Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Merciless Mutilation of the Pitiable Prostitute

              Elisabeth Gustafadottor was born just north of Gothenburg, Sweden in late 1843 and although she worked as a domestic servant, by 1865 she was registered as a prostitute by the Swedish police. In that year she gave birth to a stillborn child and was treated in October and November for venereal disease, and in 1866 she moved to London. 

Elizabeth Stride in 1869

In 1869, she married John Stride and they opened a coffee room in Poplar, London, but by 1882 she was living in lodging houses in Whitechapel, separated from John. He died in 1884, and in 1885 Elizabeth Stride was living in a loose relationship with Michael Kidney, a dockyard labourer seven years her junior. She earned money from sewing and cleaning, supplementing the pittance with occasional prostitution, and although she was commonly described as good hearted and pleasant, she had a taste for the drink but she was a violent, nasty drunk, and was arrested eight times in twenty months for disorderly conduct and using obscene language. The relationship with Kidney was turbulent – on occasions he tried locking her in their room, in an attempt to stop her getting into trouble, and they separated umpteen times. He was also frequently arrested for drunken behaviour and Elizabeth had pressed charges against him for assault on her at least once. 

The Great Social Evil - Punch Sept 12 1857

Stride was known as ‘Long Liz’, a nickname which some have speculated was applied because a ‘stride’ is a ‘long’ step (unlikely), because she had a long face – which she didn’t (see photograph), or because of her height (she is variously described at between five foot two and five foot five, which isn’t particularly ‘long’). A simpler explanation I favour is that there was also a ‘Short Liz’, a smaller woman, in one of the lodging houses, and the nickname was used to distinguish between the two women. On Thursday evening September 27th 1888, she arrived at a lodging house at 32 Flower and Dean Street, where she told the deputy, Elizabeth Tanner, that she had quarrelled with Kidney (he would later deny this). Stride spent Saturday afternoon cleaning two rooms, for which Tanner paid her sixpence, and the two women went out for a drink together at the Queen’s Head pub. Later in the evening, Long Liz was out on her own and was seen by two labourers in a doorway hugging and kissing a short, respectably dressed man with a dark moustache, and when they tried to invite them into the Bricklayer’s Arms, and out of the rain, they went off at a quick pace towards Commercial Road and Berners Street; one of the labourers called after them, “That’s Leather Apron getting round you.” 

Location of Elizabeth Stride's murder

Later, several witnesses recalled seeing Long Liz with several different gentlemen, but their stories conflict in the details, and it may be they are describing different couples. She was seen alive in Berners Street before 1 am, but at this time Louis Diemschultz, a seller of cheap jewellery, was trying to get his pony and trap into Dutfield’s Yard, off Berners Street, the animal shied and would not go through the gate. He probed with his whip and prodded a body, which he took to be drunk or asleep, and went into the nearby International Working Men's Educational Club, a two-storey meeting place of native and foreign radicals, to get help in rousing the woman. Several men came out and it was then discovered that the woman was dead. A single cut had slit her throat. 

Police Photograph of Elizabeth Stride

It is speculated that Diemschultz’s arrival had disturbed the killer, which accounts for the pony’s behaviour, and when Diemschultz went for help, he gave the murderer the opportunity to escape. Doctor Blackwell, from 100, Commercial Road, was brought and he pronounced the victim dead on the spot. The following day, a crowd assembled in Berners Street to protest the lack of police progress in the case, as word of yet another murder began to circulate. If the killer of Long Liz had been disturbed, as seems likely, his appetite had not been satisfied, as another murder occurred on the same night. 

Catherine Eddowes

Catherine (Kate) Eddowes had been born in Wolverhampton but had moved to London at an early age with her family. Taking the names of two of her common-law husbands, she was also known as Kate Conway and Kate Kelly, but like so many other women, the twists of fate led her to drink, Whitechapel and casual prostitution. She too lodged on Flower and Dean Street, near to Long Liz Stride, and was described as ‘a very jolly woman, often singing,’ and although she liked a drink, she was not often drunk, however at 8 pm on Saturday 29th 1888, she was found surrounded by a crowd, lying drunk and incapable on Aldgate High Street. Two policemen carried her to Bishopsgate Police Station, where she was placed in a cell, to sleep it off. At 12.15 am Duty Sergeant Byfield ordered PC Hutt to examine the prisoners in the cells, to see if any were fit to be released. Eddowes was found to be sober, and after some light banter with Hutt, she left the station. 

