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October 5, 2021 32 mins

London on August 6th, 1888 is one of the greatest cities on Earth, but the Whitechapel neighborhood is a byword for poverty, violence, and vice. Jack the Ripper will slaughter his victims here.

Join Hallie Rubenhold on a tour of this slum - with its busy markets, rowdy pubs, filthy lodging houses, and crowded police cells - and meet the real women who will soon cross paths with the Ripper.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:15):
Pushkin. A woman lies motionless. A passer by mistakes her
for a vagrant people often curl up in the hallways
of this building at night. He ignores her. Another two

(00:36):
hours passed before anyone realizes that the sleeping figure is
in fact dead, and not dead from illness or mishap.
She's been stabbed multiple times. Her clothing has also been
pushed up, exposing the lower half of her body. Local
residents claim they saw and heard nothing of her murder

(00:59):
in the night, but perhaps they simply heard nothing out
of the ordinary. After all, the neighborhood of Whitechapel, this
patch of London's yeast end, has a reputation as a
sink of misery and vice, a place feared and reviled
by many richer Londoners, a byeword for all that is

(01:19):
wrong with modern society. It is no stranger to violence
and murder, and soon it will become synonymous with the
deeds of a serial killer. I'm Hallie Reubin. Hold you're
listening to Bad Women. The Ripper retold, a series about

(01:44):
the real lives of the women killed by Jack the
Ripper and how we got their stories so wrong. One side,
money plenty and friends too by the scar Then for June,
smilder upon me hanaw One as my dolone. I'm not

(02:18):
twelve half seems to love me. I'm conflac. In order

(02:39):
to tell you these victims stories, I first need to
acquaint you with the spaces where they spent their final months,
days and hours in London's East End. Listen, this is
the sound of eighteen eighty eight. It's a piece of

(02:59):
music called the Lost Chord, recorded in the summer of
that year on a phonograph, a marvelous new invention of
the era. We are in London and the date is
August sixth. This is the capital of one of the richest,
most technologically advanced superpowers on the face of the Earth.

(03:22):
It's also at the center of the largest empire in history,
with colonies, conquests, and dominions spanning a quarter of the globe,
from Canada to the Cape Egypt to Australia. Queen Victoria
has been sitting on the throne for more than fifty years,
reigning over this center of art, literature, commerce and science.

(03:44):
She has recently celebrated her golden jubilee with a series
of lavish balls magnificent festivals, dinners, regattas, races and parades
designed to display the extraordinary wealth of the nation. But
for all the splendor, there remains squalor out in town,
and pits and pockets of absolute destitution. Like here, I've

(04:12):
brought you to the heart of Whitechapel. This is Jack
the Rippers, London. A sailor from the busy docks nearby
has wandered, or perhaps been lured into the dense maze
of alleyways and dark courtyards. Get you, he'll be beaten

(04:33):
and left for dead. Whitechapel is one of the most
densely populated parts of the city. Dozens of people will
have heard the sailor's cries for help, but no one
lifts a finger. Well, why ain't deaf? But there ain't
a night passes, There ain't a fight in a passage
or a drunken row. But why should I in sophere?

(04:55):
So I ain't no business of mine. Let's walk along
this street. It's called George Yard. It's not the sort
of place for the unwary to wander. Even the local
police agree. They consider Georgeyard to be one of the
most dangerous streets in the locality. It is said that

(05:17):
police constables dare not even enter the buildings around us.
Crime has been decreasing across London as living standards have improved,
but not here, in these tight, crowded streets, grinding poverty persists.
I can tell you this with some certainty, because the

(05:38):
written records are as rich as they are sobering. One
eminent businessman, Charles Booth, set about documenting the true extent
of poverty in the city. He sent his researchers to
visit these streets and assess the inhabitants. They marked the
findings down on a map, color coding what they had witnessed.

