Orsam Books

Deconstructing Hallie


According to Hallie Rubenhold's website, on the 'About Hallie' page, her book is:

'the first full length biography of the Ripper's victims'.

When we go to the page on her website for the book, however, it is there stated that it is (underlining added):

'the first full length biography to explore and contextualize the lives of the five victims of Jack the Ripper'. 

So is it supposed to be the first full length biography of the Ripper's victims or not?   

For more clues, we go to her blog post on Waterstones entitled 'Hallie Rubenhold on her battle with the Ripperologists', dated 3 February 2020, in which Hallie writes:

'From the outset, a number of so-called Ripperologists took offence at the book's claims that it was the first full-lengthy biography to examine the five canonical victims as a subject divorced from the story of their killer.  Apart from a small booklet containing fifty-seven pages of text, nothing else on the subject existed, but somehow, I'd already got off on the wrong foot.' 

Hmmmmmnn, there's no mention there of exploring or contextualizing anything. Just a statement that it is the first full length biography to examine the five victims without discussing the story of their killer. 

Is that accurate?

Well what about Neil Stubbing Shelden's 2007 'The Victims of Jack the Ripper'?  This is evidently what she is referring to as 'a small booklet containing fifty-seven pages of text'.  

Is it book, a plane or a pamphlet?

It's a book. 

It certainly looks like a book and the first words of it are:

'"Oh no, not another Jack the Ripper book!"' 

Shelden then says:

'In this book, I concentrate solely on the victims of Jack the Ripper...'.

So, a book solely about the victims of Jack the Ripper has been done before.  True, it contains only 55 pages of text with a two page appendix and an additional 47 pages of images. So it is a short book. 

How did Hallie's end up at 415 pages then?   Well it's actually quite interesting to track her book against Shelden's.  With the exception of the chapter on Stride, for which Hallie has much more detail about her life in Sweden, both have essentially the same facts about the victims' lives but Rubenhold's book is filled with what one could describe either as 'context' or 'padding'.  Hence, from both Shelden and Rubenhold we learn the same basic facts about the life of the first victim, Polly Nichols, but, in Rubenhold, we learn the weather on the day Polly was born, we discover the history of the Peabody Buildings in which Polly once lived with her husband (including a biography of George Peabody) and we are told about the workings of the workhouse system.  For Annie Chapman there's a section about the coronation of Queen Victoria which segues into Annie's birth about six years later. When it comes to Elizabeth Stride we are told about the (imaginary) candles which spread a warm yellow light through the wood-pannelled rooms of the farmhouse on the day that she was born. That's basically how she does it.

It has to be said that in addition to the 'padding' or the 'context' there is also an awful lot of speculation about what the victims 'would' or, rather, 'might', have done in their early years which adds very little to the sum of our knowledge about them. 

The fact, in other words, that she has more pages in her book doesn't necessarily mean that her book contains more facts or information about the lives of the victims of Jack the Ripper. 

For this reason, the book might have been less controversial (if also less commercially successful) if it had been marketed as a social history of downtrodden and vagrant women as told through the lives of the five victims of Jack the Ripper, which is essentially what the book is.  As a book simply about the victims of Jack the Ripper it is nothing special unless you are being introduced to those victims for the very first time, in which case it might be interesting. 

Now, this article is not going to be too critical about Hallie's puffed up claims about the originality and uniqueness of her book.  I fully appreciate that it's not easy, as an author, to gain publicity for a book and, on one level, we have to applaud Hallie for her marketing ability. She got her book into the media and into the spotlight. Because let's face it, there haven't been many books written about Jack the Ripper's victims and those that have been published (such as Shelden's book) hardly set the publishing world alight.  If I'm being honest, I don't think I even knew of the existence of Shelden's book prior to publication of Hallie's book and I certainly never read it. 

Frankly, anyone could have done what Hallie did but no-one bothered.  It was her idea to take the fairly dull facts of the life stories of the five canonical victims, which Sheldon was able to fit into 55 unexciting but mainly factually accurate pages, and turn those short stories into a major bestselling book which has been of interest to book reviewers and the general public alike.  Much of this has been in the marketing but also in the presentation of the book because Shelden's book, as written, would never in a million years have been a bestseller, even (and perhaps more so) at ten times the length.

Why has no-one ever before attempted to turn the stories of the five victims into a major bestselling book?  I dare say it's because no-one ever thought it could be done.  Most people writing Ripper related books focus on the identity of the murderer.  From a publicity and marketing perspective, Hallie has pulled a neat trick by making a big show of ignoring the murderer and concentrating on the lives of the victims and of the lives of the nineteenth century poor women from the East End in general.

But that probably wouldn't have done the job on its own so, in addition to her claim that the women's lives were more interesting than previously appreciated, she's focused on the controversial message for the media that the victims were not all prostitutes.

Why has that message resonated with a large section of the book buying public?   Well context is everything.  The year 2019 saw the broadcast on BBC Four of the Lisa Williams documentary 'The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story'.  The central thesis of this documentary was that an assumption by the police that the Yorkshire Ripper was only targeting prostitutes quite possibly led to the murders not being solved and more women losing their lives.

In support of this thesis, the news reporter Jeremy Thompson was quoted as saying that, after the first murder, 'Fairly quickly they told us on the quiet that it was a prostitute and that they weren't really making a big deal of it'.  Detective Denis Hoban of the West Yorkshire Police was quoted as saying after the first two murders that, 'We're quite certain that this man hates prostitution and are quite certain that this evil stretches to women who go in public houses and clubs of rather loose morals....who aren't necessarily prostitutes but the frenzied attack he's carried out on these woman indicates this.'  Finally, Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield said, 'Most of his victims have been of somewhat doubtful character'.  He attributed an attack on Jayne McDonald as the killer having 'mistook her for a lady of the streets because she was out in that area at the time she was.'

It was claimed in the documentary that Ripper style attacks (by Peter Sutcliffe) on girls or women who were not prostitutes were assumed to have been by a different man and thus dismissed by investigators hunting the Yorkshire Ripper so that the police lost the chance to compile a good description of Sutcliffe which could have led to his arrest much earlier than was actually the case, thus potentially saving the lives of all the later victims. 

The one weakness of the thesis being put forward in the documentary was in respect of Tracey Brown who was attacked in 1975 when she was just 14, and certainly not a prostitute. Her attack had all the characteristics of the Ripper 'but the police didn't believe it was him.'  Nevertheless she said that George Oldfield came to speak to her at some point after June 1979 about the 'Wearside Jack' tape (which turned out to be a hoax) and, apparently, Oldfield became incensed when Tracey kept telling him that it wasn't the voice of her attacker who had a Yorkshire accent, not a Geordie one.  While this demonstrates Oldfield's strange obsession that the man on the tape was definitely the Yorkshire Ripper it's inconsistent with the thesis that he believed that the Ripper only attacked prostitutes.  If he thought that the 14-year-old Tracey Brown wasn't a surviving victim of the Yorkshire Ripper he wouldn't have been playing the tape to her in the first place.

Anyway, the point is that a false assumption by the police about victims of a serial killer being prostitutes can cost lives.  We need to understand Hallie's book in this context.

A criticism made of Hallie's book is that, by focusing on the five 'canonical' victims, she has ignored the lives of all the other women brutally murdered by an unknown killer or killers on the streets of the East End the period 1888 to 1891.  Personally I don't think this is a good criticism.  Hallie is perfectly entitled to focus only on the victims of 'Jack the Ripper' and equally entitled to rely on the conclusion of Sir Melville Macnaghten of Scotland Yard that 'Jack the Ripper' only had five victims.  He may not have been correct but there are reasons to think he might have been (especially that the mutilations seem to have increased in ferocity up to the Kelly murder) and Hallie is certainly entitled to adopt his reasoning here (although, at the same time, she suggests that Stride might NOT have been a Ripper victim). 

