August 31st 1888 was an unlucky day for a carter named Charles Cross, it was an even worse day for the person he found, Mary Nichols. 3.40am he was making his way along Buck’s Row in Whitechapel London, he came towards the 1876 Board School (still dominating the street today) and spotted a dark bundle lying in a gateway on the left side of the street.

Mr Cross was hoping the bundles might be useful materials for his work, when he got closer he found it to be the prone figure of a woman. He wasn’t sure if she was dead or drunk and asked another carter to come and see her, the other carter was Robert Paul. She was laying on her back with her legs out, and skirts raised over her waist. Cross felt her face which was warm but her hands were cold and limp. They were running late for work and unable to tell if she was near death or dead they pulled her skirt down and then headed off. They aimed to let a policeman know if they saw one.

Had the light been better, or they had been there at a later time, they might well have noticed the woman had been subjected to a murder most foul. Nichol’s had had her throat cut so callously and brutally that it nearly severed her head. This discovery was made by the beat officer, Police Constable John Neil, shortly after the carters had left and there was no one else around.

He flagged down PC John Thain who was passing at the end of the street by waving his lantern, Thain hurried off to get Dr Llewellyn and PC Mizen arrived having been approached by the carters. They got reinforcements and the police ambulance. At 4am the Doctor arrived and pronounced her dead, noting the severity of the wounds. He found her legs were still warm and told the police she had likely been there no longer than a half an hour.

Three slaughterers at the yard opposite saw and heard nothing; the first they heard was when PC Thain passed by to get the doctor. The three men were under suspicion but eliminated by the police later. Patrick Mulshaw, the night watchman working at the nearby sewer works heard nothing either. By now Dr Llewellyn was concerned by the number of spectators and the body was removed to the mortuary. As she was lifted up in the cart Thain spotted that the back of the woman’s clothing was soaked with her blood. This was presumably from the large cut across her throat.

With the details of little blood on the scene it led to the speculation that she had been murdered elsewhere and then dumped. The Times reported this as such but the coroner dismissed this notion. The wound to her throat and abdomen had bled out and been soaked up by her clothing, the wound to her abdomen was not noticed until the inspection at the mortuary. When the inspector came to the scene the residents were washing the blood up.

They set to trying to identify her as well only to find themselves being told about Polly, Inspector Spratling then noticed that her petticoats had the Lambeth Workhouse label on them. A resident of the workhouse was brought to see the body and was able to identify Mary Nichols, 43 who had been worse for wear and drank her doss money away more than once. Due to her wearing a “jolly bonnet” she felt she would easily make the money needed.

She had been killed with ruthless and silent efficiency, she had been left out to be found and with a budy place like Whitechapel the murderer could be lost in the movement pretty quickly. It was also a murder close to a slaughterhouse so blood on the hands of the murderer may well be dismissed by potential witnesses because of the local business.

The saddest part comes from her husbands last words when he saw her body. John Nichols and Mary Nichols may well have had a rocky marriage but he found the sight so distressing he whispered to her “I forgive you, as you are, for what you have been to me.”

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