1 September 1888
A woman of the class known as "unfortunate" was murdered under circumstances of a most revolting character in Buck's row, Whitechapel road, yesterday morning; and as this is the second murder of the same kind which has taken place within three weeks, the whole district is in a great state of excitement. Not far from the Whitechapel station of the Metropolitan Railway, and on the opposite site, is a narrow street known as baker's row, and the first turning on the right is White's row, of which Buck's row is the continuation. At the beginning of Buck's row on the right hand side is a Board School building, to the rear of which is a yard used for the storage of bricks, and next to this yard are small cottages inhabited by labouring people. Yesterday morning the body of a woman was found lying on the footpath, against the gates of the yard, and in the middle of the street was a pool of blood. There was no trace whatever to indicate how the body came where it was found. Opposite where the body lay is the wall of Essex Wharf, and to the left of that a large clothier's factory. Police constable Neil was walking along Buck's row between four and half past in the morning, when he noticed the body on the footpath, and a very brief examination revealed the fact of her murder. Her throat was cut from ear to ear, and her body had been ripped up from the abdomen almost to the breast bone, while a second cut gashed the left thigh. The body was conveyed to the mortuary in Whitechapel road, adjoining the Pavilion Theatre. The deceased was about 35 years of age, had dark hair and small features, was of the average height, and well nourished, by no means exhibiting any signs of starvation. Yet she must have been recently an inmate of Lambeth Workhouse, because the name of that institution was found on her petticoat. Her clothes consisted of a brown ulster, showing signs of hard wear, a brown linsey skirt and jacket, a grey linsey petticoat, a flannel petticoat, dark blue ribbed stockings, braid garters, and side spring shoes. The bonnet was black straw, faced with black velvet. The wounds on the body are thought to have been committed before the injuries to the throat were inflicted, but the precise fact cannot be ascertained until the inquest, when the medical man will be examined. The first cut in the body was probably the earliest wound inflicted, and it is thought that the wretched victim started from her murderer, causing the knife to penetrate the groin and slip across the left hip. In all probability she then fell, when her assailant with one desperate cut upward opened the body from groin to breast bone. Then the wounds were inflicted in the throat. Here, again, there were two cuts, one reaching from the left ear to nearly the middle of the throat, and the other a separate and distinct gash passing from ear to ear. The ferocious character of the wounds justify the belief that the poor woman was attacked by a maniac. They could not have been inflicted by the victim, nor are they likely to have been the work of several hands. With regard to the weapon used, the current belief is that the murder must have been committed with a butcher's knife. This is the third murder of a woman which has taken place in Whitechapel within twelve months. In each case the victim was killed by stabs or cuts, and when found was either dead or so near death as to be incapable of giving any clue as to who had attacked her.
Another account states that when Police constable Neil discovered the body he roused the people living in the house next to the stable yard, which is occupied by a carter named Green and his family; and also Mr. Walter Perkins, the resident manager at the Essex Wharf, on the opposite side of the road, which is very narrow at this point. Neither Mr. Perkins nor any of the Green family, although the latter were sleeping within a few yards of where the body was found, had heard any sounds of a struggle. Dr. Llewellyn, who lives only a short distance away in Whitechapel road, was sent for and promptly arrived on the scene. He found the body lying on the back across the gateway, and the briefest examination proved that life was extinct. Death had occurred not long before, because the extremities were still warm. With the assistance of Police sergeant Kirby and Police constable Thane the body was removed to the Whitechapel road mortuary. A general opinion is entertained that the spot where the body was found was not the scene of the murder. Buck's row runs through from Thomas street to Brady street, and in the latter street what appeared to be blood stains were early in the morning found at irregular distances on the footpaths on each side of the street. Occasionally a larger splash was visible, and from the way in which the marks were scattered it seems as though the person carrying the mutilated body had hesitated where to deposit his ghastly burden, and had gone from one side of the road to the other, until the obscurity of Buck's row afforded the shelter sought for. The street had been crossed twice within the space of about 120 yards. The point at which the stains were first visible is in front of the gateway to Honey's mews, in Brady street, about 150 yards from the point where Buck's row commences.
Several persons living in Brady street state that early in the morning they heard screams, but this is by no means an uncommon incident in the neighbourhood; and with one exception nobody seems to have paid any particular attention to what was probably the death struggle of an unfortunate woman. The exception was a Mrs. Colville, who lives only a short distance from the foot of Buck's row. According to her statement she was awakened early in the morning by her children, who said some one was trying to get into the house. She listened and heard a woman screaming "Murder! police!" five or six times. The voice faded away as though the was going in the direction of Buck's row, and all was quiet. She only heard the steps of one person. Mrs. Green, Mr. and Mrs. Perkins, and the watchmen in two neighbouring factories agree that the night was unusually quiet. Shortly after noon yesterday some men examining the pavement in Buck's row above the gateway found two spots of blood in the roadway. They were some feet away from the gate, and they might have dropped from the hands or clothing of the murderer as he fled.
