Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jack the Ripper

Dark Annie

Because the people of Whitechapel firmly believed that the deaths of Martha Tabram, Emma Smith and Polly Nichols were connected, there was a great deal of pressure upon the police to bring the criminal(s) to justice. Three theories were entertained: (1) a gang of thieves was responsible, such as the men who robbed and assaulted Emma Smith,; (2) a gang extorting money from prostitutes penalized the three women for failing to pay; (3) a maniac was on the loose.

Considering how poor the victims were, the first two theories were not very plausible, so the final theory became popular. The East London Observer commented on the Tabram and Nichols murders:

The two murders which have so startled London within the last month are singular for the reason that the victims have been of the poorest of the poor, and no adequate motive in the shape of plunder can be traced. The excess of effort that has been apparent in each murder suggests the idea that both crimes are the work of a demented being, as the extraordinary violence used is the peculiar feature in each instance.

A request was made of the Home Secretary for a reward to be offered for the discovery of the criminal. Henry Matthews, the Home Secretary, had no idea at this point what he was dealing with, and declined to offer a reward, laying responsibility at the feet of the Metropolitan Police.

Today, even with all the techniques of modern forensic science and psychology, a serial killer is a major challenge for a metropolitan police force. Some serial killers will never be caught, regardless of the sophistication and skill of the authorities in that jurisdiction. London's Metropolitan Police, in Victorian times, was operating almost completely in a knowledge vacuum, with no modern forensic tools available to them. Fingerprinting, blood typing and other staples of forensic technique were not yet developed for police use. Even photography of victims was not a usual practice. There was no crime laboratory at Scotland Yard until the 1930's.

Police today have developed elaborate profiling techniques to identify serial killers, and have amassed a database of information with which forensic psychologists and psychiatrists can determine the kind of individual perpetrating the crime. In 1888, the police were ignorant of sexual psychopaths. They had seen nothing like the Ripper crimes in England in their experience.

While police were searching for the killer of Polly Nichols, a story surfaced about a bizarre character named "Leather Apron." This man required prostitutes to pay him money or he would beat them. The Star claimed the man was a Jewish slipper maker of the following description:

From all accounts he is five feet four or five inches in height and wears a dark, close-fitting cap. He is thickset and has an unusually thick neck. His hair is black, and closely clipped, his age being about 38 or 40. He has a small, black moustache. The distinguishing feature of his costume is a leather apron, which he always wears...His expression is sinister, and seems to be full of terror for the women who describe it. His eyes are small and glittering. His lips are usually parted in a grin which is not only not reassuring, but excessively repellent.

With all this publicity, including the fear of mob violence, "Leather Apron" went into hiding.

Annie Chapman
Annie Chapman

Annie Chapman, known to her friends as "Dark Annie," was a pathetic woman. She was essentially homeless, living at common lodging houses when she had the money for a night's lodging, otherwise roaming the streets in search of clients to earn a little money for drink, shelter and food.

She was 47 when she died, a homeless prostitute. But her life had been much different in 1869, when she was married to John Chapman, a coachman. Of the three children they had, one died of meningitis and another was crippled. The stress of illness and the heavy drinking of both husband and wife caused the breakup of their marriage. Things became much worse for Annie when John died and she lost the small financial security his allowance had provided her. The emotional shock of his death was just as bad as the financial loss and she never recovered from either.

Suffering from depression and alcoholism, she did crochet work and sold flowers. Eventually she turned to prostitution, despite her plain features, missing teeth, and plump figure. For the most part, she was very easy going. However, a week before her death, she got into a fight with a woman over a piece of soap and Annie was struck on the left eye and on her chest.

On Friday, September 7, 1888, Annie was told her friend that she was feeling sick. Unknown to her, she was suffering from tuberculosis. "I must pull myself together and get some money or I shall have no lodgings," she told her friend Amelia.

Place where Annie Chapman was found.
Place where Annie Chapman was found.

Just before two in the morning on Saturday, September 8, a slightly drunken Annie was turned out of her lodging house to earn money for her bed. Later that morning, she was found several hundred yards away in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields.

29 Hanbury Street was just across from the Spitalfields market. Seventeen people made the building their home, five of which had rooms overlooking the site of the murder. Of those five or so with rooms overlooking the crime scene, some had their windows open that night.

Hanbury Street looking East, circa 1918-20
Hanbury Street looking East, circa 1918-20

Spitalfields Market opened at 5 a.m., so there were many other people gathered that morning, people who had businesses in the building at 29 Hanbury, preparing for the opening of the market. Residents were leaving for work as early as 3:50 a.m. The streets around the market were filled with the commercial vehicles delivering to the marketplace. John Davis, an elderly carman who lived with his wife and three sons at 29 Hanbury, found Annie's body just after 6 a.m. He noticed that her skirts had been raised up to her pelvis. He went immediately to get help and returned with two workmen. By the time a constable was called, everybody in the house had been awakened.

