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'Elephant Man’s’ Grave Discovered in Same Cemetery as Jack the Ripper's Victims

May 8, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

When , had a hunch Merrick might be in the same cemetery as Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols and Catherine “Kate” Eddowes, two of the women Jack the Ripper killed. Merrick lived in the same Whitechapel neighborhood as Polly and Kate, and died just a couple of years after them. Vigor-Mungovin started going through records for the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium, and discovered that Merrick was indeed buried there with them.

“It was what we call a common grave,” Vigor-Mungovin says of Merrick’s plot, which she visited in early May 2019. “There are people below Joseph and probably people above Joseph, so he’s not on his own. And because it’s a common grave, it is usual practice not to have a headstone or for it to be marked.”

The discovery confirms that Merrick, who was very religious, was buried the way he would have wanted—with a Christian ceremony in consecrated ground. Vigor-Mungovin says many people, including herself, have petitioned Queen Mary University of London to give up ownership of his bones and bury them in a Christian ceremony. Now that she’s found his grave, Vigor-Mungovin says it’s enough for her to know that he received the burial he would’ve wanted at the end of his short life.

Merrick was born in Leicester, England on August 5, 1862. Accounts tell us he was a kind, sensitive and intelligent man. He could write, and enjoyed reading Jane Austen novels and the Bible. Around age five, his parents began noticing unusual growth in his skin and bones.

In adulthood, the circumference of his right wrist was one foot, and the circumference of his head was three feet. Merrick also suffered heart problems, had difficulty walking and slept sitting up so he wouldn’t suffocate himself. Doctors today still aren’t sure what medical condition Merrick had, since there are no other documented cases like his (there’s some speculation he had Proteus syndrome).

Illustrations of Merrick featured in a 1886 London medical journal.

At age 17, Merrick began work in a brutal workhouse with little food and poor medical facilities, especially for a person with his unique needs. “One of the jobs the workhouse people used to do was called bone crushing, which is where they’d crush bone for fertilizer,” Vigor-Mungovin says. Because the food there was so bad, “it wasn’t unknown for the workers and inmates to eat the putrid remains of the flesh off of …read more


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