A CAST OF THOUSANDS
BY CHRISTOPHER SCOTT
One of the perennial questions about the Whitechapel murders are why did they stop? It is asserted that killers such as Jack the Ripper do not simply stop. The possible explanations for this have taken two very different courses. One school of thought, which seeks to invest Jack with a logical plan of action, argues that the reason the murders stopped was that the killer had achieved his objective.
If the last victim, Mary Kelly, was the final target of Jack's murderous intent, then when she was dead he had no reason to continue his slaughter. The other form of explanation says that the reason the murders stopped was that by some means the killer was taken out of circulation. This would be due to death, incarceration in an asylum or prison or his leaving the country. Suicide would be one means by which this would accomplish. This line of reasoning is the principal, some would say the only, cause of the finger of suspicion being pointed at Montague Druitt whose life ended in the Thames some time between the 4th and 31st of December, 1888.
Studies of the deaths recorded in East London in the period immediately after the death of Mary Kelly have revealed another name, that of Edward Buchan. He lived in Poplar and took his own life by cutting his throat on 19th November 1888. This was ten days after the Kelly murder and was also Buchan's own twenty-ninth birthday. Press accounts relate that Buchan had been behaving oddly before his death and he certainly seemed intent on his purpose, for one account says that he almost severed his own head.
In the 1871 census, the Buchan family was recorded at 36-37 Robin Hood Lane, Poplar. They occupied both 36 and 37 as two separate households. At No. 37 the following persons are listed:
Horace Buchan aged 48 born Foots Cray, Kent - Marine Store dealer
Maria Buchan aged 45 born Poplar
Maria aged 13
Edward aged 11
Charles aged 10
All children are listed as born in Poplar.
Another son is recorded as living alone at No. 36:
Horace Buchan aged 18 born Poplar - Shopman.
When we move forward to 1881 the address is listed as 36-37 Robinson Lane, Poplar. This is undoubtedly a transcription error and should read Robin Hood Lane. Again, the family occupied the two premises. The main family members are listed as follows:
Horace Buchan aged 59 born Foots Cray Kent - Marine Store dealer
Maria Buchan aged 48 born Poplar
Maria aged 23
Edward aged 21
Charles aged 20
All children listed as born in Poplar and no occupation is listed for any of them.
The other son, Horace Jnr., who was living next door to his parents and siblings in 1871 had, by this time, married and had fathered four children. His household had in the meantime moved to a new address, and details are listed in the census as follows:
Horace Buchan aged 28 born Poplar - Marine Store dealer
Phoebe Buchan aged 23 born Mile End
Maria aged 4
Honor aged 3
Louisa aged 1
Horace aged 5 months
All children are listed as born in Poplar
Ellen McCarthy aged 14 born Poplar - General servant.
The death by suicide of Edward Buchan was registered in Poplar in the last quarter of 1888 (Volume 1c page 470.)
The main family, headed by Horace Snr., had been recorded at the same address over two censuses but by 1891, just over two years after Edward's death, they had moved to different premises in the same road. Perhaps the old house had too many memories, but that is pure guesswork as they may have moved before Edward died. In 1891 their address is given as 42 Robin Hood Lane, Poplar and their details are:
42 Robin Hood Lane, Poplar
Horace Buchan aged 68 born Foots Cray, Kent
Maria Buchan aged 69 born Poplar
Maria aged 35 born Poplar
Horace Jnr., the married son, had moved back to Robin Hood Lane and in 1891 was living at No. 34:
Horace Buchan aged 38 born Poplar - Labourer
Phoebe Buchan aged 34 born Poplar
Maria aged 14
Honor aged 13
Louisa aged 11
Horace aged 10
Florence aged 7
John aged 6
Again it is tempting to speculate that the younger Horace possible moved back to the road where the family had lived for years to be close to them in a time of crisis. But, again, it must be emphasised that this is indemonstrable and we simply have no way of knowing when or under what circumstances this apparent closing of the family ranks took place.
Those are the bare facts of Edward Buchan's background and short life. There are only two facts known about the circumstances of his suicide:
1) There is some hearsay evidence that he was undergoing some emotional or psychological distress in the period leading up to his death.
2) He died within a short period after the last of the "canonical" murders, that of Mary Kelly on 9th November 1888.
There is no evidence whatever to link Buchan in any way with Whitechapel, with any of the victims or with any previous episode of violence or mental disturbance. His name has been put "in the frame" purely on the basis of the timing of his death. We must take note, however, that all of the above comments could, in their entirety, also be applied with equal justification, be applied in the case of Montague John Druitt and he has been seriously considered as a major suspect for over 30 years.
Rather than any remorse or horror at having committed the murders, I consider it much more significant that Buchan took his life on his own birthday. There are certain dates in the year that serve as markers or dividers in our lives. It is a well known phenomenon among health professionals and voluntary agencies that the incidence of depressive illnesses increases around the Christmas period.
Because this is the time of year when we are supposed to happy and celebratory, when we are surrounded by family and friends, if we do not have those things in our life we feel the lack that much more keenly. Similarly, a birthday is a vivid reminder of the march of time. We put a figure on our existence, and the day can serve as a reminder of how much, or how little, we have achieved in our brief time here. I think it as likely that considerations such as these were preying on Edward's mind, brought into sharper and more painful focus by the occasion of his own birthday, rather than any tortured remorse for having committed the Whitechapel murders.