The Norfolk and Suffolk links to one of Jack the Ripper’s victims
- Credit: The Illustrated Police News
It was a strange living, but a profitable one.
The couple, husband and wife in all but law, would travel around the Midlands and the East of England – including Great Yarmouth - selling ‘Penny Dreadfuls’, risqué songs and grisly death cell confessions about terrible murders.
Little did they realise that one of them would end up making the front page of their own Penny Dreadful after becoming the victim of the most notorious murderer of the 19th century: Jack the Ripper.
Poor Catherine would become Whitechapel Jack’s fourth victim on September 30 1888, killed just hours after the body of Elizabeth Stride had been discovered a 12-minute walk away. It was, in Ripper terminology, ‘the double event’.
Catherine – or Kate - Eddowes, was born on April 14 1842 in Wolverhampton, one of 11 children to George, a tinplate worker, and Catherine, a cook.
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After the infamous Tin Men’s Strike of 1848, the family travelled by barge to Bermondsey in London where George found a job and the Eddowes’ settled in Southwark.
By the time she was 15, Catherine’s mother and father had died – she returned to the Midlands and four years later, met former soldier Thomas Conway, who drew a pension under the name Thomas Quinn from the 18th Royal Irish Foot Regiment.
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The union was not condoned by Catherine’s family, who turned her out when they realised she was romantically attached to the guardsman who earned a living selling pamphlets and ballads.
But Catherine was enchanted by the charismatic, handsome Irishman and the pair began a life together travelling from town to town on foot and sleeping rough – by the time she left her family’s care, she was already pregnant.
Their speciality was writing and selling ‘gallows ballads’, on one occasion the couple hawked such a publication at the execution of Catherine’s cousin, Charles Christopher Robinson, 18, who was hanged in Stafford after being found guilty of cutting the throat of his sweetheart in 1866.
As the gathered crowds enjoyed hot milk and currant buns and browsed the market stalls before the main entertainment of the day – Charles’ execution – Catherine and Thomas sold their own ballad which shed an almost sympathetic light on her cousin.
The family connection was a money-spinner for the pair in a terrible foreshadow of the notoriety that murder could bestow on a family.
Rewinding back three years and the pair were in Great Yarmouth in 1863, just weeks before Catherine was due to give birth and, with nowhere safe for her to labour, she found herself in the Great Yarmouth Workhouse.
Pregnant women who had nowhere else to go often found themselves needing the attentions, albeit rudimentary and often insanitary, of the workhouse during and after the birth of their children.
At the workhouse infirmary in Yarmouth, surviving notes reveal that gas jets were regularly left on to deter the many rats that made the ward their home: but it was marginally better than giving birth by the side of the road.
On April 18 1863, Catherine “Annie” Conway was born in Yarmouth, which had been built in Beaconsfield Road close to the river and the beach: little Annie was one of countless babies born in the workhouse to a mother who had fallen on hard times.
Why Catherine and Thomas were in Yarmouth is a matter for debate: a few weeks before Annie was born, the town had held spectacular celebrations to mark the marriage of the Prince of Wales which had included illuminations throughout the town, firework displays, music, dancing and a ball at the Town Hall.
The poor of the town were given plum pudding and roast beef, tobacco and stout, tea and cake and, possibly less well-received, a speech from the Lord Mayor.
Another possibility is that Thomas had come to Yarmouth to see old friends who were gathering for the East Norfolk Militia’s annual training, a formidable meeting of almost 800 men.
The birth of Annie was officially registered on May 18 in Yarmouth.
There would be three more children after Annie – two sons, one who died as a child and a daughter who died as a baby – but by 1881, the couple had split as teetotal Thomas became violent and Catherine’s drinking spiraled out of control and her children grew used to moving continually to avoid having to loan their mother money.
Catherine soon met Irishman John Kelly, who worked in the markets and the pair began a relationship which lasted until her death, seven years later.
At the end of summer in 1888, John and Catherine went hop-picking in the countryside before walking back to London where they arrived on September 28.
Without the money to stay together in their usual lodging house, Catherine offered to sleep in the casual ward that night, an addition to the workhouse for single-night stays with straw bedding and buckets for toilets.
According to a superintendent at the ward, Eddowes told him: “I have come back to earn the reward offered for the apprehension of the Whitechapel murderer. I think I know him.”
When he warned her to be careful or she might end up his next victim, she replied: “Oh, no fear of that!”
The next morning, Catherine met Kelly and pawned his boots for the price of breakfast before beginning their endless cycle of looking for food and lodgings.
Later that afternoon, Catherine told Kelly she was off to find Annie to ask for money and he warned her to be careful of the killer who was haunting Whitechapel – she promised him she would. He never saw her alive again.
On September 29, at 8.30pm, policeman Louis Robinson approached a crowd who had gathered round what looked like a heap of clothing: it was Catherine Eddowes, and she had clearly enjoyed enough alcohol to be incoherent.
With the help of colleague George Simmons, Robinson dragged the barely-conscious woman to Bishopsgate Police Station where she was put in a cell to sober up.
PC George Hutt was city gaoler and checked on Eddowes several times until he decided she was sober enough to be let out at around 12.15am.
After giving a false name – Mary Ann Kelly – to an officer, Hutt opened the door for her as she told him that she would be getting “a damn fine hiding” for being so late: it was 1am, as she walked away she called to Hutt: “Goodnight, old cock.”
Daniel Neilson, from Norwich, discovered in 2011 that he was related to PC Hutt as part of a television show called Find My Past, a genealogy show aired on the Yesterday channel.
