William Grant Grainger – Suspect

Ask a cross section of people when the Jack the Ripper murders ended and you will, most probably, get an assortment of answers.

Some might say that the crimes came to an end with the murder of Mary Kelly on the 9th November 1888. Others might point to the last victim being Frances Coles, who was murdered on the 13th February 1891.

Needless to say, such assertions are made with hindsight, a luxury that the police who investigated the Whitechapel murders simply did not have. Indeed, they were still on the look out for “Jack the Ripper” long after the autumn of 1888, as is demonstrated by an intriguing case from February 1895.


At around 2am on the morning of February 10th 1895, Police-constable Fraser was patrolling along Butler Street, in Spitalfields, when he heard a woman’s moans coming from nearby Tenter Street. Heading in the direction of the sounds, he found a man stooping over the prone form of a woman who was bleeding profusely. As he approached the couple, the man moved away, at which point the woman informed Fraser that she was “bleeding to death.”


Seeing that another constable, who was approaching from the opposite end of Tenter Street, would be able to block the man’s escape, Fraser went to the injured woman’s aid and then summoned assistance.

An image of Police surgeon Dr George Bagster Philips.
Dr George Bagster Philips.

The woman was taken to the local police station (presumably Commercial Street) where she was tended to by the Divisional Police Surgeon, Dr George Bagster Philips who found that she had been stabbed in the lower abdomen.

He treated the wound as best he could, after which she was taken to the nearby London Hospital on a police ambulance where Mr. Hubert Rutter, the House Surgeon who examined her, found that the wound was “a serious one, but not dangerous to life.” It was, he said “an inch and three-quarters long.”


The woman’s name was Alice Graham and she described herself to police as an “unfortunate,” meaning basically that she was a low class of local prostitute. She later testified that she had never encountered the man before seeing him in a public house on Tenter-ground, Spitalfields, on the evening of Saturday the 9th February 1895 where, she stated, he was “treating women.”

At 10 o’clock that night she encountered him again, on one of the Spitalfields Streets, and this time he approached her and spoke to her. They went to a public house, and from there to two others in turn.

Subsequent newspaper reports went into detail about the next few hours leading up to the attack:-


“It was then closing time (midnight), and they went towards a lodging-house in White’s-row, Spitalfields. On the way he got into a disturbance with three young men and took off his coat to fight them. A constable came up and the men went away. Then the prisoner seemed to “turn funny,” and said he would not go with her to the lodging-house. A constable came up as she was helping him on with his coat and, catching hold of her, sent her one way and the prisoner the other. The constable, she said, used her “very cruel,” threw her down, and “made her in a dreadful state.” He drove her away towards Commercial-street, but she saw the prisoner on the other side of the way, and when she could she went over to him and told him how she felt. They were then near M’Carthy’s lodging-house.


It was while on the way to a coffee-house in White’s-row that prisoner dragged her down “some yard,” as she described it, threw her on the ground, and ripped her in the stomach. She was quite sober, she asserted, and although prisoner had been drinking he was not drunk. She struggled and resisted, and he cut her. She did not see the knife, but she felt it inside her. At first she thought she was only scratched, but by the time she had got up and walked a little she found the blood flowing and presently sank down. Then she got a “swimming,” and scarcely remembered any more till she was at the station…”

A view along Whites Row taken in January 2016.
White’s Row, January 2016


Taken into police custody, the man refused to say anything until he arrived at the police station, at which point “…he volunteered remarks to the effect that the woman had been extortionate.” Fraser returned to the scene of the crime where, following a brief search of the immediate vicinity, he found a knife.


The man initial gave his name as William Grant and, according to the Pall Mall Gazette he was:-

” ..a man of about 37, 5 ft. 10 in. in height, slim-built, with grey eyes, pale complexion, no beard, and a black moustache. He has scars on cheek and throat, and dancing women, crowns, anchors, and so on, tattooed on his arms and hands…”


On Monday 11th February 1895, William Grant, appeared at Worship Street Police Court, charged with “feloniously cutting and wounding Alice Graham by stabbing her in the abdomen with a knife, with intent..”


The Morning Post carried the following article on his appearance in the dock which makes interesting reading as it states that the police were looking into the possibility that he might have also been the perpetrator of the Jack the Ripper murders.:-

The article in the Morning Post describing Willliam Grant's Court appearance.
The Morning Post, 12th February 1895. Copyright British Library Board.


Interestingly, that same day, an Australian newspaper, The Port Philip Herald, was a little less reserved about emphatically linking the case with the 1888 murders.  “JACK THE RIPPER CAUGHT RED HANDED”, screamed its headline on the 12th February 1895, followed by a report which read:-

“The London police are of the opinion that at last they have got safely under lock and key the long sought after assassin known as Jack the Ripper, whose series of atrocious murders and mutilations, principally at Whitechapel, extended over a period of years….The first Constable to arrive was just in time to catch a dark stalwart looking man stooping over a young woman, who was lying on the pavement and struggling for her life. Armed with a long knife, the man was cutting and hacking at the unfortunate woman in merciless fashion. The assassin was smartly seized and disarmed, and on being taken to the police station gave the name of Grant, and his occupation as a ship’s fireman. The woman, who was terribly wounded and is not likely to recover, is of the unfortunate class.”


