The Victims (Jack the Ripper) Part 9

The Pinchin Street Torso Ca.

Sunday, 8 September 1889

The man who walked into the London offices of the New York Herald had an all too familiar tale to tell—Jack the Ripper had struck again!

Giving his name as John Cleary and his address as 21 White Horse Yard, the man said a body had been found by a policeman at about 11:20 P.M. on Saturday, 7 September, in Back Church Lane, which wasn’t far from the site of one of the previous atrocities, the murder of Elizabeth Stride in Berner Street. Cleary had received this information from the most impeccable of sources, a police inspector whom he knew very well and whom he had met by accident in Whitechapel High Street.

Almost immediately two reporters were detailed to go to the area and find out precisely what had happened. They tried, without success, to inveigle Mr. Cleary into going with them, but he declined. On the way down the staircase from the Herald offices, he changed his story slightly, saying his informant wasn’t a serving policeman but an ex-officer.

In due course the two reporters arrived at Back Church Lane but found no signs of police activity. When they did finally find an inspector and a constable, they asked for further details of the latest terrible Ripper murder but were met with blank stares. There had been no murder in Back Church Lane or anywhere else. It seemed that they had been the victims of a hoax.

Nothing more would have been thought about this incident but for a find made by Constable William Pennett a couple of days later. Constable Pennett was on his beat, and at about 5 A.M. on Tuesday, 10 September, he checked the railway arches in Pinchin Street, which was just off Back Church Lane. All the arches were boarded off and used as storage areas except one, the first arch, closest to Back Church Lane. There was nothing suspicious to attract Pennett’s attention, and he continued on his beat.


Half an hour later, at 5:30 A.M., something inside that first arch caught the light from Constable Pennett’s lantern, and he decided to take a closer look. To his horror he found the almost naked body of a woman lying face downward, though that description was a misnomer because her head, along with her legs, had been removed. She was lying 18 feet from the main roadway and about 1 foot from the right wall of the arch. Her right arm was doubled beneath her body, and her left lay by her side. She wore only a torn chemise, which was positioned over her neck and right shoulder.

Senior officers were called and soon determined that the woman had not been murdered where she was found. There was almost no blood in the archway and the body had started to decompose, indicating that she had been dead for some time when she was dumped. In fact, the eventual medical opinion was that she had been dead for 36 hours or more, putting the most probable date of her death at sometime on Sunday, 8 September. It did not escape police officers such as James Monro, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, that the date was the anniversary of Annie Chapman’s death.

Had Jack the Ripper killed again? The body was moved to the mortuary at St. George’s-in-the-East so a postmortem could be performed.

In a report dated 11 September, Monro was already speculating that this killing was not another Ripper crime. He gave five reasons. First, there was nothing to indicate that death had been caused by the cutting of the throat, as in the previous crimes attributed to the Ripper. The torso had not been drained of blood, as would have been the case if the victim had bled to death from such a wound.

Second, there was no mutilation beyond the dismemberment itself. It was true that in at least two previous cases, those of Chapman and Kelly, the killer had made an attempt to remove the head, but this act had been combined with other bodily mutilations.

Third, there was no evisceration. In truth, this was only partly so. The torso did show a long gash on the front, extending downward to the genital region, but there had been no removal of the intestines.

Fourth, there had been no removal of any internal organs such as the heart, kidneys, or uterus; and finally, the murder had not been committed in the street, as had all the others except of course the murder of Mary Jane Kelly.

Once the story of the Pinchin Street Torso broke in the newspapers, the New York Herald gave the police information about its mysterious visitor, John Cleary. It seemed he had known about the murder at least a day before it took place and three full days before the body was found. Surely he was either the killer or knew who was, and it became a matter of urgency to trace him.

Chief Inspector Swanson visited the Herald offices and spoke to the night editor, Mr. Cowen, and one of the reporters, Mr. Fletcher, but they could throw no more light on Cleary. A visit to 21 White Horse Yard was then made, but Mr. Yates, the man in charge there, said he had never had a guest named Cleary. There had been a John Leary who had lived there until three weeks ago, when he was evicted for rent arrears. In due course John Leary was traced to his new address, but it became clear that he wasn’t the man who had visited the offices of the Herald.

Reports on the attempts to find Cleary finally brought a news vendor, John Arnold, to surrender himself to the police. He explained that he had given the story to the Herald in good faith. He told the police that on the night of Saturday, 7 September, he had been in the King Lud public house and, after he left, was walking up Fleet Street when a man in uniform said, "Hurry up with your papers, another horrible murder." When he asked where the killing had taken place, the man replied, "In Back Church Lane."

