An Honest Eye-Witness Account?

Joseph Lawende believed he saw Jack the Ripper with Catherine Eddowes just minutes before her murder. He clocked the sighting around 1:35 AM, just 10 minutes before Catherine’s body was discovered. He described the man he saw her with as shabby, about 30 years old, about 5 feet, 9 inches tall, with a fair complexion and small, light-colored moustache, and wearing a red neckerchief. This was the first report he gave of the suspect, but further reports alter the facts, particularly regarding his clothes, height, and coloring. When questioned if he would be able to identify the man, he responded that he doubted he would be able to for he had only looked at him for a moment or two. The studies that show the inconsistencies of memory and eye-witness accounts place his testimony in jeopardy. Though he most likely saw a man with Catherine (and he very well was the Ripper), the statements he gave regarding the man’s appearance are shaky at best. The human mind is a faulty organ and for that reason any evidence that rests solely on the shoulders of the brain needs to be questioned and taken with a grain of salt. Changes to his account, his confession that he would not be able to identify the man, and his inability to actually identify James Sadler following the murder of Frances Coles further build a case against Lawende’s evidence. Again, though he may have been correct in his belief that he saw Eddowes with her killer not long before her murder, he probably did not have a strong read on the killer’s appearance. Seeing a man with a woman at night was evidently not an uncommon occurrence along the streets of Whitechapel, so he can acquire no criticism for not paying closer attention to the man. However, his words should not be construed as the end-all, be-all of witness testimonies in the case. His words contradicted himself over time as well as other (apparent) eye-witness reports. Unless he had been able to take a picture of the man (which, of course, he would not have been able to do at the time), his evidence is shaky at best. He obviously thought nothing of the couple and only came forward with his report because of the tragedy. He would have given them no mind if the woman had not turned up dead just minutes later.


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