The inquests into the deaths of the victims of Jack the Ripper were, to say the least, sensational affairs.
Gruesome facts and startling revelations were eagerly devoured by the newspaper journalists and regurgitated for their readers’ eager consumption.
Yet, some of the most startling revelations, at least with regards to the motives of the murderer, or murderers, were those proposed by the Coroner, Wynne Edwin Baxter, at the inquest into the death of Annie Chapman – whose murder had taken place in Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, on the 8th of September, 1888.
NO MEANINGLESS CUTS
The fact that her killer had removed and gone off with Annie Chapman’s womb, led Baxter to surmise in his summing up to the jury that:-
“…The injuries have been made by someone who had considerable anatomical skill and knowledge. There are no meaningless cuts. It was done by one who knew where to find what he wanted…The conclusion that the desire was to possess the missing part seems overwhelming.”
THE MYSTERIOUS AMERICAN
Baxter then went on to reveal that he had received a communication from an officer at “…one of our great medical schools, that they had information which might or might not have a distinct bearing on our enquiry…”
Baxter, so he told the jury, had duly met with the sub-curator of the Pathological Museum of the school and had been told of an American who, a few months previously, had approached him (the sub-curator) and had “…asked him to procure a number of specimens of the organ that was missing from the deceased.
He had stated his willingness to pay £20 for each, and explained that his object was to issue an actual specimen with each copy of a publication on which he was engaged.”
He went on to opine that the motive for the crimes may have been that some individual, eager to acquire the £20 per womb being offered by the mysterious American, may have carried out the murders with a view to obtaining the desired organs in order to enrich himself.
THE CORONER AND THE WHITECHAPEL MURDER
Baxter’s revelations caused a sensation in the press and had soon added a new twist to a mystery that was already rife with twists and turns.
However, the medical profession was quick to pour scorn on Baxter’s comments, and numerous articles and letters in and to the newspapers derided his theory.
One such letter appeared in The Pall Mall Gazette on Saturday, 29th September, 1888:-
Three weeks have now passed since Annie Chapman was discovered murdered and mutilated in a squalid back-court in Hanbury-street, and this, the last of a series of terrible outrages that have recently been perpetrated in Whitechapel, within a few hundred yards of each other, already promises to join the majority of undiscovered crimes of cruel London.
Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, the coroner before whom the case has been investigated, may certainly be congratulated on the fascinating and astounding theory he propounded on Wednesday in his charge to the jury, though he can scarcely be congratulated on his powers of logical sequence.
THE AMERICAN GENTLEMAN
According to Mr. Baxter, an American gentleman called some months back on the curator of the Pathological Museum, and having explained that he was publishing a medical work, with each copy of which he was desirous of issuing an actual specimen of the part treated therein, he offered the aforementioned official £20 for every such specimen he could procure for him.
Without wishing to appear frivolous, surely I may ask at what price a work whose “supplement” is to cost £20 is to be published at; and if the cost of production is expected to be covered by the publishing price, where a market is to be found for so costly a work?
NO LOOPHOLE FOR ESCAPE
But the most ingenious part of Mr. Baxter’s theory now follows.
According to him, a market for such specimens of the human frame having been found to exist, the hour brings forth the man, and a ruffian is found who, tempted by the reward, hastens to procure the object of the American gentleman’s desire.
Did it not strike the coroner that under the circumstances the murderer left himself no possible loophole for escape?
A work published with so unusual a “supplement” must at once attract considerable notice; and, considering the world-wide excitement caused by the late murders, would the author not be immediately called upon to account for every “specimen” in his possession, the dates on which procured, and every conceivable data relating to each?
WHY NOT A SECLUDED PLACE?
Had the murderer’s object been the one suggested by Mr. Baxter, would he not rather have inveigled his victim or victims into some secluded place, where his crime could have been committed without at once being detected, and therefore not only at once stopping his further depredations, but besides at once closing his market?
Why, again, should he in each case have so arranged the appalling details as specially to intensify the sensationalism of his crimes and so attract the notice of the entire civilized world to them?
THREE CRIMES IN THE SAME DISTRICT
Again, why within a few weeks commit three different crimes all almost precisely similar in their details, and all in precisely the same neighbourhood, instead, say, of committing one in Whitechapel, another in Bermondsey, and a third in Camberwell?
Does this not rather show that the murderer lives in and is acquainted with the locality where the murders were committed?
And yet Mr. Wynne E. Baxter remarks, “There is little doubt that the deceased (Annie Chapman) knew the place [the little back court where the murder was committed, one out of hundreds similar to it in the neighbourhood], for it was only three or four hundred yards from where she lodged. If so, it is quite unnecessary to assume that her companion had any such knowledge.”
May I ask Mr. Baxter which of the two had most need of security – the woman who entered the court for an immoral purpose, or the man who, according to him, deliberately entered it to commit a terrible murder followed by a long and delicate surgical operation.
REEKING OF BLOOD
But, again – which is even more astounding – Mr. Baxter asks us to believe that this human fiend, a comparative stranger, if not a total one, to the locality, at six o’clock on a light September morning, in a neighbourhood where at that hour half the inhabitants are up and hurrying to their work, quietly issues out of No. 29, Hanbury-street, “with a brown hat on his head and a dark coat on his back,” reeking with blood, with every proof of the crime about his person – a crime which he has not only taken no pains to conceal, but every detail of which he had prepared with almost fiendish ingenuity so as to create excitement, and with the knowledge that, within a very few hours, it must be the main topic of conversation throughout the town, – and walks carelessly to some distant spot through the now fairly crowded streets, unnoticed and unsuspected, and calmly remits, probably by parcel post, the desired specimen to his American patron.
Charles Ed, Jerningham