The Witness: How well do we know him?
By Dave Yost
First published in Ripper Notes, Vol 2, No 2, Dec 2000
The witness may be classified as a necessary evil, because he is human, after all. No one witness is able to present a full and complete account of what happened, and no witness is 100 percent accurate in his statements; even though, there are times when a witness believes himself to be 100 percent truthful. Yet, being truthful and being accurate are two different things. Case in point is Mrs. Mary Malcolm; she was most likely being truthful when she informed the Coroner’s court that the Berner Street victim was her sister; albeit, her testimony was anything but accurate with respect to the victim’s identification.
Nevertheless, despite such difficulties, like that which Malcolm’s information might create, the modern researcher is required to determine a witness’s accountability, just like the contemporary authorities were. Hence, over the years, the witness and his information have become many things to many people. Deciding on a witness’s accountability will invariably ask the question, How well do we know the witness? How the witness is viewed, used, and sometimes contorted will help shape the theories and thoughts about this case, as a whole, and about the individual murders, themselves.
Upon studying this case, many types of witnesses come to light: from those who refused to come forward, to those who knew very little, to those who falsified information, to those whose information had a bearing on the case. In the list that follows, a quick overview on some witnesses, their actions, and, in some cases, their potential motives are presented:
As can be seen from the foregoing, while some witnesses provided invaluable information, there were quite a few witnesses and should-have-been-witnesses, who did not or would not offer useful information to the authorities, and in some cases, the witness’s action actually hindered the police investigation.
The primary advantage the modern researcher has over his contemporary counterpart is 20-20 hindsight, looking back in time with almost "god-like" powers, already knowing what a witness will do, virtually from one day to the next in some instances. Yet, even this insight affords today’s investigator with little else, but angst and frustration if not much is known about the witness; and, entire theories can be derived by how a single witness is projected, (i.e., exalting one witness over others or degrading a particular witness).
Despite our general removal from the Victorian East End and its living conditions, contemporary witnesses acted and felt like people of today. This might seem to be an obvious statement, but it is one that can be easily overlooked. There were approximately 160 some odd newspapers circulating at the time of the murders, ranging from penny pieces, to weekly journals, to multi-page daily publications; some were morning papers, others sold in the evening; and, some published their articles the day an event happened. (The Daily Telegraph for example was on the streets by 10am.) Witnesses were not ignorant closet-cases, isolated from local happenings; they read the papers, talked about current events with their friends and neighbors, like people do today. They were also influenced by the information they talked about, read about or heard about - information that was factual, distorted, or a mere rumor.
In this particular context, the question, How well do we know the witness, does not refer to knowing when the witness had a birthday, where he lived during the autumn of 1888, or what he liked to have for breakfast. In this instance, knowing refers to understanding why the witness might have done what he did. Or, more succinctly, What might have influenced the witness to either come forward or offer the statements that he presented? The following are a few witnesses who had some form of impact on the case; sometimes by providing usable information; other times by presenting information, which has stirred modern thinking.
Prior the start of the inquest, press statements were already made about Stevens:
"According to the statement of Simpson and Stevens, two young men who knew the deceased at Dorset-street, she returned to the lodging-house at twelve o'clock, saying that she had been to see some friends at Vauxhall."(DT 10 Sep pg3)
In his testimony during the first day of the inquest, John Evans referenced Stevens.
"She came in soon after twelve (midnight), when she said she had been over to her sister's in Vauxhall. She sent one of the lodgers for a pint of beer, and then went out again, returning shortly before a quarter to two."
The inquest was held again on 12 September, but during the third day of the inquest[13 Sep], Inspector Chandler informed the Coroner’s court about the envelope piece.
"A portion of an envelope was found near her head, which contained two pills.
What was on the envelope? - On the back there was a seal with the words, embossed in blue, "Sussex Regiment." The other part was torn away. On the other side there was a letter "M" in writing.
A man's handwriting? - I should imagine so.
Any postage stamp? - No. There was a postal stamp "London, Aug. 3, 1888." That was in red. There was another black stamp, which was indistinct.
