Charles Cross, then assisted by fellow passerby Robert Paul, discovered the body first. A prostitute, it would seem, with hair askew and bonnet on the ground. They could not be sure if she were drunk or dead, as her face was still warm, the lighting too poor to reveal the slit throat. Unsure of how to proceed, they pulled her skirts down in the name of propriety and set off to their respective jobs, vowing to tell the first police officer they encountered. Cue Police Constable John Niel, arriving upon the scene, who called for a doctor by the name of Llewellyn. He declared her life extinct at four am and noted that she had been dead for roughly half an hour as her face still retained warmth in contrast to the icy cold of her hands.
The 31st of August, 1888. Buck’s Row, in the Whitechapel district of eastern London, was shadowed in the early hours of morn, daylight not yet breaking through the grey clouds overhead, the buildings lining the street as dark figures. In another district, perhaps, one would encounter a spattering of new electric streetlights, emitting there a faint buzzing whine and a light fainter still. (The technology was new, after all, scarcely beginning to replace the gas lamps.) No such lights were found here. Here, dampness hung about, fog off the Thames accompanying the smog of chimney towers and industrialism. Here, there was only darkness.
Warehouses, two-story homes, and an imposing boarding school, large and looming over the cobblestone, filled the crowded area. In the dark front of the boarding school, a fetid stench of violence hung in the air-tainted-as were the cobblestones stained red. This stench was not the cloying decay of garbage, or the sourness of chamber pots and cesspools, nor the putridity of rotting flesh; no, this stench-this stench was fresh, newly introduced to the air, not immediately discernible among the carriageway muck of mud and horse dung. It was metallic with notes of iron and something salty; it was a warm smell found in the chill of the morning. It was the scent of blood, the shriek of horror, the gleeful thrill of murder.
He relished it.
Reveling in his triumph, a dark figure gazed upon the corpse before him and admired the mutilation. He had skills, yes, his knowledge of anatomy was above that of the common man. Not all would know how to torture and humiliate the way he had. The corpse’s eyes, open, were glossy. The legs, ramrod straight out in front, with skirts up above the waist in a lewd, mocking pose. The throat-his favorite part, to be sure-the throat was neatly slit, and done so effectively as to nearly decapitate. He could not keep a small twitch of a grin from forming as his eyes roved coldly over the wound. A rather clean job, precise, something to be proud of.
It was, as yet, still too dark to check his pocket watch in the weak light, but he estimated it must be roughly a quarter hour or so after three. The street had not awoken, but the quiet of the day was soon to recede with early workers. Best to be off, then. The leather of his boots tapped lightly upon the street underfoot, the sound’s echo swallowed by the buildings on either side as he retreated. The first was completed, and he eagerly awaited the next.
The neighborhood was abuzz with the news; night ladies were oft injured and killed, but one of this nature . . . London would soon see that the gruesomeness of this first attempt was a mere trial, the first victim of a serial killer’s escapade.
The 8th of September, 1888 . . .