Tag Archives: mary ann nichols

Historical Terror: Horror That Happened—London’s Murder Weapon

Detail from “In the Dark, In the Night” copyright © 2013 Alan M. Clark. Cover art for EAST END GIRLS by Rena Mason

Was Jack the Ripper a monster, larger than life, beyond our comprehension? From all that has been dramatized about the killer, one might think so. But no doubt the killer was merely a man, with the fears and frailties of an average human being.

If I could go through his pockets, I’ll bet I’d find that he carried common, everyday items that helped him maintain his physical and mental wellbeing in the world of Victorian London. If that’s true, it would tell me that although he was an extreme danger to society, he was subject to the physical and emotional trials we all go through in life.


“All that She’d Need” copyright © 2014 Alan M. Clark. Interior illustration for JACK THE RIPPER VICTIMS SERIES: THE DOUBLE EVENT by Alan M. Clark

The clothes we wear and the items we carry on our person say something about us. I wear shirts that button up the front. I never wear t-shirts. If asked why, I might say that I don’t think t-shirts are flattering to my middle-aged abdomen. I carry numerous keys because I want access to areas and items I lock up. One can easily deduce therefore that I’m doing more than most would to secure my stuff against theft, and that might say something about how many times I’ve been robbed. I slip my keys into a flexible glasses case before putting them in my pants because they chew holes in my pockets. I got tired of paying for new jeans just because the pockets were ruined, so it’s reasonable to assume I have been concerned about money during my life and learned to be frugal. I carry lip balm because I have the nervous habit of chewing my lips and making them chapped. What have I to be nervous about? That’s a good question. I carry a cloth handkerchief to wipe my nose instead of using paper tissues which might have something to do with my desire to preserve the natural world. For reasons I won’t reveal here, I carry a pocket knife and have no cell phone.

All these things say something about what I think and feel in my daily life, most of it of no consequence to anyone, but if I were a suspect or victim in a crime and the truth about me was important to discern, useful conclusions about who I am might come from considering these things.

Beyond the savagery of the Jack the Ripper killings, the murderer is perhaps most defined by his choice of victims; common, poor women who would have been forgotten in time if not for the compelling manner of their deaths.

With the idea that to know something of the women is to know something about the Ripper, I became interested in the possessions of the victims. The possessions of the murdered women, found at the crime scenes, provide a glimpse of their lives and speak volumes about the time in which the White Chapel Murderer lived. The people of 1888 London didn’t have the mp3 players and electronic tablets we have today. They didn’t have car keys, water enhancers, thumb drives, and anti-anxiety medications, but they did carry items useful to them in their time and circumstances.

Here are lists of the belongings of the first four victims of the Ripper as found at the crime scenes:

Mary Ann Nichols (Polly Nichols)nichols_beforeandafter_small

A black Straw bonnet trimmed with black velvet
A reddish brown ulster with large brass buttons.
A brown linsey frock
A white flannel chest cloth
A pair of black ribbed wool stockings
A wool petticoat stenciled with “Lambeth Workhouse”
A flannel petticoat stenciled with “Lambeth Workhouse”
Brown stays
Flannel drawers
A pair of men’s boots with the uppers cut and steel tips on the heels
A comb
A white pocket handkerchief
A broken piece of mirror (This would have been a valuable item for one living in the work house or common lodging)

Annie Chapmanannie_chapman_small

A long black, knee-length figured coat.
A black skirt
A Brown bodice
An Additional bodice
Two petticoats
A pair of lace up boots
A pair of red and white striped wool stockings
A neckerchief, with white with red border (folded into a triangle and tied about her neck)
A large empty pocket tied about the waist, worn under the skirt.
A scrap of muslin
A small tooth comb
A comb in a paper case
A scrap of envelope containing two pills.