Yet, amazingly enough, even though the sun rose at 5:23 that morning, and so much traffic was present at that early hour, no one heard any suspicious disturbance or cry, nor was anyone seen with bloody clothing or weapon. There was clean tap water in the backyard where Annie was found, but the murderer did not use the water to wash the blood from his hands or knife. Also amazing was the risk that the murderer took in this daylight crime.

Dr. George Bagster Phillips
Dr. George Bagster

Dr. George Bagster Phillips, veteran police surgeon, was called to the spot and described what he saw for the inquest:

I found the body of the deceased lying in the yard on her back...The left arm was across the left breast, and the legs were drawn up, the feet resting on the ground, and the knees turned outwards. The face was swollen and turned on the right side, and the tongue protruded between the front teeth, but not beyond the lips; it was much swollen. The small intestines and other portions were lying on the right side of the body on the ground above the right shoulder, but attached. There was a large quantity of blood, with a part of the stomach above the left shoulder...The body was cold, except that there was a certain remaining heat, under the intestines, in the body. Stiffness of the limbs was not marked, but it was commencing. The throat was dissevered deeply. I noticed that the incision of the skin was jagged, and reached right round the neck.

Dr. Phillips estimated that Annie Chapman had been dead approximately two hours. The absence of any cry heard by the residents of 29 Hanbury could be explained by the evidence that she was strangled into unconsciousness and immediately thereafter had her throat slashed.

Dr. Phillips examined the body of  Annie Chapman at the scene
Dr. Phillips examined the body of Annie
Chapman at the scene

She had been murdered where she was found. While there was no sign that Annie had fought off her attacker, there was a strange occurrence that Dr. Phillips noted near the feet of the corpse. Annie had apparently kept in her pocket a small piece of cloth, a pocket comb and a small-tooth comb, all of which had appeared to be purposely arranged in some order.

An envelope containing two pills was found near her head. On the back of the envelope were the words Sussex Regiment. The letter M and lower down Sp were handwritten on the other side. There was a postmark that said London, Aug. 23, 1888. Also, a leather apron was found, along with some other trash around the yard.

The testimony that Dr. Phillips gave at the inquest gave a more detailed view of the ferocity of the murder. The murderer had grabbed Annie by the chin and slashed her throat deeply from left to right, with the possible failed attempt to decapitate her. This was the cause of death. The abdominal mutilations, described in the September 29 edition of the Lancet, were post mortem:

The abdomen had been entirely laid open; that the intestines, severed from their mesenteric attachments, had been lifted out of the body, and placed by the shoulder of the corpse; whilst from the pelvis the uterus and its appendages, with the upper portion of the vagina and the posterior two-thirds of the bladder, had been entirely removed. No trace of these parts could be found, and the incisions were cleanly cut, avoiding the rectum, and dividing the vagina low enough to avoid injury to the cervix uteri. Obviously the work was that of an expert - of one, at least, who had such knowledge of anatomical or pathological examinations as to be enabled to secure the pelvic organs with one sweep of the knife.

At the inquest, Phillips said, "The whole inference seems to me that the operation was performed to enable the perpetrator to obtain possession of these parts of the body." This police surgeon with 23 years of experience was very surprised that the mutilations had been done so skillfully and in what must have been a short period of time, saying that he could have not done such work in less than fifteen minutes and more likely an hour.

Coroner Baxter
Coroner Baxter

Coroner Wynne E. Baxter agreed in his summation:

The body has not been dissected, but the injuries have been made by someone who had considerable anatomical skill and knowledge. There are no meaningless cuts (like in the Tabram murder). It was done by one who knew where to find what he wanted, what difficulties he would have to contend against, and how he should use his knife, so as to abstract the organ without injury to it. No unskilled person could have known where to find it, or have recognized it when it was found. For instance, no mere slaughterer of animals could have carried out these operations. It must have been someone accustomed to the post-mortem room.

Phillips conjectured that the murder instrument was not a bayonet or the type of knife used by leather workers, but rather a narrow, thin knife with a blade between 6 and 8 inches long. The kind of knife used by slaughtermen and surgeons for amputations could have been such an instrument.

Abrasions on Annie's hands indicated that her rings had been forced off her. Later, from conversations with Annie's friends, police were able to determine that Annie wore cheap brass rings, which may have been mistaken for gold.

Inspector Abberline, who was in charge of the Polly Nichols murder, was instructed to help with the Chapman murder, which was in Spitalfields, a different police jurisdiction. However, the lead inspector was Joseph Chandler of the Metropolitan Police's H Division. There seemed common agreement among the inspectors that the same man who killed Polly Nichols also killed Annie Chapman.

The Chapman investigation was just as frustrating as the Nichols investigation. The physical evidence - the leather apron, a nailbox and a piece of steel - were owned by Mrs. Richardson, one of the residents, and her son. The envelope with Sussex Regiment seal on it was widely sold to the public at a local post office. Furthermore, a man at Annie's lodging house saw her pick up the envelope from the kitchen floor to put her pills in when her pillbox broke.

Extensive conversations with the associates of Annie Chapman yielded neither good suspects nor any reasonable motive for the crime. Nor was there any suspicious person found escaping the scene of the crime.

