This post revisits the murders that terrorized London’s East End in 1888-91. This chapter examines the second of the so-called “canonical” murders: Annie Chapman.
Warning: this post contains graphic descriptions and illustrations of murder and assault that more sensitive readers may find unsettling. Extreme caution is advised.
I do not want to see that girl again:
I did not like her: and I should not mind
If she were done away with, killed, or ploughed.
She did not seem to serve a useful end:
And certainly she was not beautiful.
— James Kenneth (J.K.) Stephen, Men and Women
September 8th, 1888
Nine days have passed since the murder of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols in Buck’s Row. And while no one will claim that Whitechapel isn’t accustomed to its share of brutal crimes, the Nichols murder nevertheless sends a ripple of panic through the pubs, lodging houses and shops of the London district. Gossip on the street corners talk of it being a retribution killing by one of the many vicious “protection” gangs. Others insist it was the work of a crazed slaughterman — or doctor! And still others point to a blood-stained miscreant named Leather Apron, known for terrorizing prostitutes in the East End. In truth, the harried police are no closer to catching Nichols’ killer than when her body was found.
Soon, the colourful patchwork of humanity populating “Outcast London” returns steadily to what passes for normal in this region, oblivious to the new and very different kind of horror that walks among them. There is still no hint, no inkling, no vague notion even, of the terror and panic that will very soon overtake the East End, spill past its edges and spread to the whole of London, and – beyond that – the world.
That will change today.
Whitechapel is once again quiet on this morning; her courts, streets and alleys sombre. Barely anything stirs, though occasionally the gas lamps will pull a concrete form out of the plethora of shadows: a gin-soaked inebriate staggering home from a night at the pub; a prostitute standing on a street corner, looking to trade sex for a “tu’pence”; a day labourer on his way to work at one of the numerous docks, slaughterhouses and markets that dot the grim East End landscape.
John Richardson is one of those in the last category. At 4:40 a.m. (all times approximate) he steps out of No. 2 John Street (now Dray Walk) into the cool early morning and heads south, intending to pay a visit around the corner to No. 29 Hanbury Street, where his mother – Amelia Richardson – lives. It’s a custom he performs each morning before he heads to work as a porter at Spitalfields Market — checking the property to ensure prostitutes and their clients aren’t conducting “business” on the stairs and landings. He’s caught more than a few in the act and has had to turn them out time and again. But he also has an additional task on this occasion: two months ago, someone broke into the cellar where he and Amelia operate a packing-case manufacturing business. The thief made off with two saws and two hammers. A bit of bad luck, to be sure, but he’s since had the door fitted with a padlock and wants to make sure it’s still doing its job.
The fog of his breath hangs in the chill air as he turns east onto Hanbury Street. No. 29 is near the middle of the row of buildings and tenements on the north side. As he walks the last few steps, he winces in pain and leans against the shutters at the front of the residence. He checks his boot. A piece of leather has been chafing his foot since he left his doorstep and now it’s become more than just a nuisance. He’d had the same problem the day before and had cut a piece off, but it obviously wants a bit more cut. He’ll need tend to it before he heads to work.
He lifts the latch of the door of the narrow corridor that leads to the rear of the house. He quietly passes through, careful not to disturb the residents. While his mother is the registered tenant of No. 29, she occupies just the front room of the first floor with her grandson; she sublets the other rooms and floors to lodgers. If he were to guess, Richardson would say there are roughly seventeen occupants living in the dwelling at present. And though his mother’s tenants are poor, they’re also hard-working people, and he doesn’t wish to disturb their sleep.
