A novel by
8th September, 1888 - 29, Hanbury Street, Whitechapel.
As the early morning light grows steadily stronger, gathering its’ strength in preparation for the new day, the battered body of Annie Chapman becomes visible to the crowd of curious onlookers who gather in the narrow street outside. Fibres of necks twist and stretch to get a glimpse of the woman who is lying on her back, her stomach gaping open, and eyes staring vacantly at the creeping new morning. Those people who live upstairs and whose windows overlook the back yard are following the advice of an enterprising laundry-woman across the road and they are doing a brisk business charging a ha’penny for ‘a good view of the gruesome murder’. The policemen however, try to assume their usual manner of detached professionalism; treating it as routine, they try to ignore the smell of blood in the air, the violence of Annie Chapman’s’ death. They try, but they mostly stand around the yard, shocked and silent. The Police Surgeon, having examined the body, turns his back on it and wanders over to the other side of the yard. He fixes his eyes on some vague area of the sky, watching the ragged pieces of cloud blown slowly across the pale background, tearing themselves away from each other, leaving messy wisps greyly straggling. Annie Chapman has been disembowelled. The murderer has been even more thorough this time, more meticulous in his operations. Perhaps he had more time at his disposal, or his hand had simply become more confident, more controlled, the second time around. He has removed her uterus and the upper portion of her vagina and most of her bladder – and these are still missing. The policemen are looking reluctantly in dustbins and gutters; but it is generally accepted that the murderer will have taken these organs away with him, either to destroy away from the scene of the crime or else to keep as macabre souvenirs. The rest of the intestines, the murderer has left for the policemen to see, draped over Annie’s left shoulder like a Roman toga. Blood surrounds the body, though most of it has been soaked up by her clothing. Like Polly Nichols before her, Annie has two deep red gashes running across her throat, side by side, neatly severing her windpipe. Indeed, the murderer has cut so deep as to almost slice her head from her body.
Already the policemen are beginning to piece together the last few hours of Annie Chapman’s life. Some women friends who were also prostitutes had last seen her alive in a pub in Spitalfields market place. That night, ‘Dark’ Annie had been wearing black, as she had been ever since the day her husband had died, about four years ago. From the sight of her habitual wearing of black, a special attachment to her husband may have been guessed at. In fact, this was not so; Annie Chapman now lived alone, having been separated from her husband fifteen years before. She only realised he was dead when the money he paid her every week to live on, had suddenly stopped. Since then, ‘Dark’ Annie had been earning a living by taking in odd bits of crochet work, sewing, selling flowers and prostitution. She lived in various lodging houses around Whitechapel and Spitalfields, confronting each day of life with a determination that was derived only partly from the bottle. Small and thick-set, she concealed within her compact frame an energy which far surpassed her forty-five years. With features that echoed the colour of her clothes, a broken nose from a fight and two missing front teeth, nobody would call her a pleasant woman to look at, particularly since she had acquired a black eye following a disagreement with another prostitute over a borrowed piece of soap. Ever since this incident, her friends will tell the police, Annie had been complaining of feeling unwell. She suspected that something might have been damaged inside, though Annie was neither too weak nor too drunk to struggle against her attacker, as the bruises on her face and neck show. The last person to have seen her alive since she left the pub, was a night watchman, who will describe the man she was apparently haggling with in the backyard of twenty-nine Hanbury Street, as ‘dark, foreign looking and wearing a deerstalker hat’. This house is a well-known ‘picking-up’ spot, although not an established brothel. Annie had taken her client into the back yard and she had been standing at the top of the steps leading up to the back door, when the night watchman had seen them. An hour later, a man who lodged in the house, when he left to go to work had found Annie’s body at the bottom of the steps.
The bright red handkerchief that is tied loosely around her neck looks like another bloodstain against the black of her clothes. The Police Surgeon still stands with his back turned towards the body, staring into the sky. He leans against the broken fence, which separates this yard from the next; he has not said a word to anyone since he first arrived and set eyes on Annie Chapman’s corpse, nearly an hour ago. The murderer has taken great care to rob Annie of any dignity she may have clung to in life; the few last remaining shreds ripped from her.