Contrary to the above report, Alice Graham did recover and was able to testify at William Grant’s subsequent Old Bailey Trial, which took place on the 25th March 1895. He was duly found guilty and sentenced to ten years penal servitude.

Interestingly, according to an article in The Times, dated the 28th March 1895, Mr Horace Avory, the prosecuting counsel, actually commented during the trial  that “the crime bore a strange resemblance to the Jack the Ripper murders, and the police had turned their attention to the matter without result.”


Furthermore, on 7th May 1895 The Pall Mall Gazette – referring to him as William Grant Grainger – added a further twist to the case for his having been Jack the Ripper.

In an extensive article, it stated that:-

“There is one person whom the police believe to have actually seen the Whitechapel Murderer with a woman a few minutes before that woman’s dissected body was found in the street. That person is stated to have identified Grainger as the man he then saw.”

This may well be a reference to Joseph Lawende – the man who saw Catherine Eddowes talking with a man outside Mitre Square, shortly before her murder. If this is the case, and he was asked to identify Grainger, it suggests that the police entertained serious suspicions that he may also have been Jack the Ripper.

However, it should be remembered that Lawende only got a very brief glance at the man and that he was adamant that he probably wouldn’t be able to identify him were he to be confronted with him again. If he was that uncertain in the immediate wake of the murder of Catherine Eddowes in 1888, how reliable would his recollection have been almost seven years later?

Indeed, as the Pall Mall Gazette readily conceded:-

“But obviously identification after so cursory a glance, and after the lapse of so long an interval, could not be reliable…”


Intriguingly, the article had begun with the statement that:-

“The theory entitled to most respect, because it was presumably based upon the best knowledge, was that of Chief Inspector Swanson, the  officer who was associated with the investigation of all the murders, and Mr Swanson believed the crimes to be the work of a man who is now dead.”


The article is also of interest because of the fact that it provided information on Grant Grainger’s background and attempted to trace his whereabouts at the time of the Whitechapel murders.

From The Pall Mall Gazette, 7th May 1895. Copyright, The British Library Board.
From The Pall Mall Gazette, 7th May 1895. Copyright, The British Library Board.


There the matter may have rested, were it not for the publication of Sir Robert Anderson’s recollections, in 1910 in which he stated that Jack the Ripper had been a been apprehended and that he had been a low born Jew living the area.

From The Seven Oaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 4th March 1910. Copyright The British Library Board.
From The Seven Oaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 4th March 1910. Copyright The British Library Board.

This, of course, is now accepted as being a reference to suspect Aaron Kosminski.


However, Anderson’s assertion was challenged by George Kebbell who had been Grant’s solicitor at the time of his initial appearance in the police court.

In a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette, published on 16th April 1910, Kebbell wrote:-

SIR, -Seeing the means at his disposal for ensuring accuracy, it is remarkable Sir Robert Anderson should have fallen into a blunder concerning the identity of Jack the Ripper. The latter was not a Jew, but an Irishman, educated for the medical profession, and, for reasons, disowned by his relatives.

Just prior to the Whitechapel murders he had been getting his living as a fireman on a cattle boat, and having been suspected and watched by the police, was arrested in the very act of mutilating a woman, who, as by a miracle, recovered, and, looking like a ghost, gave evidence at his trial.

The writer defended the man before the magistrate, but, at the Central Criminal Court, he was unrepresented. He was sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude, and died, I believe, in prison.

Yours truly,


57, Gracechurch-street, E.C., April 15.


The Pall Mall Gazette later published an interview with Kebbell, in which he stated that he had no doubt about Grant’s (or Grant Grainger’s) guilt, adding that:-

“This man was caught in the very act in an alley in Spitalfields. And what is most pertinent is that after he was arrested there were no more Whitechapel murders.

I must not tell you, of course, what I know as his solicitor. I can only deal with facts that were common knowledge.
It was thoroughly recognised at the time that the police had got the man at last.

The man was a madman, and it transpired during the trial that not long before the Whitechapel murders commenced he had been discharged from a lunatic asylum.

What caused the police to suspect him in the first place was his habit of frequenting the lowest public-houses in the East-end with a most extraordinary knife. Women who saw it said they had never seen such a knife before. Certainly, no such knife as this was ever made in this country. It was supposed that possibly it might have been some surgical instrument used in America. It has a peculiar twist in it.

The police, who were watching him, saw him cut an apple with the knife in a public-house. It was with this very knife that he was mutilating the woman when the police pounced on him.”


Interestingly, Grant wasn’t actually dead at the time of Kebbell’s press accusations and he was duly defended by L. Forbes Winslow, who, it must be said, had long favoured Canadian G. Wentworth Smith as the prime suspect.

There followed a series of exchanges between Kebbell and Winslow in the press in which they attacked and counter-attacked each other’s assertions.

It would appear that Winslow may have got the upper hand, largely because of the fact that Grant wasn’t actually dead, as  can be seen in this article from The Dundee Courier, Winslow

An article in the Dundee Courier refuting Grant as a suspect.
From The Dundee Courier, 27th July 1910. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Whatever the strength – or weakness – of the case against Grant, he is an intriguing suspect and the fact that he was, if the press reports are to be believed, linked to the murders during his Old Bailey Trial is also of interest.

Of course, much of what was written about him at the time may well have been little more than press embellishment, but it is evident that the police certainly entertained suspicions against him and as such, he is entitled to his place on the ever-growing list of Jack the Ripper suspects.