Location of Catherine Eddowes' murder

Instead of turning right, towards Flower and Dean Street, she turned left, towards Aldgate High Street again, where she was seen by three witnesses at 1.35 am, talking to a man dressed rather like a sailor, at the entrance to Duke Street and Church Passage. 

Finding the Mutilated Body in Mitre Square

At 1.45 on the morning of September 30th, PC Edward Watkins discovered her body in Mitre Square, at the end of Church Passage. She had been violently murdered and disfigured; her throat had been slashed to the bone, which would have killed her almost instantly. 

Police sketch of Eddowes' murder scene
Her abdomen had been carved open, her viscera taken out and draped over her right shoulder, with a portion detached and deliberately positioned between the body and left arm. 

Police Photograph of Catherine Eddowes

The face had been mutilated, an ear cut off, her eyelids slit, her nose severed, her cheeks sliced and her throat opened. Her liver had been stabbed, the pancreas cut and the uterus removed, and the left kidney had been carefully excised and taken away. 

Police Photograph of Catherine Eddowes

The knife that had been used must have been longer than six inches. Mitre Square is in the City of London, and so the City of London Police was called in to assist the Metropolitan force. 

Location where the apron was discovered

At 3 am on the same morning, a piece of Eddowes’s bloodstained and feculent apron was discovered in the passage to a doorway to Goulston Street, Whitechapel, and nearby was a chalk graffito on the wall that read, “The Juwes are the men that Will not be Blamed for nothing.” It is not known if this was related to the murders, but for fear of igniting anti-Semitic riots, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren ordered the words washed from the wall. As Goulston Street lies midway between Mitre Square and Flower and Dean Street, in the centre of Whitechapel, many, then and now, assume the killer lived in Whitechapel or nearby, and was returning home. 

Dear Boss letter - Page One

The so-called ‘double event’ of September 30th greatly increased the feelings of terror running through the whole of London, and in Whitechapel in particular, and the situation was made even tenser when a letter arrived at the Central News Agency of London on September 27th 1888. Post-marked the same day, it was passed on the Metropolitan Police by September 29th, and although crank letters were nothing new, and usually dismissed, this one was taken seriously. 

Dear Boss letter - Page 2

It is known as the ‘Dear Boss’ letter, and contains the threat that “…The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly,” – and Catherine Eddowes’s ear had been cut off, leading the police to assume it might just be genuine. It was also signed ‘Jack the Ripper’, and this name was used for the killer from then on. 

Signature from the Dear Boss letter

On October 1st, another communication was received, and as details of the Dear Boss letter had not been published, the references in the so-called Saucy Jacky postcard also caused it to be taken seriously. The text of the postcard read,
“I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, you'll hear about Saucy Jacky's work tomorrow double event this time number one squealed a bit couldn't finish straight off. Had not got time to get ears off for police thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again.
Jack the Ripper

Saucy Jacky Postcard

It was not, however, written until 24 hours after the ‘double event’ and a resident of Whitechapel could, indeed would, have heard rumours that can explain the content. 

From Hell letter

A third letter ‘From Hell’ (also called the ‘Lusk Letter’), postmarked October 15th and addressed to Mr Lusk, (head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee) arrived on the 16th. It contained part of a preserved human kidney, and was written at a much lower level of literacy than the other letters but there are indications that this was a deliberate attempt to conceal the identity of the author. Many medical authorities at the time pointed out that medical students or hospital porters could easily obtain preserved human kidneys, and the letter was probably a cruel hoax. Nor was it signed by ‘Jack the Ripper,’ maybe because the hoaxer(s) was unaware that the name had only been used first a fortnight previously.

Tomorrow - Another Murder

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