The Murder Of Sarah Martin

One thing that is noticeable about the newspapers in the decades after the Whitechapel murders had afforded them so many column inches, is the fact that Jack the Ripper had become the benchmark by which other killers were judged.

In December, 1903, a gruesome murder – that of Sarah Martin – took place in the Cherry Hill district of New Jersey, and, almost immediately, the American newspapers were comparing it to the East End murders of 1888.

The murderer – a Swedish sailor who went under the name of Emil Totterman but whose real name was Carl Nielson – was soon apprehended and, following his trial, he was sentenced to death.

However, his sentence was later commuted to one of life imprisonment and he was released on a Christmas pardon in December, 1929.

A photograph of Emil Totterman.
Emil Totterman The Murderer Of Sarah Martin.


The New York Times, under the above headline, broke the story of the murder in its edition of 21st December, 1903:-

“Crime Committed in Cherry Hill Resort and Murderer Escapes.
Police Believe Him to be a Sailor Who Recently Was in Bridgeport.
Victim Is Identified.

A “Jack the Ripper” murder was committed in the Cherry Hill district yesterday, and the perpetrator escaped.


Late last night the detectives obtained an identification of the victim as Sarah Martin, well known for fifteen years in the part of the city in which she met her death. She was married and her husband’s name is Martin Larson, a deep-sea sailor. She is said to have had a sister living in Second Avenue.

The murder was marked by the atrocity which gave the series of Whitechapel murders their world-wide notoriety and was committed within a stone’s throw of where ” Old Shakespeare ” was similarly killed in 1891.


The murderer is believed to be a sailor, and the principal reason which the police have for thinking so is that he left behind a pair of shoes such as are worn by seafaring men.

The building in which the murder was committed is a resort at 9 James Slip, the southeast corner of Water Street. The ostensible proprietor is James Kelly. The building is a frame structure, three stories high.

Sarah Martin – that is the name by which she was best known – appeared in the Kelly place early on Saturday evening, going to the back room, with which she was familiar.

She left there a few minutes after her first visit, and appeared again about 8 o’clock.

She was joined at about 10 o’clock by the man who it is believed killed her, and for whom she appeared to be waiting.


This man’s name the police late last night had not learned, although there is some reason to believe that he came from Bridgeport, Conn., an opinion which is based on the fact that some packages which he carried into the room in which the murder was committed contained articles which had been bought in that city.

The description of this man, as given out late last night by Inspector McClusky, is that he appeared to be a Swede, of medium height, with light hair and a blonde moustache.

He had peculiar eyes – everyone who saw him agrees on that. Their color apparently was gray, and with a look suggesting that they were crossed.

When he got out of the hotel, in some mysterious way, he wore a sweater, a dark overcoat, and a derby hat.


When this man had joined the Martin woman they had a drink. The woman took whisky and the man beer.

Soon afterwards,  about 10:30 o’clock, they took a room in the place.

There is an entry on the register for them, but Inspector McClusky said last night that he paid little or no attention to that.

The name which was written for the couple was so badly done that it seems to be either “Carl Alvinson and wife,” or ” Carl Aldesen and wife.”

They were taken to the second floor by Jennie Starin, the housekeeper.

That was not the last seen of them, however.

Soon afterwards, the man appeared in the hallway and was seen by the Starin woman. He reentered his room soon afterwards.


Sarah Martin appeared in the hall soon afterwards. She asked the Starin woman to get her a bottle of whisky from the saloon below. That the housekeeper did, receiving $2, out of which she gave Sarah Martin $1.50 change.

The man got none of that whisky. Sarah Martin and the housekeeper, according to the latter’s statement, drank it together in the hallway.

When the house-keeper asked:- “How about the man? Sarah Martin is said to have replied:- “Oh, he’s asleep.”


By the time the whisky had been consumed by the women, it was about midnight.

Sarah Martin about that time entered the room she had left, and that was the last seen of her alive.


Some time between 3 o’clock and 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon, Mrs. Kelly, wife of the proprietor of the place, went to the room and found the door ajar.

The figure of a woman was lying on the bed, covered by the blanket. She appeared to be still asleep.

The housekeeper had followed Mrs. Kelly into the room.

Just as the housekeeper entered Mrs. Kelly placed her hand on the forehead of the reclining woman. and exclaimed:- “Why, she’s cold!”

