A Special Presentiment

On 6th October 1888 the East London Advertiser warned its readers that “If anything were wanted to heighten the horrors of these tragedies it was the introduction of the supernatural element.”

The newspapers warning was as as a direct consequence of certain bizarre revelations that had come to public attention thanks to the press reportage of the inquest into the murder of Elizabeth Stride.

Shortly after the news of Elizabeth Stride murder had begun circulating, a lady by the name of Mary Malcolm had come forward to say that she was convinced that the murdered woman was actually her sister Elizabeth Watts.

The police, who, thanks to their enquiries in the area, had already come to believe that the Berner Street victim was Elizabeth Stride, had little choice but to take Mrs Malcolm’s claims seriously, even though it is evident they didn’t believe her.

On the afternoon of 30TH September 1888, Mary Malcolm was taken to the mortuary and shown the body of the victim. On this occasion she failed to identify the deceased as her sister, excusing her inability on the grounds she had been asked to make the identification by gaslight. However, she was allowed to view the the body again the next day and, this time,  she positively identified her as her sister, albeit on the grounds of a black mark on the woman’s leg which she [Mary Malcolm] claimed was the result of an adder bite her sister had received when they were children.

Mrs Malcolm’s intervention was to delay a positive identification of the Berener Street victim by several weeks. But it was a sensational claim she made when she appeared at the inquest into the death of the Berner Street victim that led the East London Advertiser to warn its readers about a “supernatural element” entering the case.

As Mrs Malcolm began to give her testimony the Coroner questioned her about a “SPECIAL PRESENTIMENT” that she had received. She told the court that she had been lying in bed at around 1.20am on the previous Sunday when she felt a sudden pressure on her breast. This was followed by the sound of three distinct kisses in the air around her. She immediately, she said, sensed that something dreadful had happened to her sister.

When, later that day, she came to hear of the Berner Street murder, she became convinced that her sister’s spirit had come to her around the time that she was being murdered, and she duly contacted the police to tell them of her fears.

The East London Advertiser was most taken with Mary Malcolm’s story and told its readers that  “Since it is probable that her killer betrayed his victim Judas like with a kiss” this would account for the three kisses that Mrs Malcolm heard. The pressure on her breast, the newspaper continued, could be explained by the killer having steadied himself by placing his hand on his victims chest as he leant across to cut her throat. According to the newspaper, there were lots of similar reports of loved ones communicating telepathically with their nearest and dearest at times of great stress.

Over several days on the witness stand Mrs Malcolm went on to denigrate her sister’s character, accusing her of having given birth to an illegitimate child following an illicit affair with “some policeman or another” and even went so far as to suggest that her sister had been working as a prostitute in the East End of London.

Despite hostile questioning from the coroner, who, like the police, made it quite clear that he thought her story was nonsense, Mary Malcolm stuck to her story, until that is, on 23RD October 188, a Mrs Elizabeth Stokes, a Tottenham bricklayers wife, hobbled into the Coroners Court, revealed herself to be the former Elizabeth Watts, and denounced her sister for giving her such a bad character.

“Is Mrs Malcolm here?” asked the Coroner, angrily, as Mrs Stokes stood before him. “No Sir,” came Inspector Reid’s succinct reply.