Episode Three – What happened in Whitechapel?

WARNING!!!! There are some very graphic descriptions and photos in this post, so this is your WARNING!!!!!

Living Fur Real podcast – The Whitechapel Murders

Today, we will be traveling across the pond to the United Kingdom and stopping in a district of London’s East End called Whitechapel. Our subject was referred to by the name of Leather Apron, and the Whitechapel Butcher, but he is most famously known for the name he gave himself, Jack the Ripper.  Before I go on though, I know that many who are listening are likely aware of the crimes committed by the Ripper, but I am going to get a bit graphic with some of these descriptions so if that sort of thing bothers you, you have been warned. Okay, let’s get going.

At the end of the summer of 1888 from August 31st to November 9th there were a series of murders in the Whitechapel neighborhood which had the city of London in a panic.  Whitechapel was one of the areas most affected by crime and poverty at this time, and due to its less than affluent social conditions it was not given the same protections and considerations of the wealthier districts.  Not much has changed in that aspect in many parts of the world, unfortunately.  The latter part of the 19th century was an unimaginable world of great wealth and great poverty and a lot of this became part of the public awareness due to the attention of the media.  Life was not the romantic flower-filled parlors of the Victorian images we see much of today.

I want to begin with the victims, because it is due to their quite horrific deaths, that we are aware of this particular killer.  There are several women who have been identified as being “possible victims” but due to the way they were killed it is likely they were not Ripper victims.  We will not be discussing those victims, here we will be talking about the women referred to as the five “canonical” victims.  

The first victim was Mary Ann (Polly) Nichols. Mary had been married to a man who was a printer by trade was named William Nichols from 1864 until they divorced in 1880 and they had 5 children together.  During those days there were no social programs, no welfare that could help someone during a difficult time in their life, and many women like Mary, or Polly, as she was mainly referred to by acquaintances, who were labeled as “unfortunate” would have had few opportunities of earning a living.  Let’s remember that women were not really part of the workforce unless they were employed by a rich household as maids or cooks and perhaps in hospitals helping the infirmed.  Because of the lack of training and societal norms many women in her same situation would sometimes turn to prostitution as a way of navigating through a difficult life, hoping to at least earn, enough money to get themselves a nights doss, which meant a night in not the greatest accommodations.   

Two of the lodging houses she frequented were Wilmott’s and The White House, and for the amount of four pence, which at that time would have been 8 cents in US currency and today about $2.55, and you could go to Wilmott’s.  And don’t think that this would have been a private room, no, this would have been a large open area where several people would have been able to pick a spot and try to sleep with a roof over their head. On the night of August 30th, which was a Thursday, Mary didn’t have the money to pay for lodging and was turned away, but not before claiming “I’ll soon get my doss money, see what a jolly bonnet I have now?”  One of the last people to see her was a friend named Emily Holland.  She had been drinking and told Emily that she had made her money several times over, but drank most of it away, and so a little past 2 o’clock in the morning, drunk and stumbling she made her way down the street, never to be seen alive again.  Her body was found at approximately 3:45 in the morning on August 31st.  Her throat had been cut so deeply that she was nearly decapitated.  Her body was taken to a mortuary and after further examination, it was found that she had also been disemboweled, she was 43.   At this point, Mary Nichols is the third prostitute killed in the Whitechapel district, but she is considered to actually be the first victim of the Ripper. Remember, there were a series of killings during this same time, but only 5 are attributed to this particular killer.  The police began to question other women in the area and had been told by several that there was a man who they had nicknamed “Leather apron”, who had been strong-arming them for money for the past year. During this time the police had to tread lightly because at the time much of the Jewish community had occupations that required them to wear this type of clothing and they needed to be careful not to stir any feelings of anti-Semitism.  The police did eventually find a man who had been identified to be Leather Apron, but he was able to provide alibis for the times of the murders of Mary Nichols and Annie Chapman.

