Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Murders

The Non-Canonicals: Emma Smith

On the 6th April 1888, the Metropolitan Police were informed of an inquest that was to be held the following day into the murder of Emma Elizabeth Smith, who had died in the London hospital two days previously. This death would be the first of the notorious Whitechapel Murders, that six months later would grab the attention of the East End, London and indeed the whole world.

Emma Elizabeth Smith was born c.1843. According to the Jack the Ripper A-Z she was born in Margate, Kent and married a soldier and was later widowed. Not much is known about her past life, but information was certainly gathered in by the police that has now been lost to the mists of time. We know from a report by Inspector Edmund Reid (who investigated her murder) that she had at least two children – a son and daughter – who lived in the Finsbury Park area. In his autobiography “I caught Crippen”, Walter Dew (then a Detective Constable with H Division) wrote:

“Her past was a closed book even to her intimate friends. All she had ever told anyone about herself was that she was a widow who more than ten years before had left her husband and broken away from all her early associations.
There was something about Emma Smith which suggested that there had been a time when the comforts of life had not been denied her. There was a touch of culture in her speech, unusual in her class.
Once when Emma was asked why she had broken away so completely from her old life she replied, a little wistfully: “They would not understand now any more than they understood then. I must live somehow.”

So it seems that he knew her fairly well, or at least by sight and had further details fileld in later by her friends. Regardless of her potentially once respectable origins, at age 45 in 1888, Emma was working on the streets of Whitechapel as a common prostitute. She was often seen with a black eye or cuts and bruises as a result of drunken brawling. By the time of her murder, she had been living at 18 George Street for around 18 months. Each night she’d leave her lodgings between six and seven o’clock to solicit clients, returning in the early hours of the following morning. In this respect, the night of her death was business as usual. On the Easter Monday Bank Holiday (April 2nd) she left at about six o’clock. She wasn’t seen until shortly after midnight where she was seen in Faience Street, Limehouse talking to a man dressed in dark clothes and a white scarf.

According to Emma’s testimony, at about 1.30am she was walking back her lodgings when at Whitechapel Church, a gang of three of four youths began to follow her. At the corner of Brick Lane and Wentworth Street they attacked her. They savagely beat and raped her and shoved a blunt object (believed to be a stick) viciously in her vagina. They then robbed her and left her to die.

Shortly after 4am she staggers into her lodgings at George Street, with a bloody face and a cut ear and pressing her woolen shoulder wrap between her thighs to stop the bleeding from her vaginal injuries (the blunt object had torn her perineum and this injury led to her death). It is remarkable that she managed to make the walk while no doubt in excruciating pain, yet no witnesses or police constables saw her on her journey and there is a discrepancy in time.

She was walked (against her will) to London Hospital on Whitechapel Road by Mary Russell (the lodging house deputy) and Annie Lee (and again, no witnesses or patrolling police constables could be found who saw them on their journey) where her injuries were examined by George Haslip. She refused the police being called, but managed to give the details of her assault and descriptions of her assailants. She finally slipped into unconsciousness and a coma and died at 9am on 4th April. The cause of death was peritonitis.

When the police were finally informed, the investigation was placed into the hands of H Division’s Inspector Edmund Reid. Reid examined her clothes, noting that they were “in such dirty ragged condition that it was impossible to tell if any part of it had been fresh torn”. He attempted to find a witness either to Emma’s attack, or to her journey back to her lodging house or to the hospital, but no witness could be found and nor did any Police Constable on their beat report having seen her. The two days of police inactivity had obviously affected the case and allowed the trail to go cold, an opinion apparently shared by Reid who took time in his reports to explain the delay in investigation and exonerate the police for any inaction.

Dew would later describe the investigation thusly:

“As in every case of murder in this country, however poor and friendless the victims might be, the police made every effort to track down Emma Smith’s assailant. Unlikely as well as likely places were searched for clues. Hundreds of people were interrogated. Scores of statements were taken. Soldiers from the Tower of London [which stood within H Division] were questioned as to their movements. Ships in docks were searched and sailors questioned.”

Despite these efforts, the police investigation drew a blank, there were no suspects nor arrests and the inquest jury returned a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown. If it were not for the subsequent murders in the area, Emma’s murder would probably also have been lost to the mists of time.

Although the first victim in the Whitechapel Murders file and being linked to subsequent killings by the press in the Autumn of 1888, Emma Smith’s murder was most likely unrelated to the subsequent crimes. Most police at the time also felt this (with the exception of Walter Dew) as do the majority of modern day researchers.