Any other marks on the envelope? - There were also the letters "Sp" lower down, as if some one had written "Spitalfields." The other part was gone. There were no other marks."
The following day at 11 AM, William Stevens (painter and fellow-lodger) presented himself at the Commercial Street Police Station.
"as she was handling the box
Stevens then testified on the fourth day of the inquest[19 Sep]:
"I last saw her alive at twenty minutes past twelve on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 8. She was in the kitchen. She was not the worse for drink…Shown a piece of an envelope, witness said he believed it was the same as she picked up near the fireplace. Did not notice a crest, but it was about that size, and it had a red postmark on it. She left the kitchen, and witness thought she was going to bed."
Despite the fact that Stevens knew Annie, had a beer with her, and was mentioned in the papers, it was not until the news report was published about the third day of the inquest, wherein the envelope was mentioned, that Stevens voluntarily made his statement to the police. Stevens’s information identified how and why Chapman came into possession of the envelope piece.
On 10 September, The Daily Telegraph reported information about Edward Stanley:
"For some time past she had been living occasionally with a man named Ted Stanley, who had been in the militia, but was now working at some neighbouring brewery. Ted Stanley was a good-tempered man, rather tall, about 5 ft. 10 in., fair, and of florid complexion. He was the last man in the world to have quarrelled with Chapman, nor would he have injured her in any way. At the beginning of the week the deceased had been rather severely knocked about in the breast and face by another woman of the locality through jealousy in connection with Ted Stanley, and had been obliged to go to the casual ward or infirmary. As a regular means of livelihood she had not been in the habit of frequenting the streets, but had made antimacassars for sale. Sometimes she would buy flowers or matches with which to pick up a living. Farmer [sic] was perfectly certain that on Friday night the murdered woman had worn three rings, which were not genuine, but were imitations, otherwise she would not have troubled to go out and find money for her lodgings. The police, on the statement of Farmer, are making a vigilant search for the mother, sister, and brother-in-law. A man named Chapman, from Oxford-street, has been found, but he proves to be no relation.
"It has been ascertained that the deceased woman did wear two rings at the time of her death. They were of brass. One was a wedding ring, and the other a keeper of fancy pattern."
On 10 September, Palmer mentions Stanley during the first day of the inquest:
"Chapman told me that she was with some other man, Ted Stanley, on Saturday, Sept. 1. Stanley is a very respectable man."
However, Stanley was prominently mentioned during Inspector Chandler’s testimony on day three of the inquest[13 Sep]:
"The Foreman of the Jury: Reference has been made to the Sussex Regiment and the pensioner. Are you going to produce the man Stanley?
The Foreman: He is a very important witness. There is evidence that he has associated with the woman week after week. It is important that he should be found.
Witness[Chandler]: There is nobody that can give us the least idea where he is. The parties were requested to communicate with the police if he came back. Every inquiry has been made, but nobody seems to know anything about him.
The Coroner: I should think if that pensioner knows his own business he will come forward himself."(DT 14 Sep pg3)
The next day[14 Sep], Stanley did head Baxter’s words:
"The police were yesterday
The same day that Inspector Abberline reported on Stanley’s statement[19 Sep], Stanley testified at the inquest:
"When did you last see her alive? - On Sunday, Sept. 2, between one and three o'clock in the afternoon.
Was she wearing rings when you saw her? - Yes, I believe two. I could not say on which finger, but they were on one of her fingers.
What sort of rings were they - what was the metal? - Brass, I should think by the look of them. "
"Did you call at Dorset-street on Saturday, the 8th, after the murder? - Yes; I was told by a shoeblack it was she who was murdered, and I went to the lodging-house to ask if it was the fact. I was surprised, and went away.
Did you not give any information to the police that you knew her? You might have volunteered evidence, you know? - I did volunteer evidence. I went voluntarily to Commercial-street Police-station, and told them what I knew.
The Coroner: They did not tell you that the police wanted you? - Not on the 8th, but afterwards. They told me the police wanted to see me after I had been to the police."
