A Lively Scene

Emma Elizabeth Smith, the first Whitechapel Murders victim, was attacked in the early hours of Tuesday, 3rd April, 1888.

We actually know very little about her past. According to police officer Walter Dew, she had abandoned her family some ten years before her murder. He also went on to say that, “she walked the streets of Whitechapel” meaning that, as far as he knew, she was a prostitute.

At the inquest into her death, Mary Russell, the deputy-keeper at the lodging house in George Street, Spitalfields at which Emma had resided spoke of her drunkenness and observed that when she had had a drink, Emma “acted like a mad woman.”

It seems inevitable that, during her time walking the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields, Emma would have, at some stage, come to the attention of the police officers who patrolled the district by night.

In September, 1881, an “Emma Smith” does appear in the newspapers in connection with an appearance she made at the Thames Police Court for soliciting on the streets of the neighbourhood in the early hours of the morning.

Obviously, it is impossible to say, with any degree of certainty, that the Emma Smith mentioned in the article, was the same Emma Smith who was murdered in April, 1888, but the similarities between the two women are so close as to suggest that it “might” be the same woman. Emma would have been thirty-eight, in 1881, so one does have to ask the question, would a journalist observer think of someone of 38 as a “young woman”?

But, that aside, the behaviour of the Emma Smith who appeared at The Thames Police Court in September, 1881, is so close to the way that Emma Elizabeth Smith was known to behave that it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that we are catching a glimpse of a Whitechapel Murder victim seven years before the year of Jack the Ripper.


“At the Thames Police Court, Emma Smith, a young lady belonging to the demi-monde, was charged with being drunk and disorderly.

A constable of the H Division said that at about one o’clock that morning, he was on duty in the Commercial Road, when his attention was drawn to the prisoner by a gentleman – who complained of her molesting him.


The witness, therefore, watched her for a little while, and then he saw her accost several men who were walking quietly along the road. The men turned from her, as if they did not want anything to do with her, but she caught hold of their arms and walked by the side of them for some little distance. One of the men pushed her away, on which she ran up and caught hold of his arm again in such a way as to tear the button off his coat.

Witness then went to her and cautioned her that, if he saw her interfere with any more persons, he should take her into custody.

A short time afterwards he saw the defendant try to stop some more men, and he then went up and apprehended her.


On the way to the station, she made use of language that was of the most horrible description, much too bad to be repeated in court.

Mr. Chance:- “Now, what do you have to say to this, prisoner?”

Defendant:- “Your Worship, that man (pointing to the constable) has perjured himself. He has spoken not one word of truth. Me use bad language? Why, I wouldn’t do such a thing. I was standing quietly in the road, when he came up and interfered with me. I never spoke a word to anybody.

Another police constable was then called, and, having been sworn, he fully bore out the first constable’s evidence.


At this point, a disturbance was heard in the body of the court, and a female was observed to be endeavouring to force her way past the warrant officer at the door to get to the witness box. he attempted to bar her progress, but she “went for” him in such a determined manner that he gave up the contest, and he then allowed her to pass.

On gaining the box, she shook her fist at the defendant, and, in an excited tone of voice, exclaimed, “Your Worship, I want a summons against that base creature there!”

The two women fighting in court.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 17th September, 1881. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Prisoner:- “Who are you calling a creature? You had better be careful.”

Applicant:- “Don’t you talk to me, you nasty, false hussy. She struck me, my lord, and abused me mot shameful when I was in Ladylakes Grove, and she pulled out my hair, as you may see (at this point the applicant produced a parcel of hair large enough to make a wig). She used me cruel she did.”

Prisoner:- “I struck you? What a lie. I wouldn’t touch you with a pair of tongs.”

Here, both ladies proceeded to go at it in fine style, each of them using the choicest vernacular, and creating a most uproarious din.

When things had calmed down, Mr. Chance fined the prisoner five shillings, or five days in default, and he granted the other woman a summons for the alleged assault, and thus got rid of both parties pro tem.”