Murder Most Horrid – Part Three – From Hell

So who was Jack the Ripper? Where did this name come from and what evidence is there to point to the perpetrator of these killings and why were the police not able to catch him?

Whitechapel’s Autumn of Terror as it was called in 1888 was the killing of at least 5 women, most of them being Prostitutes; the official file was opened after the murder of Emma Smith and was officially closed after the horrific death of Mary Kelly. I have previously mentioned the Police force at the time of the killings was not that old and they had limited resources. It has also been explained that Whitechapel was a tough area for any policeman in general let alone one trying to hunt a killer. Not many people trusted the police and another issue was the press at the time of the killings being more hindrance than help to London’s two police forces. Journalists were making their own inquires, vigilante committees were hunting down supposed suspicious looking men and on one occasion the police had to intervene and rescue one man and place him into custody from a mob who was about to hang him, convinced that he was Jack the Ripper.

There was a lot of evidence for the police to sift through, most of it being hoax letters which were more misleading than of use. The team involved in the investigation of the killings were Sir Charles Warren, the Commissioner; James Monroe, who was head of CID; and Dr Robert Anderson who was to replace Monroe when he resigned in the summer of 1888 (Evans and Rumbelow.2006.P.viii).Under Dr Andersons command Chief Inspector Swanson placed together his Ripper Murder Squad which was in place by Chapman’s murder. It Consisted of Abberline, who reported directly to DCI Henry Monroe. He was aided by Detective Inspector John McCarthy. Under them they were backed by Detectives: Reid and an Inspector called Nairn, and three sergeants: Pierce, Thick and Godley. Their job was something which no police officer in Britain and even the world had ever had to come to grips with before.

During the investigation Inspector Swanson had no other cases or tasks to deal with. He set up a Command and control system – all information flowing through one person who is not on field duty, this method is considered by some the best way of running a serial killer investigation. Through the evidence and eye witness statements given to the police during the investigation about 80 sailors were detained, 300 people investigated, 76 butchers and slaughters visited and their characters looked into, even some ‘cowboys’ who worked at the local American exhibition were looked at. It was tough and the police force nearly broke under the strain.

The main evidence that the police had to go on was of course eye witness accounts from the various witnesses at the inquest who saw the murdered women on the nights before they were killed. The descriptions can be seen in the chart below:

Victim Witness Age Height Clothes Hair Other
Ada Wilson   30 5.6 Dark coat. Light trousers. Wide-awake hat. Fair moustache Sunburn face.
Annie Chapman Mrs. Long 40ish Just over 5ft Shabby genteel Deerstalker hat. Dark coat.   Dark complexion. Foreign looking.
Stride.   Young. 5.5 Morning suit. Billycock hat. Black moustache. Sandy eyebrows.  
  William Marshall.   5.6 Neat. Small black cut away suite. Dark trousers. Peaked sailor type house.    
  Matthew tacker. 25-30 5.7 Long black French coat. Soft felt ‘hunter’ hat.   Broad shouldered.
  PC William Smith. 28 5.7 Repeatable dressed. Dark cutaway jacket. Dark trousers. Felt seer stalker hat.    
  James Brown.   5.7 Long coat.   Stout.
  Liskin 30 5.5 Dark jacket. Black cap peak Dark hair. Small moustache. Fair complexion .Full face. Broad shoulders.
Eddowes. Joseph Lawande 30 5.7 Loose fitting salt and pepper colored jacket. Grey peaked cap. Red neckerchief. Fair moustache. Medium build. Fair complexion

As you can see these descriptions vary and ‘experiences of criminal cases shows that eyewitness descriptions of the same man consistently alter from Person to person, in many instances bearing little or no resemblances to the culprit when apprehended.’(Beadle.2009.P.151). So it was tough for the police to whittle this down to one particular man, for numerous reasons, one being that the man described by the witnesses may not have been the murderer and also how accurate were the descriptions.

Another trait that kept coming up in the many descriptions from the witnesses was that the suspect was supposedly Jewish looking which the Police changed the description of a Jewish suspect to a foreign looking suspect and also toned down the press releases as well as ordering all police not to talk to the press. This was to prevent more anti Semitism and more violence. It has already been mentioned that there was a lot of anti-Semitism in Whitechapel at the time and the ‘Leather Apron’ hype and the graffiti made this even worse. The police and press began to look for a foreign suspect, non-British, possible a Jew even as the perpetrator of these crimes as it was unthinkable that a British person could have committed such horrific crimes. The police for a time set their minds on a polish Jew, so most other suspects did not even enter the radar; this was one of the major failures of the whole investigation into the Whitechapel murders.

The Police had a massive role to play in the development of the Autumn of Terror and its aftermath, however another institution which became just as massive was the Media; the Newspapers. It was through the newspapers that the Whitechapel murderer was given the name of Jack the Ripper. It was through their stories that mass hysteria was spread not only through Whitechapel but also through England as well. At the time of the supposed Leather Apron, whom the press stated was a Jewish skipper, 40, black hair was demanding money from prostitutes, later people believe this was to be a John Pizer who had also been heard threatening to rip people up with his knife. This story was only kept alive through the Newspapers who  constantly threw up new suspects…rumours and counter rumours…kept the murders on the front pages and the public interest stimulated.’(Evans and Rumbelow.2006.P.82-3).