Elizabeth Stridestride_beforeandafter_smallest

A Long black cloth jacket, trimmed with fur at the bottom
A red rose and white maiden hair fern pinned to the coat.
A black skirt
A black crepe bonnet
A checked neck scarf knotted on left side
A dark brown velveteen bodice
Two light serge petticoats
A white chemise
A pair of white stockings
A pair of spring sided boots
Two handkerchiefs
A thimble
A piece of wool wound around a card
A key for a padlock
A small piece of lead pencil
Six large and one small button
A comb
A broken piece of comb
A metal spoon
A hook (as from a dress)
A piece of muslin
One or two small pieces of paper
A packet of Cachous. (a pill used by smokers to sweeten breath)

Catherine Eddoweseddowes_beforeandafter_smallest

A black straw bonnet trimmed in green and black velvet with black beads
A black cloth jacket with trimmed around the collar and cuffs with imitation fur and around the pockets in black silk braid and fur.
A dark green chintz skirt with 3 flounces and brown button on waistband.
A man’s white vest.
A brown linsey bodice with a black velvet collar and brown buttons down front
A grey stuff petticoat
A very old green alpaca skirt
A very old ragged blue skirt with red flounces and a light twill lining
A white calico chemise
A pair of men’s lace up boots. (The right boot was repaired with red thread)
A piece of red gauze silk worn around the neck
A large white pocket handkerchief
A large white cotton handkerchief with red and white bird’s eye border
Two unbleached calico pockets with strings
A blue stripe bed ticking pocket
A pair of brown ribbed knee stockings, darned at the feet with white cotton
Two small blue bags made of bed ticking
Two short black clay pipes
A tin box containing tea
A tin box containing sugar
A tin matchbox, empty
Twelve pieces white rag, some slightly bloodstained
A piece coarse linen, white
A piece of blue and white shirting
A piece red flannel with pins and needles
Six pieces soap
A small tooth comb
A white handled table knife
A metal teaspoon
A red leather cigarette case with white metal fittings
A ball hemp
A piece of old white apron
Several buttons and a thimble
Mustard tin containing two pawn tickets
A Printed handbill
A printed card calling card
A Portion of a pair of spectacles
A single red mitten

I have not included the possessions of the Ripper’s fifth victim, Mary Jane Kelly, because she was killed in her own bed, in her abode, and her possessions were not provided by the police reports in the same way.

These lists speak to me of women who had little of material worth in the world. Not one of them had any money. During the period in which they lived, unemployment and severe poverty were widespread in London. Regardless of whether the Ripper’s victims had few opportunities to live better lives or were responsible in large part for their predicaments, their legacy is pitiful and poignant. Items such as the brown stays, the comb, and the packet of Cachous suggest vanity or at least the need to maintain appearances. The tin of sugar, the one of tea, and the black clay pipes speak of a desire for creature comforts. The bloodstained rags, the pieces of soap, tooth combs (toothbrushes) were aids to bodily functions. Those things that are part of a incomplete set, such as the single mitten, and the broken items, like the partial pair of spectacles and the piece of a comb, suggest that nothing could be wasted; that everything, even if seriously flawed or deficient was irreplaceable.

With little imagination, the lists speak of skills, preparedness, resourcefulness and even aspirations on the part of these women. The list of Catherine Eddowe’s garments and possessions conjures for me the image of a Victorian-era bag lady, wearing many layers of clothing and carrying too many items in her bags (the many pockets, most of which were probably hidden under her top skirt). The only thing missing is the shopping cart. We have limited information about Eddowes’s life, and most of it leaves out the emotional aspects of her existence. We can assume she didn’t set out to become a bag lady, to be homeless and poor.

swiftpassage_small_sepiaWhat events in her life led to her demise on the streets of London? How much of the way she lived was a result of the choices she made? What was beyond her control? Was she chosen randomly by her killer?

I became fascinated enough with the questions that I explored her life and presented possible answers in my historical fiction novel, Of Thimble and Threat, published by Lazy Fascist Press. Catherine Eddowes had led a hard life and was very ill at the relatively young age of forty-seven when she died. My impression is that her choices had something to do with securing her wellbeing and placing her at risk, but that much of her existence was beyond her control. A life of poverty in London was slowly killing her, and the final blow, London’s murder weapon so to speak, was Jack the Ripper.

