Cruelty to cat grabs the attention of the press while across London the ‘Ripper’ murders begin.

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The 8th August 1888 has considerable significance for anyone familiar with the so-called ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders of that year. Although the brutal killing of a woman in George Yard, near Whitechapel High Street did not make the headlines that the later murders that summer did, for many it represents the beginning of the series.

The victim, Martha Tabram, was poor and probably survived partly by prostituting herself in the back alleyways of the East End. She had supposedly been out early on the night she died with a woman named Pearly Poll although the real truth will probably never be known. Martha was stabbed 39 times, most of the wounds being made with what was described as a ‘pen knife’, the one killing blow (to her heart or sternum) was probably made with a large weapon such as a bayonet or a dagger.

Martha’s dead body was found by John Reeves on his way to work at 4.45 on the morning of the 7 August. Death was calculated to have occurred at around 2.30-2.45 in the morning. Despite an initial belief that an off duty soldier was the killer (provoking a number of inconclusive and frankly farcical identity parades) no one was identified as the murderer.

Meanwhile the everyday business of the Police Courts continued with less dramatic (but still interesting) cases coming before the magistracy. On 8 August 1888 The Standard reported an interesting case involving violence, not towards a human but towards a cat. James Moor Bowman was summoned to Bow Street Police Court (the senior magistrates court in the capital) to face a charge of cruelty. Bowman, a pub landlord,  was accused alongside his barman Richard Ellis, with setting fire to his cat.

The prosecution witnesses (‘a workman named Boothy and his wife’) claimed that they saw Bowman pour methylated spirits over the animal’s head and then ignited it. The poor creature jumped up and over Mrs Boothy’s head and ran out of the pub (The Sovereign in St Martin’s Lane).

When Mr and Mrs Boothy ‘remonstrated with the Defendants on their cruelty’ they were kicked out of the pub. The landlord even called a policeman (PC 279C) to have them taken away for causing a disturbance.

Bowman and Ellis claimed the Boothys were drunk and the policeman confirmed that they were ‘lively; in fact they were semi-intoxicated’. Bowman produced an uninjured  cat as proof the witnesses had been making it up all along. Mr Boothy declared that it was not the same cat that he had seen burned by the publican.

Bowman added that he could produce several witnesses who would testify that he wasn’t in the bar at the time the incident was supposed to have occurred. The magistrate wondered why he hadn’t brought them along immediately, to save time. Bowman told him that it was a ‘trumped up charge’ brought by two drinkers who were upset about being asked to leave when they were the worse for alcohol (as barmen were supposed to do). It was ridiculous to think that he or his barman would have set light to an animal in the middle of a busy public house.

Sir James Ingham, the Bow Street magistrate on duty agreed the whole thing was very ‘circumstantial’ but he’d like to see it disproved before he made his judgement. He adjourned the case for a week so that Bowman could produce the witnesses he promised who would show the Boothys to be liars.

To this day no one has been conclusively proved to have been the Whitechapel murderer but the ‘hunt’ goes on. This blog concentrates on the Police Courts of London across the whole of the Victorian period but when the date falls on our near to those when the ‘Ripper’ struck I shall try and find a case for that day.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, August 08, 1888]

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