During March 2021 I published Breaking Point in response to Christer Holmgren's Cutting Point in which I remarked that one reaches the breaking point at around page 100 of the book, by which time we've read all of Christer's arguments about the death of Mary Ann Nichols, leaving one reluctant to continue any further.
With Breaking Point now uploaded to this website, I celebrate with a look at what antics Christer got up to after page 100, having dared to continue reading the book at great risk to my own mental health.
ROBERT BLACK v CHARLES LECHMERE
The first thing we find, starting on page 103, is a misrepresentation of the evidence against Robert Black, convicted in 1994 of murdering three young girls - Susan Maxwell, Caroline Hogg and Sarah Harper - between 1982 and 1986, with a further conviction in 2011 for the earlier murder of Jennifer Cardy in Northern Ireland in 1981.
Holmgren uses the case of Black to try and frame Charles Lechmere for the Whitechapel murders because, he says, the circumstantial evidence against Black amounted to Black having been in the proximity of the three locations from which the girls went missing on the days they were murdered. So, says Holmgren, using logic of which only Holmgren is capable, with Lechmere having possibly (but, equally, possibly not) been in the proxmity of the six locations of the Whitechapel murder victims from Tabram to Kelly, at the times they were murdered, there is enough circumstantial evidence based on this proximity alone to convict him of the murders.
Obviously, on its face, it's not a very convincing or appealing argument bearing in mind that Holmgren has literally no idea where Lechmere was at the times of any of the murders other than Nichols - he could have been, and probably was, sound asleep in bed for any of those which occurred before about 3.30am, being the only time we can reasonably assume he left for work, and he was probably at work for any which occurred at or after 4am - and he is reduced to arguing that two routes to work that Lechmere might have taken, even though we don't know if he did, passed near some of the murder sites even though one could probably say that about many streets in Whitechapel. Black, by contrast, a van driver who lived in north London, was identified as having been in three distant locations separated by many miles namely: Cornhill-on-Tweed, Portobello (Edinburgh) and Morely (Leeds), all on the days of the abductions, all years apart.
That much would have been obvious to any intelligent reader but Holmgren doesn't inform his readers of two key facts.
The first is that the reason Black was first suspected of murdering the three young girls is because, after he was arrested in July 1990 for the abduction and sexual assault of a six-year-old girl in Stow, Scotland, her father (a police officer) noticed that Black looked like the portrait sketch of a suspect seen by a witness to the abduction of one of the other girls (Caroline Hogg). The jury at Black's trial was informed that three witnesses reported seeing Caroline 'with a man whose description had similarities with Black's appearance at this time'. In the case of Susan Maxwell, a witness also reported seeing in the vicinity a white van with curtains covering the windows. Black used such a van at the time. To this, we may also note that a witness gave evidence at Black's trial that he had seen a man lurking at a spot near where Sarah Harper was abducted in Morley who, he said, resembled Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, with dark hair and a beard, a description which (roughly) matched that of Robert Black:
The second and most important fact not mentioned by Holmgren is that a key factor in Black's conviction of the three murders was that the judge at both his trials allowed the evidence of his conviction for abducting and sexually assaulting the six-year-old girl in Stow to be put to the jury (and, at his second trial in Northern Ireland, the evidence that he committed the three mainland murders was also permitted to be put to the jury). Without that similar fact, bad character evidence being allowed, it's questionable whether the jury would have been able to reach a guilty verdict on the three murders in England and Scotland (and the fourth in Northern Ireland) in the absence of any forensic evidence linking Black to those crimes.
As Black was a convicted child abductor and assaulter, who abducted the girl in Stow in a similar manner to how the other three murdered girls were abducted, whereas Lechmere had an entirely clean criminal record, there is just no comparison between the two cases.
Then just look at this for circular reasoning (on p.106):
'Charles Lechmere could have worked anywhere in London, north, south, west or east of Doveton Street. Instead, his working place was positioned in the only miniscule area that is geographically in perfect line with him having been the killer of the four Whitechapel victims, right between where the Old Montague Street and the Hanbury Street trail ends up.'
