It was a dark and gloomy night in Whitechapel, and poor Annie Chapman, a forty eight year old woman who had fallen upon hard times found herself without enough money to pay for her lodgings and so glumly went out into the dark streets to earn enough to buy herself a bed for the night.
Her story was a common one at this time: born Ann Eliza Smith to then unmarried parents, she had been married at the rather advanced for the times age of twenty eight to a cousin, John Chapman and then settled down into an ordinary domestic life in West London, bearing three children and taking care of her home.
However, life soon took a sad turn when the couple’s eldest daughter died at the age of twelve and both Ann and John consoled themselves with alcohol, which prompted the falling apart of their marriage and eventual separation. Like poor Polly Nichols, the dissolution of her family, meant that Annie was separated from her children and forced to leave the marital home.
By 1888, Annie was living in Whitechapel and was prematurely aged, suffering from lung disease, depressed and still, unsurprisingly, an alcoholic. She made a living of sorts by selling flowers, doing crochet work and prostitution but it was not enough to keep her from a miserable existence of walking the streets at odd hours and not knowing where she would be sleeping at night.
At 5.30am on the morning of the 8th September, Annie was seen by an Elizabeth Long on Hanbury Street, talking to a dark, foreign looking man. By 5.55am, her mutilated body had been discovered in the backyard of number 29 by its doubtless shocked owner, who no doubt recoiled in horror from the sight of the unfortunate woman, who had had her throat slit before being disembowelled by the murderer that we all now refer to as Jack the Ripper.
Annie Chapman is interesting, as unlike all the other Ripper victims, there exists a photograph of her as she was in life, sitting formally and rather sullen at the side of her husband. This awkward image, so Victorian in every way, serves as a reminder that the Ripper’s victims were real women, with real lives and real families.
When I think of Polly Nichols, I think of her last evening when she went out in search of punters, convinced that her lovely new bonnet would bring her some extra trade. When I think of Annie Chapman, I think of the unhappy wife sitting beside her husband, with a look on her face that suggests that she wishes she was anywhere else but at his side.