Dr. Llewellyn has made the following statement:-
"I was called to Buck's row about five minutes to four this morning by Police constable Thane, who said a woman had been murdered. I went to the place at once, and found deceased lying on the ground in front of the stable yard door. She was lying on her back, with her legs straight, as though she had been laid down. Police constable Neil told me 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. I ordered the removal of the body to the mortuary, telling the police to send for me again if anything of importance transpired. There was a very small pool of blood on the pathway, not more than half a pint at the outside. This fact, and the way in which the deceased was lying, made me 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 I was summoned to the mortuary by the police, and was astonished at finding the other wounds. I have seen many horrible cases, but never such a brutal affair as this. >From the nature of the cuts on the throat it is probable that they were inflicted with the left hand. There is a mark at the point of the jaw on the right side of the deceased's face as though made by a person's thumb, and a similar bruise on the left side as if the woman's head had been pushed back and her throat then cut. 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."
No money was found upon the deceased, and all she had in the pocket of her dress was a handkerchief, a small comb, and a piece of looking glass.
As news of the murder spread during the latter part of the day, women went to view the body, and at length it was found that a woman answering the description of the murdered woman had lodged in a common lodging house, 18 Thrawl street, Spitalfields. Women from that place were fetched, and they identified the deceased as "Polly," who had shared a room with three other women in the place on the usual terms of such houses - nightly payment of 4d each, each woman having a separate bed. The deceased had lodged in the house only for about three weeks. Nothing more was known of her but when she presented herself for her lodging on Thursday night she was turned away by the deputy because she had not the money. She was then the worse for drink, but not drunk, and turned away laughing, saying, "I'll soon get my 'doss' money; see what a jolly bonnet I've got now." She was wearing a bonnet which she had not been seen with before, and left the lodging house door. A woman of the neighbourhood saw her as late as half past two yesterday morning in Whitechapel road, opposite the church, and at the corner of Osborne street. About half past seven o'clock last evening Mary Ann Monk, an inmate of Lambeth Workhouse, was taken to the mortuary, and identified the body as that of Mary Ann Nicholls, also called "Polly" Nicholls. She knew her, she said, as they were inmates of the Lambeth Workhouse together in April and May, the deceased having been passed there from another workhouse. On the 12th of may, according to Monk, Nicholls left the workhouse to take a situation as servant at Ingleside, Wandsworth common. It afterwards became known that Nicholls betrayed her trust as domestic servant by stealing £3 from her employer and absconding. From that time she had been wandering about. Monk met her, she said, about six weeks ago, when herself out of the workhouse, and drank with her.
A policeman on duty in Whitechapel early yesterday morning found the body of a woman lying on the foot path in Buck's row. Her throat had been cut, and she had been otherwise so mutilated as to suggest that she had been murdered by a madman. the body has been identified as that of Mary Ann Nicholls, a recent inmate of the Lambeth Workhouse.
The two brutal murders which have followed each other in such quick succession in Whitechapel are still unsolved mysteries. Whether the perpetrators are ever brought to justice or not, the crime in each case remains a fearful testimony to the amount of hideous ferocity which still lies close alongside the borders of our fairest civilisation. Early yesterday morning, as a policeman was walking down a place known as Buck's row, in Whitechapel, he discovered the body of a woman, from thirty five to forty years of age, lying in a pool of blood and quite dead. Her throat had been cut right across, and a gaping wound two inches wide stretched from ear to ear. She was also found on examination to have been ripped up from groin to the breast bone. The body has since been identified as that of Mary Ann Nicholls, who was formerly in domestic service at Wandsworth, from which she absconded with some money. Afterwards she was for a time in Lambeth Workhouse, and was latterly living at a common lodging house in Spitalfields. A night watchman who had been in the neighbourhood of Buck's row all night heard neither screams nor scuffle. Some of the neighbours heard a brawl about midnight. But such sounds are too common in such a neighbourhood to attract even a passing notice. So much for yesterday's tragedy, which it is impossible to avoid connecting with that of three weeks ago. It will be remembered that about half past three o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, the 7th of August, a cabman returning to his lodgings in George yard buildings, Whitechapel, saw a woman lying on the staircase, but, as he said afterwards, did not pay any particular attention to it, as the sight of a woman lying there, drunk or simply asleep, was nothing uncommon. It was only on a workman passing down the stairs about two hours afterwards that the truth was ascertained, and the woman discovered to be a corpse. She had received no less than thirty nine wounds in different parts of her body, which the surgeon rather superfluously observed could not have been inflicted by herself; and it was clear that a dreadful crime had been committed. The unfortunate victim has since been identified, but the murderer is still at large; and it is not surprising that the murder of yesterday, following so closely on the tragedy of three weeks ago, should fill the whole neighbourhood with terror. the police, of course, have their theories on the subject. But they seem to be purely conjectural, and based on no substantial evidence. One hypothesis is that both murders have been committed by a gang of street robbers, who systematically extort money from any unfortunate and defenceless woman whom they meet - whose life is naturally in great danger if she refuses their demands. Another and even more horrible supposition is that the murders are the work of an escaped lunatic, who is concealed in the vicinity, and certainly the extraordinary and unnecessary violence used in both cases might go some way towards supporting this conception. The love of the marvellous, common to human nature in every station of life, will account for the ready acceptance which this suggestion has met with among the population of the district. But if ever the mystery is unravelled, it will probably be found to have had its origin in some much more commonplace circumstances.
