Joseph Lawende (9 February 1847 – 9 January 1925) born in Warsaw, Poland, a cigarette salesman, is, with Israel Schwartz, among the most discussed of witnesses in the series of murders committed by the notorious Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel in London in 1888.
On the night of the murder of Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square, Lawende and two companions, Joseph Hyam Levy, a butcher, and Henry Harris, a furniture dealer, left the Imperial Club in Duke's Place just after 1.30 a.m, the time having been checked by the club clock and by Lawende's pocket watch. About fifteen yards from the club, at the entrance to Church Passage, which led to Mitre Square, they saw a man and a woman talking quietly. The woman had her hand on the man's chest. Lawende would later identify the woman as Eddowes by her clothing when he was later shown her body at the mortuary.
Lawende walked slightly apart from his two friends, and was the only one to take any notice of the man's appearance, having glanced at him briefly. He described the man as being of average build and looking rather like a sailor, wearing a pepper-and-salt-coloured loose-fitting jacket, a grey cloth cap with a matching peak, and a reddish neckerchief. Lawende said that the man was aged about 30, with a fair complexion and moustache, being about 5 ft 7-8 inches tall. He did not believe he would be able to identify the man again. The Times newspaper claimed that Lawende had said that the man was about 5 ft 9 inches and was of a shabby appearance.
The Metropolitan Police clearly regarded Lawende as an important witness, because they kept him away from the press and, at the inquest into Eddowes' murder, City Solicitor Crawford said, "Unless the jury wish it, I have special reason for not giving details as to the appearance of this man" (i.e. the killer). The Coroner agreed and Lawende merely provided a description of the man's clothes.
Major Henry Smith of the City Police, in whose area Eddowes had been killed, was impressed by the fact that Lawende was disinterested in the previous 'Ripper' murders, and would not be drawn with leading questions. Smith believed him to be a credible witness.
According to the 1891 census, by 1891 Lawende (listed as a 'Naturalised British Subject') and his wife Annie and their 12 children (all of whom were born in Whitechapel) had moved to Islington and Lawende has 'anglicised' his name to Lavender, a spelling which is continued in the 1901 census. In 1923 Lawende/Lavender was photographed seated for a portrait with his family. This photograph was reproduced for the first time in the online magazine Ripperologist in its January 2008 issue.
Lawende died in London in January 1925.
Anderson and Swanson
Lawende has been identified by some Ripperologists as the witness described by Robert Anderson as "the only person who ever had a good view of the murderer." The annotations written by Chief Inspector Donald Swanson (the ‘Swanson Marginalia’) in his copy of Anderson’s memoirs, The Lighter Side of My Official Life, published in 1910, states that the witness was a Jewish man who would not give evidence against the suspect, namely Kosminski,
"...because the suspect was also a Jew and also because his evidence would convict the suspect, and witness would be the means of murderer being hanged which he did not wish to be left on his mind...And after this identification which suspect knew, no other murder of this kind took place in London...after the suspect had been identified at the Seaside Home where he had been sent by us with great difficulty in order to subject him to identification, and he knew he was identified. On suspect's return to his brother's house in Whitechapel he was watched by police (City CID) by day & night. In a very short time the suspect with his hands tied behind his back, he was sent to Stepney Workhouse and then to Colney Hatch and died shortly afterwards - Kosminski was the suspect - DSS"
However, neither Anderson nor Swanson actually name the witness.
- 'The Jack the Ripper A to Z' by Paul Begg, Martin Fido and Keith Skinner. Pub. by Headline Book Publishing Plc (1996)
- A-Z, (1996) p.239
- Casebook: Jack the Ripper - Jack the Ripper: A Cast of Thousands - Joseph Lawendey at www.casebook.org
- 'Jack the Ripper: Scotland Yard Investigates' by Stewart P. Evans and Donald Rumbelow. Pub. by Sutton Publishing (2006) pg 252