February 13th, 1891 - Swallow Gardens

Newspaper article from the Illustrated Police News about the murder of Frances Coles.

The Last Whitechapel Murders Victim

The last victim in the sequence of crimes listed as the "Whitechapel Murders" was Frances Coles (1865-1891), who was found in Swallow Gardens, a dark passage that ran beneath the railway arches between Chamber Street and Royal Mint Street, at 2.15am on Friday, 13th February 1891.

Mortuary Photograph of Frances Coles.

Frances Coles
Mortuary Photo

PC Ernest William Thompson had only joined the Metropolitan Police on December 29th 1890 and was sent out on his first beat duty on the night of 12th February 1891.

A few hours later, at 2.15am on the morning of Friday 13th, he was patrolling along Chamber Street and was just about to turn into Swallow Gardens en route for Royal Mint Street, when he heard footsteps moving away from him, heading in the direction of Mansell Street.

At first he thought nothing of it. But, as he entered Swallow Gardens, he noticed a woman lying on the ground. Shining his lamp onto her he saw that blood was pumping from an open wound on her throat. Worse till, as he stood gazing in horror at his find, and raised his whistle to his lips to raise the alarm, one of the woman's eyes suddenly flickered open. She was still alive.

Thompson's whistle soon brought Constables Hyde and Hinton to the scene and, whilst Thompson remained with the dying woman, Hyde went to fetch Dr. Oxley and Hinton headed off to Leman Street Police Station to raise the alarm and fetch re-enforcements.

By the time Dr. Oxley arrived in Swallow Gardens the woman was dead and so all he could do was pronounce life extinct.

He was soon joined at the scene by Dr Bagster Philips, who carried out a more detailed examination and noted that the wound to the throat had evidently been caused by a sawing action, the blade having been drawn across the throat from left to right, then in the opposite direction, and once more from left to right. He also noted that the clothing had not been disturbed and their were no other wounds or mutilations to the rest of the body, aside from an injury to the back of the head indicative of her attacker having thrown her to the ground forcibly.

The doctor's examination completed, the body was removed to the mortuary where the woman was identified as 25 year old Frances Coles who, according to an early report on the official file, "is known to the police of this division as a prostitute..."

Was This A Jack The Ripper Crime?

Some of the newspapers were quick to link this latest Whitechapel outrage to the earlier Whitechapel murders, and so stirred up public excitement in the possibility that Jack the Ripper was back, that crowds flocked to the railway arch to witness the scene of the crime for themselves.

Crowds at the scene of the murder of Frances Coles in Swallow Gardens.

Crowds At The Murder Scene

Dr George Bagster Phillips, on the other hand, held the contrary view, as was attested to by Superintendent Thomas Arnold in his initial report dated Friday 13th February 1891. "Dr. Phillips states that from the examination he has made the nature of the wound, the posture and appearances of the body etc. he does not connect this with the series of previous murders which were accompanied with mutilation..."

Obviously, since the crime had taken place in the same district, the police did consider the possibility that this latest murder may have been the work of Jack the Ripper, and, according to another police report dated the same day, "...The officers engaged in investigating the former Whitechapel murders were early on the spot, & every effort is making to trace the criminal. But as in former cases he left nothing, & carried away nothing n the nature of property, to afford clew [sic]..."

Inspector Edmund Reid.

It appears that several police officers were of the opinion that this new murder had been carried out by Jack the Ripper.

Inspector Edmund Reid, for example, made a statement to the newspapers in which he stated, " In my opinion the crime has been done by the same hand that has perpetrated the other murders. We have as yet no definite clue, but hope soon to lay our hands on the fiend..."

On 15th February 1891 Lloyd's Weekly News reported that " Sir Edward Bradford, Chief Commissioner of the Police [he had become Metropolitan Police Commissioner in 1890], stated to a representative of the Press on Friday, that he felt convinced from evidence of previous murders in Whitechapel that the murdered woman found that morning was the victim of the same assassin who had previously struck terror in the East-end."

