EMMA SMITH - 3rd April 1888

Brick Lane and Wentworth Street

The Whitechapel Murders Begin

At the time of her death, in April 1888, Emma Elizabeth Smith (1843-1888) had been living at a Common Lodging House at number 18 George Street, Whitechapel, for the previous 18 months.

A newspaper illustration showing Emma Smith being followed by the gang.

Emma Smith
Being Followed

According to the deputy keeper of the lodging house, Mary Russell, Emma was frequently drunk and, when she was drunk, she was like prone to acting like a "madwoman".

It wasn't unusual for her to arrive home black-eyed and bruised after an altercation with a man following a violent argument with a man and, on one occasion, she even claimed that she had been thrown out of a window following a particularly vicious altercation.

One of the last sightings of her, prior to her being attacked, was on the night of the 2nd April when Margaret Hayes saw her talking to a man in dark clothes and a white scarf, in Bethnal Green.

Margaret later testified that "there had been some rough work" going on that night, although she didn't elaborate on this statement, so we cannot be sure of what she meant by it.

We do know that, on 8th December 1887, Hayes herself had been attacked in the vicinity of Osborne Street and Brick Lane, and had sustained face and chest injuries that saw her hospitalised until the 28th December 1887.

The Attack on Emma Smith

According to the account Emma Smith later gave to fellow residents at the George Street lodging house, at around 1.30am on the morning of Tuesday April 3rd 1888, she was walking along Whitechapel Road, in the vicinity of St Mary's Church, when she saw three men - one a youth aged no more than 19 - coming towards her.

The Corner of Osborne Street and Whitechapel Road.

The Corner of Osborne Street, 1888

Something about their collective demeanor evidently startled her and she quickly crossed to the other side of the road to avoid them.

To her horror the three men did likewise and began to follow her.

Quickening her pace, Emma turned into Osborne Street - described in The Anarchist, written by John Henry MacKay in 1891, as "...the dirty, narrow, entrance to Brick Lane".

Seconds later, the three men also turned the corner and it was more than obvious to Emma that they intended to attack her.

A press depiction of Emma Smith's death at the London Hospital.

The Death of Emma Smith

Sure enough, as she drew level with Osborne Street's junction with Wentworth Street and Brick Lane, the men caught up with her and subjected her to a savage and brutal attack, in the course of which she was raped, robbed and a blunt object was thrust into her.

It says a great deal about the plucky resolve of Emma Smith that, despite the severity of her injuries, and the agony she must have been in, she managed to stagger back to the lodging house in George Street where she blurted out what had happened to Mary Russell and a fellow lodger, Annie Lee.

These two women were sufficiently alarmed by her condition to persuade her to go with them to the local London Hospital, where she was quizzed a little further about her ordeal by the doctor who treated her.

Unfortunately, there was little the medic could do and Emma Smith had soon slipped into a coma, and she died of peritonitis on the morning of the 5th April 1888 without regaining consciousness.

The Police Knew Nothing

Interestingly, neither the two fellow lodging house residents, nor the doctor who treated her, saw fit to report the matter to the police, and the first that they knew of the attack was on the 6th April 1888 when they were informed by the Coroners Office that the inquest into her death was to be held the next day.

The Coroner Wynne Baxter.

Coroner Wynne Baxter

Appearing for the police at that inquest, Chief Inspector West testified that he had no official information to give since the only knowledge they had of the attack was "...through the daily papers..."

He had, he said, quizzed the beat officers in the vicinity of the attack, but they were none the wiser.

As it happens, the inquest into Emma Smith's death throws up more questions than it answers.

Firstly, there was a lapse of almost two hours between the time at which she said she had been attacked and her arrival at the lodging house, despite the fact it was only a short distance, perhaps around five minutes walk, away?

Secondly, the attack had, most certainly, been a vicious one and yet. neither her fellow lodgers, nor the doctor who treated her, seem to have considered reporting it to the police?

Testifying at the inquest, Annie Lee maintained that Emma hadn't said what it was that had initially alarmed her about the approaching group of men, nor would she describe them.

In fact, so Lee testified, Emma showed a marked reluctance to go into any details about her attackers.

Furthermore, according Inspector Edmund Reid's report on the attack, Emma would most certainly have "passed a number of PC's en route, but none was informed of the incident or asked to render assistance."

Summing up, the Coroner, Wynne Baxter, who would go on to oversee the inquests into the deaths of several of Jack the Ripper's victims, observed that "the woman had been barbarously murdered", and opined that it was"...impossible to imagine a more brutal and dastardly assault", following which the jury brought in a verdict of "murder by some person, or persons, unknown."

Was She a Victim of Jack the Ripper?

Walter Dew, who was, at the time, a young officer with the Metropolitan Police, would later write in his memoirs that Emma Smith's murder bore the hallmarks of a ripper killing. "...The silence, the suddenness, the complete elimination of clues, the baffling disappearance all go to support the view which I have always held that Emma Smith was the first to meet her death at the hands of Jack the Ripper..."

The London Hospital.

The London Hospital

However, many of his fellow officers, and the majority of ripper historians, did not, and do not, share that opinion, and the general consensus amongst experts on the case is that she was, in fact, a victim of one of the local gangs.

Indeed, this belief would certainly be uppermost in the minds of the police when the Jack the Ripper murders began in August 1888, and it would, most certainly, influence their early investigation of the ripper crimes.

Emma's death at the London Hospital, though, is significant in one major respect, because, following her murder, the police placed her name on a file entitled "The Whitechapel Murder' and, by the end of 1888, that file would have become the generic "Whitechapel Murders" file, which would include the five so-called "canonical" victims.

But, the very first name on that file is that of Emma Elizabeth Smith.

Read the next section - The Murder of Martha Tabram