It was not until the cover was raised that the woman realized that a crime had been committed.


Detectives from Police headquarters soon were summoned to the Oak Street Station, which is the police district in which the crime was committed.

Officers active in the case were Assistant District Attorney Garvan, Inspector McClusky, Inspector Schmittberger, Coroner Jackson, a court stenographer. and a court photographer.

The detectives, after making a thorough search of the room in which the crime was committed, took all of those who had anything to do with the management of the house to the police station.


In the room were an old pair of shoes which the man had discarded, evidently having brought a new pair with him in one of two packages which he was seen to carry when he entered the hotel. He also had left his underwear.

There were evidences, too, that he had carefully washed his hands before he had slipped out of the house.

On the paper in which the new shoes had been wrapped was printed the name “Meigs & Co. Bridgeport, Conn.”

Lying on the floor were two sale checks, showing that the man had bought a pair of shoes for $2.50 and a sweater for $3.

Last, but by no means least, in importance was a name which had been written with a lead pencil on the wrapping paper. It was “Fred C. Beleno.”


After the police had questioned Kelly, Mrs. Kelly, Mrs. Starin, and others, they sent for a woman well known in the district as “Mother” Orchard. who conducts a resort at 96, Cherry Street.

As soon as this woman had heard a general description of the dead woman she said she thought she knew her.

Mrs. Orchard was taken to Kelly’s Hotel.

The party had not been in the place long before the information was communicated to the crowd outside that “Mother” Orchard had identified the dead woman as Sarah Martin.

Many in the crowd said that they knew that woman.

Some said that she had last lived somewhere near Second Avenue and Eighty-sixth Street, while others said that they had last seen her in a place in Oliver Street.

“Mother” Orchard admitted that the Martin woman had lived with her for a time within the last year or two “as a cook.”


Inspector McClusky said that, in the course of his investigations, he had learned that, before the Martin woman had started out on Saturday night to keep her engagement with the man, she had said that she was going to meet her husband.

“His name, as near as we can get at it, was Larson,” said the Inspector. “But it may have been Lawson. I don’t know what to make of that clue. because the excuse is one that a woman of the kind of Sarah Martin is very apt to give under the circumstances.”


How the murderer got out of the hotel is a mystery.

Kelly told the Inspector that, although he remained up until 2 o’clock yesterday morning, he heard no noise during the night, neither a scream nor the sound of anyone getting out of the house.

As the room in which the crime was committed was on the second floor the murderer might easily have climbed out of the window.


Coroners’ Physician O’Hanlon viewed the body of the murdered woman early this morning.

He said that the stabbing had evidently been done with a very dull knife, with a blade about four inches long.

He thought the murder had been committed about 7 o’clock in the morning.

When the autopsy was made Dr. O’Hanlon discovered tattooed on the woman’s left arm the name “W. Johnson” and underneath it “Sarah.””


However, by the 22nd of December, 1903, a Swedish sailor by the name of Emil Totterman had been arrested on suspicion of having carried out the murder of Sarah Martin.

It wasn’t long before the newspapers were referring to him as “New York’s Jack The Ripper,” as can be seen from the following cutting.

A photograph of Emil Totterman with an account of the murder.
A Newspaper Account Of The Murder.


Under the above headline, The Boston Daily Globe, gave details of his arrest in its edition of Tuesday, December 22nd, 1903:-

“Totterman Suspected of Murder.
Fully identified by Keeper of New York Hotel.
Denies All Knowledge of Sarah Martin.

By the arrest today of Emil Totterman, also known as Carl Nielson, a Swedish sailor, the police believe that they have cleared up the mystery of the murder of Sarah Martin, whose mutilated body was found yesterday afternoon in Kelly’s hotel, a low sailors resort on the East river front.


The arrest, which was made in the sailors’ union headquarters in South Street, followed information received from detective sergeant McCafferty, who was sent to Bridgeport, Conn, yesterday, to follow up a clew furnished by a purchase check of Meigs & Co of Bridgeport for a pair of shoes and a sweater. which was found in the room in which the crime was committed.

On the wrapper of a parcel left in the room by the murderer was written in pencil the names “Fred C. Belano,” and underneath the name “E. Totterman.”

McCafferty reported by telephone from Bridgeport that the schooner Fred C. Belano was lying at that port, and that a sailor named Totterman had been discharged from her on Saturday.