A Suspect is Found

Police investigations soon revealed that Frances had spent the two days prior to her murder drinking heavily in the company of a sailor by the name of Thomas Sadler.

It also transpired that, about fifteen minutes before Thompson had discovered Frances Coles's body, Police Sergeant Wesley Edwards and Police Constable Edward Hyde had encountered Sadler - who was bleeding profusely from a wound to his head - on Mint Street, just a few hundred yards from the scene of the murder.

Jack the Riper suspect Thomas Sadler in Court.

Thomas Sadler

A very drunk Sadler complained to the police officers that he had been assaulted by two dock workers outside the gates to the London Dock.

The policemen appear to have sent him on his way, after which he attempted to gain admission to several Common Lodging Houses, but was turned away on account of his drunken and bloodstained conditions and because he didn't have any money to actually pay for his bed.

At some stage between 4.15am and 6am Sadler staggered into the London Hospital, where the night porter, William Fewell, tended a wound on his scalp and a cut over his eye, and then allowed him to sleep on a sofa for an hour and a half.

By noon on Friday 13th February, other witnesses had come forward to link Sadler with the murdered woman and Sergeant John Don duly tracked him down in the Phoenix Public House where he asked him to come outside, confirmed his name was Sadler and, according to his later report, "...told him that it was necessary he should come to Leman Street Police Station, as a woman had been found with her throat cut and it was alleged he had been in her company the night previous..."

According to Don, Sadler's response was, "I expected this". Then, as they escorted him to the police station he told them, "I am a married man and this will part me and my wife. You know what sailors are: I used her for my purpose, for I have known Frances for some years. I admit I was with her, but I have a clean bill of health and can account for my time. I have not disguised myself in any way, and if you could not find me, the detectives in London are no good..."

Was Sadler Jack the Ripper?

There is little doubt that the police were convinced of Sadler's guilt, not just in respect of the murder of Frances Coles, but also with regards the other Whitechapel murders.

Chief Inspector Swanson

Chief Inspector Swanson

Indeed, so promising a suspect was he that he was interviewed by Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson, the second highest ranking officer with direct responsibility for the Jack the Ripper investigation.

By Tuesday 18th February 1891 The Daily Telegraph was reporting that, "...the authorities attach the greatest importance to the arrest of the ship's fireman, Sadler, who is in custody for the murder of Frances Coles, in Swallow-gardens, on Friday morning last..."

Intriguingly, the same Daily Telegraph article mentioned that Sadler had been shown to Joseph Lawende, the man who saw ripper victim Catherine Eddowes talking to the man outside Mitre Square, shortly before her body was discovered on 30th September 1888.

Tellingly, the article refers to Lawende's sighting as "...probably the only trustworthy description of the assassin..."

Lawende, however, failed to identify Sadler as the man he had seen and, it wasn't long before the polices eagerness to pin the blame on him may have been a tad premature.

At the inquest into the death of Frances Coles, several witnesses confirmed Sadler's account of his movements and, on Saturday 28th February 1891, at the winding up of the inquest, the jury returned a verdict of "murder", but attributed it to "person or persons unknown", and the case against Sadler had all but collapsed.

On Tuesday 3rd March 1891, at the Thames Police Court, all charges against Sadler were dismissed and, cheered on by sizeable crowd, Sadler left the court in a cab - an innocent man.

That's All Folks!

We hope you have found our potted history of the Jack the Ripper crimes useful and that its has given you a good grounding in the full story of the Whitechapel murders of 1888.

If you require any further information about the murders then please feel free to email us with any queries.

We'd also be delighted to welcome you onto our nightly walking tour in the course of which you can visit the murder sites, explore the area, and discuss the case further with our expert guides.

To learn more, please pay a visit to our Jack the Ripper Tour home page where you can not only find full details about the walk, but can also book places.