8th September 1888 – The Murder of Annie Chapman

On Saturday September 8th 1888 The Daily News carried a (with hindsight) interesting report detailing the movements of a member of the Royal family, Prince Albert Edward Victor.

“Prince Albert Victor of Wales, who has been the guest of Viscount and Viscountess Downe at Danby Lodge, Grosmont, Yorkshire, during the last ten days, left yesterday, attended by Captain Fisher and accompanied by Viscount Downe, to rejoin his regiment, the 10th Royal Hussars, at York. The average bags during the six days’ shooting have been 300 brace, with a few snipes, golden plovers, and hares. The weather on the whole has been good, excepting Saturday last, when the rain prevented shooting. His Royal Highness thoroughly enjoyed himself during his stay. The party having the honour of meeting the Prince will separate this morning.”


Of course, what wasn’t even dreamt of at the time was the fact that one day, in the dim and distant future, the prince would find himself added to the ever-growing list of Jack the Ripper suspects. You can read an assessment of his viability here.


The early additions of the newspapers had gone to press before news began emerging from the East End of London that another murder had taken place. Consequently, the murder that was still being discussed was the murder of Mary Nichols from the previous week.


Images from the Illustrated Police News showing the murder and the aftermath.
The Illustrated Police News Reporting Mary Nichols Murder

The St James’s Budget, for example, was pushing the theme – as indeed were many other newspapers – that the murders could so easily have come straight out of the pages of horror fiction and was even comparing the crimes to the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe:-

“The horrible details of the murder that was committed so mysteriously in the Whitechapel road last week are as gruesome as anything in E. A. Poe’s tales of crime. It is surprising and not at all reassuring to know that a person may be murdered almost in daylight — for the body of the murdered woman was still warm when it was found at a quarter to four in the morning — in a densely populated district without anybody being the wiser until the murderer has got a good start. It is little more than three weeks since another woman was found murdered upon the steps of a lodging house in Whitechapel, and the police have altogether failed to discover the doer of that deed. It has been suggested that both crimes are the work of a homicidal lunatic, so utterly causeless and barbarous do they appear. At present they certainly do seem to have a good deal in common with those “Murders in the Rue Morgue” which were found to have been perpetrated by a gorilla.”


The blue plaque memeorial reading Mry Ann Nichols died 31st August 1888.
The Memorial To Many Ann Nichols City of London Cemetery

The East London Observer, meanwhile, informed its readers that the funeral of “Polly” Nichols had taken place two days previous on Thursday 6th September 1888 and, in so doing, inadvertently managed to mention the name of an East End thoroughfare that, by the end of that day, would become equally as fixed in local folklore as Buck’s Row had rapidly become over the previous seven days:-

“The funeral took place on Thursday, when the polished elm coffin, bearing the inscription, “Mary Ann Nichols, aged 42,” was deposited in a hearse supplied by Mr. H. Smith, of Hanbury-street, and driven to Ilford Cemetery, in company with two mourning coaches containing the father of the deceased and his grandson, together with two of the deceased’s children.

There was a very large number of spectators present, who evinced the greatest sympathy.”


But, by the time The Star hit the streets – on the evening of the 8th September 1888 – the rumours of a fresh atrocity in the streets of Whitechapel had been confirmed and, true to form, the newspaper attempted to leave its readers in no doubt as to the horror of what was happening right on their doorstep.

Its headline almost screamed at its readers:-


And then, so as to enforce the point that the people of London were facing an unprecedented reign of terror, the journalist presented them with a sub heading that would leave them in no doubt that the crimes were growing more audacious and more brutal. “A Woman is Found Murdered Under Circumstances Exceeding in Brutality the Three Other Whitechapel Crimes.” 


An image from Punch showing a knife-wielding ghoulish figure.
The Punch Cartoon The Nemesis of Neglect

The subsequent article – whilst, no doubt, capturing the feelings of many East Enders awaking to news of another killing on that Saturday morning – was determined to pump up the melodrama of the case and, seemingly, to scare the people faced with this latest news, witless:-

“London lies to-day under the spell of a great terror. A nameless reprobate – half beast, half man – is at large, who is daily gratifying his murderous instincts on the most miserable and defenceless classes of the community.

There can be no shadow of a doubt now that our original theory was correct, and that the Whitechapel murderer, who has now four, if not five, victims to his knife, is one man, and that man a murderous maniac.

There is another Williams in our midst. Hideous malice, deadly cunning, insatiable thirst for blood – all these are the marks of the mad homicide. The ghoul-like creature who stalks through the streets of London, stalking down his victim like a Pawnee Indian, is simply drunk with blood, and he will have more.

The question is, what are the people of London to do? Whitechapel is garrisoned with police and stocked with plain-clothes men. Nothing comes of it.

The police have not even a clue. They are in despair at their utter failure to get so much as a scent of the criminal.”


Since, so the article opined, the police were proving themselves totally inadequate at dealing with the challenge of catching the perpetrator, the people of East London had little choice but to take over the responsibility of policing the streets themselves and must immediately set about forming themselves into Vigilance Committees.