No-one to my knowledge has criticized Neil Shelden for only writing about the five canonical victims in his own book entitled 'The Victims of Jack the Ripper'.  While it's certainly true that there is much better evidence that women such Martha Tabram and Frances Coles were working prostitutes than most of the canonical victims, so that Hallie's decision to exclude the other murdered women from the period could have been driven by her thesis (although Hallie has said on Twitter that she doesn't think Tabram was a prostitute either!), I think she was perfectly entitled to select the five victims that she did.

I'm going to start this article by looking at Hallie's central thesis that not all of the canonical victims were prostitutes but, first, let's note that Hallie claims that many homeless women tramped with men for protection and that their ‘free’ behaviour was 'used as further  proof to reinforce the belief held by the police and the press that ‘all vagrant women were prostitutes’.'  That is put in quotes but no source reference is given.    Google has a 2016 book, 'Fat King, Lean Beggar', by William Carroll which contains the words, ‘as if all vagrant women were prostitutes’ in the context of  'when female vagrants were represented in works of popular culture...their sexuality was understood to be aggressive, disorderly, and a social threat, as if all vagrant women were prostitutes.'  Was Hallie quoting this 2016 book in her own book?  If not, what is the source of her claim that the police and press believed that all vagrant women were prostitutes?  Where did the quote come from?

There is also an online thesis by Sarah Carr, incidentally, from 2014, which refers to the suggestion that 'all vagrant women were prostitutes' but Carr gives at this point a reference to a 2003 book by Mary Ann Poutanen who was writing about nineteenth century Montreal.  So that doesn't assist us any further. 

Were the Five prostitutes?

I've dealt with this subject in response to Simon Wood's book but it's worth re-evaluating in the light of Hallie's different arguments.


As a general point, while it is correct, as Rubenhold complains, that there are 'no official transcripts of this hearing' (by which she means the inquest relating to the death of Nichols), there never were any transcripts of coroner's hearings.  She has made the common mistake of confusing depositions with transcripts.  A deposition was not a transcript and newspaper reports often contain more information than can be gleaned from a deposition, especially as depositions were written out in longhand in real time whereas reporters could use shorthand.  Rubenhold is correct to say that there can be errors in the newspaper reporting of the inquests but she goes too far when she tries to conflate this with journalists who might have fabricated quotations because court reporting can, on the whole, be relied upon as not being fabricated.

Where there was only one reporter present in a hearing then, sure, it can be dangerous to rely absolutely on their ability to accurately capture the evidence of a witness but where there were obviously multiple reporters present not only would it have been literally impossible for a reporter to have fabricated evidence given in court (because he would have been found out when compared to the other reports) but we can compare the different reports and usually work out what was said.

The key question to be answered is whether Nichols had previously engaged in prostitution.  According to Rubenhold, 'virtually everything stated by the three witnesses – Ellen Holland, Edward Walker and William Nichols – appears to counter the preconception that she was engaged in prostitution'.  She adds that, at times, 'the coroner’s inquest becomes a moral investigation of Polly Nichols herself, as if the hearing was in part to determine whether her behaviour warranted her fate’.  She doesn't provide any evidence to support that assertion but it does seem obvious that the coroner would, quite reasonably, have wanted to know if Polly was seeking out a client on the night she was murdered if for no other reason than that client could have been her murderer.

While it is true that Ellen Holland said that she did not think that Nichols was a 'fast' woman, she had only known her for six weeks (a period in which Polly was flush with cash, having stolen clothing from her employer valued at over £3) and only saw her once in the eight or ten days prior to her death.  She also told the coroner that she did not know what Polly did for a living. Edward Walker had barely spoken to his daughter in six or seven years and hadn't seen her since June 1886. Even when she was living with him, 'he was unable to say what she had been doing' (Times 3 September 1888) and, 'He had no idea what deceased had been doing since she left him'.   His denial, therefore, that she was a 'fast' woman can't have much value. As for her husband, William Nichols, he said that, 'The last time he saw her was three years ago, and he had no idea what she had been doing since that time, nor with whom she lived' (Times, 3 September 1888).  Consequently, it's not possible to rely on these three witnesses to help us with what Polly had been doing since 1885.  None of them had a clue what she had been doing in 1886, 1887 or most of 1888.

It is, however, fair to say that Rubenhold is correct that William Nichols in, his evidence, 'never once asserted that his wife was making a living as a prostitute'.  The problem with her approach is that the force of this point is entirely lost on the reader because she completely omitted to mention why this is significant.  The reason it is significant is that Inspector Helson of the Bethnal Green police had recorded in his report of 7 September 1888 that it had come to the attention of William Nichols in 1882 that Polly 'was living the life of a prostitute' which is why he stopped paying her maintenance. 

It seems that Rubenhold couldn't bring herself to include this inconvenient fact in her book so she satisfied herself by saying no more than that Nichols didn't say at the inquest that his wife was a prostitute.  What he did say at the inquest was that in 1882 his wife had been living with 'another man or men, I had her watched'. The reference to men, plural, here could be considered a reference to prostitution but later in the inquest, unmentioned by Rubenhold, William was asked if the other man she was living with was a blacksmith at Clerkenwell (Drew) to which he replied 'No, it was another man' which does seem to contradict the suggestion that she was, to his knowledge, engaged in prostitution with multiple men.

Perhaps William had exaggerated when speaking to the Bethnal Green police in 1888 and/or had said something beyond his actual knowledge.   That doesn't mean that the police report was written 'hastily' which is something that Rubenhold says to justify why she doesn't always rely on police reports, despite the fact there is no reason to think that Helson's report, written a full week after the murder of Nichols, was written in haste.  However, it's possible that William gave them wrong information.  If that's the case it might mean that the police got it wrong, but it would mean that they got it wrong based on information received from the victim's husband, not because they simply assumed that Nichols was a prostitute.

As to whether the information was wrong, it is perhaps worth noting (as Rubenhold fails to) that when Chief Inspector Swanson came to describe Polly's 1882 behaviour in his report of 19 October 1888 he described her as 'leading an immoral life', which is ambiguous.  Was the immorality due to prostitution or simply due to living with different men, or perhaps just one man who wasn't her husband?  Had Swanson toned it down following William Nichols' evidence at the inquest?  It's a little hard to say.  After 1882, the police had established that Polly had been 'leading an irregular life sleeping at common lodging houses and Workhouses for a considerable time' but, again, this could cover a multitude of sins and might not necessarily have meant she was involved prostitution. 

Ultimately, one can't get away from the evidence that the last thing that the drunken and 'staggering' Polly said to her friend Ellen was that she was going to get money to pay for her lodgings and would soon be back (Daily News, 4 September 1888).   According to the report of Holland's evidence in the Echo of 3 September 1888, 'She said she had no money, and wanted some'.  It is odd, therefore, that Rubenhold thinks she changed her mind and decided to go to sleep in Bucks Row.

While it may be true that some women would have slept rough in 1888, as they might today, it's unlikely they would have chosen a fairly deserted thoroughfare which was patrolled every half an hour by a constable which would simply have led to them being woken up and moved on.  When Charles Cross saw Nichols lying on the pavement he didn't think, 'Ah that's probably just another of those homeless women I always see on my morning walk to work, having a quick kip'.  It was such an unusual sight that he stopped and called a passer-by over to check she was alright.  If vagrants were regularly sleeping on the pavement of that street he would surely not have done this.  

