New York, USA
28 December 1897
AN INTERESTING STORY OF THE JACK THE RIPPER MURDER
A chat about circumstantial testimony in murder cases, apropos of the Luetgert case, brings to mind a remarkable instance of the fallibility of human testimony, as regards the identification of a human body, of more recent date than any instance quoted yesterday. It is part of the history of that remarkable series of atrocious murders committed in the Whitechapel district of London, in the autumn of 1888, by a man who is known indefinitely in criminal annals as Jack the Ripper. His fourth victim was a widow named Mary Ann Chapman. Her mutilated body was found at daylight in the yard of a house in Hanbury street. On the shutter of the adjoining dwelling there was found scribbled with chalk the following message from the mysterious assassin: "I have murdered four, and will murder sixteen more before I surrender myself to the police." Sir Charles Warren, who was in charge of the Scotland Yard detective force, caused the prophecy to be erased, and was subsequently severely criticized for having done so without securing a photographic reproduction of the murderer's handwriting. This murder was committed on September 8. On the following October 1, between the hours of 1 and 2 o'clock in the morning, Jack the Ripper had left behind him the mutilated bodies of two more of Whitechapel's unfortunate women. Both crimes were absolutely appalling in the boldness of their execution. One was committed in the yard of a club house while its members were indulging in a weekly discussion. The victim in this case was recognized by her sister, the wife of a tailor, as one Eliza Watts. The tailor's wife was positive in her identification and called special attention to the mark of an adder's bite on one of the murdered woman's legs. She stated that at the very hour of the murder she had a presentiment that something was wrong. At 12.40 o'clock in the morning, she claimed, both she and her husband felt something fall on the bed they occupied. Then she felt three kisses upon her face. She immediately became fearful that evil had befallen her sister, and at once went to the morgue, where her worst fears were realized, and she found her sister's dead body. The identification was made absolutely without reservation, and was supported by the testimony of others. yet at the final session of the coroner's inquest Eliza Watts walked into the hearing room and openly denounced her sister for having maligned her character and for having dared to suggest that she was dead. The corpse was subsequently identified as that of a notorious woman known as Elizabeth Stride.
This instance of the fallibility of human identification sends our thoughts drifting away from the Luetgert case to the historically atrocious crimes of Jack the Ripper. Only the other day a newspaper was published suggesting that a criminal who had been arrested for some fiendish murder in Paris was possibly the mysterious assassin of the Whitechapel district. Among men well informed in criminal affairs it was supposed that the identity of that incarnate fiend was settled some time ago. A well known London physician, Dr. Howard, gave to the world a guarded statement in which he declared by seeming authority that the mysterious murderer was a demented physician afflicted with wildly uncontrollable erotic mania, and that he had been confined in a private asylum for the insane. At the time of this declaration and commenting upon it, the St. Louis Globe Democrat stated openly that it unsealed the lips of a Chicago man who gave a remarkable account of the manner in which the identity of the Whitechapel murderer was fixed beyond the shadow of a doubt. The Dr. Howard referred to was one of a dozen London physicians who sat as a commission in lunacy upon their brother physician, for at last it was definitely proved that the dread Jack the Ripper was a physician in high standing and enjoying the patronage of the best society in the West End of London. When it was proven that he was the murderer and his identity fully established, all persons having knowledge of the facts were sworn to secrecy. Up to the time of Dr. Howard's disclosure this oath had been rigidly adhered to. Robert James Lees, who tracked down the Ripper, developed in early life extraordinary clairvoyant powers. He was the recognized leader of the Christian Spiritualists of Great Britain. While London was shuddering over the third murder Mr. Lees became convinced one day that another tragedy was about to be enacted. He seemed to see a man and woman enter a narrow court. The clock showed the time to be 40 minutes past 12. The man was drunk. He wore a dark suit and carried a light overcoat. In a dark corner of the court he cut the woman's throat and mutilated her lower limbs with a long knife. Then he wiped his knife on the woman's dress, buttoned up his light overcoat to conceal blood stains on his shirt and calmly walked away. Mr. Lees told his vision to a Scotland Yard sergeant, who thought he was a lunatic, but noted the main points of his story. The next night a woman was found murdered and mutilated at the hour and place seen by Mr. Lees. A man carrying a light overcoat had been seen with the woman.
One day while riding with his wife in an omnibus Mr. Lees felt a renewal of the strange sensations which preceded his former clairvoyant condition. The omnibus stopped and a man wearing a light overcoat got in. His face was that of the murderer seen by Mr. Lees in his vision. To his wife he said, "This is Jack the Ripper." The man alighted in Oxford street. Mrs. Lees continued her journey, but her husband followed the man down Park lane. He must have feared danger, for he jumped into a cab and was driven rapidly away. That night Mr. Lees received premonitions that another murder was about to be committed. The face of the murdered woman was clearly defined, and one ear was severed, while the other hung by a shred. Mr. Lees hastened to Scotland Yard and told his story to the head inspector. Trembling and pale that officer showed him a postal card bearing the marks of two bloody fingers and reading as follows:
"Tomorrow night I shall again take my revenge, claiming my ninth victim. To prove that I am really Jack the Ripper, I will cut off the ears of this ninth victim."
By dark the next day 3,000 constables in plain clothes and 1,500 detectives disguised as workingmen were patrolling the courts and alleys of Whitechapel, but Jack the Ripper penetrated the cordon, slew and mutilated his victim, as foretold by Mr. Lees and escaped.
Soon afterward Mr. Lees and two Americans were driving one day when Mr. Lees suddenly exclaimed: "The Ripper has committed another murder." It was then eleven minutes to 8. Ten minutes after 8 the body of another victim was found in the Whitechapel district. Mr. Lees and his companions hurried to Scotland Yard. A few minutes later a telegram arrived detailing a fresh murder. With the inspectors and two officers Mr. Lees and his friends hastened to the scene of the tragedy. Mr. Lees felt a subtle power connecting himself with the fleeing Ripper. All that night the clairvoyant traversed swiftly the streets of London. The inspector and his aids followed close behind. At 4 o'clock in the morning Mr. Lees stopped before a West End mansion, and, pointing to a light in an upper chamber, exclaimed: "There is the murderer." The inspector hesitated to enter, and asked Mr. Lees to describe the interior of the hall. He did so. At 7 o'clock they entered and found the hall as described. The doctor was dumbfounded. He said he had had intervals when all that happened was a blank to him, and expressed horrors at the murders. After the examination referred to above, the Ripper was removed to a private asylum, and by agreement he was reported dead. At the asylum the Ripper, who is now a ferocious maniac, is simply known as Thomas Mason, or No. 124. Is that all true? I don't know. Things have happened equally as strange. The story is vouched for on high authority.