Alice McKenzie Introduction

Alice McKenzie, also known as “Clay Pipe Alice”, is said to have been born around the time of 1849. Not much of her early life is known, but she is believed to have stayed in Peterborough, for the most part. Though based on rumour and claims, her father may have been a postman in Liverpool, and although it’s unclear if she had one, it’s possible that her son could have lived in America.

What we do know for sure though is that sometime prior to 1874, she had moved to London’s East End.

From 1883 onwards, she was in a sporadic relationship with an army pensioner named John McCormack, an Irishman. As a porter, he worked for tailors, most of which were Jewish, on Hanbury Street. They lived together on and off, each time relocating to a different ‘doss house’ in the East End, before eventually settling in Tenpenny’s Lodging House on Gun Street in Spitalfields (April 1888). There, Alice was said to have worked as a cleaner, or charwoman, for Jewish neighbours. However, it was well known that she was a common prostitute, something the police were aware of.

By the summer of 1889, Alice was roughly 40 and was known for her drinking and smoking habits, usually from a clay pipe (hence her nickname). She also had an injury to her thumb on her left hand, which was thought to be from an industrial mishap.

On the afternoon of July 16th, 1889, McCormack returned home from work drunk and went to bed. He gave Alice 1s8d to pay the rent and 1s for other purchases. He claims this was the last time he saw her alive and was later informed that Alice had not paid the rent.

Interestingly, his claim to have last seen her at this time was contradicted by Elizabeth Ryder (who managed the lodging house), who said she saw Alice storm out of the house drunk at 8.30pm following an argument with McCormack. He would not leave the room until 11pm, at which time Elizabeth also informed him that Alice had not paid her.

Meanwhile, Alice took a boy, who was visually impaired and also a resident of the lodging house, to the Royal Cambridge Music Hall (at around 7.10pm). The boy, named George Dixon, claimed that he heard her ask a man to pay for a drink and the man agreed before she saw him home.

Following the sighting by Ryder, Alice was next seen by her friend Margaret Franklin, as she sat with two other women on Flower and Dean Street, close-by Brick Lane. She reportedly hurried past the trio in the direction of Whitechapel, and when Franklin asked if she was ok, she replied “All right. I can’t stop now.”

At 12.50am, PC Walter Andrews entered Castle Alley, off Whitechapel High Street, as part of his beat. He discovered the body of a woman lying on the pavement, who had been stabbed twice in the neck on the left side. Her skirts had also been lifted and her abdomen, mutilated.

Fascinatingly, PC Andrews’ beat had taken him into Castle Alley about 27 minutes before, and nothing suspicious was reported. In the same hour, Sarah Smith, of Whitechapel Baths and Washhouses, had retreated into her own room, which overlooked the dark alleyway. Though, she had her window closed and read.

Prior to Andrews blowing his whistle, she reported seeing or hearing nothing out of the ordinary. Five minutes before Alice’s body was discovered, it had started to rain, but the ground under her body was dry, which is how her time of death was established (between 12.25am and 12.45am).

PC Andrews ran to fetch help, leaving a man named Lewis Jacobs, who had entered the alley shortly after Alice’s discovery. Inspector Edmund Reid arrived to begin the investigation at around 1.10am, and Dr George Phillips followed shortly after. Edmund Reid noted that the blood was still flowing from Alice’s throat wound, but Phillips stated that it had begun to clot when he examined the body.

So, what do you think of Alice McKenzie’s case so far? Well, why not take our Jack the Ripper walk to find out more about the nature of the Ripper’s killings or stay tuned for the conclusion instalment of her case?