The Death of Frances Hancock

Towards the end of October, 1888, with the whole of London alert to the possibility that Jack the Ripper might strike again at any moment, a woman by the name of Frances Annie Hancock went missing.

Her body was found in the River Thames, off Wapping, on Friday the 9th of November, which was the same day that the body of Mary Kelly was found in her room in Miller’s Court, off Dorset Street.

Consequently, the death of Frances Hancock was somewhat overshadowed by the latest Jack the Ripper atrocity, and not many newspapers gave it any mention.

The South Wales Daily News, in its edition of  Wednesday 14th November 1888, was one of the exceptions:-

ANOTHER LONDON MYSTERY

SENSATIONAL DISCLOSURES ANTICIPATED

It transpired on Tuesday that a waterman recovered from the Thames at Wapping last Friday the well-dressed body of a woman.

Subsequent enquiries have elicited the fact that the deceased was Frances Annie Hancock, who had been missing since October 21, on which day she was seen walking in the Strand with a tall, fair man. She was then wearing a gold necklace, which was missing when the body was found.

It appears she lived at Brixton, and was supported by a man unknown – believed to be possessed of means.

INQUEST ADJOURNED

At the coroner’s inquest, evidence of identification was taken, and owing to the mysterious nature of the case, and apprehension that the deceased may have suffered death by foul means, the coroner adjourned the inquiry for a post-mortem examination to be made, and to give the police further opportunity for inquiry into the facts of the case.

It is stated the deceased formerly had relations with a gentleman of distinction, and that sensational disclosures may be anticipated.

A THAMES MYSTERY

The East Kent Gazette, on Saturday 24th November 1888, gave coverage to the resumed inquest:-

Mr Baxter resumed the inquiry on Monday at the Vestry Hall High-street Shadwell into the circumstances attending the death of Florence Annie Hancock, aged 26, lately residing in Pulross-street Brixton, whose body found in the Thames Thames off Wapping on the 9th inst.

A photograph of Coroner Baxter.
Coroner Wynne Edwin Baxter

THE HUSBAND’S EVIDENCE

George Hancock, a carpenter, on a photograph of the deceased being handed to him, identified it as that of his wife who left him two years ago.

He had not seen her since she left him.

ALICE LAND’S TESTIMONY

Alice Land stated that she was a servant in the employ of the deceased.

On October the 22nd, the deceased left the house saying that she was going to meet a friend at Liverpool-street.

She recalled that the friend referred to used to call at the house once a week generally on the evening.

He called last on the Thursday before the deceased went missing, and again last Monday.

The witness did not become alarmed when her mistress did not return as she thought she had perhaps gone for a holiday.

MR. PAIN CALLS

When Mr. Pain called last Monday he asked for for “Florrie.”

When told that she was missing he said:- “I shall be at Liverpool Station on Wednesday, meet me there and tell me all about it.”

Witness met him, and told him that the deceased had been found drowned in the river.

He seemed much upset.

BEATRICE WILLIAMS’ EVIDENCE

Beatrice Williams widow said that she identified the photographs as those of a friend of hers.

On Monday the 22nd of October the witness met her Charing-cross had a drink with her in the Northumberland.

They were there at 25 minutes to twelve, when the witness left to catch the train.

The deceased was then in the company of strange gentleman.

She had had a little drink, but she knew what she doing. She was a girl of a most lively disposition, and she would not be likely to commit suicide.

SHE HAD HAD WORDS

When the witness left her she had a small gold chain which was attached to her brooch round her neck.

Early in the evening the deceased told the witness that she had seen her friend, who allowed her £5 a week, and that she had had a few words him, but she said, “I received my money just the same.”

The deceased had some money, and she asked the witness to go home her, but she refused

The chain produced was not the one the deceased had round her neck when the witness left her.

The gentleman the deceased was with was a tall fair man with a heavy moustache.

MR. PAIN’S EVIDENCE

Mr. J. Pain deposed that he knew the deceased.

He had not made her an allowance.

He had known her for three years and he last saw her alive on the 22nd of October at Broad-street Station.

There was no disagreement between them; in fact, the witness told her he might see her the Wednesday following.

The deceased used to meet him at different times.

It incorrect to say that he allowed her £5 a week.

The last time he saw her she was in her usual spirits.

He had not complained of her conduct with other men, although had seen her with one or two.

He gave her no money on that occasion.

THE LAST TIME HE SAW HER

On the 22nd she left him at 20 minutes past five o’clock, and he did not see her alive again.

He had no reason to believe she would commit suicide.

On the Wednesday following his parting with the deceased he left London for the Lake District, and afterwards he went to the Isle of Man and Ireland, and only returned on the 7th inst.

On one or two occasions the deceased had said that she wished she were dead.

THE DIVISIONAL SURGEON’S FINDINGS

Mr M‘Coy, divisional surgeon, who made a post-mortem examination of the body, said that there were no marks of external violence.

The body had been in the water fully a fortnight and perhaps more.

The organs were generally healthy. She was not enceinte.

The cause of death was asphyxia from drowning.

LAST WITNESS AND VERDICT

Inspector Francis of the Thames Police stated that every inquiry had been made in the hope of discovering how the woman came into the water but without result.

No one saw  her after Beatrice Williams left her on Monday Oct 22.

The jury returned a verdict, “That the deceased was found drowned but how she came into the water there was not sufficient evidence to show”