The Victim Identified

On Saturday the 1st of September, 1888, the newspapers were beginning to publish more details on the brutal murder that had taken place in Buck’s Row, Whitechapel, in the early hours of Friday 31st August 1888.

A selection of the newspaper headlines from the 1st September, 1888
Newspaper Headlines, 1st September, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The Morning Post, in its edition of the 1st September 1888, provided its readers with a full update on the known facts about the murder – albeit the article was, in part, based on local gossip and some of the facts, such as the murder being carried out elsewhere and the body dragged to where it was found in Buck’s Row, would later be disproved by the police.

However, what is interesting about the article is how long it is, and what becomes apparent whilst reading it is that the newspapers were beginning to see the Whitechapel murders as something distinctly out of the ordinary –  and, therefore, worthy of more in depth coverage than would normally be afforded to murders in the East End of London.


“Within a comparatively brief period two women have been murdered in the streets of Whitechapel, and no clue to the perpetrators has ever been discovered by the police.

Now that a third woman has been killed, under equally mysterious, but still more brutal, circumstances, the inhabitants of the district are becoming alarmed.

This latest crime was discovered yesterday morning at a quarter-past four, when Police-constable J. Neil, who was pacing his beat, saw, in Buck’s-row, Thomas-street, Whitechapel, a woman lying on the pavement close to the door of a stable yard leading to Essex Wharf.


Buck’s-row is a narrow and badly lit passage containing about a dozen houses of a very low class.

Neil at once perceived that the woman had been the victim of a brutal murder, for her face was stained with blood and her throat was cut from ear to ear.

The constable called up the nearest residents, who stated that they had heard no sounds of a scuffle – that in fact the neighbourhood had been unusually quiet, and sent for Dr. Llewellyn, who lives in the Whitechapel-road, close by.

The murder site in Buck's Row.
A View Of The Murder Site In Buck’s Row


Finding that life was extinct, although as the extremities were still warm the woman could not have been long dead, the doctor had the body removed to the mortuary in Whitechapel-road.

There, on examination, it was discovered that in addition to the gash in her throat, which had nearly severed the head from the body, the lower part of her body had been ripped up, the opening extending nearly to the breast.

On either side were two incised wounds almost as severe as the centre one.

The instrument with which the wounds were inflicted must have been not only of the sharpness of a razor, but also used with considerable force.


The murdered woman is about 45 years of age and 5ft. 2in. in height.

She had a dark complexion, brown eyes, and brown hair, turning grey.

At the time of her death she was wearing a brown ulster, fastened with seven large metal buttons with the figure of a horse and a man standing by its side stamped thereon. She had a brown linsey frock and a grey woollen petticoat with flannel underclothing, close-ribbed brown stays, black woollen stockings, sidespring boots, black straw bonnet trimmed with black velvet.

The mark “Lambeth Workhouse” was found stamped on the petticoat bands, and a hope is entertained that by this her identity may be discovered.


A general opinion is now entertained that the spot where the body was found was not the scene of the murder.

Buck’s-row runs through from Thomas-street to Brady-street, and in the latter street what appeared to be blood stains were, early in the morning, found at irregular distances on the footpaths on either side of the street.

Occasionally a larger splash was visible, and from the way in which the marks were scattered, it seems as though the person carrying the body had hesitated where to deposit it, and had gone from one side of the road to the other, until the obscurity of Buck’s-row afforded the shelter sought for. The street had been crossed twice within the space of about 120 yards.

The point at which the stains were first visible is in front of the gateway to Honey’s-mews, in Brady-street, about 150 yards from the point where Buck’s-row commences.

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


Several persons living in Brady-street state that early in the morning they heard screams, but this is a by no means uncommon incident in the neighbourhood, and, with one exception, nobody seems to have paid any particular attention to them.

Mrs. Colwell, however, who lives a short distance from the foot of Buck’s-row, says that she was awakened early in the morning by her children, who said that someone was trying to get into the house. She listened, and heard a woman screaming “Murder, police,” five or six times. The voice faded away as though the woman was going in the direction of Buck’s-row, and all was quiet. She only heard the steps of one person.

Of course the murdered woman, wounded as she was, would have been unable to traverse the distance from Honey’s-mews to the gateway in Buck’s-row, which is about 120 yards from Brady-street, making a total distance of at least 170 yards.

The assumption, therefore, is that the woman must have been carried or dragged, there.

On the other hand it is evident from the small quantity of blood, which was on the road at the spot where the body was found, that the wound at the throat could not have been given at that point, yet, with such a gash, it would have been utterly impossible for the victim to cry out in the manner described by Mrs. Colwell.

Her statement, therefore, does little to clear up the mystery.


The constable, Neil, traversed Buck’s-row about three-quarters of an hour before the body was discovered, so it must have been deposited there soon after he had patrolled that thoroughfare.

Shortly after mid-day some men who were searching the pavement in Buck’s-row, above the gateway, found two spots of blood in the roadway. They were some feet away from the gate, and they might have dropped from the hands or clothing of the murderer as he fled.

