On this day in history : 31st August 1888 – Mary Ann Nichols, an East End of London prostitute, is found murdered and mutilated in Whitechapel…. She is the first victim to be attributed to Jack the Ripper….

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The Illustrated Police News, 8th September 1888 – Public domain

Mary Ann was born to Caroline and Edward Walker, a locksmith, on the 26th of August 1845…. On the 16th of January 1864 she married William Nichols, who worked for a printing company and together they had five children…. Mary Ann had a problem with alcohol and left her husband several times before the marriage finally broke up in 1881…. At first William supported his estranged wife with an allowance of 5 shillings per week – but in 1882 these payments stopped when William learned of his wife’s prostitution…. The law at the time stated that a man was no longer obliged to provide for his wife if she was earning money through illicit means….

Spending the rest of her days between workhouses and cheap lodging houses Mary Ann made a meagre living on her earnings as a prostitute and on charitable handouts…. As an alcoholic she drank most of her money – she could expect to earn around threepence a time for her trade – the same price as a large glass of gin….

Mary Ann’s last place of residence was at a boarding house in Spitalfields, where she shared a room with Nelly Holland…. At 12.30am on the 31st of August Mary Ann was seen to leave a public house in Brick Lane…. She was then turned away from the lodging house as she did not have the fourpence to pay for her bed for the night…. She was last seen alive by Nelly at 2.30am, standing on the corner of Osborn Street and Whitechapel Road soliciting for ‘business’….

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Bucks Row, site of the murder – Image courtesy Hulton Archive – Public domain

At 3.40am cart-man Charles Allen Cross came across Mary Ann and at first was unsure as to whether she was dead or unconscious…. Mary Ann’s skirts had been raised, so after adjusting them to give her some modesty, Cross and another passing cart-man summonsed the police…. A surgeon, Dr. Henry Llewelyn, was called and on his arrival, at around 4am, he pronounced that she had been dead for about half an hour…. Her throat had been cut twice, which would have killed her instantly – and then her abdomen had been mutilated….

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Mortuary photograph of Mary Ann Nichols – Public domain

Mary Ann was buried at the City of London Cemetery in a public grave on Thursday the 6th of September 1888…. In 1996 the Cemetery authorities marked her grave with a plaque…. It is thought Jack the Ripper was responsible for the murders of 11 prostitutes between 1885 and 1891….

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Mary Ann’s grave marker at City of London Cemetery – Image courtesy : Matt Brown CC BY-SA

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