Several witnesses claim to have seen people with the victims shortly before their deaths and made statements to the police. However these statements are not without problems.
Martha Tabram’s friend Pearly Poll claims that herself and Martha each went off with a pair of soldiers. This is corroborated by PC Barrett who saw a soldier loitering near where Martha’s body was found. Pearly Poll was an unreliable witness, taking pains to avoid the police, falsely identifying soldiers with cast iron alibis, changing her description of the uniform they wore and generally leading Inspector Reid who was in charge of the investigation on a merry dance.
Annie Chapman is believed to have been seen by Elizabeth Long on Hanbury Street shortly before her death. Mrs Long claimed the man was of “shabby genteel” appearance and believed he was a foreigner. This is despite not actually seeing his face.
Israel Schwartz saw a woman being attacked at the entrance to Dutfields Yard, shortly before Elizabeth Stride was murdered. Another man also ran towards Schwartz shouting “Lipski” (a derogatory Jewish term at the time) and Schwartz ran. Despite this, he was able to give a reasonable description of both men to the police and press, but there are discrepancies between the two – possibly because Schwartz could not speak English. Despite this, he may have been the witness referred to by Sir Charles Warren and Donald Swanson as identifying Kosminski at the Seaside Home.
Later that same night Joseph Levy, Henry Harries and Joseph Lawende saw a woman believed to be Elizabeth Stride at the entrance to Mitre Square shortly before her murder. Out of the three, Lawende was the only one to have taken much notice of the couple and to provide a description as one of his friends made a comment about them begin unsavoury characters. Major Henry Smith of the City Police felt he was the most credible witness, despite Lawende stating he doubted he would recognise the man he saw again. Despite this, he was called to identify a potential Jack the Ripper on at least one occasion and is another potential candidate for the Seaside Home witness.
George Hutchinson claims he saw Mary Kelly enter Millers Court with a man on the night of her death. He stood outside in the rain for forty five minutes waiting for the man to emerge. Hutchinson gave an incredibly detailed description of the man, including the colour of his eyelashes, his tie pin and the colour of his buttons. Such a detailed description is unlikely to be genuine or accurate, but at the time Inspector Abberline believed Hutchinson’s statement.
Many factors can effect the reliability of eyewitnesses and the accuracy of their statements. These include internal factors, such as memory, stress, health, intoxication, tiredness; External factors, such as lighting, weather, length of exposure, attention to event; and other factors such as contamination from other sources such as press coverage and local gossip, leading questions by investigators and wanting fame and attention. Because of this we should question the accuracy of all of the eyewitness statements relating to the Ripper case and ask if we can truly trust any of them.