4 November 1889
A NIGHT SPENT WITH INSPECTOR MOORE.
Philadelphia journalist, Mr. R. Harding Davis, has been publishing in a syndicate of American papers, an account of a night he spent upon the scene of the Whitechapel murders, towards the end of August, in the company of Police Inspector Moore, in the course of which some interesting statements occur.
Mr. Davis had taken a letter of introduction to Dr. Robert Anderson, the head of the Criminal Investigation Department, who remarked to him, "I am sorry to say on your account and quite satisfied on my own that we have very few criminal `show places' in London. Of course, there is the Scotland Yard Museum that visitors consider one of the sights, and then there is Whitechapel. But that is all. You ought to see Whitechapel. Even if the murders had not taken place there it would be still the show part of the city for those who take an interest in the dangerous classes. But you mustn't expect to see criminals walking about with handcuffs on or to find the places they live in any different from the other dens of the district. My man can show you their lodging houses and can tell you that this or that man is a thief or a burglar, but be won't look any different from anyone else." The journalist suggested that he had never found they look any different from any one else. "Well, I only spoke of it because they say, as a rule, your people come over here expecting to see dukes wearing their coronets and the thieves of Whitechapel in prison-cut clothes, and they are disappointed. But I don't think you will be disappointed in the district. After a stranger has gone over it he takes a much more lenient view of our failure to find Jack the Ripper, as they call him, than he did before. "
Proceeding to Leman-street police station at nine o'clock at night in fulfilment of an engagement made by Dr. Anderson, Mr. Davis found the entrance to the station barricaded with several crossings of red tape. It was very different from the easy discipline of an American police station, and from the nights when, as a police reporter, I walked unquestioned into the roll room and woke up the sergeant in charge to ask if there was anything on the slate, and to be told sleepily that there was "nothing but drunks" The superintendent introduced me to a well-dressed gentleman of athletic build, whom he said was Inspector Moore, the chief of the detective force that has since April 8, 1888, covered the notorious district of the Whitechapel murders. The inspector has been twenty years in the force, and it was his work on the murder committed by the American, Lamson, that brought him the distinguished and most unwelcome work on which he is still engaged.
Inspector Moore led the journalist through the network of narrow passageways as dark and loathsome as the great network of sewers that stretches underneath them a few feet below. "The chief of police from Austin, Texas, came to see me," said the inspector, "and offered me a great deal of advice. But when I showed him this place (Castle-alley) and the courts around it he took off his hat and said: `I apologise. I never saw anything like it before. We've nothing like it in all America.' He said that at home an officer could stand on a street corner and look down four different streets and see all that went on in them for a quarter of a mile off. Now, you know, I might put two regiments of police in this half-mile of district and half of them would be as completely out of sight and hearing of the others as though they were in separate cells of a prison. To give you an idea of it, my men formed a circle around the spot where one of the murders took place, guarding they thought, every entrance and approach, and within a few minutes they found fifty people inside the lines. They had come in through two passageways which my men could not find. And then, you know these people never lock their doors, and the murderer has only to lift the latch of the nearest house and walk through it and out the back way." In the course of their perambulations, the inspector tells the correspondent that they call Whitechapel the "three F's district, fried fish and fights. " After they had passed through a well-known lodging house, the correspondent asked the inspector if he did not feel nervous and he handed him his cane for an answer. It was a trivial-looking thing, painted to represent maple, but Mr. Davis found it was made of iron. "And then they wouldn't attack me," Mr. Moore said, "It's only those who don't know me that I carry the cane for."
The inspector gazed calmly up and down the street, and then remarked, apparently to a lamp across the way. "Better write; you mustn't come too often. " We walked on in silence for half a block, and then I suggested that he was using amateur as well as professional detectives in his search for the murderer. "About sixty," he replied laconically. The inspector was non communicative, but I could see and bear for myself, and a dozen times during our tour women in rags, lodging-house keepers, proprietors of public-houses, and idle young men, dressed like all the other idle young men of the district, but with a straight bearing that told of discipline, and with the regulation shoe with which Scotland yard marks its men, whispered a half sentence as we passed, to which sometimes the inspector replied or to which he sometimes appeared utterly unconscious. From what he said later I learned that all Whitechapel is peopled with these spies. Sometimes they are only "plain clothes" men, but besides these he has half a hundred and at times 200 unattached detectives, who pursue their respectable or otherwise callings while they keep an alert eye and ear for the faintest clue that may lead to the discovery of the invisible murderer.
