Charles Allen Lechmere, presenting himself as Charles Allen ‘Cross’ to Mr. Baxter’s inquest, states that he left for work on the morning of Friday 31 August 1888 at half past three. His home, if 22 Doveton Street is correct, is about one hundred and fifty meters east of St. Bartholomew’s Church, so hearing the chime of the half hour in the early hours would not have been a problem. We have reason to believe that he usually left home at twenty past three to make the forty minute walk to Messrs. Pickford and Co. on Broad Street for a four o’clock starting time. Yet on this morning he says that he left at half past, and states at the inquest that he was “behind time.” He then claims to have had walked “down Parson Street, crossed Brady Street, and through Buck’s Row;” a journey of no more than five minutes by foot in 1888. There is no such place as Parson Street in Bethnal Green or in Whitechapel, and is therefore most likely to be a mishearing of Barnsley Street or a local name for the pathway running between the recreational grounds (to the south) and St. Bartholomew’s Church (to the north) which links Doveton Street (through Oxford Street) to Barnsley Street. This route would have been one of the most convenient for him to take.
Leaving his home on Doveton Street it is likely that he walked in a westward direction, crossed over Cambridge Road and entered into Oxford Street, continued through the pathway into Barnsley Street, then followed that road to Tapp Street, took the left turn to Sommerford Street, turning right and walking to the junction of Sommerford Street and Brady Street, and south to the right-hand turn into Buck’s Row. This or any similar itinerary puts Lechmere in Buck’s Row no later than twenty-five minutes to four on the morning of the murder – a full ten minutes before the arrival of Robert Paul, or twenty minutes if he has indeed left at his usual time.
Another matter that stands out in the account of the discovery of Mary Ann Nichols’ body given by Robert Paul to Lloyd’s Weekly is the series of events after that discovery. Paul gives the impression that he left Lechmere at Buck’s Row because he was obliged to be at work on time. Later at the inquest he and Lechmere (calling himself ‘Cross’) agree that they left the body together in order to find a policeman. It is likely that the newspaper reporter paid less attention to the details of the account than the inquest recorder, but both the newspaper and the inquest provide enough detail to make the story plausible. Lloyd’s Weekly presents Robert Paul, alone, remonstrating with a policeman – presumably PC Jonas Mizen (56H, Whitechapel) – at the head of Buck’s Row, on Church Row, and at the inquest the other man (Charles A. Lechmere) walked with him to Montague Street where they both found a policeman. Confusion here is explained away in the fact that the most easterly section of Hanbury Street (previously ‘Church Street’) was known as ‘Church Row,’ and at this point Hanbury Street meets the northwest extreme of Old Montague Street. PC Mizen corroborates Paul’s account when he says that at a quarter to four on the morning in question a carman informed him that a woman was lying on the road at Buck’s Row when he was at the Hanbury Street and Baker’s Row (now ‘Vallance Road’) crossing – that is the Church Row, Old Montague Street and Baker’s Row intersection.
From this evidence it is likely that the newspaper was careless in recording the details of the men leaving the place where Mary Ann Nichols was lying. Lechmere offers in testimony that after examining the woman for signs of life he heard a policeman coming. Paul does not say the same, and no indication is given as to whether the sound came from Brady Street to the east or from Baker’s Row in the west. In any case both men seem, as the evidence would suggest, to have left together in the direction of Baker’s Row where at the corner of Baker’s Row and Old Montague Street they met with PC Jonas Mizen. Given that Dr. Llewellyn, at about four o’clock, determined that she had not been dead more than a half hour, it is likely that the closing comments in the newspaper are editorial remarks, put in the mouth of the witness, directed towards criticising the policing of the Whitechapel area. In his deposition to the Baxter inquest he goes so far as to note that he thought he had detected faint breathing from the woman.
Both Charles Allen Lechmere and Robert Paul agree that the latter arrived on Buck’s Row when the former was already at the scene. We can therefore safely focus our attention, for the time being, on the first man on the scene of the crime. On the afternoon of the Mary Ann Nichols murder Robert Paul gave an interview to Lloyd’s Weekly. His interview is important for a number of reasons: he gave it on the same day of the murder, before Charles Allen Cross (later discovered to be ‘Lechmere’) had come forward, and before the media hype surrounding a serial killer. Nichols’ murder was being treated as a routine murder case in the city. It is of great interest because a number of the more important details contradict the evidence given at the inquest on 17 September; more than two and a half weeks later. Paul states that he is a carman in the employ of Covent Garden Market, and that at exactly a quarter to four in the morning he arrived on Buck’s Row. It was so dark that he could not see blood on the body, and so it stands to reason that he would not have been able to see blood on Lechmere if he had blood on him. Paul says that he was hurrying along,
“When I saw a man standing where the woman was. He came a little towards me, but as I knew the dangerous character of the locality I tried to give him a wide berth. Few people like to come up and down here without being on their guard, for there are such terrible gangs about. There have been many knocked down and robbed at that spot. The man, however, came towards me and said, ‘Come and look at this woman.’”