The Mary Nichols Murder Site In Buck’s Row
Mary Ann Nichols morgue photo

Which leads us to, the second victim Annie Chapman.  Annie was said to be a cordial and pleasant woman her only vice was she drank too much. She was able to make a minimal income from crochet work and selling flowers but also had to turn to prostitution to supplement her earnings.  There were two men that saw Annie on a regular basis at Crossingham’s, which was the lodging house where she would often stay.  One of these men was named Ted Stanley, and it was because of him and a bar of soap, that Annie had been asked to leave the lodging house and thus began the events leading to her death.  In the early days of September 1888, Annie was involved in an argument with another lodger named Eliza Cooper.  Annie had borrowed a bar of soap from Eliza so that Stanley could use.  After a few days, Eliza asked for her soap back, and for some reason instead of just giving back the soap, she threw money at Eliza and told her to go buy two pennies worth of soap.  This caused an argument between the two woman and Annie was asked to leave Crossingham’s. A few days later the two women ran into each other at a bar and they had a physical altercation in which Annie came out on the losing end.  

One of the last people to see Annie was Amelia Palmer.  Amelia saw how bad she looked and asked her if she had sought out any help.  Annie told her that she had not, but if she began to feel worse she would get herself to a “casual ward”, which was a place where the poor were able to seek, assistance for a night or two and some food.  Amelia gave Annie two pence and told her to get herself some food and not spend the money on alcohol.  Amelia last saw Annie on September 7th, just before 6:00 pm. According to her, Annie looked worse than when she had previously seen her.  When asked if she had anywhere to stay, Annie stated that she felt too ill to do anything, but she needed to pull herself together or she would have no lodgings that evening.  That was the last time she was seen alive. 

Annie’s body was found close to 6:00 am by three men walking along a narrow alley.  Her skirt was pulled up to her waist and again, her throat was cut.  During her post mortem exam they would find that her womb had been removed and the killer had taken it with him.

It was shortly after Annie’s murder that a letter had been sent to a news agency called Central news.  The letter was addressed to “The Boss” and it hinted at what he would do to the next victim.  It was this letter, that he would sign with the name he would forever be referred to as, Jack the Ripper.

Annie Chapman’s Murder site, 29 Hanbury Street
Annie Chapman morgue photo

The third and fourth victims were both killed on the same day.  The first to be found was Elizabeth Stride.  Elizabeth had been living off and one at a lodging house and was paid sixpence by the keeper for cleaning rooms, on the evening of September 29th.  When she finished her duties, she dressed herself up and left the house at 7:30 pm. She set off and spent the evening being spotted at several different pubs in the company of different men.  The last time she was seen. Was by a witness by the name of Israel Schwartz and he estimated the time to have been between 12:45 to 1:00 am in the early  morning of September 30th.  He described seeing her with a man in his 30’s, of average height, 5’5” and a fair complexion with a moustache.  Honestly though, I think that would have described half of the male population of London at the time. I mean I have rarely seen a photo of a man from that time without a moustache. But, I digress. Now, while he was a good witness to what may have been the beginning of the end of Elizabeth, he did not speak English and his account was given through a translator, so we are not sure how accurate the translation may have been.

            Her body had been found and the police was called for immediately.  A Police Constable arrived and began to examine her body.  He said she had felt warm and upon lifting her chin he noted her throat had been deeply cut.  He had then noted there had been a stream of blood leading from her head to a nearby doorway. By all accounts, had they not seen the wound on her throat and the blood, she would have been mistaken for being asleep.  She was 45 years old.

