Friday, July 6, 2018


It seems unlikely that I will ever return to London. I've allowed my passport to lapse and I dislike what airline travel has become. On the other hand, if I could afford to travel on the Queen Elizabeth 2.... I didn't have this Murder Guide to London when I was last in the city. It is about actual crimes. It contains fourteen tours of various parts of London directing attention to—as the title indicates—locations associated with murders. Chapter 2, "The East End," includes this (the bold locations would be places on the tour map):
The Whitechapel Murderer' was the original title accorded the unknown 'Jack the Ripper'. Although his murders fell within the tight compass of one square mile, they strayed outside Whitechapel proper to Spitalfields, a region named for a medieval priory and hospital, and developed into attractive streets of elegant houses by refugee Huguenot silk weavers in the eighteenth century. But silk weaving ceased to flourish and by the 1880s the fine eighteenth-century streets had fallen into disrepair: many spaces between them had been filled by wretched brick shacks that could be let cheaply as one-room lodgings.

To the north, on the other side of Bethnal Green Road, lay another slum area of narrow brick streets and blind alleys. 'The Nichol', around Old Nichol Street, was infested by gangs whose livelihood was robbing, mugging and extortion. Whitechapel and Spitalfields were more unsalubrious than unsafe, but the Nichol gangs terrorised the sreetwalkers from time to time.

So when the body of Emma Smith was found viciously stabbed outside the cocoa factory at the union of Brick Lane with Osborn Street on Easter Monday 1888 the police assumed (probably correctly) that 'Nichol' hooligans were responsible.

August Bank Holiday saw another murder. Martha Tabram or Turner was found on the first-floor landing of a tenement in George Yard (today's Gunthorpe Street), a narrow alley leading off Whitechapel High Street under a dim arch. Her throat had been cut, and there were a few random stabs in her abdomen. Police soon discovered that Martha and a friend known as 'Pearly Poll' had picked up a couple of soldiers the night before. Pearly had gone off with her client, leaving Martha and the other soldier near George Yard at midnight. Pearly failed to identify either man in a garrison parade at the Tower.

The discovery of Mary Anne Nichol's body in the gateway opposite Essex Wharf; Bucks Row (today's Durward Street) on August 31st started the real scare in Whitechapel. 'Polly' Nichol's throat was cut and her abdomen was horribly mutilated. Senior police officers who studied the documentary evidence concluded (a couple of years later) that this was the first actual 'Ripper' murder, but the police carrying out the investigations at ground level, like the general populace, took it for the third.

A week later Annie Chapman's body was found in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, disembowelled, her throat cut, and her few pathetic coins arranged at her feet. To get to the yard, Annie and her murderer passed through the narrow passageway from the front door of the house in which seventeen people slept. Yet nobody had heard a sound.

The next three weeks were uneventful, and the panic started to die down. Then on September 30th came the double event. The body of tall Swedish Elizabeth ('Long Liz') Stride was found, throat cut, just inside a small court between Berner Street (now Henriques Street) and Back Church Lane, running south off Commercial Road. Apart from a small nick on one ear, there were no mutilations. But it was believed that the noise of the pony trap bringing the secretary of a Jewish Working Men's Club up to the yard (where he discovered the still-warm body) had frightened the murderer away.

Within half an hour yet another murder had been discovered. In Mitre Square, just inside the City, a patrolling policeman found the body of Catherine Eddowes.

Panic now rose to hysteria. Sick and silly pranksters chalked messages purporting to come from the murderer around Whitechapel, and sent letters to the police, to news agencies, and to the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilantes Committee. In these the name 'Jack the Ripper' was first used, although there is little reason to suppose that any of the letters were genuine.

What was found on the night of the double murder was a fragment of Eddowes' bloodstained apron, dropped in the entrance of the 'Wentworth Model Dwellings' in Goulston Street (east of and parallel to Middlesex Street, or 'Petticoat Lane') proving unquestionably that the murderer had doubled back from the City boundary into Whitechapel. (The doorways of these dismal and deserted tenements are now sealed up and they are obviously about to be demolished.) On the wall above the apron, the curious message 'The Juwes are The men That Will not be Blamed for nothing' was chalked. It was erased on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner's controversial orders before it could be photographed. Detectives on the ground, however, had seen enough chalk messages around the vicinity to agree that this one was unimportant, and most unlikely to be the murderer's work

Uniformed and disguised police now crowded the narrow streets of Whitechapel at night. But again there was an interval of inaction. For over a month no bodies were found. Then on November 9th came the worst murder of all. Mary Jane (or Marie Jeanette) Kelly was found so horribly mutilated as to be totally unrecognizable in a wretched room whose floor was slippery with blood and flesh. The room Kelly rented was in Miller's Court off Dorset Street (now Duval Street, but locally unmarked: the open way between Commercial Street and Crispin Street, north of White's Row and the multi-storey cark park.

On this one occasion two neighbours claimed to have heard a woman's voice crying 'Murder!' in the small hours. But the noise of women being abused was so common in the neighbourhood that they paid no attention. Now the police were deluged with abuse. The Metropolitan Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren, had injudiciously written an article in which he criticized the public for their unimaginative suggestions toward the solution of the Whitechapel murders. If a head was to roll, his seemed to be offering itself, and Sir Charles stepped down from the position he had held for two years.

Yet his fellow chiefs were coming to the conclusion that the Whitechapel murders were solved. Robert Anderson, new head of the CID, believed the probable culprit was in an asylum, and he probably satisfied Warren's successor James Monro that this was the case, since intense inquiries died down rapidly.

But police on the ground thought the Ripper was still at large. Two more murders were felt by some ordinary coppers (and the newspapers) to be the work of the Ripper: that of 'Clay Pipe Alice' McKenzie, whose body was found in Castle Alley (roughly where the bottom of today's Old Castle Street emerges into Whitechapel High Street) in July 1889 and, eighteen months later, the murder of 'Carrotty Nell' Frances Coles, found with her throat cut in Swallow Gardens, a sinister space below the dismal railway arches crossing between Chamber Street and Royal Mint Street.

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