Had you lived in the East End of London in 1888 then this morning you would have been waking up to the news that the Whitechapel Murderer had struck again.
At 6am on 8th September 1888 John Davis, an elderly resident of 29 Hanbury Street, came down the stairs of the house, turned back along the narrow passageway and opened the back door. He was confronted by a sight that sent him staggering back, before turning to race out into the street where he called for several labourers to follow him back into the house.
Looking into the yard the men saw that the body of a woman was lying on the ground between the steps and the fence. She was covered in blood and her hands were turned palms up towards the upper section of her body as though, in the words of one of the men, she had “been struggling [and] had fought for her throat.”
Having taken in the horror of what they beheld, the men raced off to raise the alarm and, very, soon Inspector Joseph Chandler, from nearby Commercial Street Police Station, had arrived at the house where he ordered the area to be cleared of the sightseers who were beginning to congregate around the scene of the latest murder.
He then sent for the Divisional Police Surgeon, Dr. George Bagster Phillips. Once the medic had pronounced life extinct, the woman’s body was taken from the scene to the nearby Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary where a further examination later that day revealed the fact that the killer had taken a trophy from his victim and had cut out and gone off with her womb.
This later led Bagster Phillips to suggest that the reason for her murder may well have been so that her killer could obtain this particular part of her anatomy. Furthermore, he suggested, the speed with which the killer had removed the womb, and the skill displayed in doing so, suggested that he may well have possessed some anatomical knowledge.
This began a debate that is still running today. Did Jack the Ripper show any degree of medical knowledge? This question came to dominate the subsequent inquest into the murder of Annie Chapman, the second victim of Jack the Ripper.