"This was about the worst of the murders," said the inspector when they reached Dorset-street. "He cut the skeleton so clean of flesh that when I got here I could hardly tell whether it was a man or a woman. He hung the different parts of the body on nails and over the backs of chairs. It must have taken him an hour and a half in all. And when he was ready to go he found the door was jammed and had to make his escape through the larger of those two windows." Imagine how this man felt when he tried the door and found it was locked; that was before he thought of the window - believing that he was locked in with that bleeding skeleton and the strips of flesh that he had hung so fantastically about the room, that he had trapped himself beside his victim, and had helped to put the rope around his own neck. One would think the shock of the moment would have lasted for years to come, and kept him in hiding. But it apparently did not affect him that way, for he has killed five women since then. We knocked at the door and a woman opened it. She spoke to some-one inside, and then told "Mister Inspector" to come in. It was a bare whitewashed room with a bed in one corner. A man was in the bed, but he sat up and welcomed us good naturedly. The inspector apologized for the intrusion, but the occupant of the bed said it didn't matter, and obligingly traced out with his forefinger the streaks of blood upon the wall at his bedside. When he had done this he turned his face to the wall to go to sleep again, and the inspector ironically wished him pleasant dreams. I rather envied his nerve, and fancied waking up with those dark streaks a few inches from one's face.
"What makes it so easy for him" - the inspector always referred to the murderer as "him" - "is that the women lead him, of their own free will, to the spot where they know interruption is least likely. It is not as if he had to wait for his chance; they make the chance for him. And then they are so miserable and so hopeless, so utterly lost to all that makes a person want to live, that for the sake of fourpence, enough to get drunk on, they will go in any man's company, and run the risk that it is not him. I tell many of them to go home, but they say they have no home, and when I try to frighten them and speak of the danger they run they'll laugh and say, `Oh, I know what you mean. I ain't afraid of him. It's the Ripper or the bridge with me. What's the odds?' And it's true, that's the worst of it."
The inspector feels his work and its responsibilities keenly. He talked of nothing else, and he apparently thinks, eats, and sleeps on nothing else. Once or twice he stopped, and pointing to a man and woman standing whispering on a corner, said, "Now, why isn't that Jack the Ripper?"
Why not indeed. When I was in the Scotland-yard museum I expressed some surprise that there were no relics on exhibition of the Whitechapel murders, the most notorious series of criminal events in the history of the world when one considers the civilization of the city and of the age in which they have occurred, and the detective who was showing me about said, "We have no relics; he never leaves so much as a rag behind him. There is no more of a clue to that chap's identity than there is to the identity of some murderer who will kill some-one a hundred years from now."
But they have thought they had clues. They have thought they had the murderer himself perhaps, hundreds of times. Suspicion has rested, so the inspector said, on people in every class of society - on club men, doctors and dockers, members of Parliament and members of the nobility, common sailors and learned scientists. In two squares the inspector pointed out three houses where he said he had gone to find him. He told the story to illustrate the degradation of the women of the district, but the point of interest in them to me was that in a space of 200 yards he had found three houses where the murderer was supposed to be hiding. This shows that there must have been hundreds of men suspected of whom the public have heard nothing. Inspector Moore said his own detectives, amateur and professional, would occasionally follow each other for a week in the idea that they were tracking the murderer.
"And then we are so often misled by false clues, suggested by people who have a spite to work off. We get any number of letters throwing the most circumstantial evidence about a certain man, and when we run it out we find some woman whom he has thrown over. All this takes time and money, and from the nature of our work we can say nothing of what we are doing; we can only speak when it is done. I have received 2,000 letters of advice from America alone; you can fancy how many I get from this country.
"And then there is the practical joker who sends us letters written in blood and bottles of blood, parts of the human body or the entrails of animals which he says he took from his victim. It is not an easy piece of work, I assure you. I work seventeen and eighteen hours a day. If I get into bed I think maybe be is at it now, and I grow restless, and I finally get up and tramp the courts and alleys till morning."
It had been a five hours' walk through more misery, vice and crime than can perhaps be found in as small a space, less than a square mile in any other great city. There had been only eight murders then. And as we neared the station I remember the inspector's pointing into the dark arches of the London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway, and saying: "Now, what a place for a murder that would be. " A week later, while I was in mid-ocean on my way back, the body of the ninth victim was found just under those very arches, and not three minutes' walk from the police station. I don't know whether Jack the Ripper was lurking near us that night and had acted on the inspector's suggestion, or whether the inspector is Jack the Ripper himself, but the coincidence is certainly suspicious. As for myself, although I assented to its being a good place for murder at the time, I can prove an alibi by the ship's captain.