"We're All Mad Here…."
At just before 3:40am on the 31st August 1888, Charles Cross, a carriageman for Pickfords, headed for work through the Whitechapel district. Passing through Bucks Row he saw what he took to be a bundle of rags lying in a gateway. Moving closer to inspect it, he discovered that it was a woman lying on the ground. As he approached her he was joined by Robert Paul, who was also on his way to work. Cross held the womans hand which was quite cold. Paul checked to see if she was breathing and as he leant over, touched her chest which moved “I think she’s breathing but very little if she is” he said. He wanted to try to sit her up but Cross refused to touch her and they decided to continue on their way and alert the first Policeman they could find. Before they left they pulled down the woman’s skirt which had been hitched up. Shortly after they had left the scene and before they had met a PC Mizen and informed him, PC John Neil, whose beat included Buck Row, discovered the woman and, having a lantern was able to see that there was blood oozing from a deep wound in her throat. He was shortly joined by PC Thain and Neil sent him off to fetch the local surgeon Dr Llewellyn. By the time Llewellyn arrived in Bucks Row at 4:00am, more Policemen and several passers-by had gathered. Dr Llewellyn immediately pronounced life extinct and, due to the warmth of the victim’s legs, gave an estimated time of death as half an hour previous. The body was removed to the mortuary and the scene cleared. A local resident washed away the pool of blood and, by the time Inspector John Spratling arrived on the scene, there was little left to investigate save for a few bloodstains on the pathway. Feeling that there was nothing further to be gained in Bucks Row, Spratling went to the morgue and began to take down a description of the deceased. Lifting the skirts, Spratling was horrified to discover that the abdomen had been slashed open from the breastbone down and the intestines exposed. Dr Llewellyn was summoned to the mortuary and was shocked by the extent of the injuries, remarking “I have seen many terrible cases but never such a brutal affair as this”.
“her throat had been cut from left to right, two distinct cuts being on the left side, the windpipe, gullet and spinal cord being cut through; a bruise apparently of a thumb being on the right lower jaw, also one on left cheek, the abdomen had been cut open from centre of bottom of ribs along right side, under pelvis to left of stomach, there the wound was jagged; the omentum, or coating of the stomach, was also cut in several places, and two small stabs on private parts; apparently done with a strong bladed knife; supposed to have been done by some left handed person; death being almost instantaneous”
It is important to note that, although Dr Llewellyn initially thought that the murderer was left handed, he later expressed his uncertainty.
As news of the murder spread through Whitechapel, a number of women came forward and the body was identified as a woman known as ‘Polly’.
Mary Nichols, or Polly as she was known to her friends was a local prostitute and known for her drinking. Previously married to William Nichols, a printing machinist, and mother of 5 children, her sad decline followed the breakdown of their marriage in 1880. Polly had lived in a workhouse and despite the acrimonious split, received a weekly allowance of 5 shillings from William who also supported their children, they having remained with him. He ceased paying this allowance in either 1881 or 1882 when he heard that she was living with another man. Polly issued a summons against him but it was dismissed when William countered that she had been cohabiting. They had no contact with each other after that point and Polly moved between her lovers and workhouses for the remainder of her life with one short spell living with her father, Edward Walker. Mainly due to her heavy drinking, they did not get on. Sadly, in the year of her death, she had left the workhouse and taken a position as a domestic servant. As part of this attempt to get her life back on track, she had written to her father who had replied in a kindly and conciliatory manner but he heard nothing further from her. This was no doubt due to Polly exiting her promising job, running away with clothing worth in excess of £3. It is particularly sad to document her decline as she was affectionately remembered by those who knew her, despite her flaws. Her father remarked at the inquest “I don’t think she had any enemies, she was too good for that”.
On the evening before the murder, Polly had been turned away from the lodging house in Thrawl Street, lacking the necessary fourpence to pay for a bed. She had gone out to make the money, presumably from prostitution and was seen by her friend Ellen Holland at around 2:30am. Polly was drunk and told Holland that she had earned her rent twice over but had spent it on drink. Holland tried to persuade her to come back to the lodging house but Polly refused and staggered off along Whitechapel Road.
Police investigation in and around Bucks Row revealed nothing of use. Apart from the bloodstains and the body, the killer had left no clues and it seemed that no one in the locality had seen or heard anything. There was little public comment at the time but the lack of investigative procedure would lead to the heavy criticism of the police as the Ripper’s reign of terror progressed.
The comparatively small amount of blood around the body has caused some commenters to speculate that Polly was killed elsewhere and the body dumped in Bucks Row, usually to support some spurious theory or other. The likely truth is that her clothing had soaked up most of the blood and there is really nothing to suggest that she was killed anywhere else other than where she was found. The lack of blood on the front of her clothing suggests that her throat was not cut whilst she was still standing and it seems likely that she was strangled first and then attacked with a knife whilst on the ground. The wounding, although different to that observed in the case of Martha Tabram, shares a vicious, frenzied nature. As well as the abdominal injuries, her throat had been severed ear to ear by two deep gashes, as far back as the spinal column. Although her abdomen was badly slashed and her innards exposed, there was no record of any organs having been removed. Dr Llewellyn stated at the inquest that the knife used was likely to be a “strong bladed knife, moderately sharp” but he did not suggest that it was a particularly long weapon. Llewellyn also posited that the murderer had ‘rough anatomical knowledge’.
As the ‘Star’ reported in its headlines:
A REVOLTING MURDER.
ANOTHER WOMAN FOUND HORRIBLY MUTILATED IN WHITECHAPEL.
GHASTLY CRIMES BY A MANIAC.
The era of the Ripper had truly begun.