Stephen White was born in 1854. He joined the Metropolitan Police in 1875, warrant number 59442. He was posted to L Division (Lambeth) and then later, when promoted to Sergeant, he was moved to H Division (Whitechapel). In 1894 he was promoted to Inspector which was the rank he held when he retired in 1900. He died in 1919.
Soon after White's death an article appeared in the "People's Journal" relating to the Whitechapel murders. It was written in the first person and tells how White and two other men had for five nights "been watching a certain alley just behind the Whitechapel Road. It could only be entered from where we had two men posted in hiding. . ."
White had come to hear the two officers latest report and "I was turning away when I saw a man coming out of the alley. He was walking quickly..." White got a good look at the man and tried to engage him in conversation without much success. As the man walked away "one of the police officers came out of the house he had been in, and walked a few paces into the darkness of the alley. 'Hello! What is this?' he cried..." The police officer had discovered "a body of a woman, and a pool of blood was streaming along the gutter from her body". White tried to catch up with the man he had seen "but he was lost to sight in the dark labyrinth of the East End mean streets."
The main problem with this story is that in does not conform with any of the ripper murders or indeed any known murders of that period. It would be easy to dismiss the whole thing as total fiction but it just might contain a particle of truth. The only ripper murder that comes close to having any resemblance to the above description is that of Catharine Eddowes in Mitre Square. If we accept for argument's sake that this is what White was referring to then several questions are raised.
What were the police doing? White says that they had been watching the alley for five nights. The police could not be watching every alley, street etc where the killer might strike as they simply did not have the manpower to do so. Therefore, White and the others must have been involved in something else. The Great Synagogue and the Imperial Club were both just off Duke Street and were close to Mitre Square. Both these sites were potential meeting places for Jewish radicals. The Hebrew Socialist Union had been formed in Gun Street, Spitalfields in 1876 and in 1889, following a march from Berner Street to the Great Synagogue, a riot was to take place outside the International Workers' Educational Club near where Liz Stride's body was found. It is therefore possible that White and the others were actually observing the movements of a group of Jewish radicals at a location near Mitre Square.
If these events took place why do we not know more about them? White was in the Metropolitan Police but Mitre Square was in the jurisdiction of the City Police so it is possible that he and the others had strayed out of their territory when observing whoever they were observing. This was fine as long as they were just watching people and any arrest could wait until potential suspects were back in Met. territory. However, If the City Police discovered that Met. officers had been operating on their territory there would have been a lot of trouble.
An example of the problems caused by jurisdiction is the case of the Goulston Street Graffito. Eddowes was murdered on City Police ground but the piece of her apron and the writing were just inside the boundaries of the Met's area of jurisdiction. Inspector Halse (City Police) wanted the writing left until it could be photographed but Superintendent Arnold (Met.) wanted the writing erased in case it caused a riot against the Jews. Arnold was supported by Sir Charles Warren and since the writing was in Met. territory their views prevailed. Halse and the other City Police had to stand back helplessly as potential evidence was destroyed even though it related to a crime on their patch!
Relations between senior members of the Metropolitan and City Police were not good. It is very clear from Henry Smith's memoirs that he did not like Robert Anderson and Warren and Arnold's actions relating to the graffito, overruling City Police protests, were unlikely to endeer them to City officials. Thus, the Met. would not wish to give the City any ammunition in their feud and Met. officers trespassing on City ground was ammunition indeed.
Another reason that the Met. would want to keep the activities of White and company quiet was simply that they would not want to alert those under observation that they were under observation.
What about the man White saw? White described the man he saw as being about 5ft 10 inches tall, rather shabbily dressed, with jet black hair and a long thin face. This does not really fit with other descriptions of men seen with the victims. If White had seen the killer then this description should have been circulated, if not publicly then at least to some officers. The fact that no mention of this man exists in the surviving files suggests that either the incident did not occur or the man was not considered a serious suspect. Perhaps White saw a man and then a few minutes later the murder was discovered and over time White created a connection between the 2 events which were in fact totally separate.
White's story does have some support for it in the form of Amos Simpson and "Catharine Eddowes shawl". However, this source presents problems of its own.
Amos Simpson was born in 1847 at Acton, Sudbury, Suffolk. He joined the Metropolitan Police in 1868 and was posted to Y Division (Kentish Town). In 1881 he was promoted to Acting Sergeant and in 1886 he was posted N Division (Islington). At its Southern point N Division is very close to the City boundary and Mitre Square. Simpson retired sometime around 1893 and he died on 10th April 1917 at Barrow Hill, Acton.