Dutfield’s yard, Scene of Elizabeth Stride’s murder
Elizabeth Stride morgue photo

            At the same time they were taking Elizabeth’s body to the morgue, the fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes was being released from a police station in the City of London.  She had been arrested late in the evening of September 29th.  Catherine, quite drunk, was performing an imitation of a fire engine in front of a very excited crowd.  As she finished she sat down and promptly fell asleep.  A constable showed up and asked if anyone knew her and no one did.  He picked her up with the help of another constable and together they took her to Bishopsgate Police Station where she slept until about 12:15 am. After about 15 minutes she asked if she could leave and stated she was fine to walk on her own and she was released.  From that location she headed toward Mitre Square and soon meet the killer of Elizabeth Stride.  And as with Elizabeth, she had last been seen by witnesses in the company of a man.  Only one witness, Joseph Lawende caught a glimpse of the possible killer. Joseph described the man to be about 30 years old, 5’9” with a fair complexion and, wait for it, a moustache.  Shortly after the witnesses passed the couple, a constable was walking into Mitre Square and immediately saw a body on the ground.  When he reached the body he noted that it was a woman and she was lying in a pool of blood with her skirt hiked up above her waist. The time would have been around 1:45 am.  Her post mortem exam would describe her to have suffered extensive injuries, among which were a cut over the bridge of her nose that exposed the bone, her throat cut, part of her ear was missing, and she also had the lower part of her abdomen opened exposing part of the breast bone and opening her all the way down to an inch behind her rectum.  It was believed that since he had likely been interrupted earlier, he did to Catherine all he planned to do to Elizabeth, and then some.  Catherine Eddowes was 46 years old.

            Now the public was really in an uproar.  Not only was there a killer on the loose, but he had killed twice in one evening, and they were now just finding out that he had been communicating with the police! A total of four women had been brutally killed and the police were no closer to finding a suspect now than when the first woman was killed. they had actually been patrolling the area close to Mitre Square in plain clothes patrols.  That night there was finally a clue found by one of the constables on patrol, a small piece of an apron near a doorway with what looked to be blood.  However, this really would turn out to be of little use since the only thing it proved was which direction the killer had been going as he fled the scene and the fact he may have had some blood evidence on his clothing. Another thing that was found at the location of the piece of apron was a message that had been written on a nearby wall.  It read, “The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.”   This message is a huge point of contention for those investigating the murders at that time and today.  Mainly because it was evidence that was erased at the behest of Sir Charles Warren who was the chief of police of the London Metropolitan Police at that time, much to the disgust of the Police Commissioner.  It was argued that this graffiti was likely not produced by the Ripper since it already look as if it had been there for a while and was pretty faded, and also, would the killer really take the time to stop and write something on a wall as he’s trying to evade capture?  And once again thought was given that erasing this sentence would have spared any anti-Semitic rhetoric.  Looking back, I really don’t think this message was really meant to be a clue as much as it may have just been a way to redirect the investigation to target someone in the Jewish community.  And who knows, it sounds like there had been some problems in the area the community already and that could have very well been there for a long time and had nothing to do with the murders and the murderer.

            After the double murders things were fairly quiet for a couple of weeks.  On October 16th another letter was received at the Central News Agency, this letter was addressed “From Hell” and it contained a piece of a kidney.  It was believed that this had belonged to Catherine Eddowes.  It would be another three and a half weeks before the Ripper struck again.    

The Corner of Mitre Square, Scene of Catherine Eddowes Murder
Catherine Eddowes morgue photo

The fifth and who is believed to be the actual last victim of the Ripper is Mary Kelly.  Mary had also been married but she had lost her husband to an accident.  She lived in London for several years after coming from Ireland.  Most who knew her said that she was quite an attractive young woman and she was well-liked among most of the locals. From what I have been able to find of her she seems to be the only one that actually had a small private room that she stayed in and she would share this room off and on with a man named Joseph Barnet.  Two weeks before her murder they had an argument that became physical and resulted in a small piece of glass from a window being broken and this was often covered up with newspaper or a rag.  As a result of the argument, she asked Joseph to leave.  After that, she would invite other women to stay with her when they needed a place to stay.  But it was Joseph Barnet who would be the last person to have seen her alive.  He had stated he saw her last on the evening of November 8th between 7:30 and 7:45 pm.  She was not alone and there had been another woman there with her, who he could not identify by name. At 4:00 am on November 9th several people reported they had heard someone cry “Murder”.  No one though did anything, since this area was in a part of town where it was commonplace to hear arguments and fights. 