(06:01):
Look on those maps, and this neighborhood is bordered by
streets of red, pink, and purple, the middle class, the
well to do, and the comfortably off. But closer to
us those purples darkened blue denoting the poor and very
poor people in chronic want. Where we stand in George Yard,

(06:26):
The map shows stretches of jet black. In the legend
of the Booth maps, black stands for the lowest class, vicious,
it reads, and semi criminal. The houses here are tall,
dark and old. Their brickwork has worn and covered in soot.

(06:48):
Their plaster and paint cracks and crumbles. Many of the
windows are broken. Indeed, these buildings are so shabby and
neglected they look like they must be abandoned, but they're not.
The decrepit rooms inside have been portioned out to a
multitude of different occupants. Entire families are crammed into these

(07:11):
tiny living spaces, along with a variety of vermin which
make life itchy and disease ridden. There's a shared toilet
a grim common privy, but many residents avoid this if
they can help it, especially at night. Instead, they use
a chamber pot stowed under the bed, so the stench

(07:32):
in each room is heavy. I want you to meet
the people who live here, people like Elizabeth Stride. She's
currently renting a sparsely furnished room in one of these
buildings with her hard drinking, violent partner, Michael Kidney. Elizabeth

(07:53):
is resourceful, intelligent, and brave. She was born in rural
Sweden and has taught herself to speak English fluently. Her
life has been varied, at times filled with passion, but
also marked by terrible misfortune. Her forty four years of
life are fascinating, touching, and thought provoking, but she will

(08:15):
be remembered merely as the third victim of Jack the Ripper.
Elizabeth and Michael Kidney's room is grim and desolate, but
it does offer one significant advantage over other types of accommodation,
a door that can be shut. At the alternative a
common lodging house, all space is shared and privacy is nonexistent.

(08:41):
This is where we're heading next, Just over there on
Thrall Street as Wilmot's, a woman only lodging house. Polly Nichols,
another Ripper victim, is staying there at the moment. She's
been sleeping rough across London and she's only just arrived
in Whitechapel. Polly feels safer at Wilmot's than at lodging

(09:01):
houses that accommodate both sexes. Lodging house life can be
violent and unpredictable for a woman on her own. Polly's
heavy set but small in stature, and her father has
always thought she looked young for her age, even at
forty three. Polly's relationships with her family fascinate me. She

(09:24):
was certainly a daddy's girl, but even he couldn't fix
the mess that resulted when she walked out on her
husband and children never to return. For a Victorian wife
and mother, this is extraordinarily bold, almost unheard of. What
motivated her? Why would she do such a thing. But

(09:46):
we'll return to Polly Nichols in a later episode. For now,
we're on the way to another lodging house altogether via
a local market kite. These streets are a hive of activity.
Street sellers, beggars, musicians, drunkards, workers, shoppers, of course, lots

(10:10):
of horse traffic. All buy rope, stair rods, petticoat lane
bursts with extraordinary sights, sounds and smells. Canny salesman push
cheap garments, imitation jewelry and dubious medicines. That first price
is bad. They crowd the street, and the path between
them is narrow. I can't give you sixteen. Some stalls

(10:33):
offer a medley of brick a brack, Madam, looks like
you've guy through a fire for a bargain. Furniture covers
all clothes, worn out boots, and rusty locks. Buyers planned
to renovate their items and sell them on again. There
is a flourishing trade in secondhand clothing and wear better
than anything you've bought before, and the rent is due,
or when someone has an eaten for a while, a

(10:55):
lady's bonnet or a man's shirt can be turned over
to a dealer or a pawnbroker for reddy cash over.
There is Ammy Chapman, that tired and weak soul with
a terrible cough. She's contracted tuberculosis. Annie is counting the
days until Saturday. That's when her partner, Ted Stanley comes

(11:17):
and meets her, takes her to the pub and spends
the weekend with her at a local lodging house. Annie
has bought herself a cheap ring to wear in place
of a wedding band. Even here in Whitechapel, she is
worried about appearances. Not that long ago, Annie led an
entirely different life. She owned pretty ear rings, brooches, and

(11:41):
a real wedding ring. She even lived on a country
estate in the shadow of Windsor Castle, Queen Victoria's residence.
Her story, her tumble from comfort in nineteenth century respectability,
is an astonishing and poignant one, but she rarely reveals
the truth of her past life to anyone around here.