Interestingly, a recent story in the Daily Mail of 9 June 2020 stated that the bodies of two murdered sisters, Bilbaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, were seen lying on the ground by a passer-by in the Fryent Country Park in Wembley, North London, on 6 June but the passer-by 'thought they were rough sleepers'.  Hence they were left alone, the sighting wasn't reported, and the bodies weren't discovered by the police until the next day.

What Cross's actions surely tell us is that vagrants would either have chosen sheltered places to sleep or places where others huddled together for safety.  It is highly unlikely that Nichols would have chosen the pavement in Bucks Row.  Rubenhold quite reasonably quotes from an 1886 book by Howard J. Goldsmid, entitled 'Dottings of a Dosser' in which Goldsmid, who disguised himself as a vagrant, said that:

'Thrawl Street, Flower and Dean Street, Dorset Street, Parker Street, and similar thoroughfares, are, night after night, thronged with "dossers" who have no money for a night's shelter. They lie on the kerbstone, in the gutters, on heaps of rubbish, anywhere; or walk up and down with their hands in their pockets, and their dull, sleepy eyes, almost closed. '

But people sleeping out in these notorious streets is a different matter from somewhere out of the way like Bucks Row. 

Furthermore, we have it on the authority of none other than Inspector Abberline (in a report dated 19 September 1888) that 'Bucks Row is a narrow quiet thoroughfare frequented by prostitutes for immoral purposes at night'.  There is no reason to doubt him on that point.  Consequently, it rather looks like Polly was doing what she told her friend she was going to do which was to earn some money to pay for her bed for the night.

Rubenhold says that the police had some kind of ulterior motive to describe Polly as a prostitute but she doesn't provide any evidence to support this.  That the police did, in fact, regard Polly as a prostitute can be found in a police description in a Home Office file as below. 


And on the index to Swanson's report in the same Home Office file we find that Polly was, 'Described by Dr Llewellyn as Mary Ann Nichols, a prostitute'.


One can't imagine Dr Llewellyn inventing this, and It's likely that he (and the police) had good reason to describe Polly as such. 

While one should never rely too heavily on newspaper reports (other than reports of court proceedings), it is also the case that when a press reporter made enquiries of other female residents of Nichols' Thrawl Street lodgings on 31 August he was told that Polly 'had led the life of an unfortunate while lodging in the house', or at least that is what he reported he was told (Times, 1 September 1888). Rubenhold does mention this but then does something very strange. Whereas the Times report continues by saying, 'Nothing more was known of her', Rubenhold deletes the important word 'more' and includes this sentence in her book as 'Nothing....was known of her', thereby suggesting (as she does suggest) that the reporter couldn't possibly have discovered that she led the life of an unfortunate because nothing was known of her. But as the reporter was saying that it WAS known that she had led the life of an unfortunate but that nothing more was known of her, it is hard to view Rubenhold's treatment of this newspaper evidence as anything other than unacceptable.


When it comes to Chapman there is a serious misunderstanding of the evidence on Rubenhold's part.  She says that different newspapers reported the evidence of Amelia Farmer (a.k.a. Palmer) at the inquest into Chapman's death in contradictory ways.  She compares a report in the Manchester Guardian (and Hull Daily News and Eastern Morning News) with a report in the Star.  However, the report in the Manchester Guardian on 10 September (not 9 September, as she says) is not a report of Farmer's evidence, which had not yet been given at the time the newspaper was published.  It is a report of a statement she gave prior to the inquest in which she said: 'As a regular means of livelihood she [Annie] had not been in the habit of frequenting the streets, but had made antimacassars for sale.  Sometimes she would buy flowers or matches with which to pick up a living'.  Not only is this not inconsistent with what she would go on to say at the inquest but it is entirely consistent with it.  At the inquest, Farmer basically said that Annie made money from selling flowers, antimacassars or matches (i.e. that was her regular means of livelihood) but that she was also afraid that Annie used to earn her living partly on the streets. 

Rubenhold doesn't accept this evidence on the basis of the Daily Telegraph report of Falmer's evidence which said this: 

'What did she do for a living? - She used to do crochet work, make antimaccassars, and sell flowers. She was out late at night at times.'

We are lucky, however, that there were a number of reporters at the inquest that day. 

From the Daily News report of the testimony of Amelia Farmer: 

The Coroner: Is it correct that she got money in the streets?

Amelia Farmer: I am afraid that she was not particular how she earned her living.  She has told me that she was out late sometimes.

This is how the Star reported Farmer's testimony:

'I am afraid deceased used to earn her living partly on the streets.  She was a very straightforward woman when she was sober, clever and industrious with her needle; but she could not take much drink without getting intoxicated. She had been living a very irregular life all the time I've known her.'  

Farmer's testimony was also reported in the Daily Chronicle as follows:

'She used to do crochet work, make anti-macassars and sell flowers.  I am afraid she was not particular how she earned her living, and I know that she was out late at times.  She has told me so.' 

And in the Evening Post as follows:

'She did crochet work and made antimacassars for a living and also sold flowers. Witness was afraid she also went on the streets at night. In fact, deceased had told her she did.'

I suspect that the most accurate report of Farmer's testimony is to be found in the Evening News which shows that it was based on two separate questions from the coroner as follows:

'What did she do for a living? She used to make crochet work, and antimacassars, and sell flowers.

Is it correct to say that she used to get money on the streets?  I cannot say.  I am afraid she was not particular.  She was out late at times.  She has told me so.' 

We can see that the Daily Telegraph reporter (or editor) merged the two answers into one, editing down the answer to the second question so that, by way of reminder, his report simply said:

'What did she do for a living? - She used to do crochet work, make antimaccassars, and sell flowers. She was out late at night at times.' 

It could be argued that the key part of Farmer's answer to the question (as reported in the Evening News) as to whether Chapman used to get money on the streets was, 'I cannot say' but she clearly then goes on to say that she was afraid that her friend was not particular and was out late at times which is undoubtedly her admitting that Chapman would, at times, resort to prostitution, as the other newspaper reporters understood her to say.

There is also the unfortunate information contained in a police report dated 8 September 1888 that Timothy Donovan had known Chapman for 16 months 'as a prostitute' something which Donovan repeated to a newspaper reporter for the Times which reported on 10 September that he knew her 'as an unfortunate'.  While  Donovan doesn't appear to have been prepared to testify as to this in court, he did say that she came to his lodging house 'with other men' and he refused entry.  All of this is ignored by Rubenhold who feels that any evidence suggesting that Chapman was engaged in prostitution can't be right and isn't worth quoting, even to dismiss it.  What she does quote is Donovan saying  that Chapman as a rule occupied a double bed by herself but of course she did, as a rule, because Donovan, as a rule, refused her entry when she came back with other men!

Hallie does quote Eliza Cooper as having told the coroner that Chapman had been seen with several men whom she would bring 'casually to to the lodging house'.  She gives the Times of 20 September 1888 as the reference but in a footnote she tries to suggest that it might not be accurate because Freeman's Journal reported it as being that she used to bring men to 'the public house'.  The problem is that there is ample evidence that Cooper said  lodging house.  Thus, from the Globe (also repeated in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Chronicle the next day):

'The deceased associated with Stanley, and several others, whom she used to bring casually into the lodging house.'

What seems to have happened is that the Globe (and Telegraph/Chronicle) combined answers to two questions into one. 

This is from the Echo:

'Do you know any one else besides Stanley with whom she associated?  She associated with several others besides Stanley.'

