One of the most important things when it comes to naming a suspect in the hunt for Jack the Ripper is placing that suspect at the scene of the crime at around the time that the murder was taking place.
In this respect several people who found the bodies of the various victims have been put forward as contenders for the mantle of having been Jack the Ripper in recent years.
CHARLES ALLEN LECHMERE
One person in particular who has found himself high up on the list of suspects is Charles Allen Lechmere.
However, search the contemporary records on the case, and you won’t find any mention of Charles Lechmere.
That is because in the police and press reports on the murders he was referred to as Charles Cross, and he is best known to students of the case as the man who found the body of Mary Nichols between 3.40 am and 3.45 am on August the 31st 1888.
FINDING THE BODY
According to the oft-told account of what happened that morning, Charles Cross was on his way to work when he noticed something lying in a gateway on Buck’s Row.
Believing it to be a tarpaulin, he went to inspect it, but he stopped in his tracks when he saw that it was, in fact, a woman lying on her back
As he stood in the middle of the road, he heard footsteps approaching from the direction he had come from, and, on turning, he saw another man, Robert Paul, walking towards him.
He stopped him and told him to come and look at the woman.
Together they approached the prone form and stooped down to see if they could detect any signs of life. They couldn’t, although Robert Paul, on touching her chest, thought he felt a slight movement, and he commented that she might still be alive.
Robert Paul then suggested that they sit the woman up, but Charles Cross didn’t want to touch her.
At this point they both said that they were running late for work, so they pulled the woman’s raised dress down over her knees and continued on their way, agreeing that they would tell the first policeman they encountered about their find.
THEY TELL CONSTABLE MIZEN
Continuing along Buck’s Row, they turned right at its top and headed along what was then Baker’s Row. Here they encountered Police Constable Jonas Mizen, who was engaged in knocking people up – that is, waking those who had to be at work early.
According to Mizen, Cross told him that he was wanted by another policeman in Buck’s Row where there was a woman lying on her back.
However, at the subsequent inquest, Charles Cross was adamant that he had not mentioned another police officer being present in Buck’s Row, because he hadn’t seen one there.
Whatever was said, once Cross and Paul had informed Mizen about the woman they continued on their way to their respective places of work.
CONSTABLE NEIL FINDS THE BODY
Shortly after Cross and Paul had left the gateway in which the woman was lying, Police Constable Neil had walked along Buck’s Row on his beat, and he also noticed the woman.
However, because he had the advantage of a lantern, he was able to see that she had obviously been murdered, and he raised the alarm.
As a consequence of this, the majority of the newspapers over the next few days informed their readers that it was Constable Neil who had found the body.
Indeed, he was even called as a witness on the first day of the inquest into her death, Saturday the 1st of September, suggesting that the initial official belief was also that he had been the finder of the body.
TWO MEN FOUND THE BODY
However, by this time several newspapers were reporting that two men had, in fact, found the body on their way to work, and over the course of the weekend, Cross was identified as the finder, with the result that, at some stage over the next two days, he received a Coroner’s summons to appear as a witness on the second day of the inquest into the death of Mary Nichols, which was due to take place on Monday the 3rd of September.
At the inquest on the Monday he was the last witness to give evidence before the lunch break, appearing directly after PC Mizen.
CONCRETE FACTS END THERE
It has to be said, that the concrete facts about Charles Lechmere’s involvement in the Jack the Ripper murders, end with his being present at the site of the murder of Mary Nichols as the discoverer of her body, and anything linking him to the other Whitechapel murders is nothing more than supposition and speculation.
HIS NAME WAS LECHMERE
But, in the early 2000s, it was discovered that Charles Allen Cross was, in fact, Charles Allen Lechmere, and that Cross had been the surname of his stepfather, a police constable by the name of Thomas Cross.
This raised a red flag with some researchers, and they began building a case for Charles Lechmere’s having been not only the perpetrator of the Jack the Ripper atrocities but also of the wider series of Whitechapel murders, as well as of another series of murders that occurred around the time, the Thames Torso murders, and they began painting a picture of him as a cold-blooded, ruthless killer, who delighted in playing a cat and mouse game with the Victorian authorities.
WE KNOW NOTHING ABOUT HIM
However, the truth is that we know nothing about Charles Lechmere’s personality, nothing about his feelings towards his father or stepfather, and nothing about his relationship with his mother nor with his wife, or, for that matter, with any members of his family.
Attempts to depict him as a psychopath, or to suggest that he had a domineering mother, or that he may have been a frequent user of prostitutes are nothing more than conjecture.
If there is a case for him to answer, then it must be based on established facts and not on surmise.
Wanting to know more about the case for and against Charles Allen Lechmere, I approached Steve Blomer, the author of the e-book Inside Buck’s Row, and a man who has spent many years researching and discussing the murder of Mary Nichols, and the involvement of Charles Lechmere or Charles Cross in it.
He consented to grant me an interview, and you can watch the interview in the above video.