|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 11, June 1997. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.|
Andy Aliffe - February 1997,
Edwin Thomas Woodhall was born in 1886. Having had a basic military training in his teens, he fulfilled a long held ambition when in 1906, aged 20, he joined the London Metropolitan Police Force.
From his very first day he was destined to cross paths and come into daily contact with many names connected with the Jack the Ripper investigation.
Woodhall says of those early days "I was prepared to serve as a uniformed constable in order to realise my ambition to become a detective. Never shall I forget my fears that I might not be accepted. I was under regulation height by half an inch, but the late Chief Inspector John McCarthy, who never failed to help and encourage the younger members of the police, took an interest in me, and my first-class army training and splendid physical fitness secured my appointment. I had the distinction of becoming the smallest officer in the Metropolitan Police."
PC John McCarthy, as he was in 1888, was involved in the Ripper case and is mentioned in the Macnaghten Memoranda as being involved with the Cutbush case of 1891. Woodhall also worked under Sir Melville, to whom he dedicates his book "Secrets of Scotland Yard".
His former `Bosses' included Chief Inspector Littlechild, Sir Basil Thomson and Chief Inspector A. F. Williamson. He worked with Walter Dew on the Crippen case, and knew Sergeant Andrews (who discovered the body of Alice McKenzie) very well. He also knew, worked and associated with Chief Inspector Wensley, Sergeant Benjamin Leeson, Inspector Godley and Constable John Neil, who found the body of Mary Ann Nichols.
Woodhall also speaks highly of Chief Inspector Swanson and Inspector Abberline, saying "Swanson in 1888 is best recalled for the work he undertook in the general inquiries, supervision, investigation and reports upon the Whitechapel murders committed by the "blood lust" maniac, Jack the Ripper. Abberline by all accounts was the same class of man in his work as is our present Chief Constable John Horwell."
So, over many years of police service, Woodhall rubbed shoulders with beat policemen and officers directly involved in the Ripper case, many who shared with him their own stories and theories which he would eventually use as the basis for his own book.
Woodhall worked his way through the ranks and departments, finishing up having held posts in several of the specialist areas of policing; Special Political Branch, M15, Secret Intelligence Police and Protective Surveillance.
His work with the Special Political Branch led to a meeting with Lenin at a Nihilist gathering in Jubilee Street in London's East End, and as part of the Protective Surveillance team he was "Guardian Detective" for King Edward VII, King George V, Winston Churchill, Lloyd George, many crown heads of Europe and also a variety of statesmen and diplomats. The culmination of his distinguished military and espionage work was during the First World War when he single-handedly captured Percy Topliss, the "Monocled Mutineer".
In 1915 Woodhall joined the counter-espionage department of the Intelligence section of the Secret Police based at Boulogne, guarding the Prince of Wales, who was attached to the General Staff in France. He took over as the new chief of the Etaples police, a force drawn from servicemen who had been policemen in civilian life.
Intelligence gathering led him to information on Topliss's whereabouts. Mounting his trusty motorcycle, he rode off to the outskirts of the village where Topliss had been seen in a local bar. He completed the final stages of his journey into the village street disguised as a French Priest, riding on horseback. He entered the building and was followed several minutes later by two policemen who were astonished to find a group of bewildered French customers surrounding an English speaking priest, holding up a monocled British Army Captain at gunpoint.
Immediately arrangements were made for a court martial. The charges were never brought. The court never sat. The glory short lived. Topliss escaped the next day!
"Jack the Ripper or When London Walked in Terror" (1937) had been preceded by a chapter in an earlier Woodhall book, "Crime and the Supernatural". The opening paragraph states "In a blacked japanned box somewhere in the archives of the British Home Office are confidential papers concerning the identity of the most mysterious and spectacular murders of the last hundred years Jack the Ripper." Woodhall goes on to say that not all the crimes attributed to Jack the Ripper were perpetrated by him, an interesting comment for that time, especially armed with earlier personal information and his close contact with those connected to the case. The rest of the chapter follows the Lees/Clairvoyant/Gull story, which Woodhall says was believed by many senior officers at the time.
When researching"... London Walked in Terror", Woodhall spent many weeks in the East End questioning friends, neighbours and relatives of the Whitechapel victims and used the memories of many former policemen. A retired policeman from "H" Division even showed him an old and yellowing mortuary photograph of a body believed to have been Jack the Ripper himself.
He also visited the Black Museum, making a reference to the Death mask of Klosowski/Chapman, along with copies of his medical and birth certificates. Interestingly he doesn't mention the Jack the Ripper letter. He was also given access to some of the material in the files.
However, with all this material Woodhall makes his first mistake by misnaming Mary Jane Kelly as Marie J. Taylor, which is corrected in the relevant chapters. He confuses the Macnaghten/Dr Holt/White Eyed Man incident.
The rest of the book follows the details of the crimes and victims known at the time; rehashes the Lees, George Chapman, and Dr Stanley theories, but includes an interesting chapter on Olga Tchkersoff/Jill the Ripper. Tchkersoff was a Russian immigrant living in the East End who blamed Mary Jane Kelly for her sister Vera becoming involved in prostitution, avenging her by killing Kelly and her associates. Olga confessed to an elderly Russian couple who disposed of the knife by throwing it overboard from the ship when emigrating to America. They repeated the story to an American journalist and it eventually appeared in a "well known and popular New York paper". This article has never been traced.
Woodhall eventually left the Secret Service to found a Detective Agency. He had more than forty books published, mainly based on famous old crimes. He also appeared in a Peter Lorre film in the 1930's, narrating the prologue. His scripts fetched thousands of pounds. However, he died penniless in 1941.