According to Arnold, the man who had given him this information wore a black uniform with a black cord shoulder strap and lightish-colored buttons. He wore a cheese-cutter cap and was aged 35 or 36. His height was 5 feet 6 or 7 inches, and he had a fair complexion and a fair mustache. He was carrying a brown paper parcel 6 to 8 inches long. Attempts were made to trace this man, but they all led to nothing.

The postmortem on the torso was carried out on 11 September. The report included the information, among other factors, that the head had been cut off at the lower part of the neck, and the thighs had been separated at the hip joints. The trunk was plump and well formed, with full breasts, fair skin, and dark brown hair on the pubes and axilla. The arms were well shaped and the hands small with well-kept nails. There was a single incision in the front that had cut through the skin and muscles of the abdomen. There were also a number of small bruises on the forearms and arms, varying in size from a sixpenny to a shilling. The left wrist had two cuts, one of which just grazed the skin, the other having cut through it.

The railway arch where the Pinchin Street Torso was found. The body lay just inside the first arch and was clearly visible from the street.

The railway arch where the Pinchin Street Torso was found. The body lay just inside the first arch and was clearly visible from the street.

It had taken the killer two incisions to remove the head. The first began at the spinal column and had been carried around the neck from left to right, ending in front on the right side. The second incision began on the right side in front and carried around to the back, joining the first cut but leaving a small tongue of skin. The spinal column had been divided at the junction of the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae.

The thighs had each been separated by two or three sweeping circular cuts beginning just below the hip bone and carried downward and inward around the buttocks. It was calculated that the woman would have been about 5 feet 3 inches tall, was certainly aged more than 25 but probably nearer to 35, and had borne no children, though she was not a virgin. The only other evidence of import was that a very sharp knife had been used to make all the cuts, which had been inflicted after death, and they had all been made from right to left except those separating the right thigh.

Identifying the body proved to be impossible. There were suggestions that it might be Lydia Hart, who lived in Ellen Street and had been missing for some days, but according to the New York Herald, Hart was found alive and well in the local infirmary. Other suggestions were made as to who the torso might be, but no firm identification was ever made.

Frances Coles

Friday, 13 February 1891

Ernest Thompson had not been a police officer for very long, having just joined the force at the end of 1890. Now, on the night of 12 February 1891, he was on beat duty for the first time. As he began to trudge the streets he could have had no inkling that his was to be a hard baptism.

At 2:15 A.M. on the 13th Constable Thompson was patrolling along Chamber Street and was about to enter Swallow Gardens when he heard footsteps moving away from him, heading in the direction of Royal Mint Street. He thought nothing of this sound until he turned into Swallow Gardens and saw, lying on her back, a woman who had obviously been attacked. Shining his lantern on the prostrate form, Thompson saw to his horror that the woman’s throat had been cut and blood was still issuing from the wound. Even worse perhaps was the fact that as he stared down at this terrible scene, drawing his whistle to summon assistance, one of the woman’s eyes flickered open.

Thompson’s whistle brought two brother officers Constable Hyde and Constable Hinton, to his aid. While Thompson stayed with the dying woman, Hyde ran to fetch Dr. Oxley and Hinton dashed to the police station in Leman Street to alert the inspector and get more assistance.

Dr. Oxley pronounced the woman dead, but Dr. George Bagster Phillips later examined her as well. He noted that the throat wound seemed to have been caused by a sawing action, the blade being drawn across from left to right, then from right to left, and once more from left to right. The woman’s clothing had not been disturbed, and there were no other injuries or mutilations beyond an injury to the back of the head, indicating that the victim must have been thrown down forcibly.

The body was moved to the White-chapel Mortuary, and a careful search of the immediate area was made, but nothing of interest was found except for a two-shilling piece, wrapped in two pieces of old newspaper and hidden in the space behind a water pipe and some brickwork. This coin was discovered about 18 yards from where the body had lain.

Almost immediately there was a false alarm. A man named William Friday, known to all his friends as Jumbo, came forward to explain that he worked at the Great Northern Railway Depot in Royal Mint Street and had passed down that thoroughfare at about 1:45 A.M. on the 13th. He had noticed a man and a woman standing in a doorway and noted that the woman wore a black hat. He was shown the hat worn by the dead woman and positively identified it as the one he had seen. This meant that the man seen with the woman was very probably her killer, as she must have been attacked within half an hour of Friday’s sighting. Two brothers named Knapton, who also worked at the depot, said that they had passed down Royal Mint Street just before Jumbo and had also seen the couple. Between these three witnesses a description of the wanted man was drawn up.

