33 INQUEST OF A RIPPER VICTIM
The paranoia of Sir Alfred Hitchcock meant he understood the accusatory nature of inquests and how the death of anyone prods guilt in the survivors. In Rebecca there are anxious and unsettling moments at an inquest but the difficult questions from the Cornish coroner are swatted away by upper class confidence and disdain. The Americans do it differently. Because innocent Americans are shocked by capricious guilt, Scottie Ferguson, the confused policeman in Vertigo, is obliged to suffer and endure baffled scrutiny from his friends. His deceitful friend Gavin Elster pretends to sympathise. ‘That was rough, Scottie,’ says Elster. Scottie never really recovers, and Elster triumphs somewhere in Europe. Only the treacherous are able to sidestep guilt.
The inquest of Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes began on the 4th of October 1888, four days after she was murdered in Mitre Square. S F Langham was the coroner. The Coroner’s Court was in Golden Lane. S F Langham was an MP and a neighbour of a very young Boris Karloff. Some ratepayers had complained about the £13,000 it cost to build the Court but it was also described as ‘the best building of its kind in London’. Golden Lane was where the City of London attended its dead. It had a mortuary, a post mortem room, a disinfecting chamber and an ambulance station.
There are over a 100 press cuttings on the inquest of Catherine Eddowes. The Evening News was responsible for nine of those reports. The Times recalled the proceedings in depth and in grisly detail. Their reports were confined to page four of the newspaper. The inquest was reported outside Britain and in American and European newspapers. The last newspaper reference to the Eddowes inquest that can be regarded as contemporary appeared in the Trenton Times in 1982. At the time of her death Catherine Eddowes was believed to be the seventh victim of the Ripper.
Eddowes has acquired celebrity status but the two days devoted by Coroner S F Langham to examining the circumstances of her death was not exceptional. Emma Smith, who was murdered six months earlier in April, was allocated one day. The inquest for Polly Nichols, murdered in August, lasted for three days. Mary Jane Kelly, whose murder was the most graphic of all, had an inquest that was also sorted within a single day. In view of what had happened to Kelly this was a blessing. After the first day of the Eddowes inquest the Court adjourned for a week. The length of the adjournment was typical. The inquest of Martha Tabram also lasted for two days but was separated by an adjournment of two weeks. Martha Tabram may or may not have been a Ripper victim. She was murdered in August 1888.
The purpose of an inquest is to establish the identity of the deceased, record how, when and where the subject of the inquest died and to provide the necessary details for the death to be registered. This suggests that the summary by the coroner would include specific and numbered judgements that refer back to the purpose of the inquest. But, as in the movies of Hitchcock, coroners can be tempted by the theatrical. They are not always methodical. In summing up the Eddowes inquest, Coroner Langham observed that the evidence ‘had been of the most exhaustive character’. Eddowes is not mentioned by name in the summary of her own inquest. Langham refers to her death as ‘the matter’ and to Eddowes as ‘the victim’. He decides that it will ‘be far better now to leave the matter in the hands of the police’. After various diversions some regard was given by Langham to the purpose of the inquest. He recorded a verdict of wilful murder. Thanks were given to the jury and the police solicitor Henry Homewood Crawford. Juries are required at inquests when the cause of death is unknown, violent or ‘unnatural’. When a jury is in attendance, its members will decide the cause of death. Less formal than a criminal court a jury representative can present questions to witnesses.
The police solicitor Crawford was active throughout the inquest. He questioned witnesses, pointed out discrepancies and added extra information that was available to him. Despite being the police solicitor, Crawford challenged PC Alfred Long about his discovery of the graffiti in Goulston Street. He queried both how the sentence was structured and even suggested that there was confusion about the spelling of the crucial word Jews and that it might have been spelt Juewes. If there was a Freemason conspiracy by Warren and others against revealing the truth, either no one told Crawford or he ignored them.
Written evidence from seven witnesses was submitted to the inquest. Apart from Eliza Gold, the sister of Catherine Eddowes, all the witnesses signed their names to their statements. Eliza signed her statement with an X. Three witnesses knew Eddowes or John Kelly her partner. The others who submitted written statements included two policemen, a lodging house manager and the surveyor who drew a map of the crime scene. Sixteen witness statements were heard at the actual inquest. The mixed bunch consisted of seven policemen, two doctors, a fellow of the Chemical Society, a public analyst, a lamp back packer, a watchman, a casekeeper, a commercial traveller and a butcher. One of the policemen, Detective Halse, revealed that plain-clothes detectives were patrolling the streets on the night of the murder. The ambition had been to prevent the murders of Whitechapel occurring in the neighbouring City District. John Kelly, the partner of Eddowes, was a possible suspect but witnesses and the court established he was innocent. The night Eddowes was murdered, Kelly was seen asleep in a common lodging house. Three of the policemen who gave evidence described the earlier arrest of Eddowes for being drunk and disorderly. She was released from the Bishopsgate Police Station forty-five minutes before she was murdered.
Included in the evidence submitted to the inquest was a list of the possessions of Catherine Eddowes. What she owned she carried on her person. The items reveal someone who at times was homeless or at least lived some of her life on the open road. Not long before her death Eddowes and John Kelly had returned to London from hop picking in Kent. Included in her possessions were clay pipes, sugar, soap, flannel, knife, spoon, comb, pins, needles, a tin box containing tea, a spoon and various rags. In his statement Inspector Collard mentioned a mustard tin containing two pawn tickets. There was no reference to a mustard tin in the list of possessions that was documented. Instead the list included a tin matchbox. This item has acquired subsequent significance because of its supposed relevance to the theories that identify brothers James and Michael Maybrick as potential Ripper suspects.
The most graphic evidence heard in court was given by Dr Frederick Gordon Brown. Despite the unsavoury and intimate details of the mutilations the evidence was not censored by Langham the coroner. The same details are recorded in full in the report that is published in The Times newspaper. This did not happen in the inquest of Mary Jane Kelly where Coroner Dr McDonald asserted that the physical descriptions were not suitable for the ears of the public. Dr McDonald was also keen to complete the inquest within a single day. Amidst the details of the slaughter provided by Dr Brown at the Eddowes inquest he revealed that physical death was determined by a haemorrhage from the left common carotid artery. Brown also gave his opinion on the number of assassins, there was just the one, the degree of anatomical skill possessed by the murderer, ‘a great degree’, and how long it took for the victim to die, her death was immediate. The absence of poison in the corpse of Eddowes was confirmed by the Public Analyst, William Sedgwick Saunders. Witness Joseph Lawende described how before her death he saw Eddowes talking to a man in Mitre Square.
At the funeral of Catherine Eddowes the hearse was pulled by two black horses that wore full black plumes. The funeral procession was well attended but the crowds were not invited inside the church. Her partner john Kelly and her sister Eliza were present at the graveside. Catherine Eddowes was buried on the 8th of October and three days before the second day of her inquest. The grave was unmarked until 1996 when a plaque was added to the graves of Catherine Eddowes and another Ripper victim Polly Nichols. The two women are buried within thirty feet of each other. The plaques are made of bronze, and both names are misspelt. Eddowes is spelt Eddows, and Nichols is spelt Nicholls. More people have seen the terrible and uncensored photograph of the naked and mutilated corpse of Catherine Eddowes than the bronze plaque.
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.