At the time, he said: “I knew my grandmother was a Hutt but that was all I knew. There was a great sense of intrigue as the TV producers gradually let me find out more and more.
“It was a wonderful rollercoaster of emotion and a little bit disturbing to
find such a close link to such a famous story.
“You think of Jack The Ripper as a far-off mythical story, to find your great,
great, great grandfather was walking the same streets and involved in the
same case humanises the whole thing and makes it very real.”
Back to 1888 and, 35 minutes after bidding farewell to PC Hutt, three witnesses saw Catherine talking to a man at the entrance to Church Passage which led from Duke Street to Mitre Square along the south wall of the Great Synagogue of London.
Presumably, Catherine’s mission was to find John who was unlikely to have found the money for a bed for the night and would be somewhere close by, under a hissing gaslight amongst the night population of London.
Perhaps she grew weary and decided to find somewhere quiet to sleep for a few hours, somewhere safe, somewhere out of sight.
The still-warm body of 46-year-old Catherine Eddowes was found in the corner of Mitre Square by PC Edward Watkins at 1.45am on Sunday September 30, just minutes after she had left the safety of the police station.
She had been terribly mutilated, her throat cut, her face slashed and her abdomen sliced open with her intestines placed over her right shoulder and underneath her left arm. Catherine’s left kidney had been removed.
A post-mortem investigation noted: “I believe the perpetrator of the act must have had considerable knowledge of the position of the organs in the abdominal cavity and the way of removing them…it required a great deal of knowledge to have removed the kidney and to know where it was placed.”
It was believed that, mercifully, Catherine had died immediately and that her injuries had happened after she was dead.
Pawn tickets issued to Catherine and her friend Emily Birrell were how John Kelly identified his common-law wife when he read about them being found on the victim’s body in the newspaper and her sister was summoned to identify her.
At her mother’s inquest, a pregnant Annie told the court that she hadn’t seen Catherine for more than two years.
Having married husband Louis in August 1885, she had fallen pregnant with her third child, William, a year later and paid her mother to attend her – it was the last time she saw her, after she handed her the last pay packet.
Catherine had spent all the money she’d been given on drink and Annie had told her to leave, the pair parting “on bad terms”.
Her mother’s new partner, John Kelly, said that the last thing Catherine had said to him on the night before she was murdered was that she was going to try and find Annie in Bermondsey, where she believed she was living.
But due to her mother’s habit of asking for money, Annie had not given Catherine her current address and she added that two of her brothers withheld their addresses from their mother for the same reason.
Annie and her siblings did not attend their mother’s funeral although Catherine’s brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles did, along with thousands of onlookers who watched as her cortege left the mortuary on October 8 1888.
Catherine’s killer was never identified or brought to justice and went on to kill again: poor Mary Kelly’s horrifically mutilated body was found on the bed of the single room she rented in Spitalfields in the East End just weeks after Kate had been laid to rest.
Although her unmarked grave at the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park has long since been reused, there is a memorial plaque to Catherine and also for Jack the Ripper’s first known victim, Mary Nichols, who died on August 31 1888.
The search for the identity of the Ripper continues.
Has a shawl sold at Bury St Edmunds uncovered Jack the Ripper’s identity?
A blood-stained Victorian shawl which was sold in a Bury St Edmunds auction led to experts claiming to have uncovered the identity of Jack the Ripper.
According to author Russell Edwards the man responsible for the grisly killing spree was Polish hairdresser Aaron Kosminski.
The revelation came to light after a shawl worn by one of the Ripper's victims was sold to Mr Edwards by Lacy Scott & Knight in Bury St Edmunds.
Jack the Ripper was the unidentified serial killer who murdered at least five women in London's East End in 1888.
A long line of men have been suspects - including royalty and a Jewish shoemaker - but no-one has ever been held accountable.
After purchasing the shawl in 2007, Mr Edwards, 48, from Barnet, north London, enlisted the help of Dr Jari Louhelainen, a senior lecturer in molecular biology at Liverpool John Moores University.
Using cutting-edge scientific techniques, Dr Louhelainen was able to extract DNA samples from the fabric, which was allegedly found by the body of one of Jack the Ripper's victims, Catherine Eddowes.
Dr Louhelainen was then able to compare it to the DNA of her descendants and that of Kosminski's - who was a suspect at the time – and said he is satisfied that it has been established - as far as it possibly can be - that Kosminski is Jack the Ripper.
The claim has been refuted by those that claim Catherine did not have a shawl and that the genetic analysis could easily have been contaminated.
She carried her whole life with her…
When she was found murdered, Catherine was wearing every piece of clothing she possessed and carrying everything she owned.
She wore a black straw bonnet trimmed with velvet, a black cloth jacket trimmed with imitation fur, three skirts – one green chintz, one green alpaca, one blue with red flounces and light twill lining – a white chemise, a man’s white vest, a brown bodice with a black velvet collar and brown buttons, a pair of men’s lace-up boots, a piece of red silk worn as a neckerchief, two handkerchiefs, two calico pockets and a bed ticking pocket and brown ribbed knee stockings darned at the feet.
She carried with her two bags made of bed ticking, two short black clay pipes, tin boxes containing tea and sugar, an empty matchbox, 12 pieces of white rag and other assorted pieces of material, pins and needles, six pieces of soap, a small comb, a table knife, a teaspoon, a cigarette case, a ball of hemp, buttons, a thimble, a handbill, part of a pair of spectacles, a mustard tin containing two pawn tickets and a single red mitten. There was no mention in the initial reports of a shawl.