A strange touch, the murderer has left all of Annie’s worldly possessions laid out in a neat row by her feet; two brass rings and a few pennies and farthings. She lays flat on her back, exposed like a pig on a slaughterhouse table, her legs drawn up, her knees turned outwards, her skirts pushed up over her hips. She has been posed specially for death. There is no mistaking the contempt, which the murderer must have felt for his victim as he moved her limbs into the position that he has chosen for them. He carefully manipulated and he smiled to himself as he did so. He was doing the right thing, he was quite sure of it. There was not a trace of doubt in his mind.
And as the early morning greyness strengthens, the murderer is walking along the Victoria Embankment, back to his lodgings on King’s Bench Walk. He lives in what is known as the lawyer’s area, that strange, classless part of the Temple, hovering somewhere between shabbiness and respectability. It exists in the space between, neither one nor the other. The murderer feels perfectly at home here, as one would imagine that he would; his feet sink easily into this vacated space, for he’s an adaptable sort of person, a man for all seasons. He can’t afford to live on his barrister’s wages and so he teaches part-time at a boy’s school in Blackheath village, on the other side of the Thames. He finds the scholarly hush of both the Law Courts and the classrooms stifling and so he unwinds by playing cricket for the school team. Those wide-open grassy fields remind him of the countryside where he grew up, in Dorset. The murderer pauses on the Embankment for a moment, turning his great, sad eyes back in the direction he has just come from. He’s remembering how he used to sit on his mother’s knee and make daisy chains with her when he was young in the field, which they always used to go to. (He and his mother both used to call it ‘our daisy-field’ and then smile secretively at each other, as though sharing something quite special and particular between them). Both he and his mother had long, nimble fingers and they threaded the flowers together to form one single chain, which seemed to go on forever. Sometimes his brother William would come and join them in the field; but he would soon grow restless and impatient, wanting his brother to come down and swim in the river with him. He would refuse to sit down and join in the ritual threading of the flowers; for he was clumsy and would probably only have broken the chain. The murderer leans on the railings, looking down into the filthy Thames below. He can remember those days as though they were only a moment ago, or even as though they still exist for him, trapped beneath the false glass surface of his mind. The past becomes the present; it all churns up into one vast tangled stew of memories and experiences, experiences and memories, he doesn’t know which anymore. But he doesn’t allow this long grey area to worry him. He accepts all things with a protective layer of dignity wrapped all around him, an air of melancholy resignation, which shields the inner core. The inner core, which no one can reach; his own alienation from himself terrifies him. He is not in control anymore. Slowly the murderer descends the steps of the Embankment to the water’s edge. His dark eyes scan the surface of the water sadly, as though searching for some lost part of himself. He strokes the wavering line of his thin moustache, looking around quickly. His movements are changed; he drifts without reality no longer. Stooping right down and simultaneously drawing his hands from his pockets, he washes both them and the knife in the river. He thinks for a moment of dropping the knife into the Thames but decides not to; it has become almost a part of him now, moulding itself to him like a sticky extra organ. With a knife in his hand he can dictate the circumstances, he can carve out the niche he wants them to fill. He replaces the knife in his pocket and climbs the steps back up to the roadside.
Back in Hanbury Street, the Police Surgeon throws a piece of sacking over the body of Annie Chapman. There is an almost tangible feeling of relief amongst the other policemen in the yard, though still, nobody says anything. The Surgeon watches them standing around in silent groups, cracking their knuckles nervously. One of them begins to whistle softly; but the sound soon trails off, crushed by the brutality of the situation. The Police Surgeon picks up his bag and begins to walk out of the yard, going out through the back gate so as to avoid passing the body again. He must now return to his office and write a report on the state of the butchered remains of Annie Chapman. He closes his eyes briefly as he pauses, one hand on the wooden board which serves as a gate. The photographs he has taken cling to the retina of his mind’s eye. He wonders how the murderer is feeling now.Now go to Chapter Nine.