Today in 1888

On 28th September 1888 there had been no Whitechapel Murders since the killing of Annie Chapman on 8TH September 1888. The press were discussing various theories that had come out of the inquest into the inquest into Annie Chapman’s death, specifically  the suggestion made by Coroner Baxter in his summing up at the inquest on 26TH September that the the injuries had “been made by some one who had considerable anatomical skill and knowledge.”  “It was done,” he continued, “by one who knew where to find what he wanted…and how he should use his knife…”

However, it was the final statement of this particular part of his summing up that had caught the imagination of the press. “It must have been someone accustomed to the post-mortem room. The conclusion  that the desire was to possess the missing part [Annie Chapman’s womb had been removed and taken away by her killer] seems overwhelming.”

Baxter then went on to say that he had learnt of an American who had contacted one of “our great medical schools” and enquired of the sub-curator of the Pathological Museum if he would be able to “procure a number of specimens of the organ that was missing in the deceased.” Apparently, the American was willing to pay £20 each as, and this where it gets very bizarre, he wanted to give away “an actual specimen with each copy of a publication on which he was then engaged.”

The Coroner then went on to wonder if, since it was known that the American doctor had contacted other medical schools with the same request, could  this request have inspired someone to have committed the murder of Annie Chapman and removed her womb in the hope of receiving the £20 on offer.

The Medical press was quick to pour scorn on Coroner Baxter’s Claims and, significantly, Coroner Baxter himself appears to come to the conclusion that this was emphatically not the case as he did not revive his theory at future inquests.

However, the press quickly dubbed his theory the “Burke and Hare Theory” – after the infamous Edinburgh Murderers of the early 19TH century.” Their reportage of it helped fix an image in the public imagination of the killer as a medical man.

And thus the perception of the unknown killer as a top-hatted, caped figure, wandering the streets of the East End and carrying his shiny black doctor’s bag began to take hold.

However, as far as the residents of Spitalfields and Whitechapel were concerned, their had been no murders for several weeks, and the terror and panic that had swept the area in the wake of Annie Chapman’s murder had begun to abate.

Newspapers were carrying reports of a murder on the 22ND of September near Gateshead, far away in the north of England and were making comparisons to the Whitechapel Murders.

As the 30TH September approached a journalist working for the Daily News took an evening stroll through Spitalfields. Walking along Hanbury Street, where the murder of Annie Chapman had occurred just a few weeks before, he met an old man and observed that “there seems to be little apprehension of further mischief by this assassin at large?”  

“No, very little”, came the reply, “people, most of ’em, think he’s gone to Gateshead”.

A few days later, on 30TH September 1888, their relief would prove premature when the killer returned and murdered twice within an hour.

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