The identity of Jack the Ripper?




Jack the Ripper, one of East London's most infamous criminals depicted on the wall of the same streets he once stalked.

Jack the Ripper, one of East London’s most infamous criminals depicted on the wall of the same streets he once stalked. 

Imagine you’ve secretly had the urge to try something criminal for as long as you can remember, but never dared act. Because to do so would be dangerous. Would be alien in respectable society. How would that be?

To most it would remain a fantasy. As people mature life takes over and unfulfilled desires take a backseat to more pressing, often domestic matters.

But things that have changed once can change again. Sometimes no matter how hard we supress them, urges return.

Responsible adults learn to avoid situations with the potential for trouble. Devote their energies to work and family instead. To succeeding in life. But what if, despite your best efforts, things never quite worked out? Your job was soul destroying. Drink made you violent, and your wife and children didn’t get you.

In the Victorian East End the lucky ones could hope for thirty years in a menial job. Something that meant their clothing was never quite free of grime, dust or bloodstains if they were a slaughter man.

If one’s efforts in life go largely unrewarded, resentment can set in. Many seek a scapegoat at this point. Or look for comfort in the bottom of a glass. Of course in the 21st Century we have a basic understanding of psychology. We know that those caught up in such scenarios are likely to grow maudlin, violent even. This was less well understood in the old East End.

Nor was the fact that mundane repetition can keep a lid on emotional instability. In 1888 only months before the death of Polly Nichols East End resident Charles Lechmere suffered. In a time when counselling was unheard of, he was suddenly on his own. Charles Lechmere was now in his early forties.

At best he’d managed decades with a precarious grip on one of the very bottom rungs of existence. That collapsed. He would have needed a new reason to continue trudging along.

Yet simultaneously, for the first time in his adult life he had nobody else to consider. At long last he could finally please himself.

Even if his desire was an offence punished by hanging, he was now free to explore it. Would the fear of the consequences be enough to resist those deepest, darkest wildest urges? I suppose it depends how much he felt he’d left to lose.

Let’s keep in mind that the chances of capture were pretty low. Criminals weigh up such things in percentages. Suppose the chances of capture were about 20%. That’s pretty good odds. For a chance to put into practise something he’d dreamed about for years.

Imagine he can hear a little voice mocking him. Reminding him middle age is knocking hard on the door. Reminding him that he’ll soon be too old. Murder is a young man’s game. Deep down he knows if it’s ever going to happen, it has to be now.

Polly Nichols was murdered on the 31st August 1888. In the weeks leading up to that date she’d not really been living anywhere. She’d been dividing her sleeping arrangements between doss houses in Thrawl Street and Flower and Dean Street. Two parts of a four street, filthy, crime infested strip of Spitalfields.

Meanwhile Lechmere’s mundane life of twenty years had begun to unravel radically. Changes were forced on him. He became a helpless bystander. Had to endure a barrage of situations not of his choosing. It would have been enough to leave anyone bitter and angry.

First his living arrangements altered. He ceased to be welcome in the home he shared with his wife and 8 children. Then the family fractured further as one daughter, his second eldest, fled the nest. She went to stay with her grandmother.

Lechmere was forced to take temporary lodgings. In the Victorian East End family homes were basic, lodgings were far worse. He had  to remain at his backbreaking work at Pickford’s to cover costs.

Charles Allen Lechmere was born in Soho, a tough place for any child to start out. Then when he was nine, his mother re-married. Not easy then, not easy now. Young Charles’ mother chose a policeman by the name of Thomas Cross. Not surprisingly, the young boy was encouraged to go under the new family surname. On the 1861 census he was registered by his stepfather as Charles Cross.

This was the only time he appeared on any census as ‘Cross’. For every other census he appears under his real name, ‘Lechmere’.

Some children can adapt to such arrangements well. Others bury these types of experiences or build up resentments against Mothers or the police, or both. It varies. The only certainty is that when left unresolved, these matters can return to haunt you some day.

On the night of Polly Nichols murder Charles Lechmere was seen standing, in his own words “In the middle of the road” close to Polly’s dead body or in the words of Robert Paul “Standing where the woman was”.

Either way he was right there. First at the scene of the crime. It was 3.40 in the morning when Robert Paul walked into Bucks Row and Lechmere called out to him.

“Come and look over here, there’s a woman.” He said.

Paul did so, even touching her.

“I think she’s breathing.” He replied.

At the inquest he later recalled her arms and legs were still warm. He thought he felt a pulse.

After exchanging a few words, the pair set off together at 3.45am.

In Victorian London, when hardened criminals committed serious crimes, such as murder, being caught red handed or blabbing after the event were pretty much the only ways to get caught. So if Lechmere had killed Polly he’d barely had time to stand up before Robert Paul came around the corner. Then heart pounding, he’d managed to appear above suspicion. Even using Mr. Paul to backup his story when they find a police constable, PC Mizen on the corner of Hanbury Street.

