The big story being covered by the newspapers the week ending 11th August 1888 was the discovery of the body of a woman in George Yard, a narrow thoroughfare that runs off Whitechapel High Street.
The Daily News in its edition of 10th August 1888 reported that:-
An inquest was opened yesterday in Whitechapel on the body of a woman who was found dead at George yard early on Tuesday morning. There were thirty nine punctured wounds on the body. There appeared to be some doubt about the identity of the deceased. The inquiry was adjourned."
Expanding on the inquest and the details of Martha Turner's death the Daily News headlined its subsequent article "The Supposed Murder in Whitechapel" and reported that:-
Yesterday Mr. George Collier, the deputy coroner for South East Middlesex, opened an inquiry at the Working Lads' Institute, Whitechapel, on the body of Martha Turner, aged 35, a single woman, lately living at 4 Star place, Commercial road, who was found lying on the landing of George yard buildings on Tuesday morning last, with more than 20 stab wounds about her person, as already reported.
Previous to calling the first witness, the Coroner said that the body had been identified that morning, but he had just been informed that two other persons also identified it as quite a different person, and under those circumstances he thought the question of identity had better be left till the last.
Elizabeth Mahony, of 47 George yard buildings, Whitechapel, the wife of a carman, stated that on the night of Bank Holiday she was out with some friends. She returned shortly before two in the morning with her husband, and afterwards left the house to try and get some supper. The stairs were then perfectly clear of any obstacle, and were the same on her return. She and her husband heard no noise during the night, but at ten o'clock she was told that a murder had been committed in the building. There was no light on the staircase.
The spot where the body was found had been pointed out to her. She was sure it was not there at two o'clock as she went in, as it was in the wide part of the stairs and quite in the dark.
Alfred George Crow, a cabdriver, of 35 George yard buildings, deposed that on Tuesday morning he returned home from work at half past three. On his way up the stairs he saw somebody lying on the first landing. It was not an unusual thing to see, so he passed on and went to bed. he did not know whether the person was dead or alive when he passed.
John Saunders Reeves, 37 George yard buildings, a waterside labourer, deposed that on Tuesday morning he left home at five o'clock to go in search of work. On the first floor landing he saw a woman lying in a pool of blood. She lay on her back, and seemed dead. He at once gave notice to the police. She was a stranger. Her clothes were all disarranged, as if she had had a struggle with some one. The witness did not notice any instrument lying about.
Dr. Timothy Robert Kelleene, 28 Brick lane, stated that he was called to the deceased, and found her dead. He examined the body and found 39 punctured wounds. There were no fewer than nine in the throat and 17 in the breast. She appeared to have been dead three hours. the body was well nourished. He had since made a post mortem examination, and found the left lung penetrated in two places, and the right lung in two places. The heart had been penetrated, but only in one place, otherwise it was quite healthy. The liver was healthy, but penetrated in five places, and the spleen was penetrated in two places. The stomach was penetrated in six places. In the witness's opinion the wounds were not inflicted with the same instrument, there being a deep wound in the breast from some long, strong instrument, while most of the others were done apparently with a penknife. The large wound could have been caused by a sword bayonet or dagger. It was impossible for the whole of the wounds to be self inflicted. Death was due to loss of blood consequent on the injuries. At the conclusion of this witness's evidence, the inquiry was adjourned."
On 11th August 1888 the East London Advertiser reported that there was doubt as to the woman's identity as several people had "come forward stating that they know her, one identifying her as Martha Turner."
The article reported that:-
In George-yard, Whitechapel, there was perpetrated on Tuesday morning last a mysterious murder, which has not been equalled in shameful brutality for many years past.
George-yard is a narrow turning out of the High-street, and it leads into a number of courts and alleys in which some of the poorest of the poor, together with thieves and roughs and prostitutes, find protection and shelter in the miserable hovels bearing the name of houses.
Amongst such ill-favoured conditions Mr. Holland has laboured for years, trying by means of his evangelistic mission to raise and elevate the moral and social life of the inhabitants of the district.
The first intimation that there was something wrong reached Commercial-street Police station about 6 o'clock on Tuesday morning. It appears that a working man named John Saunders Reeves who lives at 37, George Yard-buildings - which are model dwelling houses - was coming downstairs about ten minutes to five to go to work when he discovered the body of a woman lying in a pool of blood on the first floor landing. He at once called police constable Barrett, 26 H, who was on his beat in the vicinity, and Dr. Keeling of Brick Lane was sent for, and promptly arrived. He made an examination of the woman and pronounced life extinct, giving it as his opinion that she had been brutally murdered, there being knife wounds on her breast, stomach, and abdomen.
The body was that of a woman apparently about 35 years of age, she was about 5ft. 3in. in height, complexion and hair dark. Her dress, which was totally disarranged and torn, was a dark green skirt, a brown petticoat, a long black jacket and a black bonnet. The body of deceased was removed to the Whitechapel mortuary.
The woman is unknown in the neighbourhood, and up to the present time has remained unidentified, although some persons have come forward stating that they know her, one identifying her as Martha Turner, a single woman, of 4, Star-place, Commercial-road. But as the evidence on this point is contradictory and uncertain, who deceased is remains unknown.
The circumstances of this awful tragedy are not only surrounded with the deepest mystery, but there is also a feeling of insecurity to think that in a great city like London, the streets of which are continually patrolled by police, a woman could be foully and horribly killed almost next to the citizens peacefully sleeping in their beds, without a trace or clue being left of the villain who did the deed.
There appears to be not the slightest trace of the murderer, and no clue has at present been found. Inspector Edison has placed the case in the hands of Inspector Reid, of the Criminal Investigation Department, and no pains are being spared to bring the criminal to justice."
The coroner, in his summing up, spoke of the need to establish the woman's proper identity, observing that "several witnesses had come forward and identified the deceased under various names, consequently it was very uncertain, and it could be very well left to a future opportunity." He therefore instructed the police to "make inquiries and endeavour to ascertain her proper name."
Furthermore, the coroner opined that:-
The main object of that inquiry was to ascertain the cause of death, and afterwards to find out who was the cause of death. For that purpose the case would be left in the hands of Inspector Reid, who would use every endeavour to trace the perpetrator of this dreadful outrage."
Summing up George Collier expressed the outrage and the shock felt by many in the area as he opined that:-
It was one of the most shocking things one could possibly imagine. The man who could have inflicted 39 wounds on a poor defenceless woman must have been a perfect savage, and for the purpose of giving the police time to investigate the matter and bring the murderer to justice, he would adjourn the inquiry for a fortnight. The usual formalities were then gone through and the inquest was adjourned."
The Daily News 10th August, 1888
East London Advertiser 11th August, 1888