The most remarkable point about these two crime is, that in neither case is it possible to conceive any motive which bears even a semblance of plausibility. From the description of the two women it could hardly be jealousy, and, in any case, jealousy does not, as a rule, mangle and mutilate its victims. The same may be said of theft. No one who murdered Mary Ann Nicholls for the sake of the little money she might have happened to possess would have stopped to inflict more wounds than were necessary for his purpose. Moreover, it seems to be the accepted opinion that the wounds on the lower part of the body were inflicted before the throat was cut; and it is difficult to believe that anybody whose only object was plunder would have inflicted them at all. There are shorter and readier ways of taking human life than this; and the theory of the woman having been murdered by a gang of thieves because she refused them money is negatived by her notorious poverty, and by the evidence of the watchman and others, who observed nobody about the street at or near the time of the murder. If the cries that were heard during the night proceeded from the unfortunate woman, she was then dressed and in the streets. Yet these wounds could hardly have been inflicted out of doors, and the woman could certainly not have raised a very serious alarm after such injuries. The probability seems to be that whilst wandering about she was met by some scoundrel, mad with drink or with the thirst for blood, who lured her to one of those houses where crimes are no uncommon occurrence; and that after the murder the body was carried to the secluded corner where it was found. But this, of course, is conjecture. At present all we know is, that within the last three weeks two murders of a very similar character have been committed in London, rivalling in their ghastliness all that fiction has ever invented of such crimes, and that the criminals have, not only escaped, but have left no trace behind them. The inhabitants of a district such as that in which these horrors were perpetrated are too familiar with sights and sounds of violence, and with the figures of criminals and ruffians, to take notice of any particular individual who, in other parts of the town, would draw immediate notice on himself. A murderer's chances of escape from this cause alone are much greater in such a neighbourhood than elsewhere, and this, of course, makes it much more difficult for the police to obtain any clue. We must be careful, therefore, of attaching any blame to them. Nobody can expect that they should have evidence ready to hand as to the identity of the murderer of Nicholls. Even in the other case, though weeks have elapsed, it is little enough time for tracking a ruffian through the haunts of vice and crime, where so many are interested, rather in screening him than in bringing him to justice.
Murders of this sort are crimes of no common character. The monstrous and wanton brutality by which they are distinguished is rather what we might expect from a race of savages than from even the most abandoned and most degraded classes in a civilised community. It is terrible to reflect that at the end of the nineteenth century, after all our efforts, religious, educational, and philanthropic, such revolting and sickening barbarity should still be found in the heart of this great City, and be able to lurk undetected in close contact with all that is most refined, elegant, and cultivated in human society. It is quite true, of course, that the slums of a mighty capital like London can never be effectually "flushed" and that accumulations of wickedness and misery must continue to fester there for many a long day yet. This, we say, it true; and when it is stated in so many words we give an intellectual assent to it. Yet, for all that, it is extremely difficult to realise it, or to prevent ourselves from being unutterably shocked whenever the proof of it is forced upon us. It is this circumstance in connection with these Whitechapel murders which invests them with such a loathsome pre-eminence over other crimes of the same kind. The mutilation of the unfortunate woman in the latest case is something too diabolical and too disgusting for the mind to dwell upon; and we would willingly take refuge in the assumption that it was the doing of a madman, were there any evidence to support what we are afraid is only an idea invented for the occasion. Civilisation is sometimes supposed to penetrate even to the lowest stratum of humanity. Some of its light and warmth is believed to descend from above and lessen the ferocity of the most savage and brutish of mankind. But it is difficult to believe that this is so with such a spectacle before us as that of this unhappy creature, flung down into the street like a dog, gashed and mangled in a manner which betrays a love of bloodshed for its own sake, and a blind passion of rage such as sometimes try to hope is limited to the lower animals. It would seem as if one of the effects of our boasted progress and culture is to exaggerate the social extremes, so that while on the one hand we have improvement and hope, on the other there is only despair and greater debasement. The reflection is not a pleasant one, but the lesson it teaches should not be lost.