This is from the Daily News which gives the best details:

'She associated with the man Stanley, and Harry the Hawker, and several others.

Questioned by jurymen, the witness could not say whether any of the "several other" men that the deceased knew were missing. She used to bring them to the lodging house.'

One can't reasonably cite an Irish newspaper (or other regional newspaper), which would not have had a reporter in court, to undermine the clear evidence that Cooper was referring to the lodging house at 35 Dorset Street of which both she and Chapman were residents.  

Rubenhold's other attempt to undermine Cooper's evidence is to note that Cooper had an antagonistic relationship with Chapman but it's a bit desperate to argue that Cooper was so determined to trash the dead woman's reputation that she would tell lies to the coroner. 

I'm fairly sure that Rubenhold says something which isn't true when she states that:

'Following 'enquiries made amongst women of the same class...at public houses in the locality' the police could not find a single witness who could confirm that she had been among the ranks of those who sold sex.'

The extract quoted by Hallie is from Chief Inspector Swanson's report of 19 September 1888 in which he stated that 'Enquiries were also made amongst women of the same class as deceased, and at public houses in the locality' which, as we can see, is different from what Hallie quoted.  But inaccurate quotation aside, the real issue here is that the police were making enquiries to find out the identity of the murderer.  As Swanson said in his report (in the very next sentence), 'Up to the present the combined result of those enquiries did not supply the police with the slightest clue to the murderer'.  There is no indication in Swanson's note that the police were enquiring as to whether Chapman was a prostitute, something which appears to be a figment of Hallie's imagination (and inconsistent with her claim that the police simply assumed her to have been a prostitute in any case).    

As with Nichols, the police don't appear to have had any doubts:


It should be noted at this point that Rubenhold has badly misunderstood and misrepresented one of Charles Warren's police orders.  Claiming that Warren had ordered that police constables should not refer to women as prostitutes unless they had been convicted of prostitution, or they described themselves as prostitutes, Rubenhold contrasts this to the way Chapman and Nichols were described internally by the Metropolitan Police as prostitutes despite not having any convictions (and not being able to describe themselves as anything due to their demise).  While some of her readers might have been surprised by this apparent hypocrisy, those who actually understood what Warren was saying will not regard it in the same way.

In the first place, Rubenhold doesn't fully or properly quote Warren's order.  What he said in Police Orders of 19 July 1887 was this:

'In the absence of any legal opinion or decision on the subject, the Commissioner does not think that the Police are justified in calling any woman a common prostitute, unless she so describes herself, or has been convicted as such, and insasmuch as persons charged with offences frequently state their occupation incorrectly, and also do not necessarily again transgress the law after conviction; the Commissioner thinks it advisable that a Police Constable, while admitting that the Metropolitan Police District contains common prostitutes, should not assume that any particular woman is a common prostitute, though he may be perfectly convinced in his own mind that she is such.  At the same time, the Commissioner points out that the Constable must be governed by the Act of Parliament, and if he at his own discretion chooses to call a woman a common prostitute, his justification will lie in the finding of the Magistrate.'

I could have underlined the last sentence which shows that the Commissioner was giving guidance only and allowing discretion to the constable to call a woman a common prostitute if he felt this was the case but there was no need because the real point is that this was all about the treatment of living women and about not wrongly ARRESTING and CHARGING a woman as a prostitute before a magistrate without proper evidence.  It followed on from the controversial Cass case, which Hallie only refers to at the end of the book, where a woman had been arrested for no more (apparently) than speaking to man in the street with the arresting police constable acting on his own belief as to what was going on and charging her on that basis, without any actual evidence of prostitution (as he was lawfully able to do). 

Warren could see that it wasn't quite right for the police to describe and charge a woman as a prostitute on no more than a hunch or a suspicion.  Furthermore, and crucially, as he goes on to say in the same Police Orders, if a woman could only be labelled as a prostitute on her own description or following a conviction, this 'will effectually dispose of the possibility of any person being able hereafter to charge the police with blackmailing prostitutes, as such a system cannot possibly exist when the Constable does not arrest on uncorroborated evidence'.

In other words, therefore, Rubenhold is wrong if she thinks that Warren was telling his officers how women should be 'described'.  The police weren't running a newspaper or magazine in which women were being described as prostitutes, nor were they providing a service to the public in identifying women as such.  He was talking about describing women as prostitutes to a magistrate in court proceedings.  It should go without saying that this was a completely different situation to a woman (dead or alive) being described as a prostitute either at an inquest (which doesn't even apply in this case) or in police or Home Office reports.  Warren obviously wasn't directing his attention to THAT!  His orders did not preclude the police from privately describing women as prostitutes if that's what they thought they were, or publicly in cases of death, where there was no question of a woman being charged.

Rubenhold is also wrong therefore to say that there was 'no heed paid to Charles Warren's order of 19 July' by the police.  She only says this because she misunderstands it.

Just like Nichols, the last thing Chapman is known to have said (to Timothy Donovan) is, 'I have not any money now, but don't let the bed; I will be back soon.' This was at 2am, outside her lodging house.  So she was expecting to to get some money fast and return to the lodging house. 

She ended up at the back of a house in Hanbury Street.

John Richardson's evidence at the inquest about the house in Hanbury Street was reported in the Daily Telegraph as follows:

You have been there at all hours of the night? - Yes.

Have you ever seen strangers there? Yes, plenty, at all hours - both men and women.  I have often turned them out.  We have had them on our first floor as well, on the landing.

Do you mean to say that they go there for an immoral purpose - Yes they do. 

While that immoral purpose could, in theory, have included lovers using it for sex, being realistic he obviously meant prostitutes and their clients going there for sex.

It's true that people also used to go there to sleep because Richardson was quoted in Lloyds Weekly News of 16 September 1888 as saying:

'...for years, even before our father's death, it had been known that parties came and used the passage, landing and stairs for sleeping and other purposes...'

While he doesn't specify what the 'other purposes' were, it's not unreasonable, in view of his evidence at the inquest, to assume that one of those purposes was prostitution. 

So, sure, people used to sleep round the back of 29 Hanbury Street and prostitutes also used it to take their clients.

When we put that together with Annie Chapman telling Timothy Donovan that she was off to get money for her bed, the likelihood would seem to be that she was intending to solicit round the back of the property.

But, sure, she didn't have anywhere to sleep that night without money so, yes, she could have selected it as a place to get some kip.  But we also have to consider whether the killer really was roaming through the back passages looking for a rough sleeper to murder or whether he picked up women and went with them to a back passage. 

When we put the whole situation in the context of Amelia Farmer's evidence that Chapman would supplement her income through prostitution, it's very hard to avoid the conclusion that she was murdered by a client rather than a random vagrant murderer.


I was surprised to find that Rubenhold gives up on Stride and basically accepts that in her case, yes, okay, she did resort to prostitution from time to time, possibly even on the night of her death. 

There is some initial resistance to the finding of the Gothenburg police that she was guilty of 'lecherous living' in March 1865 which, says Rubenhold, doesn't necessarily mean she was a prostitute.  She might have been having an affair which caused her to be six months pregnant before her lover abandoned her, and she might have caught syphillis from him too.  Okay, maybe, but Hallie throws in the towel when it turns out that, by October of 1865, Stride was living in Gothenburg's infamous 'street of nymphs', Pilgatan. 

Stride, Rubehold tells, us, 'Would have resorted to plying her trade indoors, either from one of the area's several coffee houses, which masqueraded as legitimate establishments, or from within a brothel.' 