(12:02):
The woman they call Dark Annie leans against a wall
watching the hubbub traders hock fruits and vegetables, breads and cakes.
Customers haggle over fish. This part of London is home
to a huge immigrant community. Jewish refugees fleeing the murderous

(12:25):
programs of Russia and Eastern Europe have flocked here. Yiddish
is spoken on the streets and floats from the theaters
and music halls that catered to the newcomers. But we're
just passing through the market and down this side street.
Its slick with sewage and pools of stagnant water. In

(12:46):
certain places, the stench of rot and refuse is pungent
and nauseating. Trash gathers in the corners near dwellings, human waste,
horse droppings, worthless scraps, and things broken beyond use or
scattered about. Nothing of any value, no matter how minute,
is ever thrown away. There is always some one who

(13:09):
or repurpose it, fix it, or sell it on. People
have many ways of surviving here, and here's our destination.
This common lodging house is a bleak and grimy establishment.
Common lodging houses got going in the early eighteen fifties
in order to cater for very poor people who could

(13:30):
no longer even afford a weekly rent in a room
of their own that social historian Sarah Wise. Now, these
common lodging houses were totally private concerns, but they had
by law to be inspected by the Metropolitan Police. The
stipulation was a common lodging house was somewhere in which

(13:53):
three or more persons not of the same family may
sleep within the same dormitory. So it's the idea that, yes,
we're mixing loads of people together with all the potential
moral dangers of that could involve. But that's okay because
all the beds are separated. We've got a superintendent on site,
so no hanky panky gets going, And of course the

(14:14):
police can inspect. Common lodging houses aren't supposed to admit
any one of known bad character. Drunkenness and other forms
of vice like adultery aren't supposed to flourish here, but
in practice many turn a blind eye. They're not too
fussed about bad character, and they do admit drunks. In fact,

(14:35):
the conditions at a lodging house are as good or
as bad as the person who runs it, and this
lodging house is home to an awful lot of vice.
At the entrance, SIT's the deputy lodging housekeeper or manager.
Before nightfall, he collects fourpence from everyone who intends to
use the dormitory upstairs. That would be less than about

(14:56):
ten dollars today. Fourpence buys a coffin bed, a person
sized box, likely hopping with fleas, in which to lie down.
The room is noisy, dirty and stifling, but it's better
than the street. And down this passage is another room.

(15:17):
This kitchen is thirty feet long and packed full of people.
An older woman dozes to one side with a filthy
child playing at her feet. One thinder dear dead days
beyond recall. Smells like old grease, beer, stale tobacco smoke,
and the sharp and ninny scent of sweaty, unwashed bodies.

(15:43):
Just over there is Kate Edo's with her partner John Kelly.
Kate's the one singing Sweet Kata spent much of her
life doing this, though usually she's selling sheet music. When
she's belting out a tune. Everyone who knows her, from
her sisters to her friends at the lodging house, remark

(16:03):
on her jolly personality. Just a song. Twilight, when the
lights are low and the flickering shadows softly, Godman gone. However,

(16:25):
drink can turn her high spiritedness into aggression. Kate fascinates me.
She's a rebel, and she was born to a rebel.
Her father was a Union agitator, so perhaps it was
he who taught her to rail against the system. She
rejected the conventional existence of her mother, grandmother and sisters

(16:47):
life constantly giving birth, scrubbing and cooking, and instead chose
the open road. She's lived for many years as a vagrant.
Kate's story is about the lack of choices available to
women and how class and gender kept them in poverty.
Lost his shot a group of men, all of them drunk,

