A mournful funeral procession made its way to St. Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery in Leytonstone on Nov. 19th, 1888. Thousands lined the streets to say farewell to the woman in the coffin, some of them weeping.
“God forgive her,” some called out as the procession lumbered past.
Forgive her for what?
The tragedy began the morning of Nov. 9th, ten days before. James Whitehead, a 54-year-old merchant who’d made a successful second career in politics, was the star of the Lord Mayor’s Show, a London tradition that was always held on this date. As the city’s new mayor, Whitehead, a champion of reform, had desired a more stately event than the circus-like Mayor’s parade famous since the 16th century. But, heedless of Whitehead’s embarrassment, crowds gathered along the Gresham Street to Guildhall route, with many police called upon to patrol and control.
It was perhaps a welcome distraction from the horror.
For the past six months, London had been transfixed and terrorized by the murders of a series of women in the Whitechapel District of the East End. The last of the horrific slayings — dubbed the “Double Event” as two prostitutes, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, had their throats cut within two hours of each other — was on Sunday, September 30th.
In reality, to blend in on Dorset Street and the rest of Spitalfields, the murderer would have had to appear much less posh.
Although the police had interviewed at least 2,000 people, they had not zeroed in on the man responsible, the same one who may or may not have written taunting letters to the newspapers signed “Jack the Ripper.” There was some hope the killing spree was over, since more than a month had passed. The Lord Mayor’s Show was an occasion to forget fear and try to celebrate.
One person not hurrying to the parade was Jack McCarthy, landlord of many properties in Whitechapel occupied by the destitute, ranging from the respectable working poor to thieves, gamblers, hopeless alcoholics and “Unfortunates,” the Victorian euphemism for prostitutes. As always, McCarthy had money on his mind. Around 10:30 am, McCarthy told his assistant, Thomas Bowyer, to try to collect the rent in arrears at №13…