Jack the Ripper?

 

It was 3:45 am on the morning of Friday the 31st of August 1888, when Robert Paul turned a corner into a dimly lit back street of Whitechapel, on his way to work and unexpected destiny.

The storm of the previous night had abated somewhat and the rain had lessened, leaving puddles upon the cobblestoned narrow lane of Buck’s Row.

Halfway down the Row, he suddenly noticed the figure of a man standing over something lying on the left-hand side of the road. Quote.

‘It was exactly a quarter to four when I passed up Buck’s Row to my work as a Carman for Covent-garden market. It was dark, and I was hurrying along, when I saw a man standing where the woman was. He came a little towards me, but as I knew the dangerous character of the locality I tried to give him a wide berth. Few people like to come up and down here without being on their guard, for there are such terrible gangs about. There have been many knocked down and robbed at that spot. The man, however, came towards me and said, “Come and look at this woman.”’ – Evening Standard, 3rd September, 1888. End quote.

The man’s name (which he gave to the Police later that morning as Charles Cross) was actually Charles Allen Lechmere: also a Carman, (in modern day parlance a lorry driver) who worked delivering meat for Pickford’s in Broad Street. He was 39 years old.

As Paul approached the lifeless body of Mary Ann Nichols, he noticed her clothes had been raised almost to her stomach and a black bonnet was lying close to her head.

“I think she’s dead” said Cross.

Paul felt the woman’s face and found it warm to the touch. He also believed he noticed a faint heartbeat.

“I think she’s breathing, but it’s very little if she is.”

The two men decided to seek a Policeman immediately, but before doing so Cross insisted they pull down the women’s clothes in order to preserve what was left of her shattered dignity.

Moments after the two men raced off, PC Neil entered the Row from Brady Street, walking his regular beat where he was himself to happen across the body and raise the general alarm.

Leaving Buck’s Row, Cross and Paul were to encounter PC Jonas Mizen 56H at the corner of Baker’s Row and Hanbury Street, about 600 yards away from where they had left their grisly find.

Mizen was busy on his rounds of ‘knocking people up’: the modern day equivalent to an early morning alarm clock.

After taking down the men’s names they were sent on their way as Mizen headed to the scene of the crime amongst a growing level of alarm and activity from his Metropolitan Colleagues.

By 4 am Dr. Llewellyn had arrived and duly confirmed the woman to be dead. He was later to tell the inquest that the victim “…had not been dead more than half an hour.”

This would place the approximate time of death at around 3:30 am.

At the inquest, the Carman from Pickford’s was asked to provide details of his discovery and the events leading up to it.

He stated that he had left his home at 22 Doveton Street at the usual time of between 3:20 am and 3:30 am, and that on his way to work down his regular route, had happened upon the body which he initially thought to be a crumpled up sheet of tarpaulin.

When he approached to investigate further, he noticed it was the body of a woman. It was then that he heard footsteps behind him as the second witness approached from the same direction he had come.

When considering a map of the streets of London, the distance between Cross’s home to the scene of the crime makes for sober viewing, which I believe raises questions as to the truthfulness of his testimony.

 

 

Today this walk has been estimated to take between 5 to 6 minutes. In Victorian London, bereft of the nature and volume of traffic we see today, and with long since demolished streets providing an even more direct route, this distance would have been even more easily covered.

If Lechmere had left his home at his usual time of 3:20 am for the 40-minute walk to work, he would almost certainly have arrived in Buck’s Row well before 3:30 am, leaving about 15 minutes until Paul was to encounter him next to Nichols’s body.

At the inquest Lechmere is reported to have testified that he was ‘behind time’ and had not left home until 3:30 am.

If this is true it would still leave him with between 5 to 10 minutes unaccounted for: a long time at the scene of a crime.

The nature of the Ripper’s killings all bore the same method of subduing his victims in a ‘blitz’ attack, rendering the person unconscious, which would then be followed by mutilations to primarily the abdominal and genital areas.

As the killings continued throughout the Autumn of Terror these mutilations would escalate as the killer became more confident in his methods and, in the case of Mary Jane Kelly, were able to be carried out in more private locations.

When considering the route Lechmere took to work each morning it is interesting to see how all but one of the murders occurred nearby.

The murder of Elizabeth Stride in Berner Street is the noted exception, however, Lechmere’s mother, whom he visited on a regular basis lived only a short distance away in nearby Cable Street.

I believe that Charles Allen Lechmere should be viewed as a strong suspect for being Jack the Ripper for the following reasons:

  • He had ample knowledge of the area as he had grown up there and, in his daily work pattern had a plausible reason to be out and about when the killings took place.
  • He provided misleading information to the police when questioned on the morning of the Nicholls murder.
  • He was discovered at the scene of the Nicholls murder and near the approximate time of death as confirmed by Dr. Llewellyn and Robert Paul.
  • He fits the profile of being an ‘Unknown Local Man’ who was able to blend in and out of areas without drawing undue suspicion or even notice.
  • The timing he gave to both the police and the inquest, leave a considerable gap at the scene of the crime unaccounted for.
  • His insistence on rearranging the victims clothing could have been motivated by a wish to cover up the true nature of the wounds.
  • The wounds themselves could be seen as a pre cursor for those inflicted in later killings, perhaps an indication that the killer had been disturbed at the scene.
  • The nature of his work delivering meat would account for and explain any blood on his person.

 

 

It has been 130 years now since the ‘Autumn of Terror’ tore through the streets of Victorian London and into infamous folklore.

Much has changed in the intervening years: streets have been renamed and buildings knocked down and forgotten.

Also largely forgotten have been the lives of the innocent women and their families whose existence have been inextricably caught up with the actions of a sick and pathetic coward, giving rise to a morbid industry of myth and speculation whose only real interest is profit ahead of its professed intention of uncovering the truth.

At the time of the killings, and in the years to follow, much excitement and wild speculation has surrounded the supposed true identity of this murderer. The list of fantastical musings has ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime when in all probability the real culprit would most certainly be noticeable only by his ordinariness and bland demeanour.

Perhaps the Carman from Pickford’s was just what he said he was: on his way to work; running late, and possibly disturbing Jack who then scuttled off to blend into the ever busy traffic of Whitechapel Road.

And perhaps not.

We will most likely never be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt the identity of the monster who inflicted such devastation and suffering, but I believe the most obvious suspect has been hiding in plain sight all this time.

He certainly wouldn’t be the first lorry driver in the U.K to come to the attention of the police in connection with a murder inquiry.

 

Sources:

Jack the Ripper: The Facts, 2004, Paul Begg.

Evening Standard, 3rd September 1888.

Map sourced from ‘Did the Ripper Work for Pickford’s’ a dissertation by Michael Connor that can be found on the Casebook website.


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