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A Mystery Within a Mystery?

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  • A Mystery Within a Mystery?

    Hi all,

    Does anyone think, like me, that earlier on the night that Poll Nichols was murdered another assault/murder took place close to Buck’s Row? I've come across little bits of info that just don’t quite gel with the rest of the Poll story.

    First off there is Mrs Colville’s story.

    Evening Standard (London) 1 September 1888

    Buck's row runs through from Thomas street to Brady street, and in the latter street what appeared to be blood stains were early in the morning found at irregular distances on the footpaths on each side of the street. Occasionally a larger splash was visible, and from the way in which the marks were scattered it seems as though the person carrying the mutilated body had hesitated where to deposit his ghastly burden, and had gone from one side of the road to the other, until the obscurity of Buck's row afforded the shelter sought for. The street had been crossed twice within the space of about 120 yards. The point at which the stains were first visible is in front of the gateway to Honey's mews, in Brady street, about 150 yards from the point where Buck's row commences.

    Several persons living in Brady street state that early in the morning they heard screams, but this is by no means an uncommon incident in the neighbourhood; and with one exception nobody seems to have paid any particular attention to what was probably the death struggle of an unfortunate woman. The exception was a Mrs. Colville, who lives only a short distance from the foot of Buck's row. According to her statement she was awakened early in the morning by her children, who said someone was trying to get into the house. She listened and heard a woman screaming "Murder! police!" five or six times. The voice faded away as though the was going in the direction of Buck's row, and all was quiet. She only heard the steps of one person.

    Or this:


    Charlotte Colville, who lives about the middle of Brady-street, made the following statement to our representative on Friday night :- I am 11 years of age, and sleep with my mother. Early this (Friday) morning, before it was light, I heard terrible cries of "Murder! Murder! Police! Police! Murder!" They seemed a good way down Brady-street to the right, where the marks of bloody hands are. Then the sounds came up the street towards our house, and I heard a scuffling and a bumping against our shutters. I got out of bed and woke my mother. The woman kept on calling out "Murder! Police!" and the sounds went on in the direction of Buck's-row, where the body was found. I am sure the first sounds seemed to come from where the blood-stains of hands are on the wall.
    Mrs. Colville said that her little girl woke her, and she heard the woman's cries, but the rows go on every night, and people are constantly being knocked down and robbed by the fearful gangs about. It would not be safe for anyone to get out of their beds to go and interfere. People have done so, and only been terribly ill-treated.

    The above report was backed up by this:


    1 September 1888 The people living in Brady-street were thrown into a state of excitement on the terrible news spreading. Brady-street is a long thoroughfare that runs to the left from the bottom of Buck's-row. Early on Friday morning fresh blood stains were observed for quite a distance along the side walks. There would be drop after drop two or three feet, and sometimes six feet apart for a distance, and then a larger pool or splash. As soon as the murder became known a lively interest was taken in these blood-stains, and they began to be traced. They were soon found to be on both sides of the street, and it was afterwards seen that the bleeding person had travelled or been carried in a zig-zag line. The trail was easily followed down Brady-street for 150 yards to Honey's-mews. In front of the gateway there was a large stain, looking as if the bleeding person had fallen against the wall and lain there. From here to the foot of Buck's-row, in which the body was found, the trail of blood was clearly marked. It was wet on Friday morning, and at noon, although the sun had dried it, and there had been many feet passing over it, it was still plainly discernible. The zig-zag direction it took crossing and re-crossing the street was and is a matter of mystery. In the space of a hundred yards the woman crossed the narrow street twice, and whenever she crossed a larger stain of blood in place of the drops indicated that she had stopped.
    Our representative discovered, however, on making inquiries the same night, that at a house near where the blood spots were, a man, early on the morning of the tragedy, had made a murderous assault on his wife and cut her throat. She was carried to the London hospital, and it is very probable some blood dripped from her.

    I’m sure that a murderer did not drag/carry Polly from Brady St to Buck’s Row, but the rest of the story seems to indicate that something did happen earlier that night (and with an all too familiar response, - ‘Several persons living in Brady street state that early in the morning they heard screams, but this is by no means an uncommon incident in the neighbourhood.’

    I’m sure that I have read somewhere that police did respond, and the bloodstains dropped from the ambulance used to take the victim either to hospital or the mortuary. Unfortunately, in my dotage, I can’t remember where I did see this.

    At one point I did think that the last part of the above report referred to Henry Hummerstone’s attempted murder of his wife, but this took place after the event as his statement – ‘I’m going to do a Buck’s Row job on you’ shows. So at this point I am back to my original hypothesis.

    However, as further support for this, I found this news report in my files.

