Hunt for Jack the Ripper begins at Tower of London

PUBLISHED: 20:36 30 August 2013 | UPDATED: 20:02 02 September 2013

Entrance to George Yard from Whitechapel High Street today, unchanged except for the name, now Gunthorpe Street, where Martha Tabram was murdered

Entrance to George Yard from Whitechapel High Street today, unchanged except for the name, now Gunthorpe Street, where Martha Tabram was murdered


An identity parade held at the Tower of London on a bright August morning follows the murder of a prostitute in London’s shadowy East End.

Martha Tabram, murdered in George-yard, thought to be first Ripper victimMartha Tabram, murdered in George-yard, thought to be first Ripper victim

Martha Tabram was last seen alive with a guardsman. So the soldiers are ordered to take part in the police identity parade in their red uniforms but no caps, just as they would be when off duty.

“A prostitute is brought in and asked by police to try and identity the soldier she saw with Talbram,” historian Don Rumbelow explains.

“The prostitute picks out a soldier, but he had been on guard duty the night of the murder. ”

It was a Bank Holiday, August 6, when he was on duty. It’s a cast-iron alibi. Nothing comes of the identity parade. The murder remains unsolved.

Don Rumbelow at Tower of London explains hunt for Martha Talbum's killerDon Rumbelow at Tower of London explains hunt for Martha Talbum's killer

It is the start of a long summer of terror—the Whitechapel Murders of 1888.

This is where Rumbelow always begins his Jack the Ripper tours, at the Tower of London.

Scotland Yard at the time believed Polly Nichols was the first Ripper victim three weeks later.

But Rumbelow, like many historians, thinks it all starts with Martha Talbram’s vicious slaying earlier on the August Bank Holiday.

Tabram’s body had been discovered at George Yard Buildings behind Whitechapel High-street, with 39 stab wounds, including a bayonet wound.

She had been out soliciting on August 6 with Mary Ann Connolly, known as Pearly Poll.

They had met two guardsmen and drank in several pubs before splitting into couples at 11.45pm.

Martha went with her client through the sinister arch that leads into George-yard (today’s Gunthorpe Street), while Pearly Poll had gone off to Angel-alley nearby.

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

A little after 5am, labourer John Saunders Reeves leaves his tenement flat and comes down the stairs, while it is getting light. He is able to see a woman lying on her back in a pool of blood, the body of Martha Tabram.

Reeves finds Police Constable Constable Barrett on his beat near George-yard, then fetches Dr Killeen who arrived to carry out an examination and pronounced ‘life extinct.’

An inquest opens. Dr Killeen tells the hearing of a 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. The man must have been a savage to inflict such a number of wounds on a defenceless woman in such a way.”

Tabram’s murder has never been formally linked by Scotland Yard to Jack the Ripper. But many researchers down the years have named her as the first victim. She is included in the official Home Office files on the 1888 ‘Whitechapel Murders.’

Police Inspector Walter Dew later claims in his autobiography: “There can be no doubt that the August Bank Holiday murder in George Yard Buildings was the handiwork of the dread Ripper.”

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

The autumn of terror begins in Whitechapel.

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