Thursday, 21 June 2012

Catherine Eddowes: A Doomed Woman

1888: A Jack the Ripper novel is available to buy now from Amazon

The discovery of Catherine Eddowes' Body
In the early hours of the morning of the 30th of September, 1888, PC Edward Watkins could have had no idea that what he was about to discover would launch an unnamed killer of East End prostitutes into eternal infamy.

The discovery of the body of Catherine Eddowes would shake London to its core. The boldness of a killer managing to slay two women, on the same night and under the noses of the entire police force, would stagger generations with his audacity.

Catherine Eddowes was the only one of the five canonical victims not to have spent her summer in London. Every year, she and scores of the city's poor would leave the cobbled streets for the countryside, where they could find relatively secure work picking hops throughout the warmer months.

It was hard, hot and strenuous work but many of the destitute looked upon this change of location as a kind of holiday. Despite the back breaking labour, a woman such as Catherine Eddowes would have found the steady stream of income and the guarantee of accommodation over the season a blissful change of pace.

Some time before her death, Catherine Eddowes had informally adopted the surname of her partner, John Kelly (whose full name is never revealed in the book in hopes of keeping things simple as far as the completely unrelated Mary Kelly was concerned.) It was with him that she travelled to the hop fields of Kent and most likely, would have had every intent to marry.

A contemporary sketch of Eddowes
For a book that is light on romance, I did very much enjoy writing about Catherine and John. Despite their doomed romance, I really wanted to capture the giddy, delicate sensation of the early stages of a love affair, without clouding it with a shadow of its inevitable end.

By taking the action temporarily out of London, I was hoping to be able to present these star crossed lovers in a completely different way. Light and happy and desperately in love, devoted to each other with such intensity that it will forsake all others. That is, of course, until they return to London.

John and Catherine made the long trek back to the city on the 27th of September and immediately were required to find separate accommodation. The Ripper killings had frightened so many, that a lot of the lodging houses in the East End had instigated a single sex policy in hopes of securing the safety of the female residents.

The happy life John and Catherine had forged together almost immediately unravels once they reach Whitechapel. Within hours Catherine is alone and forced back into prostitution, John is sent away to work as an overnight porter in Spitalfields Market.

 On the day before her murder, Catherine Eddowes left John at the market he was attending (work schedules were uncompromising things for a market porter and an 18 hour shift would not have been uncommon for a man in his position.) The pair made arrangements to meet up that evening at her lodging house (in Mile End, but changed to Whitechapel in the novel for the sake of simplicity,) and she headed to Bermondsey to meet her daughter and ask for a loan.

The pair would not meet at Catherine Eddowes lodging house, nor would they ever see each other again. It is not known if she ever made it as far as Bermondsey and even if she had, it would not have done her any good as her daughter had moved from the area some months previously.

The police autopsy sketch
Somehow, Catherine had managed to make enough money that she could spend the rest of the day drinking, (in 1888, this is thanks to a pair of sailors) so that by 8.30PM she was found unconscious on the corner of Aldgate High Street after having apparently entertained a crowd of onlookers by singing and performing impressions.

She was kept in a cell for some time until she was deemed sober enough to be released. Her last known words were claimed to have been, "Good night, old cock," said to the officer in charge of her release as she was freed from her cell. At almost the exact same time, Elizabeth Stride was being murdered, just a few streets away.

Instead of returning to her lodging house via the quickest route. Catherine headed east, presumably looking to make some money for such accommodation.

PC Edward Watkins was doing the rounds of his patch at the same time and visited Mitre Square at 1.30AM and found nothing. When he returned, a mere fifteen minutes later, he discovered the mutilated body of Catherine Eddowes.

Her attack had been the most savage yet. Everything from her lower ribs to her inner thighs had been hollowed out and her face had been carved with curious incisions. She had been sliced upwards from her navel to between her breasts. Her nose had been cut off.

It was not until her autopsy that it was discovered that one of her kidneys was missing. The letter to George Lusk may have included the proof necessary to suggest that the writer was indeed the killer.

The saddest part of this story for me, was not just the sorrowful fate of a woman who struggled to survive in a brutal city, but the story of the man she left behind. Before identifying the corpse of his beloved, John Kelly was said to have whispered a prayer to himself. Upon seeing her body, he broke down in hysterics and swore that he could never love again.

Yours truly,
Charlie Revelle-Smith.

No comments:

Post a Comment