Unfortunately, this evidence all led to nothing. Kate McCarthy lived at 42 Royal Mint Street, and her beau was Thomas Fowles, who lived not far away in Back Church Lane. Fowles worked as a doorman at a club on Commercial Street, and on the night of the 12th McCarthy had gone to see him there sometime between 7:30 and 8 P.M. The club closed at midnight, but it was perhaps 12:30 A.M. on the 13th by the time McCarthy and Fowles left and began to walk home together. They arrived at Kate’s house at about 1:15 A.M. and stood on her doorstep talking for half an hour or so. They had seen the Knaptons and Jumbo, all of whom they knew quite well, pass by on their way to work and had exchanged "Good-nights" with them. The promising lead of the man seen with the dead woman turned out to be nothing of the kind. This incident also illustrates how easily witnesses could provide false and misleading information.

The narrow thoroughfare where Frances Coles was attacked. Her attacker ran southward, underneath the railway arches, thus evading capture.

The narrow thoroughfare where Frances Coles was attacked. Her attacker ran southward, underneath the railway arches, thus evading capture.

The woman found in Swallow Gardens had actually been in possession of two hats. The black one she was wearing appeared to be brand new, but she also had an older hat pinned to her dress. News of this detail brought forward witnesses who tentatively identified the body as that of Frances Coles, and this identification was confirmed by James William Coles of the Bermondsey Workhouse, who said the body was that of his daughter, and by Mary Ann Coles, who confirmed that Frances was her sister.

The inquest on Frances Coles opened on 15 February before Wynne Edwin Baxter at the Working Lad’s Institute. It was adjourned several times, with further hearings taking place on 16, 20, 23, and 27 February, during which a total of 55 witnesses were heard. One of those was a man suspected not only of being the murderer of Frances Coles but of being Jack the Ripper himself.

James Thomas Sadler was a ship’s fireman who had certainly spent most of the two days before Frances died in her company. They had argued and had both drunk heavily during the time they were together. However, in due course it was shown that Sadler’s story of his movements was true and that it was highly unlikely that he was the man responsible for taking France Coles’s life. He was able to prove that he had been at sea on the S.S. Winestead when four of the supposed Ripper victims, Nichols, Chapman, Stride, and Eddowes, had been killed. As a result, he was discharged on 3 March, to loud cheers from his supporters. His story is examined more carefully in the "Suspects" section of this topic.

Though some believed that the Ripper had reappeared on the streets of London, the idea did not hold sway for long, and once again Dr. Phillips gave the opinion that this murder was not a Ripper crime. What is certain is that no further crimes in the area were ever attributed to Jack the Ripper.

Let me now consider the evidence for each of the names in this section being a victim of Jack the Ripper. We can begin by immediately discounting Fairy Fay, who never existed. This subtraction leaves the following:

Annie Millwood—Attacked

Saturday, 25 February 1888

Perhaps the most significant factors in this case are that the attack took place on a weekend, close to the epicenter of the Ripper’s territory, and involved an attack by a single stranger and knife wounds to the lower torso and genital region. As a result, I contend that Annie Millwood was probably the first victim of the Ripper.

Frances Coles (said by some to be the most attractive of the victims) was murdered in Swallow Gardens on 13 February 1891 and was the last woman ever considered to be a possible Ripper victim. She may have been killed by Thomas Sadler, though it is also possible that she met her death at someone else's hand.

Frances Coles (said by some to be the most attractive of the victims) was murdered in Swallow Gardens on 13 February 1891 and was the last woman ever considered to be a possible Ripper victim. She may have been killed by Thomas Sadler, though it is also possible that she met her death at someone else’s hand.

Ada Wilson—Attacked at 12:30 A.M.

Wednesday, 28 March 1888

Ada sustained throat wounds and the description of her assailant bore a resemblance to later sightings of a man believed to be the Ripper, but there are strong grounds for discounting Ada as a possible early victim.

To begin with, the location of the attack is far to the east of what appears to have been the Ripper’s hunting ground. Burdett Road isn’t that far from Buck’s Row, but the inclusion of this location would put the epicenter of the attacks much farther to the east. Furthermore, the motive in this case appears to have been purely robbery, and the assailant knocked on the front door—hardly Jack’s style.

There is a remote possibility that this was an early attack by the man who would later inspire terror in the East End, but the balance of probability is that this crime had nothing to do with Jack the Ripper.

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