reaching to the breast-bone."
Insp. Spratling: "under pelvis to left of the stomach, there the wound was jag[ged]."
Star reporter: "veered to the [killer's] right, slitting up the groin, and passing over the left hip."
By now there should be little question that Nichols suffered not one but two severe wounds to the abdomen along with a series of smaller cuts. And we're not finished yet!
A Word With Dr. Llewellyn
On Sept. 1st, the day following the murder, Dr. Llewellyn made a rather candid statement to the press that was published in the Pall Mall Gazette edition of the same day:
Dr. Llewellyn has made a statement, in which he says he was called to Buck's-row about five minutes to four yesterday morning by Police-constable Thane [sic], who said a woman had been murdered. He found deceased lying on the ground in front of the stable-yard door. She was lying on her back, with her legs out straight, as though she had been laid down. Police-constable Neil told him that the body had not been touched. The throat was cut from ear to ear and the woman was quite dead. The extremities of the body were still warm, showing that death had not long ensued. There was a very small pool of blood on the pathway, which had trickled from the wound in the throat, not more than half a pint at the outside. This fact, and the way in which the deceased was lying, made him think at the time that it was at least probable that the murder was committed elsewhere, and the body conveyed to Buck's-row. At half-past five he was summoned to the mortuary by the police, and was astonished at finding the other wounds. He had seen many horrible cases, but never such a brutal affair as this. There is a gash under the left ear reaching nearly to the centre of the throat, and another cut, apparently starting from the right ear. The neck is severed back to the vertebra, which is also slightly injured. The abdominal wounds are extraordinary for their length and the severity with which they have been inflicted. One cut extends from the base of the abdomen to the breast bone. Deceased's clothes were loose, and the wounds could have been inflicted while she was dressed.
There we have it, and straight from the doctor himself. Although this should conclusively end the controversy over the extent of Nichols' injuries, it raises another intriguing question: Why, if he were willing to share all of this with a reporter, was Dr. Llewellyn so vague in his testimony at the inquest? The simple and likely answer is that he - and by association, Dr. Phillips - was pressured by the powers that be not to dwell on the gorier details for fear of overexciting an already shocked and bewildered public. It's important to remember that only one day had passed since the murder when Llewellyn made his statement to the press. No one had any way of knowing then that it would soon be linked by the press with the earlier murders of Emma Smith and Martha Tabram and panic unlike anything the city had ever seen would ensue. By the time Llewellyn stepped into the jury box the next day, he'd been asked to keep his remarks to a minimum, and did as he was told. As Dr. Phillips would soon warn Coroner Baxter at the Chapman inquest, "In giving these details to the public, I believe you are thwarting the ends of justice."
Inside the 'Dead House'
Before moving on we should consider one more press report from a journalist allowed into the mortuary to see the body of Polly Nichols as she lay in her coffin. This report, titled "In the Dead House," was first published in the East London Observer of Sept. 1st, 1888. It is not only provocative and saddening but includes additional details relevant to our discussion:
The news of the terrible tragedy spread like wild-fire amongst the inhabitants of Buck's-row and the neighbourhood, who, filled with morbid curiosity, surrounded Eagle-place, the entrance by which the body was taken into the dead-house. The Whitechapel Mortuary is a little brick building situated to the right of the large yard used by the Board of Works for the storage of their material. Accompanied by Mr. Edmunds, the keeper, our reporter visited the temporary resting place of the victim on Friday morning. The first evidence seen of the tragedy on arriving in the yard was a bundle of what were little more than rags, of which the woman had been divested, and which were lying on the flagstones just outside the mortuary. They consisted of a dull red cloak already mentioned, together with a dark bodice and brown skirt, a check flannel petticoat which bore the mark of the Lambeth Workhouse, a pair of dark stockings, and an old pair of dilapidated-looking spring-side boots, together with the little and sadly battered black straw bonnet, minus either ribbons or trimmings. Contrary to anticipation, beyond the flannel petticoat, and with the exception of a few bloodstains on the cloak, the other clothing was scarcely marked. The petticoat, however, was completely saturated with blood, and altogether presented a sickening spectacle. Entering the deadhouse, with its rows of black coffins, the keeper turned to the one immediately to the right of the door, and lying parallel with the wall. Opening the lid, he exposed the face of the poor victim. The features were apparently those of a woman of about thirty or thirty-five years, whose hair was still dark. The features were small and delicate, the cheek-bones high, the eyes grey, and the partly opened mouth disclosed a set of teeth which were a little discoloured. The expression on the face was a deeply painful one, and was evidently the result of an agonizing death. The gash across the neck was situated very slightly above the breastbone; it was at least six inches in length, over an inch in width, and was clean cut. The hands were still tightly clenched. The lower portion of the body, however, presented the most sickening spectacle of all. Commencing from the lower portion of the abdomen, a terrible gash extended nearly as far as the diaphragm - a gash from which the bowels protruded. There were no rings upon the fingers, and no distinguishing marks either about the face or the body.