After she came to England, Stride certainly appears to have been destitute for some years but there's nothing Rubenhold can do with the evidence that Stride was arrested and charged for being drunk and disorderly and 'soliciting prostitution' in the Commercial Road in November 1884.  I didn't actually know this myself, although it's mentioned by Shelden, evidently Rubenhold's source, who also tells us that she was sentenced to seven days hard labour.  I hadn't appreciated that any of the Five had a police record for solicitation so I can't say that I haven't learnt anything from reading Rubenhold's book.

Rubenhold is prepared to accept that it's possible that when Stride subsequently met Michael Kidney on the Commercial Road it was while she was soliciting.  She is even prepared to accept that she went to the pub on 29 September 1888 in order to solicit. Then, in the evening, she concedes that Stride 'may have gone [out] with the intention of soliciting'

As to that, we may note that early press enquiries certainly suggested that Stride was indeed a prostitute. The Evening News of 1 October 1888 reported that the victim had been identified as 'Elizabeth Stride, familiarly known as Long Lizzie, who had been living at at common lodging-house, No. 32 Flower and Dean-street, and who had plied her painful trade in the neighbourhood.' 

There is not a hint from Rubenhold that Stride decided to go to sleep at Dutfield's Yard. It may be that this is why she suggests that perhaps Stride wasn't a Ripper victim.  Hilariously, on this point, she says in a footnote:

'The question of whether Elizabeth Stride was murdered by the Ripper or someone else has long been a subject of debate amongst experts.'

Experts?  What experts?  Does she mean Ripperologists?!  Lol!

The funny thing is that Rubenhold confuses herself about the circumstances of Stride's death.  She seems to think that Stride might have already paid for her bed that night meaning that she had no need to sleep on the street.  But that's not the case.  It arises as a result of Rubenhold not understanding how to interpret the inquest evidence.

As Rubenhold points out, the Daily Telegraph and 'other newspapers' state that Stride had NOT paid Elizabeth Tanner for her bed that night.  But those others include all the big ones: the Times, the Morning Post, The Morning Advertiser, the Daily Chronicle, the Daily News, the Evening Standard and the Echo.  In fact, every London newspaper (save for the St James's Gazette) which reported the evidence of Mrs Tanner, made it clear that Stride hadn't paid for her bed that night.  And it's perfectly clear that she hadn't. Hence, from the Echo of 3 October which reports the actual question and answer:

'Did she pay for her bed on Saturday night? - No, sir.'

Rather than citing a London newspaper in contradiction of this, Rubenhold plumps for the Western Daily Press which wouldn't have had a reporter at the inquest, and was thus relying on an agency report, unlike the Echo which certainly did have one in there.  The report of Tanner's evidence in the Western Daily Press of 4 October 1888 is only a short summary, not a transcript style report as in the Echo, and states that Tanner said:

'The deceased had stayed at the lodging-house from Thursday night and had paid for her bed on Saturday night'.

I believe that the source of this is a report under the heading of' LATEST TELEGRAMS' which was first published in the Edinburgh Evening News of 3 October 1888 and which stated;

'Deceased had stayed at the lodging-house from Thursday night and had paid for her bed on Saturday night.'

From the report in the Echo (corroborated particularly by the reports in the other London papers), it is clear that there was a simple but accidental omission of the word 'not' in the report telegraphed to the Edinburgh Evening News on 3 October (and which also appeared that day in the Devon Express & Echo). It should have said that she 'had not paid for her bed on Saturday night'.  The report was obviously syndicated to other newspapers the following day and thus the error was repeated in a few regional newspapers like the Western Daily Press (as well as in the St James's Gazette).

It's ironic that Hallie has managed to talk herself out of a point in favour of Stride being homeless on the night of her death. But it doesn't really make any difference.  Dutfield's Yard on a wet night was not a place anyone was going to choose to sleep. Whoever murdered Stride, it wasn't done while she was sleeping.


So far the score seems to be Prostitution 3, Vagrancy 0.  But what about Eddowes? There's no doubt that the evidence that she had ever resorted to prostitution in her life is a bit thin.  However, Inspector McWilliam of the City of London police stated that Thomas Conway had been compelled to leave her 'on account of her drunken and immoral habits' which would usually be a code for prostitution. 

There is also the rather confused evidence of John Kelly that Eddowes had been trying to borrow money so that she 'need not walk the streets' and it's only the fact that he might have said 'so that we need not walk the streets' which prevents this from being a clear-cut admission that she was engaged in prostitution.   

According to Stewart Evans and Donald Rumbelow (2006, p.260), Mitre square was 'an area frequented by casual prostitutes' but no source is provided.

Ultimately, it is a matter of inference as to what she was doing there at that time of night.  Hallie's trump card on the matter is a report in Lloyd's Weekly News of 7 October 1888 which suggests that Eddowes might have been a regular sleeper in a shed off Dorset Street, as follows:

'Before being positively identified by Kelly on Tuesday night, the body was seen at the mortuary in Golden-lane by a party of six women and a man. Some of the former had, it is said, described the clothing of the deceased so accurately that they were allowed to confirm their belief by viewing it at Bishopsgate-police station.  Subsequently they were taken to the chief office in Old Jewry, and thence conducted to the mortuary. Here two of the women positively identified the deceased as an associate, but they did not know her name. She did not seem to have borne a nickname. Whenever she was in an impecunious state she had, in the company of the women who identified her, slept in a shed off Dorset-street which is the refuge of some 10 or 20 houseless creatures who are without the means of paying for their beds.  – Says the police did not “seem to consider their statements to be of importance to the case” because they were looking for a killer of prostitutes.' 

Assuming, however, that two of the seven individuals did correctly identify the deceased as their sleeping buddy, it just raises the question of why Eddowes decided to lie down in Mitre Square rather than make her way to the Dorset Street shed which would have been a very short walk from Bishopsgate police station.  Without any evidence at all, Hallie says of the seven individuals that the police did not 'seem to consider their statements to be of importance to the case because they were looking for a killer of prostitutes'. The truth, however, is that Hallie has no idea whether the City of London police considered the statements of these two women of importance or not, nor is the identification of these women (who didn't even know Eddowes' name) contradictory with the notion that Eddowes had been murdered by a killer of prostitutes.

It's also a bit hard to square the press report that one of the victims might have slept rough in a Dorset Street shed with Rubenhold's claim elsewhere in her book that, 'it is remarkable that both the police and the press appear to have ignored the fact that a significant number of outcast women who slept in lodging houses also slept rough on a regular basis'.  For that is exactly what the press was reporting about Eddowes! 


Kelly is a slam dunk and Hallie does not deny that she was a prostitute, for which the evidence is overwhelming.

She is wrong, however, to draw any conclusion from the fact that Kelly was stated to have been a prostitute on her death certificate whereas the other women were not.  While it is certainly the case that there was direct evidence from Joseph Barnett at the inquest that Kelly was a prostitute, the fact that this was entered on the death certificate could simply have been the result of the practice of that particular coroner, Roderick McDonald.  If Wynne Baxter was more reluctant to describe deceased women as prostitutes, especially those who only engaged in occasional prostitution, and especially those who were confirmed to have been married (unlike Mary Jane for whom the correct surname of her supposed dead husband wasn't even known), one cannot regard their death certificates as being 'the final word' on whether we are justified in claiming that Jack the Ripper was a killer of prostitutes, as Rubenhold claims.  In fact, it's nonsense.  The purpose of a coroner's inquiry was most certainly not to establish whether a deceased person was a prostitute or not.  See Roman Secrets for an interesting case study on this point.