            At around 11:00 am Mary’s landlord sent one of his workers to the room to ask for the rent which had already been late. When he got there he knocked on the door and there was no answer.  He went around to the corner where there was a window and noticed the broken pane, so he bent forward and poked at the paper covering it in order to look inside.  He said that he had seen quite a bit of blood and didn’t want to look on any further so he went back to his employer and brought him to the site. The Landlord, John McCarthy bent down and looked through the hole.  This was the statement he gave at the time about what he had initially seen “The sight that we saw I cannot drive away from my mind. It looked more like the work of a devil than of a man. I had heard a great deal about the Whitechapel murders, but I declare to God I had never expected to see such a sight as this. The whole scene is more than I can describe. I hope I may never see such a sight as this again.”

            Her post-mortem was performed by Dr. Thomas Bond.  I won’t read the entire thing because it really is incomprehensible that one human being could do that to another, but I will give you a short description:

            The body was lying naked in the middle of the bed, the shoulders flat, but the axis of the body inclined to the left side of the bed. The head was turned on the left cheek. The left arm was close to the body with the forearm flexed at a right angle & lying across the abdomen. the right arm was slightly abducted from the body & rested on the mattress, the elbow bent & the forearm supine with the fingers clenched. The legs were wide apart, and the whole of the surface of the abdomen & thighs was removed & the abdominal Cavity emptied of its viscera, her breasts were cut off, the arms mutilated by several jagged wounds & the face hacked beyond recognition of the features.  The uterus & Kidneys with one breast under the head, the other breast by the right foot, the Liver between the feet, the intestines by the right side & the spleen by the left side of the body.   It is believed that the reason she was so utterly butchered was due to the privacy the room gave him.  Mary Kelly was 25 years old.

            None of these women deserved to die, especially under the circumstances in which they did.  Had there been programs in place that could have given them training to gain certain skills useful to society, perhaps they would have gone on to live long and fruitful lives.  Also, had they not had events in their own lives that led to them having to support themselves they may have also lived happy lives.  We see that some of these women were most likely alcoholics, but was that due to the circumstances they fell into or could they have just been addicts and therefore would have died young anyway, we’ll never really know because there is an outside factor in that one man ended them all. 

Mary Kelly Murder Site, 13 Miller’s Court
Mary Kelly crime scene photo

So now, let’s talk about this man.  Who was he?  In 1888 he was known as “The Whitechapel Murderer”, “Red Fiend” and “Leather Apron”, and finally Jack the Ripper. What we do have is quite a few suspects.  It was believed that he could have been either a doctor or someone with at least some medical knowledge, or a butcher, for obvious reasons I’m sure I don’t have to go into again. We have quite few suspects though, so let’s go through some of them.  We’ll begin with Montague John Druitt.  He was a favored suspect because his father had been a surgeon until he died of a heart attack, so it was assumed he had some rudimentary medical knowledge, he was also a barrister and part time schoolmaster.  He was dismissed from his latter position for unknown reasons, but it is said it may have been due to some sexual misconduct.  It was thought that because of this dismissal and his subsequent dismissal from the barrister position that he went on this rampage, he committed suicide because he was close to being caught, and because the murders stopped after his death he was naturally thought to be the Ripper.  However, it is more than likely his life had been in a downward spiral since the death of his father and his mother being committed to an asylum.  Couple that with the dismissal from two jobs this is the more accepted reason for his suicide.  He was not the Ripper.  

Another to add to the list was Michael Ostrog.  He was a Russian doctor, but had mainly spent his life as a thief and con man and spent most of his time between prison and mental asylums.  It was when the police began to look into possible former asylum patients and upon receiving information that Mr. Ostrog had recently been release and was also a doctor that he became a suspect. That along with the coincidence that the killings began around the same time of his release made him a pretty good suspect. Regardless of this less than stellar description, he was also never known to have been homicidal.  Also, there is evidence that he wasn’t even in England at the time of any of the murders.  So, he was not the Ripper.

