Packer - Was He A Witness? Part I
by Dave Yost
First published in Ripperologist, No 23, Jun 1999

Relatively little doubt exists that Packer, as a witness, is virtually useless due to him changing his own statement each time anyone cared to listen to it. Yet, the need for an accurate Packer statement, while not great, is still present, if for no other reason than to help establish a more accurate sense of what might have happened that night. Hence, I have pondered the question, To what might have Packer actually been a witness? Naturally, the tie-in with this is the existence of the grape stalk.

We know of this elusive grape stalk from several individuals: Diemschutz and Kozebrodski both saw the body and claimed to have seen a grape stalk; Mortimer also claimed to have seen a grape stalk; Rosenfield and Harstein informed Batchelor and Grand that they saw a grape stalk; Batchelor and Grand allegedly found a grape stalk in the yard drain; Inspector Dew later wrote in his memoirs that some spat-out grapes were found in the area; and, Dr Phillips stated that one of Elizabeth's handkerchiefs was stained with fruit juice. All of these have an accumulative affect - Elizabeth ate some grapes. (1)

To the contrary, however, other individuals who were at the scene never saw the stalk: Spooner, who knelt down and lifted Elizabeth's chin, noted only the existence of the piece of paper which held the cachous; Heshburg (Heahbury), one of the first people in the yard noted only the paper and cachous; Drs Phillips and Blackwell saw neither anything related to grapes or grape stalk during their examination of the body or of the yard, nor did they hear anyone mention the existence of a grape stalk while they were in the yard. (2)

Additionally, the post-mortem on 1 October revealed no evidence that Elizabeth ate any grapes. Apparently, Inspector Dew's reminiscences are sufficiently flawed, especially with respect to the Stride case, as to be unreliable for information. Rosenfield and Harstein also claimed to have seen some flower petals in the yard; something not mentioned by any of the other numerous people who were there. And, while the stains on the handkerchief may have come from fruit, there is no indication that they came from grapes, nor is there anything to show or sufficiently suggest when the stains came to be on the handkerchief. In other words, the stains might have been from an apple eaten earlier that day. And, can we be certain that a grape stalk was not already in the yard prior to Elizabeth being there? The view that the grape stalk did not exist prior Elizabeth's arrival upon the scene would seem to stem from Packer's eventual statements that he sold grapes to Elizabeth's date. Interestingly enough, Schwartz never noted Elizabeth holding anything larger than what could have been readily concealed in the palm of her hand, such as cachous wrapped in paper. (3)

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Elizabeth did not, at least, swallow any portion of any grape prior to her death. Inspector Dew's recollection of spat-out grapes being found would seem to explain much, if true, but the grape stalk could still exist even if Elizabeth never touched any of its grapes. So it seems that the only advantage to showing a viable link between Elizabeth and a grape stalk is to help establish a possible connection to Packer. Linking this grape stalk to Elizabeth might exist in the form of Batchelor and Grand allegedly finding it in the yard caked with blood, which has added to the idea that the grape stalk might somehow be connected to Elizabeth's death. If it did exist, however, I would think that it would have been quite naturally caked with blood, since they supposedly retrieved it from the yard drain to where all the blood was washed away by RPC Collins at 5:30 on the morning of her death. Yet, this still tells us very little, if anything, because this does not help us determine if Elizabeth ever possessed that particular grape stalk, or ate any of its grapes, within two hours prior to her death, let alone if she ever saw the stalk at all. (4)

The ultimate question behind all this grape stalk business is, Did Packer sell any grapes to Elizabeth's date like he first claimed on 2 October? The first correlation between Elizabeth and grapes was given to us by Diemschutz, Kozebrodski, and Mortimer during press interviews on 1 October. At that time, they stated either they saw the stalk in her hand or simply near her. Neither of which has ever been corroborated, (excluding Rosenfield and Harstein), by the over thirty other witnesses who were in the yard that morning. While Packer's statements to the police and press will be discussed later, it should be pointed out that on 30 September, he told Sgt White that he neither saw nor heard anyone. The interviews given by Diemschutz, et al, were a day later, and Packer would not necessarily have known that they had been interviewed until after the press release. Those interviews most likely prompted Batchelor and Grand to seek out Packer, who only then suddenly remembered having sold grapes to Elizabeth's date. (5)

