On 21st November 1888, with the East End still reeling from the shock of the murder of Mary Kelly – which had taken place earlier in the month – news broke of another attack on a woman by the name of Annie Farmer, which caused the press to ponder if Jack the Ripper had struck again.
ATTEMPT TO MURDER A WOMAN
In its issue of the 21st November 1888, the St James’s Gazette provided its readers with a brief synopsis of the facts as they were known on the day.
THE LONDON TRAGEDIES
ANOTHER WOMAN ATTACKED IN WHITECHAPEL
The next day (22nd November 1888) The Dundee Courier and Argus published a more detailed article on what had happened:-
“The state of public feeling in the East End of London was shown in a striking manner yesterday.
About ten o’clock a man in a common lodging house in George Street, not far from the scene of the last murder, attempted to cut the throat of a woman, in whose company he had been for some hours previously.
Only a slight wound was inflicted, and the woman was able to scream out an alarm.
Instantly the whole neighbourhood was aroused.
Thousands upon thousands of men and women streamed into the main thoroughfares from the by lanes and streets, and for hours the ordinary traffic was carried on with the greatest difficulty and danger.
Right up to last evening the people remained in a state of excitement amounting almost to panic, for few doubted that the attempted murder was the work of the Whitechapel fiend, popularly known as “Jack the Ripper.”
Upon the facts of the case there does not seem much reason for the popular belief, and it is certainly not entertained by the police authorities.
WHAT WAS KNOWN
All that is known with absolute certainty, however, is that an elderly prostitute, named Annie Farmer, got a man in the streets early yesterday morning, and went with him into several “early” public houses, where they had drink. The man did not take much liquor, but the woman partook so freely of hot rum that she became intoxicated.
The couple went to the common lodging house at number 19 George Street, and engaged a double bedroom, or rather a boarded-in compartment, containing a large sized bed.
Nothing more was heard of them until about 9:30 when the man was heard to run upstairs, and presently the woman was heard following him and screaming out that he had tried to murder her.
THE MAN RAN OFF
As soon he reached the street the man set off at a smart run, and a number of men, attracted by the woman’s screaming, went in pursuit of him.
Strange to say, however, although the streets were thronged with people, no one ventured to stop the fugitive, and after a chase of three or four hundred yards he completely disappeared, and has not since been heard of.
TAKEN TO THE POLICE STATION
The inmates of the lodging house, seeing that the woman, Farmer, was bleeding from a wound in the throat, took her back to bed, and sent for the police and a doctor.
The first medical man to arrive was Dr Phillips, Police Surgeon, who soon announced that the wound in the throat was little more than superficial. An ambulance was sent for, and, as soon the wound had been properly dressed, the woman was conveyed to Commercial Street Police Station for examination.
The woman was covered up, and it could not be seen whether the police were carrying a live person or a corpse. This, of course, added to the popular excitement and strengthened the belief that another horrible murder and mutilation had been committed.
Commercial Street was in consequence completely blocked, and the police had great difficulty in reaching their destination.
THE WOMAN CONFUSED THROUGH DRINK
On arriving at the Police Station, Farmer was placed in a warm, comfortable room, and interrogated.
She was suffering, however, from the effects of drink and was in such a stupid condition that neither a coherent narrative, nor a satisfactory description of her assailant, could be extracted from her.
It was not, indeed, until the evening that the woman had sufficiently recovered from her debauch to answer questions with anything like clearness, and the description which she gave of the attempt on her life and the appearance of the would-be murderer was somewhat confusing.
It seems certain, however, that the man was not a stranger to her, and that she had known him as a casual acquaintance for about twelve months.
This, together with the evidence of some of the men who pursued the fugitive, has furnished the police with a clue, which it is hoped they will follow to a successful issue.
A DESCRIPTION OF THE PERPETRATOR
The description of Farmer’s assailant, as circulated by the police, is as follows:-
“Wanted for attempted murder on the 21st inst. A man, aged 36 years; height, 5 feet 6 inches; complexion, dark, no whiskers, dark moustache; dress, black jacket and trousers, round black felt hat; respectable appearance; can be identified.”
The Central News has had an interview with Esther Hall, who lives in the house in George Street, Spitalfields, where the attempted murder was committed.
She said:- “yesterday morning, about half past nine or a quarter to ten o’clock, a cry of murder was raised. I went up to the room where the murder was attempted. The woman was lying undressed on the bed, and blood was flowing from two wounds in her throat.
I went up to her and asked her if she was able to get up? She said “Yes”, and I asked her, “Shall I help you to dress?” She said, “Yes, please,” and I placed her clothes round her and wrapped a sheet round her throat.
I asked her how it happened, and she said she was just dropping off to sleep when she felt her throat was being cut. She called out “Oh, my throat,” and the man she had gone to bed with bolted.
She stated that he had not undressed at all, and that, previous to going to bed, they had been drinking at a public house in Brick Lane.
The woman was able to walk downstairs, and got into the stretcher, and was taken to the Police Station, where she was attended to. She had two wounds in her throat – one across the throat and one underneath it, which was straight down and met the other.”
Great excitement was caused in the East End, and throughout the Metropolis generally, yesterday by the attempted murder of a woman in the district of the recent tragedies.
