When The Ripper Came to Town (Part One)

It's hard to say for certain when the killings first started.

While most historians agree that the brutal murder of 43-year-old Mary Ann "Polly" Nicholson on August 31, 1888  is the first confirmed killing linked to the serial killer later known as Jack the Ripper, deaths were hardly uncommon in overcrowded London slums such as Whitechapel.   Still, while police speculated that the  murders of Emma Smith on April 3 and Martha Tabram on August 7 in that same year might have been committed by the same person, they showed few of the trademarks that made the Ripper deaths so terrifying.  In the autopsy report on Polly Nichols, for example, Dr. Ralph Llewellyn stated that her windpipe gullet, and spinal cord had been "cut clean through."  He also noted in his report that her abdomen "had been cut open from centre of bottom of ribs along right side, under pelvis to left of stomach."  She had also been disembowelled with two small stabs "on private parts."  

Though Whitechapel and surrounding areas were considered to be among the worst areas in London, the idea of a serial killer who preyed on women terrified even members of polite London society who might have otherwise ignored what was happening in the slums.  Newspapers reporting lurid details of each killing also carried editorials demanding that something  be done.   One rather entertaining solution appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette which stated, in part:  "There are numbers of well-trained pugilists in Shoreditch and Whitechapel who are, many of them, young, and in the custom in their profession, clean shaved.... Twenty game men of this class in women's clothing loitering about Whitechapel would have more chance than any number of heavy-footed policemen."   Nothing came of this proposal since the game men in question presumably weren't game enough.  

With the murder of Annie Chapman on September 8, anti-Ripper hysteria gripped Whitechapel and police did their best to question anyone who might be their killer.   This included questioning a local man named John "Leather Apron" Pizer whose nickname came from his work in the slaughterhouses and who also had a reputation for violence towards prostitutes.   Broadsheets continued to demand his arrest even after police picked him up and confirmed  that he had alibis for the murders.   Despite his being cleared, the term "Leather Apron" continued to be used as a nickname for the Ripper.  Under pressure to make an arrest, police began picking up any suspect they could find, something that wasn't hard to do considering that Whitechapel had already been a violent place even before the killings began.   That these suspects were released almost as quickly as they could be brought in did little to reassure people afraid to walk the streets at night.    170px-Wanted_poster[1]

Frustrated over the lack of progress, London's Lord Mayor offered a hefty reward for information leading to the Whitechapel murderer's arrest and a special Whitechapel Vigilance Committee was formed by local shopkeepers.  Despite these developments, anti-Ripper hysteria continued to fester and take on some disturbing forms.  Working on the premise hawked by many newspapers that "no Englishman could have perpetrated such a horrible crime,"  vigilantes began targeting anyone deemed to be "foreign."   This included members of the Jewish population in London's East End.   According to one newspaper reporting on the ethnic violence, police and medical staff were "out of their beds nearly all Saturday night on cases of assault."  The paper also warned that "there may soon be murders from panic to add to murders from lust for blood" and that the anger over the Ripper killings would soon "fire the whole district, given in the mood it is in now."

There were also some interesting political developments as well.  Prominent social reformer Samuel Barnett published a letter in The Times on September 19 arguing that the squalor of the Whitechapel slums was largely responsible for the Ripper killings and that there should be a national effort to rehouse the poor living there.  His letter went on to say that, "Whitechapel horrors will not be in vain, if "at last" public conscience awakes to consider the life which these horrors reveal."   He also called for greater police supervision, adequate lighting on the streets, the removal of slaughterhouses that"brutalize innocent natures," and better legislation to protect tenement dwellers from being exploited by absentee landlords.   Though his suggestions were considered too radical for the time, Barnett refused to give up and, slowly but surely, his message gained some support.

To add to the anti-Ripper hysteria, newspapers received a series of bizarre letters supposedly written by the killer himself.  It was one of these letters, published on September 27, that was actually signed 250px-DearBossletterJacktheRipper[1]"Jack the Ripper."  Also known as the "Dear Boss" letter ("Dear Boss" was the salutation), it was almost certainly written by someone hoping to generate  controversy and, sure enough, hundreds of other letters would soon follow though none of them would match the notoriety of the September 28 letter.

The hysteria became even greater when the bodies of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were discovered within hours of each other on September 30.  Though an eyewitness had spotted Stride with a man who had apparently dragged her off, he was unable to give a clear identification afterward.   While Elizabeth Stride's body had not be mutilated, possibly because her killer had been interrupted, he apparently made up for it with Catherine Eddowes' body.  To make Eddowes' murder even more bizarre, parts of her womb, bladder, and kidney were removed and  someone, probably the killer himself, wrote the phrase "The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing" nearby.  Fearing further reprisals against the local Jewish community, Sir Charles Warren (who was then head of the Metropolitan police) gave the controversial order to erase the message before it could even be photographed.

In the aftermath of the Double Event, notices such as the one shown here were posted on doorways and lamp posts across  Whitechapel:

                                                                                                                                                                    POLICE NOTICE

                                                                                                                                                                    TO THE OCCUPIER

On the mornings of Friday, 31st August, Saturday 8th, and Sunday, 30th September 1888, Women were murdered in or near Whitechapel, supposed by some one residing in the immediate neighbourhood.   Should you know of any person to whom suspicion is attached, you are earnestly requested to communicate at once with the nearest Police Station.

But the Autumn of Terror had only just begun....

To be continued




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