This is perfectly circular because the only reason for suspecting Lechmere in the first place is that he was the person who found the body of Nichols on his way to work. It's obvious that in 1888 we had a serial killer who was murdering women in a very small area, so literally any member of the public who found the body of Nichols would inevitably be linked to all the other murders simply by virtue of that body having been found a few minutes' walk from Old Montague Street and Hanbury Street.
So for Holmgren to say that Lechmere could have worked anywhere in London is ridiculous. It is because he worked for Pickfords in Broad Street that he was in Bucks Row to find the body of Nichols on 31 August.
Then we get some mathematical jiggery pokery from Holmgren who says that if, remember "if", Lechmere used both of the two routes that Holmgren thinks he might or could have used - he calls them 'the two shortest routes' but doesn't substantiate that claim - this means that, 'he would have walked on around two percent of the Whitechapel streets. And astonishingly, the four murders committed in Whitechapel were all perpetrated along these exact logical routes of his. All of them.' It's a ridiculous claim.
One of the streets he's talking about is Bucks Row. The other is Hanbury Street. He doesn't consider that the killer struck in Hanbury Street because it leads on from Bucks Row and the killer was familiar with that area so that there's nothing astonishing about the fact that anyone walking in the direction towards Liverpool Street who found the body in Bucks Row was very likely going to continue through Hanbury Street.
Then, to get Lechmere perpetrating the other two murders which were supposedly committed along the exact logical route that he might hypothetically have taken on the nights of those murders, in the case of Kelly, Holmgren has him randomly, but obviously deliberately, walking down Dorset Street even though there were multiple other routes he could have taken which would have avoided what was presumably a rather dangerous street during the middle of the night, including what would appear to have been a far more obvious right turn into Brushfield Street before even getting to Dorset Street, assuming he had turned left into Commercial Street from Hanbury Street rather than going straight on through Spital Square into Nolton Folgate which might have been a more logical way to go, something Holmgren doesn't even seem to consider. So all Holmgren has done is loaded the dice and then expressed astonishment when the die has fallen the way it was loaded to.
As for the fourth murder supposedly perpetrated along the exact logical route of Lechmere's walk to work, he's talking about the murder of Tabram, except that even Holmgren doesn't say that Lechmere would ever have walked down George Yard. The route he has him taking along Old Montague Street and Wentworth Street is one which he didn't take on the night of 31 August and there is no obvious reason why he would have used it on the night of 7 August, nor is there any evidence he ever did, but, while that route intersected George Yard, it also intersected Osborne Street and Brick Lane, and Lechmere would have had no reason to walk down or through George Yard itself. Given that fact, one wonders if Lechmere's calculation that Lechmere would have walked 'on around' two percent of Whitechapel streets includes all the streets, alleys and yards on either side of that route including not only Osborne Street and Brick Lane but also Commercial Street, Casson Street, Spital Street, Wilkes Street, Middlesex Street, Bishopsgate Street, Crispen Street and Artillery Lane all of which, and plenty more, could have been said to have been on around a hypothetical route taken to work by Lechmere. That's not even to mention that Lechmere could, if he had wanted, walked to work via Whitechapel High Street which itself passes along many additional roads and streets.
Imagine if the prosecution in the Black case had said that to get to where he needed to be on a day of one of the murders, Black might, if he had so chosen, have taken a route through one of the towns where a girl was abducted, even though other routes were available, and that this possibility points to him having been the murderer. The case would have been laughed out of court.
Bad though this is, the frame-up doesn't even stop there because Holmgren continues on page 106 to say that, if one adds in the fact that the four Whitechapel murders (Tabram, Nichols, Chapman and Kelly) all 'without doubt' went down in the early hours of the morning, 'the case against the carman would be very much strengthened'. Aside from the fact that there is some doubt if the murder of Kelly occurred in the early hours (as opposed to the actual morning), Holmgren is simply compounding his failure to appreciate that it was because the killer usually struck in the early hours that Lechmere became involved in the first place by finding the body of Nichols' on his way to work. If the killer had murdered Nichols during the day or early evening, Lechmere wouldn't have found her, so once again the argument he is making against Lechmere is entirely circular.
Graciously, however, Holmgren decides to leave out 'the chronological factor' and says we will 'only' put the twenty streets he is 'assuming Lechmere would have walked down' against the 'one thousand inhabited streets of Whitechapel and see what happens'. What happens is nothing, because you can't possibly build a case against Lechmere on an assumption by Holmgren about what streets Holmgren 'could' have walked down in a hypothetical world. Did he walk down all those twenty streets on his way to work in the early hours of the morning? We simply do not know.
