It was a chilly autumn night on my journey to Whitechapel. In most of my journeys I view the experience through the eyes of the victim, but tonight I traveled through the eyes of the killer. Whitechapel is no longer an area known for prostitution, but not wanting to give off the wrong impression (just in case) I pulled on a pair of grey sweat pants, thick black jacket, and tied my hair back. I was after all wanting to just ‘slip into the shadows’. My interest with the Jack the Ripper case began at 14, when a friend of a friend lent me a copy of the notorious book, The Diary of Jack the Ripper. These days, I find Thomas Cutbush to be one of the most intriguing suspects.
A young Kennington man, Thomas Cutbush was committed to Broadmoor hospital in 1891 (staying for the rest of his life) after stabbing two young women on the street and behaving increasingly aggressive and erratic towards those around him, including threatening behavior towards former employers of his and attacking his mother. Cutbush was known to roam Whitechapel all hours of the night and return home muddied (or perhaps bloodied). When police arrested him, they found drawings of mutilated women including one of a woman, chest open and intestines spilling out. (Bullock, 2012) His uncle, a member of the police force, later killed himself in front of his daughter, rumored to have been depressed over secret knowledge his nephew was the Ripper. (Hodgson, 2001)
I started my journey on Alberta Street, Kennington (Albert Street in 1888). Number 14, where Cutbush lived with his Mother and Aunt, today is part of a building complex in a neighborhood with a bit of state housing feel to parts of it. One of the arguments against Cutbush being the killer is that he would have had to travel quite far to commit the murders.
The walk from Kennington to Whitechapel took me just over an hour and a half. By the time I reached Whitechapel, I imagined it could be difficult to have energy to go out killing after the long walk, especially late at night, although for a madman it would probably be different.
On 31st August 1888 two men heading to work at 3.40am came across the body of a woman. Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, mother of five children, aged 43 years, with a drinking problem and resulting failed marriage, worked as a prostitute. Her throat had been slit deeply from left to right and her abdomen mutilated.
Walking down Whitechapel Road, I slipped into the darkness of the back streets towards Durward Street, back then known as Buck’s Row. A large construction site blocked entrance to the area where Polly Nichol’s body had been found (close to where a large former boarding school building sits today). But even with the road works, I managed to get a sense of how dark and foreboding the street could have been.
My next destination was Hanbury Street. Annie Chapman, known as ‘Dark Annie’ by friends, aged 47, mother of two adult children and widow of John Chapman, had a drinking problem and supplemented croquet work and flower selling with casual prostitution. (Bullock, 2012) Her body was discovered around 6am on 8th September 1888 by market porter John Davis near a doorway in the backyard of 27 Hanbury Street. Her throat slashed and abdomen mutilated, with part of her uterus removed. Elizabeth Long, a lady on her way to Spitalfields Markets, reported she’d seen Annie at 5.30am, in the company of a man in his forties, with dark hair, and foreign ‘shabby genteel’ appearance, wearing a dark overcoat and deerstalker hat. (Hodgson, 2001)
Despite the noise and light from hipsters spilling out of bars and eateries at the adjourning Commerical Street and Brick Lane, Hanbury Street itself is quiet at night and has a relatively eerie feel after dark, with graffiti art lining the walls and converted buildings from the closed brewery erected in the sixties (built over the area Annie Chapman was murdered) mostly shut up at night.
After a quick look around I headed off, Henriques Street my next stop (back then Berner Street). “You smoke?”. A young man sidles up, he has that look, where you feel as if just by talking to him you’ll get arrested for buying drugs, even if you have absolutely no intention to. “You smoke sometimes?” he asked “No.” I replied “Not even sometimes?” “No”. “Are you sure? Not even occasionally?” “No”. I hurried on, I couldn’t blame the poor guy really, we all have our jobs to do. And I had mine.
