August, 1888, was the month when the people of the East End of London began to realise that something untoward was occurring in Whitechapel. That “something”, as we now know, with hindsight, was the start of the murders that would become known as the Jack the Ripper murders.
On August, 7th, 1888, the body of Martha Tabram had been found on the first-floor landing of George Yard Buildings, George Yard, off Whitechapel High Street. Whether she was a victim of the ripper is a moot point, but her death did cause a general wave of unease to ripple through the district.
Then, on the last day of the month, August, 31st, 1888, Mary Nichols was murdered in Buck’s Row, just off Whitechapel Road, and the unease began to turn to terror and panic at the thought of an unknown repeat killer lurking somewhere in the district.
KNIFE CRIME WAS COMMON
However, knife crime was a common occurrence in the East End of London.
Indeed, combing through the newspaper accounts of the period, which gave details of court cases with regard to crimes in which a knife was used, it quickly becomes apparent that knife crime was depressingly common, and the that the perpetrators of such atrocities, were often treated with what appears to have been surprising leniency by the magistrates before whom the miscreants who had committed the offences appeared.
Alcohol, of course, lay at the root of many of the knife crimes that were reported in the press.
It should also be remembered that, with the docks being a prominent employer and location in the district, many of these crimes involved visiting sailors and mariners from all over the world.
An example of this was reported in The Tower Hamlets Independent and East End Local Advertiser on Saturday, 18th August, 1888:-
JEALOUSY AND ATTEMPTED MURDER
John Henry Marler, aged 32, was charged with assault, threats and attempt to murder.
Mary Jane Pascod said:- “I belong to Shields, but I have been in London since Tuesday. I came from Shields with the prisoner, and I have been generally staying down is the cabin while he was down in his own place. Between ten and half-past, while on board, the prisoner took a knife out, took me by the throat, threw me on the deck, and threatened to put it through me.
The night before last, he entered the cabin, took a carving knife and proceeded to threaten me.”
In answer to Mr. Lushington, the witness said, “The prisoner asked me to come to London, and he told me that he would keep me. I don’t wish to have anything more to do with him, and I wish to get back to Shields where my mother and father live. I am twenty years of age.”
WITNESSES GIVE TESTIMONY
John Stacy, labourer at Millwall, said:- “I am watchman on Pontifex and Wood’s Wharf, opposite Greenwich, at Millwall. At ten o’clock on Friday night, I saw the prisoner coming along, and I said: “Who comes there?”
He said: “Me, stop me going on board that ship tonight, or I will kill that woman.”
I made him a pillow to lie down, and I went away.
On returning, I saw the prisoner go on board, and I saw him take the complainant by the throat, raise a knife with the other hand, and threaten to run her through with it.”
In answer to Mr. Lushington, the witness said that he then saw the young woman fall down.
Daniel Lathorpe, a seaman on the Albion, said that he saw the prisoner get hold of the complainant by the throat, take out a knife, and say: “I will stick this in your heart.”
INSPECTOR CRAWFORD ARRESTS HIM
Michael Crawford, Inspector, K Division, said that he went on board the ship and asked the prisoner if he had a knife on him? He said, “Yes”, and handed him two.
The inspector said that he then told him that he was going to take him into custody for attempting to stab the complainant, to which the prisoner replied, “Yes, it was that other ——– —- fault.”
At the station, the prisoner said, “he can have her now, but I will do for both of them.”
Mr Lushington sent the prisoner – “for a most horrible and aggravated assault” – to six months hard labour, and bound him over in the sum of £10 to keep the peace for six months.”