Friday, April 14, 2006


This archway stands today at the entrance to a modern housing development which stands on the site of what were once known as the rookeries, Flower & Dean Street and Thrawl Street, some of the worst slum districts in the whole of London.

The arch is on Wentworth Street, directly opposite the entrance to George Yard, and as can be seen by the keystone, it was erected in 1886, two years before the Ripper murders began. It would have been one of the very last sights Martha Tabram saw before she turned and entered George Yard Buildings.

In the last 117 years, the matter of whether or not Martha was a victim of Jack the Ripper has been debated endlessly. She is not included on the list of five "canonical" victims, but many have argued very persuasively for her inclusion.

Her murder did not follow exactly the pattern of those to follow, but nonetheless was not a straightforward killing, thirty-nine stab wounds shows unusual savagery. Three weeks later the Ripper murders would begin in earnest, and the idea that there could have been two men in the district capable of such an act would be quite extraordinary. Personally I have always felt that Martha was a victim of Jack, and maybe not even his first.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Brick Lane

PC Barrett rushed to the scene, and sent immediately for a doctor, Dr Timothy Killeen of 68 Brick Lane. Much of Brick Lane today has been rebuilt, and this building is no longer standing, but this photo shows some of the buildings which would have been around at the time.

Killeen was a young man, almost fresh out of medical school, and most likely had never experienced anything of this nature before. He pronounced Martha dead and estimated the time of death at around 2.30, which from the other evidence seems likely to be correct. He found 39 stab wounds in her body, ranging from her neck down to her genitals and legs. All but one of these he said were quite shallow and could have been made with a penknife, but one wound in the chest was deep and had been inflicted with a strong, long bladed instrument which he thought could have been a dagger or a bayonet.

Inspector Edmund Reid, the head of the local CID for H Division (Whitechapel), took charge of the case. Reid was a fascinating character. Not only was he a highly experienced career detective, he was also variously an actor, a singer and an adventurer who has gone down in the history books for making England's first ever parachute descent from a balloon in a thousand feet in 1876, and breaking the balloon altitude record in 1883. He was also immortalised in print in a series of novels by Charles Gibbon under the name Detective Dier.

But there was very little he could do to elucidate this particular case. There were simply no clues as to who the perpetrators could be. PC Barrett and Pearly Poll were taken round various barrack houses to see if they could identify the respective soldiers they had seen, but Barrett was unable, and Poll turned out to be a most unreliable witness. The case fizzled out, and the general feeling was that it had probably been a punishment killing meted out by one of the gangs who made a living through extortion.