– Robert Paul Interview, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday 2 September 1888
Lechmere, in this first statement, is not standing in the middle of the road, but “where the woman was.” Charles Lechmere was at the body when Paul arrived on Buck’s Row, yet by the time that this is all reported again, more than two weeks later, he says that he “saw a man standing in the middle of the road.” Lechmere’s deposition says that they both (Paul and himself) “crossed over to the body,” yet this is different to that given by Paul who “stepped in the roadway to pass [Lechmere].” The impression that one gets from Paul’s account is that he is walking on the same side of the road where the body is lying (which Paul does not see for the darkness), that Lechmere is standing in his way on the footpath (alternative reading of “in the middle of the road”), and that he steps onto the road in order to pass Lechmere. Such would certainly make sense in light of the comment that the woman was “lying across the gateway,” an immediacy which implies proximity and not on the other side of the road.
Charles Andrew Cross is asked to give evidence as a witness to the murder of Mary Ann Nichols to Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, Coroner for South-East Middlesex, at the Working Lad’s Institute on the Whitechapel Road on the Monday after the murder (3 September 1888). On reporting his testimony the Times and the Morning Advertiser newspapers report his name as ‘George’ and ‘Charles Allen’ respectively, while the coroner’s recorder names him as ‘Charles Andrew.’ These discrepancies need not over worry us at this point. As a member of the lower social order’s (a carter by profession) the exact details of his name were not likely to have been greatly important to newspaper reporters more interested in the print value of the more gruesome details of a murder story. What is important is that they all concur that he gave his name as ‘Cross.’ It is intriguing that of the five civilian witnesses who gave evidence at the coroner’s court that day he alone did not provide his home address, offering rather the carriers Messrs. Pickford and Co. as his place of employment. Neither the court nor the newspapers appear to pick up on this evasion. As to why his address is accepted now as 22 Doveton Street, Mile End will have to wait for another discussion.
Accepting, for the moment, that his home address was 22 Doveton Street – as it was reported in the Morning Advertiser that he crossed Brady Street to enter Buck’s Row he certainly was coming from that direction – we do find a ‘Charles A.’ living at that address less than three years later in the 1891 census, but this is a Charles A. Lechmere. This man is a forty-one year old carman, who was born in Soho, and living with his wife Elizabeth and their seven children. This man, Charles A. Lechmere, was born at St. Ann’s in Soho in 1849 and was one year old at the time of the 1851 census. After the death of his father, John Allen Lechmere, his mother, Maria Louisa Roulson, remarried in 1858 a police constable by the name of Thomas Cross. By the time of the 1861 census the family are living at 13 Thomas Street, St. George East and the eleven year old Charles has taken the name Cross. At twenty-one (census of 1871) he has married Elizabeth, is employed as a carman and has reverted to the name Charles A. Lechmere. In the census of 1881 we find him named Charles Allen Lechmere, and still working as a carrier. Charles Allen Lechmere would have been thirty-nine in 1888 and would have been employed as a carman for about twenty years – as stated by Charles A. Cross at the Nichols’ inquest. His stepfather, Thomas Cross, appears to have died at St. George East in 1869 and at no point after this does Charles use the name Cross again for official records, save at the Nichol’s inquest.
We are left with two pressing questions which merit further examination: why was Lechmere not forthcoming with his full address, and why did he feel the need to use an alias at a murder inquest? Considering that he was alone when he discovered the body of Mary Ann Nichols, that he was alone with her for between ten and twenty minutes without raising an alarm, and that he left the scene of the crime, he is a figure who demands further investigation.
When PC John Thain (96J, Bethnal Green) arrived back at the scene of the crime on Buck’s Row with Dr. Llewellyn at about between ten minutes to and four o’clock in the morning, the doctor conducted a cursory preliminary examination of the body. The legs of the dead woman were extended, and there were severe injuries to her neck. In the dark he felt that her hands and wrists were cold, but that her torso and lower extremities were warm. Llewellyn estimated that she had not been dead more than thirty minutes. This places the time of death to between twenty and ten to four in the morning. At the scene he noted that there was little blood to be seen about the neck which had led some to believe that she may have been killed somewhere else and brought to the place where she was discovered.