Still fascinated with the environment of late Victorian London, I explored the life of Elizabeth Stride, the Ripper’s third victim, in fiction in Say Anything But Your Prayers, also released by Lazy Fascist Press. Having thus started a string of novels, I titled it Jack the Ripper Victims Series, and went on to write about his first victim, Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols in A Brutal Chill in August, which was released by Word Horde in August 2016.

ABrutalChillInAugust_coverI refer to the Ripper as male because of the name Jack, but of course we don’t know the gender of the killer. Although we can’t know much about the Whitechapel murderer, we have information that tells us something about him and offers a glimpse of the world in which he and his victims lived. We can surmise that he was in most ways as vulnerable as his victims in a dangerous, often merciless world, that he was no doubt as aware as they were of the need to maintain appearances and to achieve the highest social position possible in order to ensure survival in a swiftly changing environment, and that he probably understood that eventually disease and death would claim him without ceremony and that he would die, just like everyone else. Perhaps, as he considered these things, he was filled with a pitiable fear like that experienced by his victims.

Most of us spend much of life feeling confidently alive, solid and incorruptible, not thinking about our demise, our eventual loss of facility and faculty, our loss of awareness and identity and finally the decay of our flesh. Those of us who have not seen war or violent crime and disaster turn to face our demise slowly over many years as it dawns on us that we are just like those who have gone before us, that we all suffer and die. But to face that terror precipitously, to have the process demonstrated within moments, to be the playwright and director of that drama—that is what the Ripper experienced.


Crime scene photo of Mary Jane Kelly.

Could he identify with the women he’d murdered and feel their suffering? Having revealed to himself by his own cruel acts the heights of fear and pain and the terrifying frailty and ephemeral nature of flesh and awareness, was his dread of a particularly intense nature?

If his freedom or his life were never taken from him in answer to his crimes, did he at least suffer from the revelations of his own mortality? I would like to think that he did.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

About Alan M Clark ControlledAccidentAutoPortrait

Author and illustrator, Alan M. Clark grew up in Tennessee in a house full of bones and old medical books. His awards include the World Fantasy Award and four Chesley Awards. He is the author of seventeen books, including ten novels, a lavishly illustrated novella, four collections of fiction, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. Mr. Clark’s company, IFD Publishing, has released 44 titles of various editions, including traditional books, both paperback and hardcover, audio books, and ebooks by such authors as F. Paul Wilson, Elizabeth Engstrom, and Jeremy Robert Johnson. Alan M. Clark and his wife, Melody, live in Oregon. www.alanmclark.com

THE PEOPLE OF THE ABYSS Liveblog Part 1 by Alan M. Clark


Jack London (1876-1916)

In 1902, the year following the death of Queen Victoria , which of course ended the Victorian era, Jack London, disguised as one of the city’s poor, went to stay in the East End of London. He was there to get first hand experience of a place notorious for its crime, squalor, and increasing human degradation. At the time, London was the largest and wealthiest city in the world. His book, The People of the Abyss, a piece of investigative journalism, is his account of that experience.

The squalid conditions of the East End are enumerated in the Preface, painting a picture that provides me with eye-witness confirmation of much of what I’ve learned in researching the environment for my Jack the Ripper Victims series of novels, including A Brutal Chill in August, soon to be released by Word Horde in August. By 1902, fourteen years after the end of the JTR killings, the East End of London had become more dangerous, more densely packed with humanity than it had been in 1888.

In the first chapter, Jack London describes the difficulty he had in finding help in merely setting up his investigative endeavor. His friends, colleagues, and even those he tried to engage professionally wanted nothing to do with his effort for fear that he headed toward certain doom. Finally, he found a private investigator in the East End who agreed to vouch for him if his body were to turn up.  With that, Jack London bought second hand clothes of the ragged variety commonly worn by those in the area, and then disappeared into the East End.