It's strange though.  Hallie points out that Nichols was described on her death certificate as 'wife of William Nichols, Printing Machinist', Chapman was described as 'widow of John Chapman, a coachman' while Stride was described as 'widow of John Thomas Stride, carpenter'.  So is she happy to say that all three women were defined by their husbands?  And in the case of Mary Ann Nichols, her ex-husband who had stopped paying her any maintenance money on the basis of her alleged prostitution!  I realize that Hallie wants us to regard the women as 'daughters, wives and mothers' which is fine but what's wrong if they were occasional prostitutes too during their lives?  There's equally nothing wrong to say that Chapman was a seller of antimacassars (even though that's not on her death certificate) or that Stride was a charwoman (even though that's not on her death certificate) or that Nichols was a servant and thief (even though that's not her death certificate either).  

As for Catherine Eddowes, the description of her on her death certificate as a 'supposed single woman' is hardly a confirmation by the City of London coroner that she was not a prostitute.  

I think it may be worth noting at this point that, in her obsession with death certificates, Hallie has posted on her Twitter feed (on 6 April 2020) that because Martha Tabram is described on her death certificate as 'Wife of Henry Tabram, packer', this must indicate that Tabram wasn't a prostitute either!  Because, presumably, in Hallie's mind, it was always the case that prostitutes were described as such on their death certificates.

In a series of tweets on 6 April, Hallie wrote a mini chapter about Tabram, believing that we may have a case of 'guilt by association' because of her friendship with Pearly Poll who described herself as 'an unfortunate'.  Laughably she says, 'Self-identification as a prostitute was the legal means by which 'a prostitute' was identified.'  Needless to say, this is not true and is based on her complete misunderstanding of Charles Warren's Police Order, as discussed above.

When Martha picked up a solider after separating from Pearly Poll, Hallie asks, 'Who says she wasn't looking for sex or relationship...?'  Payment for sex is only her third option. But it's okay because, says Hallie, 'We'll never know' adding, surprisingly, 'and it doesn't really matter'.  I thought it DID matter!

As for the actual evidence, we have the report of Inspector Reid dated 16 August 1888 saying that Tabram passed at the lodging house at 19 George Street under the name of 'Emma' and 'was looked upon as a common prostitute'.  He wrote that Pearly Poll went with a corporal and Tabram with a private, 'for immoral purposes'. Hallie ignores this in her tweets, presumably because she thinks it was 'hastily written' which is why she seems to feel justified in dismissing all the police evidence. In forwarding Inspector Reid's report to the Assistant Commissioner, Superintendent Cutbush noted that Tabram's husband left her some years ago and that she, 'has recently been regarded as a prostitute'.  

Of course, the fact that Tabram spent the evening with Pearly Poll, a self-confessed prostitute, and that both women picked up soldiers and then separated with them, has no impact upon Rubenhold.

But that is a diversion in this section. 

Despite accepting that Kelly was a prostitute, Rubenhold stubbornly sticks to her belief that 'Jack the Ripper' was murdering women while they slept so she has the killer entering her room while she was asleep in bed. It's not particularly convincing.


While one could find plenty of accounts from 1888 through to the modern period in which all the victims of 'Jack the Ripper' are described as 'prostitutes' or 'unfortunates', it's far less straightforward to find them described as 'just prostitutes' or 'only prostitutes'.  Rubenhold is reduced to using these expressions in quotes without providing any sources, hoping that her reader will assume that plenty of people have referred to the victims in such a disparaging way. She probably thought she would be able to find plenty of examples but it's not that easy.  

She gives pride of place to one comment in The Star which referred, in an editorial on 27 September 1888, to Chapman as a woman of the 'unfortunate class' who, having plied her 'hideous trade' then spent her time in liquor shops, about which she says that, 'The Star, and other publications like it, failed to view Annie as an individual, rather than as part of 'an unfortunate class into which all impoverished women regardless of age  or circumstance were lumped.'   But Rubenhold could not have been more wrong because we find this comment made by The Star in the very same editorial:

'...she, who had perhaps a happy and innocent childhood, and was once a wife had to turn out  and seek the sale through her body the price of a bed'.

Aside from the so-called 'assumption' that Chapman was a prostitute, this is surely the central thesis of Rubenhold's book, anticipated in 1888!!!  The story that Chapman was a happy and innocent girl in a respectable home and then a wife (with a family) is what Rubenhold is claiming to be telling us for the first time!  Yet here is the Star reporter with possibly even more empathy than Rubenhold, the prostitute denier, who, unlike The Star, denies the awful reality of what Chapman had to face to obtain money to buy food and her doss on a daily basis.  As Rubenhold quoted from that very editorial, she must have read The Star's comment about Chapman having been a happy child and wife but, if so, she simply ignored it as if it hadn't been printed.

Rubenhold also picks out of context two lines from a letter written to The Times by Edward Fairfield in September 1888 in which he refers to possibility of 'the vicious inhabitants of Dorset Street and Flower and Dean Street' being dispersed from Whitechapel and carrying their 'taint to the streets hitherto untainted' (which is a slight misquote because the Fairfield says 'streets hitherto untainted' not 'the streets hitherto untainted').  She claims that Fairfield was 'far more anxious' that women like Chapman 'would be displaced from their hellish hovels in Spitalfields and make their way into his neighbourhood'.  But her interpretation is quite wrong.  

As I set out in Being Fair to Fairfield, Fairfield was directing his fire at the idea that businessmen should be allowed to purchase properties in Whitechapel at a bargain price with state assistance in order to allow them to make big profits under the guise of philanthropy.  Rubenhold is entirely wrong to suggest that Fairfield's concern was that if the lower classes were kicked out of Whitechapel they would end up in the area where HE lived, which was Belgravia.  The idea that he thought that the likes of Annie Chapman, after being kicked out of Spitalfields, would be moving into Belgravia is utterly absurd.  It's not what he says at all.  It's just her own assumption of what a Victorian man would have been thinking.

When Fairfield said was, 'There are no lower streets in London, and if they are driven out of those, to what streets are they like to go?' but there was no expectation that they would be going to posh or wealthy areas.  Sure, he said that they would go to 'streets hitherto untainted' so that formerly respectable neighbourhoods would sink to the level of Whitechapel but he also made the point that these people would consequently be charged more for their doss money, so that a clearance of Whitechapel would be against the interests of those who lived there. 

Superintendent Arnold of H Division actually spoke in person to Rev. Samuel Barnett, who had proposed the idea of closing all the lodging houses, and recorded in a memo dated 3 August 1889:

'I pointed out to Mr Barnett that by clearing the neighbourhood he mentions, the persons at present there would be driven into the adjoining parishes which would naturally cause discontent, but he appears to think every one should clear his own house without regard to his neighbours'.

As Arnold understood, the inhabitants of Whitechapel would simply be pushed to the 'adjoining' areas of Whitechapel.  They wouldn't have been pushed all the way out out to Belgravia! 

The mention of 'vicious inhabitants'  by Fairfield was actually him describing what others thought and was not necessarily his own view.  Hallie seems to try to paint the man as woman hater, possibly a homosexual, by stressing that he was 'a bachelor, a man who spent a good deal of time at his club' and 'regularly hosted dinners for his male friends' but the facts don't seem to bear this out as I explained in 'Being Fair to Fairfield'. 

Police Motivation

Rubenhold says that following the murder of Chapman it was 'essential' to the police that the victim be identified with the sex trade but she provides no evidence to support this ludicrous assertion.  She wrongly claims that the police thought that Pizer was believed to be the killer even though Inspector Helson's report of 7 September, which notes that he was in the habit of ill-using prostitutes, states that there was 'no evidence whatsoever' against him. 

