On the 8th of September Annie Chapman was found dead in a back yard in Whitechapel. She died of a throat cut and her abdomen injuries were post-mortem. She was severely disembowelled and some of her organs, including her womb were missing. During the inquest the coroner suggested that the killer might have had some anatomical knowledge therefore the press interest turned to the possibility of Jack the Ripper being a medical doctor.
The Chapman murder caused an outrage and the Star’s familiar multiple headlines captured the attitude of the street. ‘Horror upon Horror, Whitechapel is Panic-stricken, At another Fiendish Crime, A Fourth Victim of the Maniac.’ They never accepted the Nichols case as the first murder committed by Jack the Ripper. Between the 10th and 14th of September, as the media started to realize that the Whitechapel murders were rather a mystery than a general occasion, they devoted three times as much space to the cases as they had done before.
The Star’s extremely long and sensation horror article and its subheads such as ‘The Heart and Liver over Her Head’ inevitably forced other papers to cover the story in a more detailed manner. The Star continued to blame Chief Commissioner Charles Warren, referring to the fact that the commissioner’s military approach in fighting crime was quite useless. They pointed at the inefficiency and timidity of the police suggesting self-defence for the habitants of the district:
Now there is only one thing to be done at this moment, and we can talk of larger reforms when we do away with the centralised non-efficient military system which Sir Charles Warren has brought to perfection. The people of the East-end must become their own police. They must form themselves at once into Vigilance Committees.
As the Jack the Ripper nickname had not occurred yet, the Star called the murderer as ‘Man Monster’ or ‘mad Cain’. Leading papers such as the Pall Mall Gazette or the Daily Telegraph described the murderer as a ‘savage’. The Gazette recalled ‘Red Indian’ stories, and the author added that tracking down the murderer precedents should be found, suggesting ‘one would have to go to the wilds of Hungary’ or search the records of ‘French peasant life’. (The first assumption obviously referred to the Transylvanian mysteries about vampires, the latter one probably to the Beast of Gevaudan.) The Times report finally admitted that the police had abandoned their blackmailing-gang theory and were focused on a maniac. In the next day’s issue, they went further, mentioning three insane medical students who had been formerly employed at the London Hospital. Both newspapers started to name suspects, though in one case this labelling almost lead into a suit as the accused threatened to sue several newspapers for defamation.
The Evening News was the first to come up with the possibility that the murderer might be a middle-class person. The Pall Mall Gazette was the first paper to actually suggest that the murderer could have been a ‘victim of erotic mania’. The Evening News had the same conclusions when it attributed the murder to the result of ‘erotomania’. The Daily Telegraph was another pioneer, not in finding a possible motive, but in mentioning a disturbing detail at the end of their article: ‘a portion of the flesh … [was] missing from the stomach’.
Newspapers apparently tasted the success in the Whitechapel murders and they did not hesitate to promote themselves. A short news extract from the Star’s September 13th issue represents how the public perceived the coverage of terrible murders:
Killed by emotion. Mrs. Mary Burridge, a dealer in floor-cloth, at 132, Blackfriars-road, was standing at her door on Saturday, reading the Star account of the Whitechapel murder, and was so much affected that she retired to the kitchen, where she fell down in a fit. She regained consciousness for a short time on Monday, but afterwards relapsed and died yesterday.
If this was not an exaggeration, Mrs. Burridge’s death is the ’greatest achievement’ of the emerging sensation-horror journalism. The Star was also publishing the following advertisement for several days (between September 15th and 19th):
Largest Circulation of Any Evening Paper in the Kingdom. PHENOMENAL SUCCESS. The Average Daily Circulation of THE STAR For the Week ending 14 Sept. was 190,033. The Number of Copies Circulated during the Six Days was 1,140,200. This Number is Greater by 412,000 Than the Number Ever Circulated in any week by any other EVENING PAPER IN LONDON.
All in all, the second murder’s coverage did not differ from the first one, except for the length of the articles, having screaming headlines and some interviews with acquaintances. Particularly, the testimony of Chapman’s friend, Amelia Farmer was published in several papers; however, mentioning the prostitution as the victim’s main source of income was never direct. There were some implications in her testimony such as: ‘On Fridays she used to go to Stratford to sell anything she had’ or ‘I am afraid she was not particular how she earned her living and I know she was out late at times’ but none of the papers went further.
In the second half of September, as there had been no murders of the same kind, the press had to fill the gaps. They had little trouble in doing so, since the inquests of the murders took place in these weeks and all the mutilation details started to leak out. The Star carried on its attacking of the government and the police: ‘the West [London] sits discussing the Whitechapel horrors over its wine, the East is seething with impatience, distrust, and horror’. The Pall Mall Gazette went even further in shocking the public by publishing Stead’s article on 19th of September. Entitled as ‘Murder as an Advertisement’ the author tried to represent the murderer as a ‘Scientific Humanitarian’ who killed those women only to expose the terrible conditions of the Whitechapel. As the mainstream media, for instance the Morning Post, wallowed in sensation horror in accusing police or in describing the district as the Mr. Hyde part of the city, the East End local papers rushed to ‘defend their territory’ by turning their pens against the Fleet Street’s image of Whitechapel.
