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.
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.
At about 3:45AM a carter by the name of Charles Cross discovered the apparently lifeless body of a woman on Buck’s Row (now Durward Street) whilst making his way to work at Pickford’s carriers’ yard on Broad Street from his home on Doveton Street – a five minute walk. Her skirts were pulled up over her waist exposing the lower part of her body. Cross called to another man, Robert Paul, “Come and look over here, there’s a woman.” Feeling that her face and hands are cold, Cross is of the opinion that the woman on the road is dead, but Paul can feel a faint heart beat and says, “I think she’s breathing, but it is little if she is.”
Neither of the two men wishes to be late for work and so decide to alert the first policeman that they see, and continue on to their works. In an attempt to give the woman some decency they pull down her skirts and continue on their way. At the corner of Hanbury Street and Baker’s Row (now Vallance Road) they encounter Police Constable (PC) Jonas Mizen (55H, Whitechapel Division of the London Metropolitan Police) and inform him of their discovery. Both Cross and Paul continue on to their work and PC Mizen makes his way to Buck’s Row where he encounters two other police officers at the place where the body of the woman is lying on the street.
Route from Doveton Street to Buck’s Row is about a six minute walk. – Charles Cross