On the eve of the Saturday upon which "Dark Annie" was done to death, I made a journey to the shed in which her poor mangled remains found an uncouth resting-place previous to their being laid to rest on mother earth. My visit was a somewhat lengthy one, and I had a fair opportunity to become acquainted with the state of terror into which the neighbourhood was thrown, and several personal experiences to prove beyond a doubt that the facts of the case were in no way exaggerated. Since then we have all read with shivering interest the details which have come to light through the media of the Coroner's inquest and police investigations. After the shock of her horrible death following so closely upon the previous attacks, we are appalled by the indecent exposure and treatment to which her corpse was subjected by a couple of old doddering Workhouse inmates, who partly on their on account and partly on account of others, stripped the body and made preparations for the post mortem examination. It is far from my intention or inclination to stir up muddy water, and yet I cannot pass over the matter without putting on record the detestable fact that a woman should be desecrated, and several important details of evidence lost through the imbecile stupidity of two fossilized old paupers! Not that the men themselves are to blame, but they are the outcome of an ignorant and prejudicial system of Bumbledom, which always has been and is a disgrace to any civilized country. Not that it is necessary nor reasonable that in ordinary cases the qualified practitioner should be troubled with minor and unimportant details, but at least these should be entrusted to someone of experience and average intellect. The very fact that, in a thickly-populated district such as Whitechapel, there should be no proper and well-regulated place for the reception of the dead, is in itself, as incomprehensible as it is astounding, and if the frail sister, whose murder is still unavenged, is but the cause of a revolution in this respect, her sacrifice has not been in vain. She has a right to be regarded as a martyr to conditions morally and socially bad, and we may speak of her as the unconscious pioneer of a movement which is bound to be the result of popular feeling and self-respect. Conjectures innumerable have been advanced, theories have been propounded, and the brain power and cunning of our detective force concentrated, besides the acumen and discernment of the medical profession, with what effect? Absolutely none! Undoubtedly, the primary cause of such lamentable failure may be summed up by the fact that power has been working against power. It has been individual energy striving to discover the assassin in contra-diction to a collective one, and the truth of the old adage that "unity is strength" has once more discovered itself. Clues that have been forthcoming, instead of being attached have been isolated, and the strict injunctions emanating from Scotland Yard have crippled instead of furthering the capture of a diabolical monster. The last phase of the whole matter is as sickening as the rest. The medical world generally is dissatisfied and disbelieving. They say and say very rightly that another opinion should have been taken upon the butchery to demonstrate whether it is or is not the work of an anatomist, and even then in the event of disagreement between the two surgeons a third, and if need be a fourth, should have been called upon to substantiate the validity of the verdict. This is too late unless the remains are exhumed, and lest us hope in common decency that such will not be the case. One blunder more or less in a chapter of bungling is not important.
I determined last Friday to make another invasion of the locality just to see and hear what I could of the after effects of these mysteries, and as the clock chimed eight I stood at the foot of St. Mary's Church. Those of you who read "Done to Death" will remember me mentioning a woman with whom I had a conversation upon my last visit, and who then told me that she had not only the personal acquaintance of the erstwhile bogey "Leather Apron", but had also been in the company of "Dark Annie" the day previous to her death. When I left her on the Sunday morning, at something like 4.30 a.m., I suggested that she should obtain every possible information, and in the event of anything out of the way coming to hand she should drop me a line. It was further settled that if I made a return visit I should write and make an appointment with her, and she agreed to take me to one or two of the worst and most out of the way lodging-houses, where I should at least succeed in obtaining the popular opinion of a similar class of women to those who have been murdered, and who are generally classified on the charge-sheet by the opprobrious epithet of "unfortunates," besides meeting a school of masculine humanity or inhumanity, who would hardly hesitate to cut a man's throat for the price of a bottle of gin. Brutality and fiendish malice may be purchased upon the open market in any part of London quite as easily as beef and bacon, and if the truth of the police courts could be revealed we should find that in many cases the prisoners who take their conviction as a matter of course have already received a consideration to develop their passions, and are but the instruments of unseen hands who pull the strings. I can prove what I write to the hilt over and over again, and I have not only heard of these things, but I have met the people who are ready at a moment's notice to do any deed of darkness. The female element is quite as conspicuous as the male. If these wretches only knew their power and were organised they could paralyse are metropolitan police and run riot at their pleasure. We talk of the French Revolution and whisper of the terrible doings of the Communists, but we have, whether we like to acknowledge it or not, a slumbering volcano of Republican wickedness of the worst type in merry England ready to burst forth and overwhelm monarchy at a moment's notice. The great army of the slums only awaits the call of the general, and, once the torrent of starvation breaks the boundary of police supervision, who can foretell where it will stop?
My guide and companion on this occasion proved her cuteness and intelligence, and I went in and out, up and down, round and round, making the grand tour, through dark alleys, up narrow passages, now and again just for the moment catching the glimpse of the open thoroughfares, and from the time I met her to the time I left her, with the exception of the main streets, we never met a policeman. I am not of the murdering type, but I am quite sure if I had been I could have "polished her off" with the greatest security; on the other hand had she taken advantage of my helpless condition there would have been a vacancy upon the staff of this paper.
