White’s Row, in Spitalfields, was one of several densely populated thoroughfares that, like Dorset Street a little further along, ran off the busy Commercial Street.
Like Dorset Street, White’s Row contained a range of common lodging houses and, in one of these establishments, at number 8, White’s Row on the morning of Wednesday, 20th of March 1901, a woman was found dead in a bed that she had rented the previous evening, with a man of whom there was now no trace.
Unlike neighbouring Dorset Street, White’s Row still exists, albeit its character has changed a great deal since 1901.
THE SPITALFIELDS MYSTERY
The Ross Gazette carried a report on the inquest into her death, which had been held on the previous Friday, in its edition of Thursday, 28th March, 1901:-
“Mystery enshrouds a tragedy that has just been brought to light at a lodging-house in White’s-row, Spitalfields, the circumstances of which were investigated by the East London Coroner, Mr. Wynne Baxter, on Friday.
The deputy at the lodging-house at No. 8. White’s Row, Margaret Davis, on Wednesday morning found a woman, who entered with a man the previous evening, dead in the room she had occupied.
FOUL PLAY WAS SUSPECTED
Injuries on the head and body led to the supposition that there had been foul play.
Both the man and the woman were complete strangers to the deputy; the man left early in the morning; the identity of the woman, whose age is about thirty-eight, has so far not been established.
NO SOUNDS WERE HEARD
Mrs. Davis, the deputy, stated that the woman went to bed sober.
No sounds of quarrelling were heard in the night.
Other evidence showed that the woman was found lying face downwards on the bed.
HER CLOTHING WAS OLD
Her clothing was all old, the hat she wore bore the name of “H. Kistingbury and Son, 66. Chalk Fram Road,” and inside the left boot was written the word, “Woodland.”
Dr. Hume, of Hanbury-street, said that the cause of death was suffocation, due to the woman’s face being buried in the pillow.
There was a small incised wound behind the left ear. The face showed signs of pressure.
The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.”
THE MURDER OF ANNIE AUSTIN
The fact that the jury had returned a verdict of “accidental death” meant that the police didn’t launch a murder investigation, and the death of the unknown woman received scant coverage in the newspapers.
However, on Sunday, 25th May, 1901, Mary Annie Austin was murdered at a common lodging house in neighbouring Dorset Street and the police, according to the following article, which appeared in The Dundee Evening Post, on Wednesday, 29th May 1901, wondered if their might not be a link between the two mysteries:-
“The crime has recalled to the police the recent death of another woman at a lodging house in this locality, about which there was a good deal of mystery, and which was never satisfactorily cleared up.
Late one Saturday night, a month or two ago, a man and a woman applied for a cubicle for the night.
In the morning, some time after the doors had been opened, and a number of the inmates had left the house, the woman was found dead in bed, lying with her face buried in the pillow.
She had been suffocated; yet the man with whom she occupied the room, and who must have known that she was dead, was never found.
The police are inclined to believe that there is some connection between the two mysteries.”
So it would appear that, in the early days of the Annie Austin investigation at least, the police were inclining to the belief that the unknown woman had, in fact, been murdered at the common lodging house at 8 White’s Row, despite the Jury’s inquest verdict of “accidental death.”
However, when William Austin, Annie’s husband, was charged with her murder, the police appear to have abandoned their theory that there might be a link between the two cases and the death of the unknown woman, as well as the identity of the man who had joined her in the cubicle in the lodging house in White’s Row, were destined to remain a mystery.