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Unmasking Jack the Ripper
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Forty Years of Scotland Yard
Frederick Porter Wensley

Frederick Porter Wensley joined the Metropolitan Police in January 1888, serving in H Division (Whitechapel), and was therefore directly involved in. the investigation of the Ripper murders. Wensley would later climb the ranks to become Chief Constable of the C.I.D. His memoirs were published in 1931, originally under the title Detective Days (London), and then as Forty Years of Scotland Yard (New York).

In Forty Years of Scotland Yard, Wensley downplays his role in the investigation, quipping that the only discovery he was privy to was the invention of the rubber-soled boot by patrolmen on the beat. He then details the Frances Coles murder, as well as the later murder of Ernest Thompson, the ill-fated constable who first discovered her body.


During my first year of service the Jack the Ripper murders occurred in Whitechapel. Again and again bodies of women, murdered and mutilated, were found in the East End; but every effort to bring the assassin to justice failed. For a while there was an atmosphere of terror in the district.

This business brought about my first glimpse of the neighbourhood in which so much of my life was to be spent. In view of the work that I was to do there later there was a touch of coincidence in the fact that my earliest recollections should be concerned with a great murder mystery.

Not that I had much to do with it. In common with hundreds of others I was drafted there, and we patrolled the streets usually in pairs-without any tangible result. We did, however, rather anticipate a great commercial invention. To our clumsy regulation boots we nailed strips of rubber, usually bits of old bicycle tires, and so ensured some measure of silence when walking.

Officially, only five (with a possible sixth) murders were attributed to Jack the Ripper. There was, however, at least one other, strikingly similar in method, in which the murderer had a very narrow escape. This occurred something more than two years after the supposed last Ripper murder.

The story is chiefly concerned with a very young officer named Ernest Thompson who had been only six weeks in the service when, on February 13, 1891 - an ominous date - he went out for the first time alone on night duty. A part of his beat was through Chambers Street, from which at that time a turning, most inappropriately named Swallow Gardens, ran under a dark, dismal railway arch towards the Royal Mint. Thompson was patrolling Chambers Street when a man came running out of Swallow Gardens towards him. As soon as he perceived the officer he turned tail, made off at speed in the opposite direction, and was in a few seconds lost to view.

Thompson moved into Swallow Gardens and on turning the corner came across the body of a murdered woman - Frances Coles - mutilated in much the same fashion as the victims of the Ripper. The spot had possibly been chosen because it commanded a view in three directions.

It is probable that had Thompson been a little more experienced he would have taken up the chase of the fugitive immediately. In all likelihood he would have made a capture which might possibly have solved a great mystery. But it is understandable that this young man was so taken aback by his grim discovery that he did not take the obvious steps. It was certainly through no lack of personal courage, as later events showed.

Whether the murderer was Jack the Ripper or not, he escaped. I fancy that the lost opportunity preyed on Thompson's mind, for I heard him refer to it in despondent terms more than once, and he seemed to regard the incident as presaging some evil fate for himself. By an uncanny coincidence his forebodings came true. The first time he went on night duty he discovered a murder; the last time he went on duty, some years later, he was murdered himself.

It happened in this way. There was a night coffee stall in the Commercial Road, much haunted by bad characters on the lookout for victims whom they could follow to some quiet spot and rob-often with violence. Instructions were given to the police to prevent those not actually having refreshments from hanging about this stall.

One morning, about one o'clock, Thompson ordered away a young man named Abrahams, who was forcing his attentions on some young women at the stall. After some argument, Abrahams moved sulkily away to some distance, opened a clasp knife, and made as if to return.

Thompson interposed, and a moment later fell to the ground, stabbed in the neck. But he did not fall alone. With great resolution he gripped his assailant's collar and held him till other officers came running up.

"Hold him ! He has stabbed me!" he said. A moment later he was dead. Even in death he held so tightly to his prisoner that it took two men to loosen his grip.

Abrahams struggled violently when they got him away and they certainly did not handle him lightly. At any rate, he was suffering from bruises and other minor injuries when taken to the station.

At the trial Mr. C. F. Gill (afterwards Sir Charles Gill, K. C.) put forward the ingenious defense that the injuries of Abrahams had been inflicted before the stabbing, and he was successful in getting the jury to return a verdict of manslaughter. I remember Mr. Justice Phillimore dryly remarking that the crime might have been held to be murder. Abrahams died in prison.


Related pages:
  Ernest Thompson
       Dissertations: My Funny Valentine 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 12 October 1936 
       Ripper Media: Lost London: The Memoirs of an East End Detective 
  Frances Coles
       Dissertations: Coles, Kosminski and Levy was there a Victim/Suspect/Wi... 
       Diversions: Original Ripper Fiction - The Impersonator 
       Message Boards: Frances Coles 
       Police Officials: P.C. Ernest Thompson 
       Press Reports: Daily Northwestern - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Decatur Daily Republican - 17 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Decatur Daily Republican - 26 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Decatur Daily Republican - 4 March 1891 
       Press Reports: Decatur Herald Dispatch - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East End News - 20 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 28 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 7 March 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Observer - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Observer - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Observer - 28 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Observer - 28 March 1891 
       Press Reports: Eastern Post - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Eastern Post - 28 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Eastern Post - 7 March 1891 
       Press Reports: Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel - 13 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Lincoln Evening News - 28 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Manitoba Daily Free Press - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: New York Times - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: New York Times - 15 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Penny Illustrated Paper - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Penny Illustrated Paper - 7 March 1891 
       Press Reports: Sandusky Daily Register - 4 March 1891 
       Press Reports: Stevens Point Daily Journal - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 16 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 18 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 24 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 27 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 28 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Walthamstow and Leyton Guardian - 28 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Waukesha Freeman - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Woodford Times - 13 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Woodford Times - 20 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Woodford Times - 27 February 1891 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Cast of Thousands - Frances Coles 
       Victims: Frances Coles 
  Frederick Wensley
       Dissertations: A Mystery Play : Police Opinions on Jack the Ripper 
       Press Reports: Van Wert Daily Bulletin - 26 August 1929