The Double Event Part 1
Elisabeth Gustifson must have had a chequered life in her native Sweden, for she was already registered as a prostitute in Gothenburg by the age of 21. Following her mother’s death in the 1860s, she used her inheritance money to come to London, claiming alms from the Swedish church and then working in service in the West End. She married John Stride in 1869 and despite respectable jobs running coffee shops in Poplar with her husband, the marriage failed in 1881 and John died soon after. From then on, she went back to her old ways, working as a prostitute and living, for the most part, at 32 Flower and Dean Street, where she was known by her fellow lodgers as ‘Long Liz’. She also had a very fractious relationship with a man named Michael Kidney during the remainder of her life, and she sometimes lived with him.
The last night of her life, the 29th September 1888, saw Elizabeth earning a little money by doing chores at the lodging house in Flower and Dean Street, after which she went to the Queen’s Head pub on Commercial Street to spend some of it. After leaving, she was believed to have been seen several times over the next couple of hours in the company of different men. On one occasion, she was seen with a man sheltering from the rain at the entrance to the Bricklayer’s Arms in Settles Street, but the couple moved on quickly when two men entering the pub exclaimed “That’s Leather Apron getting round you” (the ‘Dear Boss’ letter, containing the name ‘Jack the Ripper’ had yet to be released). There were also sightings of her around Berner Street, including one made by a police officer, William Smith, at about 12.30am.
The most important occasion was when she was seen by Israel Schwartz at about 12.45am being apparently assaulted by a man at the entrance to a narrow gateway called Dutfield’s Yard. Schwartz was scared off when the man yelled an anti-Jewish insult, “Lipski!”, at him and he was then followed down Berner Street by another man who had been lighting a pipe outside the Nelson beer house. Just over ten minutes later, Stride was found dead from a cut throat just inside the gateway by Louis Diemschutz, steward of the International Working Men’s Educational Club, a Jewish anarchist club, next door.
The single cut to the throat was the only injury to her body, a fact that has led some to assume that Stride may not have been killed by Jack the Ripper but perhaps was the victim of a local gang or violent customer, perhaps the man seen by Schwartz. Nonetheless, the cut throat, perceived at the time to be one of the Ripper’s trademarks, along with the fact that the blood on the cobbles beneath the wound had yet to clot, led most at the time to conclude that the arrival of Diemschutz on his pony and cart had interrupted the murderer before he could inflict his usual mutilations. They also believed that the Ripper took the opportunity to escape when Diemschutz left the yard unattended as he went into the club to raise the alarm.
After the murder had been reported, various individuals came forward with potential information about Stride’s last hours. Sadly, they were not all reliable. One woman, Mary Malcolm, claimed that the dead woman was her sister, Elizabeth Watts, but this turned out to be false, and Mrs Malcolm was probably just saying this to get a view of the body in the mortuary. Another misleading witness was Matthew Packer who ran a small greengrocers a few doors down from Dutfield’s Yard. He claimed that he had sold grapes to a man who was accompanied by Stride prior to her death. Unfortunately, Packer had the habit of changing his story and timings under questioning and thus the police regarded him as an unreliable witness.
The Berner Street murder of Elizabeth Stride has thrown up the most debates about any of the crimes. Was the man seen by Schwartz Jack the Ripper and who was the man with the pipe? Was this the Ripper working in tandem with a lookout? Was Matthew Packer telling the truth about selling grapes to the victim and a man? Were the sightings of Stride in Berner Street reliable and do they give us an accurate picture of her last hours?
What is certain is that forty-five minutes after the discovery of Elizabeth Stride in Dutfield’s Yard, another victim would be found, generating even more controversies.