Close to where Henriques Street and Fairclough intersect, on the left side (facing North West) is the area where Dutfield’s Yard used to be. On 30th September 1888, Louis Diemschutz, a steward at the Workers Club, entered the yard around 1am on his horse and cart, after his horse shied, he lit a match to see better. The body of a woman lay on the ground. 44 year old Elizabeth Stride, originally from Sweden, who had emigrated to London in her early twenties, lodged on Flower & Dean St, and was in an on and off relationship with a man named Michael Kidney, who she’d previously charged with assault, she also like the other two victims before her, had worked as a prostitute. (Hodgson, 2001) Her throat was slit in the same manner of the previous two victims, but she had no further mutilations, having been killed just before Diemschutz entered the yard.
Some researchers such as Peter Hodgson believe Liz Stride was probably not a victim of Jack the Ripper, most likely killed by a man seen assaulting her about 10 minutes before her murder, which was witnessed by a Hungarian Jew named Israel Schwarz. Hodgson points out it’s unlikely a killer like Jack the Ripper would risk publicly assaulting someone just before killing them and the chances of being assaulted by two different people in the space of 10 minutes is also unlikely, with the blade used to slit Liz Stride’s throat shorter and blunter. Did panic and excitement over the later murder that same night, and the theory that he was interrupted and went to find another body to mutilate, influence this murder to be attributed to the Ripper?
With a sense of urgency to get to Mitre Square, I hurried off. Scurrying through the maze of dimly lit East London back streets, barely another soul was out. A blanket lay over a large, bulky item on the roadside, I hoped it wasn’t a body. The large street in the distance, turned out to be Leman Street, where the Leman Street Police Station had been. “No he probably wouldn’t have gone that way.” I thought, scuttling away into the dark. The confusing back streets streets made me realize to get from Berner Street to Mitre Square so fast the killer was probably very familiar with the area. (Having just killed Liz Stride it seems less likely he would take the route via the main Commercial, Whitechapel and Aldgate Roads.)
Finally I reached St James Place. Walking down the narrow passageway towards the square, I felt almost apprehensive of what may lay ahead. A streetlamp lit up the pavement on the area where Catherine Eddowes body was found 128 years ago. Mitre Square is still one of the most unchanged murder spots and you can almost imagine a woman’s body lying on cobblestones surrounded by Victorian style buildings.
On his late night beat, PC Edward Watkins headed down St James Place. As he entered Mitre square, on the south west corner lay the body of a dead woman. Catherine Eddowes, aged 46, who suffered from alcoholism, had recently returned to London from hop picking with her friend Emily Birrell and partner John Kelly, worked occasionally as a prostitute. She’d been released from Bishopsgate police station only 45 minutes earlier (around the time Elizabeth Stride was murdered), having being locked up after she was found asleep on the street in a drunken state. On the night of her murder Catherine had run out of money and told John Kelly, who’d pawned his boots for lodging money, she would try get some money off her daughter. Catherine’s neck was slit, her face and abdomen mutilated, with intestines draped over her shoulders and this time the killer had carefully removed her left kidney.
Just a few streets away on Goulston Street, a bloodstained piece of Catherine Eddowes apron was found, on the wall above written in chalk ‘The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing’. (The actual sentence varying slightly depending on which witnesses account, as the graffiti was washed off by police that morning due to racial tensions at the time). Over the years there’s been much speculation as to the meaning of the message.
Goulston Street was one area I felt a bit afraid venturing through. An empty street at night with shops shut up it can feel a bit unnerving. I comforted myself with the fact Whitechapel Road was just a few meters away if any need to make a mad dash. The dim street lights, graffiti art and scruffy buildings gave the street a creepy atmosphere. And after taking a few pictures and looking around I hurried away.
From Goulston Street it’s a short walk to the area where number 13 Miller’s Court once stood off the former infamous Dorset Street – known at the time as one of the worst streets in London, home to many drunks, derelicts, criminals and prostitutes. The area was turned into a car park and rows of warehouses in the mid 20th century and is now currently undergoing construction and blocked off to the public. The old brick buildings, cobbled footpath, away from the main traffic on Commerical Street, give the walk from Goulston to the former Dorset Street, Miller’s Court area an almost Victorian London feel.
Reaching the large closed off construction site, I wandered round the vicinity, trying to guess what was the most likely spot Miller’s Court was located. I imagined Mary Kelly inside her small room with the killer before he struck, a warm fire perhaps giving the room a soft glow.
