MARY NICHOLS - THE FIRST VICTIM
At around 3.40am on August 31st 1888, a carter named Charles Cross was making his way to work along Bucks Row - a narrow, cobbled Whitechapel street that was lined on one side by dark imposing warehouse buildings, and on the other by a row of two-storey houses.
As Cross approached the looming bulk of the 1876 Board School that dominated (and still dominates) the western end of Bucks Row, he noticed a dark bundle lying in a gateway on the left side of the street.
Like so many of the district’s alleyways and passageways, street lighting in Bucks Row was minimal, so at first Cross could not be sure what exactly the bundle was. It looked something like a discarded tarpaulin, and thinking that it might prove useful for his job, Cross went to inspect it.
But as he drew closer he realised it was in fact the prone form of a woman, who was either dead or drunk. As Cross stood rooted to the spot, unsure of what to do next, he heard footsteps behind him. Turning, he saw another carter, Robert Paul, walking towards him. "Come and look over here" Cross called, "there is a woman lying on the pavement."
The two men stepped gingerly over the road and stooped down over her. She was lying on her back, her legs straight out, and her skirts were raised almost over her waist. Charles Cross reached out and touched her face, which was warm, and her hands, which were cold and limp. "I believe she is dead," he observed. Robert Paul, meanwhile, placed his hand on the woman’s chest, and thought he felt a slight movement. "think she’s breathing," he said, "but very little if she is."
Paul suggested that they sit the woman up, but Cross refused to touch her again. So, deciding, perhaps somewhat callously, that they were late for work and had done as much as they could, they pulled her skirts back down to her knees to cover her decency, and set off for their respective places of employment, agreeing to tell the first police man they encountered of their find.
But what neither man had noticed in the pitch darkness of Bucks Row was that the woman’s throat had been slashed so savagely that her head had almost been cut from her body.
That discovery was made by beat officer Police Constable John Neil, who turned into Bucks Row and proceeded to walk past the Board School shortly after Cross and Paul had left the scene. “There was not a soul about,” he later told the inquest into the woman’s death. “I had been round there half an hour previously, and saw no one then. I was on the right side…when I noticed a figure lying in the street. It was dark at the time…I examined the body by the aid of my lamp, and noticed blood oozing from a wound in the throat. She was lying on her back, with her clothes disarranged. I felt her arm, which was quite warm from the joints upwards. Her eyes were wide open. Her bonnet was off and lying at her side.”
As Neil stooped down over the body, he noticed PC John Thain passing the end of the street and flashed his lantern to attract his attention. "Here's a woman with her throat cut", he called to his approaching colleague, "run at once for Dr Llewellyn." As Thain hurried off to fetch the medic, PC Mizen, who had been alerted by Cross and Paul, arrived at the scene. Neil sent him to bring reinforcements and asked him to fetch the police ambulance.When Dr Llewellyn arrived at around 4am, he carried out a cursory examination of the body and, noting the severity of the wounds to the throat, pronounced life extinct.
On closer examination he also observed that the deceased’s body and legs were still warm, although her hands and wrists were quite cold. This led him to surmise that she could not have been dead for more than half an hour. As Llewellyn went about his grim business, news of the murder was beginning to filter through the immediate neighbourhood.
In adjacent Winthrop Street there stood a horse slaughterers yard where three slaughter-men, Harry Tomkins, James Mumford and Charles Britten had been working throughout the night. They had heard nothing, and knew nothing of the murder until informed of it by PC Thain as he passed their premises en route to fetch Dr Llewellyn. They had gone round to view the body and remained at the scene until the woman was removed to the mortuary. The three men would later find themselves under suspicion and were interrogated separately by the police before being eliminated as suspects.
They were joined at the murder site by Patrick Mulshaw, a night watchman, who was working at the nearby sewer works. Although he did confess that he sometimes dozed on duty, he was emphatic that he had been awake between 3am and 4am, and that he had not seen or heard anything suspicious. But around twenty minutes to five O’clock a passing stranger had told him, “Watchman, old man, I believe somebody is murdered down the street,” and he immediately went round to Buck’s Row. The police appear to have made attempts to trace Mulshaw’s mystery informant but their enquiries proved unsuccessful.