MARTHA TABRAM

7th August 1888 - George Yard

One of the Most Dreadful
Murders Any One Could Imagine

Martha Tabram (1849 - 1888) spent the evening of the Bank Holiday Monday, 6th August 1888, drinking in various Whitechapel pubs with a fellow local prostitute, Mary Ann Connelly - who was also known by the wonderfully colourful designation of "Pearly Poll."

George Yard, now Gunthorpe Street, as it is today.

Gunthorpe Street
Formerly George Yard

It wasn't long before the two women had picked up two soldiers in whose company they continued their crawl around the various neighbourhood watering holes, culminating with a visit to the White Swan on Whitechapel High Street.

At around 11.45pm, following a brief bout of haggling over Martha's and Mary's respective fees, the group split up, with "Pearly Poll" leading her soldier-cum-client into Angel Alley; and Martha disappearing with her client into George Yard.

According to the East London Advertiser, George Yard was "one of the most dangerous streets in the locality"; but, for a seasoned streetwalker, such as Martha, it offered sufficient privacy to which to take a paying client.

At 2am on the morning of the 7th August, Police Constable Barrett stopped to question a young soldier whom he found standing at the junction of George Yard and Wentworth Street.

The soldier told him that he was "waiting for a chum who had gone off with a girl."

Barrett appears to have taken him at his word, but sent him on his way.

The Body on the Landing

Towards the top of George Yard stood George Yard Buildings, an apartment block that was, in the words of the East London Observer inhabited by "people of the poorest description."

In the early hours of that morning, Mrs. Hewitt, the wife of the building's superintendent, thought that she heard a cry of "Murder." However, since such cries were frequent, she paid it little, if any, heed.

Mrs. Elizabeth Mahony and her husband, who lived in George Yard Buildings, had been out to celebrate the Bank Holiday and returned at around 2am.

Shortly afterwards, she went out again to purchase supper from a nearby shop and, on returning made her way up the staircase where, so she later testified, she noticed nothing untoward.

John Saunders Reeve finds the body of Martha Tabram.

Finding The Body

At 3.30am cab driver Alfred George Crow, arrived home from work and made his way up to his apartment at number 35 George Yard Buildings.

As he passed the first floor landing he saw somebody lying on the floor. But, since it was quite common for people to sleep on the building's landings, he wasn't unduly disturbed by what he saw, and he continued home to bed.

At just after 5am, John Saunders Reeve, left his home in George Yard Buildings and headed out to work.

As he descended the stairs, he also saw the person on the first floor landing, but, since it was now getting light, he saw that it was, in fact, a woman lying on her back in a pool of blood.

He raced off to find a police officer and returned with PC Barrett who sent him to fetch Dr. Killeen, whose home and surgery were located on nearby Brick Lane.

There wasn't a great deal that Killeen could do, other than pronounce life extinct and opine that the woman had been "brutally murdered."

Indeed, Martha's body had been pepper potted by 39 stab wounds that ran from her throat to her lower abdomen. He also opined that intercourse had not taken place recently, thus ruling out rape as a motive.

The Deputy Coroner, George Collier, would later state that the crime was " one of the most dreadful murders any one could imagine" and said of the perpetrator that he must have been a "..perfect savage to inflict such a number of wounds on a defenceless woman in such a way...".

Was She A Jack The Ripper Victim?

Today, there is considerable debate as to whether or not Martha Tabram was the first victim of Jack the Ripper and the evidence, both for an against, is quite compelling.

Martha Tabram mortuary photo.

Martha Tabram
Mortuary Photo

Those who say that she wasn't point to the fact that her injuries weren't consistent with those inflicted on the bodies of the canonical five. Her throat, they argue, hadn't been cut, and she hadn't been disemboweled.

those who claim that she was a victim of Jack the Ripper, point to the fact that, since if she was, and this was his first killing, then this might have been a learning curve for him. There is, for example, little doubt that he would have been covered in blood as he fled the scene and thereafter he may have developed a modus operandi that would have ensured that he wasn't heavily bloodstained as he fled the scene.

It is also significant that the killer most certainly targeted the areas of Martha's body - the throat and lower abdomen - that Jack the Ripper would with his victims.

So there is a possibility that Marta Tabram was, indeed, the first of Jack the Ripper's victims.

The majority of the police officers at the time, it must be said, were in no doubt whatsoever that this was a ripper crime.

Walter Dew, who, at the time, was a young detective working on the case, would later write in his autobiography, "...Whatever may be said about the death of Emma Smith, there can be no doubt that the August Bank Holiday murder, which took place in George Yard Buildings...was the handiwork of the dread Ripper..."

The next history page concerns the murder of Mary Nichols