Sunday 2nd September 1888

Since the 2nd of September fell on a Sunday in 1888, only a handful of newspapers hit the newsstands to report on the latest revelations concerning the murder of Mary Nichols, whose body had been found in Buck’s Row, Whitechapel, in the early hours of the 31st of August, 1888.

A slection of the newspaper headlines from the 2nd of September 1888.
The newspaper headlines from Sunday 2nd September, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Reynolds’s Newspaper reported how, on the body’s been taken to the mortuary, a more minute examination than that which had been carried out at the scene of the crime had revealed that “the actual wounds were too horrible to describe, or even hint at.” The newspaper also quoted an unnamed Criminal Investigation officer who had remarked that, “The injuries are such that they could only have been inflicted by a madman.”

The article also commented that, “The police officers and the whole of the available detective force in the East-end are making a search for the slightest possible clue to the tragedy.”

PC Neil shines his lamp onto the prone form of Mary Nichols.
Police Constable Neil Finds The Body Of Mary Nichols.


The newspaper went on to report that, in the opinion of the majority of the police officers investigating the case, “several of the undiscovered crimes of a hideous character, have been inflicted by one person, who they think is a madman.”

Indeed the article consistently referred to the perpetrator as a madman, maniac or other similar terms.


One point that the author of the article could not comprehend was the fact that the murderer had inflicted wounds on the body post mortem.

“A feature incomprehensible to the medical man and the police engaged on the case, and one to be accounted for by classing her murderer as a maniac, is the fact that the wounds in the woman’s throat were alone sufficient to cause death.

Yet, there were various injuries to her body, which could only have been perpetrated for purposes of mutilation.

It is this which makes the police think that the deceased was the victim of a criminal who has, while suffering from some special form of madness, been wandering about London and committing crimes of a mysterious nature.”


Interestingly, the article disagreed with reports, that had been appearing over the previous few days, that a local gang had carried out this latest brutal atrocity.

It also reported on the type of weapon that the police and medical practitioners seem to have believed was used to carry out the mutilations:-

“The ferocious character of the wounds certainly justify the belief that the poor woman was attacked by a maniac. They could not have been inflicted by the victim, nor are they likely to have been the work of several hands. With regard to the weapon used, the current belief is that the murder must have been carried out with a butcher’s knife.”


It is also apparent that the general consensus was that this murder was the work of the same person who had carried out the previous murders of Martha Tabram and Emma Smith:-

“This is the third murder of a woman that has taken place in Whitechapel within twelve months. In each case the victim was put to death by stabs or cuts, and when found was either dead or so near to death as to be incapable of giving any clue as to who it was that had attacked her.”


The article then went on to quote the doctor who had been called to the scene of the crime immediately after the body had been discovered:-

“Dr. Ralph Llewellyn, who was called to see the murdered woman, said that the injuries on the throat were not clean cut, but jagged, which showed that there must have been great force used. He did not think the weapon used was a razor. It was most likely a knife of a large description.

He observed, “I have never seen so horrible a case, She was ripped open, just as you see a dead calf at a butcher’s shop. The murder was done my someone very handy with the knife.”

An image of Dr Rees Llewellyn
Dr Rees Ralph Llewellyn


It also seems that, by Saturday 1st September, 1888, Inspector Frederick George Abberline had been recalled to the streets of Whitechapel in order to take overall charge of the police investigation into the murder of Mary Nichols, since the article made specific mention of him:-

“Yesterday afternoon, when the inquest was adjourned, Inspector Abberline had a private consultation with Mr. Wynne Baxter, the coroner, respecting the evidence to be adduced tomorrow (Monday) when the inquiry is to be resumed.

An image of Inspector Abberline.
Inspector Frederick George Abberline


It also transpired that a Whitechapel coffee stall proprietor had witnessed an altercation between a man and a woman in the early hours of the morning on which the murder had occurred. He was, therefore, taken to the mortuary to see if he could identify Mary Nichols as the woman who had been involved in the argument:-

“John Morgan, a coffee-stall keeper, has visited the mortuary, but he failed to identify the murdered woman as the one who had some words with a man at his stall early on the morning on which the crime was committed.”


Having suggested earlier that the murder had been carried out by a lone “maniac” the article ended by contradicting its previous assertion that the crime could not have been the work of “several hands” by stating that:-

“The police are, it is asserted, in possession of a clue to the effect that, at the present time, there exists in London an organisation bent on murder, and to this gang certain of the mysterious and undiscovered crimes of the metropolis, for some time past, are said to be due.”


What is more than apparent is that both the police and the newspaper reporters had no clue as to the identity of the person, or persons, who had carried out the Buck’s Row atrocity.

As can be gleaned from the above article, opinion was alternating between the lone maniac theory and the local gang theory.

What all who had witnessed the horrific injuries that had been inflicted on poor Mary Nichols were certain of, however, was that nothing like this had ever been seen in the area – or, for that matter, in the country at large – before.

What they did not realise was that the Whitechapel Murderer was only just getting started and that, within a week, another crime, even more horrible than the Buck’s Row tragedy, would occur in the district.