Press on the Chapman Inquest
Although the murderer carried out an almost perfect hysterectomy (the surgical removal of the uterus), even a series of inquests was not able to convince the reporters and the police to publish the name of the organ. The doctors knew exactly which organ was missing. On the 13th of September, obviously worrying about public shock or embarrassment Coroner Phillips avoided to mention the missing womb. The leader of the inquest examination, Coroner Wynne E. Baxter persuaded him to reveal more. The following dialogue between the two experts was published in papers such as the Evening Standard, Daily Telegraph, and Morning Post:
CORONER: Was there any anatomical knowledge displayed?
PHILLIPS: I think there was. There were indications of it. My own impression is that anatomical knowledge was only less displayed or indicated in consequence of haste. The person evidently was hindered from making a more complete dissection in consequence of the haste.
CORONER: Was the whole of the body there?
PHILLIPS: No; the absent portions being from the abdomen.
CORONER: Are those portions such as would require anatomical knowledge to extract?
PHILLIPS: I think the mode in which they were extracted did show some anatomical knowledge.
CORONER: You do not think they could have been lost accidentally in the transit of the body to the mortuary?
PHILLIPS: I was not present at the transit. I carefully closed up the clothes of the woman. Some portions had been excised.
The Times refused to publish the exact transcript and chose to paraphrase the following:
There were indications of anatomical knowledge, which were only less indicated in consequence of haste. The whole of the body was not present, the absent portions being from the abdomen. The mode in which these portions were extracted showed some anatomical knowledge. He did not think these portions were lost in the transit of the body.
Even though there are some differences between the original extract and the paraphrasing, they have one thing in common namely the use of the neutral word ’abdomen’ and still referring to the missing parts as ’portions’. The East End Advertiser published a largely detailed article, focusing on small details such as mentioning the condition of the lips and even the fingernails, but as the description would go ‘downwards’, the article ends with words like this: ‘there were indications that the murderer had some anatomical knowledge’. Sunday papers, for instance the Weekly Times went further in avoiding mentioning the real nature of the injuries by twisting the coroner’s words: ‘The whole of the body was not at the mortuary, the absent portions being from the abdomen. The portion might have been lost accidentally.’ It is obvious that initially the press seemed to have been as baffled by the mutilations and ‘missing portions’ as the police.
Had it not been for Coroner Baxter’s demands, the name of the organ would have stayed in shadows, but he was determined to have a deeper investigation and ordered other inquests on the 18th and 24th of September. Despite the outcome and the eventual naming of the organ newspapers did not publish further details. According to The Times:
The court having been cleared of all women and boys, the witness proceeded to give medical and surgical evidence, totally unfit for publication, of the deliberate, successful, and apparently scientific manner in which the poor woman had been mutilated […] The mode in which the knife had been used seemed to indicate great anatomical knowledge.
The Daily Telegraph and Globe also omitted the missing parts. But the Globe added another piece of sensation horror that could not be found in any other newspaper. When Coroner Baxter asked Dr. Phillips to estimate ‘the quantity of matter taken from the abdomen’, the latter replied concisely: ‘It would all go into a breakfast cup.’ Avoiding much of the gore, the Weekly Times stated that the mutilations were so ‘disgusting’ that they were only for eyes of the coroner and jurors. Afterwards more elision was to come: ‘Witness then detailed the terrible wounds which had been inflicted upon the woman and described the parts of the body which the perpetrator of the murder had carried away with him.’ Instead of publishing about the horrible mutilations William T. Stead’s Pall Mall Gazette had a long leader, ‘Murder as an Advertisement’, about the ‘Scientific Humanitarian’ who was trying to promote the welfare of the outcast in London. On the 24th of September they added more information by publishing a report that dealt with the murderer’s supposed anatomical knowledge. It also suggested that he had wanted to obtain the same organ from Nichols but was interrupted in the act. A second leader, titled as ‘The political moral of the murders’, discussed the possibility of a copycat killer and suggested that Phillips withheld parts of his autopsy report just to prevent this from happening.
Few days later, the Pall Mall Gazette had two shorter articles on the final Chapman inquests. The first discussed Coroner Baxter’s theory about an American scientist who wanted to buy ‘that portion of a woman’s body which the criminal abstracted from his latest victim’ for the ‘upset’ price of twenty pounds. Writing like a 19th century Swift, the author of this article – probably Stead himself – complained about the sudden rise in the price of corpses adding that bodies had been bought for seven or eight pounds before. He amused his readers more by concluding that obviously the sudden appearance of American buyers drove up the prices. Then he went further and suggested that these kinds of body parts could be much more easily obtained at much lower cost if poor and dying women could arrange to sell their ‘portions’ for enough money to be able to afford the cost of the morphine needed to ease their pain. If they carried out business like this, ‘prices would so soon fall as to make it hardly worthwhile’. The second of the articles mentioned above dealt with Baxter’s remarks about the murderer’s anatomical knowledge and the obvious ’absence of meaningless cuts’ but still none of the articles named the missing womb.
Only the Lancet named the organ and the wounds using the word ‘vagina’ and ‘bladder’ in their long article on the 29th of September. The following week they harshly accused the Fleet Street of feeding ‘the lowest and most animal’ appetites of the young by publishing gore on a daily basis. ’The time had come to end this practice of ‘fill[ing] up the pennyworths of garbage […] constantly foisted upon foolish and ignorant purchasers by the gutter purveyors of literature.’
Baxter’s elusive theory about the strange American doctor who paid the murderer for the missing organs faded as the murders continued.