Mary Pearcey was executed on 23 December 1890 for the murder of Phoebe Hogg and her infant daughter also named Phoebe. Some elements of this murder were similar to the 1888 Whitechapel murders and Mary has been considered as a potential candidate for being Jack the Ripper. It is also claimed that her apparition has been seen, wandering the streets around Whitechapel.
Mary Eleanor Wheeler was born in 1866. She was fairly attractive described as having ‘shapely hands’ and even though she was an alcoholic suffering from epilepsy and bouts of depression, she certainly did not have any trouble attracting men. She took the name Pearcey from John Charles Pearcey who was a carpenter that she used to live with before he threw her out for seeing other men. Though she never married John she kept his name, possibly because of the stigma attached to her own surname of Wheeler. On 29th November 1880, whilst Mary was just fourteen years old, her father, Thomas Wheeler was executed for the murder of a local farmer called Edward Anstee.
In 1888, one of her male admirers called Charles Creighton rented some rooms for her at 2 Priory Street, Kentish Town. When not entertaining Charles, she would put a light in her window so that another man she was interested in, Frank Samuel Hogg, a local furniture remover would know he come around to visit her.
It would seem that Mary genuinely loved Frank Hogg and was apparently impressed with his printed business cards. Letters to Frank from Mary were introduced at her trial to show her passion for him. Frank however had at least one other woman he was involved with, Phoebe Styles. When Phoebe fell pregnant with Frank’s child they were married. One account says Mary urged Frank to marry Phoebe, whilst another account shows that she seemed to accept the marriage and would be Phoebe’s friend, but she still wanted to maintain her relationship with Frank. Phoebe married Frank in November 1888 and their daughter Phoebe Hanslope Hogg was born around May 1889. Throughout this time Frank and Mary had continued their affair as usual.
Mary murdered Phoebe (aged 32) and her baby on 24 October 1890. Mary sent a young boy to Phoebe’s inviting her for afternoon tea. Mid afternoon a neighbour of Mary’s heard some breaking glass but received no reply when went around too enquire about the cause. At 19.00 a man returning home from work discovered the as yet unidentified body of Phoebe Hogg, her head wrapped in a cardigan. Her throat had been so deeply cut that her head was nearly severed from her body. Her head and arms were bruised and she had a fractured skull. It was evident her body had been dumped in a heap of rubbish on a pavement on Crossfield Road and that she had been murdered at another location. She was taken to Hampstead Police Station before being forwarded to the morgue.
Mary had moved the body of Phoebe in a large black pram. This blood soaked pram was found a mile away from the body in Hamilton Terrace. On 25 October 1890 the body of infant Phoebe was found in Finchley. She had been smothered. It is unsure whether she had been purposely killed after her mother or whether her mother’s body had been put in the pram on top of the baby whilst she was alive, only to be suffocated by the weight of the corpse.
Phoebe was reported missing by Frank and his sister Clara. Clara asked Mary to attend the morgue with her in order to see if the body, which had by then been reported in the papers, was that of Phoebe. Upon seeing the body, Mary is supposed to have indicated that it was not Phoebe, though Clara did correctly identify her sister in law and recognised her now stained pram. Mary drew attention to herself by becoming hysterical and interfering with Clara’s identification.
Frank was an obvious suspect, but the Police investigation turned its attention on Mary when their affair was discovered and following suspicions about her behavior at the morgue. The evidence against Mary proved overwhelming.
1) On the day of the murder, Mary had been seen pushing the pram with a large item inside it.
2) Her rooms showed the clear signs of there having been some kind of a struggle there, including two windows being smashed.
3) There were blood splaters and stains in the kitchen, ceiling and on a rug. The rug smelled as if she had attempted to clean it with parafin.
4) Blood stains on a poker and a carving knife.
5) Mary’s clothing was bloodstained.
6) Mary had scratches n her hands which indicated she had been involved in an incident.
7) Mary also had Phoebe’s wedding ring.
Mary tried to explain the blood away saying she had killing mice. The Police were unconvinced. She had a committal hearing on 28 October 1890 and her actual trial which lasted three days started on 1 December 1890. She pleaded not guilty but did noy give evidence at the trial. She was pronounced guilty after 52 minutes deliberation and sentenced to death by Mr Justice Denman.
The executioner was James Berry and outside Newgate a crowd of three hundred waited to hear bell from St Sepulchre’s ring to confirm the sentence had been carried out. It is said Berry described Mary as the calmest person at the execution.
Prior to her death Mary had asked her solicitor, Mr Freke Palmer to place an advert in a Madrid newspaper. This advert simply said; “MECP Last wish of MEW. Have not betrayed. MEW”. Mary wold not expain the meaning of the message or why it was to go in a Spanish newspaper. She also refused to admit to the murder of Phoebe, even at this late hour to her own solicitor. ‘MEW’ probably sttod for Mary Eleanor Wheeler, so it was meant for someone who new her by her old name.
It has been said that Mary has been seen on the streets of Whitechapel many times, sometimes waering bloody clothes and other times pushing the pram which she used to dispose of the two bodies. She is said to sometimes push the carriage out into oncoming traffic, though both she and the pram quickley disppear.
Mary lived in Kentish Town, the baby was found in Finchley and Phoebe dumped in Camden, so why is Mary said to haunt Whitechapel?