Saturday September 15th 1888
In the yard of the Board of Works, which may be approached either from Whitechapel-road or Eagle-place, stands a mortuary, which during the last few days has been tenanted by the bodies of two unfortunate women, the victims of diabolical treachery and unparalleled ferocity. The ghastly and mutilated corpse of Mary Ann Nicholls is barely consigned to its last resting-place, and the rough black shell is only just emptied of its grim contents in time to afford accommodation to the desecrated remains of Annie Chapman. A quiver of abhorrence vibrates through the land, and we rub our eyes and wonder whether it is not the awakening from some horrible nightmare, or at least exaggerated accounts of the actions of ghouls, ere we can realise that we are in the capital of the country that rules the world. The papers are absolutely crammed with murders and printed in blood. Whichever way we turn we are greeted with butchery and ghastly sickening details which crowd one upon the other with a regularity that is horrible to contemplate. A reign of terror has commenced, and so far as the discovery of the perpetrators of those atrocities is concerned we stand paralysed and powerless. There is not even time for the inquest to be held upon Annie Chapman ere the Thames gives up in the shape of an arm, the indication of another mutilated victim which medical experts declare to be a young and well developed woman.
When I heard of the Hanbury-street murder I made up my mind there and then to go eastward and see and hear as much as possible in the neighbourhood on the off-chance of arriving at something like a correct conclusion, and I popped into Croydon's famous hostelry, the Greyhound, to see the time tables and refresh the inner man. 'Twas there I met a gentleman who volunteered to accompany me upon my dismal mission, and I cannot resist mentioning the fact, since it serves to demonstrate how closely comedy is allied to tragedy. Naturally I was only too pleased to have good company, and after troubling the pleasant barmaid for two drops of special, and receiving Host Bridle's good wishes and fervent benediction, we found our way to the station, took our tickets, jumped into a carriage, and within half and hour or so got out at London Bridge. I was just about to hail a cab, when my companion suggested it would be as well to have a cup of coffee first. I didn't want the coffee, but I am always obliging if possible, and acquiesced in his proposal; so we went into the coffee-room at the London Bridge Hotel and sat down to await the fragrant Mocha. We chatted together for a few minutes, and somehow I thought my friend seemed uneasy. He questioned me as to the locality, wanted to know how many times I'd been there, and how frequently murders occurred, and whether the police had been strengthened and a thousand other queries of a similar character; and then he took off his watch and chain, emptied his pockets, and called for the manager, into whose faithful keeping he placed them, retaining only a sovereign, and resigned himself with Christian fortitude to the perilous venture, first of all demanding I should leave my name and address.
We chartered our hansom, and as we glided over the asphalte he reminded me that "there was nothing like caution." I laughed and rejoined most people would spell caution to the wind as his "cowardice," and truth compels me to say that we did not hit it so well after that. But to cut a long story short, directly he got within sight of the gates opening from Eagle-place - and Eagle-place is a veritable "way of death," for it forms a cul de sac save and except at those times when the gates are open to receive the ghastly burden of the bier - he became frightfully nervous, and eventually took his departure before he had seen anything of importance, and I was left, as I have been before, in the company of my own best friend - myself.. It was easy matter to get near the mortuary. The police were there in great force and kept back the swaying crowds of eager persons who remained spell-bound out of sheer curiosity. Personally, I cannot complain of the treatment I received at the hands of the guardians of the peace, but I think that reporters and journalists generally will admit that scant courtesy was the order of the day, and what information was get-at-able, if not absolutely untrue, was misleading. Many applications from pressmen for admission to the mortuary were absolutely refused, and I have no one to thank for the privilege, if such it was, but myself. I meant to see the body, or I should not have gone to the trouble of the journey, and I did see it after working exactly four hours and a half as only a man can work who, in spite of obstacles, is determined to gain his end.
Looking back as I can now, I honestly believe had I known then all I should have known, I should have abstained from the task, and the cold tenants of the dismal dead-house would have been ignorant of one visitor the less. The faces of the dead are never pleasant to contemplate. The agonised features of a violated woman haunt you, and the red necklace of a cut throat is an ornament that makes you shudder. The mortuary, a long, low building, contained on the left hand side of the door three coffins piled one on the other, and two sable shells; the coffins I believe were empty, the shells were occupied. On the right hand side close to the post mortem table, stands another shell, which reveals on lifting the lid all that is left of the poor unfortunate, cruelly done-to-death "Dark Annie." It is a gruesome spectacle, and the very atmosphere of the place chills and strikes you to the marrow, and it is a great feeling of relief that comes to you as you get back to the busy world and leave "the valley of the shadow" behind. Those who have looked on that frigid face and pitied it will never forget it.