(17:08):
a crowded by the range, quaffing beer. This is a
common sight. Many of the people here are bereathed, lonely
and homeless, and they drown their Sorrows's lost this place,
you may as well. Whistles are not. Some commotion is
breaking out in one corner. It's two women arguing over
a bar of soap. This is a precious commodity that

(17:32):
get off me. But there's also conviviality in this kitchen.
The cooking range, the focus of the room burns all
day and it bathes the space around it in warmth.
This is a blessing. Even in the summer London days
can be chilly. Everybody convened down in the great big
common kitchen. You would buy your food out in the street,

(17:54):
maybe from a cost amonger. Maybe you get a savolloy
or some fish that, maybe some bacon or a jacket potato,
and you use the range of the common stove to
cook your food and you eat it in the kitchen
with everyone around you. And we've got plenty of eyewitness
accounts of just what kind of quite convivial places these
could be card games, all sorts of board games going on,

(18:17):
people laughing, joking, reading the newspaper in the corner, and
this human warmth and human noise and company and chat.
I wouldn't underestimate the value of that. In some broken lines,
this lodging house is the haunt of beggars, criminals, women
selling sex, chronic alcoholics, the unemployed, the sick, the old.

(18:38):
But there are people here from other walks of life too.
Some of these lodging house residents entered the world in
entirely different circumstances. We do hear of members of the
aristocracy who have drunk their inheritance or gambled it away.
Maybe being an aristocrat wasn't what they wanted. So a

(18:58):
much bigger mix than many people would have thought living
in your common lodging house Today, the sixth August, I'm
looking for a particular face in this kitchen, a local
woman named Martha Tabram. Martha's around forty, and like most
of the women who live here, her hard life has

(19:19):
taken its toll. Her marriage has soured, as have other
partnerships with men. In a few hours, Martha's story will
end in her murder. As evening draws in, the atmosphere
in the kitchen starts to change, desperation increases. The deputy

(19:41):
lodging housekeeper has started turning out those who haven't paid
for a bed that night. Outside, a police constable is
on patrol. Fights often break out when lodging houses close
their doors for the evening. Today is a public holiday,
so some locals have indulged in more drink than usual.

(20:03):
This officer is ready and waiting to arrest any troublemakers.
The men of the local Police Force H Division will
soon be pitched into a difficult and desperate hunt to
find Jack. The Ripper and end the horrific killings. What
they do, what they say, and what they decide to

(20:24):
enter into the historical record will set the tone for
how the murdered women are remembered well into the twenty
first century. So let's learn a bit about them and
follow this police constable back to headquarters. The Ripper, we're told,
will be back in just a moment. Welcome to Leamon

(20:56):
Street Police Station, home to H Division of the Metropolitan Police.
H Division comprises about five hundred officers pounding their beats
in a labyrinth of dark city streets. From the wharves
and docks on the rivers up to the gas works
and filthy canals of Haggerston. In between are some of
the most deprived neighborhoods in the capital. Plenty of dark

(21:19):
blues and blacks on Charles Booth's poverty map. Inside is
the kind of commotion you might expect of a busy
police station, very much shutter. We know from the records
that there's a steady flow of arrests and that the
holding cells are filling up. John Hawkins has been brought

(21:39):
in for assaulting his wife and nineteen year old Joseph
Gibson is under arrest, charged with indecent exposure. I'm interested
in one police officer in particular, Thomas Barrett. He's about
to start a night shift and he's going to play
a significant role in Martha Tabram's story. We know from

(21:59):
police records that Thomas is five foot ten. This is
tall by Victorian standards. He's also just moved to London
from a dyllick rural Dorset. White Chapel has surely been
a shock to the system. He himself lives outside the neighborhood,
for Whitechapel isn't considered a fitting address for such an
upstanding young man. Thomas is getting ready to walk his

