Saw The Body Of Annie Chapman
James Kent worked for Bayley's Packing-case manufacturers at 23a Hanbury Street.
A little after 6am, on the morning of the 8th September 1888, he was standing outside his workplace, with fellow employee James Green, when John Davis came racing out from the front door of number 29 and urged them to follow him.
They did so, and he led them through the passage of number 29 to the backdoor where, in the yard, they saw the body of Annie Chapman.
He was, therefore, one of the first people to view the horrifically mutilated body, and the effect that the sight that he saw had on him can be gleaned from the following brief report of the testimony he gave when - on 12th September, 1888 - he appeared as a witness at the inquest into Annie Chapman's death.
Indeed, so shaken was he by what he had seen, that he had to go and have a drink in the nearest pub, to steady his nerves, before he could do anything else.
The following excerpt, which is taken from The Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser of Saturday, 15th September, 1888, conveys something of his horror:-
The next witness, James Kent was a labouring man, from whose statement it appeared that he was one of the first persons called in to see the body after its discovery by the carman Davis.
Kent's evidence was a simple description of the terrible condition in which the murderer had left the corpse, and, as presented by him to the jury, the details were sufficiently harrowing to justify his statement that, immediately after leaving the yard in which the ghastly object lay, he had gone to an adjoining public-house for glass of brandy."
Source: The Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser, Saturday, 15th September, 1888.
However, a much fuller report of his inquest appearance appeared in The East London Observer, on Saturday, 15th September, 1888.
Although this report refers to him as "James Cable", it is evident from the fact he is the second witness that day that this person was the James Kent of the previous article.
As can be seen from this article, the newspaper reporters couldn't quite work out what to make of him:-
A YOUNGISH-LOOKING MAN
The next witness was James Cable, a man from Shadwell.
A youngish-looking man, with a bullet head and closely-cropped hair, and a sandy, close-cut moustache; he wore a long overcoat that had once been green, and into the pockets of which he persistently stuck his hands.
He had a peculiar habit of lowering his neck into the blue and white spotted neckerchief which encased it when not under examination, and jerking it out suddenly whenever he was called open to answer a question.
He was a very independent witness, and answered every question loudly and roughly, and without even designating the Coroner as "sir."
A very demonstrative witness, too, was he, and his description of the finding of the dead body of Annie Chapman was a pantomimic repetition of the part which he enacted on being called to the scene by John Davis.
When describing the wound to the throat of the murdered woman, too, he brought his neckerchief up to his throat, and realistically described how the handkerchief found on the woman seemed "soaked into her throat."
Then, unloosening his neckerchief, and extending his arms and fingers slightly upwards, he personified the position of the victim's hands on her discovery.
When he had arrived at the discovery of the body, indeed, the hands of the witness were kept in constant motion - describing alternately, in pantomime show, how the intestines of the woman were thrown slightly over the left shoulder, and what position the body precisely occupied in the yard."
Source: The East London Observer, Saturday, 15th September, 1888.
Another account of his witness testimony appeared in The South Wales Daily News:-
James Kent, packing-case maker, Shadwell, said he worked at 23, Hanbury-street, for Mr Bailey.
His usual time for going to work was six o'clock. On Saturday he got there at ten minutes or a quarter past six.
His employer's gate was open.
While he was waiting for the other men to come an elderly man named Davies, living near, ran into the road, and called him.
Witness went, accompanied by James Green and others.
He saw a woman lying in the yard of No. 29, near the doorsteps. Her clothes were disarranged.
Nobody entered the yard until the arrival of Inspector Chandler.
The woman's face and hands were smeared with blood, and the position of the hands indicated that a struggle had taken place. The woman's internal organs had been torn out and were lying over her shoulder.
Witness went to fetch a piece of canvas to throw over the body, and when be returned the inspector was in possession of the yard.
Cross-examined:- She had a handkerchief of some kind round her throat, which seemed sucked into her throat. I saw no running blood, but her face and hands were smeared with blood, as if she had struggled. I did not notice any other injuries. She looked as if she had been on her back and used her hands to defend herself. Her hands were turned with the palms towards her face, as if she had fought for her throat. Her legs were wide apart.
"Did you notice any blood about her legs?"
There were similar marks of blood as about her face.
"You spoke of some liquid having been thrown over her."
I could not tell what it was. It seemed as if her inside had been pulled from her and thrown at her. It was lying over her left shoulder.
"Part of her inside was lying over her clothes?"
Yes. When I went back to the house the mob had made a rush down as the news flew around."
Source: The South Wales Daily News, Thursday, 13th September, 1888.