John Richardson
John Richardson

However, the investigation was not entirely fruitless and three important witnesses were found, one of which almost certainly caught a glimpse of the murderer. The first witness, John Richardson, was Mrs. Amelia Richardson's son. Between 4:45 and 4:50 on the morning of the murder, he visited 29 Hanbury to check the locks on the cellar in which Mrs. Richardson kept her tools and goods for her packing case enterprise.

He opened the yard door and sat down on the step to cut a piece of leather from his boot that had been hurting his foot. As it was beginning to get light outside, he could see that the cellar locks had not been tampered with while he sat fixing his boot. He could also see that at that time, there was no body of Annie Chapman in the backyard. "I could not have failed to notice the deceased had she been lying there then," he said at the inquest.

Another witness, Albert Cadosch, living next door to 29 Hanbury Street, testified that he heard voices coming from the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street just after 5:20 a.m. The only word he overheard was No. A few minutes later, around 5:30 a.m., he heard the sound of something falling against the fence.

Baxter (seated, center table) conducts the inquest
Baxter (seated, center table) conducts
the inquest

The most important witness was Mrs. Elizabeth Long, who was coming to the Spitalfields market and passed through Hanbury Street when she heard the Black Eagle Brewery clock strike 5:30. She saw a man and a woman talking "close against the shutters of No. 29." Mrs. Long identified Annie Chapman in the mortuary as the woman who had been facing her as she passed down Hanbury Street. Unfortunately, the man Annie was conversing with, who was almost certainly her killer, had his back to Mrs. Long. She did her best to describe him in her testimony to Coroner Wynne E. Baxter:

George Akin Lusk
George Akin Lusk

Some of the merchants in the area were quick to sense the growing anti-Semitic fever and took action to contain it. They formed the Mile End Vigilance Committee, which was primarily composed of Jewish businessmen. George Lusk, a building contractor and vestryman in his local church, was elected to head this committee of 16 prominent local citizens. This committee, far from being the vigilante group that some had claimed, was closer to an organized "neighborhood watch." Samuel Montagu, who was the Jewish Member of Parliament for the Whitechapel area, offered a reward for the capture of the Whitechapel killer, an action sanctioned by the Mile End committee.

In a week or so, the bawdy nightlife of Whitechapel surged back to its normal pitch. There were just too many people whose daily subsistence depended upon prostitution and other forms of evening entertainment to let the pace lapse for long.

While Whitechapel was unsatisfied with the lack of results of the police investigation, it was hard to fault the police for the quantity of work that was produced. On Tuesday, September 11, a few days after the death of Annie Chapman, John Pizer, the famous "Leather Apron," was arrested.

Despite attempts by his family to portray Pizer as a victim of malicious rumors, there was sufficient evidence to show Pizer was an unpleasant character with at least one documented case of stabbing, for which he served six months at hard labor. The allegations of bullying and extorting money from prostitutes were never proven. The East London Observer described in a not altogether unbiased view, Pizer's testimony to Coroner Baxter:

He was a man of about five feet four inches, with a dark-hued face, which was not altogether pleasant to look upon by reason of the grizzly black strips of hair, nearly an inch in length, which almost covered the face. The thin lips, too, had a cruel, sardonic kind of look, which was increased, if anything, by the drooping dark moustache and side whiskers. His hair was short, smooth, and dark, intermingled with grey, and his head was slightly bald on the top. The head was large, and was fixed to the body by a thick heavy-looking neck. Pizer work a dark overcoat, brown trousers, and a brown and very much battered hat, and appeared somewhat splay-footed.

When Baxter asked Pizer why he went into hiding after the deaths of Polly Nichols and Annie Chapman, Pizer said that his brother had advised him to do so.

"I was the subject of a false suspicion," he said emphatically.

"It was not the best advice that could be given to you," Baxter returned.

Pizer shot back immediately. "I will tell you why. I should have been torn to pieces!"

The fact that Pizer was an unpleasant character did not make him the Whitechapel murderer. First of all, he had alibis for the times at which Polly Nichols and Annie Chapman were murdered. When Polly was killed, Pizer was at a lodging house, which was corroborated by the proprietor. When Annie was killed, he was afraid to be seen and was staying with relatives, a story which was corroborated by several people. Secondly, he lacked the skill to carve up Annie Chapman and remove her uterus.

Pizer was released, but a number of others were picked up and questioned. Some were just eccentric and drunken characters that shot off their mouths about the murders; others were insane. Few were worthy of prolonged investigation, either because they lacked the medical skills or because they had alibis for the time the women were murdered. Often the alibis consisted of confinement in asylums or jails.

Insanity and medical qualifications became the key factors in sorting out suspects. Another factor was foreign origin, recalling Mrs. Long's testimony in the Annie Chapman murder. The focus on medical knowledge led the police well beyond the reaches of Whitechapel, into the middle and upper classes of London, as the eccentric and violent behavior of some surgeons and other physicians came into question.

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