Jack the Ripper performed his brutal deeds under the cover of darkness when few people were about. Many of the witness statements are conflicting and some have been dismissed as mistakes or even fantasies. There were, however, some eyewitnesses who are considered important and may have seen the killer prior to the murder.
The last time Annie Chapman, the Ripper's second victim, was seen alive was soon after 1.35am on Saturday, 8 September 1888. She had returned to her lodging house at 35 Dorset Street, Spitalfields, where she met John Evans, the night watchman. When asked if she had enough money to pay for her bed- about four pence - she said she did not, but would soon get it.
Chapman then left the lodging house and headed off into the darkness, in the direction of Brushfield Street. There was a possible sighting of her outside number 29 Hanbury Street, around 5.15am, by Mrs Elizabeth Long, who was making her way along the street in the direction of Commercial Street. Long would state that she saw Chapman standing by the doorway of number 29 with a man, described as having on a long dark coat and a brown deerstalker hat. The man was described as having a shabby and genteel appearance. Thirty minutes later, Annie Chapman would be found murdered at the rear of number 29 Hanbury Street.
The case of Elizabeth Stride raises more problems. Two men saw a woman whom they later identified as Stride with a man outside the Bricklayer's Arms, a pub in Settles Street, on the other side of Commercial Road, not far from her eventual murder scene.
An elderly fruit-seller named Matthew Packer may have sold grapes to Stride and a male companion in Berner Street only an hour or so before the murder, but Packer changed his story several times, apparently to please his listeners. The police thought his evidence unreliable.
There were other, more reliable, sightings. At 11.45pm, a labourer, William Marshall, was standing at the door of his lodging at 64 Berner Street. Across the road, a man was talking to a woman whom Marshall later identified as Elizabeth Stride. He heard the man say “you would say anything but your prayers”. At about 12.30am, PC William Smith passed along Berner Street on his beat. He, too, saw a man and a woman - when later shown Stride's body in the mortuary, he immediately made the identification.
Mrs Fanny Mortimer, who lived at 36 Berner Street, only a few doors from where Stride was killed, told reporters that at 12.45am, she heard the steady footsteps of a policeman pass her home, after which she went to stand at the front door for 10 minutes. She saw nobody in the street, except for a man with a black bag.
This was Leon Goldstein who, as soon as he heard of the murder, came forward to the police. Unfortunately, they did not mention this to anyone, and the black bag has been part of Ripper folklore ever since. Shortly before 1am, Mrs Mortimer went indoors; a few minutes later, she heard the sound of Louis Diemschutz' pony and cart pass by outside. Diemschutz was soon to discover Stride's body.
The most important evidence regarding Elizabeth Stride's murder was given by a Hungarian immigrant, Israel Schwartz, to the police at Leman Street police station. Unable to speak English, Schwartz had brought a friend to interpret. Schwartz said that he entered Berner Street at about 12.45am. A short distance ahead of him was a man. Ahead of the man, standing outside the gates leading to the rear of 40 Berner Street (the International Workers' Educational Club), was a woman. The man ahead of Schwartz went up to the woman and, apparently without provocation, threw her down onto the pavement. Alarmed, Schwartz crossed the street to avoid involvement. At that moment, a man came out of a pub. Someone - Schwartz thought it was the man who had assaulted the woman - yelled out, 'Lipski!’ apparently at Schwartz.
Lipski' was a reference to a young Polish Jew, Israel Lipski who, in 1887, had murdered Miriam Angel in nearby Batty Street. As a result, the name Lipski' had come to be used as a derogatory expression directed at Jews. The frightened Schwartz fled, believing that the second man - the one from the pub - was pursuing him. This incident has raised a host of questions. Were the first and second man accomplices? Did the second man pursue Schwartz in the belief that he had attacked the woman, the first one having gone to her aid? Was the second man also running away out of fear?
Although Schwartz later identified the woman he had seen as Elizabeth Stride. While documents in police files show that Schwartz's story was believed by the police, he did not give evidence at the inquest into Stride's death. Neither did Mrs Mortimer. Both should have done, whether or not they had indeed seen Stride being assaulted.
The evidence of Mrs Mortimer and Israel Schwartz left the police with two scenarios. Either two women were attacked in the same place within 15 minutes of one another or, if the man seen by Schwartz was not Stride's killer, Stride was attacked by two different men in the same place within 15 minutes. The improbability of either has led to the conclusion that the man Israel Schwartz witnessed throwing Stride to the ground was her killer. But was he Jack the Ripper?
Unlike the other victims, Elizabeth Stride was not mutilated. Only her throat was cut, and when Louis Diemschutz arrived on the scene, blood was still flowing from the wound. This suggests that the murder had been very recently committed, possibly even that the murderer had been disturbed by Diemshutz's arrival.
This conclusion is seemingly confirmed by Mrs Mortimer, who saw nobody except Leon Goldstein in Berner Street during the 15 minutes prior to Diemschutz's arrival. If her story is to be believed, then the murder took place before she came to her door or in the few minutes that elapsed between her going back indoors and hearing Diemschutz pass by in his cart. There are various ways in which this evidence can be interpreted, but if Stride was murdered by Jack the Ripper some 15 minutes before Diemschutz appeared, then the question is why she was not mutilated. There are several possibilities, one of which is that she was not killed by the Ripper.
Schwartz's account has assumed significance because Dr Robert Anderson, head of the CID, wrote that Jack the Ripper was positively identified by an eye-witness. Schwartz is one of the two men most likely to have been that witness. The other was Joseph Lawende.
Joseph Lawende was the man who, along with his two friends, Hyam Levy and Harry Harris, had seen a woman - probably Catherine Eddowes - talking with a man at the entrance to Mitre Square. If Eddowes was the woman Lawende saw, then her companion was almost certainly Jack the Ripper. According to a report by Chief Inspector Swanson, Levy and Harris took but little notice and state they could not identify man or woman.
Only Lawende could describe the man; he also later identified Eddowes' clothing as the same as those worn by the woman near Mitre Square. At Eddowes' inquest on 5 October, Lawende said: “I noticed she had a black jacket and black bonnet. I have seen the articles at the police station, and I recognise them as the sort of dress worn by that woman.”
The man, Lawende explained, had a cloth cap on, with a peak of the same material. He also said he would not be able to recognise the man again.
On the Thursday night before her body was found, Mary Kelly, the last of the Ripper victims had been seen in the company of several people, including the man she had lived with for 18 months, Joseph Barnett.
Between 11.45pm and the approximate time of her death (between 2am and about 3am, possibly a bit later, on Friday 9 November), Kelly's whereabouts were reported by a number of people. One witness, George Hutchinson, asserted that he met Kelly at 2am on Commercial Street. She asked for a loan of sixpence but he did not have it. She walked on towards Thrawl Street and on the way was picked up by a well-dressed man who took her back to Dorset Street (where Kelly had her lodgings).
The man wore a coat trimmed with astrakhan fur, a black tie with a horseshoe pin, dark spots, button-over boots and a large gold chain hanging across his waistcoat. This helped to foster the notion that the Ripper was a 'toff', but Hutchinson's description, given after the inquest on 12 November 1888, seemed almost too precise to be credible.