a.k.a. John Cleary, John Leary, John Kemp, Denis Lynch
John Arnold was an enigmatic character involved in the investigation of the Pinchin Street torso murder of 10 September 1889 - indeed for a time he was a top suspect in the case.
Arnold's story begins two days before the discovery of the Pinchin Street torso, in the early morning hours of Sunday, 8 September 1889. At approximately 1.05am, a man named John Cleary, giving his address as 21 Whitehorse Yard, Drury Lane, arrived at the London offices of the New York Herald. He said he had information on a new Jack the Ripper murder which had just been discovered in Backchurch lane. According to Cleary, the mutilated body had been discovered by a constable nearly two hours earlier at around 11.20pm. He himself had heard of the discovery via a Police Inspector, whom he had bumped into on Whitechapel High Street. Cleary then asked if he would receive a monetary reward for his information.
Two reporters took down his story and hurried down to the street with Cleary to call a hansom cab. At this point, Cleary slightly modified his story, saying his informant was not a police inspector, but "an ex-member of the police force." He then drew even more suspicion from the reporters as he refused to follow them to the site of the alleged murder. At this point Cleary left the scene and the reporters hurried toward Backchurch lane.
When the Herald men arrived at the scene they found no trace of murder. They questioned two police officers who were patrolling the area, but neither had heard of any disturbances. The reporters made one last fruitless search of the area, but nothing was to be found. They returned to their offices and filed a report, after which the incident was quickly forgotten.
But when news of the Pinchin Street torso broke two days later, the Cleary debacle suddenly became of utmost importance. Pinchin street is an extension of Backchurch lane, and in fact the mutilated torso was discovered very near to where the two 'intersect'. The fact that this man 'predicted' a mutilation-murder in that location just two days earlier seemed like more than mere coincidence. John Cleary was no longer a crank. He was now a prime suspect.
A search was immediately begun at 21 Whitehorse yard, but no one at that residence had ever heard of a John Cleary. On Wednesday, 11 September the New York Herald published a description of the man who had come to their offices on Sudnay morning:
He was a young man, apparently between twenty-five and twenty-eight years of age. He was short, his height being about 5 ft. 4in. He was of medium build, and weighed about 140 lb. He was light-complexioned, had a small fair moustache and blue eyes. On his left cheek was an inflamed spot, which looked as if a boil had lately been there and was healing. He wore a dark coat and waistcoat. His shirt was not seen, the space at the throat being covered by a dirty white handkerchief tied about his neck. His trousers were dark velveteen, so soiled at the knees as to indicate that he blacked shoes. His hat was a round, black, stiff felt. He walked with a shuffle and spoke in the usual fashion of the developing citizens of Whitechapel, whom, in all respects, he resembled.
A report by Chief Inspector Swanson (MEPO 3/140, ff. 153-157) states that further investigation at 21 Whitehorse yard revealed that the agent who rented apartments there, a Mr. Yates, said he knew a young man named 'Leary' who had lived there until three weeks earlier, when he had been evicted for not paying his rent. Yates said that Leary was now living in Strand Buildings and that he worked for a greengrocer in Newcastle Street named Mapley. Upon investigation, the grocer Mapley said he had never known a man named Leary, but that they did have a man who once lived in Whitehorse yard and was now living at Strand Buildings. Mapley gave this man's name as Denis Lynch.
Lynch was found at No. 5, Strand Buildings, living with another man's wife. He apparently admitted to using the alias 'Leary', but asserted that he had never called at the New York Herald. Lynch was brought before Mr. Fletcher, one of the Herald reporters who had originally spoken with John Cleary, but Fletcher positively stated that Lynch was not the same man.
Swanson completed his report by stating that a woman was found "insensible" in High Street at 12 midnight on the night of 7 September, and that this occurrence may have given rise to the false report of another Jack the Ripper murder. He further noted that High Street was sometimes known as "Church lane." Nevertheless he urged that the search continue for the mysterious John Cleary.
Swanson later added a post-script to his report of 12 September, mentioning that there were reports of "some writing on a wall abt. Cleary". According to R. Michael Gordon, chalked messages were found near the crime scene which read: "John Cleary is a fool."
On the 12th September at around 1pm, a Mr. Miller from the Star newspaper arrived at Leman Street Station, asking questions about the Cleary statement. Miller said that he believed this man to have been an ex-compositor, "formerly attached to The Globe office; age 35, ht. 6ft., comp. fresh, hair and heavy moustache dark, bald, medium build, speaks peculiar, as though he has no roof to his mouth; who about 4 months ago was residing at 2 Savoy Buildings, Strand." Inspector Henry Moore noted that this was the same Mr. Miller who had found "the thigh of Annie Jackson which was thrown into garden on Thames Embankment." This presumably refers to the victim more commonly known as Elizabeth Jackson. Parts of her body had washed up in the Thames between May and June 1889.
Finally, it seemed, the mystery was solved. On 13 September, a newsvendor named John Arnold gave himself up to police at Whitehall place, after having read about the Cleary incident in the New York Herald (the paper he sold for a living). Arnold was a resident of No. 2 Harveys Buildings, Strand. He admitted that on Saturday, the evening of 7 September, he had been drinking at the King Lud public house. Soon after he left the pub he was approached near Fleet Street by "a man dressed as a soldier". This man told him, "Hurry up with your papers, another horrible murder ... in Backchurch Lane." Arnold said he immediately ran up to the offices of the New York Herald to report the information, but that he did not wish to follow the reporters to the scene of the crime because it was past 1am and his lodgings would soon close for the night.
According to Arnold, he gave the reporters the name 'John Kemp' (not Cleary), and the address 21 Whitehorse Yard, where he had lived previously. The false name was given, he said, because he did not want his wife to know where he was staying.
Arnold described the soldier he met:
... a man dressed as a soldier, in black uniform, black cord shoulder strap, lightish buttons, cheese cutter cap, brass ornament in front of cap like a horn. Cannot say whether there was a band round or not, age about 35 to 36. Height 5ft. 6 or 7. compl. fair. Fair moustache, good looking, carrying a brown paper parcel about 6 or 8 inches long... I cannot say if he belonged to the regulars or volunteers... If I talked to the soldier for ten minutes or so, I might recognise his voice, but I am not certain that I could identify him from a number of persons.
Swanson remarked that this description most closely ressembled that of a "Commissionaire".
Apparently, John Arnold had been known to the police in the district, as he had a reputation for drinking and gambling. He had also deserted his wife and received 21 days imprisonment as a result. Still, Swanson remarked, "I have never heard of him being dishonest. That he could be in any way connected with others or by himself in a murder is to me improbable." He also thought it might be useful to set up an trial with the Commissionaires, to see if Arnold could confirm that this was indeed the type of uniform his "soldier" had been wearing. No reports follow to indicate whether or not this trial did indeed take place.
Apparently, that is where the story of John Arnold comes to an end. He was not called to the inquest, which concluded on 24 September.
The question remains, however - was it mere coincidence that Arnold described a mutilation murder two days before the Pinchin Street torso was found, and in the very same location? It is certainly possible. Did he really get his information from a "soldier" he met in Fleet street? And if so, why did he lie in his original statement, when he said he was told about the murder by a police inspector in Whitechapel High street? There are many questions surrounding John Arnold which unfortunately must remain unanswered.
MEPO 3/140, ff. 134-135
MEPO 3/140, ff. 153-164
New York Herald - 11 September 1889
Times (London) - 13 September 1889
Eastern Post - 14 September 1889
The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook (Evans and Skinner)
The Thames Torso Murders of Victorian London (Gordon)