Polly Nichols & the Birth of the Serial Murder
by Rob Carbone
“It was twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…”
Beatlemaniacs, including my twelve year old daughter, can immediately sing the rest of this song for you and also tell you all about the “Paul is dead” urban legend behind it. But 121 years ago today a different Brit, known to the world only by his nickname, wrote lessons in the blood of five Whitechapel prostitutes. And Richard Speck, “Green River Killer” Gary Ridgeway, and Boston Strangler *Albert Desalvo would eventually become honor students in the school of serial murder.
Just before midnight on August 30th, 1888, Mary Ann Nichols (known as Polly to her friends and the police) was walking the streets of Whitechapel. Polly was what was referred to as a ‘schilling whore,’ as were many of the women in the Whitechapel district who supported themselves, their families, and more often than not their excessive drinking habits, by engaging in the worlds oldest profession. For a few pennies a man could engage in sexual congress with these women and if he was unlucky he would also contract a communicable disease!
Polly, like many prostitutes of the time, lived in lodging houses that cost about 4 pennies a night. For this princely sum you would get a bed and a blanket and if you were lucky you shared a private room with up to 8 other women. The problem was that Polly, like so many others who made their livings pressed up against walls of back alleys, had a drinking problem as well as a prioritization problem. Many chose to drink their earnings and sleep on the streets at night. But August 1888 was one of the wettest in recent history and indoor accommodations were required.
Determined to enjoy her gin, Polly was prepared to make economies and sought lodging in a less expensive (and less private) lodging house where she could sleep in a common room with one hundred or more other unfortunates. Her first attempt was at the Frying Pan Lodging house where her request that they hold a bed for her until she earned her rent was rebuffed. After trying one or two other locations who’s names are lost to history, she returned to her original lodging house and after sharing a quick cup of tea with a few other residents announced that she would be back shortly with her ‘doss’ money, proclaiming “See what a jolly bonnet I’ve got now!” Obviously, if Julia Roberts wore a hat in ‘Pretty Woman’ she could have snagged Donald Trump!
Later that evening Polly would run into another prostitute, Emily Holland, and informed her that she had earned and spent her doss money three times over already. Emily later put the time of their meeting at 2:30 AM on August 31st, as she remembered the church bells ringing the hour. Emily would be one of the last people to see Polly alive. CONTINUED at www.truestorieslaworder.com.
Rob Carbone, amateur historian, dedicated Ripperologist, and when time allows, marketing professional, grew up on Long Island in a family surrounded by crime. His dad was a 33 year veteran first grade detective in the NYPD who would play his suspect interview tapes for Rob. Rob learned a healthy respect of guns and developed a healthy fascination with historic criminal minds.
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