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.
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.
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.
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.