But, on page 107, our author then introduces statistical mumbo jumbo by taking what he refers to 'Lechmere's twenty streets' (even though, of those twenty streets, he is simply guessing that Lechmere might have walked down the key street of Dorset Street (we are, it seems, ignoring the fact that Kelly actually lived in Miller's Court) and through George Yard at any time, let alone on the days of the murder) and thus comes up with the utterly absurd result that there is a one in a five million chance that all four murders would have occurred 'along Lechmere's streets' thus meaning that Lechmere is likely to have been responsible for those murders. Absolute madness.
He then tries to cover himself on page 108 by saying that 'many factors could have had a smaller or larger influence of those numbers' which, bearing in mind that he doesn't say whether those factors could reduce it to an statistically insignificant number, makes his calculation meaningless for the purposes of determining Lechmere's guilt. Yet, on the basis of such flimsy rubbish, Holmgren feels able to say:
'We are at this stage either looking at a very likely confirmation of guilt, bordering on certainty, or a truly remarkable coincidence'
Crazy. It is in no way a remarkable coincidence that having killed a woman in Bucks Row the Whitechapel murderer would then have killed a woman in Hanbury Street, nor is it a remarkable coincidence that he would then have murdered two women in streets a few minutes walk away from those two sites.
We are, of course, in this amazing statistical calculation, assuming that Tabram was a victim of the Whitechapel murder, despite the doubts of a number of senior police officers, while ignoring totally the locations of the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes which didn't occur on any of 'Lechmere's twenty streets' and, that being so, I have no idea how Holmgren doesn't think that these murders prove Lechmere's innocence.
Then, the wily old fox returns to the case of Robert Black and says that, despite the number of people who would have visited or lived Edinburgh and Leeds:
'Regardless of this, the jury singled out one man out of this bulk of more than a million people and for what reason? Because he was a suspect who was checked by the litmus test of all serial murder investigations - the geography?'
But, as I've demonstrated, this simply isn't true. Apart from the fact that the jury didn't single out anyone, it was the police who singled him out based on his proven abduction and sexual assault of a young girl and the fact that he matched the description of a man suspected of abducting and murdering another young girl. It was only then that their investigation proved that he had been in the proximity of the scene of three widely spread out abductions and murders on the days they all occurred, providing sufficient circumstantial evidence to enable the jury to convict.
There is no similarity between what occurred in the case of Robert Black and what Lechmere is trying to do to convict Charles Lechmere. He is not, as he claims, building a case against Lechmere on 'the exact same ground' (p. 109) as the case against Black. His case is totally theoretical that Lechmere was anywhere near the sites of the murders on the days they occurred whereas the police proved that Black, a known and proven abductor and sexual assaulter using his van, was in the proximity of the widely spread areas in his van where the girls were abducted on the days and times that they occurred.
It's only then that Holmgren comes on to a discussion of how the murders of Stride and Eddowes can be linked to Lechmere even though he admits that they, 'very clearly did not take place in streets Lechmere would have had a reason to pass on his road to work'. So now all that guff about the mathematical probabilities is thrown out of the window. Lechmere murdered in other places than along his route to work!
The way Holmgren gets out of it is to say that, on the evening of Saturday 30 September, Lechmere wouldn't have been going to work the next day, which is likely true, but the problem is that he has no literally idea what he actually was doing. So he simply invents a story (p.110) that he might have been visiting his parents near to Berner Street or he might have been out in a pub near Berner Street with old friends and neighbours. I suppose the other alternative is that he might have been home asleep but that isn't given any consideration.
Mitre Square isn't explained other than that if you draw a straight line between James Street to Broad Street station, that line 'passes close by Mitre Square'. Wow, talk about desperate! Then if we draw a straight line from Mitre Square to Doveton Street the line 'cuts right through Goulston Street'. Considering that Lechmere wasn't a crow, or any other form of bird, what possible significance could there be in such a straight line? The straight line Holmgren is talking about couldn't possibly have been walked by Lechmere because it cuts through inaccessible areas. You can draw straight lines from one place to a multitude of other places, but they have no meaning.