While the Diemschultz, et al interviews might have prompted Batchelor and Grand to interview Packer, Stewart Evans has commented that their "zealous pursuit of Packer" might have been to justify their payment from the Vigilance Committee with the added bonus of having a witness "that the police had failed to uncover". (6)

If we momentarily ignore Packer altogether, then we must question the accuracy of Diemschutz, et al claiming to have seen a grape stalk. Except perhaps for Diemschutz due to his "weak" inquest testimony, we can not really disprove their belief in having seen the grape stalk, but we can simply ask if there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to reasonably suggest that the grape stalk ever existed and if it did, was it ever possessed by Elizabeth within the two hours prior to her death? The answer to both of these questions is, no. There is no information to determine probable ownership, and there is insufficient testimony to properly support the existence of the stalk, because of the information we have refuting its existance. So, the only way to determine a grape stalk's existence and involvement with Elizabeth is to bring Packer back into the equation by analyzing his various statements. (7)

Packer's involvement has probably added more color to the Stride case than nearly every other event surrounding Elizabeth's death, except perhaps for her own fanciful tales. In reviewing Packer, the first question we must ask ourselves is, not did Packer lie, simply exaggerate, or even incorrectly remember, but what impact could a factual Packer statement have, not just on the chain of events related to Elizabeth's death, but on the case as a whole? In order to answer this question, we must first recall the known particulars before and after any of Packer's given times:

1) At 11:00pm, Gardner and Best saw Elizabeth with a young Englishman at the Bricklayer's Arms in Settles Street. The couple then headed toward Commercial Road after 11:00pm;
2) Between 11:30pm and 12:00am, the debate at the IWEC ended, and 60 to 80 people left;
3) Between 11:45 and 11:55pm. Marshall saw Elizabeth and a man walk past him, heading South toward Ellen Street;
4) West and some companions left the International Workingmen's Educational Club (IWEC) at around 12:15am, noticing nothing unusual;
5) Letchford walked through Berner Street at 12:30am, noticing nothing unusual;
6) PC Smith saw Elizabeth and a man standing opposite the club at c.12:35am, and
7) Schwartz saw the assault on Elizabeth at 12:45am. (8)
Except Schwartz's, the testimonies from those eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen Elizabeth and her date indicate that they were publicly displaying affection for each other. Elizabeth and "her" man were seen to be neither drunk nor quarreling. They were ostensibly involved with each other, and were only seen to be moving at a lover's pace. And, Schwartz's testimony would seem to indicate that the publicly committed assault on Elizabeth was independent of the man Packer claimed to have seen. (9)

From this, can anything sinister be construed from Packer selling grapes to Elizabeth and her date? No, and it would seem to be a reasonable act - the man bought his date a gift. Could there be any correlation if the alleged grape stalk found by Batchelor and Grand, not only existed, but did indeed belong to Elizabeth and her date? Yes, Packer did sell grapes to Elizabeth and her date, as he later claimed. Albeit, Packer's claims are the only information we have regarding ownership of the stalk.

Does this grape stalk reveal anything about Elizabeth's killer? No, not necessarily. If Elizabeth possessed the grape stalk when she died, then we can learn nothing about her assailant, because the grape stalk would still be at the scene if her date killed her, if she was killed by JTR, or even if she was killed by someone else. If her date possessed the grape stalk, we still know very little, because that does not link his actions to her death; the grape stalk could still be at the scene whether or not he was the killer. In fact, his possessing the stalk might only serve to confirm that the grapes were consumed and the stalk tossed into the yard prior to Schwartz's arrival upon the scene. (Let us not forget that Elizabeth was standing by herself when Schwartz saw her being attacked and the notion that Elizabeth's date, the man to whom Packer supposedly sold the grapes, was JTR is a media invention.) Now, if the killer possessed the stalk, (ie., bought the grapes), and was someone other than her date, we would have something to go on, because then we can directly link the stalk to her murderer. (It has been previously argued that Schwartz's first-man had killed Elizabeth at c.12:47am. If this view is correct, then the idea that Elizabeth's killer possessed the stalk is a mute point, since Schwartz never noted this man carrying any such item.) Plus with respect to the murder, Packer never claimed to have sold grapes to a lone person that night, just to Elizabeth and her date. From the foregoing, we can therefore presently assert that an accurate Packer statement has no bearing on the Stride case. In other words, despite the media's willingness to play Packer for all he was worth, there is no value in his allegedly selling grapes to Elizabeth and her date. Nevertheless, the question still exists, Did Packer sell the grapes to Elizabeth and her date? (10)

