|A Ripper Notes Article|
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Comments by Dan Norder
Editor's note: A few months back I asked friends and various researchers at the vintage bookshops I do business with to be on the lookout for any old documents that might relate to the Jack the Ripper case and some other related topics. I received many responses, the vast majority of which were simply books and articles containing information that has been hashed and rehashed quite thoroughly over the years. I had thought that a woodcut of Thomas Byrnes (see Wolf Vanderlinden's article in this issue) was going to be the best find. Something quite interesting found its way into my hands recently, however.
To the best of my knowledge, the following piece on Assistant Commissioner Robert Anderson, an important figure in the Ripper case, has not been previously published or referenced by modern Ripperologists. Unlike most of his existing known comments, this article was printed within only a few years of the murders.
Here are some important dates (compiled from the Casebook: Jack the Ripper website and Begg, Fido and Skinner's The Jack the Ripper A-Z) to help put the following interview into context:
1888: Dr. Robert Anderson named Assistant Commissioner
of the Metropolitan Police. The canonical five victims of "Jack
the Ripper" are killed.
1891: Aaron Kosminski is placed in Colney Hatch asylum.
1892: The following article.
1894: Mcnaghten Memorandum (a private police document) names a "Kosminski" as the Polish Jew suspect who was put in asylum.
1901: Anderson retires and is knighted.
1907: Anderson claims that the Whitechapel murderer "had been safely caged in an asylum."
1910: Anderson's autobiography is published. In it, he makes several important statements about Jack the Ripper:
- ·"And if the Police here had powers such as the French Police possess, the murderer would have been brought to justice."
- ·"I will merely add that the only person who had ever had a good view of the murderer unhesitatingly identified the suspect the instant he was confronted with him ; but he refused to give evidence against him."
- ·"In saying that he was a Polish Jew I am merely
stating a definitely ascertained fact."
(Retired Chief Inspector Donald Swanson's copy of this autobiography was found many years later with notes in the margin and at the end that read, in part: "...the suspect was sent to Stepney Workhouse and then to Colney Hatch and died shortly afterwards Kosminski was the suspect.")
Readers of the following will note that comments in this interview foreshadow the later comparisons to French police, but that no mention of an identification can be found here. Rather, Anderson says that it is "impossible to believe" that the killer was sane, which is an interesting phrase.
If Kosminski had been positively identified as the Ripper in 1891, why then is Anderson making a reference that the killer should be believed to be insane based upon crime scene photos and not an identification more than a year later?
Like with previous comments by police officials, the statements in the following article are sure to inspire much debate...
Dr. Anderson at New Scotland Yard
from Cassell's Saturday Journal
June 11, 1892 (pages 895-897)
LONDON'S foremost detective is a tallish gentleman in the prime of life, of precise habits, of quiet demeanour, and whose face is that of a deep student. His signature a little while since was attached to some thoughtful letters in the Times, a contribution to the controversy on the "Bible and Modern Criticism." The subject must have been very near to his heart, for as an author Dr. Robert Anderson he took his LL.D. at Dublin University is not unknown in this connection. He first published "The Gospel and Its Ministry," and next, "The Coming Prince: the Last Great Monarch of Christendom," which is illustrative of the meaning of that most celebrated of prophecies, the Seventy Weeks of Daniel, and is also a chronology of the whole period of the Jewish captivity. These works were followed by "Human Destiny," a critique upon the most forward books upon that topic; and, finally, a couple of years ago, by "A Doubter's Doubts," a treatise which was written from the standpoint of a Free Thinker, and dealt with both science and religion in that spirit. It was published anonymously, and it attracted the attention of Mr. Gladstone, who wrote to the author twice concerning it, expressing "a great deal of sympathy and concurrence" in his views, "and hoping that the writer of the volume would follow up the subject with the "same care, force, and exactitude" which in it he "had bestowed especially upon the treatment of the main argument."
Since he became a Commissioner of Police, Dr. Anderson has abandoned journalism, in which he used to dabble, but he has written upon "Criminals and Crime" in the Contemporary; and his article upon "Morality by Act of Parliament" was a distinct "hit."
"Care, force, exactitude," these words of Mr. Gladstone's we may well adopt in describing Dr. Anderson's characteristics. They leave their impress upon his surroundings: in the orderly arrangement of the papers which cover his desk, in the neatness of the bookshelves in the case which faces him, even in the systematic building up of the fire in the grate on principles which, if generally adopted, would abolish a great deal of fog, and in many another detail one unconsciously obtains an insight into the manner of man who courteously gives attention to his visitor.