The primary significance of this report is in that it tells us from which of Polly's many abdominal wounds the bowels protruded - the one described by Dr. Llewellyn as reaching from the lower abdomen to the breastbone. It was from just such a wound that the Ripper would later extract Catherine Eddowes's left kidney, and while it is possible that the protrusion was caused by the motion of the knife or the killer's hand as he extracted himself from under the stays, it is no less possible that the Ripper was in the process of removing the intestines when he was disturbed by the approaching footsteps of Charles Cross, the first man to find the body. A more intriguing, though certainly no less plausible, scenario is that the intestines became dislodged when the body was moved, either at the scene or at the mortuary; when picked up at the head and feet, her body would have bended at the waist, placing pressure on the abdomen, and possibly forcing the intestines through the opening.6 It must be remembered that her abdominal wounds were not noticed until she was already in place on the mortuary slab.
We've covered a lot of ground and considered many sources, so perhaps it would be wise to briefly summarize what's been achieved. A careful study of Inspector Spratling's report indicates he was describing not only the commonly acknowledged "jagged" wound but also a more severe cut. The application to this hypothesis of other reliable eyewitness sources bears this out as fact and adds further to our knowledge of the injuries. The less severe of the two reached from under Polly Nichols' pelvis, up and over her left hip, and terminated two or three inches in at her lower abdomen, where the wound became jagged. The other ran from the just under the sternum all the way down to just over the pubic region, hugging closer to the right side. It was from this wound that the bowels protruded. Nearby were three or four smaller cuts, running downward in the same direction. Elsewhere on the abdomen (presumably closer to the center or left side) were some incisions running left to right. These smaller cuts were less severe - only reaching deep enough to penetrate the coating of the stomach - and therefore were more likely to have been caused by the killer attempting to maneuver his hand and knife under the constricting stays with little or no light. This may also be true of the two stabs to the "private parts," as described by Spratling.
Our new understanding of the medical evidence carries with it many theory-shattering ramifications. Most obvious of these is that the mutilations to Nichols' abdomen were of the same character as those later found on Eddowes and Chapman, an indication that the Ripper's objective had been the same: the procurement of organs. Also apparent is that he was by no means in a frenzy in Buck's Row, as the wounds were inflicted with clear intent, and, despite the presence of the stays acting as a frustrating obstacle to his success, he maintained his calm, not even cutting through the clothing. Short of the two jabs to the vagina, which may have been superfluous, not a single stab wound was inflicted. The killer displayed the same comfort and skill with the knife as he would later show with Chapman, forcing us to reconsider the idea that each subsequent murder was an escalation and rendering a comparison between the killings of Nichols and Martha Tabram tenuous at best. The notion that the Ripper was interrupted in his efforts by the sound of the approaching footsteps of Charles Cross becomes almost irresistible.
Jack the Ripper killed to mutilate, and he mutilated to obtain organs. He may have enjoyed the fear he invoked, but there was no passion in what he did.
1. The books referred to in this paragraph are: Jack the Ripper: The Facts by Paul Begg; From Hell: The Jack the Ripper Mystery by Bob Hinton; The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper by Martin Fido; Jack the Ripper: First American Serial Killer (UK title The Lodger) by Stewart Evans and Paul Gainey, and The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Philip Sugden.
2. This may have been meant to indicate "Llewellyn," with Spratling failing to capitalize the "L."
3. Inspector Spratling stated at the inquest that he could see the wounds under the stays.
4. Although the missing teeth were likely her most distinguishing feature, it was not listed on the police descriptive form, where it should have been noted under "Marks or peculiarities." Evans & Skinner, The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion, first edition, pg. 30.
5. Some prominent authors, such as Donald Rumbelow, have made the error of describing the bonnet as new, a mistake that still crops up in discussion on internet message boards. In bold contrast to this, Insp. Spratling informed the inquest jury that her brown linsey dress was "new" - a fact overlooked by virtually all writers.
6. Suggested to me by Dan Norder in a private correspondence.
Mucho thanks to Stephen Ryder and the many generous volunteers at the Casebook Press Project (www.casebook.org/press_reports/).
No less generous with her time and talents is Jane Coram, whose illustrations are more and more becoming a necessity in understanding the intricacies of this case. You'll always have my gratitude.