In early August 1891 a lady by the name of Katherine Wohler was attacked in Whitechapel, and rumours began to circulate that the deed had been carried out by the same perpetrator who had carried out the Jack the Ripper atrocities of 1888.
But was she a victim of the same killer?
Since Jack the Ripper was never caught, it is impossible to say, with any degree of certainty, which of the Whitechapel murders was his final crime.
Indeed, it is, in fact, not beyond the bounds of possibility that the killer, whoever he – or they – was, continued murdering after February 1891, when Frances Coles became the last of the eleven victims whose names appear on the Whitechapel Murders file.
Certainly, scares about the ripper’s return continued, and random attacks that took place in the streets of the East End of London over the next few years were often attributed to the dread ripper, as is evident from the following newspaper report that appeared in the Portsmouth Evening News on the 3rd of August 1891:-
RELEASE OF THE SUSPECT
THE DYING WOMAN’S STORY
THE SUICIDE THEORY
WHAT THE DOCTORS SAY
“Further details have been obtained of the tragic occurrence in Whitechapel yesterday morning, but they throw little light upon the mystery.
Owing to rumours that were circulated in the neighbourhood, as soon as it became known that a woman had been attacked, it was at first believed that the crime was one of the series committed from time to time by an unknown hand in Whitechapel; but inquiries instituted yesterday clearly show that there is absolutely no ground for such a supposition. The police, who were the first to refute this assumption, nevertheless attach considerable importance to the occurrence.
Briefly, the circumstances that have come to light are these:-
The victim, whose full name is Katherine Gertrude Wohler, and who is stated to be about 70 years of age, is a German.
She had been living with her son at lodgings in cannon-street- road, a thoroughfare running from Commercial-road, at the Aldgate end, into Cable-street.
SHE WENT OUT FOR AIR
It appears that at about midnight on Thursday, Wohler, who is a widow, complained of feeling ill, and told her son that she thought a little fresh air before going to bed would do her good.
Thereupon she went out, and walked up Cannon-street-road towards Dellow-street.
Except, from her own statement at the hospital, what subsequently befell her is somewhat vague.
She stated that, on reaching Dellow-street School, a man, whom she had never seen, came up and seized hold of her by the arm, and, without uttering a syllable, cut her with a large knife on her left wrist and in her throat.
Her assailant, she said, then decamped.
A DESCRIPTION OF HER ATTACKER
How many times he struck her she was unable to say, but, on being asked for a description of the man, she stated that he appeared to be about thirty years of age, of medium height, and he had a full face with a black moustache and beard.
She was certain that he made no remark before striking her, and added that she was so frightened as to be unable to cry out.
HE HAD A KNIFE
She saw that he had a knife in his hand, but could not, owing to the darkness, describe the weapon.
According to her account, the man was wearing a short jacket and a black felt hat, and, to the best of her recollection, he made off in the direction of the Vestry Hall, Cable-street.
It was then that she fell, in an exhausted state, on a doorstep.
Several persons, she averred, passed by, and she called to them for assistance, but as she could only speak in German, they did not understand her appeals and passed on.
Here the woman’s narrative concluded, but the rest can be told in a very few words.
FOUND BY TWO MEN
Shortly after one o’clock two men who were proceeding up Cable-street came upon her prostrate figure, and, noticing that she was bleeding from a wound in the throat, went in search of a policeman.
Upon the arrival of the constable, the unhappy woman was at once conveyed in an ambulance to the London Hospital.
HER WOUNDS ATTENDED TO
Here she was attended to, and had her wounds dressed, by Mr. Edward Cecil Williams, one of the house surgeons, who found her suffering from a large clean-cut wound on the right side of her throat, and a less serious cut on the left.
There were also two large wounds on her right forearm – one just above the wrist, and the other over the elbow.
Seeing the condition of the woman, the house surgeon, at once communicated with the police, and about five o’clock, Mr. Mead, one of the Magistrates of the Themes Police-court, arrived upon the scene to take Mrs. Wohler’s depositions.
A MAN DID IT
So weak and faint from loss of blood was she at first that she was only able to articulate a few syllables, and she repeatedly exclaimed, “A man did it”, and other words to the same effect.
It was not till some few hours afterwards that she made the statement, the substance of which is given above, and which was interpreted by Emilie Schroter, one of the hospital nurses.
THE POLICE OFFICERS
The police officers present at this time were Inspector Quin, Detective-sergeant Thick, Sergeant Baker, and Detective Cumner.
