Woman’s Arm Found In The Thames

There can be no doubt about it. September, 1888, was a month when Londoners as a whole were subjected to a barrage of gruesome events.

Since the murder of Mary Nichols on the 31st of August, 1888, not a day had passed without new and even more horrific revelations appearing in the newspapers with regards to the Whitechapel murders.

The shock of the collective consciousness of Londoners increased dramatically in the wake of the murder of Annie Chapman which took place in Hanbury Street on the 8th of September, 1888.

A few days later, on the 11th of September, 1888, a river worker, by the name of Frederick Moore, made a discovery in the West of London that had people wondering if there could be an epidemic of murder occurring across London.

Ultimately the story of this discovery, and a later  gruesome find that was made nearby later in the month, would be linked to what the press would dub “The Whitehall Mystery.”

A skecth showing the Whitehall mystery.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 13th October, 1888. Copyright. The British Library Board.


The Aberdeen Free Press broke the story on Wednesday 12th September 1888, and Londoners were faced with yet another horrible mystery:-

“A profound sensation was created late yesterday afternoon by the publication of a report that another fiendish murder has been committed, this time in the western part of London.

There is, unfortunately, too much reason to believe that the report will prove to be absolutely correct, and already the police are pursuing inquiries based upon this assumption.


About twenty minutes to one yesterday afternoon, a man named Frederick Moore, employed at Messrs Ward’s timber yard, Grosvenor Road, had his attention drawn to a curious looking object in the mud on the banks of the River Thames immediately opposite where he was working.

Moore procured a ladder, and descended to the bank below the wharf.

On approaching the object, he was startled to find that it was a human arm. It was partly wedged between some timber in the wood dock belonging to Messrs Chappell.

Moore’s first thought was to secure the ghastly object, so that it might not be carried away by the tide or current, and this objective he assured by tying it to baulk of timber with some string which he had in his pocket.


He then carefully examined the immediate vicinity, but, failing to find any more human remains, he took up the arm and carried it to the embankment, and there he handed it over to the care of Police Constable James, who obtained newspaper from a neighbouring public-house, and, having wrapped the arm, which had already attracted the morbid curiosity of a rapidly gathering crowd, he conveyed it to Gerald Row Police Station.


Inspector Adams, of the B Division, at once took charge of the case, and his first care, after communicating the discovery to Scotland Yard, was to send for Dr Neville, of Pimlico Road and Sloane Street, the nearest medical man, who soon arrived at the police station and made a most careful examination of the remains.


He had no difficulty in deciding that the arm was that of a well-formed, tall, and well-nourished young woman, probably about 25 years of age.

It had been cut off at the shoulder with some sharp instrument, and the question at once naturally suggested itself – Is this the work of a professional anatomist or of a murderer?


Dr Neville did not feel called upon to express a positive opinion either way, but he could not deny that the work had been neatly done.

Some skill, too, had been shown in the manner in which the limb had been removed from the trunk of the body, but the handiwork was scarcely good enough for a person acquainted with the principles of anatomy.


Several bodies have recently been found in the Thames, but not one of them can be connected with the present case.

It is possible, but not at all probable, that the mysterious arm may have been cut from the body of a young married woman who left her home in Lewisham on the 20th of August, and has not since been heard of.

She was twenty-three years of age and tall, but she had threatened to commit suicide, and it is more likely that she carried out her threat than that she was the victim of murder.

Coming nearer to date, the body of a woman, apparently between forty and fifty years of age, was found floating off Lambeth Monday morning, and it has not yet been identified; but the corpse was that of a spare woman, about four feet three inches high.


It is possible that the arm may have been placed where it was found by some medical student or another practical joker, but this view is not shared by the authorities.

Inquiries are, however, being made at the various hospitals and private medical schools, the result of which can scarcely be made known until today.”


On Friday, 14th September, 1888, The Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette published a possible solution to the mystery of the arm in the Thames:-

“An application was made at Westminster Police Court yesterday afternoon by a woman named Potter, who lives in Spencer Buildings, Westminster.

She said that she had reason to fear that the woman’s arm recently found in the Thames at Pimlico belonged to her daughter Emma.

The girl, who is seventeen years of age and somewhat weak in her intellect, left her home on Saturday morning, and her mother has not seen her since.