    East London Observer Saturday, 1 September 1888.
    A Woman Murdered in Buck's Row.
    Latest Particulars.
    While the George-yard horror in all its sickening and revolting details is still before the minds of the people of Whitechapel, there has just been acted in the same district another tragedy, which bids fair not only to equal that of George-yard, for the horrible manner in which the victim has met her death, but also for the mystery which seems to surround the manner in which she was murdered, and, indeed her whole history.
    It seems that on Friday morning Police-constable Neale [Neil], 97 J, was on his beat at about half-past four, in the neighbourhood of Buck's-row. It was then just after half-past four, and, in the early light of day he discovered lying on the pavement just outside the high brick wall which surrounds the Essex Wharf, the form of a woman. She was lying on her back, with hands that were tightly clenched, and presenting altogether the appearance of one who had died in the greatest agony. She was wearing a little black straw bonnet, battered almost out of recognition, and placed at the back of her head. Around her was a cloak - a threadbare garment that had once been red, but was now a dull, dirty colour. It was open in front, and the black bodice of her dress was thrown slightly open, revealing a horrible gash more than an inch in diameter, extending from one ear to the other, and completely severing the windpipe, which protruded from the deep wound. Constable Neale at once called for assistance, and with the help of some scavengers who were cleaning the roads at the time, managed to carry the body to the mortuary, which is situated in the Pavilion Yard close by. Mr. Edmunds, the keeper of the mortuary, was in attendance, and assisted by the officer and the scavengers, undressed the poor creature and placed her in one of the black coffins lying about the mortuary.
    In the Dead-House.
    The news of the terrible tragedy spread like wild-fire amongst the inhabitants of Buck's-row and the neighbourhood, who, filled with morbid curiosity, surrounded Eagle-place, the entrance by which the body was taken into the dead-house. The Whitechapel Mortuary is a little brick building situated to the right of the large yard used by the Board of Works for the storage of their material. Accompanied by Mr. Edmunds, the keeper, our reporter visited the temporary resting place of the victim on Friday morning. The first evidence seen of the tragedy on arriving in the yard was a bundle of what were little more than rags, of which the woman had been divested, and which were lying on the flagstones just outside the mortuary. They consisted of a dull red cloak already mentioned, together with a dark bodice and brown skirt, a check flannel petticoat which bore the mark of the Lambeth Workhouse, a pair of dark stockings, and an old pair of dilapidated-looking spring-side boots, together with the little and sadly battered black straw bonnet, minus either ribbons or trimmings. Contrary to anticipation, beyond the flannel petticoat, and with the exception of a few bloodstains on the cloak, the other clothing was scarcely marked. The petticoat, however, was completely saturated with blood, and altogether presented a sickening spectacle. Entering the deadhouse, with its rows of black coffins, the keeper turned to the one immediately to the right of the door, and lying parallel with the wall. Opening the lid, he exposed the face of the poor victim. The features were apparently those of a woman of about thirty or thirty-five years, whose hair was still dark. The features were small and delicate, the cheek-bones high, the eyes grey, and the partly opened mouth disclosed a set of teeth which were a little discoloured. The expression on the face was a deeply painful one, and was evidently the result of an agonizing death. The gash across the neck was situated very slightly above the breastbone; it was at least six inches in length, over an inch in width, and was clean cut. The hands were still tightly clenched. The lower portion of the body, however, presented the most sickening spectacle of all. Commencing from the lower portion of the abdomen, a terrible gash extended nearly as far as the diaphragm - a gash from which the bowels protruded. There were no rings upon the fingers, and no distinguishing marks either about the face or the body.
    The body, with the exception of the face was covered with a white sheet and a blanket.
    Who is the Victim?
    Inspector Helson, of Leman-street, had called earlier, and had taken a description of the woman, together with a list of the articles of clothing. On finding the Lambeth Workhouse mark, he immediately proceeded there, but, up to the time of going to Press, he had not gleaned any authoritative information regarding the identity of the woman. She was unknown either to Police-constable Neale, or any of the officials, as a frequenter of the neighbourhood, and altogether the identity like that of the victim of the George-yard tragedy, seems likely for a time to be shrouded in mystery. Several people who were waiting outside the mortuary claimed to have had friends or acquaintances missing, but when put to the test, the descriptions failed to tally with that of the murdered woman.
    Who was the Murderer?
    There is absolutely no room for doubt that the woman has been the victim of a foul crime. It might have been within the bounds of possibility for a woman to have inflicted the wound across the throat, but the terrible abdominal wound could never have been self-inflicted. Moreover, the wound in the throat, which was evidently the first inflicted, was quite sufficient of itself to have caused almost immediate death. But, while there is, as we have said, but little doubt as to the woman having been murdered, there seems to be but little motive for the murder. Robbery was certainly not the motive, for the victim appears to have been in extreme poverty. Like poor Martha Tabram, of George-yard, then, the poor "unknown" appears to have been the victim of some fiend. Indeed, the inhabitants of Buck's-row, among whom the murder was the sole topic of conversation on Friday morning, go so far as to assert that the very similar manner in which both the victims have met their death - both in the dead of night, both with wounds of a most revolting character, and both without any apparent motive - point to the murderer of Martha Tabram having been the murderer also of the poor unknown of Buck's-row. Near the scene of the murder are the Essex Wharf and several private houses, mostly inhabited by the poorer classes, who have either come home very late at night, or have to go out very early in the morning, and yet nobody appears to have been aware of having heard any screaming or other sounds likely to fix the time at which the tragedy was perpetrated - probably judging from the appearance of the dead woman at the time she was found, about two or three o'clock on the Friday morning. The probability is that although the victim did scream, yet, so used are the inhabitants there to drunken brawls and cries of "Murder," that they took no notice of it, and that the murderer, whoever he is, thus escaped undetected.
    Mr. Banks, the coroner's officer, viewed the body early on Friday and communicated the particulars to Mr. George Collier, the coroner, who will probably hold the inquest some time to-day (Saturday).