The article suggested that there should be one main committee that would oversee smaller units who would then be tasked with patrolling the streets at night.

The members should patrol in pairs and they should be given whistles in order to summon assistance should they, perchance, encounter the “man-monster.” The article also suggested that these amateur patrols should shadow the Whitechapel prostitutes, a prospect that may not have been particularly welcomed by the recipients of these good intentions as, several burly men in armed with whistles and rattles, could be guaranteed to drive away potential clients!

Not content with terrifying the people of East London into staying safely indoors at night the article also chose to widen its reach of sensationalism and warned the people of the as a whole that nobody should now consider themselves beyond the reach of the maniac:-


“We are not sure that every London district should not make some effort of the kind, for the murderer may choose a fresh quarter now that Whitechapel is being made too hot to hold him.”

Having taken the opportunity to have yet another dig at the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren, the article got round to presenting it readers with the known facts on this latest atrocity:-


A press illustration showing police officers at the scene of the murder of Annie Chapman.
A Press Illustration of the Annie Chapman Murder Scene

“The scene of this latest horror is Hanbury-street, hardly a stone’s throw from Osborne-street and Buck’s-row, where the two other victims were butchered. Indeed, through Hanbury-street on Thursday Mary Ann Nicholls’ terribly-mutilated body was carried on the way to its place of burial. The fourth victim to what must be a madman’s insatiable thirst for blood, is, like the other three, a poor defenceless walker of the streets. A companion identified her soon after she had been taken to the mortuary as “Dark Annie,” and as she came from the mortuary gate bitterly crying said between her tears, “I knowed her; I kissed her poor cold face.”

The newspaper then went on to say that the murder had, this time, taken place in the backyard of a house, number 29 Hanbury Street and that the mutilations, this time, were “in an even more ghastly manner than the woman Nichols” as in her case the throat had been cut and the body ripped opme whereas, in this latest atrocity the “horror was intensified by the fact that – THE HEART AND LIVER WERE OVER HER HEAD.”


The article also featured a “fact” about the state of the body which has been oft-repeated since but which, in fact,  was totally inaccurate:- “Her throat was cut open in a fearful manner, so deep, in fact, that the murderer, evidently THINKING THAT HE HAD SEVERED THE HEAD from the body, tied a handkerchief round it so as to keep it on…”

It was more than apparent, and not surprising,  that the district had been plunged into turmoil by this latest crime and all manner of rumours and speculation were circulating and being picked up on by the reporters.

A neighbour, it was said,  had, that very morning,  seen chalked graffiti on the door of number 29 warning the locals that  “This is the fourth, I will murder sixteen more and then give myself up,”  albeit it, as The Star pointed out there was no truth whatsoever in the statement.


A press illustration showing Annie Chapman before and after her murder.
Press Image of Annie Chapman

Such was the demand for news of this murder that Saturday that The Star went to press with a special late edition in which it was able to present its readers with the facts that were now emerging about the victim herself:-

“The woman’s name is Annie Chapman, alias Sieve. She comes from Windsor, and has friends residing at Vauxhall. Her home was a lodging-house at 35, Dorset-street, in Whitechapel. Her husband was a pensioner, who allowed her 10s. per week, but he died a twelvemonth ago, and, the pension ceasing, she has since earned her living in the streets. She lived for a time with a man named Sieve. She was identified at the mortuary at half-past seven this morning by Frederick Simmons, a young man living in the same house with her. She lay on an operating table exactly as she had been brought in, the hands of one of the constables being dyed with blood. Simmons identified her without difficulty, first by her handkerchief and then by her face…”


A photograph of the Ten Bells Pub as it is today.
The Ten Bells Pub

Mr W. E. Waldron, the landlord of the Ten Bells Pub – at the junction of Commercial Street and Church Street (now Fournier Street) – just a few streets over from Hanbury Street where the murder had been committed – told a reporter that one of his assistants had served a middle aged woman, who answered the description of the deceased, at 5am that morning. No sooner had she taken her first sip when a man wearing a “little skull cap… and no coat” had popped his head around the door and called for her, whereupon the woman had left the pub.

Although the veracity of this sighting could not be ascertained its fed into the Leather Apron rumours that were, largely as a result of The Star’s reporting, circulating in the area at the time.


Over on Hanbury Street, the residents had, apparently, found a lucrative sideline, courtesy of the notoriety and those who lived in the adjoining houses to number 29 had, “for several hours past” been charging spectators to look from their windows and view the spot where the murder had taken place. According to The Star,  “Several hundreds of people have availed themselves of this opportunity, though all that can be seen are a couple of packing cases from beneath which is the stain of a blood track.”


One can only guess at the feelings of trepidation with which many who lived in the area must have retired to bed on that Saturday night, the 8th September 1888.

No doubt many a local resident endured a sleepless night as they pondered the horror of the, seemingly, invisible maniac who was wandering their street carrying out gruesome murders – this latest in the backyard of a house where people like them were sleeping soundly in their beds – without any signs of fear.

And, somewhere in their midst, the so-called “man monster” was watching their fear and was planning his next atrocity. The autumn of terror was, if it were at all possible, soon to become even more terrifying.