Quite inexplicably neither the official record of the Baxter Inquest into the death of Mary Ann Nichols, the Times nor the Morning Advertiser newspapers mention the address of the man Charles A. Cross (a name which we later discover to be an alias of Charles Allen Lechmere). This omission has led many to believe that he was reluctant, for reasons heretofore unknown, to give his home address, including this writer. Lechmere in fact did provide his address to Coroner Wynne Edwin Baxter and the inquest jury, and this was recorded as “22 Doveton Street, Cambridge Road” in the Star newspaper, Monday 3 September 1888. It must be concluded then that the Inquest record and the other newspapers simply neglected to mention that the man known there as ‘Cross’ did give an account of his home address. This may suggest that both the Times and the Morning Advertiser were dependent for their information on the inquest record. It is unlikely in the extreme to have been the other way around. Had the court recorder not taken down the address it is not likely then to have made it to the papers depending on it. The Star, on the other hand, appears to be taking its own notes.
Another piece of important information that the Star of that date gives us is the record that Charles Allen Lechmere left for work at twenty minutes past three o’clock in the morning, and not the half past as recorded at the inquest and in the other papers. If the other papers are reliant on the court record then we can treat them as a single source as regards details of time and place. We may be looking at a simple case of either the coroner’s reporter or the pressman from the Star making a mistake. It is entirely possible then, at this stage, to suggest that the time Lechmere left his home was in fact twenty minutes past three, thus giving him a full forty minutes to make the walk to his place of work at Broad Street Station.
Of its 650 horses three hundred and more are under Broad Street Station, where they form not the least of the nightly attractions of that busy goods depot. The mention of the North Western agents – who are Messrs. Pickford & Co. – naturally leads us on to the carriers…
At the Baxter inquest into the death of Mary Ann (‘Polly’) Nichols, whereat the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown, we know that Charles Lechmere both, for reasons yet not known, used an alias he had not been known to use before, and evaded giving his home address. Alone, this information makes him a character worthy of greater attention. Despite the fact that he was “behind time” for work he lingered alone on Buck’s Row, in the near complete darkness, with the body of Mary Ann for somewhere between ten and twenty minutes before the arrival of Robert Paul without supposedly examining the body or raising the alarm. Again, this is deeply suspect behaviour. It is evident that he hears the sound of Paul’s boots on the cobbles resounding through the empty and quiet streets even before he turned onto Buck’s Row from Brady Street. He makes no attempt to make for the assistance of Paul, but rather waits silently by the dead or dying woman until Paul reaches the place on the Row where he is standing. That Lechmere didn’t have blood on him certainly cannot be determined for the darkness.
The Working Lads Institute on the Whitechapel Road
When Paul has been made aware of the woman in the gateway he and Lechmere investigate the body, presumably for the first time since even Lechmere arrived on Buck’s Row. With her skirts pulled up and her legs extended both men assume that she has been raped, and while Paul thinks she has fainted, without evidence of blood, and with her legs, upper arms and torso still warm, Lechmere leaps to the conclusion that she is dead. Further to this, Charles Lechmere expresses a desire to shift the woman; an oddity that Paul obviously picks up on and refuses. Not able then to move the body, Lechmere seems to be the one who encourages Paul to help him rearrange her skirts, seemingly to restore to her some decency – an odd action in that they then decide to leave her. Considering that her genitals and lower abdomen had been so severely cut up by her attacker, the move to cover her lower parts over may be interoperated as an attempt to hide these injuries from Paul or the policeman that Lechmere states he had heard. Even after hearing a policeman, a fact he doesn’t share with Paul, and after Paul found evidence that indicated that the woman may still be alive, Lechmere moves off with Paul in the direction of Church Row to the west in search of a policeman.
All of this evidence is circumstantial and cannot be used as conclusive proof in a case against Charles Allen Lechmere, yet it does have an accumulative effect. Add to this his haste to leave PC Jonas Mizen (after waiting with the body so long), his reluctance to provide his address and correct name, and the fact that he does not present himself to the inquest until the day after Robert Paul’s interview appears in Lloyd’s Weekly newspaper, and quite a convincing, albeit still circumstantial, case exists against Lechmere. We can only wonder why this man was not of more interest to the investigation.
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.
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.