At that point in his life, Jack London, born John Griffith Chaney, was a successful author. He’d done well selling his fiction to the growing magazine markets. For a quick biography of Jack London, try Wikipedia. Although an adventurous sort who’d been to sea, lived as a tramp, spent time in prison, been a laborer, and experienced his share of hardships in life, he currently wore nice clothing and could afford fine food and lodging.

He refered in the book to the difficulties Americans (I assume he means those identifiable as middle or upper class individuals) had visiting British and European cities without losing their shirts to the hordes who contrived assistance for the traveler and then expected gratuities for even the least effort. After shedding his finer clothes in favor of the common rags of the street, the unctuous bowing and scraping of the lower class and the poor, which of course was the vast majority of the population, ceased.

london_slumThe class system that still thrived in Europe, largely also existed in the United States, yet was tempered by the fact that we did not have a noble class, ruling aristocrats that earned their station merely by the accident of their birth. The gap between the haves and have-nots in both America and Great Britain was large, but no more so than in London. The Industrial revolution had led to large-scale unemployment, much the way the Tech Revolution has done in America and elsewhere today. During the bulk of the 19th century, the city of London, like large American cities at present, suffered from overcrowding and large numbers of unemployed and homeless. Those with little were careful not to displease the upper classes. Quite the contrary. The poor, referred to as “the unfortunate,” and the lower class, when in the presence of their “betters,” often effusively praised those of a higher class and pretended to defer to them in all things for fear of losing employment, reputation, or any other form of possible favor. Frequently, life, liberty, and access to shelter and sustenance depended on behaving that way.

Surely as one who had been a laborer of humble beginnings, Jack London knew quite well the social mechanisms involved, but the sudden contrast with merely changing his clothes—his costume so to speak—was so sharp-edged that he couldn’t help but take notice in his text.  Suddenly, the average person on the street was “real” with him.  He was treated as a regular guy, trusted with honesty and welcomed warmly into conversation and confidence. As downtrodden as many of the denizens of the East End were, they also had a hardy lust for life they willingly shared with one another.

Makes me wonder how many within the upper classes knew that such warmth and good feeling existed among common people—that sense of camaraderie within the struggle for existence—and if they knew, what they thought about it.

When I was still living in Nashville, Tennessee, where I grew up, I remember a middle-aged white fellow telling me that he’d gone to a church attended almost exclusively by black parishioners, and how surprised he was to see such a nice clean place, with all the people there happy and having a good time with one another. He probably didn’t realize that he sounded like a bigot to me.

Class barriers born of our strange need to stereotype still exist in the world today, ones meant to wall off the undesirable, having to do with anything from skin color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, to politics. Since the broader society often does not accept that such barriers should exist, silent conspiracies are required to build those walls.  They are more a product of personal opinion, less formalized and institutionalized than that of the class system of the Victorian period.

I do not know if the middle-aged fellow talking about the black church was a bigot. Perhaps he was just woefully ignorant. But I’d had such things said to me by people who looked me in the eye after speaking as if to carefully assess my reaction, I believe to determine if I was with them; to see if I thought the same way. I don’t tend to react well to people trying to make others into “Other.” I have seen some people respond positively to that sort of crap. When I do see that, I always feel a little dirty and have the sense that a silent conspiracy has just picked up a new member or that existing members have made themselves known to one another.

When Jack London stayed in the East End, the haves and have-nots were segregated—many public places didn’t allow access to those below a certain station. An establishment, like a tavern or inn, often had separate sections for classes to keep those of a higher station from suffering the proximity of those of a lower station. By saying, “suffering,” I’m being sarcastic for effect. Inevitably, the less fortunate and the poor had developed their own culture and shared little of it with the upper classes. Does that seem familiar? It’s a pattern of reaction that can be seen in numerous marginalized groups of minorities throughout the world. In the case of the London poor, though, they were in fact the majority.

