"We're All Mad Here…."
Outside of the ‘canonical’ five victims of Jack the Ripper, the murder of Martha Tabram is often hotly speculated as being the first known victim of the Ripper.
On 7th August 1888 at 4:45am , John Reeves, a labourer at the riverside having risen at this time to go to work, discovered the body of Martha Tabram, a local prostitute, lying on her back in a pool of blood in the George Yard buildings off the Whitechapel High Street. Reeves would later recall her clenched hands and disarranged clothes as well as the absence of any blood around her mouth. He went immediately in search of a policeman and returned with PC Thomas Barrett. Although violent attacks were not unknown in Whitechapel , the murder stood out due to the ferocity of the attack. At Post Mortem, Tabram was found to have been stabbed 39 times with wounds ranging from the throat to the lower abdomen. PC Barrett later remarked to the Inquest that the body was in such position as to suggest that ‘recent intimacy had taken place’.
Despite Tabram being obviously dead, PC Barrett sent for a doctor and Dr Timothy Killeen arrived on the scene at around 5:30am. He made a rapid examination of the body and noted the number of stab wounds and also concluded that, in his opinion, she had been dead for around 3 hours. There being no mortuary in the area, Dr Killeen had the body removed to the workhouse infirmary where he later conducted a Post Mortem.
Upon opening the skull he found copious amounts of blood between the scalp and bone and the brain, although pale, appeared healthy. The left lung was penetrated in five places, and the right lung was penetrated in two places but again, were otherwise healthy. The heart, which was rather fatty, was penetrated in one place, and that would be sufficient to cause death. The liver was surprisingly healthy as Tabram was a known alcoholic, but had been penetrated in five places. The spleen was penetrated in two places, and the stomach, which was perfectly healthy, was penetrated in six places. Both kidneys and all other organs appeared healthy. He did not agree with PC Barrett’s belief that sexual intercourse had recently taken place though. Dr Killeen recorded the cause of death as being haemorrhaging and loss of blood. The death certificate later produced put the cause of death as ‘Violent wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’.
There did not appear to be any sign of a struggle and Dr Killeen did not think all of the wounds were inflicted with the same instrument. He stated that one of the wounds could have been made by a left-handed person whilst the rest appeared to have been inflicted by someone right-handed. The wounds appeared to have been inflicted by an ordinary knife, but this could not have inflicted one of the wounds, which went through the breastbone. His opinion was that this wound had been inflicted by some kind of dagger, and that all of them were caused during life.
On Bank Holiday Monday, August 6th, the night before her death, Martha went out with Mary Ann Connelly, who was known locally as “Pearly Poll.” Poll told the Police that they had spent the evening drinking with two guardsmen, a Corporal and a Private. They had met in the Two Brewers public house and drank together in several pubs including the White Swan on Whitechapel High Street.
Sometime around 11:45 PM the foursome split up. Martha went with the Private into George Yard and Pearly Poll accompanied the Corporal into Angel Alley. About 30-40 minutes later, Poll and the Corporal went their separate ways at the corner of George Yard and Poll watched him head towards Aldgate, remarking that through the evening ‘there were no bad words; indeed, we were all good friends’.
Later, at 1:50am Joseph and Elizabeth Mahoney returned home to the George Yard Buildings. They ascended the stairs to their flat and saw no one or anything unusual in the building.
Around ten minutes later at 2:00am PC Barrett saw a young Grenadier Guardsman in Wentworth Street, the north end of George Yard. Barrett approached him and asked him what he was doing and was told by the Guardsman that he was waiting for a “chum who went off with a girl.”
At 3:30am Mr Alfred Crow returned to his lodgings in the George Yard Buildings and noticed what he thought was a homeless person sleeping on the first floor landing. As this was not an uncommon occurrence he continued on to bed and took no further notice. This was almost certainly Tabram’s body and Crow’s report, together with Elizabeth Mahoney’s, is consistent with Dr Killeen’s opinion that Tabram had been dead for around 3 hours when he examined the body at 5:30am.
Was she the first victim of the Ripper? Certainly the modus operandi varies from the later attacks and the principal weapon appears to have been a pocket knife. However, the violent frenzy of the attack and multiple wounding suggests to many that this was the first work of a fledgling killer. She loses her place with the ‘canonical five’ mainly as her throat was not cut and no disembowelment took place but, at the time, the Police linked her murder with the later killings attributed to the Ripper.