On the morning of 30 September, Sgt White presented Packer with his first opportunity to expound upon the subject of Elizabeth's death and detail all that he knew. Packer was asked two very simple questions: When did you close up shop? And, Did you see anyone go into Dutfield's Yard or stand about the street when you closed up? To these, Packer gave two very simple replies: At 12:30am, because of the rain. And 'I saw no one standing about neither did I see anyone go up the yard...' Sgt White then interviewed Mrs Packer and several others who resided within Packer's household, and they also knew nothing of the murder. (11)

This leaves little room for doubt about Packer's involvement. Packer was seemingly speaking without any foreknowledge of any other witness when he responded to Sgt White's questions; hence, those were perhaps his most straight forward and possibly his most correct answers. Yet, there is a point of interest to be mentioned regarding his replies. At this time, Packer ostensibly knew nothing of the grape stalk's alleged existence in the yard, because, as previously pointed out, the press interviews of Kozebrodski, Diemschutz, and Mortimer came a day after his interview with Sgt White, but, selling grapes to an innocent-looking couple is hardly suspicious. Hence, if Packer had sold the grapes, his initial response to Sgt White would not be incorrect, only mis-leading, because Packer would not necessarily relate the selling of grapes with Elizabeth's death. Further more, if Elizabeth and her date did buy the grapes, then they did so and left before Packer closed up shop, as his replies could indicate. And, there would have been sufficient time for Elizabeth and her date to come back into Berner Street without Packer's knowledge, since it would have been after he closed up shop, and still be seen by PC Smith at c.12:35am.

On 2 October, Batchelor and Grand interviewed Packer. He informed them that at c.11:45pm, he sold a man and a woman a half-pound of black grapes. Afterwards, the couple stood about the street for more than a half-hour, (i.e. after 12:15am, which would be within the general time frame he already gave for closing up shop). 'The man was middle-aged, perhaps 35 years; about five feet seven inches in height; was stout, square-built; wore a wideawake hat and dark clothes; had the appearance of a clerk; had a rough voice and a quick, sharp way of talking.' (12)

The interesting aspects of this new statement is that, while not necessarily contradicting what he told Sgt White, his timing is impossible. Marshall witnessed Elizabeth and her man between 11:45 and 11:55 while they stood three doors north of him talking, and then slowly walking in a southerly direction. Even if they headed straight for Berner Street once out of Marshall's sight, (who did not return indoors until midnight), it would have taken them approximately five to ten minutes for them to come into Packer's view, (ie., after c.12:00am to c.12:05am), depending on which road they took (Back Church Lane or Providence Street). Most likely it would have taken longer, since it took them about ten minutes just to move past four houses, (while being observed by Marshall), due to them being involved with each other. Additionally, we know that at c.12:15am, West, his brother, and Stanley left the club by the front door, going out into Berner Street, then heading toward Fairclough Street. Had the event now described by Packer occurred as he claimed, it was very tactful of West, et al to not mention having seen a couple, (Elizabeth and her date), in the area, near the scene, in light of the murder, thereby corroborating Packer's statement. (13)

It should also be mentioned that on 1 October the press released PC Smith's description of the man he saw: 5'-7", 28 years old, clean shaven, had dark pants, dark over coat, dark hard felt deerstalker, respectable appearance, and carried a newspaper parcel about 18" in length and 6" to 8" wide. There is little comparison between PC Smith's description and that given by Packer, except for general appearance, height and color of clothes. Yet, if Packer was lying, then a faulty recollection of what he had read would account for the differences. In other words, Packer might have been potentially convincing himself of what was fact, instead of relating what he actually knew. Even though a bad memory could be used to explain how a truthful Packer could accidentally provide dis-information, sufficient evidence already exists to discount his testimony. (14)

Prompted by the Batchelor and Grand interview, the Evening News decided to obtain their own story from Packer, which was published on 3 October. This time, Packer recollected the time as being between 11:30pm and midnight and the man's description as being about 30-35 years old, medium height, rather dark complexion, wore a black coat, a black soft felt hat, looked like a clerk or something of that sort - educated, a loud, sharp voice, and a quick commanding way. Packer also added that the couple entered Berner Street from the Ellen Street area. (15)

