All Things Crime Blog extends a warm welcome to crime scene researcher Krystal Zara who — with assistance from Patrick H. Moore — has contributed this compelling tale of Jack the Ripper and his first known victim, London streetwalker Polly Ann Nicolas.
by Krystal Zara and Patrick H. Moore
During the year 1888, five unfortunate women, some would argue seven, were brutally murdered within an 11-week time frame within the impoverished East End London community of Whitechapel. The killer, who has come to be known as Jack the Ripper, was never caught and has haunted our imaginations for over 100 years. As time has passed, the legends surrounding Jack’s hideous crimes have grown exponentially and now consist of a peculiar combination of genuine historical research, folklore, and pseudohistory. The term “ripperology” was coined to describe the study and analysis of the Ripper cases. There are now over one hundred theories about the Ripper’s identity, and the murders have inspired multiple works of fiction. There are ongoing debates on the number of woman Jack the Ripper killed –some say 5, some say 7, while others claim he killed as many as 13 — we will never know for sure. There is overwhelming evidence, however, that Jack butchered at least five women – all of whom are believed to have been “women of the night.”
In the year 1888, Whitechapel was home to some 1,200 prostitutes. According to researchers, many of the women who “worked the streets” to survive were constantly harassed by local “toughs,” the 19th century equivalent of what today might be called “gangsters.” It was a high crime area – not exactly the sort of place you would take your family for a Sunday afternoon picnic.
Victim #1: Polly Ann Nicolas
Polly Ann Walker Nicolas, nicknamed Mary Ann, was the daughter of Edward Walker, a locksmith, and Caroline. Polly was born in Whitechapel on August 26, 1845. Polly married William Nicolas in 1864 at the tender age of 19 and bore him five children. By 1880, their marriage had foundered and they separated permanently. William, however, continued to help Polly support the children up until 1882 when he found out she had joined the legion of East End streetwalkers. In 1883, Polly was taken in by her father Edward, but he disapproved of her “professional” activities and – after endless disagreements — she moved out four years later. In May of 1888, Polly found a new home but it was short-lived because her landlords accused her of stealing from them. Polly then moved in with Emily Holland with whom she resided until her untimely demise.
Polly stood 5’2” with prominent cheek bones. A livid scar across her forehead and several missing teeth that had been knocked out in a brawl gave her the look of one who had seen some hard traveling. These facts were duly noted at the crime scene and were recorded for posterity.
Discovery of Polly’s Body
Polly’s disemboweled corpse was discovered at about 3:40 a.m. on August 31, 1888. Charles Cross, the man to make the horrifying discovery, was walking along Buck’s Row, which led into Whitechapel’s main thoroughfare, when – to his horror — he came across what appeared to be a blood-drenched woman leaning against a gateway. Ripperologists claim that her flesh was still warm to the touch, an indication that she had been alive mere minutes before Cross’s grisly find. Polly’s hands were hanging limply and her eyes were wide open.
Another man, Robert Paul, also arrived on the scene. Paul, like Cross, was a hansom driver and both men had been on their way to work. Minutes later, the men were able to flag down a passing policeman. It was obvious that Polly had been the victim of a violent crime; her throat had been slashed. Policeman John Neil took control of the crime scene. Within moments of the discovery, rumors of Polly’s dreadful death began to circulate. The modern-day equivalent of a coroner’s assistant, a Dr. Llewellyn was soon on the scene — as well as two other experienced crime scene investigators.
An examination was conducted; Dr. Lewellyn noted the gaping wound to Polly’s neck and an array of bruises across her upper extremities. There were no other signs of injury to her upper body. Her lower half had been ripped open; it was assumed that a small and very sharp knife had been used to penetrate her intestines. The angle of entry suggested that the killer might have been left-handed.
The possibility that Polly might have approached the killer was bandied about; she had been completely broke earlier that night. In fact, only hours before, Polly’s friend Emily Holland had spoken with Polly, who had told her that she spent most of her money on booze, and that she was going to go out and troll the streets. The last time Emily saw Polly alive was at approximately 2:30 a.m. that morning.
The police thought it likely that Polly and the killer had been conversing before the attack, and that he had lulled her into complacency. Most likely the attack had come from the front rather than from behind. Although Polly was a veteran of the mean East End streets, she had apparently been caught off-guard. The Ripper’s handiwork was believed to have occupied the better part of 4 to 5 minutes.
Some hours later, Polly Ann’s body was officially washed and taken to a nearby morgue; Emily Holland was then called in to identify the body. It must have been a dreadful sight.
The next morning a statement from Polly’s estranged husband William made the rounds –he purportedly said:
“Seeing you as you are now, I forgive you for what you have done to me.”
On the 6th of September. 1888, Polly was lowered into her final resting place. Inspector John Neil, Sergeants Thain and Mizen, Constable Kerby, Inspector John Spratling, Officer Cartwright and the renowned Inspector Fredrick Abblerine were all assigned to the case. Each officer vowed to find and arrest the perpetrator.