(22:23):
regular beat. He carries an oil lantern swinging from his belt,
which he'll use to peer into Whitechapel's dark corners, and
there are many of those. He also has a pair
of handcuffs with him and a whistle. This is a
relatively new piece of technology, allowing him to cut through
the din of the Whitechapel streets and someone help if

(22:44):
he needs it. It's a useful tool as he patrols,
he'll meet with all kinds of crimes and misdemeanors from
alcohol fueled fights to robberies, stabbings and domestic violence. He'll
also confront social care issues. When the police encounter drunkards
who are so inebriated that they can no longer walk,
they arrest them and bring them in glass and circumciser.

(23:12):
Take local woman Margaret Kine. By the start of this year,
she had been charged with drunken disorderliness over two hundred times.
Sometimes she challenges the policeman outside the station. On other occasions,
she just hands herself in. The recruitment criteria to join

(23:33):
the force are strict. Officers must be able to read
and write. They also must be over a certain height,
aged between twenty one and thirty five, and come with
a reference that shows their good, respectable character. But whatever
you might have gathered from Sherlock Holmes stories, the detection
skills of these officers are limited. They rely on eye witnesses, confessions,

(23:58):
and catching culprits red handed. We're back out on the
street and it's dark. Let's follow Constable Bearrett on his
beat about the Angel and Crown for a drink. We
pass off duty soldiers stationed at the nearby Tower of London.
I rather fancy the King girls were turning onto Whitechapel Road,

(24:19):
the busiest and widest thoroughfare in the area. It's lined
with pubs, one seemingly every few yards. Here the hopeless
drown their sorrows and rot gut gin. But they are
also the closest thing many local people have to a
parlor or a living room. Here people can meet, talk,

(24:39):
play games, and sing together, all in the warm amber
glow of gaslight. Some pubs are even opulent, with carved
wooden paneling and decorative mirrors. Alado knows myself that's half
a pint of Ale with a pennyworth of the Angel
and Crown on Gholston Street is not such a place.
It's one hundred and fifty years old, and it shows.

(25:02):
This pub's interior has been worn by the years and
by the rough company that congregates here. Will you take something?
Miss Martha Tabram has been here this evening with a
friend and two soldiers who would have been paying for
their drinks. In the Victorian era, this was expected of men,
no matter their social background. Martha, like so many Whitechapel inhabitants,

(25:25):
likes a tipple. But it's possible that an edge of
desperation crept in on her enjoyment as the hours wore
on this evening. Martha would have woken this morning not
knowing where she would be sleeping come nightfall, when the
pub closes, she'll be worried about scraping together the four
pence to return to her lodging house. Will she be

(25:46):
able to afford it? Or will she have to sleep
on the street, With all the dangers this brings. Constable
Barrett continues his beat. Leaving the main street, we are
entering darker, narrower alleys and passages. This lack of light
is oppressive and menacing. We slide and skid on who

(26:08):
knows what? A figure appears ahead of us, a man
Barrett's lamp illuminates a soldier in uniform. The Constable challenges him,
what is he doing loitering here at this time? Wayne
for a chum who went off with a girl? Comes
the reply. Not an unusual answer perhaps, And so the
beat continues, hour after hour with no rest. We are

(26:34):
passing Miller's Court. Now there in the broken window of
number thirteen, a light flickers. Mary Jane Kelly, a sex worker,
rents this one room abode with her partner Joseph Barnett,
who has only recently lost his job at Billingsgate Fish Market.
This was their only source of income, and Barnett is

(26:55):
too proud to let his girlfriends solicit on the streets again.
Their worries will grow in the coming weeks before Mary
Jane becomes a victim of the Ripper. Mary Jane's life
is a puzzle for anyone attempting to unraub all the
stories and half truths that make up her existence. She
once sold sex in the rich West End of London

