Monday, 9 February 2015

The Whitechapel Murders: Casefile One

by Sian Latham


Casefile One
Victim: Mary Ann Nicholls
Date of Death: 31st August, 1888
Age: 43 (appeared to be in early 30’s)


Suspect: Montague John Druitt
Mary Ann Nicholls was found on Bucks Row, at 3:45 am, still alive. However, by the time the doctor arrived on the scene, she had died. The body had an 8 inch incision running across the neck, having severed both large vessels in the neck. Other than bruising to the face, the body also bared mutilation to the abdomen in the form of jagged incisions; all performed using the same weapon: a moderately sharp blade.

The murder had been committed between the times of 3:15 (at which time a policeman had walked Bucks Row) and 3:45, when the body was discovered. She was found outside the house of a woman who slept very lightly, who was only woken by the sound of the police arriving at the scene. No one was seen fleeing the scene, nor was anything heard but the amount of blood present suggests that the murder was committed where the body was found. The lighting in the street was very poor; a single oil lamp.

Nicholls had been married for 24 years, had five children, and had spent the three years previous to her death bouncing around Victorian workhouses and had ended up working as a common prostitute. She appeared to have been well liked by people who knew her but was an alcoholic so, as on the night of her murder, spent her earning on alcohol rather than lodgings.
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Suspect: Montague John Druitt
Suspected by: Melville Macnaghten (Chief Constable of Scotland Yard)
Age at time of murders: 31 (thought to be 41 by Macnaghten)
Occupation: barrister and part time assistant schoolmaster 


Druitt was favoured by many Ripperologists as the murderer for many years due to the timing of his suicide and that he was believed to have accurate anatomical knowledge of the human body. If Druitt was the murderer, then his death would explain why the murders suddenly stopped after the last victim. Macnaghten, in his notes, also wrote that the family themselves suspected that Druitt was the famed murderer and his dismissal from his role at the school on the 30th of December, seemed to suggest a change or turn in character.


However, Druitt wasn’t trained in medicine as Macnaghten had believed: several family members were. The ruling of the suicide being committed in an unsound state of mind by the jury led Macnaghten to claim that it was guilt over the murders that has caused this state of mind. This seems to contrast with the knowledge that, after the fifth murder, Druitt had been continuing to pursue his career as a barrister for another three weeks.It seems more likely the suicide was committed due to his dismissal.  

Finally, the claim that his family members doubted his innocence seems to be have been no more than hearsay, gossip, than actual communicated beliefs from the family directly. He was also discredited as a suspect by Inspector Abberline.
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Prostitution and Whitechapel:

At the time of the murders, prostitution was a legal act, as long as the prostitutes did not solicit people in public. There was also a tougher stance taken on brothels; thus many women were losing protection from the law and were forced into dangerous situations and rough living. However, when action was taken by police, brothel owners were merely cautioned and would then simply move to another premise. When Sir Charles Warren became the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, he changed the police policy to containment rather than repression. In the end, as proving women had been soliciting was difficult and such cases could reflect badly on the reputations of a policeman, the police just ignored the prostitutes. As a result, by 1888, London streets were full of prostitutes and little attention was paid to them when they disappeared into dark corners and alleyways with strangers.

Whitechapel, during the murders, earnt a reputation of a horrifically dangerous and violent slum in London. Though there were areas of such remark, most of Whitechapel was not any worse than other poor areas of London at the time, even areas in the City of London were not altogether dissimilar. However the media exaggerated the area in order to produce a shocking article to entice the reader and activists wanting better living conditions also emphasised the poverty in order to try and trigger social reform.
   





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