The Non-Canonical Victims – Part 2

Martha Tabram

Martha Tabram is the non-canonical victim that most divides the Ripperology community. Her death, coming just before the start of the Autumn of Terror, the location relative to the later crimes and the sheer ferocity of her death make her (in the eyes of some) a possible early Ripper killing, even though she does not bear the trademark cut throat and mutilations.

At the time of her death she was 39 years old, plump, 5 feet 3 inches tall and had dark hair. She was known locally as Martha Turner (or sometimes Emma Turner).

Martha was born Martha White on the 10th May 1849 in Southwark, London. She was the youngest of five children to a warehouseman. As a teenager she had to endure the separation of her parents and the sudden death of her father not long after. At the age of twenty she went to live with Henry Tabram, a foreman packer at a furniture warehouse and married him on Christmas Day 1869. The couple had two sons: Frederick and Charles.

The marriage cannot have been a happy one. Martha was already drinking heavily and had alcoholic fits. Finally, in 1875 Henry left her, paying her a substantial weekly allowance at first, but then reducing it greatly when he found out she was living with another man. That other man was Henry Turner, a carpenter who Martha had a relationship with on and off from 1876 until the month before she died. Again, Martha’s drinking caused trouble to the relationship and she was occasionally stay out all night. She and her two young sons certainly spent some time in the workhouse, as the census for 1881 shows them as being resident there on the Whitechapel Union Workhouse the night it was taken. Despite his semi-skilled trade, Turner was out of work by 1888 and him and Martha earned money by selling trinkets on the street (hawking). No doubt this meagre income was subsidised by Martha working as a casual prostitute. The couple were renting lodgings off Commercial Road, Whitechapel and had been doing so for four months when, at the start of July they absconded, owing rent. The troubled relationship finally had taken too much strain and by the middle of July the couple had separated. From this point on, Martha lived at a common lodging house on George Street, Spitalfields.

On the evening of the 6th August (a bank holiday Monday) Martha was out drinking with Mary Ann Connelly (known as Pearly Poll) to celebrate the bank holiday, and also no doubt hoping to pick up some clients and earn some money for the night. At around 10pm they met two soldiers (a corporal and a guardsman) in the Two Brewers pub on Brick Lane and proceeded on an impromptu pub crawl with them. They were seen at around 11pm entering the White Swan on Whitechapel High Street at 11pm, and forty five minutes later split into couples with Connelly and her corporal going into Angel Alley and Martha and her guardsman to George Yard.

George Yard was a former weaving factory off Gunthorpe Street (the narrow alleyway that starts at the White Hart pub on Whitechapel Road) but by 1888 had been converted to tenements. At 1.50am one of the residents of George Yard passed the landing where Martha’s body was to be found and saw nothing unusual. Ten minutes later, PC Barrett walking his beat saw a young Grenadier Guardsman in Wentworth Street, the North end of George Yard. Enquiring on what the soldier was doing he was informed he was waiting for a “chum who went off with a girl.” At 3.30am another George Yard resident was coming home and saw what he thought was a homeless person sleeping on the landing (a regular occurrence) which he paid no attention to. It was only at 4.45am that it was realised that a murder had occurred. John Reeves was leaving his lodgings when he noticed Martha lying on the landing. It as now light enough for him to also notice the pool of blood in which she lay. Reeves immediately went to find a policeman and returned with Barrett. She lay with her arms by her side, her fingers tightly clenched and her legs placed in a manner to suggest intercourse had taken place (a position also found in the later victims of the Ripper).

At the post mortem examination that morning, Dr Timothy Kileen estimated time of death at around 2.30-2.45am and examined Martha’s wounds. She had been stabbed thirty nine times – including five wounds to the left lung, two wounds to the right, one wound to the heart, five wounds to the liver, two wounds to the spleen and six wounds to the stomach. Kileen stated the focus of the wounds was to the breasts, belly and groin. All but one had the appearance of being committed by a right handed attacker and could have been done with an ordinary pen knife. One wound appeared to be the result of a dagger or bayonet (which furthered the police’s belief that the soldier must have killed Martha).

PC Barrett and (eventually) Pearly Poll were taken to the Tower of London and the Wellington Barracks to identify the soldier(s) they had seen, but their evidence was worse than useless. Pearly Poll also demonstrated bizarre behaviour which have led some researchers to speculate she may have been trying to deliberately hinder the investigation.

Martha’s killer was never found and her death was soon linked in the press to the earlier murder of Emma Smith and the later killings in Whitechapel. But the police and researchers would later discount her as being a victim of Jack the Ripper. However, as we have already said, it is becoming increasingly popular to speculate that she is an early, “exploratory” killing of the serial killer who would later commit the Jack the Ripper crimes. Do you think she is a victim of Jack the Ripper? Or do you think she was killed by the soldier she went to have sex with?