1. Mary Ann Nichols

Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols had not long turned forty-three years old when she was murdered in Buck’s Row on that cold late-summer morning.  Her body was discovered by Charles Cross, a carman, in the early hours of August 31st, 1888.  She was sprawled in the gateway of a pair of closed stable doors, her body lying parallel to the street.  Her throat had been cut two times, both from left to right, one in particular a deep cut that went all the way down to her vertebrae, almost severing the head.  Her abdomen had been cut open, in a jagged, forceful manner, from her pelvis almost to her breastbone.  The intestines were protruding from the opening.  There were also some stab wounds to her private parts.  There were no signs of a struggle, and death was either due to the severance of the left carotid artery, or strangulation.  All mutilations were carried out after death.

Here we have the first classic Ripper killing, not only the first of the canonical five, but also the first in which we see the killer’s M.O. and signature (both of which will come into play when discussing the other victims, and whether or not they were also likely to have been killed by the same hand).

Firstly, let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding this first Jack the Ripper murder; the who and the where.  Polly Nichols was a known prostitute, a lady who was once married, but, due to her alcoholism and prostitution, was separated from her husband, and in the last five or so years of her life, lived a sad, nomadic existence, moving from infirmary to infirmary, workhouse to workhouse.  On the night of her murder, she had been kicked out of her doss house on account of not having the money to pay for a bed.  She remarked to the doss house deputy that she’d soon get the doss money, and asked for a bed to be saved for her.  She was last seen at around 2:30 am by Emily Holland, on the corner of Whitechapel Road and Osborn Street, apparently very drunk (she told Emily that she had her doss money three times that night, but had spent it on drink).  The two parted after talking for around ten minutes, and about an hour later Polly was found murdered in Buck’s Row –  a dimly-lit thoroughfare running parallel to Whitechapel Rd, a street taken up mostly by a board school on one side, and a warehouse on the other.

So, sometime between leaving Emily Holland at around 2:40, and her body being discovered at around 3:40, she met her killer.  Probably still drunk (or at least tipsy), and still without her doss money, she most likely took the Ripper to a nearby area she knew would be deserted and dark, to conduct business (probably a place she had taken Johns in the past, as at the time of Polly Nichols’s murder, there was only one gas lamp along the entire street, at the far end).  Once there, the killer seized Polly by the throat and throttled her until she was either dead or unconscious.  Then he placed her on the ground, knelt by the right side of her head and, gripping her jaw with his left hand (there was a bruise on her jaw consistent with someone pressing down hard with a thumb), cut her throat.  Then he moved down to her feet, lifted her clothing and savagely sliced open her abdomen.  With his blood-lust quenched, or perhaps hearing Cross approaching and fearing getting caught, the killer fled into the darkness, and into history.

The conclusion that the killer first strangled Nichols before making any cuts is due to a number of factors.  Firstly her face was discoloured and her tongue slightly gashed, indicting some kind of violent throttling.  Then there was the lack of blood present at the scene.  As the doctor who examined Nichols reported, there was surprisingly little blood around the neck; most of it had pooled under her head.  Also, there was no arterial spray on either the nearby wall or on the ground.  Lastly, there was no blood on the front of her clothes, which you would expect to see if her throat had been cut while she was standing.  All of this tells us that Nichols’s throat was cut whilst her body was on the ground, lying on her back, and most probably after she had been strangled to death.

Since there was no evidence of a struggle, and as there were people sleeping close by who heard nothing, no arguments or a scream, it appears that the killer struck suddenly, without warning.  This indicates a lack of confidence in the killer, a need to render the victim unconscious as quickly as possible.  It also shows that the killer’s primary motive wasn’t the killing itself, but the post mortem mutilations.  There was no prolonged suffering present; just a sudden blitz attack, a vicious cutting of the throat, and then abdominal mutilations that serve no practical purpose other than the indulgences of a sick and deviant mind.  Also the cutting of the throat whilst the body is on the ground, and making the incisions on the left-side of the body (the side closest to the stable doors), thus the side farthest from where the killer was kneeling, displays a knowledge or forethought regarding the spray of blood.  The killer seemed to know that by cutting the throat in this way lessened the chance of being covered in blood, hence less chance of being caught afterwards.  This shows either knowledge in the slaughter of animals (suggesting perhaps a butcher or mortuary assistant) or a learned practice, perhaps after several failed or messy attempts prior to this murder.  Whatever the reason, by the time of the Nichols murder, the killer seemed to have his method of operating clear in his head, and knew the best way of achieving his needs as quickly and as silently as possible.

The choosing of sad, desperate prostitutes; the murder location of a dark, out-of-the-way place; and the sudden blitz attack and subsequent throat slitting are all part of the killer’s M.O.: that is, choices and things the killer needs to do in order to achieve his true purpose, that which gives him the release he so desperately seeks.

A serial killer’s signature, on the other hand, is an act or series of acts that are unique to that person.  They are usually acts that aren’t necessary in order to carry out the crime, but are necessary to the killer, often a major part of his fantasy life.  If going to the corner shop and buying your favourite brand of chocolate with a five dollar note is your M.O., then going home, melting the chocolate in a bathtub and then rolling around in the melted chocolate while playing Bach on the CD player is your signature.  In the case of Jack the Ripper, the post mortem mutilations were his signature.  He clearly had a mixture of hatred and fascination with women, and fantasised about cutting them up, taking away their femineity, all while indulging in his sick and deviant need for blood-lust.

Both Jack the Ripper’s M.O. and signature are present in the murder of Polly Nichols – it’s the first murder in the series that both can clearly been seen – and it’s these indicators that can be used when trying to ascertain which of the eleven Whitechapel murders were committed by the same hand.


*Learn more about Mary Ann Nicols at the Casebook website here

Published on November 8, 2010 at 11:37 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i liked this, it helped me in school, i rate it a solid 6.5/10

    • Glad the site could be of help.

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