The Mary Nichols Inquest

On 1st September 1888 the inquest into the death of Mary Nichols was opened at the Working Lads Institute on Whitechapel Road.

The Coroner at the inquest was Wynne Baxter, who had just returned from a holiday in Scandinavia.

The newspapers appear to have been divided over what they should comment on with several opting to applaud the Coroners dress sense as opposed to commenting on the seriousness of the horror that had happened in their midst!

Indeed, one newspaper, treated its readers to a full description of Baxter’s sartorial style reporting that he “…appeared at the inquest in a pair of black and white checked trousers, a dazzling white waistcoat, a crimson scarf, and a dark coat…”


A view of the Working Lads Institute where several of the inquests into the deaths of Jack the Ripper's victims took place.
The Working Lads Institute Today

Baxter, would ultimately, preside over the inquests into the deaths of several other of Jack the Ripper’s victims, and it is evident that he was, to say the least, disdainful of the polices efforts to track down whoever was responsible for the crimes.

For example, he was openly critical of the fact that the police had failed to notice the fact that Mary Nichols had been disembowelled until after her body had been removed to the mortuary.

Reading the transcripts of the inquests, it quickly becomes apparent that the police and the Coroner were, on occasion, following different agendas.

Baxter was determined to examine all the evidence in the public arena, whilst various police inspectors were equally determined to  keep their lines of enquiry a closely guarded secret so as not to alert any suspects that they might be on t them.

In addition, it is apparent that, on several occasions, Baxter viewed the inquests as his own personal sounding board from which he could expound his own theories, and criticise the police as and when he saw fit.

As a result of this, the inquests that Baxter oversaw,  would become long and drawn out affairs that lasted several weeks  and thus allowed the newspapers to report on, and speculate about,  the long proceedings in detail.

Indeed, Baxter was, in some ways, responsible for the fact that the murders caught the public imagination in the way that they did.

Of course, as the jury filed in to take their seats for the beginning of the inquest into the death of Mary Nichols, whose body had been found the day before in Buck’s Row, located just behind the Working Lads Institute building, the arguments between the Coroner and the Police lay ahead.

As far as the jury was concerned they were simply there to hear the details of a gruesome murder in a Whitechapel back street. What they could not have realised was that they were about to appear in the early scenes of one of history’s greatest murder mysteries.

As they rose to their feet for the Coroner, the curtain was rising on the great Jack the Ripper Mystery.