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"I have seen the body in the mortuary, and to the best of my belief it is my daughter ... I recognize her by her general appearance and by a little mark she has had on her forehead since she was a child."
Edwin Walker--Father of Mary Ann Nichols
Diggins ordered his first round of dark beer and checked his notes. The string of mutilations had begun on the night of August 31, 1888. Mary Ann Nichols, age forty-three, was as usual full of drink and merriment. Standing barely five feet two inches tall, her sultry brown eyes and dark complexion still made her a charmer, although the brown in her hair was turning gray and she was missing a considerable amount of front teeth. Those teeth she had remaining were stained dark yellow from lack of proper care. The delicate contour of her face was marked with high cheek bones which gave her a strong Saxon image, even if the rest of her was demure. She had a small scar on her forehead from a fall as a child.
On the night of her ill-fated journey along Buck's Row, Mary Ann was dressed in a black straw bonnet trimmed with black velvet. She also wore a heavy full-length, reddish-brown overcoat with seven large brass buttons bearing the pattern of a man and woman on horseback. Under that, she wore a brown cotton frock with a white flannel chest cloth. Her black ribbed wool stockings were covered by two petticoats--one wool, one flannel. Her dainty feet were housed in a pair of men's steel-toed boots. Sturdier than women's slippers, they also provided a better means of self-defense should a lady find herself in the clutches of a ne'er-do-well. Unfortunately for Mary Ann, they could only be used effectively in a frontalassault. History would show that Jack the Ripper always struck from behind.
Mary Ann Nichols was buried at City of London Cemetery. The hearse carrying her coffin was followed by a carriage containing William Nichols; their son, Edward John Nichols; and Mary Ann's father, Edward Walker.
Diggins' glass was empty. He put away his notebook and ordered another round. Thinking back, he was still uncomfortable with the way he had gotten pulled into the investigation.
The room was a drab looking cracker box. Heavy smoke from briarwood pipes stuffed with black Cavendish tobacco circled the air above the table where Diggins and a handful of men sat in ponderable silence. Crème-colored wallpaper had separated at the seams and lay bare, begging for a spot of paste and a firm hand to properly restore its smoothness.
Anchoring the group of sullen-faced men was Thomas Arnold, head of H Division in the Whitechapel District, a rugged individual who had resigned from the police force years earlier to fight in the Crimean War then rejoined the force in 1856, serving most of his time in the East End. To his left sat the Irishman, Sir Robert Anderson. He attended the strategy meeting in his new role as assistant commissioner of the Criminal Investigation Department, replacing James Munro who that day had resigned after a dispute with Commissioner Charles Warren. Others in the room included Chief Inspector Donald Swanson, CID. Swanson was a close personal friend of Anderson and it appeared to Diggins that Swanson was not too pleased with the way Thomas Arnold had been handling the case. Also present were Inspectors Walter Dew and Frederick Abberline. Dew was new to H Division. Abberline was recent of C Division, but had formerly been an inspector in H Division ten years past.
"Gentlemen, we're looking at two murders of the foulest kind here in the district," Arnold said to open the conversation. "I pose to you this question: Are the two related? That is, were they committed by the same person or persons unknown? Inspector Dew?"
Dew had held his hand up to be recognized. He now drew himself upright and looked around the table at the impassive faces of his colleagues. Six years on the force, at twenty-eight he was already showing the signs of a receding hairline. His thin frame, neatly trimmed mustache, and penetrating stare gave him a prominent look that could be both pleasing to those around him, yet intimidating enough to ward off all but the closest of coworkers and friends. He began his report.
"Gentlemen, we have before us the case of one Martha Tabram, whose body was found about three o'clock the morning of the seventh of August. Post-mortem revealed thirty-nine stab wounds--five to the left lung, two in the right lung, one in the heart, five in the liver, two in the spleen and six in the stomach. She was found in George Yard between Wentworth Street and High Street." 1
Reaching across the table, Dew picked up another folder and flipped it open to the coroner's report.
