Seven Stars: Murder at 40 Berner Street

In the Shadow of the Seven Stars

Related song: Wrecking Ball

Elizabeth Stride
Elizabeth Stride (b. Elisabeth Gustafsdotter; aka Liz Stride, Long Liz, Anne Fitzgerald)

“Haven’t you heard? A woman has been murdered in the yard?”

Gilyarovsky was out of breath. Everyone thought he was joking.

“You don’t believe me? There was blood.”

Yaffa and Franz ran out of the club and over to the gate. It was dark but they could see a large object on the ground near the brick building. As they came closer, the shape of a woman came into focus. She was lying with her face to the wall and her feet to the gate. Comrades Eygel, Fridenthal and Gilyarovsky were hovering over the body with a lit match.

“Get up!” shouted Eygel.

“Leave her be,” said Yaffa, looking away from the body. “Can’t you see the woman is dead?”

“Louis, see if you can find a policeman.”

Comrade Fridenthal knew they had to take control of the situation. Curious bystanders began to gather outside of the gate. Club members streamed out of the International Worker’s Education Club to see the body, which was now surrounded by a pool of blood. After about ten minutes, the first police constables arrived and began giving instructions to the bystanders. Comrade Eygel was sent to the Leman Street Police Station to report the murder. A second officer left to summon a doctor to the scene.

Outside the International Worker’s Education Club on Berner Street

When the doctor arrived, he examined the body, raising the woman’s head as a policeman illuminated it with his night lantern. Her face was pale green, her hair disheveled and her neck neck sliced wide open. Blood had soaked through her dress near the wound. In her right hand, she held a small sprig of grapes and, in the left, her lifeless hand still clutched a packet of candied breath mints. A red flower was pinned to her breast. There were no knife wounds other than the gash across her neck. The warmth of her body and the liquidity of her blood all suggested to the doctor that the woman had been murdered no more than twenty minutes earlier, perhaps moments before her body had been discovered by Comrade Diemschutz.

Within minutes, the police began to arrive en masse. They locked down the club with all of its remaining members inside. Clearly, the officers suspected club members first and foremost; there had already been widespread rumors that Jews were behind the recent string of murders and the club was already being closely watched by the Metropolitan Police. Comrade Fridenthal was certain the officers would waste valuable time poking and prodding the club members who had been singing in solidarity inside the building while the murder was being committed in the yard; meanwhile, a cold-blooded killer was still on the loose, either fleeing through the streets of Whitechapel or hiding in a nearby home or business.

The police examined everyone in the club carefully. They wanted to see if anyone’s hands or clothing had blood stains on them. The officers collected everyone’s names and addresses and questioned them to see if they had seen anything unusual. The sergeant in charge treated the club members roughly and appeared to regard all of them with suspicion.

During the interrogations, another officer directed Comrade Yaffa to show him a photo of Parsons, the anarchist who had been murdered in Chicago. Yaffa showed him Parson’s photo on the wall and asked him if he wanted to go upstairs to see the rest of them. The sergeant hastily declined and instead asked Yaffa if he could purchase two cigars.

Quickly guessing the officer’s game, Comrade Diemschutz interrupted, “Aren’t you aware that the law prohibits the sale of cigars to strangers in a club?”

To ease the situation, Yaffa handed two cigars to the officer, who received them with a grunt and a nod.

About forty-five minutes passed when word came that a second woman had been murdered about a mile away in Mitre Square near the Duke Place synagogue. The woman had been cut to pieces, much like Annie Chapman. Internal organs had been removed from the body and could not be found at the scene of the crime. The news sent everyone into a panic. People began to run in and out of the club. The policemen searched the entire neighborhood. They looked for the murderer in all the neighboring houses and everywhere on the club premises, including inside the Arbayter Fraynt’s editor’s office, where the editor, Philip Krantz, had been working late that night. They combed every niche and dark corner, apparently still believing that the club and its members were connected to the crimes. Krantz’s office was in the back of the yard and he was working alone that night, so he was questioned by several detectives.

This all went on until about four o’clock in the morning, when a handcart finally arrived to take away the corpse in the yard. It was a terrible scene. The narrow path between the two buildings where the corpse lay was so dark that it seemed like a dungeon even after several lamps were brought to illuminate it. The policemen wrapped the corpse in a white cloth and bound it to the cart.

By morning, the scene at 40 Berner Street had become an object of great curiosity. The club door did not close all day. The police officers and newspaper reporters ran in and out of the club frantically. Knowing that the club would lose money during the commotion following the murder, Comrade Franz got the bright idea of charging reporters an admission fee to interview club members. The reporters still believed that something had happened inside the club itself, so many of them were willing to pay the fee. Though they may not have known it, the money would be spent on propaganda for the socialist club.

On Monday morning at ten o’clock, Comrades Eygel, Diemschutz and Vess were brought before the grand jury to testify about the murder. No one had yet identified either of the murdered women. It wasn’t until midday on Tuesday that a witness came forward to identify the corpse of the woman found in the club yard. The deceased woman, a 38-year-old prostitute known locally as “Long Liz,” was identified by her sister Maria Malcolm.

On Tuesday night, the body of the second woman was identified by a man named John Kelly who recognized a mark on her arm where the initials “T.C.” had been burned into her skin. Though unmarried, Kelly had lived with the woman for seven years on Flower and Dean Street. Her name was Katie and she had been married at least once before to a man named Tom Conway.

Around this same time on Tuesday, the body of another woman was found in the woods in the West End near Westminster. The body had already begun to decompose and, therefore, must have been lying in the woods for some time. More parts were missing from this body than from the body of the woman found in Mitre Square.

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