From the police reports, it can be seen that, where a prime suspect was identified, he was a lunatic.  Abberline's report of 19 September 1888, for example, mentioned Isenschmid the mad butcher (about whom there are a number of reports in the file) but he doesn't seem to have had any kind of desire to kill prostitutes or animosity against them.  

One can't help feeling that if the police, after the death of Chapman, had ignored any individual who was known to hate prostitutes, on the basis of a strongly held theory that the women were all vagrants, killed while they were sleeping, Rubenhold might just have had something to say, and one can't help thinking that her thesis today would be that all subsequent victims might have survived had the police taken seriously the idea that the killer was targeting prostitutes!

The Victims 

It's a book about the victims so how does Hallie do when writing about their lives?


Comparing Rubenhold with Shelden's 2007 book, it's possible that Hallie has filled in some gaps regarding dates of births and deaths in Polly's family which are not in Shelden, albeit that the Sheldens discovered some new information in January 2013 which was posted on the boards.  It's not entirely clear to me if Hallie gives us anything new about Polly's family or Polly's life that she has discovered from her own research. 

While a very small thing, I couldn't help noticing that Shelden says that Alice Esther Nichols, Polly's sister, was born seven months prior to the 1871 census (because her age in the census was given as 7 months) so I was a bit surprised to see Rubenhold telling us that Alice Esther was born in December 1870.  That didn't look right bearing in mind that the 1871 census was taken on 2 April 1871.  From the family section of Ancestry, it would seem that Alice was born on 30 September 1870 but registered in Q4 (which might be stated as 'Dec 1870' as shorthand for Oct-Nov-Dec on the registers) so Rubenhold might have got confused.  Of course, a baby born on 30 September 1870 would have been 6 months old on 2 April 1871 but I would think that's close enough!


When it comes to Chapman I noticed that Rubenhold gives the date of the marriage of her parents as 20 February 1842 whereas Shelden (and everyone else) says this occurred on 22 February 1842.  That was a Tuesday whereas 20 February was a Sunday so I wondered if Rubenhold had spotted something everyone else had missed.  I didn't know what the answer was myself so I tracked down the marriage certificate thinking that it would be a good test of whether Rubenhold was a reliable work of reference. 

Here is that certificate which shows that the marriage was on 22 February.  So where did Hallie get the 20th from?  Just a typo presumably.  


Rubenhold has a few more details about the 1863 suicide of George Smith than one finds in Shelden. Indeed, Shelden didn't even know the correct year for this.  This might be the first significant piece of information discovered by Rubenhold.  Her source for it is the Chester Chronicle of 20 June 1863 reporting on the inquest. One does, however, find the details online on historypoints.org with credit to Dr Hazel Pierce, a researcher at the History House.

I also found it a bit rich when, in referring to 'previous accounts to recount the events of Annie Chapman's life', Hallie says that, 'one of the greatest oversights has always been a failure to examine how someone who had lived on a country estate in Berkshire or had resided in Knightsbridge ended up in Whitechapel'.  I say it's a bit rich because Rubenhold doesn't answer the question either!

And in any case, residing in servant's quarters in Berkshire or Knightsbridge isn't quite the same thing as residing in those places.  It should be obvious that if you were a servant and you lost your job (or turned into a alcoholic and became separated from your husband) then Whitechapel or the Workhouse was an obvious possible destination, even if you were a servant in Buckingham Palace. 

Shelden notes that, following her separation from her husband in 1884, Chapman was 'often seen wondering about the country like a common tramp'.  He says that after living for a short time in Windsor she left for London 'and the hovels of Spitalfields'.  Doesn't that deal with it without the need further examination?

With no visible means of support, other than 10 shillings a week from her husband, and having turned to drink, I'm not sure the issue of Annie's life journey to Whitechapel requires too much examination but Rubenhold speculates that Chapman followed Jack Sievey to Whitechapel.  She doesn't have any evidence of this - and it seems equally possible that Chapman met Sievey in Whitechapel - but she prefers it to the more mundane possibility that she went to Whitechapel because her husband's brother (or sister) lived there.  In fact, she doesn't seem to like that idea at all because she tells us in a footnote that she thinks Amelia Farmer, who was the source of this information, might have confused New Oxford Street in Holborn with Oxford Street in Whitechapel based on the assumption that the 1871 and 1881 censuses showed Chapman's brother, Alfred, to be at 'settled' addresses in Holborn (but not New Oxford Street!), a very dangerous assumption.  Even if that's true, however, the accommodation in Whitechapel was cheap so that seems to be as good a reason as any. One might even whisper that the opportunities for prostitution were better but that could land one in big trouble with Hallie.


As I've already mentioned, Stride's life in Sweden does appear to be an area to which Hallie provides some new research or, at the very least, she has collated new research carried out since the publication of Shelden's 2007 book so that she offers some additional information over and above what is found in Shelden.

For me, the most curious part of Rubenhold's chapter on Stride is her acceptance that Stride had, since 1883, been playing the role of Elizabeth Watts (also Stokes) and pretending to be the sister of Mary Malcolm.  This theory has certainly been suggested in the past but Rubenhold includes it as a well-established fact, which I don't think it is.

It's true, as the coroner at Stride's inquest pointed out, that there were many extraordinary similarities between the life of Stride and the life of Watts (as told by Mary Malcolm) which could suggest that they were the same person.  Unfortunately for us, Elizabeth Watts wasn't asked if she had been charged at Thames Police Court with drunkenness or if she had lived with a man who kept a coffee house at Poplar but one can only assume that she must have done and that the coroner was informed of this prior to her giving evidence because he stated it as a fact in his summing up. 

As to this, Liz Stride kept the coffee house in Poplar during the 1870s, long before Mary Malcom started giving money to the women she thought was her sister, which creates a confusing situation of Liz Stride supposedly pretending to be Liz Watts during the 1880s while telling Mary Malcolm real life stories from her own history.

I appreciate that Mary Malcom said that she gave money to Liz every week since 1883 whereas the real Liz Watts said that she hadn't seen her sister for years and her evidence was 'all false'. But the problem we have is that Mary Malcolm was obviously quite bonkers, as can be seen from her evidence that she had a presentiment that the murdered woman was her sister, claiming to have felt a kind of pressure on her breast and three kisses on her cheek at shortly after 1am on 30 September (when Stride was murdered). We can see from his questioning that the coroner was extremely sceptical of her story, saying to her, 'I hear at one time you said it was your sister, and another time you said it was not'. He even told her to go back to the spot she used to meet Liz on the next Saturday to see if she showed up.  This was even after she had positively identified the body in the morgue as her sister!  So he could obviously see something wasn't right with her in the head.

For that reason it would not be terribly surprising if the story about her having given her sister money every week for the past five years was a complete fabrication.   The alternative is that Elizabeth Watts didn't want to admit to taking money from her (which would have been to admit that other parts of her story might have been true).  Either way, I would be reluctant to state as a fact that Stride had been impersonating Watts.

I think my favourite part of the section on Stride is when she says Elizabeth had been many things to many people 'both light and dark, a menace and a comfort' to which in my mind I couldn't help adding 'both fresh and farty' which was, I think, a line from Spitting Image relating to the SDP/Liberal alliance.    This kind of nonsense seems to have emerged from Hallie's frustration at not being able to find very much information about Stride's life despite all her research in Sweden. 