These officers, who, together with Superintendent Arnold, have charge of the case, lost no time in instituting a searching investigation into the occurrence.
A POOL OF BLOOD AND A RAZOR
An unlooked for success crowned their early efforts, for, on searching the immediate neighbourhood, the police discovered at the corner of Dellow-street, a pool of blood, in the middle of which was an ordinary white-handled razor.
On inquiry it was found that Mrs. Wohler’s son had missed his razor, and it was, therefore, at first surmised that this was his.
As, however, the son stated that the missing razor had his name engraved upon it, and as the one in the possession of the police bore only the name of the maker, this supposition was not long entertained.
WAS IT ATTEMPTED SUICIDE?
It was stated that the son and the old woman’s daughter-in-law at first believed that Mrs. Wohler, who, they assert, is a little queer in the head, might have taken the razor with the view of attempting suicide. For some time past, it appears, she has suffered very bad health, and of late has complained a good deal of pains in her head.
A SUSPECT DETAINED
Early yesterday morning, what at first was held to be an important “detention” was made in the case of a man, apparently a sailor, who was found by a police-constable loitering in the vicinity of Commercial-road East.
When addressed by the constable, he spoke somewhat incoherently, and repeatedly affirmed that he “would commit suicide before the night was over.”
For this threat he was taken to the police-station in Arbour-square, Commercial-road, and it was here found that he had been drinking heavily, and was only then recovering from the effects.
Oddly enough, the description of her assailant subsequently given by the woman Wohler in the hospital tallied in many respects with the appearance of this man, and he was accordingly detained, “pending inquiries.”
In the course of the day, some of the detective officers engaged in the case advanced the theory that no assault of any kind had been committed on the woman, and that she herself had endeavoured to take her life.
The reasons that led them to this conclusion were – in the first place, the statement made by Mrs. Wohler’s relations respecting her condition; and secondly the fact that the blood discovered in Dellow-street was all in one pool, and that there were no indications of any struggle having taken peace.
MEDICAL OPINION DISAGREED
On the other hand, medical opinion is strongly opposed to this theory, and the surgeon who dressed the woman’s wounds stated that, although it was conceivable that they were self-inflicted, yet that possibility was very remote, as, in that case, the woman would, of necessity, have to be left-handed.
Whether that is so cannot, of course, as yet, be ascertained, but Mr. Williams seemed pretty confident that the theory of suicide was an erroneous one.
He added that, though speaking with considerable difficulty, owing to the wound in her throat, the injured woman gave a clear and coherent account of what had taken place.
He declined to express any opinion as to whether the razor found by the police was such a one as could have caused the wounds inflicted.
Owing to her extreme age, it is not anticipated that the unhappy woman will recover from her injuries, though it is probable she may linger two or three days.
THE SUSPECT DISCHARGED
Last night it was announced that the police at Arbour-square had discharged the man taken into custody for the attack on Mrs. Wohler, as they regard his explanation as satisfactory.
The patient is still in a critical condition at the London Hospital.
LONDON SATURDAY AFTERNOON
The woman Wohler, who was taken yesterday to the London Hospital at Whitechapel, suffering from a severe wound to the throat, is better today, and is now likely to recover.
The police visited the Hospital this morning, but the Press Association is informed that the woman has made no further statement, and the manner in which she came by her injury is still a matter of doubt.”
STILL A MYSTERY
On the 1oth August 1891, The Pall Mall Gazette, provided its readers with a case update:-
“The old woman Mrs. Katherine Gertrude Wohler, who was found with her throat cut in Cable-street, St George’s, on Thursday night, still remains in a critical condition, although she is fairly cheerful.
She still adheres to her statement that the injuries were inflicted by a strange man, the truthfulness of which is certainly supported by the house surgeon, under whose care she remains, who is of the opinion that they could not have been self-inflicted.
Considering Mrs Wohler’s age, and the serious nature of the wound in the throat, it is believed that ultimate recovery is almost an impossibility.
The razor which was found in a pool of blood, and which was at first thought to have been the property of her son, has not been identified, consequently the affair remains as much a mystery as when first discovered.”
WAS IT THE RIPPER?
The ultimate fate of Katherine Wohler is unclear, since the newspapers appear to have lost interest in the case after the August updates.
It is interesting to note that the police were quick to dismiss the “attack” as an attempt at suicide, and that the doctor who was treating her appears to have disagreed with this.
The crime – if crime it was – is unlikely to have been the work of Jack the Ripper, although the case certainly falls into the category of unsolved murders in Whitechapel.