31 August 1888 – Mary Ann Nichols becomes the first victim of Jack the Ripper

A Sinister Fate Awaits the Prostitutes of London's Whitechapel

A Sinister Fate Awaits the Prostitutes of London’s Whitechapel

The body of a homeless prostitute, brutally murdered and mutilated, is discovered in a Whitechapel backstreet

It was raining as the bells of London were ringing out the last day of August in the year 1888. The air smelled like thunder was coming, which wasn’t unusual, as the Summer of 1888 had been one of the wettest in memory. A huge fire had broken out in the dry dock at Shadwell, and the red glow in the sky only added to the scene.




In the early hours of the morning, some time between 1am and 2am, Mary Ann Nichols, who was known as Polly to her friends was thrown out of the kitchen of a grotty little lodging house at 18 Thrawl Street which was in Spitalfields in London’s Whitechapel district. Polly was the 43 year old mother of five children who had been dealt a rough hand. Separated from her husband she had drifted from one workhouse to another in order to try and survive and in between times scratching what existence she could from whatever handouts she could get and from occassional prostitution.

On that particular night she needed four pence in order to secure lodgings for the night but as she had come up short, she once more had found herself out on the street. “Never mind”, she said, gesturing at the velvet trimmed straw bonnet she was wearing. “I’ll soon get my doss money. See what a jolly bonnet I’ve got now.” It was clear that she was going to go and look for a customer in order to try and make up the shortfall of cash.

One of her roommates reported that she saw her about an hour later on the corner of Whitechapel Road and that Polly was clearly drunk. She had boasted that she had made enough money to pay for a room three times over, but that she had spent the money on on gin and so was off to find more customers. Mary Ann Nichols was never seen alive again.

At 3.40am, a carter found her lying in a darkened stable doorway. Her throat had been cut and her body had been horribly mutilated. The Summer of terror had begun. the serial killer who would later be called Jack the Ripper had claimed his first victim.