Dr. Anderson, from what has been said, possesses that which might almost be called a dual personality. Few criminals could picture to themselves the domestic scene at 39, Linden Gardens, where the Assistant Commissioner resides quietly. Our artist, in his larger sketch, shows us the thoughtful student at home, free for the time being from the harassing duties of criminal investigation, but not so immersed in his reading as to forbid the intrusion of his little girl. Indeed, if one may guess at the truth, Dr. Anderson finds his best relaxation in the society of his children. Occasionally a cricket match at the Oval may have as great attractions to the father as it has to his sons, as a relief to the mental exercises which to an ordinary mind would seem more than severe, and in no sense a relaxation.
How came such a deep thinker and student of prophecy, Biblical chronology, science, and philosophy to enter upon his present duties? In what way are the first detectives of to-day trained? In what school must they gain experience in order to be successful? By way of answer to these questions Dr. Anderson's history is instructive.
His father was Crown Solicitor for Dublin, and his brother the late Sir Samuel Anderson had charge of all the State prosecutions. Thus it came about at the end of 1866 that Lord Mayo asked Dr. Robert Anderson, who was then practising at the Irish Bar, to help him in disposing of an accumulation of foreign office despatches and reports of all kinds, supposed to be extremely secret, which were stowed away unindexed and unregistered at the Chief Secretary's office. Naturally the Lord Lieutenant wished to know what these papers contained, and Dr. Anderson was asked to examine them.
"That was when I took the Queen's shilling," observes
the Assistant Commissioner; "but I didn't vacate my position
at the Bar; it was, on the contrary, rather benefited by these
Whilst on circuit at the spring assizes in 1867, the Fenian rising took place, and 200 or 300 prisoners were marched into the yard at Dublin Castle and solemnly committed for trial on the charge of high treason. But having caught so many hares the problem was how to cook them. The Attorney General telegraphed for Dr. Anderson, instructing him to inquire into each case in order to advise the Crown which of the prisoners were worth sending for trial. An extraordinary sequence of events during 1867 led to the barrister being retained during the greater part of the year at a professional fee to help the Government in various ways at the Castle. Then the Clerkenwell explosion occurred, and Lord Mayo asked the young advocate to proceed to London in order to investigate matters connected with the Fenian outrage on the spot.
"I came here," says Dr. Anderson with a quiet smile, "with a return ticket and I have not gone back yet. I came to the Irish office, doing work for Lord Mayo in preparation for the coming Session. The Home Office placed at my disposal all their papers. On April 1st, following, the Secretary of State Mr. Hardy now Lord Cranbrook asked me to go to the Home Office to organise a department there practically to deal with political crime. I had charge in this country of all reports relating to Fenianism and had certain powers of investigation into various matters of that kind.
Fenianism and political crime happily are not always uppermost in this country, and at different times, in intervals of peace, Dr. Anderson had other work to do. He acted as secretary to Royal and to Departmental Commissions, and sometimes helped the Chief Secretary for Ireland and the Home Secretary; but he was still occupying the position to which he was originally called, and when disturbed times came he revived the duties.
"All this while," he says, "I was anxious to get back to my profession, but every time there was an opening something intervened. Then I raised distinctly the question that I had no position in the Civil Service, and the Home Secretary offered me as a temporary arrangement the Secretaryship of the Prison Commission on the passing of the Prison Act in July, 1877. I was still engaged, however, in matters relating to political crime, and afterwards I had the Secretaryship of the Loss of Life at Sea Commission.
"Your duties brought your name before the Parnell Commission?"
"You mean with reference to Le Carron. [sic] He was introduced to me in the beginning of 1868, a couple of months after I came to London, and he corresponded with me until he was blown upon by coming up as a witness. I saw a good deal of Mr. Monro, then Assistant Commissioner and my predecessor here, in 1887 and 1888, because of my part in this political crime business, but I was in no way connected with the Metropolitan Police until September 1st, 1888, when I took charge of the "C.I.D.," as we call my department, as Assistant Commissioner, first under Sir Charles Warren and then under Mr. Monro and Sir Edward Bradford, who in turn succeeded to the Commissionership."
And now, having seen Dr. Anderson at home, we will take a peep at him at work.
At the top of the flight of granite steps leading from the principal entrance to the ground floor of New Scotland Yard, a police constable directs the visitor to a little waiting room, whilst an attendant takes his name to Dr. Anderson. In a moment or two we are ushered into a comfortable room, close at hand, on the left of the corridor. It is here, in his official sanctum, that we find the head of that complex organisation known as the Criminal Investigation Department of the Metropolitan Police. Dr. Anderson is an Assistant Commissioner, and his staff a strong body of picked officers are concerned with every matter relating to the prevention and detection of crime. These detectives are engaged, it may be, not merely in elucidating mysteries or in making arrests, but in the performance of a large amount of inquiry work, both for the metropolitan and for the provincial and foreign police; and in all their movements they are responsible to their chief, whose controlling hand and inspiring brain govern the conduct of every investigation requiring delicacy and originality of handling.