Despite Stanley’s relation with Chapman, that he learned she was the latest victim the day she died, and that he possibly spoke to a reporter the day of the murder, he did not voluntarily go to the police, until he learned about the testimony from the third day of inquest. By testifying that Chapman might have worn two rings, he further confused that particular issue, instead of collaborating it, nor did he really clarify any confusion between himself and the man called, "the pensioner."
Early Saturday morning[8 Sep], Mrs. Long passed by a couple, who stood just East of #29 Hanbury Street:
"On Saturday, Sept. 8, about half past five o'clock in the morning, I was passing down Hanbury-street, from home, on my way to Spitalfields Market. I knew the time, because I heard the brewer's clock strike half-past five just before I got to the street. I passed 29, Hanbury-street. On the right-hand side, the same side as the house, I saw a man and a woman standing on the pavement talking."
After Chapman’s murder was discovered, numerous people visited the murder scene and spoke about the crime:
"As soon as the murder was known there came a rush of people from the market and the houses, and in charge of an inspector the body was removed to the mortuary."
"For several hours past the occupants of the adjoining house have been charging an admission fee of one penny to people anxious to view the spot where the body was found. Several hundreds of people have availed themselves of this opportunity, though all that can be seen are a couple of packing cases from beneath which is the stain of a blood track."(Star 8 Sep pg3)
"The whole of the East End up till a late hour on Saturday night was in a state of consternation, at the latest and what undoubtedly is the most horrible of a series of murders which have taken place within so small an area and during so short a period. All day nothing else was talked of, even by men who are hardened to seeing a great deal that is brutal. Strong, buxom, muscular women seemed to move in fear and trembling, declaring that they would not dare to venture in the streets unaccompanied by their husbands."(Manchester Guardian 10 Sep)
Tuesday morning[11 Sep], the account of the first day of the Chapman inquest was published, as well as an account of John Pizer’s arrest:
"Early yesterday morning
"At the Working Lads' Institute, Whitechapel-road, yesterday morning[10 Sep], Mr. Wynne Baxter opened an inquiry into the circumstances attending the death of Annie Chapman, a widow, whose body was found horribly mutilated in the back yard of 29, Hanbury-street, Spitalfields, early on Saturday morning [8 Sep]. The jury viewed the corpse at the mortuary in Montague-street, but all evidences of the outrage to which the deceased had been subjected were concealed. The clothing was also inspected" (DT 11 Sep pg3)
Despite the inquest, news articles, and local discussion about the latest murder Long did not come forward with her information. Curiously enough, however, Emmanuel Violenia’s account was published on Wednesday morning[12 Sep]:
"It has transpired that a man, whose name is not forthcoming, but who is described as middle-aged, with the look of a negro or half-cast, saw the deceased woman in Hanbury-street, early on the morning of Saturday last, the day of her death. She was with two men who had not been traced."
In that same Daily Telegraph issue, it was also reported that a Member of Parliament was offering a reward and that Laura Sickings found a "blood trail":
"A discovery which, it is believed, throws considerable light upon the movements of the murderer immediately after the committal of the crime was made yesterday afternoon. A little girl[Laura Sickings] happened to be walking in the back garden or yard of the house, 25, Hanbury-street, the next house but one to the scene of the murder, when her attention was attracted to peculiar marks on the wall and on the garden path. She communicated the discovery to Detective-Inspector Chandler, who had just called at the house in order to make a plan of the back premises of the three houses for the use of the Coroner at the inquest, which will be resumed to-day." (DT 12 Sep pg3)
Up to this point, there was neither mention of nor reference to Mrs. Long; yet, that day, she did present herself to the police:
"A woman named Mrs. Durrell
"A woman named Durrell has volunteered the statement that about half-past five on Saturday morning she saw a man and woman, the latter of whom she subsequently, on viewing the body, declared to be the deceased, conversing outside No. 29, Hanbury-street. Should her testimony be verified the fact will be established that the crime was committed between half-past five and six."(DT 13 Sep pg4)
On the morning of 19 September, The Daily Telegraph reported on the arrest of Charles Ludwig, (the entire account is not presented because of its length):
"At the Thames Police-court, yesterday
"Constable John Johnson, 866 City, deposed that early on Tuesday morning[18 Sep] he was on duty in the Minories, when he heard loud screams of "Murder!" proceeding from a dark court. The court in question leads to some railway arches, and is a well-known dangerous locality. Witness went down the court, and found the prisoner with a prostitute. The prisoner appeared to be under the influence of drink. Witness asked what he was doing there, and he replied, "Nothing." The woman, who appeared to be in a very agitated and frightened condition, said, "Oh, police-man, do take me out of this." The woman was so frightened that she could then make no further explanation. Witness got her and the accused out of the court, and sent the latter off. He walked with the woman to the end of his beat, when she said, "Dear me! he frightened me very much when he pulled a big knife out!" Witness said, "Why didn't you tell me that at the time?" and she replied, "I was too much frightened." He then went and looked for the prisoner, but could not find him, and therefore warned several other constables of what he had seen, and also gave a description of the prisoner…Mr. Saunders said it was clear the prisoner was a dangerous man, and ordered him to be remanded for a week."
