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.
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.