Here we see Packer shift his time from c.11:45pm-c.12:15am to 11:30pm-12:00am and his conception of the man's age from perhaps 35 years to 30-35 years. He also altered his time for closing up shop from 12:30 to 'must have been past midnight a little bit, for the public houses were shut up.' He adds more detail about the man's manner; yet, the man is no longer being described as stout. The influence of Marshall can be readily seen in what Packer told the Evening News, especially in his claim to having seen the couple move into Berner Street from the Ellen Street area. However, Marshall still saw the couple between 11:45-11:55, making Packer's half hour for interacting with and/or observing the couple impossible. Plus, the debate at the IWEC ended between 11:30pm-12:00am, with about 60 to 80 people leaving. Packer never intertwined any of this into his story for the Evening News nor for Bacthelor and Grand, and surely, there would have been a throng of people flowing out of the club and into the street at that time. This last aspect alone is interesting, because one would think that Packer would have tried to sell his goods to these numerous people who were suddenly out in the street. A minor, but interesting, aspect of this particular story is that Packer stated he told his wife about the couple, calling them fools for standing in the rain, eating grapes; yet, his wife claimed to know nothing about what happened that night. While it would be expected for an average person to not make such a connection, if it happened, it could also be reasonable to think she might remember her husband's comment about the couple in light of his "admonishment". (16)

Because of the Evening News article, Sgt White briefly re-interviewed Packer twice on 4 October. Before Batchelor and Grand whisked away their "prize possession" to see Sir Charles Warren, Packer did tell Sgt White that he identified the body, believing she bought some grapes at about midnight. This is the first time Packer told the police he sold grapes to Elizabeth and her date. Albeit, he changed the time, again, to midnight. (17)

While the foregoing arguments still apply, If we look at what Packer told only the police, we may have an idea of what might have happened, if Packer ever did sell the grapes. At 11:55pm, Marshall saw Elizabeth and her date move out of sight; at midnight; Packer sold grapes to the couple, (meaning they were no longer moving at a lover's pace, but would have intentionally walked straight to Packer's shop); at c.12:30am, he closed up shop, seeing no one about, and at c.12:35am, PC Smith saw Elizabeth and her man. This is possible, and it seems to indicate that the couple had moved on after buying the grapes and eventually returned after Packer closed up. Nevertheless, we can not necessarily trust Packer's claim to the midnight business venture, or to having identified the body, because of Batchelor and Grand's potential influence on him. (18)

One of the more important Packer interviews was taken at Scotland Yard and commented upon by Sir Charles Warren. This time, his story takes place between 11:00pm-11:30pm. He sold the grapes at 11:00pm to a man who is now 25-30 years old, he still stands about 5'-7", with a long black coat buttoned up, soft felt hat, kind of Yankee hat, rather broad shoulders, rather quick in speaking, rough voice. (19)

Packer, again, shifts his time from 11:30pm-12:00am to 11:00pm-11:30pm, claiming that he closed up around 11:30pm. Packer's new estimation for closing up correlates to the approximate end of the club's debate that night, which could explain why he never mentioned it. With respect to selling the grapes, it might be difficult timing, at best, because at the Bricklayer's Arms, Best and Gardner saw Elizabeth and her date, where they 'went off like a shot soon after eleven'. The man now has a "Yankee" hat, which most likely stems from his interview with the Evening News, wherein the reporter prompted him to state that the man spoke like an American. And, we can see a possible attempt by Packer to make his story more compatible with Marshall's by altering his times. (20)

By the time of the J. Hall Richardson article in the Daily Telegraph on 6 October, Packer's man was now about thirty and his hat was now, simply, a soft felt one. The contemporary police were quite right in publishing a rebuttal to this interview. The portrait Richardson said that Packer picked out is completely unreliable, because Richardson himself said that those portraits were prepared based off of descriptions given to police, especially naming Packer. In other words, the entire interview was a "set-up", as Richardson already had a portrait created to coincide with what Packer had stated in previous interviews, and most likely led Packer to pick out the desired portrait, just as the Evening News reporter led Packer into stating the man spoke like an American. (21)