Lechmere explains to the officer that they have just found a woman who looks as though she might be drunk or something lying in Bucks Row. They explain they have been sent by a policeman and are both on their way to work. So PC Mizen takes their particulars and allows them to go on their way.

This is a little strange at the very least. He lies about his name and he lies about being sent for help. He and Paul had felt the need to seriously consider if Polly was alive or dead, now they play down the seriousness of her injuries to PC Mizen. Not something one would do if concerned about the welfare of a fellow human being.

However they gave their story and Lechmere identifies himself as ‘Charles Cross’ for the very first time in his adult life. PC Mizen must have thought there was nothing peculiar or suspicious about Mr. Paul or the blood soaked meat cart driver from Pickfords who’d just given him a false name. Charles Lechmere wandered off to do an honest days work.

Lying to a police officer is not easy. They are adept at spotting the slightest signs of something out of the ordinary. At the same time, why would you give a false name? It is never the option of the law abiding citizen. But when you decide you must and you get away with it, well.

No matter how trivial or huge the offence he was covering up, it wouldn’t really have made much difference. Whatever the reason, walking away he would have been ecstatic, euphoric, probably the most excited he’d felt for ages, if not ever. Yet, unfortunately for him, it would have been extremely short lived. Very soon, probably when he was barely out of sight, the shock would have kicked in. Suddenly the elation would evaporate. He would have felt devastated. Not necessarily at any sense of guilt or fear. There is very little guilt in the criminal who gets away. Simply he had failed in his attempt to really butcher the hell out of his innocent victim. He would probably have decided he’d need to do it again, to do it properly, before he’d even got to the Pickfords depot.

We know that Charles Lechmere lived under his real name. He can be positively identified on any census. We know he lived on Doveton Street, Bethnal Green with his wife and children for twenty years. All this time he worked in the Broad Street depot whilst he was at Pickfords.

We know he registered his children as ‘Lechmere’ at school and had his youngest daughter baptised under the same name. So why did he give a false name to PC Mizen when they reported finding Polly ‘drunk or incapacitated or whatever’?

His route to work passed right through the killing fields of Jack the Ripper. During those fatal few months he was in the neighbourhood practically every day. He was almost certainly in close proximity of the murders of Martha Tabram, Polly Nichols (obviously) and Annie Chapman.

He knew the area extremely well. He would have been a ‘face’. Considered by the local working girls as getting on a bit, no real threat.

Most critically he was first on the scene at Polly’s murder. By modern policing standards that would place him under suspicion at the very least. Regardless of whether he was standing ‘over the body’ as Paul said, or ‘in the middle of the street’ as he himself claimed. In fact the discrepancy would have been enough for todays police to take him for further questioning. Clearly they failed to mention this to PC Mizen. It was a detail that only came out at Polly’s inquest. They told Mizen they had been sent by another constable to find help. This was not true. Although when PC Mizen got to Bucks Row PC John Neil, who had stumbled across Polly and PC Thain were already in attendance. Mizen wasn’t to know they had discovered Polly independently. PC Thain went to fetch Dr. Llewellyn, who was on the scene around 3.50. He pronounced Polly had been dead ‘but a few minutes’. This was only ten minutes after Lechmere claims to have found her and only five after he and Paul left together to seek assistance.

Why did he call himself ‘Cross’ only twice in his whole life? To PC Mizen and at the inquest of Polly Nichols. Something he only attended when it became clear the police were looking for him.

Lechmere’s Mother, by the way, lived in Cable Street, just around the corner from Berners Street.

If Lechmere was Jack the Ripper he did a remarkable job of hiding the fact right up until his death in 1920. If he wasn’t Jack, he could only have been seconds behind the killer in Buck’s Row on the night Polly Nichols died. Yet he saw nobody, heard nothing, smelt nothing, noticed absolutely nothing out of place.

It is easy to see how Jack garnered a reputation for disappearing into thin air.

Many Thanks To Ed Stow for his expert assistance.




Long Liz was dossing in a rookery in Spitalfields, East London in her last days. An anonymous unfortunate who gained eternal infamy when she was murdered by Jack the Ripper.

Long Liz was dossing in a rookery in Spitalfields, East London in her last days. An anonymous unfortunate who gained eternal infamy when she was murdered by Jack the Ripper.

This art went up on the front of 29 Hanbury Street a few years ago. Rather confirming that the artist has a genuine grasp of local history.

This art went up on the front of 29 Hanbury Street a few years ago. Rather confirming that the artist has a genuine grasp of local history.

Who really found the corpse of Polly Nichols ?

By Ian Parson

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