Mysterious Tragedy In Whitechapel

On the 7th August 1888, the people of Whitechapel and Spitalfields awoke to news that a mysterious murder had taken place in George Yard, a nondescript turning off Whitechapel High Street.

Earlier that day a man leaving his home in George Yard Buildings, an apartment block at the north-west end of the alleyway, had found the body of a woman lying on one of the landings of the building.

A selection of newspaper headlines form 7th August 1888.
Newspaper Headlines 7th August, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Since the morning papers had gone to press before news of the murder broke, it was the evening papers of that day that carried the first reports of the killing, albeit the coverage on the day itself was decidedly intermittent.

The Nottingham Evening Post ran the story under the headline:-


The accompanying article contained a brief outline of the known facts about the crime:-

“About ten minutes to five o’clock this morning,the body of a woman was found on the first floor landing at 37, George Yard-buildings, Whitechapel.

Medical aid was summoned, and it was then found that the woman had been brutally murdered, there being knife wounds on the breast, stomach, and abdomen.

She was about 35 to 40 years of age, and unknown to the locality.

No disturbance was heard, and there is the utmost mystery surrounding the woman’s death.”

A view of George Yard Buildings
George Yard Buildings


The Hull Daily Mail carried the same article, word for word, which had obviously been generated by a press agency, albeit they chose to go with a slightly more dramatic headline, and seemed to have already linked the George Yard atrocity to the murder of Emma Smith, which had taken place in the April of that year.

“BRUTAL MURDER OF A WOMAN”, screamed their headline, before following it with the less lurid sub heading –  “ANOTHER LONDON MYSTERY.”

A man finds the body of the George Yard victim.
Finding The Body Of The Victim


The Globe newspaper went into a little more detail than many of its contemporaries, and even went so far as to discuss the police officer who had been tasked with investigating the mysterious crime:-

“About 10 minutes to five o’clock this morning, Johnn Reeves, who lives at 37, George Yard-buildings, Whitechapel, was coming down stairs to go to work, when he discovered the body of a woman lying in a pool of blood on the first floor landing.

Reeves at once called in Constable 26 H Barrett, who was on beat in the vicinity of George-yard, and Dr. Keeling [it was actually Dr. Kileen], of Brick-lane, was communicated with and promptly arrived. He immediately made an examination of the woman, and pronounced life extinct, and gave it as his opinion that she had been brutally murdered, there being knife wounds on her breast and abdomen.

The body, which was that of a woman apparently between 35 and 40 years of age, about 5ft. 3in. in height, complexion and hair dark, wore a dark green skirt, a brown petticoat, a long black jacket, and a black bonnet.

The woman is unknown to any of the occupants of the tenements on the landing on which the deceased was found, and no disturbance of any kind was heard during the night.

The circumstances of the tragedy are, therefore, mysterious, and the body, which up to the time of writing had not been identified, has been removed to the Whitechapel mortuary.

Inspector Elliston, of the Commercial-street Police-station, has placed the case in the hands of Inspector Reid, of the Criminal Investigation Department, and that officer is now instituting inquiries.

Up to this afternoon no clue of any kind had come to the knowledge of the Commercial-street Police authorities.”

A sketch portrait of Inspector Reid.
Inspector Reid.


Interestingly, the London newspapers, such as The Evening News and The Evening Standard chose not to run the story that day, possibly because the previous day had been a bank holiday Monday and they were catching up with the news that had come in over the weekend.

It is also possible that, on first hearing of the murder, they believed it to be just another crime in an area that was renowned for acts of violence and villainy, and so they decided not to give it the priority that they would later give the Jack the Ripper murder spree when it got well and truly underway in three to four weeks time.

As far as they were concerned, the – at that time unknown, woman, – whose body had been found lying on a first floor landing in George Yard buildings was just another victim of the violence that had become endemic in the districts of Whitechapel and Spitalfields; and, no doubt, they believed that she, like Emma Smith several months before her, would become a forgotten victim of East End crime.


If that is what they believed, then they were about to receive a horrible and shocking wake up call.

Because, as the unidentified woman’s body was being removed to the local mortuary, somewhere in the area, an unknown man, may well have been plotting a crime spree that, within a few short weeks, would bring terror and panic to the residents of the area and would make the districts of Whitechapel and Spitalfields infamous throughout the World.