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5am August 7, 1888: Woman found murdered with 39 stab-wounds

PUBLISHED: 19:56 02 September 2013 | UPDATED: 13:36 03 October 2013

Entrance to George-yard, off Whitechapel High-st, as it would have been in 1888 when Martha Tabram was slain (Andre Deutsch press)

Entrance to George-yard, off Whitechapel High-st, as it would have been in 1888 when Martha Tabram was slain (Andre Deutsch press)

Andre Deutsch press (promo)

The murder of a prostitute on the dark landing of a tenement block in Whitechapel on the dawn after the August Bank Holiday, 1888, is reported in the East London Advertiser.

George Yard Buildings, where Martha Tabram was murdered, Aug 7, 1888 George Yard Buildings, where Martha Tabram was murdered, Aug 7, 1888

An identity parade held at the Tower of London on a bright August morning follows the murder of prostitute Martha Tabram in George Yard Buildings, off Whitechapel High-street.

Martha Tabram was last seen alive with a guardsman a few nights before on August Bank Holiday evening, August 6, 1888.

So the soldiers are ordered to take part in the police identity parade, but it comes to nothing.

A witnesses, another prostitute, picks out a guardsman who was on duty at the Tower the night of the murder. It’s a cast-iron alibi.

The Advertiser’s report of Tabram’s murder describes George-yard as “one of the most dangerous streets in the locality.”

None of the tenement-dwellers had seen or heard anything of the horrifying event on their doorstep.

Mrs Hewitt, the wife of the tenement building superintendant Francis Hewitt, returned home in the early hours after spending the evening with friends celebrating the Bank Holiday. She went out again to buy her supper at a chandler’s shop in nearby Thrawl-street and was back in 10 minutes, but noticed nothing suspicious while going up the dark, unlit stairs.

Cab-driver Alfred Crow, returning home from work at half-past-three on his way up the staircase, saw somebody lying on the first-floor landing. But it was common for homeless people to sleep rough on the landings, so he thought nothing of it.

It is around 5am when labourer John Saunders Reeves sets off to work coming down the staircase, as it is getting light.

He can see a woman lying on her back in a pool of blood—the body of Martha Tabram.

Reeves goes off to find a policeman and returns with Constable Barrett, who was on his beat in Wentworth-street, then fetches Dr Killeen who carries out an examination and pronounces ‘life extinct.’

Tabram had been “brutally murdered,” Dr Killeen tells the subsequent inquest—he found 39 stab wounds from her throat to her lower abdomen.

There was one deep wound to her breast “which could have been a sword, bayonet or dagger.”

Deputy district coroner George Collier calls the crime “one of the most dreadful murders any one could imagine.” He adds: “The man must have been a savage to inflict such a number of wounds on a defenceless woman in such a way.”

The Advertiser tells readers: “The circumstances of this awful tragedy are not only surrounded with the deepest mystery, but there is also a feeling of insecurity that in a great city like London, the streets of which are continually patrolled by police, a woman could be foully and horribly killed almost next to the citizens peacefully sleeping in their beds, without a trace or clue being left of the villain who did the deed.”

Three weeks on, the mutilated body of Mary Nichols is discovered at 3.30am on August 31, a mile away at Buck’s Row, in almost identical circumstances. The autumn of terror begins in Whitechapel.

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