Violent crime was an alarmingly common occurrence in the streets of the East End of London, both before and after the Jack the Ripper murders.
Although robberies going wrong were responsible for some of the murders, the majority of the homicides were fuelled by drink.
On Sunday, 24th March, 1872, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper carried the story of one such death:-
MURDER IN SPITALFIELDS
“John Nagle, 26, described as a fish porter, living in Flower and Dean Street, was charged at the Worship- street police-court, on Wednesday, with the manslaughter of a young woman named Ann Cooney, living in Kate Streets Spitalfields.
MRS BRIERLEY’S EVIDENCE
Mrs. Brierley said that she kept the White Swan beer house, Keat’s Court, Spitalfields.
On the previous night, about half-past nine o’clock, the prisoner and a woman entered the house and called for some liquor. She served him, and then engaged in other business in the bar.
Presently she heard a noise, and, turning, she saw the prisoner strike the woman, who fell flat down on her back.
They left the house after that, but the woman returned in about half -an-hour and had some rum. She then seemed very bad. and sat down on a form. The witness advised her to go home, and soon afterwards she missed her.
About 11 o’clock some other customers coming in called her attention to the woman, who was lying on the floor close to the bar. They said that she was dead, but the witness did not think so, and called two women to carry her out. They did so, and that was all she knew of it.
EMMA WHITE’S TESTIMONY
The Prisoner had no questions to ask the witness.
Emma White said that she lived at 12, Kate Street, Spitalfields, and was married.
About 10 o’clock on the previous night she saw the prisoner coming through the street, when he fell over her foot, Then he abused her, and shortly afterwards she saw him engaged in a disturbance.
On going up she saw the woman, whom she knew as Annie, trying to get him away. He struck her, and she fell. When she got up she tried to get him away, but he pushed her from him.
The witness tried to induce the young woman to go, but she said she would not leave. She meant to go into the public house. She was then the worse for drink.
Soon after that, on seeing a crowd by the public house, and the light of the policeman’s lamp, she went up and then saw the young woman lying on the ground. She was warm, but dead.
The prisoner said, “I was drunk, sir.” He was than remanded.
THE INQUEST AND VERDICT
On Friday an inquest was held at Whitechapel touching the death of Ann Cooney.
The evidence was substantially the same as that given before the magistrate and reported above.
THE CONSTABLE’S EVIDENCE
Police-constable HR 23, said that he found the deceased sitting in Keat’s Court at about half-past 11 on Tuesday, with her head on her breast, apparently dead, and he at once fetched a doctor, and John Nagle was afterwards taken into custody.
DR. SWYER’S EVIDENCE
Mr. S. Swyer said that he was called to see the deceased at about a quarter to twelve.
She was quite dead.
On making a post-mortem examination he found that all the organs were healthy, and though there was no outward fracture, yet there were indications of the bruises on the head.
An examination of the internal organs, showed that she had died from concussion of the brain, which might have been caused by a blow or a fall.
The jury returned a verdict of “Manslaughter” against John Nagle.
JOHN NAGLE AT THE OLD BAILEY
On Monday, 8th April, 1872, John Nagle appeared at the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) charged with the manslaughter of Ann Cooney.
The same witnesses who had testified at the inquest into her death gave their evidence at the trial.
BRIDGET CROWLEY’S EVIDENCE
In addition, Ann’s sister, Bridget Crowley, also gave evidence, testifying that:-
The deceased Ann Cooney was my sister. Her age was 32. I never knew the prisoner till this night, and I don’t think my sister ever saw him before. She was the mother of six children. She had no husband.
She was an unfortunate, and had been living with a man, but she had not been living with anybody before her death.
I saw her at 4 o’clock that afternoon, and she was in as good health as I am now. She was a strong, hearty woman.
I pointed the prisoner out to the policeman because a young man said to me, “That is the man who knocked your sister about”
I thought it was my place to give him in charge after having my sister in the dead house.
GUILTY OF MANSLAUGHTER
John Nagle’s defence was that he knew nothing at all about it as he was very drunk. “I know nothing about the woman,” he told the court.
He was found guilty and was sentenced to six months hard labour.
You can read the full transcript of his court appearance at the Old Bailey Online resource.”