We called at three lodging-houses, and with once exception, I found them neither better nor worse than Croydon's High Street accommodation. The exception was the second. When we arrived at the entrance there was neither sign nor token to demonstrate habitation. It was to all appearances an old dilapidated empty house. A push, and the door creaked on its hinges, revealing a dark passage into which we made our way, and carefully advanced to the further end, where a gleam of light escaping by the partly opened door and the hum of voices told us some portion was tenanted. Advancing further, we entered an ordinary sized kitchen, scantily furnished, but provided with an excellent fire. In the centre was a large table, at the further end of which sat five or six women and about half that number of men. Something struck me that all was not right. It was no feeling of fear nor fright of violence from the inmates, but a queer creeping sensation; everything was so quiet and still. I had not far to look for the cause. The near end of the table was covered with a sheet, 'neath which might be distinguished the outline of a dead body. Raising my eyes I found those of the entire company concentrated on the same object. It proved to be a child, a pale-faced pinched little creature who, totally inadequate in strength to battle with the hardships of the world, had happily found peace and rest in the silent land. But as the poor mother, who had at the request of my companion had drawn aside the white covering to show us her lost darling, kissed its cold forehead ere she replaced the temporary shroud, and turned away with great tears in her eyes to meet the battle of hunger and trouble without a murmur. I felt as though my heart would burst with pity, and inclined to go out into the highways and hedges to cry out against the cruelty to and depravation of our poor. This was a case I knew too well of one who could not help herself. The poor pleading dumb eyes told her story, and the silent anguish of a lonely woman sent it home and clenched the argument in an indisputable manner.
The shadow of death was upon the place and the people. A better opportunity could hardly have occurred for the preacher to have told the story of a golden lining when the night had passed and the dawn shall come. The opportunity was lost and lost forever! After all who could expect any respectable person or priest or Levite to know of, or be in such a place and amid such company at any time, let alone the unreasonable hour of night? It is a special mission requiring brave good men who are neither afraid of hardship, danger, nor contagion, and who are backed with means to help when common sense convinces them of the necessity. No ordinary namby-pampy tract-distributing black-coated preacher is of the slightest good. And yet I am sure there are special men, and special women too, with tact and capabilities, who are ready to penetrate the darkness of the slums in the guise of anything but professional parsons or hereditary missionaries did they but know one tithe of the good they might do. It is absolutely and individual work; directly you commence to organise the effect is spoilt. These people cannot and will not be approached by rules and regulations. You must prove as crafty as they are to catch them. Once caught, well that is another matter altogether! Our stay was not a long one. I questioned one of the men what would be done for the poor creature, and he told me they were in hopes that a friendly lead would be got up for as she had been at one time middling well off. If such is the case I shall be informed, and hope to be able to tell all about it at a future date, for I certainly intend being there.
One of the principal things I learnt on my night's ramble is that the women of the neighbourhood have organised a certain code of rules for their protection. They seldom go alone, keep within certain streets, and let one another know their whereabouts, and in the event of their going home or leaving the neighbourhood inform each other of the fact. They have frequent meetings, and chat over anything that may seem unusual and particularly notice the advent of strangers, and, as a last resort, many carry whistles. On the whole, however, the thing has been a nine days' wonder, and it is only in the out-of-the-way districts such precautions are taken, but they are wary of strangers, and seldom quit their beats under strange protection without first reporting their absence, as I have just said, to a friend. It has been suggested by "the largest circulation" that the outcome of all these horrors might be a nice commercial speculation - a safe and sure four per cent. The idea is absurd. If they did build their model dwellings it would not be for the class of unfortunates, and these will exist as long as there is a demand. The fortunates - (God save the mark!) - are to blame, and its no use mincing matters. The truth stares you in the face in the West as well as the East. Again, the real slummers would never accept the accommodation. You may build canary cages; they are useless for London sparrows or Metropolitan gutter snipes. You must tame them before you cage them or they will die. Build as you will for the working class - they want more sanitary and suitable habitations we know - but if you would reach the real outsiders you must educate, and that can never be successfully accomplished by means of bricks and mortar alone. It is a work of time and patience.
In conclusion, I was speaking to a friend of mine who took exception to my guide as being anything but a fit and proper person for the companionship of "Diogenes". Bosh! I have no need to apologise, and what is more I don't mean to; on the contrary, it is more than possible I may take advantage of the same help again, but lest any reader of this paper should be shocked I will tell you honestly why I took her. It was the only practical and speedy way of arriving at the truth and exploring an entirely new district that has not been inundated with amateur detectives and aristocratic alummere
The following extract from a letter received from a distinguished detective, dated September 27th, will at once convince you how fruitless it is to attempt to obtain information from them. I know a good many. And personally they are very good fellows, but it is more than they dare do to introduce a journalist into their runs. Here is the extract:- "I regret that my connection with the police will not admit of my entering into your proposal." And that is how it is that a shabby woman and dilapidated man might have been discovered late on Friday night and early on Saturday morning wandering about so the "Diogenes" would be enabled to tell you, gentle reader something about what he found in the slums.