A 7.10 pm on a cold Friday night in London, 1890, a clerk named Somerlea Macdonald stepped around what looked like a drunk woman passed out on the sidewalk. He ignored the woman and kept walking toward his home in Belsize Park, but a few steps later, he stopped, compassion forcing him to turn on his heels and see if the woman was all right. He reached down to shake her shoulder, but her body replied stiffly.
Sensing something was terribly wrong, Somerlea made for Swiss Cottage railway station and found the first officer on duty, summoning him to the site. When the officer approached the body, he knelt, shown his bull’s-eye lantern down the length of her body and then pulled back a cardigan jacket covering her face to reveal a ghastly site.
The woman’s neck had been cut from ear to ear, cut so severely her head was nearly severed from her body. The constable blew into his whistle, calling for help, while the clerk dashed off to fetch a neighborhood doctor.
Meanwhile, in another neighborhood two miles away, a perambulator was found leaning against the front gate at No. 34 Hamilton Terrace. A constable walking his beat found the pram and investigated. On top of the bassinet was a bloody apron and inside a bloodied butterscotch candy still wrapped in paper. Two days later, a child is found dead, apparently suffocated and left for dead in a field off Finchley Road.
The woman and child are eventually connected. A coroner’s inquest is called, the verdict of which leads to a magisterial hearing and then a sensational trial at the Central Criminal Court where 24-year old Mary Pearcey will be found guilty and sentenced to hang.
But did Mary Eleanor act alone? Was the murder premeditated or the impulse of a diseased mind? And why did she murder a woman and child whom she’d befriended and treated with the sincerest forms of kindness? Should she have stood alone in the dock or did she commit the crime in collaboration with a lover who, in her words, “had more power over [her] than anyone on earth?”
Did Mary Eleanor receive a fair trial, or was she sentenced to hang because she was ruled by an “ungovernable passion,” and represented all that was wrong with the “modern woman”?
Was her insistence of innocence the fantasy of a deluded mind, or a clue to unraveling her final request? As her effigy was being cast in wax for a display in M. Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors that would run until the 1970s, Mary Eleanor was giving her solicitor explicit instructions to place an advertisement in a Madrid newspaper, which read:
M.E.C.P. “Did not betray.” M.E.W.
She went to her death with the answer to that riddle on her lips.
To learn more about Mary Eleanor’s life, loves, crimes, and execution, visit the Mary Pearcey blog at: www.sarahbethhopton.com and sign up for the newsletter detailing information about the forthcoming book chronicling Mary Pearcey’s life, “Woman at the Devil’s Door.”
You can also listen to a podcast about Mary Eleanor’s life and explore the theory that she was “Jill the Ripper,” here.
Visit Facebook and become a fan of “Woman at the Devil’s Door,” where you can download photos and video of the crime scene and the characters.
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Jill the Ripper?
A fan of this blog alerts me to a new book they've written on the infamous Mary Pearcey case. Here's a guest post from Sarah Beth Hopton that explains all: