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The Secret Lives of Montague Druitt
By D.J. Leighton
The History PressCopyright © 2006 D.J. Leighton
All rights reserved.
The Scene is Set
In the autumn of 1888 in the Whitechapel area of east London five appalling murders took place. All the victims were prostitutes; four of them were mutilated and parts of their bodies removed. The nature of the crimes led the police to believe that they were the work of one person. Then taunting letters began to arrive, signed by someone calling himself 'Jack the Ripper'. This was a nasty but accurate description of the murderer's work. The killings became known as the Jack the Ripper murders, and the obloquy has helped to ensure that the case has remained high in the general public's awareness to this day.
Since the mid-1990s, forty new books on the subject have been published. This is higher than for any other true-life crime. Patricia Cornwell's Portrait of a Killer demonstrates the huge interest that continues to exist in the subject. The paperback edition was an international bestseller, topped the Sunday Times lists for six weeks and sold over 150,000 copies between September 2003 and the end of that year. Even today the Ripper's frightening spectre retains its power. In May 2005 Michael Winner, writing his restaurant column also in the Sunday Times, recorded that his friend Paola Lombard disliked the small Italian village of Apricale. She thought the narrow, cobbled streets 'were spooky'. 'I expect to meet Jack the Ripper any moment,' she said. Some writers and historians have listed as many as twelve victims of the Ripper, but five is the generally accepted number.
This, briefly, is a summary of those murders.
The first woman to die was Mary Ann Nichols, who was found on Friday, 31 August, at about 3.30 a.m. near a Kearley and Tonge warehouse in Bucks Row (now Durward Street), her body slashed and mutilated. Nichols had been born in 1845 in east London and by the time she was 19 she was married to William Nichols, a printer. This relationship produced five children but ended in 1880, partly because of her heavy drinking. For the rest of her life she lived mostly in workhouses, slept rough or rented the cheapest room in the worst areas of the East End. Earlier that Friday night she had boasted to a friend about her successful earnings that evening. She was drunk. Her body was identified a few hours later by her husband and the same family friend, Emily Holland. The police surgeon who carried out the post-mortem was Dr Ralph Llewellyn and the coroner was Wynne Baxter. At first Llewellyn believed the murderer was left-handed but later he became less sure. He was, however, firm in his opinion that the killer 'must have some anatomical knowledge'. He commented, 'I have never seen so horrible a case.'
The second victim was 47-year-old Annie Chapman, who died at about 5.30 a.m. on Saturday, 8 September, in Hanbury Street, which leads into Commercial Street. At one time she had been married, with three children, to a coachman, John Chapman, in Windsor, but they had separated in 1884 and she had moved to Whitechapel, where she sold flowers, did some sewing and worked the streets at nights. Between times she drank in local pubs. On the night of her murder she had been plying her trade to make money for her room. This time the police surgeon handling the post-mortem was Dr George Bagster Phillips. It was his view that there had been an attempt at decapitation, but in any event her body had been horribly cut up, and it was clear to Dr Phillips that the assailant had medical knowledge of anatomy and pathology. The coroner as for the first victim was Wynne Baxter and he agreed with these findings. He also drew attention to the removal of body parts.
On Sunday, 30 September, two Ripper murders took place and these became known as the 'Double Event'. The first to die was Elizabeth Stride, who was killed at about 1.00 a.m. in Dutfield's Yard, near the Commercial Road. Stride was born in Sweden in 1843, and became involved in prostitution at the age of 21. In 1866 she moved to London, married a John Stride three years later, and went to live in Clerkenwell. In 1878 the pleasure steamer Princess Alice sank in the River Thames and 527 lives were lost. Stride invented the story that her husband and children were among the victims, but in fact John Stride died in the Poplar Union Workhouse in 1884, three years after the marriage had ended. Elizabeth Stride now reverted to her old profession, and in the hours before her death had spent the time drinking and soliciting. Again Dr Phillips held the post-mortem and Wynne Baxter was the coroner. Death was by a cut to the throat, and Baxter believed the murderer 'knew where to cut'. The absence of mutilation suggested to the coroner that the killer had been disturbed, but the death is still attributed to the Ripper.
On the same night about half an hour after the murder of Elizabeth Stride another woman was killed a few hundred yards away in Mitre Square. The Kearley and Tonge head office occupied two sides of the Square, so it was the second time a victim had been found near Kearley and Tonge premises. Her name was Catherine Eddowes, aged 46, and she had been brought up as an orphan in a workhouse. She settled in Whitechapel with a soldier Thomas Conway with whom she had three children, but the relationship ended in 1880 partly because of Eddowes's alcoholism. She soon moved in with John Kelly, a labourer, and became variously known as Eddowes, Conway and Kelly. Although extremely poor, she may have been a casual, rather than a career, prostitute, and the two scraped a living doing agricultural work. The time prior to the murder is well documented as she had been in police custody until 1.00 a.m. sobering up from a drinking binge. Within an hour of her release she was dead; her throat had been cut, her body slashed and parts removed. Dr Frederick Gordon Brown carried out the post-mortem and noted: 'I believe the perpetrator of the act must have had considerable knowledge of the position of the organs. It would have needed great knowledge.' Eddowes's death had all the hallmarks of an authentic Ripper murder. There is, however, a possibility that the murder was a mistake, as she may not have been a regular prostitute and could have been confused with the fifth victim.
The last of the five women to be killed was Mary Jane Kelly in the early hours of Friday, 9 November, in Miller's Court, near Commercial Street. Her background and life were desperate. Born in Limerick in 1862, she moved to Wales and married a coal miner called Jonathan Davies when she was 16. Within months Davies was killed in a pit accident, and Kelly was introduced to prostitution in Cardiff by her aunt. In 1884 she moved to London and worked partly in a gentlemen's gay club and partly in a West End brothel. Eventually she moved to the East End, an even more degrading environment, where she continued to ply her trade. She was last seen at about 1.00 a.m. on the Friday morning the worse for drink. Her body was found cut up almost beyond identification, and of all the murders this was the most gruesome. Dr Phillips again did the post-mortem and Mr Roderick MacDonald was the coroner.
These then are the five murders. The only motives can have been a gruesome sexual gratification, a twisted mission against prostitutes or an urge to silence certain people. All were too poor to be robbed. No one was ever charged or convicted, and, although dozens of men were interviewed, the investigation progressed no further.
There was no shortage of candidates, even claimants. The Lewisham Gazette of 7 December 1888 reported under the headline 'Jack the Ripper in a Fish Shop' that a John Weidon of Francis Street, Woolwich, had entered a fish shop owned by Mr and Mrs Seagain in New Cross Road. On being refused credit, Weidon began to smash up bottles and plates and threatened, 'I am Jack the Ripper and will do for you.' He was fined 10s (50p) with 2s costs, or seven days in prison.
Six years later the Chief Constable of the Metropolitan area, Sir Melville Macnaghten, named Montague Druitt as the murderer, but by then Druitt was dead. Nevertheless, for the last 100 years Druitt's name has been inextricably linked with that of Jack the Ripper. This book tells the life of Montague Druitt, and the circumstances that surrounded him. It examines the validity of Macnaghten's claim in the light of this evidence.
At the time of the murders, the East End of London had a population approaching a million, of which some 80,000 lived in the Whitechapel area. The East End as a whole was an area of abject poverty and dreadful living conditions. Charles Dickens had placed his characters Fagin and Bill Sikes in Whitechapel, the seediest part of London he knew. To see starving and dying people on the streets was not uncommon. The small squalid houses were hopelessly overcrowded, and often there was a room occupancy of six or more people. There was no large-scale industry such as mills or other manufacturing to sustain the people who would have gained such employment in the northern cities. There was some work for men in the London docks, but this was fiercely controlled so that only those perceived as being English could participate. The railways, too, provided limited work, but mostly men relied on occasional building jobs, street trading or hard manual labour, working long hours for £1 per week. Much of the population was drifting and rootless. Jewish and Eastern European enclaves were formed, and itinerant sailors up from the docks came and went. Nor did it help that gang warfare had arrived early in the nineteenth century, and by the 1880s groups of thugs such as the Old Nichol Gang, the Blind Beggar Mob, the Green Gate Gang and the Hoxton Mob were roaming the streets. Some gangs were formed along ethnic lines, and their presence added to the frightening reputation of the area.
The most common form of work for women was making or finishing cheap clothes in conditions that amounted to sweated labour. If she was lucky, a woman could earn 1s (5p) for 12 hours' work. This would typically involve sewing on buttons, edging trousers or making buttonholes. For many their working lives began when they were still children, and inevitably these conditions led to a drift to prostitution for a large section of the society. Even married women, or those in some sort of relationship, often resorted to part-time or opportunistic prostitution. At the time of the killings the Metropolitan Police believed there were 1,200 full-time prostitutes and fifty brothels in Whitechapel alone, and many more women were casual operators. A few years earlier the medical magazine the Lancet had put the number of London prostitutes of one sort or another at 80,000. It was a figure with which the Bishop of Exeter agreed. For large sections of poverty-stricken London women it was the main industry, despite the pathetically low charges that these women made. With all this activity came high rates of venereal disease, alcoholism and early death; alcohol featured significantly in the lives of all five of the victims and the best that social security could provide was workhouses and doss houses. As there was no local mortuary, the bodies of the murdered women were taken to a shed next to the workhouse for the post-mortems, where they rapidly decomposed. Jack London, the American crime writer, called the area 'the Abyss'. But if Whitechapel was the worst area of the East End in terms of squalor, poverty and the absence of adequate medical help, the worst street of all in Whitechapel was Flower and Dean Street. Four of the murders took place in its immediate vicinity. In 1885 it was described by James Greenwood, a social commentator, as 'what is perhaps the foulest and most dangerous street in the whole metropolis'. Later there were some attempts to demolish it, but it took German bombers finally to remove it in 1917.
Although these conditions produced widespread crime, it was mostly petty in nature and murders were unusual. The year before the Ripper killings, there was none in Whitechapel. However, in 1888 at least seven prostitutes were killed. Something peculiar was going on, and it led the police to the view that all or most of the crimes were the work of one madman. As a community Whitechapel did not appreciate its increased notoriety. Bands of men were formed into vigilante groups, and the women raised a petition of 4,000 signatures in three days, which they succeeded in bringing to the attention of Queen Victoria. Her reply was not especially helpful. A spokesman bore the message that 'the Queen is desirous that those interested should know how much she sympathised'. Up to now Victoria's record for espousing women's causes was non- existent. A few years earlier she had proclaimed: 'Feminists ought to get a good whipping. Were women to unsex themselves by claiming equality with men, they would become the most hateful, heathen and disgusting of beings and would surely perish without more protection.' After the fifth murder she did take matters more seriously and sent an instruction to Prime Minister Salisbury: 'This new ghastly murder shows the absolute necessity for some very decided action.' Earlier the Queen had acknowledged conditions in the East End. In 1883 she wrote to Prime Minister Gladstone asking him to 'obtain more precise information as to the true state of affairs in these overcrowded, unhealthy and squalid abodes'. Public meetings, sometimes with religious overtones, defended the people of east London, whose reputation anyway was most unattractive. One gathering ended by proclaiming that the meeting had 'no confidence in the present management of the police'. The docklands trade unions waded in with an offer to 'place seventy trained working men on the streets of Whitechapel from 10.00 p.m. until 7.00 a.m. Such men full of courage and endurance might well prove to be the means of capturing the villain.' The unions did expect some sort of financial reward for their members' efforts, however, and when this was slow in materialising the offer faded away.
Despite the efforts of such groups, sometimes not entirely altruistic, to put an end to the murders and restore a vestige of self-respect to the area, the East End was and remained an area of awful social conditions. It was characterised by nasty little gas-lit streets, grim, damp tenements and uniform deprivation. This created the environment in which hundreds of women put their lives at risk every night. As a contemporary writer put it, 'they sell themselves for thru'pence or tu'pence or a stale loaf of bread'. The October 1888 edition of the British Medical Journal thundered its condemnation of the East End's conditions: 'We have had the heavy fringes of a vast population packed into dark places, festering in ignorance, in dirt, in moral degradation, accustomed to violence and crime, born and bred within touch of habitual immorality and coarse obscenity.' It was a most legitimate summary.CHAPTER 2
Almost a Dynasty
On Saturday, 8 September 1888, Montague Druitt was a worried man. He was playing cricket against the Christopherson Brothers' team in the end-of-season inter-club match at the Rectory Field, Blackheath, and it was his turn to bat. Two wickets had gone cheaply and it was not yet midday. Opposing him was the former England opening bowler, Stanley Christopherson, who was fast and accurate, but batting had never been Montague's main strength, and at no. 4 in the batting order he did not feel equipped to deal with the threatening pace. He was right, and Christopherson soon sent him on his way back to the pavilion. Later on Montague redeemed himself by taking 3 wickets and finishing on the winning side. His last act on a cricket field was to bowl Derman Christopherson, the father of the side. Moments later Frederick Ireland bowled the youngest son, also called Derman, and the match was over. In the usual highly convivial end-of-season celebration everyone would have forgotten Montague's brief innings, and anyway he was a popular and respected member of one of the leading amateur sides in the land. Hopefully he enjoyed the moment, for unbeknown to him at the age of 31 his cricket career, the joy of his life, was over. He would never set foot on a cricket field again.
Meanwhile, 6 miles away in Whitechapel, Dr George Bagster Phillips, the Divisional Police surgeon, was having a much worse day. At 6.15 a.m. he had been woken by Inspector Joseph Chandler of the Metropolitan H Division summoning him to deal with the dismembered corpse of a woman. Dr Phillips, an experienced surgeon in his fifties, drew up a gruesomely anatomical account of what lay before him. His report on the dead woman Annie Chapman was presented at the inquest five days later. Dr Phillips stated that the removal of some body parts would have needed professional skills, and if he had been carrying out the surgery for an autopsy it would have taken him an hour. As if Dr Phillips's task was not unpleasant enough, he received a reprimand for not relating even more details of the wounds.
Excerpted from Ripper Suspect by D.J. Leighton. Copyright © 2006 D.J. Leighton. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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