31 December 1888
The Bradford murder is as horrible as any of the series to which by its nature it belongs. It is not more horrible. These crimes have reached a pitch of cold blooded atrocity which leaves comparison out of the question. The victim is a little boy of eight, named John Gill, who was last seen alive on Thursday morning, and whose remains, mutilated with a barbarity that must have been almost grotesque in its effect, were found on Saturday morning in a stable yard at the back of the street in which his parents live. They had been placed there shortly before daybreak, for a policeman who had searched the place in the ordinary course of his duty between four and five on Saturday morning found no trace of them. The little fellow was in the habit of accompanying a milkman on his rounds, and on Thursday morning early he was seen on the man's cart, as he had often been seen before. He never returned home. His distracted parents, poor working people, advertised for him in the papers, and searched for him everywhere, except in the yard within a stone's throw of their own house, where the body was found. The mutilations were indescribably ghastly. They were evidently effected with great deliberation, though without skill; and the fragments of the body were found to the outside of the garment in which the trunk was packed. They entirely preclude the notion of a purpose of mere concealment. The ingenuity of the murderer seems to have run riot in inventions of cold blooded butchery. Every circumstance of the crime, therefore, seems to have reached the extreme limit of horror. We can never hear of anything worse.
William Barrett, the milkman in whose company the child was last seen alive, has been arrested, and on Saturday afternoon he was brought before the magistrates for a first examination. According to his account, the little boy left him at half past eight to go home to breakfast, but at present no one has come forward to confirm the statement. The circumstances warrant a suspicion, but, of course, no more than that, in the present stage of the affair. The stable of this man's employer is close to the scene of the crime, and when the police went there on Saturday morning they found that part of the flooring had been quite recently washed. Some sacks lay in a corner, and folded up beneath them was a piece of coarse cloth bearing stains which have been submitted to the examination of the borough analyst. The prisoner at first denied all knowledge of it, but he afterwards gave an account of his possession of a similar piece of cloth which has not been confirmed, though, on the other hand, it has not been disproved. A large bread knife, said to correspond in make to the shape of some of the wounds, has been found in his house. It has been recently cleaned, but the man's wife says it was cleaned by her in the ordinary course of her housework. The police think that the murder was not committed in the place where the body was found, but that the remains were taken into the yard at an hour of the morning at which the accused might have been about. It is needless to say that they will want much more evidence than this to connect him with the crime. Our Bradford correspondent telegraphs that they have more. On the value of the evidence already adduced it is neither possible nor desirable to say one word. It ought to be stated, however, that Barrett expresses confidence in his ability to prove his innocence, and that on the whole his demeanour is not that of a guilty man. The Bradford police, on the other hand, deserve credit for their promptitude in making an arrest that may at least be described as one of consequence. They have instituted an immediate and vigorous search of the premises of the suspected person, and they have taken the precaution of photographing the remains in the exact position in which they were found. All this may be no more than their obvious duty, but it is much to be thankful for, after the fatuity which erased the handwriting on the wall in Whitechapel, and after the series of futile arrests in that neighbourhood on no better principle of selection than that which governs the game of blindman's buff.
There is nothing to show that this murder has any other connection with the crimes in Whitechapel than that of a general identity of horrors. It may, indeed, by pretty safely assumed that, like the atrocities at Havant and at Poplar, it is the work of an independent hand. It is too much to believe that one single monster is ranging the country, and signalising his presence in every town by a deed of blood. On the other hand, it may safely be said that but for the Whitechapel crimes neither the tragedy of Bradford nor that of Poplar would have been signalised by these ghastly and purposeless mutilations. Crime is imitative, and one monster often sets a fashion for a score. The Gateshead murderer, recently executed, would no doubt in ordinary circumstances have killed his victim by one swift stroke, and there left her, but for his known emulation of the miscreant of Buck's row. He was always talking of the Whitechapel murderer, and, when at length he had a crime to commit on his own account, he made a clumsy imitation of his hero's method of procedure. The mutilations are the signs of the epidemic, and it is, unfortunately, a good deal too early to say that we have heard the last of them. They owe their origin to peculiarities of nature which are among the mysteries of mental disease. No one who is not in the dreadful secret of the lowest forms of moral perversion can even begin to understand them. If the author of but one of them could be found, his confession might afford the indispensable clue to the discovery of all the rest.
IS LONDON GROWING BETTER?
Notwithstanding all Mr. McCree's jubilant optimism, I say emphatically No; and I think I know at least as much of London as a whole as Mr. McCree knows of his own district. If he has been able to establish a little oasis in Blackfriars, all honour to him! But when he says such smooth things of the great desert of sin and suffering all around us, I regard it as misleading and mischievous. Might I suggest to him that before he again dips his pen into rosewater he should read the report of the Royal Commission on the Dwellings of the Poor, and then let him, if he can, reconcile the horrible disclosures there made with the satisfaction that he seems to feel because we are not going to the Devil quite as fast as we might be. It seems to me that the state of mind is far better which feels a righteous indignation that such things should be, and declares war against the apathy and laissez faire which has too long been the curse of London.
Eltham, Dec. 29.
Lookers on are usually credited with the power of seeing most of the game. May I therefore be allowed to suggest that if your correspondents, Mr. McCree and "Independence," have been living in London for the last twenty years, they are hardly qualified to judge whether or not this great metropolis is "better"? Mr. McCree thinks it is. "Independence" apparently is inclined to believe that it is neither better nor worse. Now, I used to live in London years ago, and in my bachelor days I saw a good deal of life and its conditions. Hence, when I removed to a country town in 1873 I left this huge and busy hive with a pretty fair idea of the state of those parts which came in my way. For nine years I lived in a quiet city in the west, a city which is perhaps abnormally quiet and virtuous (on the surface). In 1887 I again settled in London, and on revisiting some of the main thoroughfares on my way to and from Burlington House, I was shocked and horrified at what seems to me the enormous increase of unblushing vice. Sights which used to be restricted to a few spots, seem to me to have spread far and wide for miles away from the former nucleus of iniquity. No doubt my experience may have been similar to that of the big boy who returns a few years afterwards to the school he has left, who is invariably struck with the fact (?) that the boys are very much smaller than they used to be. I say this may be the explanation; but I do not believe it is. I am also much impressed with two other undoubted facts - first, the immense increase in tea drinking, thanks to the rise of comfortable tea and coffee buffets; and secondly, the still more extraordinary increase in theatre going. There are theatres everywhere, music halls everywhere, and no places of amusement or scenes of idle dissipation seem to have vanished. I would fain believe, if I could, that the working of the Elementary Education Act had made a radical change in the character of London's people. As it is the improvement seems only to be one of degree. Great indeed, and of incalculable value, but still only one of degree and only partial. London is more sober, her children have been educated out of the pot house, but the time formerly spent there is now mainly devoted to amusement, often frivolous, and often vulgar or vicious. The result is patent, vice is more prevalent and more unashamed. It is deplorable that such things should be, and that so pitiable a step in the grand process of evolution should have been necessary. Let us supplant the villainous cheap literature with things of a better sort, let us not be discouraged, but press on with out educational reforms, and we shall eventually emerge better and purer for the fire we have passed.