The early Whitechapel murders – those of Emma Smith and Martha Tabram, took place over Bank Holiday periods in London.
Although there was quite a lot of press coverage – and outrage – over the murder of Emma Smith, it was with the murder of Martha Tabram, which took place on the 7th of August, 1888, that the newspapers began to report more extensively on the East End crimes.
BANK HOLIDAY 1887
However, venturing back to the previous year, it is intriguing to note that the newspapers all over the country picked up on the story of another mystery concerning a “supposed” fatal assault that had taken place on a train on the Great Eastern Railway, coming into London’s Fenchurch Street Station, on the August Bank Holiday, 1887.
The St James’s Gazette, carried the story of the attack in its edition of Saturday, 6th August 1887:-
SUPPOSED OUTRAGE AND MURDER ON THE RAILWAY
“This morning Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, coroner for Middlesex, issued a warrant for the holding of an inquest upon the body of a woman, whose name is supposed to be Susan Jay, who died at the London Hospital yesterday.
It stated that the woman was found lying in the four-foot way of the Great Eastern railway between Stratford and Coborn-road last Monday night.
GAVE HER NAME AND AGE
She was very much injured and in a comatose condition; but, upon being taken to the hospital, she rallied sufficiently to give her name and age.
SHE SAID SHE HAD BEEN ASSAULTED
When asked as to how she got upon the line, she stated that she had been insulted in the train and maltreated, but was not able to give any information as to whether she was thrown from the carriage or fell while endeavouring to escape from her assailant.
INQUEST ON MONDAY
The run from Stratford to Coborn-road is about two miles without stoppage, there being no intermediate station.
The inquest will be held on Monday.”
MYSTERIOUS DEATH ON THE GREAT EASTERN RAILWAY
On Friday, 12th August, 1887, The Essex County Chronicle carried a full report on the inquest into the death of Susan Jay.
Reading the report, I have to say, I can’t help but feel that Mr. James Piper, who, by his own admission, was in the carriage with the deceased woman, should have been investigated further.
The report read:-
A woman named Susan Jay, aged 43, was found lying in the four-foot way of the Great Eastern Railway between Stratford and Coburn-road on the night of the Bank Holiday.
She was very much injured, and in a comatose condition, but upon being taken to the London Hospital she rallied sufficiently to give her name and address.
When asked as to how she got upon the line, she stated that she had been insulted in the train and maltreated.
Every attention was shown her in the Hospital, but she succumbed to her injuries on Friday, without having given any further particulars.
THE INQUEST INTO HER DEATH
On Monday afternoon Mr. George Collier, the coroner for Middlesex, opened the inquiry at the London Hospital into the circumstances attending her death.
Dr. Thomas gave evidence as to the admission of the deceased into the Hospital, where she died; the only thing she said to witness was “Have you got the scamp?”
Mr. John Jay, of 45 Forest-lane, identified the body as that of his sister; she was the cashier to Messrs. Chard and Son, of Chilworth-street, Hyde-park, and came to visit him on Bank Holiday.
SHE WAS ON THE FOOTBOARD
Henry Cottrell, guard of the 7.33 train from Ilford to Fenchurch-street, said that, shortly after leaving Stratford on Monday last, he looked out of his break and saw the deceased standing upon the footboard.
He stopped the train and went to the carriage in question, which was empty, the door being open; the deceased had then disappeared, and was found lying in the footway, much injured.
She was sent at once to the London Hospital; he saw a man standing on the footway, who had, he believed, come from the carriage and had jumped down to her assistance when she fell.
THE MAN IN THE CARRIAGE
Mr. James Piper, of Church-street, West Ham, a butcher, deposed that he was an occupant of a first-class carriage on the train in question, and the deceased was in the same carriage.
Soon after leaving Stratford the deceased asked if the train went to Liverpool-street, and the witness replied in the negative, telling her that she was on the Fenchurch-street train, and, if she was going to the City, one train was as good as another, as the stations were close by.
She replied that she was going to Bayswater, and nothing further was said.
The witness was standing, leaning out of the window, and the deceased sat in the opposite corner of the carriage.
THE TRAIN STOPPED SUDDENLY
Suddenly he heard some shouting and he felt the train stopping, and, on looking round, he saw the deceased standing upon the footboard; he ran across the carriage to her assistance, but at that moment she fell, and when the train stopped he got down to her assistance.
Having given his name and address to a constable, he went away; there was no person in the carriage with him but the deceased.
The Coroner, in summing up, said that it was not at all probable that the deceased had been assaulted.
The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death”, and complimented Mr. Piper upon his action in the matter.”
WAS IT AN ACCIDENT?
The fact that the jury’s verdict was one of accidental death, meant that no further action was taken in the matter.
Yet, little attention appears to have given to Susan Jay’s claim that she had been “insulted” – i.e. assaulted – on the train.
The fact that John Piper was, as he stated, in the carriage with her on the journey would, of course, make him the main suspect in the matter, and there is the possibility that he had gotten away with murder.
Or was it, as he stated, simply a case that Susan Jay, simply falling from the train and, in so doing, sustaining fatal injuries?
What do you think happened on that long ago night?