(27:16):
and moved in much higher circles, wearing nice dresses and
traveling in carriages between restaurants and hotels. What on earth
happened to land her here in a furnished room in
a yard across from a block of stinking latrines, But
that will be for later. Now, as the first glow
of morning breaks the eastern sky, and as workers begin

(27:39):
to rise from their beds, there are other matters to
return to place. We are back in George Yard. A
woman's body has been found. The wide pool of blood
around it has already begun to thicken and dry. Her
clothes are in disarray. It seems hopeless but Constable Barrett

(28:00):
sends for medical assistance. Martha Tabram has been dead for
several hours, says doctor Khaleim. He counts thirteen nine d
stab wounds. When the catalog of injuries has later read
out the coroner accord, he says it is the most
dreadful crime anyone can imagine, and declares that the murderer

(28:21):
must be a savage. He urges the officers of h
Division to find the culprit. Constable Barrett is sent to
track down the soldier he'd seen at about the time
of Martha's death, but he has no luck. The other
soldiers he interviews close ranks, offering up alibis for each

(28:44):
other and frustrating Barrett's investigation. With hindsight, the viciousness of
Martha's unsolved murder will cause some people to conclude that
her death was the work of Jack the Ripper. Rightly
or wrongly, Martha's death doesn't feature in the conventional telling

(29:04):
of the Famous Ripper story. Her murder, along with the
killings of ten other women between April eighteen eighty eight
and February eighteen ninety one, are referred to collectively as
the White Chapel murders. Those women were Emma Elizabeth Smith,
Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Katherine Edos, Mary Jane,

(29:26):
Kelly Rose Milott, Alice Mackenzie, Francis Coles, and the torso
of an anonymous woman found under a railway arch. At
the time and even today, there is debate about whether
all of these women were victims of the same killer. Eventually,
the consensus among the police would be that, due to

(29:46):
the similarity of the weapon used and the nature of
the injuries, only Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Katherine, and Mary Jane
could be identified as Ripper victims. Martha's death, as well
as the murders of those who followed, whether by the
hands of Jack the Ripper or some other malefactor, only
served to illustrate just how normal deadly violence against women

(30:09):
was in nineteenth century Whitechapel, and how the killers so
often escaped justice. I often get asked why I didn't
include Martha Tabram among the Ripper victims, or why I
didn't write a book called The Eleven. But writing a
book about Jack the Ripper, obsessing over the minute shy

(30:29):
of injuries and murder weapons was never my objective. I
wanted to study life, not the agonizing, terror filled moments
of death, and The Five offered me a perfect data set.
The experiences of Polly Annie, Elizabeth Kate, and Mary Jane
were quite simply the experiences of millions of Victorian women.

(30:51):
They fell in love, injured, childbirth and the deaths of parents.
They argued with their siblings. They wept, they dreamed, they hurt,
and they enjoyed small triumphs. The courses of their lives
mirrored that of so many others, and yet their lives
were so singular in the ways they ended. Jack the

(31:14):
Ripper will never be caught, but justice can be restored
when we remember their names and learn their stories. They
don't need to be forgotten or to remain silent any longer.
So please come with me. I can't wait to introduce
you to them. Bad Women The Ripper Were Told is

(31:52):
brought to you by Pushkin Industries and me Hallie Rubbinhold,
and is based on my book The Five. It was
produced and co written by Ryan Dilley and Alice Fines,
with help from Pete Norton. Pascal Wise Sound designed and
mixed the show and composed all the original music. Also
heard the voice talents of Soul Boyer, Melanie Gutridge, Gemma Saunders,

(32:13):
and rufus Wright. The show also wouldn't have been possible
without the work of mil LaBelle, Jacob Weisberg, Jen Guera,
Heather Fane, Carlie Migliori, Maggie Taylor, Nicole Morano and Daniella
Lacan were special thanks to my agents Sarah Ballard and
Ellie Kron
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