Last week we talked about one of the oldest named Ripper suspects, Montague John Druitt, who died via an apparent suicide in late 1888. Named by one of the men involved in the Ripper case, and refuted by another, Druitt is frequently mentioned but not often actually accused of having been the famous murderer. Charles Allen Lechmere’s name is a more recent contribution to the hundreds of Ripper suspects, and although he might be a better choice than Druitt, his guilt is impossible to prove.
Lechmere enters Ripper lore under the name Charles Cross, a meat cart driver who discovered Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols after her murder. According to recorded testimony, Lechmere was passing Buck’s Row on his way yo work around 3:40 am on August 31, 1888, when he saw a woman lying on the ground. Another man, Robert Paul, also on his way to work, saw Lechmere, who immediately called Paul over. The two men didn’t see any blood or mutilations and left Polly Nichols where she lay, reporting an apparently drunk or unconscious woman to a constable they found on the way.
At the inquest, Lechmere gave his name as Charles Cross, using the surname of one of his stepfathers, and that seemed to be the end of it. The testimony of “Charles Cross” helped establish the likely time of death, and “Cross” and Paul both testified that they saw no one else in the street. The inquest verdict was willful murder by person or persons unknown, and that was the end of it.
Until 2014, that is, when the documentary Jack the Ripper: The Missing Evidence named Lechmere as a suspect.
Journalist Christer Holmgren and criminologist Gareth Norris build the case against Lechmere, starting with the fact that he did indeed give a false name. They were able to connect “Charles Cross” to Charles Allen Lechmere and find more information about this apparent witness. Tracing “Charles Cross” had proven futile, but information about Charles Allen Lechmere seemed to point toward likely guilt.
Holmgren and Norris make use of geographic profiling in their argument for Lechmere’s guilt. This is a newer method that relies on psychological information about serial killers, combined with the locations of their crimes, to help make predictions about future murder locations and the killer’s “home base.” It involves questions of how far a killer would willingly travel in order to commit a crime, while still feeling relatively safe because he knows the area, as well as marking an area closer to the killer’s home as being unlikely for future murders. To oversimplify, a killer’s “hunting range” looks vaguely like a donut shape, with his home in the middle surrounded by an area of inactivity.
This range, though, is affected when a killer becomes comfortable in new areas. A man who has moved around a lot as a child knows multiple neighborhoods. One who has to walk a distance to get to work learns still more. A killer’s comfort zone expands as his life develops and he moves through more of the world, leaning which areas would be “safe” for him to kill in.
Holmgren and Norris not only point out that neither Lechmere – seen here in a photograph from 1012 – nor Paul mentioned seeing any other person in Buck’s Row, even though the murderer must have still been nearby, but map out Lechmere’s life against the murders of the Canonical Five and a previous victim, Martha Tabram. Each of these sites corresponds with Lechmere’s walk from home to work in the autumn of 1888, or to previous homes his family occupied, or earlier jobs he had.
They theorize that Lechmere was not merely bending over an unresponsive woman’s body when Paul spotted him, but was actually interrupted in the middle of the Ripper’s trademark mutilations. Lechmere, according to Holmgren and Norris, attempted to cover his tracks by first pretending to discover Polly Nichols’ body, and then by giving a false name.
Beyond this, though, there is nothing to either link Lechmere to the Ripper or to prove that he conclusively could not have been. The documentary argues that Lechmere would have known the area, yes, and can place him at the scene shortly after one of the murders, but the Ripper’s identity is still unknown – and, 130 years after the murders, we’re still pulling out new names and trying to assign guilt.