by Ex-Det. Sergeant B. Leeson
Stanley Paul & Co. Ltd (London) 1934
" JACK THE RIPPER "
ON a bitter night during the winter of 1890-91, I was patrolling the beat to which I had been transferred in the neighbourhood of the Mint. There was not a soul to be seen, when the stillness was suddenly disturbed by the shrill of a police whistle. Police whistles were often blown improperly, but I felt certain that this was a regulation blast, and, after I had made sure of the direction, I made off at top speed.
The call brought me to a place called Swallow Gardens, which is actually a railway arch running from Royal Mint Street to Chamber Street, Whitechapel, and though in the dim past there may have been gardens in the vicinity, there has certainly been nothing of the sort within living memory to justify the name of the place.
The call for assistance came from P.C. Thompson, 240, " H " division, whom I knew well on account of our serving part of our time together as recruits on the drill ground. When I reached the spot I found Thompson there with two night watchmen, one a plain-clothes policeman who had been patrolling the district.
About midway in the arch lay a woman with her head nearly severed from her body. She was still alive, but so large was the wound in her throat that articulation was impossible.
" What's up? " I asked.
" Murder," said my colleague in a hoarse voice, adding in a whisper, " A Jack the Ripper 'job."
Like myself poor Thompson was inexperienced, and had come across the body whilst working his beat. As we stood there wondering momentarily what was best to be done, I little thought that my pal was soon to be the victim of a similar tragedy; but so it was, for shortly afterwards Thompson was stabbed to death by a man named Abrahams in a coffee-stall brawl.
"Another ' Jack the Ripper ' murder ! " Only those who were living at the time and who were old enough to appreciate it can imagine what that meant. When that dread news was flashed round, not merely all London, but all England, was terrified.
The form lying in the roadway was that of a young woman. Her clothing was disarranged, and there could be no doubt that she had been brutally murdered. Apart from the fearful wound in the throat there were other terrible injuries about the lower part of the trunk. In the gutter by her side lay a little crepe hat.
The amazing part of it all was that, although this ferocious attack could not have taken place more than a few seconds earlier, Thompson had neither heard nor seen anything of the woman's assailant. The archway was empty. The constable was wearing rubber heels that night and had approached the spot absolutely noiselessly, yet the murderer had apparently vanished into thin air. Small wonder that there were many people living in the East End at that time who were quite prepared to believe that the " Ripper " crimes were not the work of any human agency.
In answer to our whistles other and more experienced officers were soon on the scene, and indeed I was not sorry. This was my first acquaintance with anything in the nature of violent death, and I'd had enough for one night.
The poor mutilated body was taken to the station, and soon Dr. Phillips, the police surgeon, was examining another fearful example of the work of the man whom the police could not catch, for the revolting nature of the woman's injuries left no doubt as to the author of the crime.
The hunt for the murderer began at once, and I was only one of the hundreds of police and civilians who took part in the search.
Small parties of men were organised, and night after night they scoured alleys, archways and passages in which the assassin might lurk.
On the night of the murder every house in the district was searched. If, as it was assumed, the murderer had been disturbed at his ghoulish work by the arrival of P.C. Thompson, it seemed that the only possible way in which he could have escaped was to have taken refuge in one of the houses quite close to the scene of the crime. But the search yielded no result.
As a further precaution, a cordon of police was drawn round the docks. Boats were not allowed to leave till every member of the crew had been examined and had satisfied the authorities as to their innocence.
It should be added that the railway arch in which the body was found ran under the Great Eastern goods yard and extended for fifty yards into Royal Mint Street, coming out just opposite the Royal Mint refinery, and here a policeman was on duty all night. But he, too, had neither seen nor heard anything unusual until the blowing of the police whistle. It was uncanny.
The victim was soon identified as Frances Coles, of Thrawl Street, Spitalfields, a district incidentally in which several of the other " Ripper " crimes had taken place, and where the victims lived.
Frances was young and pretty, and the deputy at the house at which she lodged spoke very highly of her, describing her as a young woman of a superior type. There was no doubt, however, that she had recently taken to leading an immoral life in the East End.
We got what was thought to be a good clue, one, in fact, which for a long time looked as though it would lead to the solution of the biggest problem with which the Whitechapel police had ever been faced.
This was an old black hat which was found pinned underneath the shawl which the woman was wearing. She had apparently just bought the hat which we found lying in the roadway, and had pinned the old one to her dress after having made the purchase.
The Spitalfields district was combed for the seller of the hat, and the search was successful, for not only was the little shop found, but what appeared to be very important information about the buyer was also obtained.
The story told by the woman shopkeeper was that Frances had bought the hat the previous afternoon for five shillings. Earlier in the day she had tried to get the hat by paying a small sum down, but being unsuccessful had gone away, to come back later with the full amount, saying she had found a friend who was willing to lend her the money.
More than this, the milliner had noticed a man loitering about outside whilst Frances was in the shop, but as he had kept his head averted, she was only able to say that he was middle-aged, thick-set, and fairly well dressed. After buying the hat, Frances had remarked that the old one might come in useful, and thereupon had pinned it carefully to her dress under her shawl. On leaving the shop, she was joined by the middle-aged man some distance down the street.