Still other suspects are Francis Tumbelty, who was suspected only because he had been at one point arrested and charged with “gross indecency” toward several men, as well as his alleged penchant for collecting medical specimens, including uteri.  The latter of which there is just simply no evidence of. Again, likely not the Ripper. 

Lastly, Walter Sickert.  In her 2002 book, Portrait of a Killer – Jack the Ripper Case Closed, author Patricia Cornwell makes a decent argument for her case.  Her main evidence are a series of paintings in which Sickert has portrayed murder scenes that bear a highly suspicious resemblance to the scenes of the murdered women.  This along with claims that he was impotent and hated women further point to him as a viable suspect.  However, there really is little evidence that he actually was impotent as his first wife divorced him for adultery, not to mention the handful of mistresses he had on the side, some of which bore him children.  Further, while he is suspected to having possibly written at least one if not all of the letters, there is little evidence his guilt went any further than bad writing.  Again, not the Ripper.

            Now we come to the two best suspects. First we have we have Carl Feigenbaum.  Feigenbaum was a German sailor known to travel throughout Europe and the United States.  He was convicted in the murder of a woman named Juliana Hoffman, a crime that eventually he was sentenced to death for.  The reason he is a Ripper suspect was due to the murder of a Carrie Brown, who was a prostitute and was killed in the same manner as the Ripper victims.  Whitechapel, London is very close to the water and it was believed he may have been on a ship docked in the area during the time of her murder.  After he was executed his attorney stated that he believed Feigenbaum was likely the Ripper.  Regardless of what his attorney believed, any evidence pointing to Feigenbaum as the killer of Carrie Brown was circumstantial at best and we can safely say he was also not the Ripper.  

Montague John Druitt
Michael Ostrong
Francis Tumbelty
Walter Sickert

Lastly we have Aaron Kosminski.  Kosminski was a Polish Jew who lived in the Whitchapel district.   His father was a tailor and as was the custom at the time, he also became a very successful tailor in London.  Although not much is known of his life, what is known was he had been admitted on several occasions to a mental asylum. He was said to have been observed with the following behaviors, Schizophrenia, delusions, paranoia, and sometimes he was incoherent.  During the times of the murders he was not living in an asylum and would have had the opportunity to have committed the murders.  Also there was talk among investigators in which they discussed a man named “Kosminski” was the best suspect they had.  However, there was never a first name associated with this surname.  It was further mentioned that this person was known to have a strong hatred of women and strong homicidal tendencies.  It must be noted that while he was in the asylum it was said that he was never a danger to anyone other than himself, as he often practiced “solitary vices” and “self-abuse”, he masturbated folks.   He was not arrested because at the time no actual physical evidence that pointed to Aaron Kosminski, but there actually was something found at the time that would prove useful today?

Remember that piece of apron found by the police just after the murder of Catherine Eddowes?  Recently a stained silk shawl that was said to have been found next to Catherine Eddowes.  Shawl?  Apron?  Hmm?  In 2007 this shawl made its way to an auction.  It was purchased by a man named Russell Edwards.  Being a self-proclaimed “armchair detective” Mr. Edwards went about procuring the services of forensic geneticist Dr. Jari Louhelained who worked at John Moores University in Liverpool in 2011.  Dr. Louhelained was able to extract mitochondrial DNA and matched it to a woman named Karen Miller who is a direct descendant of Catherine Eddowes along with a female descendant of Kosminski’s sister.  The samples matched.  So, was Aaron Kosminski Jack the Ripper?

            Yes, probably, maybe, you see even though we have this damned good DNA evidence, there are still skeptics.  If we are certain of anything though, it is that “Ripperologists” will likely never be satisfied with any evidence proving the identity and will always find some way to question it.  Everyone has a favorite suspect and will always believe that their suspect is the one.

            My opinion is, I believe that yes, Kosminski was the Ripper, based on this evidence.  And until there is further evidence that proves otherwise, then that’s who my choice is.

Aaron Kosminski