The Thames Torso Murders are a series of murders that took place between 1873 and 1889. The crimes, largely forgotten and passed over due to the interest in the Jack The Ripper Whitechapel murders of the time, involved the discoveries of the dismembered bodies of eight women. Only one of the victims was ever identified, the person or persons responsible never found.
The Battersea Mystery 1873-74
The first potential victim in the Thames Torso Murders was found in 1873. The left quarter of a female’s trunk was fished out of the water on September 5 in Battersea by the Thames Police patrol unit.
It wouldn’t be long until other body parts from the same victim would start to appear. Over the course of the following month police found:
- A left forearm, also at Battersea
- The victim’s head was found at Limehouse
- A right breast, discovered at Nine Elms
- A pelvis, located at Woolwich
- A foot near Hammersmith Docks
- A leg, just off Wandsworth Distillery
- An arm at White Hart Docks, Vauxhall
Upon closer inspection of the body parts, it appeared this was far from a frenzied act. The body parts had not been savagely hacked apart but instead appeared to have been carefully dismembered with tidy cuts. This led some to ponder the possibility of the body parts perhaps been dumped in the river as some sort of prank by medical students, but this was quickly ruled out.
Dr Thomas Bond, the Metropolitan Police’s Acting Chief Surgeon, oversaw the attempted reconstruction of the numerous body parts. The face, however, would be a more difficult task due to the injuries inflicted upon it. The head had been scalped and the nose and chin of the victim had been cut off.
What remained of the face was carefully extracted and placed over a butcher’s block in the hope someone may be able to give the victim a name. The now reconstructed corpse was photographed but it wasn’t released to the public, instead, it was only shown to those who police had a genuine belief may know the victim.
Less than a year later police would pull another victim from the River Thames. The torso of a female, with the head and all but one leg removed, was dragged from a stretch of the river in Putney during the month of June (possibly the 13th) 1874. The remaining body parts this time never materialised.
Dr E C Barnes ascertained that the victim’s torso had been separated at the spinal cord. He also revealed that the body had been placed in lime to decompose before been dumped in the river. Despite seemingly clear evidence to suggest foul play, an open verdict was returned by the jury.
Both victims remained unidentified and no perpetrator was ever found. It would be another decade until another victim possibly killed by the same person would materialise.
Tottenham Court Road Mystery
On September 25, 1884, a man named Charles Fitch found a collection of human bones in Mornington Crescent. The remains were taken to Albany Street police station and examined by the surgeon. The surgeon on duty determined that the bones had been used for anatomical purposes but stated little else.
On October 23, 1884, a car-man and a road-sweeper made a grim discovery amongst items they had collected from dustbins in Alfred Mews, a cul-de-sac just off Tottenham Court Road. The men had discovered a human skull with flesh still hanging from it and a larger piece of separate flesh (later revealed to be from a thigh).
In Bedford Square, less than half-a-mile from Alfred Mews, another equally ghastly discovery was been made at around the same time. A parcel discovered by a gardener was found to contain an arm belonging to a female. The arm provided hope of leading to the identification of the victim as it bore upon it a rose tattoo.
In the days following a police constable would discover yet more remains. This time flesh and a section of a woman’s torso were found in a brown paper bag outside 33 Fitzroy Square.
The body parts found at Alfred Mews, Bedford Square and Fitzroy Square were found to be from the same female victim. The remains found a month prior in Mornington Crescent, however, were not. The police had two separate deaths to investigate.
Both victims had been dissected by a skilled hand according to evidence given at an inquest held on December 9, leading to the possibility the woman were killed by the same person. This was never determined for sure as no one was ever arrested for the crimes and the women, like the 1873-74 victims, were never identified.
At around 11 30 am on May 11, 1887, a parcel was fished out of the water at Rainham Ferry by a lighterman named Edward Hughes. On his barge, Hughes opened the parcel to discover it contained the torso of a woman.
The police surgeon, Dr Edward Calloway, stated the victim was around 30-years-old and well-nourished. He noted that the cuts with which the body was dismembered were done with almost surgical skill but also stated there was no scientific or medical reason for the dissection. Although unable to determine how long the victim had been deceased it was stated it was “quite recent”.
Over the following two months, more body parts belonging to the same victim were found, they were as follows:
- On June 5 a thigh was found at Temple Pier Victoria Embankment.