He pushes open the door to the backyard and stands on the stone steps, but doesn’t go into the yard proper. He peers into the gloom. There isn’t a lot of light, but there’s enough that he can see all around. He glances over at the cellar door and sees that the padlock is secured. Satisfied that nothing looks amiss, Richardson sits down on the second step to tend to that bothersome piece of leather. He takes out an old table knife from his coat pocket and begins to saw at his boot, but the blade isn’t sharp enough to do the job; he’ll have to borrow one at the market. He ties the boot back up and rises to his feet. He steps into the passageway and makes his way back towards Hanbury Street, letting the back door swing shut behind him. No. 29 and its environs are eerily silent. He closes the front door, replaces the latch, and heads west towards Spitalfields Market.
In all, his visit had taken about two minutes on the outside. He will later tell police he saw nothing unusual that morning … and certainly not a dead and mutilated woman lying less than a metre from where he had sat.
At 5:30 a.m. the nearby Black Eagle Brewery clock strikes the half-hour as Elizabeth Long turns into Hanbury Street from Brick Lane. Like Richardson, Long, too, is employed at Spitalfields Market and is on her way to work from Church Row (now St. Matthew’s Row), where she lives. She’s walking along the north side of the street when she comes across a man and a woman standing together near the front of No. 31, a few yards nearer to Brick Lane than No. 29. The woman is facing her, and while the man’s back is turned and Long cannot see his face, she sees he’s a little taller than his companion and wears a low-crowned felt hat, maybe brown in colour. He also strikes her as being foreign in appearance.
As she passes, she hears the man ask, “Will you?”
“Yes,” the woman answers.
It’s a brief and mundane encounter that Long doesn’t take much notice of; she’s accustomed to seeing these sorts of couples standing there on a morning. She sweeps past the pair and continues on her way, traipsing through the maze of Whitechapel streets toward the market.
She doesn’t look back.
At 5:15 a.m. Albert Cadosch of No. 27 Hanbury Street rouses from another restless night of tossing and turning. He was recently discharged from the hospital following an operation and is still aching from the procedure. He knows he could stand to benefit from a good couple of days of bedrest to aid in his recuperation, but there’s no sick pay in 1888, and his livelihood as a carpenter demands that he get up and go to work. With this in mind, he gets up, grimaces at another flash of pain, and decides he needs to use the privy.
He goes outside and moves through the yard towards the water closet in the northwest corner, away from No. 29. A few minutes later he finishes up, and as he’s about to climb the steps back inside, he hears a voice – quite close to him – say, “No.”
The man asks, “Will you?” The woman replies, “Yes.”
Cadosch stops and cocks his head. Where did it come from, that voice? It sounded as though it came from the yard of No. 29, but he can’t be sure. He remains motionless, listening, but he hears nothing more. Whoever or whatever it was, they’ve gone quiet. He goes back inside.
As he’s getting ready for work, Cadosch heeds Nature’s call once again and runs out to the water closet to relieve himself. On his return, he once more hears a noise on his approach to the house, only this time it sounds like something has fallen against the fence dividing the properties of Nos. 27 and 29. But, as it’s not an uncommon noise to come from next door – he knows the widow who lives there owns some kind of packing business and they’re always moving about back there – he pays it no mind. At any rate, what curiosity he might normally have had has been sapped by the discomfort he’s in. All he wants to do right now is get to work.
He hears a voice say, “No.”
A few minutes later, Cadosch heads out the door of No. 27 and begins the twenty-minute journey to his workplace in Shoe Lane. As he passes near Christ Church Spitalfields, he makes a note of the time on its white, towering spire — 5:32 a.m.
By now he’s completely forgotten about the noises he’d heard earlier.
The chimes of Christ Church Spitalfields mark the time at a quarter to 6 a.m. and 53-year-old John Davis rises with them. He and his wife and their three sons occupy the third-floor front room of No. 29 Hanbury Street. The family hadn’t lodged there long – only a fortnight – and they were still settling in. He gets out of bed and fixes a cup of tea to take the chill of the morning off. He yawns. Though he’d gone to bed at 8 p.m. last night, he found himself awake at 3 a.m. and unable to fall asleep again until two hours later. And now he’s having trouble staying awake! Perhaps some fresh air will help chase the cobwebs away.
