On the night of the 29th September 1888, Elisabeth Stride, a slight woman with grey eyes and curling brown hair walked the streets of Whitechapel in search of clients. Unlike the flashy Victorian prostitutes of popular imagining, she was dressed soberly and rather shabbily in a black jacket and skirt and black crepe bonnet, accessorized with a posy of red roses and ferns.
She was far from home, having been born Elisabeth Gustafsdotter in November 1843 near Gothenburg in Sweden. As a teenager she had worked in domestic service before becoming a prostitute in her early twenties. Poor Elisabeth became pregnant as a young woman but delivered a stillborn child, probably as the result of a venereal disease picked up from one of her clients.
In 1866, she moved to London in order to escape her past and start afresh and after a period as a maid Elisabeth married a ship’s carpenter called John Thomas Stride, who was thirteen years her senior. For a while the couple ran a coffee shop in Poplar before separating in 1877, whereupon Elisabeth entered the local workhouse. The couple had an off/on relationship after this but had finally ended their marriage by 1881 and by 1885, she was living with a labourer called Michael Kidney with whom she had a very unstable and occasionally violent relationship, fuelled by her alcoholism which led to several appearances in the dock for drunken and disorderly behaviour.
Her husband died of TB in October 1884, but it seems that Elisabeth had been in the habit of telling people that he and two of their fictitious nine children had been drowned in 1878 in the sinking of the Princess Alice into the Thames. There’s nothing unusual about this – the lives of the fallen women of Whitechapel were so awful and dreary that they often made up stories to make themselves appear more interesting and also in the hopes it might make their clients cough up a few more pennies out of pity.
On the evening of the 29th September, Elisabeth left her mean lodgings on the notoriously dreadful Flower and Dean Street and went in search of clients. A witness later claimed to see her at 11pm near Berner Street with a man in a bowler hat and then she was spotted again forty five minutes later with another man, this time wearing a peaked cap. Then at 12.35, a PC William Smith saw her on Berner’s Street, standing opposite a working men’s club with a man in a felt hard hat.
Where would Ripperology be without the various types of Victorian male headgear?
Less than half an hour after this last sighting, at around 1am, Elisabeth’s body was discovered by the steward of the men’s club in the next door Dutfield’s Yard when he led his horse and trap inside and almost tripped over her as she lay, her throat cut, on the cobbles.
Later, a witness, Israel Schwartz would come forward to say that he saw Elisabeth being attacked at the yard’s entrance by a man who threw her roughly to the ground. Clearly she had had a busy night but no money was found on her body, which adds to the possibility that the unfortunate Elisabeth was not actually murdered by Jack the Ripper but by someone else, who escaped justice thanks to the hysteria and panic surrounding the Ripper case in 1888.
At 8.30pm on the 29th September 1888, Catherine Eddowes, a short auburn haired woman who was known for her hot temper and loud, ready laughter was discovered lying drunk on Aldgate High Street by PC Louis Robinson, who arrested her and took her to Bishopsgate Police Station where she was held until 1am, when she was considered sober enough to be released onto the streets again, just as not far away, Elisabeth Stride’s body was being discovered.
Like all of the Ripper’s victims, Catherine had had a chequered past having been born in Wolverhampton in April 1842 then moving to London as an infant before going back up north again as a teenager to work as a tin plate stamper. This job doesn’t seem to have lasted long before Eddowes was sacked and moved in with an ex soldier Thomas Conway, with whom she had three children after they moved down to London together.
In what is now becoming a familiar tale, Eddowes became an alcoholic and she and Conway split up in 1880. Catherine left the family home while her ex boyfriend changed his and the children’s surname so that she wouldn’t be able to find them. Within a year she was living with a new man, John Kelly at a lodging house on Flower and Dean Street, just down the road from Elisabeth Stride and here she made a living of sorts from prostitution and whatever she could find.
In the summer of 1888, she and John Kelly left London to spend the hot months hop picking in the Kent countryside but didn’t manage to hang on to their wages for very long so that on the 29th September, they were forced to literally split their last sixpence and go their separate ways until things improved. Catherine had two pence, enough for her lodging for the night but had presumably spent the evening working so that she had enough money to be sufficiently drunk to be drunk and disorderly on Aldgate High Street.
When Eddowes was released from Bishopsgate Police Station in the early hours of the next morning she gave her name as Mary Ann Kelly and disappeared into the night, choosing not to return to Flower and Dean Street but instead return to Aldgate, possibly in search either of more booze or a few more clients for the night.
She was last seen alive at 1.35am by three men who were leaving a club together on Duke Street and saw her standing at the entrance to Church Passage, which led from Duke Street down to Mitre Square. Her horribly mutilated body was discovered ten minutes later at around 1.45am by the beat police officer, PC Edward Watkins who had walked through the square at 1.33am and seen nothing meaning that the unfortunate woman had been killed in the space of just ten minutes before the killer made his escape…
Set against the infamous Jack the Ripper murders of autumn 1888 and based on the author’s own family history, From Whitechapel is a dark and sumptuous tale of bittersweet love, friendship, loss and redemption and is available NOW from Amazon UK, Amazon US and as a limited edition paperback from Burning Eye Books.
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