It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. The local public and beer houses are doing a brisk and merry trade. The Ten Bells where Walter, the barman, tells the numerous enquirers that he served the dead woman with something at a quarter past five in the morning, and she was found a corpse extended and exposed at six, is crammed, and the people can hardly move; but in the immediate neighbourhood of Walter himself they are packed like sardines.
Talk of types and characters, sorts and conditions. Here you have unlimited opportunity to study humanity. The lowest and highest, forgetting caste in curiosity rub shoulders, whilst the rich and poor hob-nob over the liquors which are sold, as the announcement proclaims, diluted.
There is little to learn beyond the facts already published in the papers. The police are beaten. Of course they have the usual important clue: let us hope they will make something of it. If the military magnate, however, were to invite the assistance of the Press instead of throwing dust in its eyes the possibilities of success would be materially increased, for the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword applies to these particular crimes with wonderful and direct force. I have talked with many people, and the only conclusion I can come to is this: Our police must be maintained and increased in the proportion of five to three; they must remain a civil power in contradistinction to the military tendency at present to alter their purpose and profession; that we should have more plain clothes officers and not so-called detectives, who are as well known as St. Paul's or the Tower; that the lighting of the streets should be materially improved, and this particular case bloodhounds might, with a fair promise of success, be brought into the field. The better the lights the lesser the number of extra constables required. Another idea, not a bad one, I think, is to employ our idle soldiers for patrols during the day, and so relieve during the 12 of the 24 hours; and again it might be judicious to give the police detectives a chance, and put the amateurs on the scent by a reasonable reward to cover necessary expenditure. It is a well-known fact that there are private detectives who can give the manufactured ones a long start and a fearful licking. Surely it is time when present remedies fail, to try others; they cannot prove worse, and may prove better.
The D. T. has lately jerked us up and sent some of the nervous ones into fits with the overpowering query, "Is England in Danger?" Speaking off-hand, and by the signs of the times, I should say, Certainly, if marriage is a failure. The one topic answers, to my idea, the other one. Apart from this, however, there is no doubt that England is in danger from within as it is from without. If our swords and bayonets are useless and our ships unseaworthy, surely, in common justice we must class the absolute failure of our constabulary in the direction of the discovery of the agents of crime under the same category. Here is an instance, which I quote from a daily:- "The conduct of the man who professed to identify Piser has caused much indignation, it having kept several experienced officers from prosessing inquiries in other directions." Could anything be more scandalous that this - an imposter befooling and keeping several experienced officers from prosecuting inquiries? Why the whole thing is sensless and absurd. One man, several officers. The thing is simply disgraceful, and necessitates that these gentlemen who are specially kept not to do it should in future be paid by results. This does not apply to the regular rank and file who earn 24s a week by directing the traffic and moving on the flower girls and costermongers.
I happened to meet a woman on Saturday night who knew "Dark Annie" very well indeed, and spoke of her in the highest terms as one who was always ready to share her last penny with a pal. This same woman is acquainted with the notorious bogey, "Leather Apron", and was staying with him the other week at a common lodging-house. Curiously enough, she speaks well of this blackmailer, and says there are hundreds of men in the East and West Ends who not only live on the sins of women, but are equally rough and cruel in the treatment of their unfortunate slaves as the now notorious "Leather Apron." When writing for this paper sometime ago on the subject of common lodging-houses in Middle-row, I had something to say respecting the laxity of regulations in these dens of immorality. The disclosures which are forth-coming in cross-examination of the witnesses in these cases prove beyond a doubt the necessity for legislation on this subject, and the prevention of such places being turned into brothels, where the only question of admittance is a matter of eightpence. The woman who told me of "Dark Annie" and "Leather Apron" also told me her own history, but it would be out of place and far too long to tack on this time. The general opinion upon the murder of Mary Anne Nicholls I am unable to write. It might cause trouble and throw suspicion on those who may be innocent, but the women who walk the streets in Whitechapel put it down to others than those who committed the last murder, and their great argument, if you can draw a conclusion, is the absence of any blood in the neighbourhood of the body. Another general idea is that some man is working out a terrible vengeance upon these miserable women through having suffered by their acquaintance and perhaps betrayal. Yet there can be little satisfaction from conjecture unless we are able to punish; such monsters, and at least provide protection, so that it will be impossible that in the streets of our Metropolis unfortunate women may be maimed, mangled, and "Done to Death."