The progression of Packer's information is interesting. Between the seven interviews which spanned six days, 1) He went from seeing no one, to only seeing Elizabeth and her date, never noticing the many people who would have been in the street between 11:30 and sometime after midnight; 2) The man who allegedly bought the grapes went from being about 35 years old, to around 30, to 25-30 years old, back to being around 30 years old; 3) Packer altered his time for closing up shop from 12:30, to shortly after midnight, to midnight, to 11:30; 4) The grape-buyer's accent went from going unnoticed (possibly indicating a British, British variation, or British-offshoot), to possibly being American. There seems to be little doubt that Packer was, at best, uncertain of whom he saw and of when he did anything that night even though his first interviews were the day of the murder and the following day. Plus, the influence of other press interviews on Packer's stories is noticeable. Packer was, however, fairly consistent on some points regarding the grape buyer's appearance, once he mentioned him: stood 5'-7", wore dark clothes, had a quick way of talking, appeared to be a clerk.

Three weeks after the Richardson interview, Packer claimed that he saw Elizabeth's date from that night and also to have seen the man several times prior to the murder. During the second week of November, Packer then claimed that a man buying rabbits said, his cousin was JTR. From this, it seems obvious that after 6 October, Packer was willing to say almost anything to keep himself in the spotlight, and without question, he followed the interviewer's lead, except for Sgt White, who gave Packer nothing to follow. Nevertheless, it has been written by some that Packer's testimony was of 'clear importance', adding that he was never called as a witness. The answer to the unspoken question, Why was Packer not called as a witness, is easy enough; the police did not trust Packer's statement - any of them, if for no other reason than because of his inconsistency. (22)

The following abbreviations apply to the references given below:
The Jack the Ripper A to Z, 2nd ed, Headline Book Publishing, 1994, Begg, Fido, Skinner (A-Z)
The Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts, Robson Books, 1995, Begg (JTRUF)
The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, Robinson Publishing Ltd, 1994, Sudgen (CHJTR)
Jack the Ripper: The Complete Casebook, Berkley ed., 1990, Rumbelow (JTRCC)
Casebook: Jack the Ripper, website founded and operated by Stephen P. Ryder (CBJTR)
G Bacon's 'New Large-Scale Ordnance Atlas of London and Suburbs', 1888, Sheet 17, The British Library (MAP)
Home Office files (HO)
Daily News (DN)
Manchester Guardian (MG)
(1) JTRUF, p98; CHJTR, p168, 208, 211, 213, 220, 226, 501; A-Z, p159-160, 347
(2) JTRUF, p98, 109; CHJTR, p171-173, 199, 208, 214, 226, 227, 501, 90; DN, 6 Oct 88; The MG,6 Oct 88; A-Z, p47, 361-362; JTRCC, p80
(3) A-Z, pg106-107, 159-160, 361-362; CHJTR , p198-199, 220
(4) CHJTR, p220, 226; JTRUF, p98; A-Z, p90, 159-160, 347, 457
(5) CHTR, p219-220, 226
(6) private correspondence with Stewart Evans, 16 June, 1998
(7) JTRUF, p98; CHJTR, p168, 208, 211, 213, 501
(8) CBJTR, Victims' page, Stride; CHJTR p166-167, 204-205, 206; JTRUF, p97; JTRCC, p81; A-Z, p46-47, 125, 259, 438, 455; HO/144/221/A49301C 8a.
(9) ibid
(10) Ripperlogist, (number 21, Feb 99), "Elizabeth Stride - Her Killer and Time of Death", p9-10; HO/144/221/A49301C 8a.; A-Z, p347, 401-402
(11) CHJTR, p219-220
(12) A-Z, p347; CHJTR, p220, 226
(13) A-Z, p491; CHJTR, p166; MAP
(14) A-Z, p208; JTRCC, p82; CHJTR, p201, 225, 500-502
(15) CHJTR, p220-222
(16) CHJTR, p220-222; JTRUF, pg97
(17) CHJTR, p222
(18) CHJTR, p204-205, 222; A-Z, p295, 438, 455; CBJTR, Victims' page, Stride; DN 6 Oct 88
(19) A-Z, p346-348, 455, 493-494; JTRCC, p81; CHJTR, p222-223; Ripperana #16, p4-9, #15, p6-7
(20) CHJTR, p226; CBJTR, Victims' page, Stride<
(21) CHJTR, p223-224; JTRCC, p83
(22) A-Z, p348-349

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