The crime was committed within three minutes walk of Dorset Street, the scene of the last murder, and by coincidence the victim of the George Yard murder [Martha Tabram] lodged at the same house, and the woman murdered in Osborne Street [Emma Smith] lived next door.
The circumstances, therefore, gave colour to the theory that the man was the individual known as “Jack the Ripper”.
A MARRIED WOMAN OF GOOD APPEARANCE
The woman who was the victim of yesterday’s outrage was named Annie Farmer.
She is stated to be a married woman of good appearance, and about 34 years of age.
A woman, who stated she had some knowledge of the circumstances, said the injured woman – who is also known as “Matilda” – has been in the habit of lodging in common lodging houses in the locality, and had known the man who attacked her for about 12 months.
About 7 o’clock yesterday morning she met him near Spitalfields church, and she stated that she was not able to pay for a bed.
The man thereupon accompanied her to 19 George Street, a street running from Flower and Dean Street to Thrawl Street.
About half-past nine the man hurriedly left the house and, almost immediately, the woman came downstairs with her throat cut and bleeding profusely.
It appears that, when the man attempted to cut her throat, a struggle ensued, and she was able to give the alarm.
Her assailant then fled, and was observed to leave the house hurriedly; but the man who saw him attached no importance to the circumstance.
Others, however, who heard the alarm, followed, but lost him in the direction of Heneage Street.
The woman says she can identify him.
A SUPERFICIAL WOUND
Farmer was taken away by the police to the Police Station on a stretcher, and that gave rise to a statement that she had been murdered; but it appears that the wound, although it bled freely, is only superficial, and no danger is apprehended.
A large force of Detectives were immediately drafted to the district, and were prosecuting enquiries throughout yesterday, but up to last evening the man had not been arrested, although, from the accurate description which is in possession of the police, it is thought that his apprehension will not be long delayed.
NOT JACK THE RIPPER
Several statements have been made to the authorities, but they do not accord with the description of the man who was supposed to have committed the series of murders.
The general opinion, as well as that of the police, is that the author of yesterday’s outrage is not the murderer in the previous cases.
Great excitement, however, prevails in the locality, although apparently the outrage was the result of a common quarrel.
Up till 9 o’clock last evening the police had not succeeded in finding Annie Farmer’s assailant, and no arrests were made, even on suspicion, although a large number of detectives were in the streets all day.
About 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon, the woman Farmer was removed from Commercial Street Police Station and conveyed to the Whitechapel Infirmary in Baker’s Row, where she will remain for the present.
THE PRESS NOT WELCOME
The object of this removal was primarily to place the woman beyond the reach of the reporters, against whom the police are curiously incensed.
All the officials at the Infirmary have been solemnly warned against allowing any person to see the woman, and to give no information whatever respecting her.
This warning was even extended to the medical staff of the Infirmary, with the result that when a Central News reporter called upon Dr Herbert Larder, Chief Medical Officer, last evening, that gentleman declined to give information, except as to the condition of his patient.
Dr Larder stated that the wounds were not dangerous in themselves, and that, should no unforeseen complications arise, the woman would be convalescent in from ten to fourteen days. The throat was cut in two places, one wound being across the other up and down, but the latter cut is merely superficial.
Great excitement continued to prevail in the neighbourhood up till a late hour last night.
A HAWKER’S STATEMENT
A hawker named Philip Harris, who was sleeping in the lodging house on Tuesday night where the woman was attacked, made the following statement to a representative of the Central News last night:-
“I don’t know anything about the woman, but I am told that she came into the lodging house with a man at 4 o’clock this morning.
About 9:30 I was sitting in the kitchen, with eight or nine other men, when the woman came downstairs and, opening the staircase door, called out “He’s done it.”
I looked round and saw her standing in the doorway, with blood trickling down her neck. I did not hear any screams, and until the woman looked into the kitchen had no idea that anything was the matter.
We all jumped up and rushed out into the street, the woman saying the man had run away.
Outside was a man with a cart delivering coal. We asked him if he had seen anybody run out, and he pointed to a man who was running round the corner of the street into Thretfall Street, saying, “There he goes.”
We gave chase, but could not catch up, and we soon lost sight of him.
A policeman called, and the woman was taken to Commercial Street Police Station. She was not bleeding very much.
We all thought at the time that it was Jack the Ripper who had done it.””
WAS SHE SHIELDING HER ATTACKER?
Despite assurance in the newspapers that an arrest in the case was imminent, the police made little progress in hunting down the man responsible for the attack on Annie Farmer.
But, in this case, it appears that the lack of progress wasn’t due to the attacker’s ability to evade capture but was, rather, as a result of his victim being reluctant to actually identify him.
By the end of November 1888, the police appear to have concluded that there was little more they could do, and that Annie Farmer wasn’t telling them the full story.
According to an article in the Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser, which appeared on 28th November 1888:-
“As regards the assault upon Annie Farmer in a common lodging house at George-street, Flower and Dean Street, by a man who afterwards made his escape, nothing further of him has been seen, and the police are inclined to believe that the affair was only an ordinary brawl, and that the woman is acquainted with the man who assailed her, but will not give information that will lead to his detection.”
And thus, the case of the attack on Annie Farmer faded from the public consciousness as the police refocused their manpower on hunting down the man responsible for the earlier killings, leaving Annie to become little more than a footnote in the Jack the Ripper crimes.