"Considerable excitement prevailed in the neighbourhood owing to the report that the prisoner was connected with the recent murders in Whitechapel, and that some important discoveries would result from his capture."
"Prisoner was then at the top of Commercial-street in company with a woman, whom he was conducting in the direction of the Minories. "I took no notice of this at the time," added Finlay, "except to remark to the coffee stall-keeper, 'there goes a swell with a racketty one.' I alluded to the appearance of the two people, for whereas the woman was evidently not of very good character, the man was well dressed; he had on a frock coat and tall hat, and altogether looked what I should call 'a broken down masher.' In about a quarter of an hour, however, the woman ran back in a state of fright, as it seemed."
Inspectors Abberline and Helson and Detective-Sergeant Thicke were engaged yesterday afternoon in making inquiries into the prisoner's antecedents and the probabilities of his connection with the East-end tragedies, but they decline to state whether they have formed any theories as to his guilt. The general opinion in the East-end, however, is that the right man has not yet been got hold of, and that the prisoner was labouring under the effects of excitement and drink combined."(DT 19 Sep pg3)
That afternoon[19 Sep], Long testified at the Chapman inquest:
"I saw the woman's face. Have seen the deceased in the mortuary, and I am sure the woman that I saw in Hanbury-street was the deceased. I did not see the man's face, but I noticed that he was dark. He was wearing a brown low-crowned felt hat. I think he had on a dark coat, though I am not certain. By the look of him he seemed to me a man over forty years of age. He appeared to me to be a little taller than the deceased.
Did he look like a working man, or what? - He looked like a foreigner.
Did he look like a dock labourer, or a workman, or what? - I should say he looked like what I should call shabby-genteel.
Were they talking loudly? - They were talking pretty loudly. I overheard him say to her "Will you?" and she replied, "Yes." That is all I heard, and I heard this as I passed. I left them standing there, and I did not look back, so I cannot say where they went to.
Did they appear to be sober? - I saw nothing to indicate that either of them was the worse for drink.
Was it not an unusual thing to see a man and a woman standing there talking? - Oh no. I see lots of them standing there in the morning.
At that hour of the day? - Yes; that is why I did not take much notice of them."
It is an interesting to note the similarities between Ludwig’s description and that of the man seen by Long:
"looked like a foreigner"
40 years old
"seemed to me a man over forty years of age"
"I did not see the man’s face, but noticed that he was dark"
described as having "dirty habits," as being "well dressed," and as a "broken down masher"
There is little doubt that shortly before the murder Chapman and a man were seen by Long, and her information is important, indeed. However, it must be asked if Long’s testimony was tainted by the news account of Ludwig’s arrest? (Because Ludwig was in jail at the time of the double event, he was eventually released with no suspicion attached.)
On the Monday following Stride’s murder, it was reported that Mrs. Fanny Mortimer saw a man pass by, carrying a black bag:
"the only person whom I had seen pass through the street previously was a young man carrying a black shiny bag, who walked very fast from the direction of Commercial-road. He looked up at the club, and then went round the corner by the Board School."