"I sometimes think myself an unfortunate man," observes the C.I.D. chief, "for between twelve and one on the morning of the day I took up my position here the first Whitechapel murder occurred."
The mention of this appalling sequence of still undiscovered crimes leads to the production of certain ghastly photographs.
"There," says the Assistant Commissioner, "there is my answer to people who come with fads and theories about these murders. It is impossible to believe they were acts of a sane man they were those of a maniac revelling in blood."
An observation of ours, that in England the police are necessarily hampered a great deal by the freedom-loving characteristics of the people which are opposed to the introduction of measures such as are at the command of the continental police, induces Dr. Anderson to observe that his department has "a great thirst for information," and the public might often assist him very materially by communicating with him in confidence, for very often a small matter sets his officers in motion.
Then Dr. Anderson and his visitor chatted of other things. "Come," said he, "let me show you our new Museum and the Album Room."
So we quitted the cosy apartment, the chief having first spoken through the telephone to Mr. Neame. These telephones and speaking tubes, by the way, give quite an impressive air to the bureau, which, in other respects, with its nicely padded "confessional" chairs, as they might be called, reminds one of a fashionable solicitor's private consultation room, where fair clients confess their sins before seeking divorce. It is betraying no official secret to say that new Scotland Yard is equipped electrically from basement to roof.
From the corridor open various rooms assigned to the department, and a flight of stone steps conducts us to another floor, where Mr. Neame is ready to receive us. First we take a peep into the Museum, which, for the first time in its history, is properly accommodated, arranged, and catalogued. The artist gives a peep of this apartment. A chamber of horrors in its way it nevertheless serves a useful purpose, and it is not maintained to gratify mere curiosity. Without enumerating its grim contents, or pausing to examine in detail these relics of notorious crimes, one glass case a new addition may be mentioned by us. It contains all the implements required for the manufacture of base coin, and a heap of bad silver defies the closest detection. To us the ring, colour, appearance, and even weight of these pewter shillings and half crowns seemed genuine, and in comparing bona-fide money with the false there was considerable danger of getting hopelessly mixed. Florins and four-shilling pieces are not so often imitated, the latter being usually examined closely by the public to see if they are not crown pieces.
In a strong room adjoining we are shown watches in great variety and jewellery which has either been taken from prisoners upon arrest or has been "stopped" at the pawnbrokers. A brooch pin of magnificent coloured diamonds, worth at least £100, the experts say, still awaits an owner. It was offered in pawn by a man who, when inquiry was made of him, left the shop and never returned.
"It is extraordinary how often it happens that very unique and costly things easily to be identified come into our hands and nobody asks one question about them," observed Dr. Anderson.
Next we take a glance at the rooms full of racks, stored with the portable property of prisoners; all duly ticketed, ready for restoration to their owners, who are usually very particular to have their pound of flesh returned to them when released from gaol.
Then we pass to a room in which a number of police officers in uniform and in ordinary dress are examining photograph albums.
"Looking for your pets?" says Dr. Anderson cheerily.
Under the new system, as the chief explains, these photographs, which now number nearly 50,000, and show in each case the full face, profile, and both hands of the prisoner are classified according to complexion, age, and height. The facility of ready reference is therefore much increased, a very important consideration when an officer, in the hope of identifying a prisoner as a previous offender, searches through these photographic records to find his likeness.
These albums are always used in combination with an elaborate system of registering habitual criminals. On one page of a book we find the particulars of men who incautiously have tattooed themselves. A common fancy is to imprint upon the body indelibly the words "In memory of," or, what is more frequent still, "I love Mary R -," and so on.
"A man who intends to commit crime ought not to tattoo himself," drily remarks our companion.
A little light upon the objects of all this classification and care is thrown by the remark of Dr. Anderson. "Where a man is twice convicted of crime, the second time on indictment, he becomes liable for seven years after his second sentence to a certain modified police supervision. In order to bring that into operation I have been doing in an extensive and systematic way what was always done in this department to some extent, by getting the photographs of such prisoners and by registering cases which are clearly within the seventh section of the Prevention of Crimes Act."
There is no vindictive spirit in him, for Dr. Anderson finds the pleasant part of his work in helping repentant criminals to reform.
As we take our leave and by this time we have returned
to Dr. Anderson's own room the Assistant Commissioner sits
down to a pile of large sheets. They are the metropolitan criminal
returns of the day, giving particulars of every case during the
previous twenty-four hours. Curiously enough a spell of bad weather
had decreased crime, entailing more poverty and less drunkenness,
which is one cause of crime; and bringing discomfort upon the
burglary profession, who had therefore remained at home at their