I’m intrigued to read London’s honest words about it from so long ago.

Next post on Wednesday July 6, 2016 will deal with Chapter 2.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

Get a free ebook copy of The People of the Abyss from Project Gutenburg—available in various formats including Kindle and Epub, : http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1688

Preorder A Brutal Chill in August      A Brutal Chill in August by Alan M. Clark
Visit Alan M. Clark online: www.alanmclark.com

About Alan M Clark ControlledAccidentAutoPortrait

Author and illustrator Alan M. Clark grew up in Tennessee in a house full of bones and old medical books. His awards include the World Fantasy Award and four Chesley Awards. He is the author of seventeen books, including ten novels, a lavishly illustrated novella, four collections of fiction, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. Mr. Clark’s company, IFD Publishing, has released 44 titles of various editions, including traditional books, both paperback and hardcover, audio books, and ebooks by such authors as F. Paul Wilson, Elizabeth Engstrom, and Jeremy Robert Johnson. Alan M. Clark and his wife, Melody, live in Oregon. www.alanmclark.com


It was the proverbial dark and stormy night. Cold rain soaked London, lightning streaked a sky already lit orange by a pair of dock fires, and thunder rumbled menacingly. Despite the inclement weather, Polly Nichols, born Mary Ann Walker some forty-three years earlier, walked the streets of Whitechapel, hoping to earn enough to pay for that night’s lodging. Polly was pretty for a girl of the streets, looking a decade younger than her true age, with delicate features, frosted brown hair, and gray eyes. For the price of a large glass of gin, one could have Polly, if one were so inclined.

And gin was Polly’s vice. Her twenty-four year marriage to William Nichols–which had produced five children–had ended in 1881 over Polly’s drinking, and the next few years found Polly bouncing from home to home, including her father’s house, a cohabitation with a blacksmith named Thomas Dew, infirmaries, “sleeping rough,” and workhouses. In May 1888, Polly found a job as a live-in servant for Sarah and Samuel Cowdry, the Clerk of Works in the Police Department. In a letter to her father, Polly writes, “It is a grand place inside, with trees and gardens back and front. All has been newly done up. They are teetotalers and religious so I ought to get on. They are very nice people, and I have not too much to do.”

But the temptations of vice and drink prove too much for Polly, and in July 1888 she leaves the Cowdrys, stealing clothing valued at three pounds, ten shillings. Polly lives at one lodging house, then another, sharing rooms and paying her doss nightly. That evening of August 30 leading into the morning of August 31, 1888, Polly had already earned her keep and spent it on drink three times.

At two-thirty on the morning of August 31, Polly meets Emily Holland, a former roommate, who would later recall that Polly was “very drunk and staggered against the wall.” As they chat, church bells chime the half-hour. Polly staggers away, heading east along Whitechapel Road. Emily is the last friendly soul Polly meets.

At about three-forty, two men, Charles Cross and Robert Paul, discover Polly’s disheveled body while on their way to work. Her skirt is raised, exposing her. Cross is sure the woman is dead, but Paul believes Polly to be alive, breathing faintly. Paul rearranges Polly’s skirts to cover her and the two men seek a policeman.

Polly is discovered shortly thereafter by constable John Neil. He is soon joined by constables Thane and Mizen, the latter of which had been summoned by Cross and Paul. The policemen call Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn to the scene, and he pronounces Polly dead at 4:00. Time of death is estimated at 3:30.

Following the police inquest into Polly’s death, The Times reported: “There was a bruise running along the lower part of the jaw on the right side of the face. That might have been caused by a blow from a fist or pressure from a thumb. There was a circular bruise on the left side of the face which also might have been inflicted by the pressure of the fingers. On the left side of the neck, about 1in. below the jaw, there was an incision about 4in. in length, and ran from a point immediately below the ear. On the same side, but an inch below, and commencing about 1in. in front of it, was a circular incision, which terminated at a point about 3in. below the right jaw. That incision completely severed all the tissues down to the vertebrae. The large vessels of the neck on both sides were severed. The incision was about 8in. in length. The cuts must have been caused by a long-bladed knife, moderately sharp, and used with great violence.