It’s well known serial killers tend to escalate the brutality of their crimes, and the murder of Jack the Ripper’s final victim Mary Jane Kelly was no exception.
Mary Jane Kelly, aged 25 at the time of her murder, was born in Ireland and moved to Wales as a child with her family, she’d been living at Miller’s Court with her partner fish porter Joseph Barnett up till about a week prior to her murder, when he moved out after an argument over Kelly allowing another prostitute to stay with them, a move which may possibly have cost her life. Having lost the key to the house, Kelly would reach though a broken windowpane to both bolt and unbolt the door.
I sometimes wonder if perhaps the Ripper entered Mary Jane Kelly’s room by means of the broken windowpane, creeping in and murdering her as she lay sleeping in bed. If the cries of “Murder” two of her neighbors heard just before 4am were in fact Kelly, then a man her friend George Hutchinson saw her walking with towards Miller’s Court around 2am may not have been the Ripper, if he was Kelly would probably have been dead well before 4am. The Ripper’s previous pattern seems to have been to kill quickly, but with access to his victim in a private room this may have changed. Could Kelly have gone out to get another client? Or did she go to sleep and the killer slip in.
Kelly’s body was discovered at 10.45 am on 9th November 1888 by Thomas Bowyer, a young assistant landlord John McCarthy had sent over to collect rent money she owed. Peering through the window, he was greeted with an horrific sight. Both Doctor Bond, who performed the autopsy and Dr Phillips, estimated the time of death a few hours prior to her being discovered, based on the cold state of the body. Two neighbors, Sarah Lewis and Elizabeth Prater heard a scream of “Oh Murder!” coming from the direction of Mary Jane Kelly’s room just before 4am, but with such cries common in Whitechapel at the time, neither woman investigated. Sarah Lewis herself reported when with a friend a couple nights earlier, they’d been approached by a strange middle aged man dressed mostly in black and carrying a large black bag, the man’s persistence for either one of them to come down an alleyway with him frightened them and they’d ran off. On the night of Mary Jane Kelly’s murder, Lewis had seen the man in the area again, but talking to another woman he hadn’t noticed her. (Sugden, 1994)
Peter Hodgson, believes Kelly may have been killed later, around 9- 10 am that morning, as one of Kelly’s neighbors, Caroline Maxwell said she spoke to Kelly at 8.30am then saw her again outside the pub Britannica in the company of a man at 8.45am, Maxwell described Kelly as wearing a purple crossover which was found in Kelly’s flat and she also knew quite a few details of Kelly’s personal life, so seemed to know her fairly well. (Hodgson, 2001) However as this conflicts with the medical findings, it has been believed she could have gotten her dates mixed up. The mutilations to Mary Jane Kelly’s body, were horrific. Believed to have been done after her throat was slit, Kelly’s abdomen was mutilated with intestines pulled out, her face had been mutilated to the point her features were almost indiscernible, chunks of flesh had been cut from her legs and abdomen, her breasts were cut off, and her heart had been removed. Unlike the other victims, killed on the street, alone in the room with Kelly, the killer had more time to act out his twisted fantasies. The tragic death of Mary Jane Kelly was greatly mourned by her community with thousands attending her funeral. (Sugden, 1994)
As I left Whitechapel I felt exhausted, rushing around the back streets of Whitechapel, to explore one of Victorian London’s most famous serial murder cases, had been hard work.
The killings were tragic and those women had hard lives, but there would have been happy times for them. No doubt they would have had no idea the mark their tragic ends would leave on history and the fascination that still persists in their murder cases well over a hundred years later. Today the identity of Jack the Ripper has still not been discovered. With so many years since the murders occurred, there’s a good chance the mystery of the killers identity may never be solved.
Sources of information:
1.Bullock, David. (2012) The Man Who Would Be Jack: The Hunt for the Real Ripper. London. Biteback Publishing
2. Hodgson, Peter. (2001) Jack the Ripper: Through the Mists of Time. Dartford. Pneuma Springs
3. Sugden, Philip. (1994) The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. New York. Carroll and Graf Publishers