Israel Schwartz had apparently been in Britain only a matter of days when he became embroiled in history’s most famous murder mystery. At about a quarter to one on the morning of September 30th, 1888, Schwartz was walking up Berner Street from Commercial Road when;
“he saw a man stop & speak to a woman who was standing in the gateway. The man tried to pull the woman into the street & threw her down on the footway & the woman screamed three times but not very loudly”.
What Schwartz saw was probably the opening stage of the sort of ‘blitz’ attack which ‘disorganised’ serial killers like Jack the Ripper perpetrate on their victims. Whatever the case, some fifteen minutes later the dead body of Swedish-born prostitute Elizabeth Stride, nicknamed ‘Long Liz’ and identified by Schwartz as the corpse of the female he had seen being assaulted, was found just inside the gateway, which opened onto a yard owned by a carriage maker named Dutfield. The most concise description of how the body was lying is provided for us by divisional police surgeon George Bagster Phillips:
“…on the near (left) side with the face turned towards the wall, the head up the yard and the feet towards the street”.
Another witness, Police Constable Henry Lamb, recorded that Stride’s face was: “five or six inches away from the wall”. Dr. Frederick Blackwell, whose arrival on the scene preceded that of Phillips, found: “a long incision in the neck” which had:
“nearly severed the vessels on the left side (and) cut the windpipe completely in two…Blood was running down in the gutter into the drain. It was running in an opposite direction to the feet. There was a quantity of clotted blood just under the body”.
Cause of death was given (by Phillips) as: “loss of blood from the left carotid artery and the division of the windpipe”, an assessment which has gone unchallenged for the last one hundred and eighteen years. But was it right?
The problem is that when an artery is cut into, blood begins to spurt and continues to do so until death, when the heart stops beating and pumping blood around the body. After that, blood will only ooze out. If Liz Stride did bleed to death – and Dr. Blackwell reiterated Dr. Phillips’ findings saying: that it would take about a minute and a half – then blood should have spurted out from the damaged artery until life left the body. Yet there was no evidence that it had done. In addition to that oozing into the gutter, blood ought to have spurted some distance from the body and you would have expected to find spots of it behind the body and on the wall near where Stride’s head rested. But there was none, as the two Doctors and Inspector Edmund Reid – head of ‘H’ Division C.I.D. – all confirmed. Asked by the Coroner, Wynne Baxter, “Were there no spots of blood anywhere?”, Blackwell replied: “No. Some of the blood had been trodden near to where the body was lying”.
Baxter followed this up with: “Was there any blood on the side of the house or splashes on the wall?”
Again the answer was in the negative, Blackwell adding that it had been very dark at the time but he had examined the wall by a policeman’s lantern. The Coroner repeated the latter question to both Dr. Phillips and Inspector Reid and elicited the same responses.
Phillips: “I could trace none”.
Reid : “I minutely examined the wall near where the body was found but could find no spots of blood”
Both men had closely examined the crime scene, Reid returning in daylight to scrutinise it again, and it is clear that there were no bloodstains which could have resulted from it spurting.
The purpose of the Coroner’s questions appears to have been to establish that Liz’s injuries were inflicted when she was on the ground, but blood spurts should have been evident irrespective of what position she was in when the knife was used. Their absence therefore leads to the conclusion that Stride was actually dead before her throat was cut. However, unlike other ripper victims, there was nothing to suggest that she had been strangled, at least to death.
So what killed her then? The evidence points to reflex cardiac arrest (R.C.A.), a condition in which death can occur very quickly through sudden pressure to the neck.* R.C.A. was at one time a regular cause of death amongst individuals being put under restraint by the police, the procedure being to crook the arm around the victim’s throat from behind, relying on the partial obstruction to the airway to render the subject temporarily helpless. But if the arm lock puts pressure on the carotid structures of the neck then there is a serious possibility of sudden death resulting, especially if the restrainee has been drinking, is on drugs or is in a highly emotional state, say from fear or anger (the police have now discontinued this form of restraint). The quickness with which death takes place means that the classic signs of asphyxia do not appear, the only noticeable feature being that the face becomes pale. Remember this.
Assuming that the man who attacked Liz Stride was her murderer – and it would be an extraordinary coincidence if someone else came along and likewise assaulted her – then she would have been in a state of considerable terror and anxiety as the attack unfolded and she was dragged into the yard. What happened next is explained for us by Dr. Blackwell:
“There was a check silk scarf round the neck, the bow of which was turned to the left side and pulled tightly…I formed the opinion that the murderer first took hold of the silk scarf at the back of it and then pulled the deceased backwards”.
In other words the killer partly garrotted Stride from behind. I believe that in doing so he exerted the sort of pressure on the carotid which would cause death by cardiac arrest to supervene.
A labourer named Best, who claimed to have seen Liz in a pub a couple of hours prior to her death, provides us with what would seem to be the clincher. Best was taken to the mortuary to see if he could identify the remains. Afterwards he told the Evening News that he was almost certain it was the same woman, adding:
“The face looks the same but a little paler”.
Best was not the only one to remark that the corpse had a pale face. Both Inspector Reid and an Evening News reporter who saw the body in the mortuary confirm it.
The process of investigating cause of death has evolved and expanded very considerably since 1888. Had this murder been committed today the corpse would have been examined by a Forensic Pathologist equipped with knowledge and training not available to Blackwell and Phillips. They did their best by the standards of the time but did not realise that they were looking at an anomaly which rendered the obvious unlikely.
Author: Bill Beadle
Erzinglioglu, Dr. Zakaria – Forensic True Crime Investigations, Carlton Books, 2000.
Evans, Stewart & Skinner, Keith – The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook, Robinson, 2000.
The London Evening News – October 1st, 1888.
Knight, Bernard – Simpson’s Forensic Medicine (eleventh edition), Arnold, 1997.
© Copyright, Bill Beadle, 2006.