He heads down the stairs and into the cramped corridor that John Richardson had passed through a little over an hour before. Before he makes his way to the rear of the house, he notices the front door is unlatched and standing wide open. It’s not an unusual sight – he’s seen people coming and going through here at all hours of the day – but anyone who knows where the front door’s latch is can open it and get through to the backyard, and that’s a bit worrisome. He’ll bring it up with the landlady later today; there are too many sketchy characters about to be having that. He walks to the back door and pushes it open.
The sight that greets him haunts his dreams for years to come.
Davis staggers through the passageway and bursts out into Hanbury Street. The horror of what he’s seen has sent him into shock. He hunches over, his hands on his knees, and he takes in a few heaving gulps of air. He fears he may vomit.
“Steady on,” he says to himself. “Stay calm.”
The sight that greets him haunts his dreams for years to come.
He looks down the street for someone – anyone – who can help. He spies some workmen loitering in front of Bayley’s Packing Case Manufacturers, a few doors west at No. 23a. He doesn’t know their names, but he knows them by sight. Two of them are eyeing him with more than just a little curiosity.
“You there!” he calls out. “You men! Come here, will you?”
James Green and James Kent look at one another, shrug, and warily approach the stricken Davis.
“Mate,” says Kent as they draw near, “are you alright?”
“Come with me. Both of you.”
“What’re you on about?” asks Green.
“There’s been another murder.”
Henry Holland, another labourer on his way to work, is walking past the trio and overhears the remark. He stops in his tracks and joins them. He looks to Davis. “Another murder? Where?”
Davis points to the door leading to the front door of No. 29. “Through there,” he says. “In the yard.”
Annie Chapman is last seen turning east on Brushfield Street from Little Paternoster Row. She is found murdered a little over four hours later. Click here for a map of all the Whitechapel murder sites of 1888-91.
A hushed silence falls over the quartet as they walk through the corridor. They reach the back door, push it open and gather on the top step. They stare wordlessly at the scene before them.
“There’s been another murder.”
At the bottom of the step, sprawled less than a metre away from their boots, lay the mutilated remains of a woman. She lies on her back parallel to the fence to their left side, her feet pointing towards the shed at the bottom of the yard. Her head almost graces the bottom step. A neckerchief is tied tightly around her neck. Her legs – clad in red-and-white striped wool stockings – are drawn up and splayed wide apart. She wears two petticoats and both are pushed up past her waist. But unlike Mary Ann Nichols – where the damage done to her abdomen wasn’t discovered until her body lay in the mortuary – it’s clear from the onset that the woman has been viciously eviscerated. Her abdomen has been entirely laid open, her entrails yanked out of her and strewn about the body. The face and hands are smeared with blood.
A voice from the passageway complains, “I can’t see.” Holland pushes past the other three and goes down the steps into the yard.
“What’re you up to? Get out of there!” Kent hisses.
“I want a better look, is all.” says Holland. He gapes at the horribly mutilated body. His eyes widen; his face turns pale. “Christ. She’s had a number done on her. Her guts are … grrrgh …” He takes out a handkerchief and puts it to his mouth. “They’re everywhere. God.”
The woman has been viciously eviscerated.
“I can’t,” exclaims Davis. “I can’t look anymore. It’s too frightful.” He pushes past Green and Kent and starts off towards Hanbury Street once more.
Green calls after him, “Where are you going?”
Davis doesn’t look back. “To find a policeman!”
Inspector Joseph Chandler of H-Division (Whitechapel) is on duty in Commercial Street. To the south of him, the time on the Christ Church Spitalfields clock reads 6:10 a.m. He’s standing on the corner of Hanbury Street, watching the growing stream of humanity pass him by, when a flurry of movement catches his eye. A group of men are running down Hanbury in his direction. They look panicked. He frowns. What’s this all about?
