Frances Coles
13rd February 1891

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The last murder recorded by the police as belonging to the Whitechapel Murders was that of Frances Coles. Fully two and a half years since the last definitively attributed Jack the Ripper killing, her body was found, throat cut in a quiet thoroughfare in the early hours of Friday 13th February 1891. While her status as a 'true' Ripper victim cannot be ascertained, if she was then only fate prevented a policeman from having the best opportunity to catch the killer almost in the act. 

Perhaps the most "respectable" of the victims, Frances Coles had been working in prostitution for as much as 8 years, yet had successfully kept the fact hidden from friends and family - although her sister noticed that she looked tired and dirty during their last Christmas together in 1890.

On the night of her murder, she was involved with a man - James Sadler - who continues to be held under suspicion of her murder. He had already been involved in a violent altercation that night, when he was robbed in Thrawl Street and was described as being in a belligerent mood. She herself had been sharing a room with him and was also drunk. Separately, they were both turfed out of their doss house when they failed to produce payment.

Sadler was also involved in a further fight with dock labourers at 1:50am, trying to force his way back onto a ship from which he had been discharged two days before. He was given a fairly severe beating and was seen at various points both clearly drunk and covered in blood.

Around the same time, Coles was with fellow prostitute Ellen Callana. Callana was approached by a potential client who punched her in the eye when she refused his business. Despite the man's evident propensity for violence, Coles decided she would go with the man.

Around 2:15am P.C. Ernest Thompson was on his first night beat alone and was walking along Chamber Street. He heard the retreating footsteps of a man heading towards nearby Mansell Street as he entered Swallow Gardens. Swinging his lamp around in the gloom, he saw the body of Coles. Her throat was cut and blood was flowing freely from it. Horrifyingly, she then opened and closed one of her eyes. Procedure (and, it must be said, common humanity) demanded that he could not leave the woman's side as she was still alive, and so Thompson could not give pursuit to the footsteps he had heard just seconds before. If she was indeed alive, she died in the few following minutes before help could arrive.

At 2:25, another constable and a plain clothes detective arrived on the scene and a doctor was found, but it was too late for Frances Coles - and for PC Thompson who would spend the remainder of his life haunted by the idea that he had failed to capture Jack the Ripper. Tragically, he was killed himself while intervening in a robbery just 9 years later.

A Ripper Killing?

At the inquest into her death, it was found that Coles had died from blood loss resulting from the cut to her neck. Taken by itself, and the fact that she was a prostitute, there is a prima facie similarity to the other Ripper killings.

However, unlike the other crimes in the series, the knife used was ascertained to have been relatively blunt. The doctors concluded that she had been thrown onto her back before the killer had cut her throat. The canonical style of the Ripper was to first strangulate his victims into unconsciousness before commencing with his knife. Furthermore there were no signs of an attempt to mutilate the body - although it must be allowed that the killer may have heard PC Thompson's approach and fled before any such attempt was made.

Suspicion ever since has been on James Sadler as her murderer. He was clearly both drunk and violent throughout the night and was involved in an angry exchange with Coles earlier that evening. He also sold a blunt knife to a fellow sailor the following morning.

However, the police investigation against him determined that the knife was too blunt to have caused the injuries (the man who bought it from him had to sharpen it to even eat his dinner) and that Sadler was most likely too uncoordinated through alcohol to have been physically capable of the attack. Witnesses reported that around this time he could barely stand, much less attack and kill a woman.

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