July 17th, 1889 - Castle Alley, Whitechapel

The Murder of Claypipe Alice

At 12.50am, on 17th July 1889, Police Constable Walter Andrews was patrolling his beat through Castle Alley, a dark and narrow thoroughfare off Whitechapel High Street, when he noticed a woman lying on the ground. On closer inspection he noticed a gash of about two inches on the left side of her neck. Stooping down to check for any sign of life, he found that the body was quite warm.

A press image of Police Constabe Walter Andrews finding the body of Alice McKenzie.

PC Andrews Finds The Body

Scrambling to his feet, he began blowing furiously on his police whistle and, within seconds, Sergeant Edward Badham had joined him at the scene.

According to Badham's police report:- "...[she] was lying on her right side with her clothes half up to her waist exposing her abdomen. I also noticed a quantity of blood under her head on the footway..."

Dr George Bagster Phillips, the Divisional Police Surgeon was sent for, and, having pronounced life extinct, he ordered the body's removal to the mortuary.

Here a postmortem examination revealed that a gash, which was not unduly deep, ran from just below the left breast to the navel. Significantly, as Phillips noted in his subsequent report, the abdominal cavity was "not opened."

Identification and Sightings

The deceased woman was soon identified as Alice McKenzie (1849 - 1889) - also known as "Claypipe Alice" on account of the fact she was known to constantly puff on a clay pipe. In fact the clay pipe, besmeared with blood, together with a farthing, was found beneath her body.

The mortuary photograph showing Alice McKenzie.

Alice McKenzie
Mortuary Photograph

For the previous twelve months she had been living with John McCormac, a labourer, at a Lodging House at 52 Gun Street, although, as he told police, they had actually been together for some six or seven years.

According to the deputy Lodging House Keeper, Betsy Ryder, she had seen Alice go out at between 8.30pm and 9pm on the previous evening and, as she left, she noticed that she had some money in her hand.

After that brief sighting Ryder didn't see Alice again until 2pm the next day when she was taken to the mortuary to identify her body.

At 11.30pm on the night of the 16th July 1889, Alice had been walking along Flower and Dean Street (a Lodging House lined thoroughfare linking Commercial Street with Brick Lane) when she passed three women, Margaret Franklin, Catherine Hughes and Sarah Marney, who were sitting on the steps of a lodging house at its Commercial Street end.

Margaret Franklin, whom later testified that she had known Alice for 14 or 15 years, asked her how she was getting on. "All right. I can't stop now," was Alice's succinct reply as she hurried past heading towards Brick Lane.

An All Too Familiar Pattern

It is indicative of the transient life style of many who lived in the common lodging houses of the area, that even those who knew her well, actually knew very little about Alice McKenzie. McCormac, for example, later told the police that she had mentioned to him that she came from Peterborough but that he couldn't remember if she had ever told him who her friends were.

According to Betsy Ryder, Alice had often mentioned that she had sons living abroad, but as to where that was she had no knowledge.

As with the majority of the Whitechapel Murders victims, Alice's seems to have been a life blighted by alcoholism, for, as Inspector Henry Moore noted briefly in his report on her murder, "she was much addicted to drink."

Moore also stated that, "she used to go out at night but whether as a prostitute or not is not known to Mrs. Ryder; although the Police looked upon her as such."

As with the previous victims, this seemed to be a clear cut case of an alcoholic prostitute heading out at night to earn a few pennies, doubtless to spend on drink, and, in so doing, meeting a potential client whom she subsequently took to one of the district's dark alleyways, where that client then murdered her.

But, Was That Client Jack the Ripper?

Of course, within moments of the discovery of the body of Alice McKenzie, the police were wondering if this new atrocity spelt the return of Jack the Ripper.

Dr Thomas Bond.

Dr Thomas Bond

Metropolitan Police Commissioner James Monro's initial assessment was that it did."...As soon as I received a telegram announcing the commission of the crime," he stated in a report dated 17th July 1889, "I started about 3am for the spot, for the purpose of viewing the scene of the occurrence, and assisting at the enquiry. I need not say that every effort will be made by the Police to discover the murderer, who, I am inclined to believe is identical with the notorious "Jack the Ripper" of last year. It will be seen that in spite of Ample Police precautions and vigilance the assassin has again succeeded in committing a murder and getting off without leaving the slightest clue to his identity..."

Dr. Thomas Bond, the Police Surgeon for the Metropolitan Police's A Division, was also asked to inspect the body, and stated in his subsequent report that, "...I see in this murder evidence of similar design to the former Whitechapel murders viz. sudden onslaught on the prostrate woman, the throat skillfully and resolutely cut with subsequent mutilation...I am of the opinion that the murder was performed by the same...person who committed the former Whitechapel murders."

Dr. George Bagster Phillips, on the other hand, was of the opinion that Alice McKenzie wasn't a ripper victim, and stated in his report that:- "After careful and long deliberation I cannot satisfy myself that the Perpetrator of all the "Whitechapel murders" is one man...I am on the contrary impelled to a contrary conclusion..."

Canonical or Copycat?

In the case of Alice McKenzie, we are left with a victim whose murder bore certain similarities to the canonical five - notably the fact that her killer had evidently eased her down to the ground and then carried out the murder with brutal, and silent, efficiency whilst she was prostrate. Her wounds were, in some ways, consistent with those inflicted on his victims by Jack the Ripper, and her killer had certainly targeted the throat and lower abdomen, just as the ripper did with his victims.

That said, the wounds were not, for want of a better word, as decisive, nor as deep, as those inflicted on the canonical five.

So, whereas there is a possibility - and, in the opinion of several experts on the case a very strong possibility - that Alice Mckenzie was murdered by Jack the Ripper, there is an even higher probability that her slaying was the work of a copycat.

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