Police Constable John Thain (96J, Bethnal Green) | Some Corrections on the Movements of the Police on the Night of the Nichols Murder

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.


Police Constable Jonas Mizen (56H, Whitechapel) | His Part in the Discovery of Mary Ann Nichols

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.

Post-Mortem Examination of Mary Ann Nichols by Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn

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.

Identifying Mary Ann (“Polly”) Nichols as the Woman Murdered on Buck’s Row

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.