“No blood was found on the breast, either of the body or the clothes. There were no injuries about the body until just about the lower part of the abdomen. Two or three inches from the left side was a wound running in a jagged manner. The wound was a very deep one, and the tissues were cut through. There were several incisions running across the abdomen. There were three or four similar cuts running downwards, on the right side, all of which had been caused by a knife which had been used violently and downwards. The injuries were from left to right and might have been done by a left-handed person. All the injuries had been caused by the same instrument.”

Rumors, compounded by the press, spread throughout Whitechapel, many blaming shoemaker John Pizer, a Polish Jew known as “Leather Apron.” Although there was scant evidence, Pizer was arrested and questioned, though he was released shortly after his alibi checked out. Pizer later sued at least one newspaper and won compensation over the paper’s libelous claims that he was the murderer.

As for the real murderer, Polly would not be his last victim. And soon, the world would know his name.

Tales of Jack the Ripper

This post is brought to you by Tales of Jack the Ripper, an anthology of seventeen stories and two poems examining the bloody legacy of the most famous serial murderer of all time. Ask for Tales of Jack the Ripper by name at a bookseller near you, or order the Saucy Jack Deluxe Pack from Word Horde.

Who Murdered Martha Tabram?

The night of August 6, 1888 in London’s Whitechapel district was dreadfully cold, windy, and rainy, so Martha Tabram spent the evening drinking at the Angel and Crown alongside her friend Pearly Poll and a pair of soldiers the two had met. Drink was a constant companion in Martha’s life; her husband Charles Tabram had left Martha over alcoholic fits in 1875, and her relationship with Henry Turner had just ended over money problems in July. So Martha and Poll got by amid the squalor and poverty by turning tricks in the world’s oldest profession.

At 11:45 that night, Martha and Poll left the pub with the soldiers, Poll taking one of the men up Angel Alley, Martha leading her soldier to George Yard, an alley off Whitechapel High Street. At about five in the morning on August 7, dockworker John Saunders Reeves discovered Martha’s body as he was leaving for work and called a neighbor, cab driver Albert George Crow, who had seen Martha’s body upon returning home from his shift at about 3:30 that morning, and dismissed it as just another sleeping vagrant.

The men called Dr. Timothy Robert Killeen to the scene. Dr. Killeen determined that Martha Tabram had been stabbed thirty-nine times with a short knife in the throat, lungs, heart, liver, spleen, stomach, abdomen, and genitals. Dr. Killeen estimated that Martha had been killed between 2:00 and 3:30 that morning. Residents denied hearing anything unusual. The police investigated, questioning an uncooperative Pearly Poll, but uncovered no solid leads. On August 23, an inquest into Martha’s death was held, and deputy coroner George Collier determined that she had been murdered by person or persons unknown.

On August 31, 1888, after another Whitechapel prostitute, Mary Ann Nichols, was killed, the London press began to draw connections between the two murders. Though the MO was different–Tabram had been stabbed with a short blade; Nichols’ throat and body were slashed with a long, sharp knife–could the same killer have been responsible for both women’s deaths? And was there a connection to the April 3 murder of yet another area prostitute, Emma Elizabeth Smith? Today, Nichols is considered the first canonical victim of Jack the Ripper, whereas Martha Tabram is largely forgotten, a footnote in a case that would grip the public’s imagination and inspire storytellers for the next 125 years.

Did Jack the Ripper murder Martha Tabram? The experts disagree. What do you think?

Tales of Jack the Ripper

This post is brought to you by Tales of Jack the Ripper, an anthology of seventeen stories and two poems examining the bloody legacy of the most famous serial murderer of all time. Ask for Tales of Jack the Ripper by name at a bookseller near you, or order the Saucy Jack Deluxe Pack from Word Horde.