Newspapers such as the Daily Star which began in 1888, needed sales. It was cheap and racy and was aimed at the lower white chapel residents. Its head was a man name Thomas P. O’Connor. They constantly printed any link or story supposedly linked to the killings not really having any care on how accurate it was or who they endangered. Some of the journalists, like Frederick Best were sent to the scene of the crimes to investigate and question people but rarely passing this knowledge onto the police. It was one of the biggest stories in Newspaper history and the newspapers sold on an unprecedented sale. The newspapers needed these stories to boost their circulation and in return they ended up keeping up the legend of the Whitechapel murderer. ‘Crowds waited outside the shops until fresh supplies had been brought in, while around those who were successful in obtaining copies gathered yet other crowds, who read with many a muttered exclamation of indignation, the revolting details of the murder.’[1]However by late September the sales of the newspapers began to dwindle and decrease from what they were. Then something was received in the post, a letter which was about to land the Whitechapel murder back onto the front page and the newspapers sales began to rocket again.

The letter was sent to the Central News Agency[2]and at the time was originally treated as a joke, and many now believe it was written by an educated man pretending to be illiterate. The Dear boss letter seems simple and aggressive in its writing style. If it was from the actual killer it would have had more passion in it.

This letter is referred to as the Dear Boss letter and is as follows:

Dear Boss
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they won’t fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shan’t quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the job to lady no time to squeal. how can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I can’t use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha ha. The next job I shall clip the ladys ears off and send them to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out striaght. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance.
Good luck.
Your’s truly,
Jack the Ripper.
Don’t mind me giving the trade name
Wasn’t good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it. No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now ha ha.

This was the first ever reference of the name Jack the Ripper and the name was stick forever more.

More letters were to follow, all claiming to be from Jack. A follow up to the ‘dear boss’ letter arrived on the 1st October, at the central news agency. Smeared with blood it hinted back at its previous letter which was held back, and about the victims and their murders. It is now referred to as the Saucy Jack letter. Both these two letters are believed to be from the same author. Many more letters were sent to the press and police over the next few weeks and months, probably all of these being hoaxes, some were even written by females, and those who were caught were prosecuted. For some it seems that the police wasted time searching for the authors of these letters, but it was a necessity for them to try and put a stop to these letters, as they were preventing the police focusing their energy where it was needed.

On the 16th October Mr. Lusk, the leader of the Whitechapel vigilante committee, received a small parcel at his home. It came with a letter which is believed to be the closest to being from the real killer. It also came with half human kidney. Some have said that this kidney could have been taken from anyone and there is no proof it came from Catherine Eddowes.

It read like this:

From hell

Mr. Lusk
I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved

 it foryou tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may

send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a

whil longer

Catch me when you Can Mishter Lusk.

As previously stated many of these letters were of little note and were written by a wide range of people from all classes and areas. But what of the letters or note, the main one who gave us the infamous name of Jack the Ripper. If it was a hoax who thought of the name? Many Ripperologist now believe that the author of the Dear Boss Letter and therefore creator of the name Jack the Ripper was a journalist called Tom Bullen, who also happened to be working for the Daily Star. Evidence to back this up is that the letter was sent to the Central News Agency not just to one paper in general, this is an indication that the author knew what they were doing. By sending it to the Agency they knew they were getting the full coverage. This theory of the letter being authored by a journalist was also believed by some high ranking officers of the time. It was also mentioned by a journalist. R.T. Hopkin in his book Life and Death at the Old Bailey (1935) he refers to the letter and its author, a journalist who had a breakdown of sometime, which it seems Bullen did.

The theory of the author of the letter being a Journalist from the Star has also been put forward. In an article Crime and Detection  there is a mention a third hand account after talking to the 70 year old Best in his 60s explaining that it was to keep the business alive, to keep the killings on the front page, to keep their papers selling.

The newspapers however were not the only hindrance to the police investigations. It was also the vigilante committees which caused problems. One of the main ones was the Whitechapel Vigilante Committee, began around the time of Chapman’s murder on the 10th of September 1888 and was headed by George Lusk who was to later receive the kidney and the From Hell letter. Lusk was a 49 year, an old building contractor and free Mason. He was an active member of the committee and shared the opinion of others that a reward should have been offered for any information the perpetrator of the horrific crimes. The Metropolitan Police refused to offer any reward at the time.

Soon many more committees were set up by local people of the Whitechapel area. They began roaming the streets in the hope of catching the murderer, however most of the time they went after the wrong people, a lot of the time chasing and hounding men of the Jewish religion. As a result of this more police were drafted into the area to patrol to make sure no more violence was committed. It could be said that with so many people of the streets like the police and the vigilantes did this deter the killer for a while. Was this a reason why the last killing was committed inside as it was a lot safer?

So what is behind the name of Jack the Ripper? Why was it chosen, whether its author was the killer himself or a journalist the thought behind the name has allowed it to promote fear long after the case was over and the victims long buried.                                                                                                    

The name Jack was a very common name at the time of the killings and before, being a variety of the name John. It has links with many other stories and tales in history like Jack the giant killer, the rhyme Jack be nimble and also with the legend of Spring Heeled Jack. Spring heeled Jack was a Victorian supernatural being who attacked women in horrific ways. Fire breathing with long talons, supposedly attacking victims around 1838 and 1904 and also often appearing in the Penny Dreadful’s. The victim’s wounds were also sometimes referred to as being ripped, and also being ‘a ripper’ was London slang for being a bad person. Therefore the name of Jack the Ripper seems to fit the crimes, a far better name that the Whitechapel Killer or Leather Apron. The name in fact seems more infamous than the crimes themselves.

[1] East London Observer 15th September 1888.

[2] Set up in 1870 by William Saunders who was an MP, Philanthropist, social reformer and businessman. It was a media service which collated reports by telegram from correspondents through U.K and Abroad. (Evans and Skinner (2) 2001, page 14)

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