- On June 8 the thorax was discovered on the shore of Battersea Park.
- On June 30 two parcels containing the limbs were located in Regent’s Canal.
- On July 16th the other thigh was found, also at Regent’s Canal.
Despite several unconfirmed reports in various newspapers, it is almost certain the head was never found, along with the upper chest of the victim.
The case became known as the Rainham Mystery and is considered the first canonical crime in the Thames Torso Murders. Whether related to the Battersea Mystery and the Tottenham Court Road Mystery or not it did share the familiar outcome of an unnamed victim and no potential suspect ever been identified.
A little over a year after the Rainham Mystery London found itself the centre of what would become one of the most infamous murder mysteries of all time – the murders of Jack The Ripper. No one knows Jack’s exact victims but the second of the so-called canonical five, Annie Chapman, was discovered on September 8, 1888. Just days later another ghastly discovery would be made but it was overshadowed, thus often lost and almost forgotten over the course of time.
On September 11, 1888, workmen came across a strange object sticking out of the mud by the shore of the River Thames in Grovenor Road, Pimlico. Frederick Moore was the only one brave enough to inspect closer, and in doing so he discovered that the strange object was, in fact, the right arm of a woman.
The arm was taken to the local mortuary and examined by Dr Thomas Bond and his associate Doctor Charles Hebbert. They concluded that the victim was a white female, 20 to 25 years old and who stood at around 5 ft 9 (very tall for the time period from what I can gather). The arm had been removed after death with some level of skill. A tourniquet had been used to stem the flow of blood showing further signs of some medical knowledge.
On October 1, 1888 carpenter Frederick Windborn was working at Whitehall, Westminster. The site was to be the new Metropolitan Police headquarters, Scotland Yard. Windborn had previously hidden some of his tools in the basement vaults of the new Scotland Yard building but upon retrieving them he also found a parcel. Windborn ignored the parcel and instead collected his tools and went about his work.
It wouldn’t be until the following day, October 2, when Windborn, under the watchful eye of his foreman William Brown opened the package. To the men’s horror, they discovered it contained the torso of a woman. It was found to be a match to the arm found less than a month earlier.
Two weeks later, on October 17, the left leg belonging to the same victim was found. For reasons unknown a reporter named Jasper Waring was given access to the Scotland Yard site and given permission to search the site with a Russian Terrier dog. It wasn’t long before the dog located the leg from the dirt. It was the only body part found that day and, in fact, it was the final body part belonging to the victim that was ever located.
On inspection of all the body parts found Dr Thomas Bond was able to determine a few more details. He stated that as far as he could tell the woman had never given birth and also noted her killer had removed the victim’s uterus. The woman’s left lung showed signs of suffering from severe pleurisy, but all the other remaining organs were seen to be in healthy condition.
It was stated that the victim had been deceased for approximately two months, meaning she had been murdered in early August. An interesting sidenote to the time of death is that newspapers found with the torso had the date August 24, 1888, on them. If the time of death was accurate then the killer had kept the remains for several weeks before dispatching of them.
In the days following several newspapers attempted to link The Whitehall Mystery to the crimes of Jack The Ripper. The Metropolitan police, however, were dismissive of the theory and ruled out any connection between the two.
Why exactly this was is unknown, but you would have to believe they had something conclusive to back up that belief. The chances of two equally horrific murders taking place in the same time period, in a similar area and with the same female organ (the uterus) removed been unconnected, what are the odds?
On the morning of June 4, 1889, three young boys were bathing when they saw a package been washed up on the muddy banks in Battersea near the Albert Bridge. The boys were shocked to discover part of a human limb, later revealed to be a thigh.
On that same morning, a waterside labourer named John Regan was waiting for potential work at St Georges’s Stairs, Horselydown when he made an equally gruesome find. Just like the boys, he saw a package washed up on the shore and went to investigate. This parcel contained the lower abdomen of a female.
Investigators didn’t have to wait long for further parts of the same victim to be found:
- On June 6 the victim’s upper trunk and her neck and shoulders were found in separate locations in Battersea.
- On June 7 the right foot and part of the leg was located in Wandsworth.
- On June 7 the left leg was also found, this time in Limehouse.
- On June 8 the left arm was discovered in the River Thames just off Bankside.
- On June 9 the discovery of the pelvis and buttocks in Battersea were made.
- On June 9 a further body part was found, this time the other thigh in Chelsea.
