'Dark Annie' and the Ripper


Mrs.Amelia Richardson didn't know it at the time, but one of the most elusive characters in history would pass through the hallway of the house that she managed.

Mrs. Richardson had been the landlady at 29 Hanbury St. in London's Whitechapel district for 15 years. She also ran a business manufacturing packing cases in the yard at the rear of the lodging house that, like most of the other dwellings in the area, had seen better days.

The yard measured about 14 feet square and was accessed only through a long hallway that ran the 25-foot length of 29 Hanbury from its front door. On the morning of Sept. 8, 1888, Richardson's son, John, stopped by on his way to work to check the padlock on the cellar door because someone had broken into it recently and stolen some tools. The lock was secure. He opened the door that led to the rear yard and noticed nothing unusual. It was about 4:45.

When Albert Cadosch stepped into the backyard of his home next door at 5:15, he overheard people talking on the other side of the rotting board fence that separated the properties.

The only word he could distinguish was "no." He heard something or someone fall against the fence a short time later. Cadosch thought nothing of it. Altercations were commonplace in Whitechapel.

John Davis lived in a third floor apartment of number 29. At around 6 a.m., he walked down the two steps that descended from the hall to the yard. Looking to his left, between the stairs and the dilapidated fence, he saw the body of a woman lying on the ground. Her face was covered with blood. James Kent, alerted by Davis' cries, took one look at the grisly sight and went in search of a policeman. When he couldn't find one immediately, he opted instead for a good, stiff brandy at the nearest pub.

No doubt he needed one.

The woman's skirts were pulled up to the knees exposing her striped stockings. Her throat had been cut down to the spine and her intestines were draped across her left shoulder. A doctor later estimated that the ghoulish mutilations must have taken at least 15 minutes to accomplish. Parts of the woman's body had been taken by her killer.

Carefully arranged on the ground lay two pills in a rolled scrap of paper, a comb, a torn envelope, a piece of muslin, and two polished farthings. A few feet away there was the blood-soaked piece of a leather apron, neatly folded. (The elusive killer hadn't been bestowed with the name that would live in infamy. For a while, he would be called "Leather Apron.")

The body was taken to the Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary Mortuary on Eagle Street. At 11:30, a woman by the name of Amelia Palmer identified the remains as "Dark Annie" Chapman. It was eventually determined that the victim had been strangled before the horrific assault on her body commenced. There were many similarities with the death a week earlier of Mary Ann Nichols, another prostitute, in Buck's Row.

Eliza Anne Smith was born in Paddington in 1841, the daughter of a soldier, who married her mother a year later and moved to Windsor. Anne wed John Chapman, a coachman, in 1869 and the couple resided in West London until 1881 when they moved back to Windsor.

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She gave birth to three children. Her only son was crippled and one of her daughters, Emily, died in 1882. If some of her acquaintances maintained that Anne did not drink to great excess, her marriage was strained by another serious character flaw. John Chapman lost a number of jobs due to his employers' suspicions concerning the trustworthiness of his wife. Annie, it seemed, had light fingers.

Shortly before Emily's death, Annie abandoned her family, returning to London where she lived on a 10-shilling allowance sent to her by Chapman until his own death on Christmas Day in 1886.

Like many of the women who were doomed to wander the night on the fetid, gaslit streets of Whitechapel, Annie Chapman tried valiantly not to suffer such an ignominious fate. After the income from her husband stopped, she attempted to earn a living by doing crochet work and by selling flowers and matches.

Chapman formed relationships with two men who supported her for a while, but by May or June of 1888, she was residing at Crossingham's lodging house at 35 Dorset St. in Whitechapel.

Chapman, who was around five feet tall, had become quite stout by 1888, and the newspaper renditions after the murder were particularly unflattering, as if to add insult to unspeakable injury. She hadn't been feeling well during the week prior to her death and had very likely spent time in the casual ward of a hospital.

"It is no use my giving way," she told Amelia Palmer on the last day of her life. "I must pull myself together and go out and get some money or I shall have no lodgings." The box that contained the pills given to her at the hospital had broken, so she wrapped two of them in a piece of paper before taking to the streets in the early morning hours of September 8.

Even if she hadn't encountered the man who so brutally took her life, Annie Chapman, suffering from an advanced lung disease and from brain membranes, would not have had to endure her terrible existence much longer.

Murder was no stranger to Whitechapel, but Chapman's killing was the fourth in a short period of time (only Nichols and Chapman are now considered canonical Jack the Ripper victims). The newspapers began to exploit the undercurrent of fear that was seeping into every corner of London like an insidious fog.

More importantly, people who had no idea of the deplorable conditions that existed in the East End were suddenly reading about them every day. And the gin-soaked, rag-tag women who were the killer's chosen prey suddenly took on the cloak of martyrs of a system that Londoners perceived was devoid of human feeling.

There would be a relative calm for the rest of the month, but when the Ripper struck again on September 29, the night of the infamous Double Event, the undercurrent of fear exploded into a near-frenzy of terror.

Alden Graves is a columnist and reviewer for the Banner. This column is part of a series on the victims of Jack the Ripper.


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