EIGHT – THE LIFE OF ANNIE CHAPMAN
There is a photograph of Annie Chapman when she was something other than the victim of the murderous assault by Jack the Ripper. Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly were not so fortunate. The only available photographs of Eddowes and Kelly show them naked and with half of their bodies removed. Annie Chapman was photographed in 1869, the year of her wedding and nineteen years before she was slaughtered. In the photograph she poses with her husband John Chapman. The five foot tall Annie is seated and appears to be timid, wary and obedient, almost like a child. Her full Victorian dress hides her chair. Her face has neat but unremarkable features. Later her face, neck and jaw became swollen because of her addiction to alcohol. The husband John leans an elbow on the wooden cabinet at his side. One hand is in his coat pocket, and his left leg is bent. The husband looks raffish and jaunty, which is either his intention or that of the photographer. Annie is the respectable wife. In the picture she is 28 years old. In her right hand she holds a bulky book. The couple are posing as a bourgeois couple might. John and Annie are trying to look like their betters.
Annie Chapman was the illegitimate child of George Smith and Ruth Chapman. George was a soldier or guardsman, and the couple married after the birth of their daughter Annie. Ruth Chapman had a relative called John Chapman, and in 1869 Annie married him. John has been described as a maternal relative of Annie. Most of us assume this means a cousin. John worked as a coachman and domestic servant and had enough of a reputation to be employed by Sir Francis Tress Barry the Conservative MP for Windsor. Annie and John lived above the stables. In the movie Sabrina by Billy Wilder the idea was made modern. Audrey Hepburn and her father lived above the garage.
At some point Annie became an alcoholic. No explanation has been given as to why this happened. It may have been a consequence of giving birth to three children, her life with John, grievance over the lives of the people in the mansion the other side of the stables or just a nature and personality that needed relief and escape. There is no doubt that the alcohol reduced Annie Chapman. She was arrested by police in Windsor for being drunk and disorderly but not charged. In 1888, after Annie Chapman had been murdered and mutilated and deserved some sympathy, the main concern of the Windsor and Eton Gazette was the offended sensibility of the Conservative MP who had once employed Annie Chapman. ‘Her dissolute habits made it imperatively necessary that she should reside elsewhere than on the gentleman’s grounds.’ The sentence sounds like a final sigh of relief.
Annie and John Chapman had separated in 1880 and eight years before she was killed. John remained in Windsor, and the children, two daughters and a son, received a good education. It appears that John Chapman was valued by his employer. The son was disabled but received beneficial medical treatment. Before Annie drifted to Spitalfields in London she wandered for a few weeks around Windsor as a tramp and lived out in the open. Although John had care of the children, he paid ten shillings a week to Annie. When the payments began has not been specified. The husband may have waited until his wife was settled in Spitalfields. Ten shillings has been estimated as being about half of the wages of John Chapman. Presumably, John would have lived rent-free above the stables and have been fed by the family cook. Nevertheless, the payment was substantial and it indicates that he had real sympathy for his wife. Unfortunately for Annie, the money from her husband stopped in 1886 when John died. His death was attributed to cirrhosis of the liver, ascites and dropsy. Perhaps it was John that introduced Annie to alcohol. A letter to Reverend John Patterson may or may not mean something. It refers to a sister that was ‘married and in a good position’ and who ‘over and over again signed the pledge and tried to keep it.’ The letter mentions Annie Chapman by name, stresses the struggle against addiction and claims that husband John died of a broken heart.
In London, Annie earned money doing crochet work and selling flowers. She also tried different men. She lived with a sieve maker who was known as Jack Sievey but they separated in 1887. By then Chapman had acquired the nickname Dark Annie Sievey. Her next relationship with a building labourer called Ted Stanley was more casual. Chapman and Stanley spent weekends together and lodged at the different houses in Spitalfields. Opinion is divided about whether Annie worked as a prostitute. Her close friend Amelia Farmer said that Annie was not ‘very particular what she did to earn a living and at times used to remain out late at night.’ According to Amelia Farmer and others, most of the drinking done by Chapman was confined to Saturdays. The majority of the comments about Chapman were made after she died and they may have been generous. The sympathetic said Annie was industrious, clever and respectable and did not use bad language. The prostitution may have been restricted to Saturdays after her money had been spent on rum and she needed a bed in the lodging house.
Despite the kind words about her character, Annie had a violent encounter on the 1st of September. Because that day was a Saturday, Annie had been drinking. The fight between Annie and Liza Cooper occurred in the Britannia pub, which was on the corner of Dorset Street. Annie also used the nearby lodging house at number 35. Annie was drinking with Ted Stanley the building labourer. Liza had a companion who was known as Harry the Hawker. There are alternative accounts about what happened between them. It has been suggested that the fight was over a bar of soap that had been borrowed in the lodging house at Dorset Street but not returned. In another account Annie is supposed to have caught Liza trying to palm a two-shilling piece and switch it for a penny. Either way Liza Cooper responded with violence. Liza Cooper was a tough character and she had capable fists. A month after the fight with Annie she was bound over for assaulting Thomas Wilne on Clerkenwell Road. The day after the fight, Annie showed her black eye and bruised chest to Amelia Farmer. On the third of September, two days after the fight had occurred, Annie met Amelia again and complained of feeling unwell. Apart from the debilitating injuries inflicted by Liza Cooper, Annie had a chronic disease of the lungs and brain of which she was unaware. Short of money, Annie said she would go to the casual ward for a couple of days. The casual ward was the part of the workhouse reserved for vagrants and was known as the spike. The nickname was not affectionate. Farmer gave Annie two pence for tea and some food. Annie stayed, and perhaps rested, at the casual ward until Friday the 7th of September.
In the early hours of Saturday, Chapman arrived at the common lodging house at 35 Dorset Street. Although Chapman had not stayed there the previous week, she had been staying at the lodging house during the previous four months. Annie had no money for a bed that night but the deputy of the lodging house Timothy Donovan reported that she was in the kitchen until around two o’clock in the morning. There are different accounts, and Donovan either let Annie stay in the kitchen until the early hours or he discovered her there. Whatever happened between Chapman and Donovan, at some point the deputy of the lodging house asked Chapman for the four pence needed to pay for a bed. Annie Chapman left the lodging house but said she would return with the money. Chapman either intended to find a customer who wanted sex or was intending to sleep on the streets and her remarks were nothing but bravado. She was followed outside by night watchman John Evans who saw Annie walk into Little Paternoster Row, head towards Brushfield Street and then Christ Church. Evans was the last person to see Annie Chapman alive.
She was discovered in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street. Her throat was cut, and the body mutilated. In the mortuary Amelia Farmer identified her friend. The progress of the chronic lung and brain disease had been halted by premature death. During the examination of the victim, Dr George Bagster Phillip smelled the contents of her stomach. He concluded that there was no alcohol in her stomach. The man who was responsible for the death of Annie Chapman when she was 47 years old became known as Jack the Ripper. The identity of this man who ended her life remains unknown.
Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.