- On June 10 the right arm was found in the River Thames near Newton’s Wharf.
The head was never found.
The inquest into the findings was held on June 17 at Battersea. It was revealed that the killer had again shown signs of having some skill and knowledge of anatomy, however, it was stated this was more like the work of a butcher than a surgeon.
The victim had been killed no more than 48 hours before her first parts where located. The victim was described as being about 5 foot 5 inches tall, under the age of 25 and having bright sandy hair. It was also revealed that the victim had been between 6 and 8 months pregnant at the time of her murder.
Less than two weeks after the initial inquest, the victim was given a name. The family of Elizabeth Jackson, from Chelsea, stated there belief that the woman was there missing relative who they hadn’t seen since May. Clothing, the pregnancy, and a scar from childhood on her right wrist were used as confirmation. Only Elizabeth’s brother remained unconvinced it was indeed his sister.
Police put out a trace for a man named John Faircloth. Faircloth was known to be a companion of Elizabeth Jackson’s and believed to be the father of her unborn child. Friends of Elizabeth’s claimed that they had seen Faircloth be abusive towards her which made him a definite person of interest in the eyes of officers. Witnesses also described a man similar to Faircloth been with Elizabeth near the banks of the River Thames in the 24 hours prior to the first discovery of her remains.
A week later John Faircloth was finally tracked down. He had been in Tipton St John, Devon when they located him. Faircloth claimed to have no idea that Elizabeth had been murdered as he was illiterate so had read nothing about the case.
He willingly agreed to return to London with the officers and help with the investigation. Police thoroughly investigated Faircloth’s movements and were able to prove conclusively he wasn’t the person responsible for Elizabeth Jackson’s murder.
A final inquest into the murder of Elizabeth Jackson was held on July 25. 1888. The jury ruled the case “wilful murder against some person or persons unknown”. No other suspect was ever identified and the case, like the other Thames Torso Murders went unsolved.
The Pinchin Street Torso
In the early morning of September 10, 1889, PC William Pennett was patrolling his beat. At around 5 15 am he came across a chamise cloth covering something under a railway arch in Pinchin Street, Whitechapel. Under closer inspection, the officer was stunned to discover the headless and legless body of a woman (the head and legs would never be found).
There was very little blood found at the crime scene and the remains had already started to decompose. Further evidence to back up the fact the murder took place elsewhere was cemented by three witnesses. Sailor Richard Hawke, another unnamed sailor and a shoe-black named Michael Keating were actually found sleeping under the same railway arches.
Despite been worse for wear at the time all the men were adamant that the bundle which turned out to be the victim wasn’t in the vicinity when they decided to sleep there. If true, this would have meant the perpetrator was incredibly brazen in disposing of the body.
The post-mortem once again came to the now-familiar conclusion that the dismemberment had been carried out after death and been performed by someone with a degree of skill. Again the skill level was considered to be akin to a butcher rather than a surgeon.
The victim was stated to be around 5 foot 3 inches tall. Her age was far less accurate with a range of anywhere between 25 and 40 given. She had, however, never given birth to a child and it appeared she wasn’t married as there were no ring marks around the finger. The time of death was placed at bout 24 hours before the surgeon first inspected the body.
The hysteria surrounding Jack The Ripper had eased by the spring of 1889 but whenever a body was found it helped to raise the levels once more. The Pinchin Street Torso was no different. The press once more were asking if Jack was back. The fact that the Pinchin Street Torso victim had seemingly been killed on the one year anniversary of the death of Annie Chapman, the Ripper’s second canonical victim, only added fuel to the belief.
A link to the infamous Whitechapel Murders was largely ruled out but it did lead to the first time a high ranking officer officially linked the Thames Torso Murders. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police James Munro wrote a report in which he ruled out a link to the Ripper murders. However, he went on to state that the murder bore a resemblance to the Rainham Mystery, the Whitehall Mystery and the murder of Elizabeth Jackson.
The victim found in Pinchin Street would never be identified. Emily Barker and Lydia Hart were names given to police during the investigation but both were found alive.
We will never truly know how many of these poor, unfortunate victims were slain by the same hand. Nor will we ever be completely sure that the Thames Torso Murders weren’t the work of the same sick and twisted individual behind the horrors of Whitechapel’s Autumn of Terror. Perhaps most tragically of all the majority of the victims will never have a name with which to be remembered by.