He also obtained a good description of the man who on Saturday purchased the shoes and sweater from Meigs & Co.


Furnished with this description, central office detectives picked out Totterman from among a crowd of seamen at the Sailors’ union.

When searched there was found on him a sailor’s clasp knife; the blade of which appeared to bear bloodstains.

At police headquarters, the prisoner was fully identified by James Kelly, the proprietor of the hotel, his wife and other persons, as the man who on Saturday night accompanied the Martin woman to the room in which her body was found.

Later, Louis Baldwin and Parker T. Silvernail, salesmen for Meigs & Co, fully identified Totterman as the man who bought the shoes and sweater in Bridgeport.


Totterman had nothing to say except that he had never been at the hotel.

Although he admitted that he had come from Bridgeport on Saturday; he denied having purchased the shoes and sweater there.


After undergoing a long examination by Inspector McClusky and Asst Atty Garvin, he was arraigned in the police court and remanded on the technical charge of being a suspicious character.

Totterman arrived at Bridgeport, Conn, on the Belano on Saturday, the schooner having left Portland Dec 5. Totterman was discharged as soon as the vessel was docked.”


His trial took place in late February, 1904, and on Saturday, February 27th, he was found guilty of the murder of Sarah Martin.

The New York Times,  Sunday, February 28th, 1904:-


Emil Totterman, the Swedish sailor, whose real name is Carl Nielson, was convicted yesterday in the Criminal Branch of the Supreme Court by a jury which had been out four hours. –

Totterman smiled when the foreman pronounced the words, “Guilty of murder in the first degree, as charged in the indictment.”


His lawyer. Henry J. Goldsmith, whispered to him that he was sorry the trial turned out badly.

Totterman shrugged his shoulders and remarked unconcernedly:- “Such Is life.”


The sailor previously had made a confession to his lawyer, telling in detail how he had gone to Kelly’s Hotel, at 11 James Street, on the night of Dec. 19 and stabbed Sarah Martin to death, then mutilating her body.

He said he had never known the woman previous to that night.

He said he felt sure the police had worked up a good case against him, consequently he was willing to plead guilty to murder in the second degree, which meant a life sentence.


But not once during the trial did he show a sign of weakening.

Even yesterday, when Assistant District Attorney Ely, in addressing the Jury, approaching Totterman, pointed his finger and shouted, “You killed her!” the man simply sneered at the prosecutor.

“Poor Sarah Martin, the child of the street,” commented Mr. Ely, and Totterman added aside, “Cob Dock,” the name by which the woman was known on Cherry Hill.


After being taken to his cell in Murderers’ Row, in the Tombs, Totterman called to Keeper Hanley:- “Come! Bring in my supper!”

Fearing he might be contemplating suicide, the Tombs keeper questioned him on the subject.

“I’m not thinking of suicide now,” replied the new Jack the Ripper, “I’m thinking of something to eat. Hurry my supper along and you’ll be doing a favor.”

After he had eaten a hearty meal, two keepers were stationed in front of his cell to see that he did not attempt suicide.

One of them asked him what he thought about the verdict, and he replied:- “Such is life; that’s all.”


At his subsequent court appearance, sentence was passed Totterman, and The Boston Globe, reported what it was on Wednesday, March 2nd, 1904:-

Emil Totterman, Brutal New York Murderer, Hears His Fate Pronounced With Sneer on His Lips.

Sentenced to die in the electric chair during the week beginning April 18, for the atrocious butchery of Sarah Martin, Emil Totterman, a disciple of London’s “Jack the Ripper,” today, through his attorneys, Henry and Frederick Goldsmith, made a confession covering the details of the crime committed on the night of Dec 19 in the little hotel at 11 James slip.

With a smile that was half a sneer and half self-possession, nothing short of brute indifference, Totterman walked to the bar in Judge Kenefick’s court today to receive sentence of death for his crime.

He grinned broadly when clerk Penney cried out the legal formula:- “Emil Totterman, have you anything to say why sentence of death should not now be pronounced upon you?”

Tottcrrnan shook his head and the judge pronounced the sentence.”


However, Emil Totterman was not executed for his crime.

In fact, having lost several appeals, his sentence was commuted to one of life imprisonment in May 1905, on the grounds that he had won several medals for bravery during the Spanish War.

On 24th December, 1929, he was given a Christmas Pardon and was released from Sing Sing Prison.