The poor woman further stated that she had been to the police surgeon, who told her that the particulars she gave of the girl corresponded in every way the arm that had been found.

The police have continued their search in the Thames for the remainder of the body of the missing woman, but up till last night without success.”


The Leicester Daily Post, on Saturday, 29the September, 1888, published the following report about another gruesome find:-

“A lad walking along Lambeth-road, Southwark, yesterday found a parcel in the garden of the Blind School.

It contained the decomposed arm of a woman, which had lain in lime.

A London Correspondent telegraphs:- Yesterday morning, at about half-past seven o’clock, a horrible discovery was made in Southwark, which tallies with the late discovery at Pimlico.


It would appear that a lad was walking along the Lambeth-road, and passing the Blind School, which has a garden protected by railings, he noticed a curiously-shaped paper parcel, which was lying on the grass just inside the railings.

He managed to obtain possession of the parcel, and, upon opening it, to his horror, he found it to contain the arm of a woman.

It was somewhat decomposed and had lime thrown over it.

The attention of a policeman of the L division was immediately called, and he took the limb to the Lambeth Police station, in the Kennington-lane.


A bricklayer named Jim Moore said to a reporter:- At about a quarter past seven o’clock yesterday morning, I was walking along Lambeth-road when I saw a boy pick up a parcel through the railings which surround the Blind School.

He was opening it, when I went up and saw the arm of a young woman, which had been put in lime.


The licenced shoeblack, who stands at the corner of a public house which faces the Blind School, said:-

Seeing some people round a parcel which had been fished out of the garden, I went over. The parcel lay opened, and I saw the arm of a woman which had been cut from the body.

It was decomposed and had been laid in lime. The fingers were clutched.”


The police continued to search the river for the missing trunk of the body over the next few weeks, but to no avail.

Then, on the 3rd October, 1888, another gruesome find was made, this time in the basement of the Metropolitan Police force’s new headquarters which was, at the time, being built on the Embankment.

The Western Daily Press reported the story in its edition of Wednesday, 3rd October, 1888:-


“Another ghastly discovery was made in London this afternoon.

About twenty past three o’clock, a carpenter, named Frederick Wildborn, employed by Messrs J. Grover and Sons, builders, of Pimlico, who are the contractors for the new Metropolitan Police headquarters on the Embankment, was working on the foundation when he came across a neatly done up parcel, which was secreted in one of the cellars.

Wildborn was in search of timber when found the parcel, which was tied with paper, and measured about two and a half feet long by about two feet in width.

It was opened, and the body of a woman, very much decomposed, was found carefully wrapped in a piece of cloth, which is supposed to be a black petticoat.

The trunk was minus the head, both arms, and both legs, and presented a ghastly spectacle.

The officials of the works were immediately apprised of the discovery, and the police were fetched.


Dr. Bond, the divisional surgeon for the A Division, and several other medical gentlemen were communicated with, and subsequently examined the remains, which were handed over to the care of some police officers, who were told off to see that it was disturbed.

From what can be ascertained, the conclusion has been arrived at by the medical men that these remains are those of the woman whose arms have recently been discovered in different parts of the metropolis.

Doctors matching the arm to the body.
Matching The Arm To The Body. From the Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 20th October, 1888.


Dr. Nevill, who examined the arm of the female found a few weeks ago in the Thames, off Ebury Bridge, said on that occasion that he did not think it had been skilfully taken from the body, and this fact would appear to favour the theory that the arm, together with the one found in the grounds of the Blind Asylum, Lambeth Road last week, belong to the trunk discovered today, for it is stated that the limbs appear to have been taken from the body found this afternoon in anything but a skilful manner.


The building, which is in the course of erection, is the new police depot for London, the present scattered head-quarters of the Metropolitan Police Force and the Criminal Investigation Department, Great Scotland Yard and Whitehall Place having been found too small for the requirements of our police system.

The builders have been working at the site for some considerable time now, but have only just completed the foundation.

It was originally the site for the National Opera House, and extends from the Thames Embankment through to Cannon Row, Parliament Street, at the back of the St. Stephen’s Club and the Westminster Bridge Station on the District Railway.

The prevailing opinion is that to place the body where it was found, the person conveying it must have scaled the 8-foot hoarding which encloses the works, and, carefully avoiding the watchmen who are on duty by night, have dropped it where it was found.”