Thus, Hallie chides the reporters of 1888, saying 'No one cared to find her Swedish family and tell her story'.  That's a bit harsh though.  Journalists simply didn't travel abroad to do investigative work into the lives of murder victims during the 1880s and it would have been extraordinary if anyone had done so.  But Hallie's frustration continues:

'No journalist sought out her in laws, or possessed any true curiosity about her past, about the gentlemen in Hyde Park, Mrs Bond on Gower Street, or the customers in Poplar who had sat on the benches of her coffee house.'

Crikey, that's a bit of an ask, finding the customers of the Poplar Coffee House!  Not sure what information they could have added.  As far as I can see, Hallie is annoyed that the journalists of 1888 didn't do the research which would have enabled her to include less speculation in her book about the gentlemen in Hyde Park and about Mrs Bond on Gower Street.  Unfortunately for everyone writing about historical events we are stuck with what we have and it's extremely rare for someone's life story to be covered in the press in anything like satisfactory detail. 


A typical line from Hallie about Eddowes' life is this:

'It is impossible to know what exactly were Kate's experiences at the Dowgate School..'

I think one could say this about the entire life experiences not only of Eddowes but of all the victims of the Ripper, which isn't too good for their biographer.

But Hallie can't complain about lack of interest from the press into this particular victim.  This is from the Echo of 4 October 1888:


The key elements of her life story are all there and were available to readers of the Echo at the time.  To the extent that Rubenhold has added to it with her speculation that Kate might have had a hand in the composition of the pamphlets (or ballads) which she was assisting Thomas Conway to sell, this seems unwarranted and, while Rubenhold says that, 'it is difficult to conceive' that Kate wouldn't have had a hand in the composition of such works, it doesn't seem that hard, especially as Rubenhold is only speculating in the first place that Conway 'may have aspired to write his own material'. If she's wrong about that then she must be wrong about Kate assisting in him in writing it. 


Naturally, like everyone else, Rubenhold knows no more about the life of Mary Jane Kelly than was given in evidence at her inquest by Joe Barnett. Most of the section on Kelly, therefore, is about the general life of a prostitute in London and France.


If Hallie had confined herself to stressing that the victims of Jack the Ripper weren't all necessarily stereotypical prostitutes prowling the red light district of Whitechapel in search of trade she might have had more a point, especially in the case of Eddowes and to a lesser extent Nichols and perhaps (despite her conviction for prostitution) Stride.

After all, most descriptions of the Ripper's victims would say they were prostitutes without distinguishing between a full-time prostitute and someone who would supplement their income from selling flowers or matches, or doing laundry or cleaning, with occasional prostitution.  Just to give one example, the Daily Mail of 23 April 1993 when introducing Maybrick as a suspect, said:

'Up to now four men have been prime suspects in the case of the killer who slaughtered five prostitutes in London's East End in 1888 - the  Duke of Clarence, failed barrister Montague John Druitt, medical student Severin Klosowski and the Queen's doctor, Sir William Gull.'

Hallie could have argued that this is misleading but she wanted to go further and claim that most of the victims weren't involved in prostitution at all.

In doing so, she undermined her own case by not addressing the evidence in police reports and inquest evidence which strongly supports the idea that at least four of the murdered women were prepared to engage in prostitution, if not all of them.  Her claim that the police reports were written in haste or with some sort of bias is flimsy and unsupported by evidence of how the police worked.  Even though she could have had an argument that William Nichols failed to stand up his claim to police that his wife was a prostitute when he gave evidence at the inquest, she lost her opportunity to do so by not confronting the issue of what he actually told the police.

She has failed in my opinion to support her claim that the victims were spoken of dismissively in 1888 by the press, police or public as just prostitutes or only prostitutes.  She simply hasn't produced the evidence for this.  She obviously misunderstood Fairfield's letter to the Times and she hasn't come up with anything from the newspapers which evidences contempt for the victims because they were prostitutes.  If anything, the outcry caused by the murders, even though the victims were regarded as prostitutes, seems to show that the nation DID care about protecting them.  It's certainly true that extra police were flooded into Whitechapel and huge efforts were taken by the police to catch the murderer at the direction of the Home Office.

Hallie provides no evidence to support her claim that the police deliberately categorized the victims as prostitutes for some sort of unexplained purpose of their own.  She doesn't seem to appreciate that their motivation was to catch the killer.  While Hallie herself may pretend not to be interested in the identity of the killer, that was not a luxury that the police in 1888 could afford.  It was their job to catch him and they were laser focused on doing that.  It was the best way to protect future potential victims after all.

Hallie doesn't seem to understand that the primary purpose of the inquests was not to discuss the lives of the victims or to establish whether they were or were not prostitutes but to establish how they died. The police would have spoken to far more people than appeared at the inquests and would have known more about the victims than is publicly available today.

While it is true that newspaper reports (outside of inquest reporting) cannot always be relied on, Hallie cherry picks press stories so that when a newspaper reports the possibility of Eddowes sleeping rough in a shed off Dorset Street she likes it but when another newspaper says that the women who lived with Nichols knew her as a prostitute it is to be ignored.  You can't have it both ways.  There is no evidence that any of the victims ever slept on their own in the exposed streets of Whitechapel, or the surrounding districts, and the newspaper report that Hallie does rely on in respect of Eddowes says that she would sleep in a shed with other women.  It is true that Nichols used to sleep out with crowds of homeless at Trafalgar Square but that again just throws into focus the unlikelihood of her simply lying down in Bucks Row.

As for reporting of inquests, Hallie falls into the trap of relying on the reports in regional newspapers which can now be easily searched on the British Newspaper Archive. These newspapers did not have reporters present at the inquests and depended on press agencies to provide stories.  Their reports were usually truncated and, on occasion, contained obvious typographical errors. Why bother looking at those when we have London newspapers providing virtual transcripts of both the questions and answers?  You need to go to the best sources to find out what was said in evidence and, in most cases, it's perfectly possible to work it out, with a very high degree of confidence, what was actually said.

While I have concentrated on her book, Hallie hasn't  done herself any favours on social media (aside from perhaps shifting some more units) and she has brought a lot of criticism on herself with her approach of blocking questions and refusing to engage directly in debate.  That all being said, she did have the idea to write the book about the victims in the first place - which anyone could have done - and it was a case of a book coming out at the right time to fit in with the zeitgeist. From some very sparse material she managed to put together a 'full length' book (wow!) which has some readable sections.  

While she is an easy target for a number of reasons, we should not forget that she is a real person, not a legendary bogeywoman.  There is a human being behind the Twitter person who blocks her critics. Let's just consider this.  After hitting the number one spot in the bestseller's list, Hallie wrote the following on her Twitter page on 1 March 2020:

'I've waited my entire career for this moment.  By entire career I mean all the bitter disappointments, the feelings of being unheard, ignored, overlooked, second guessed, the near financial ruin, the questioning of my choice to become a writer. I doubted myself so often, I made sacrifices, I felt alone, lost and insignificant. These past twelve months changed everything for me and taught me that I was correct to persevere in my chosen career. Being a writer is not easy, but don't give up on your dreams. I wasn't born into wealth, I went to a state school in a blue collar area where drive-by shootings were fairly normal.  No-one was expected to excel at high school.  I self funded my entire higher education and went into debt. I came to the UK to pursue my dreams studying history.'

Okay, one detects as slight chip on the shoulder, perhaps even a bit of Monty Python, 'I was poorer than you' Yorkshire style one-upmanship, or upwomanship, but still, that seemed to come from the heart and one would have to have a cold, hard heart to begrudge her the moment of glory she had been waiting all her life for.


18 July 2020