Leon Goldstein learned of this and presented himself to the Leman Street Police Station, as the man seen by Mortimer(A-Z 1996 ed pg144-145):
"The man with a black shiny bag who was wanted for having been seen in Berner-street under suspicious circumstances just before the murder turns out to be a respectable man who fully explains his conduct."
"Reports have been circulated this week of a man having been seen in the streets with a black bag about the time of the murders; but suspicion was removed by a young traveller named Goldstein coming forward and stating that he was in Berner-street."(Lloyd’s Weekly News 7 Oct pg7)
Goldstein’s actions have no bearing on the case; yet, Mortimer’s mentioning him is very likely responsible for creating the rumor that the killer carried a black bag, which is often portrayed in modern theatrics(A-Z 1996 ed pg145).
On Friday morning, 9 November, Mary Jane Kelly’s body was found in her room.
"Another appalling murder was committed in the East-end yesterday morning
"Another terrible murder, accompanied, as in previous cases by hideous circumstances of mutilation and dismemberment, has spread new panic among the population of East London."(DT 10 Nov pg5)
The only day of the inquest was held three days later[12 Nov]:
Sara Lewis made reference to Hutchinson at the inquest:
"When I went into the court, opposite the lodging-house I saw a man with a wideawake. There was no one talking to him. He was a stout-looking man, and not very tall. The hat was black. I did not take any notice of his clothes. The man was looking up the court; he seemed to be waiting or looking for some one."
That evening, George Hutchinson presented himself to the Commercial Street Police Station:
"At 6 pm 12th George Hutchinson of the Victoria Home Commercial Street came to this Station and made the following Statement."
That same evening, Insp Abberline questioned Hutchinson:
"I beg to report that an inquest was held this day at the Shoreditch Town Hall before Dr. Macdonald M. P. Coroner on the body of Marie Jeneatte Kelly found murdered at No. 13 Room, Millers Court, Dorset Street, Spitalfields. A number of witnesses were called who clearly established the identity of deceased. The Coroner remarked that in his opinion it was unnecessary to adjourn the inquiry and the jury returned a Verdict of ‘Wilful Murder against Some person or persons unknown’.
"An important statement has been made by a man named George Hutchinson which I forward herewith. I have interrogated him this evening and I am of opinion his statement is true."
Despite the fact that Hutchinson spoke with Kelly on the morning of her death, and would have learned of murder that day, he was most likely prompted to come forward because of Lewis’s reference to him during the inquest. Hutchinson helped establish Kelly’s movements between 2:00 and 3:00 am.
One final aspect, which should be mentioned, is about the inquests, themselves. Beginning with Emma Smith’s, the inquests grew in the public eye:
The singular aspect about the Kelly inquest is its brevity. This is not stated to conjure up notions of conspiracy, but to continue looking at how the witness might have reacted to it. By comparison to the previous ones, the length of the Kelly inquest was unprecedented, especially in light of the fact that the murder took place on the day of the Lord Mayor’s parade with more extensive mutilations than that committed during the murders of the other canonical victims. So, it is very doubtful that the average person in the East End could have (or should have) guessed that the Kelly inquest would be so brief, especially under the precedent set by Coroner Baxter. The average East Ender crying for justice would have expected his legal system to adjourn the inquest several times before concluding.
The foregoing demonstrates some interesting aspects about some witnesses – possibly about a favorite witness, or about a key witness, possibly raising additional questions: Some witnesses never came forward, even though no suspicion was attached to them. Some witnesses readily went to the police upon learning of the murder. Some witnesses required a little prompting to come forward, even though they might have spoken with reporters prior the start of the inquest. Some witnesses had little if anything of value to offer. And, some provided information that was (and still is) important to the case. Yet, all the witnesses are necessary to tell the whole story. Despite what they offered (or did not offer) for the modern researcher to ponder over, they acted as they did. They acted as we would. They acted out of human nature without any grand scheme. How well do we know the witness?
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