The stable-yard and the vicinity have been carefully searched in the hope of finding the weapon with which the crime was committed, but so far without success.

A bridge over the Great Eastern Railway is close at hand, and the railway line was also fruitlessly inspected for some distance.


Dr. Llewellyn says that, from the nature of the cuts on the throat, it is probable that they were inflicted with the left hand.

He adds that there is a mark at the point of the jaw on the right side of the woman’s face, as though made by a person’s thumb, and a similar bruise on the left side as if the woman’s head bad been pushed hack and her throat then cut.

There is a gash under the left ear reaching nearly to the centre of the throat, and another cut apparently starting from the right ear. The neck is severed back to the vertebrae, which is also slightly injured. The abdominal wounds are extraordinary for their length and the severity with which they have been inflicted.

Inspector Helson, who has charge of the case, is making every effort to trace the murderer, but there is so little to guide the police that at present there does not seem much likelihood of success.


The theory that the murder is the work of a lunatic, who is also the perpetrator of the other two murders of women which have occurred in White-chapel during the last six months, meets with very general acceptance amongst the inhabitants of the district.

The more probable theory is that the murder has been committed by one or more of a gang of men who are in the habit of frequenting the streets at late hours of the night and levying blackmail on women.

No money was found upon this woman, and all she had in the pocket of her dress was a handkerchief, a small comb, and a piece of looking-glass.”


Meanwhile, the police were conducting investigations with a view to identifying the victim.

In its edition of Saturday 1st September, 1888, The South Wales Echo reported that, since the mark of the Lambeth Workhouse had been found on her petticoats:- “A photograph of the body has been taken, and this will be circulated amongst the Workhouse officials.”

This photograph would also have been carried around the Whietchapel district in the hope that somebody would recognise the woman.

This is the main reason why the photographs that have survived of Jack the Ripper’s victims were originally taken.

The photograph of Mary Nichols.
The Mortuary Photograph That Was Taken Of The Buck’s Row Victim.


The South Wales Echo went on to describe how the victim was finally identified:-

“After the body was removed to the mortuary, steps were taken to secure, if possible, an identification, but at first with little prospect of success.

As the news of the murder spread, however, first one woman and then another came forward to view the body, and at length it was found that a person answering the description of the murdered woman had lodged in a common lodging-house, 18, Thrawl-street, Spitalfields.

Women from that place were fetched, and they identified the deceased as “Polly,” who had shared a room with three other females in the place on the usual terms of such houses – nightly payment of 4d each – each occupying a separate bed.

It was gathered that the deceased had lodged in the house only for about three weeks past.


Nothing more was known of her by them but that when she presented herself for her lodging on Thursday night she was turned away by the deputy because she had not the money.

She was then the worse for drink, but not drunk, and went away laughing, saying, “I’ll soon get my ‘doss’ money; see what a jolly bonnet I’ve got now.” She was wearing a bonnet which she had not been seen with before, and left the lodging-house door.

A woman of the neighbourhood saw her later, she told the police – even as late as 2.30am on Friday morning in Whitechapel-road, opposite the church, and at the corner of Osborne-street; and at a quarter to four she was found within 500 yards of the spot, murdered.


The people of the lodging-house knew her as “Polly,” but, at about half-past seven last evening a female named Mary Anne Monk, at present an inmate of Lambeth Workhouse, was taken to the mortuary, and identified the body as that of Mary Ann Nicholls, also called ” Polly” Nicholls.

She knew her, she said, as they were both inmates of the Lambeth Workhouse together in April and May last, the deceased having been passed there from another workhouse.

On May 12th, according to Monk, Nicholls left the workhouse to take a situation as a servant at Ingleside, Wandsworth-common.

It afterwards became known that Nicholls betrayed her trust as a domestic servant by stealing £3 from her employer and absconding.”


The Echo article continued by reporting on the current theories as to who might have carried out such a brutal and senseless crime, and revealed that the police were of the opinion that the murder was gang related.

It also repeated the assertion that the murder had taken place elsewhere and the body had then been moved to Buck’s Row:-

“The police have no theory with respect to the matter, except that a sort of “High Rip” gang exists in the neighbourhood, which, blackmailing women of the same class as the deceased, takes vengeance on those who do not find money for them.

They base that surmise on the fact that, within twelve months, two other women have been murdered in the district by almost similar means, and left in the gutter of the street in the early hours of the morning.

The other theory is that the woman was murdered in a house, and killed whilst undressed, her clothes being then huddled on the body, which was afterwards conveyed out, to be deposited in the street.

Colour is lent to this by the small quantity of blood found on the clothes, and by the fact that they are not cut.”


“An inquest was opened by Mr Wynne Baxter, this afternoon, on the body of the woman identified as Mary Ann Nicholls.

Edward Walker, Mordwell-street, Albany-road, Camberwell, formerly a smith, identified the body as that of his daughter.

She was 42 years old and married William Nicholls, a painter, 22 years ago. They had been separated for seven or eight years. The husband was still living.”