Having invented his own rule that murders committed on a Saturday night are excluded from having been done along one of Lechmere's theoretical routes to work, Holmgren then revels in his own craftiness by saying (p.111):
'If any of the former murders [i.e. Tabram, Nichols, Chapman, Kelly] been committed on a Saturday night, the logical link to the carman's morning work trek would vanish, and we would find ourselves wondering what he was doing on his work trek at that remove in time'.
Talk about stacking the cards! For some reason, though, I think that had a murder been committed along one of Lechmere's theoretical route to works on a Saturday night, or if a murder had been committed in a street in the early hours of a weekday not along one of his theoretical routes, Holmgren would have managed to find an explanation based solely on his imagination, bearing no relation to Lechmere's actual movements.
Nevertheless, utterly proud of his own cunning, the wily old fox Holmgren concludes his barmy chapter (p.112) by saying:
'So there we have it. All six murders can be logically linked to Lechmere's route and timings.'
By this time, of course, he's forgotten that what he now refers to in the singular as 'Lechmere's route' includes streets that are not, in fact, on Lechmere's only known route to work via Bucks Row and Hanbury Street and it's a mere assumption by Holmgren that he might have walked any other route, while, in respect of the timings, in the case of Chapman, he ignores the coroner's conclusion that Chapman was murdered at about 5.30am, when Lechmere would presumably have been at work. Curiously, later in the book, he cites with approval a comment by a Home Office official that "doubtful evidence points to some thing between 5.30 and 6 - but medical evidence says about 4 o'cl" but this doesn't help him at all bearing in mind that Lechmere was supposed to have started work in Broad Street at 4am, unless by 'about 4 o'cl' he includes 3.45am, which is the very thing he doesn't do with the Nichols timings. In any case, we know now what that Home Office official wouldn't have known which is that it wasn't possible for medical evidence in 1888 (as today) to pinpoint the time of death with any degree of accuracy (see The Temperature of Death (2023) by David Barrat). In the case of Kelly, Holmgren ignores the evidence of Mrs Maxwell that Kelly must have been murdered after 8am on 9th November when, again, Lechmere should not have been anywhere near Dorset Street (if there was any possibility of him having been there earlier than that, about which we have no idea).
Holmgren will have to forgive me for not accepting his triumphant shout on page 112 that, 'We have our Ripper, at long last'. All he's done is framed Lechmere for the murders on the basis of a lot of babbling nonsense.
Having arrived at page 113 of Holmgren's book in which he falls into the schoolboy error of representing Macnaghten's surname as 'MacNaghten' I gave up. I reached my second breaking point!
Over the Christmas break I watched the ITV drama The Long Shadow which contains an interesting episode about a little-known aspect of the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper involving a man who was, for a short time, West Yorkshire Police's prime suspect: Terry Hawkshaw.
Hawkshaw was a taxi driver who lived in a village situated between Leeds and Bradford. He associated closely with prostitutes by driving them to meet clients and even allowing them to use his cab for their services. While I don't have any special knowledge about the Yorkshire Ripper case, the ITV drama was largely based on research by Michael Bilton for his 2003 book Wicked Beyond Belief which I've consulted. According to Bilton (p.156), not only had Hawkshaw, who drove a white taxi, been seen at the Mecca Ballroom on the night Maureen Long had been attacked (Long had been dancing in the Mecca Ballroom that evening before being picked up by a driver in a white car who offered her a lift) but taxi receipts proved that he was in close proximity to red light areas on nights when the Yorkshire Ripper had struck. The ITV drama, which was based on additional research, also said that the police could place Hawkshaw in Leeds and Bradford on nights when women were murdered. In the end, Hawkshaw was only eliminated from the inquiry when it was discovered that he had a solid alibi for one of the murders.
The similarity between the cases of Hawkshaw and Lechmere is obvious. Hawkshaw was a local man who had reasons to travel around Yorkshire and who knew many prostitutes who could be placed in the relevant areas on the nights when women (mainly prostitutes) were murdered. It's a much closer link than Lechmere, who can only be placed near the scene of a single murder, which, of course, he notified the police about. Yet Hawkshaw was innocent. What does that say about Lechmere?
Published: 21 December 2023
Updated 2 January 2024