Emma Elizabeth Smith: The first Jack the Ripper Victim?

DATED: 23.02.17

Any Ripperologist worth their money is familiar with the Jack the Ripper victims and the now infamous canonical five murders – those of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. However, you may not be aware that there was actually another victim, whose death sparked the initial report and may or may not have been a sixth victim of the Ripper.

This sixth victim was one Emma Elizabeth Smith, a prostitute who was viciously attacked by a gang of men in the small hours of the morning on 3rd April 1888. She was set upon in a narrow alleyway at the Wentworth Street junction of Osborn Street in Whitechapel. The gang robbed Emma then savagely beat her; leaving her for dead.

More Jack the Ripper Victims?

Emma survived the attack and managed to get back to her nearby lodging house, where several of the other residents noted her injuries and distress. They persuaded her to go to the local hospital, but sadly peritonitis set in and she later died of her injuries in hospital the following day.

Bizarrely, the police weren’t informed of the assault at all. The first they knew of the case was when the coroner’s office set up an inquest into Emma Smith’s death. Things didn’t get any clearer at the inquest, either, with nobody in the police force seeming to have any ideas or information about the case. In the end, the coroner had no choice but to state that Emma had been ‘barbarously murdered’ by some unknown person or persons.

Whitechapel Murders File

The strange lack of evidence from the police about the case meant that the gang were never apprehended, so it remains uncertain about whether Emma Elizabeth Smith was actually one of the Jack the Ripper victims.

However, it is clear that Emma’s description of the gang of men who attacked her went a long way towards influencing the police force’s initial lines of enquiry early on in the hunt for the Ripper. Emma Smith’s death was also significant as it prompted the opening of the Whitechapel murders file, which went on to include the canonical five Jack the Ripper victims, as well as a number of other potential Ripper victims.

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