A family tradition has it that Simpson was on "Special Duties" with two or three other men and was the first policeman to find Catharine Eddowes' body. He is also supposed to have found her shawl which he picked up and kept. This shawl is now in Scotland Yard's Black Museum having been placed there by Simpson's great great nephew. It is a silk screen printed shawl with a dark green background, brown edges and a pattern of flowers on it. This sounds quite like Eddowes' dress which the East London Observer (10 Oct 1888) described as "made of green chintz, the pattern consisting of Michaelmas daises". A section of the shawl has been cut out, reputedly because it was blood-stained. Southeby's were asked to give a date for the shawl and they guessed that it was made around about the early 1900's but said that dating such things was difficult. Simpson being on "Special Duties" with two or three others is similar to what White said and Simpson could have been the officer who White said found Eddowes' body. However, if we look at the timing of events that night there is a problem.
1:30 PC Edward Watkins walks through Mitre Square and sees nothing unusual.
1:35 Joseph Lawende, Joseph Hyam Levy and Harry Harris see a man and a woman, possibly Stride, at Church Passage which leads to Mitre Square.
1:40 PC James Harvey walks along Church Passage to the edge of Mitre Square and sees nothing out of the ordinary.
1:45 PC Watkins re-enters Mitre Square and discovers Eddowes' body.
This means that the killer only had about five minutes to kill and mutilate Eddowes. If Simpson found the body before Watkins did, picked up Eddowes' shawl and left again before Watkins returned to the square this cuts down the time the killer could have had. It is pushing credibility a bit too far to suggest that killer just happened to pick the only 3-4 minutes in which he could kill Eddowes without being caught. The ripper was lucky enough to avoid Watkins and Harvey but if there was another policeman then it was not lucky it was miraculous!
Keith Skinner has pointed out that "special duties" could mean that Simpson was just drafted into the area like many others were during the height of the ripper scare. If this was the case then Simpson would still have been in uniform and therfore not likely to be carrying out the kind of duties White has described. Things might make slightly more sense if Simpson was the first Metropolitan Police officer on the scene of Eddowes' murder rather than the first officer from either force. In other words he arrived after PC Watkins but before anybody else.
What happened that night? What follows is based on the assumption that there is some truth in the White and Simpson stories and that the two men were both on duty that night.
Stephen White is on duty with two other officers. All three men are in plain clothes. They are watching a street near Mitre Square, very possibly Duke Street, in an attempt to observe the movements of Jewish radicals.
Amos Simpson, in uniform, is on patrol somewhere very near the City boundary. He has been drafted into the area along with many others.
White observes a man, or possibly men. He might even have seen Joseph Lawende, Joseph Hyam Levy and Harry Harris as the three men had been at the Imperial Club. White said that the man he saw was "foreign in appearance" and this often meant Jewish.
PC Watkins discovers Catharine Eddowes' body in Mitre Square and he and the night watchman at the warehouse on the edge of the square make a lot of noise in order to get assistance.
Simpson hears the commotion and heads off to the square (the boundaries were not inviolate, remember that later that night Inspector Halse was to be in Goulston Street which was Met. territory). He arrives and finds Eddowes' shawl. Perhaps it is some distance from the body or Simpson removes it before anybody has had a good look at Eddowes' body and so it is not missed.
White also hears the noise and he heads towards the square. He arrives after Simpson who tells him briefly what has happened. White decides that it would be better if they left as they are outside their jurisdiction and by now there are other City police on the scene who can manage without their assistance. The two men leave and Simpson still has the shawl.
Over the years memories become hazy. White remembers seeing a man and then a body being found. Simpson becomes the first officer to find the body.
Maybe the description above is what happened but then again maybe not. The White story could be complete fiction or refer to another incident. The Simpson tradition could just be a story. The shawl could be from the site of another murder or could be any old shawl dipped in animal blood. There was a certain prestige to be gained by being the first officer at the scene of a murder and several officers, including Walter Dew, claim this honour in the case of Mary Kelly. Perhaps Simpson wanted to impress people and told his tale about finding Eddowes' body first. Who knows?
If the White and Simpson stories are even partially true then it suggests that there were a lot of people around Mitre Square and that the killer was lucky to get away. The shawl that is now in the Black Museum reminds us that even after all this time the events of that night are still shrouded in mystery.
Begg, Paul & Fido, Martin & Skinner, Keith The Jack the Ripper A to Z (London : Headline, 1991)
Fishman, William J East End Jewish Radicals 1875-1914 (London : Duckworth, 1975
Howells, Martin & Skinner, Keith The Ripper Legacy (London : Sphere, 1988)
O'Donnell, Kevin The Jack the Ripper Whitechapel Murders (St Osyth : Ten Bells, 1997)