"We also have before us the findings for a Mary Anne 'Polly' Nichols. In Mrs. Nichols' case, there was a bruise running along the lower part of her right jaw and a circular bruise on the left side of the face. These were presumably caused by a blow to the side of the face, or by pressure such as from an arm pressed tightly against her face or wrapped around it from behind. On the left side of the neck, an inch below the jaw, there was an incision of about four inches in length. On the same side, but an inch below, and commencing about one inch in front of the incision, was a circular incision, about three inches below the right jaw. That incision severed through each layer of tissue, exposing the vertebrae. The large vessels of the neck on both sides were also severed. The incision was about eight inches in length and indicates that the cuts were caused by a long-bladed, reasonably sharp knife. The attack had been vicious, yet no blood was found on either the body or the clothes. There was no other trauma to the body until just about the lower part of the abdomen. Two or three inches from the victim's left side was a deeply made jagged wound. Several lighter incisions ran across the abdomen. Three or four similar cuts ran downwards, on the right side, all of which appear to have been caused by a knife being wielded in a downward motion. Further, the injuries were from left to right and might have been done by a left-handed person. All of the injuries appear to have been caused by the same instrument." 2
Diggins shifted his position in his chair. The room was uncomfortably silent for a moment after Dew had finished his report. Each man held the inspector's gaze without registering the shock that each one was feeling inside. Finally, District Chief Arnold spoke up. "Inspector Abberline, you know the area better than anyone else. I want you to head up this investigation. Inspector Dew and Detective Chief Inspector Diggins will form your squad. Chief Inspector..." He looked at Diggins. "I would normally have entrusted this case to you, but since you have already submitted your paperwork for retirement, I'm obliged to assign the case to someone who will be around longer. I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all," Diggins assured the district chief. "Inspector Abberline and I go back quite a few years together. He is a capable officer. I place myself at his disposal."
"Very well, then." Arnold turned his attention back to Inspector Abberline. "Draw what you will from the street Peelers to round out your investigations and keep me informed."
The Peelers were the police constables walking their beat in the neighborhood, so named Bobbies or Peelers after their originator, Sir Robert Peel, who reorganized the police force during his tenure as Home Secretary. The term, Peeler, predates the term Bobby--it being the term used when Peel was Secretary of Ireland.
Abberline had started to acknowledge his orders when his throat caught a tickle and he began to cough mildly. Holding up a hand to signify he understood, he nodded his head and let the cough subside.
Dew raised his hand again to gain the district chief's attention.
"I think, sir, we should also consider the murder of another young woman which occurred on the third of April; that of Mrs. Emma Smith. She was attacked near the Wentworth and Old Montague Street crossroads. It has a large Jewish population..."
"Hold on, inspector." The district chief held up his hand. "I don't want to be laying blame on the Jews unless we have proof. We don't need any religious persecution added to our workload. Besides, as I recall, the Smith woman was attacked by a gang, beat savagely and raped. She died, if memory serves, of internal bleeding where they forced something up her, uh ... private area."
"No. There is no similarity in the pattern. Stick to the matter at hand. Inspector Abberline, do you have any questions?"
Diggins saw Dew's face redden. The younger man's eyes bulged noticeably, but he had the good sense to drop the conversation.
"No, sir," Abberline said. He wound the stem of his thirty-year-old Waltham timepiece and slipped it inside his waistcoat pocket. "Inspector Dew will take the north side up to Buck's Row, Chief Inspector Diggins will take the south from Commercial Road, and I will take the western section past Commercial where the Tabram woman died."
"Good, let's get on with it then, shall we?" District Chief Arnold shuffled the papers in front of him and turned his chair halfway around from the collection of officers. The meeting was over.
Diggins watched as Dew left the meeting. The young detective had a point, Diggins thought. In Diggins' mind the attacks had not been random. He felt that all of them had been the work of a gang roaming the East End and shaking down the prostitutes for what few pennies they might have on them--easy pickings since most of the women traveled alone and were often drunk. Dew had expressed that the attack on the Smith woman was connected even if Arnold didn't think so. Diggins knew little about the man except that the young inspector had been something of a go-getter in Z District. Here, though, he was the new boy and usually quiet. The only personal feelings he had shared with the others was the belief that an assignment to H District meant you had popped the old wiglet off someone up the way. He'd said he didn't know how he had erred so, but his assignment to Whitechapel surely marked him as such. He'd boasted to Diggins that one good showing and he would leave the force at the earliest opportunity.
"Are you feeling yourself, old man?" Abberline asked of his older team member, "about Alice, I mean."
"Yes, quite," Diggins replied. "I'm ready to get back into the work. No sense putting it off any longer. I'm quite free to spend day and night looking into this."
"Well." Abberline paused to allow another coughing spell to pass. "Take care of yourself. These nights are bloody hell on a person."
"Aye, that they are. Okay, then, I'm off for it. I'll keep in touch." Diggins crawled his way inside his topcoat and pulled his derby tight against his forehead, giving it a slight tilt as he did. With a quick wink at his superior, he turned and strolled out of the room, his mind already going over the details from the coroners' reports. What bothered him most was the location where the Nichols woman had been found. If the woman was murdered on the spot where the body was found, why was the neighborhood not aroused by her screams? Bucks Row was a street where respectable middle-class people lived. One side of it, anyway. The other side was bounded by a blank wall and a warehouse. The coroner who had inspected the body before it was removed had noted only a small amount of blood was discovered on the spot where he saw the body, and yet the gashes in the woman's abdomen had been considerable and deep. He believed the weapon had been either a sailor's jack knife, or like that a cork-cutter or shoemaker might employ.