“Oy!” he calls out to them. “You lot! What’s your hurry?”
One of the men runs up to him and stops, gasping for breath. He points back in the direction from which he came.
“There’s been another woman done in!”
“Another woman?” Chandler asks him. “What do you mean?”
“Someone’s done a murder on her. Like the one last week.”
Bloody hell. “Show me,” Chandler tells him. They set off at once up the street.
A small mob has already crowded around the front of No. 29 when they arrive. There’s almost a sense of revelry in the air. Candler pushes his way through the horde of men and women.
“Make way! Make way! Police! Make way!”
“There’s been another woman done in!”
He reaches the backyard and immediately sees the body of a woman on the ground, lying parallel to the fencing that divides the yard from its neighbour to the west. Her head is nearer the back wall of the house, a little more than half a metre from the wall and 23cm from the bottom of the steps. Her face is swollen and turned to the right. The left arm rests on her left breast and the right hand lays along her right side. The legs are drawn up and her clothing is bunched up above the knees. A portion of the intestines, still connected to the body, has been dumped in a mass above the right shoulder, along with some pieces of skin. He also observes some pieces of skin on the left shoulder.
It’s a horrifying mess.
Though spectators are filling the passageway, no one seems to have set foot in the yard. But to keep it that way, Chandler will need some more men here to assist. He turns to one of the faces in the corridor.
“Fetch me another constable. Now!” The face quickly melts into the shadows of the corridor and is replaced by another, James Kent, who has returned from his workplace holding a large piece of canvas his hands.
“Sir?” he says to the Inspector. “You can cover her with this.” He hands the canvas to Chandler, who drapes it over the body.
It’s a horrifying mess.
“That’s a good man,” he says to Kent.
Minutes later, more constables arrive. By this time, the narrow passageway of No. 29 is choked with a rabble of curious passerby who have gathered for this morbid bit of amusement on an otherwise dull market morning. Chandler orders the space cleared. Then he points to a policeman.
“You — get an ambulance so we can get this body out of here.”
He points to another one.
“And you — go fetch Dr. Phillips. Hurry!”
Both men speed off on their appointed tasks and Chandler takes his position by the body.
At 6:30 a.m. Dr. George Bagster Phillips arrives at No. 29 and is led through to the backyard. Chandler has maintained his vigil and assures the doctor no one has touched the body in his presence. As he makes his examination, Dr. Phillips is troubled by the extent of the mutilations he observes. What was done to this poor wretch of a woman was akin to a cattle being slaughtered for the market. He notes many of the same details Chandler and the other witnesses had made earlier and expands on them.
“The tongue was evidently much swollen. The teeth were perfect, so far as the first molar top and bottom, and very fine teeth they were. The body was terribly mutilated. The small intestines, and a flap of the wall of the belly, together with the cover of the intestines, were lying on the right side of the body, on the ground above the right shoulder, attached to the remaining portion of the intestines inside the body by a coil of intestine. Two flaps of the wall of the belly were lying in a large quantity of blood above the left shoulder.
The body was cold, except that there was a certain remaining heat under the intestines that remained in the body. The body was cold, except that there was a certain remaining heat under the intestines that remained in the body. Stiffness of the limbs was not marked, but it was commencing …
On the back wall of the house, between the steps and the palings which bounded the yard on the left side, about eighteen inches (45.72cm) from the ground, there were about six patches of blood varying in size from a sixpenny piece to a small point, and on the wooden palings between the yard in question and the next were smears of blood corresponding to where the head of the deceased lay. This was about fourteen inches (35.56cm) in front and immediately above the part where the blood lay that had flowed from the neck, which blood well clotted.”
But the most important detail missed by everyone else – likely because of the neckerchief wound tight about her neck – is that the woman had received a very deep gash to her neck; indeed, it appears as though an attempt had been made to separate the head from the body.
“I noticed the throat was dissevered deeply, and that the incision through the skin was jaded, and reached right round the neck.”