    A more minute examination of the body shows the height of the victim to be five feet two inches. The hands are bruised and bear evidence of having engaged in a severe struggle. There is the impression of a ring having been worn on one of the deceased's fingers, but there is nothing to show that it had been wrenched from her in a struggle. Some of the teeth appear to have been knocked out, and the face is bruised on both cheeks, and slightly discoloured. People living near the scene of the murder all concur in saying that they heard no screaming at about the time of the murder. Mrs. Purkiss, who lives in Essex Wharf, states that although she was suffering from extreme nervousness, and failed to sleep during the night, yet she heard nothing to attract her attention.
    The wounds seem to have been inflicted with a large pocket knife.

    I have highlighted the parts I find curious. First, I don’t think I have seen any other reference to Mr Edmunds with regard to Polly’s murder, and secondly the reference to Mr Banks who was to report to Mr George Collier. Could this be because they were dealing with two separate murders?

    Of course there could be a simple answer to this conundrum, it’s the fevered imaginings of my addled brain! There again it might be a case of muddled reporting – mixing two incidents into one – which wouldn’t be the first time in newspaper reports of the day.

    But anyways, any thoughts any one?

    "From Hull, Hell and Halifax, Good Lord deliver us."

  • #2
    I've come across these stories before but have no explanation Dave

    Bob Hinton in "From Hell..." appears to link one of these reports with the murder of Martha Tabram...

    New York Times September 1st

    "London Aug. 31. A strangely horrible murder took place at Whitechapel this morning. The victim was a woman who, at 3 o'clock was knocked down by some man unknown and attacked with a knife. She attempted to escape and ran a hundred yards, her cries for help being heard by several persons in adjacent houses. No attention was paid to her cries however, and when found at daybreak she was lying dead in another street, several hundred yards from the scene of the attack..."


    • #3
      Hi Nemo,

      Thanks for your reply.
      I must confess to being confused by this. The East London Observer report certainly seems to be a complete mish mash. However, George Collier was at this time conducting the Cubitt Town murder inquest, which was too far away from Brady St to be the one.

      Collier was the Coroner at Martha Turners inquest, but I find it a bit of a stretch that the two cases could be so mixed up as they are in this report. Is this a case of a news agency report being doctored by a local reporter, who didn't actually go to the mortuary?

      Reading the report that you posted, I still see two incidents conflated into one, an incident at around 1am viz the Colville story and Polly's murder three hours later.

      I just wish I could find something about an earlier attack. Back to Gales and different search parameters I guess.

      Anyway all the best,
      "From Hull, Hell and Halifax, Good Lord deliver us."


      • #4
        Back in January 2015, David Barrat posted a thread on the Casebook entitled: The Curious Case of Mrs. Colville.

        I don't think the following report taken from the Belfast Morning News has been posted on a Ripper site before. Alan Sharp had spoken of it in his book back in 2005.

        Buck's row, where the body was found, is a narrow passage running out of Thomas-street, and contains a dozen houses of very low class. When Police constable Neil discovered the body he roused people living in the house immediately opposite where the body was found, but none of them had heard any sounds of struggle. Several persons living on Brady-street state that early in the morning they heard screams, but this is by no means an uncommon incident in the neighbourhood, and with one exception nobody seems to have paid any particular attention to what was probably the death struggle of an unfortunate woman. The exception was a Mrs. Colville, who lives only a short distance from the foot of Buck's-row. She says she was awakened in the morning by a woman screaming "Murder! police!" five or six times. The voice faded away as though the woman was going in the direction of Buck's-row, and all was quiet. She only heard the steps of one person. Inspector (Helson) has, however since stated that neither blood-stains nor wheel marks were found to indicate that the body had been deposited where found, and himself and Inspector Abberline had come to the conclusion that it was committed on the spot.