Investigating murder sometimes resembles picking gnat's droppings out of cow dung;- or to put it a little more salubriously, this will be a journey of exploration and whether you get to the end of it with me will depend on your perception of how logical the deductions are.
We begin on the night following the double murder of Liz Stride and Cathy Eddowes. Thirty minutes after midnight on Monday, October 1st, a warehouse operative named Thomas Coram was walking up Whitechapel road on the right-hand side going towards Aldgate when, near Great Garden street, he spied something white lying on the bottom step of number 252 on the other side of the road. Coram crossed over and found that the object was a long bladed knife with a handkerchief tied round the handle. Both the knife and the hankie were stained with dried blood.
Coram summoned Police Constable Joseph Drage who was on fixed point duty nearby. Drage later told the Stride inquest that the knife had definitely not been there an hour beforehand but:
"Some little time before a horse fell down opposite the place where the knife was found. I assisted in getting the horse up and during that time a person might have laid the knife down on the step. I would not be positive that the knife was not there a quarter of an hour previously, but I think not".
One is infuriated that Drage was not questioned more closely. Was the horse drawing a vehicle or being led? Did Drage think it more likely that the horse's owner or a passer-by had disposed of the knife? We do not know, but obviously somebody thought it necessary to divest himself of the bloodstained items. Was it Liz Stride's murderer? Well the police clearly thought it could have been otherwise they would not have brought it up at the inquest.
The weapon used to cut Stride's throat was not the same as the one used on Eddowes, a fact primarily responsible for some ripperologists querying whether Liz was a ripper victim. However, there is no reason why "jack" should not have carried more than one knife, a point endorsed by John Douglas, one of the world's leading experts on multicides (The Cases Which Haunt Us h/b p.48). Could then this knife have caused Stride's wound? Here is what Dr. Blackwell and Dr. Phillips told her inquest:
Blackwell: Although it might have possibly inflicted the injury it is extremely unlikely that such an instrument was used....
Phillips: Such a knife could have produced the incision and injuries to the neck of the deceased, but it is not such a weapon as I would have chosen.
One reason which Dr. Phillips gave for his doubts was the awkwardness of such a long-bladed knife given the position of the incision. But Dr. Blackwell's objections, while similar, was put perhaps a little more intriguingly:
"The murderer using a sharp, round-pointed instrument would severely handicap himself, as he could only use it one way".
Summed up, although the evidence did not preclude the knife from being the murder weapon, its awkwardness in relation to how the throat had been cut rendered it "improbable" (Phillips). Having established this, let us put the knife on hold for the present and concentrate on another mysterious facet of the death of Elizabeth Stride. We resume with Dr. Blackwell again:
"The right hand was lying on the chest and was smeared inside and out with blood. It (the hand) was quite open. There was no blood on any portion of Stride's clothing"
But could the blood smattered hand be explained by the use of a weapon not entirely suited to the task? With this in mind, let's bring our knife back on stage. Might it have dripped blood onto Liz's hand from her injured throat? Unlikely, as according to Professor Bernard Knight in Simpson's Forensic Medicine (eleventh edition p.38), a knife will not pick up blood from the first incision as there is a slight delay before bleeding commences. Here, there was only the one wound, and it does in fact convey the impression that it was inflicted with the wrong type of knife. First, the damaged carotid artery was not completely severed, after which the cut became deeper as it progressed, as though the perpetrator was having to adjust the pressure on the knife as he went along. Then, said Dr. Phillips, the cut: "deviated a little downwards" before becoming "superficial" and tailing off about two inches below the right angle of the jaw, at which point there was a tear in the silk scarf around Liz's neck which, added Phillips, he had ascertained as being a cut in the material.
The cut in the scarf could obviously have been caused by the knife jerking suddenly. Why? Now comes the hypothesis. As the incision tapered off so the killer again tried to reassert pressure, but his hand slipped down the blade of the cumbersome weapon and he cut himself. He swiftly wrapped a handkerchief around the wound but not before his blood had permeated the knife and dripped down onto Stride's hand.
The sudden pain and discomfort from having cut himself may well have been a contributory factor in the killer's decision to depart without mutilating the body. Later, he regained his equilibrium and with his lust now heightened by the aborted attack on Stride set off in search of another victim. But here again there is evidence that not all was well; - that something was hampering him, even though he was back using the knife he normally used. The first incision to Eddowes' throat is described as "merely superficial" while the second, like Stride's, petered out towards the end. Dr. Fredrick Brown, the City Police Surgeon, reported:
"the sheaf of the vessels on the right was just opened (by contrast with those on the left);- the (right) carotid artery had a fine hole opening. The internal jugular vein was opened an inch & a half (but), not divided".
Compare this with Nichols, Chapman and Kelly's throat wounds. The second cut to Nichols throat deeply divided the neck muscles on each side, both Chapman's throat injuries went right the way round to the extent that she was almost decapitated and Kelly's neck tissues were severed: "all round down to the bone". In fact, Eddowes' second wound was more reminiscent of Stride's single injury, and the implication is that after failing with the first incision on Cathy's throat, he had to make a special effort with the second but could not sustain it all the way.
The abdominal mutilations likewise appear laboured, the incision running in a grotesque zig-zag fashion as if the perpetrator has to have kept pausing. The effect was three wounds going in different directions, each commencing from its predecessor.
Another anomaly was the piece of Eddowes' apron which the killer had evidently used to wipe his hands and knife. In no other murder do we detect a garment belonging to the victim having been utilised. Was it pressed into service because his own handkerchief was already saturated in blood and tied on to the handle of his knife?
We return to Dr. Phillips at Stride's inquest for a final pointer. Examining the knife which had been found, he declared:
"It has been recently blunted and the edge turned by apparently rubbing on a stone. It evidently was before that a very sharp knife".
Which suggests that its owner, in a temper, had blunted it because it had injured him.
A final mystery. What would actually have motivated the killer to use a different knife on Liz Stride? One possible answer is that having had a struggle with her he used the weapon which was most conveniently to hand. But alternatively, perhaps he wanted to try out this "very sharp knife". Besides: "Nobody's consistent; they don't do everything the same every time". Says who? Says Ted Bundy, and I suppose one has to consider him an expert in a ghoulish sort of way!
Douglas, John & Olshaker, Mark, The Cases That Haunt Us, (Simon & Schuster - 2000).
Evans, Stewart & Skinner, Keith, The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook, (Robinson - 2000).
Keppel, Robert. D, The Riverman, (Constable - 1995).
Knight, Bernard, Simpson's Forensic Medicine, (eleventh edition), (Arnold - 1997).
© Bill Beadle, 2006.