The ambulance arrives as the doctor concludes that death had occurred two hours before, probably more, but with this cool morning air … well, anything more in-depth will have to be decided at the mortuary — under better conditions.
“Take her away,” he instructs the constables. “I’ll examine her further this afternoon.”
Two policemen pick up the body, haul it onto the stretcher and carry it away. Dr. Phillips and several other officers follow. Inspector Chandler alone remains in the yard. He begins searching it for clues. He feels there has to be something here that can explain what happened this morning; he intends to find it.
An attempt had been made to separate the head from the body.
There’s a box near where the body had been, the sort used by case-makers. He peers inside. Empty. Near the box is a piece of flat steel. He has no idea what it would be used for.
He keeps looking. There’s a water tap and basin in the yard. Surely after slaughtering that poor woman, the fiend would want to clean his bloody hands. This has to be where he did it. But the basin is clean of bloodstains. There’s not even a drop of blood in the water.
But this is curious — a wet leather apron drying on the tap.
A leather apron?
The phrase rings a bell, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. Yet.
He turns his attention to the ground. Some parts of the yard are paved roughly with stones while bare earth is exposed in other parts. Near where the woman’s feet had been, Chandler finds a piece of coarse muslin, a small-tooth comb and a pocket hair comb in a case. Curious. Did these items fall out during a struggle with her assailant? Were they placed here by her assailant?
And over here, near the large pool of blood where her head had been: a piece of envelope. He kneels down and picks it up. Inside are two pills. He examines the envelope itself. On one side there’s a seal with embossed lettering: “Sussex Regiment.” He turns it over. The letter “M” in a man’s writing. And here, lower down, the letters “Sp” are written, but the rest has been torn away. Had it once said “Spitalfields?” There’s also a postal stamp that says “London, Aug. 3, 1888.”
This motley collection of items — are they clues? And if so — what’s their significance? What do they point to? The killer? To nothing at all?
Chandler can feel shadows gathering despite the rising morning sun. He looks at the items in his hands: a scrap of muslin. A small-tooth comb. A pocket comb in a paper case. An envelope containing two pills. The letters “M” and “Sp”. He shakes his head.
What does any of it mean?
After an appeal is made to the area’s lodging houses, several people come to the Whitechapel mortuary in an attempt to identify the woman. Amelia Farmer confirms the body is that of her friend, Annie “Sievey” Chapman.
What We Know
Name: Annie Chapman
Discovered murdered: Saturday, September 8th, 1888 at around 5:55 a.m.
Location of discovery: backyard of 29 Hanbury Street, Whitechapel
Cause of Death
“Violent injuries to throat and abdomen by a sharp instrument” — death certificate No. 281, registered September 20th, 1888 (HC 084466)
- black knee-length figure coat
- black skirt
- brown bodice
- additional bodice
- two petticoats
- pair of lace-up boots
- pair of red-and-white striped wool stockings
- neckerchief, white with a red border (folded tri-corner and knotted about her neck)
- large empty pocket tied about the waist and worn under the skirt
- scrap of muslin
- small-tooth comb
- comb in a paper case
- scrap of envelope containing two pills
- heading north along Little Paternoster Row, then turned east onto Brushfield Street – towards Spitalfields Market – at around 1:35 a.m.
- talking with a man near the front of No. 31 Hanbury Street at around 5:30 a.m. (contested)
Begg, Paul, and John Bennett. The Complete and Essential Jack the Ripper. 2013.
Begg, Paul; Fido, Martin; Skinner, Keith. The Complete Jack the Ripper A-Z: the Ultimate Guide to the Ripper Mystery. 2015.
Moore, Alan, and Eddie Campbell. From Hell. 1994.
Rumbelow, Donald. Jack the Ripper: The Complete Casebook. 1988.
Various newspapers of Victorian London, notably:
The Illustrated Police News
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper
The Pall Mall Gazette
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