Once the body had been taken to the mortuary at Old Montague Street the doctor was sent for again to examine more injuries that had been discovered. According to Rees Ralph Llewellyn there were extensive cuts to the woman’s abdomen. This woman was between forty and forty-five years of age, with five teeth missing and a slight laceration on the tongue.
“On the right side of the face there is a bruise running along the lower part of the jaw. It might have been caused by a blow with the fist or pressure by the thumb. On the left side of the face there was a circular bruise, which also might have been done by the pressure of the fingers. On the left side of the neck, about an inch below the jaw, there was an incision about four inches long and running from a point immediately below the ear. An inch below on the same side, and commencing about an inch in front of it, was a circular incision terminating at a point about three inches below the right jaw. This incision completely severs all the tissues down to the vertebrae. The large vessels of the neck on both sides were severed. The incision is about eight inches long.”
– Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn, Mr. Wynne E. Baxter Inquest, Saturday 1 September 1888
The injuries on the body had been inflicted with great violence, in the opinion of the examining doctor, with a long-bladed, moderately sharp knife. He noted that no blood was found on the breast of her body or her clothes. Except for around the abdomen there were no other injuries over the body. On her left side there was a deep, jagged incision cutting through the tissues, and several cuts running across the abdomen. On the right there were several downward incisions. Each of the cuts had been inflicted violently and in a downward motion, cutting from left to right as though they were inflicted by a left-handed person. All of the injuries were made with the same weapon.
Shortly after the discovery of the body on Buck’s Row Dr. Llewellyn, who attended the scene between ten to and four o’clock in the morning, ordered the remains removed to the parish mortuary at Old Montague Street. Stencilled on the skirt of one of her petticoats was the stamp of the Lambeth Workhouse, and in her pockets were found a comb and a piece of mirror. The matron of the workhouse failed to identify the dead woman, adding that the clothes may have been issued anywhere up to three years ago. The artefacts in the pockets led the police to suspect that she was perhaps living in one of the many local common lodging-houses. Officers were sent to make enquiries.
On hearing the news of the murder a couple of women came forward and it was discovered that someone answering to the dead woman’s description, known only as “Polly,” had been staying at a common lodging-house at 18 Thrawl Street in Spitalfields. Women from the house were brought to the morgue whereupon they identified her as the “Polly” with whom they shared a 4d room, each having their own bed. “Polly” had been turned away from the lodging-house on the Thursday night because she did not have the 4d nighty price on her. “I’ll soon get my ‘doss’ money,” she was heard to have said, “See what a jolly bonnet I’ve got now.” She was wearing a new bonnet. “Polly” was last seen at half past two on Friday morning on the Whitechapel Road, opposite the church at the corner of Osborn Street. An inmate of the Lambeth Workhouse, Mary Ann Monk, was brought to the mortuary, and after twice viewing the body was convinced that it was that of Mary Ann Nichols, also known to her as “Polly” Nichols.
At about a quarter past three in the morning of Friday 31 August PC John Neil (97J, Bethnal Green Division of the London Metropolitan Police), a native of Cork in Ireland, walked eastward along Buck’s Row, seeing nothing unusual, encountered two men employed at the slaughterhouse opposite the place where he later found the body lying. Neither of these men heard a sound while they were working. Half an hour later Neil was back on Buck’s Row, and according to the testimony that he have at the inquest the following day (Saturday 1 September 1888) he “was never far away from the spot [where he discovered the body],” and it was then that he came upon the body of the woman.
He saw that the woman was lying on her back and that her bonnet was on the ground close to her left hand. Blood was still oozing from a wound on her throat, but her arms, from the joints upwards, were still quite warm. He saw PC John Thain (96J, Bethnal Green) passing along Brady Street to the east and signalled him with his torch so as not to raise an alarm at about a quarter to four in the morning. Neil then directed Thain to get Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn who lived nearby. Very shortly after this PC Jonas Mizen (56H, Whitechapel) arrived on the scene and was dispatched by PC Neil for an ambulance. According to Mizen (Inquest testimony, Monday 3 September 1888) Charles Cross and Robert Paul met him and informed him that another officer was looking for him. Cross denied this in his own testimony. Thain returned with the doctor at about ten minutes to four in the morning.