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.
It is entirely possible that as Lechmere entered into Buck’s Row from Brady Street that, as he heard Robert Paul approaching, he too was heard by the killer, and disturbing him (assuming it was a man and a single person), who then may have walked, under the cover of darkness, to the west. While PC Jonas Mizen (56H, Whitechapel) was on his beat in the area of Hanbury Street to the west, there are at least six different routes the perpetrator could have taken to escape the scene. In this scenario Lechmere did simply happen upon the woman lying at the gateway, but it fails to answer for the time he spent at the scene without raising the alarm. As the place was an area known for street prostitution, he may have had reasons for tarrying about the area – possibly explaining why he never gave his correct name and withheld his address. He was a married man with children.
If he was the killer it is possible that he solicited Mary Ann (‘Polly’) Nichols for sex in the locality and brought her to the darkness and seclusion of Buck’s Row or found her already there. In this second scenario, had he lied about the time he left home, then he had enough time to carry out the deadly assault, and had he told the truth he still had time to perpetrate the same. This latter case is greatly facilitated with the possibility of the victim being on Buck’s Row as Lechmere arrived. With Mary Ann subdued, and almost decapitated, he would have heard Robert Paul coming around the corner from Brady Street and would have had time to step back from the body and size up the potential threat from the newcomer. It is altogether possible that hewaited to see the reaction of Robert Paul before continuing on with the pretence of having discovered the body.
One other possibility is that both men – Lechmere and Paul – were in league with one another. This theory, although farfetched, is not as farfetched as it might seem. PC John Neil (97J, Bethnal Green) reports that he had seen two slaughterhouse-workmen at work in the area about a quarter past three in the morning, and again when he discovered the body of Nichols. Only seconds after Lechmere and Paul leave the scene Neil arrives, and before PC Mizen gets to him, two men wander towards PC Neil and the body of Mary Ann Nichols. May these two men be Lechmere and Paul? This would explain the confusion of Mizen stating that the two men told him that another policeman wanted him on Buck’s Row. This theory is not very strong at all, and is mentioned here only to highlight the logical possibility.
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.