Needless to say, the police were most anxious to make the acquaintance of this man, and a strange sequence of events led to his discovery and arrest.
Earlier on the night of the tragedy, a man was found to have called at Frances Coles' lodgings, and to have asked for her. His hand was bleeding badly, which he explained by saying that some roughs had knocked him clown, and had stolen all his money. He stayed with Frances for an hour, and was heard to leave at 1 a.m. Half an hour later, Frances went out on the errand from which she never returned. Far more significant was the discovery that the man returned again to the woman's lodgings at 3 a.m. He was then excited and covered with blood.
" I've been knocked down and robbed in Ratcliffe Highway," he told the deputy of the lodging house, and when asked how that could be, considering he was supposed to have lost all his money in the assault the previous night, he said: " They thought they were going to get something, but they were mistaken."
The man wanted lodgings, but on account of his appearance he was refused, and advised to go to the London Hospital. At the hospital the police found that a man had called there in the early hours of the morning, complaining of an injury to his ribs, but the only injury the doctor could find was a cut over the right eye, which must have bled very freely indeed to account for the saturated condition of his clothing. The man had been treated, and left after an hour. The hospital people gave it as their opinion that lie was a seafaring man.
There was tremendous excitement now among the police engaged on the case, as it really looked as though they were hot on the trail of the Terror. Next day the excitement spread to the people outside, and big crowds assembled in front of Leman Street Station waiting for the news that " Jack the Ripper " had been laid by the heels at last.
An arrest was made that night. Acting on the strength
of a valuable clue they had picked up at the docks, two detectives walked into a Whitechapel public house, and after questioning a short, well-built man, took him to the police station.
Whitechapel went mad that day. The news of the arrest spread like wildfire and everyone seemed to take it for granted that the " Ripper " was safely under lock and key. Tremendous difficulty was experienced when the man was brought up in court. Outside, the crowd was demanding his blood, and I am perfectly certain he would have been lynched if the mob had succeeded in getting hold of him.
Things certainly looked black against the prisoner. A married man with five children, but living apart from his wife. He vigorously protested his innocence from the first, and when the police came to investigate his story they found that the evidence against him was far front being as conclusive as it had appeared at first.
The man did not deny that he had met Frances Coles. He admitted buying her the hat, but he stoutly maintained that he had not seen her again after leaving her lodgings at twenty minutes to one on the fatal evening.
It was the most improbable part of his story that saved him. It was established beyond all doubt that he had been twice attacked that night, and the wide gaps in the chain of evidence were such that there was nothing for it but to discharge him.
After this a story circulated that the " Ripper " was a butcher, who wore blue overalls and a leather apron, and an English Jew named Jacobs, a perfectly harmless man, somehow attracted suspicion to himself. Possibly because, working in a slaughter-house, lie always wore a leather apron.
People would point Jacobs out in the street as the suspected man, and more than once he had to run for it. I myself was often obliged to take him into the police station for protection. The thing so preyed on the poor fellow's mind that it finally caused him to lose his reason.
I am afraid I cannot throw any light on the problem of the " Ripper's " identity, but one thing I do know, and that is that amongst the police who were most concerned in the case there was a general feeling that a certain doctor, known to nee, could have thrown quite a lot of light on the subject. This particular doctor was never far away when the crimes were committed, and it is certain that the injuries inflicted on the victims could only have been done by one skilled in the use of the knife.
Many stories and theories have been put forward, but, with one exception, I doubt if any one of them had the slightest foundation in fact. The exception to which I refer was that of George Klosowski, alias Chapman, the South London wife murderer.
About the period of the " Ripper " murders Chapman lived in Whitechapel, where he carried on a hairdresser's business in a sort of " dive " under a public-house at the corner of George Yard, that notorious locality to which I have referred in previous chapters.
I have no data to assist me, but I remember that there were-in addition to the one I have been dealing with-a dozen murders attributed to " Jack the Ripper " during the years 1888 and 1890, and so far as I can ascertain Chapman was in London for nearly the whole of that period. He left before the end of 1890 and went to America, where it is believed he was responsible for several murders. As far as my information goes, he had not returned to England in 1891, the year in which Frances Coles met her death.
There was, moreover, a complete difference in the methods employed by the two men, for while Chapman slowly poisoned his victims, the " Ripper " resorted to the worst possible use of the knife, horribly mutilating the bodies, and in one instance cutting his victim into fifty or more pieces, distributing them about a room, afterwards securing the door and making his departure through the window.
So far as the evidence goes, robbery was not the motive in the case of either Chapman or the " Ripper." Lust was the deciding factor in the case of Chapman, for while he was tiring of one " wife " he was preparing another. He was a Bluebeard, and his story is known. But nobody knows and nobody ever will know the true story of " Jack the Ripper."
He never returned, and was never heard of again after the Swallow Gardens murder, and that, as far as we know, was the last of his many crimes.