Thain was a thirty-four year old constable from Suffolk who seven years previously had been a police officer on the Woolwich docks. His beat on Friday 31 August 1888 was a thirty minute circuit which took him along Brady Street, passing the corner leading into Buck’s Row. He did see “one or two” workmen walking along Brady Street. At about a quarter to four in the morning he was alerted by PC John Neil (97J, Bethnal Green), who was in Buck’s Row as he passed, to the presence there of the body of a dead woman. Shortly after joining Neil the two were joined by PC Jonas Mizen (56H, Whitechapel) who had been informed that a woman was lying on the road by Charles Allen Lechmere (who gave his name as ‘Cross’ at the inquest) and Robert Paul. Neil dispatched Mizen to Bethnal Green Police Station for the police ambulance, and Thain to bring Dr. Llewellyn from his surgery on the Whitechapel Road. Thain returned with the doctor about ten minutes later to discover that PC Neil had been joined by two workmen at the body.
Once the doctor had conducted an examination of the body at the scene he instructed that the body be removed to the mortuary. John Thain assisted the other officers in lifting the body from the road and placing onto the ambulance. In the process of doing this Thain discovered that the back of the body was saturated in blood, and he got blood on his own hands at this point. Thain did not go with the ambulance to the mortuary but kept watch at the place where the body was discovered until the arrival of Inspector John Thomas Spratling (J Division, Bethnal Green). Shortly following the arrival of Spratling Thain began a search of the surrounding area but uncovered nothing suspicious. We know that Inspector Spratling made his way to the mortuary to examine the body of the deceased.
Constable Mizen was on the beat at the east of Hanbury Street, at the crossing of Baker’s Row, in the process of dispersing drunks and vagrants, when somewhere between a quarter and ten to four in the morning (Friday 31 August 1888) two carmen informed him that a woman was lying on Buck’s Row and that another policeman requested his presence there. Charles Allen Lechmere (who gave his name as ‘Cross’ at the inquest), one of those carters, refuted this statement saying that they saw no other policeman. When Jonas Mizen arrived on the scene PC John Neil (97J, Bethnal Green) was already at the body of Mary Ann Nichols. At this time they were joined by another constable, John Thain (96J, Bethnal Green), who came from Brady Street. It is evident that Neil has taken charge of the crime scene and dispatches Mizen to collect the police ambulance from the Bethnal Green Police Station, and Thain to get Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn from his surgery at 152 Whitechapel Road, not three-hundred yards from where the body was discovered.
The Bethnal Green Police Station (J Division) was on Ainsley Street, on the corner of the Bethnal Green Road. The current location of Bethnal Green Station on Victoria Park Square, facing the Museum Gardens, was at that time the Drill Hall of the Tower Hamlets Engineer Volunteers. At the time of the Whitechapel murders, as is evinced by the letter of Superintendent James Keating (Saturday 13 October 1888), the station was no longer thought fit for purpose and new premises were being sought. This station is a fifteen minute walk from Buck’s Row, and so PC Mizen would have been absent from the scene for at least half an hour. Once he was back on the scene with the ambulance, and when Llewellyn had conducted his preliminary post-mortem examination, at the instructions of the doctor the police removed the body to the Old Montague Street Mortuary which was no more than a brick shed in Pavilion Yard. This was accessed through a gate at the bottom of Eagle Place, off the northeast end of Old Montague Street. At the closing of the inquest on 22 September the Coroner made some remarks on the need for a mortuary in Whitechapel. It is altogether likely that all four policemen (Sergeant Kirby had joined them on Buck’s Row) accompanied the body to the mortuary, where they were joined shortly afterwards by Inspector Spratley of J Division.
At the latest, Charles Allen Lechmere, who presented himself under the alias Charles Allen ‘Cross’ at the inquest, would have been in or about Buck’s Row at twenty-five minutes to four o’clock on the morning of Friday 31 August 1888. Had he had indeed left for work at his usual time of twenty past three then he would have been there ten minutes earlier, thus giving him either ten or twenty minutes in Buck’s Row before the arrival of Robert Paul, who arrived at exactly quarter to four. Both Lechmere and Paul, together with the police officers and Dr. Llewellyn, who arrived on the scene sometime around ten to and four o’clock, agree that it was very dark; so dark that the body was easily mistaken for tarpaulin and that blood could not be seen. Mary Ann (also known as ‘Polly’) Nichols’ body was lying across a gateway on the south-side of the street, facing the front door of Essex Warf on the opposite side. Lechmere implies that he was walking east-to-west along the north-side of the road in the near pitch darkness when, at about Essex Warf, he saw on the other side what he thought to be a sheet of tarpaulin, and so ventured into the middle of the road. From this vantage point he was able to make out that it was a woman.
Between ten and twenty minutes after Lechmere makes this discovery Robert Paul enters the street from the east, the same side Lechmere claims to have entered by, and we are told that Lechmere heard him coming. According to the conclusions of Llewellyn the woman has only just died. In fact, as Paul’s testimony indicates, she may have still been hanging onto life when he examined her, and he saw no one leaving the street as he approached. By this time Lechmere has been on Buck’s Row alone for at least ten minutes. Paul walks east-to-west, like Lechmere, along the Row but on the south-side. At the inquest he would say that Lechmere was standing in the middle of the road, but to Lloyd’s Weekly on the night of the murder he has Lechmere “standing where the woman was.” Paul was aware, as he had said to the newspaper reporter, that this was a notoriously dangerous area and stepped out onto the road to give Lechmere “a wide berth.” On passing Lechmere, however, Lechmere touched him on the shoulder and spoke, indicating the presence of the woman “who was lying across the gateway.” While Paul has apparently nothing to hide, Charles Lechmere’s account differs. According to the latter he was in the middle of the road and Paul was on the footpath on the north-side of the Row. After he indicated the presence of the woman to Paul they both crossed over to her.
In both of these versions of the discovery of Nichol’s body there is a clear difference in proximity. Where Robert Paul’s account has him close to the body, there is a repeated distancing of himself from the woman in the language of Lechmere.
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.
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.