A New Whitechapel Mystery

Whilst combing the newspaper archives for articles concerning the Whitechapel Murders, I came across two very intriguing articles that appeared in The Leeds Times and The Illustrated Police News on Saturday 15th October 1892.

The article in The Leeds Times was headlined:-


It carried a subtitle that informed readers that three skeletons had been found in Flower and Dean Street, Spitalfields.

Workmen at the scene where the skeletons were found in Flower and Dean Street.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday October 15th 1892. Copyright, The British Library Board.

Given that Flower and Dean Street was at the very heart of the Jack the Ripper saga, it must have chilled the blood of those who read that stark headline, and, at the same time, conjured up vivid recollections of the horrors of the 1888 killing spree.

However, as it transpired, the “find” did not spell a return of the ripper, but rather opened a mystery that the authorities – some might say “yet again” – were unable to solve!

The article read;-

“In Flower and Dean-street, Spitalfields, on Thursday night of last week, at a spot 30 feet from the pavement, and some at 6 or 7 feet, from the surface, the men excavating for the foundations of a boundary came across an almost perfect skeleton, which, however, owing to the darkness, was considerably damaged before the importance of the find was recognised.

There were no signs of any coffin or receptacle in which it might have lain, and when the workmen were satisfied of this they ceased operations for the night.


Next morning, however, when the excavations were carried deeper, they discovered a box which, on investigation, was found to contain two more skeletons.

They were in an almost perfect state of preservation, and placed side by side, but with their positions reversed.


The coffin – for it was coffin shaped, although of extraordinary dimensions – was of deal, but so long had it been in its present position that, when it was unearthed, the action of the air caused it to fall to pieces.

The police from Commercial-street took charge of the remains, but did not remove them from the estate.”


On the same day The Illustrated Police News treated its readers to a bit more information about the coffin and the skeletons:-

“The dimensions of the coffin were as follows:- 5 feet  6 inches by 2 feet 8 inches wide, with the orthodox “shoulders.”

It was at first surmised that the skeleton found alone had been interred with the others, but the height of the receptacle precluded this, and the stratum of earth between the two “finds” would point to interments at different periods.

In each ease only the bare skeleton remained.


The skull of the uppermost was battered in, but it is uncertain whether this was caused by the pick of the workmen – as might naturally be the case  – or was due to foul play.

It had a low, receding forehead, and the teeth were in perfect preservation.

This latter fact is supposed to indicate that the deceased was the victim of foul play, or met with a sudden death, as in the case of illness, the enamel being affected early decay is the result.

The two other skeletons possessed no distinguishing features, but it was found impossible to get them out intact.

The teeth from the three skulls have disappeared, having been appropriated by the workmen as mementos of the discovery.”


Reporting on the outcome of the inquest, The Leeds Times had this to say:-

“The inquest was held on Tuesday on the skeletons.

A medical witness could not define a cause of death, and was of opinion that the bones had been in the ground from 75 to 100 years.

An open verdict was returned.”