Just over a week after the brutal murder of Mary Ann Nichols in Whitechapel, another woman was found killed in a similar way. With a serial killer on the loose, the police of H Division were desperate to catch the murderer known only as ‘Jack the Ripper’ before he could strike again…
Just before 6 a.m., on Saturday 8 September, labourer John Davis left his rooms on the top floor of 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields to go down to the back yard. In the dark he went down the stairs and into the yard, where he came across the body of a woman at the bottom of the steps. Her head had been almost severed from her neck. Horrified by his discovery, Davis ran into the street shouting, ‘Murder! Murder!’
Inspector Joseph Chandler of H Division, Whitechapel was on duty nearby in Commercial Street. As soon as he heard the news, he rushed to the address and found the woman lying on her back, with her left arm resting on her left breast. Her legs were drawn up, and her small intestines and flaps of skin from her abdomen had been cut out and placed about her body. The police officer called immediately for a doctor. He also sent a message to Commercial Street police station for assistance. As his colleagues began to arrive at the scene, Inspector Chandler instructed those who had gathered not to touch the body, which he covered with a piece of sacking. Dr Phillips pronounced the woman dead and her body was removed to the Whitechapel workhouse mortuary.
Dr George Bagster Phillips was the police surgeon attached to H Division. Described by PC Walter Dew in his memoirs, as ‘a character’, he was ‘ultra old-fashioned both in his personal appearance and his dress. He used to look for all the world as though he had stepped out of a century-old painting. His manners were charming; he was immensely popular both with the police and the public, and he was highly skilled.’ Dr Phillips examined the body, after the infirmary nurses had stripped and washed it.
Dr Phillips concluded that the killer ‘was possessed of anatomical knowledge’, and that he (assuming it was a man) had used a ‘narrow and thin’ knife, which was ‘sharp with a blade from six to eight inches long’. The murder weapon was likely to have been a specialist knife, such as used by a slaughterman or a surgeon. The victim was in her mid-forties, about five feet tall, with a fair complexion, dark brown wavy hair, blue eyes, a large, thick nose, and with two teeth missing from her lower jaw. She was wearing a black jacket over a brown bodice and black skirt, and laced boots which were ‘old and dirty’. There were ring marks on her fingers, suggesting that her jewellery had been removed by force. This time, the victim was identified quickly.
Timothy Donovan from Crossinghams lodging house at 35 Dorset Street, Spitalfields, identified the woman as Annie Chapman. Born Ann Eliza Smith, she was 47 years old and was working in the sex trade. She had been lodging at the house for about four months. Annie was the widow of a coachman named John Chapman, who had died eighteen months earlier in Windsor. The couple had been separated for several years, allegedly due to her drinking habits and an affair with another man. Her estranged husband’s death ended her allowance, and she had been lodging for some time. Annie’s background was strikingly similar to that of Mary Ann Nichols.
CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION
In the meantime, the police had been examining the crime scene. Inspector Chandler found several patches of blood on the back wall of the house and on the wooden fencing near where the body lay. The police found several possible pieces of evidence near Annie’s body: a piece of muslin, a small pocket comb, and a piece of envelope containing two pills. The paper bore the stamps of the Sussex Regiment and a London post office. The letters ‘M’ and ‘sp’ were also written on the envelope. Investigations later concluded that the envelope was likely to have been dropped by another resident of the lodging house, which was ‘frequented by a great many strangers’, and that Annie had picked it up to put her pills in. None of the soldiers of the regiment had been in correspondence with anyone in Spitalfields, and the envelopes were on sale to the public at a local post office. The examination of the back yard in Hanbury Street also yielded a leather apron soaked with water, a packing box, a piece of steel and a spring, none of which were of any use to the police investigation. Drawings of the crime scene were made in preparation for the inquest.
With no obvious leads, the investigation into both the Whitechapel murders were merged and placed under the watchful eye of Inspector Frederick Abberline of Scotland Yard. Once again, the police conducted extensive enquiries in the area, targeting lodging house keepers, neighbours and sex workers. They also checked with pawnbrokers in a search for the missing rings. Before long, there were a number of suspects, including John Pizer, nicknamed ‘Leather Apron’, and Jacob Isenschmid, an unemployed Swiss butcher, who displayed erratic behaviour and had previously been admitted to an asylum. His wife told the police that he was in the habit of carrying large butcher’s knives. Isenschmid was arrested and detained at Bow infirmary asylum pending further investigation.
A KEY EYEWITNESS
Elizabeth Long had been walking home to Whitechapel at 5.30 a.m., on the night Annie was murdered, when she saw a man and a woman talking near 29 Hanbury Street. Although she didn’t see the man’s face, she described him to the police as ‘dark’, and that ‘he looked like a foreigner’. She thought he had been wearing a dark coat, but she wasn’t sure, and a brown deerstalker hat. He had ‘a shabby genteel appearance’. Long confirmed that the woman she’d seen was Annie Chapman, but her testimony was undermined by Dr Phillips’ assessment that, by that time, Annie was already dead.
By mid-September neither case had progressed significantly. At the adjourned inquest, the jury raised the question of photographing the victims’ eyes to see if the imprint of the killer might be on the retina; or using bloodhounds to trace the murderer. Both strategies were dismissed as ‘useless’. The Times concluded on 27 September: ‘It was therefore a great misfortune that nearly three weeks had already elapsed without the chief actor in this awful tragedy having been discovered. Surely it was not too much even yet to hope that the ingenuity of our detective force would succeed in unearthing this monster.’ Just three days later, the ‘monster’ would strike again and this time there would be two victims.
To be continued…
Evans, S. P. & Skinner, K. (2000) The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. London: Robinson.
Bell, N. R. A. (2014) Capturing Jack the Ripper: In the Boots of a Bobby in Victorian London. Stroud: Amberley.
Begg P. & Bennett J. (2013) The Complete Essential Jack the Ripper. London: Penguin
Dew, W. (1938) I Caught Crippen: Memoirs of Ex-Chief Inspector Walter Dew, C.I.D. of Scotland Yard. London: Blackie
(All images: Wikicommons)