|A Ripper Notes Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripper Notes. Ripper Notes is the only American Ripper periodical available on the market, and has quickly grown into one of the more substantial offerings in the genre. For more information, view our Ripper Notes page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripper Notes for permission to reprint this article.|
In which we reminisce about those thrilling days of yore
NOT ONLY HAS he an extraordinary collection of Ripper and other true-crime material, but Stewart Evans is also an indefatigable hunter of lost or overlooked mater - all with a connection to the Autumn of Terror. What follows is taken from Autobiography of a Counter Jumper by W.P Fish, J.P. (London, Butterworths, 1930). Its importance, says Evans, is that "it gives the story of another of the vigilance committees and it is also an amusing story on a grim subject. " We at RN are most grateful to him for his generosity in allowing us to reprint this excerpt - Ed.
"THE JACK THE RIPPER SYNDICATE."
(A side light on the most appalling crimes of last century, something of which not even Scotland Yard was aware.)
POSSIBLY if we had named it "The Jack the Ripper Detection Syndicate," or the "Amateur Detective Company Ltd.," it would have sounded less gruesome, for, by the title, it might easily have been supposed that it was a syndicate formed to assist that unknown miscreant in the perpetration of his foul crimes. But, at the time, it seemed to us that the name was all that could be desired, and being, as it were, a private limited liability company, the title never became public.
Many will still remember the shocking and ghastly outrages which occurred in the East End of London in the late 80's, which were perpetrated by a fiend who was self-designated "Jack the Ripper." This ghoul, it will be recalled, attacked only one class of woman - the very lowest class of prostitute, that is if there are degrees in prostitution, and , daring as his atrocities were, he succeeded in completely baffling the whole of the expert detective staff of Scotland Yard.
From time to time, during the years that have passed between. it has been stated that the authorities knew who the foul miscreant was. At one time it was stated that he was a medical student, at another that he was a sailor who was revenging himself for some injury he had recieved from the class of unfortunate he murdered.
Then it was said that the depraved creature was a distinguished medical man from Harley Street who was committing these horrible murders for purposes of research, and the last report I read - not many years ago - was to the effect that he was a homicidal maniac who was confined in some criminal lunatic asylum. Personally I don't believe the identity of the monster was ever discovered, and that Scotland Yard is as baffled to-day as it was over 40 years ago when these dreadful crimes were committed. Rewards amounting to some thousands of pounds were offered, but failed to bring the murderer to justice.
But I do not propose to deal with the nature of these murders, although I have visited the scene of each, neither will I venture an opinion as to the motive which prompted them; but only with our attempt - a genuine bona fide attempt, mind you, which was made to assist the police, and incidentally, to claim the reward.
It's no use beating about the bush and pretending it was otherwise. Money was the root principle of all our efforts.
A meeting was held in one of the many bedrooms, where it was decided that a syndicate should be formed, the result being that "The Jack the Ripper Syndicate" came into being. There were twenty present at the meeting and it was resolved that the company should be limited to that number. It was further resolved that twenty shares should be issued at 2s. 6d. each, 1s. 3d. on application, the balance on allotment; and as applications and allotment took place at the same time we had to stump up there and then, which, at the end of the first week of the month, caused considerable financial embarrassment.
The capital of the syndicate was required for the purchase of ten pairs of rubber-soled sand shoes at 3s. 6d. a pair, while the balance (15s.) was reserved for a cab fare to convey the murderer, when captured, to the police station.
The twenty members were split up into pairs, five pairs for eaach alternate evening. Number one pair was to work Aldgate, number two Houndsditch and Petticoat Lane, number three Commercial Street and Spitalfields, number four Whitechapel and Mile End Road, and number five Commercial and East India Dock Roads.
A solemn obligation was entered into that under no circumsyances would we divulge the objects, plans, or clues of the syndicate.
Fortunately for us, or unfortunately perhaps, as things turned out, one member of the syndicate was acting "locker-up" at the time, and consequently we were able to come and go after business hours pretty much as we wished and without fear of being fined for being out after hours. One night my half-section and myself - Smith was his name - he had only been in London three weeks - were on duty in Leman Street. we had secreted ourselves behind the hoarding of a building in course of erection, when we heard footsteps, and through a crack in the boards saw a man and a woman approaching. "Smith," I said, somewhat shakily, "this must be the man."
"Y-e-e-s," shivered Smith, "he looks a blood-thirsty chap, doesn't he?"
"Let them get on a bit ahead," I whispered, "and then we will follow them."
So we allowed the foul fiend and his probable victim to proceed about a hundred yards, and then cautiously crept out of our hiding place.
The man was the notorious "Jack the Ripper," right enough; the very way he walked indicated it. Any moment, we felt sure, he would take out his long knife, and then we would both rush forward and arrest him in the very act of murder. It might be better though to allow him to actually kill the woman, because then there would be no doubt about it, and we should not only draw the reward, but should have the additional pleasure of seeing the crime committed.
Why did he take so long about it though? He had passed a dozen places where, save for us, he could safely have dispatched his victim. On and on they walked, and at length reached a small church or chapel. Stealthily we crept, nearer and nearer. Quite close to the chapel an empty wagon was standing; we climbed on to it and were within some ten yards or so of the assassin. He and his victim waslked up to the door of the small building. "Smith," I gasped, "can't you see what he's up to?
He's going to take her in there and murder her. Let's get nearer."
Cautiously we left the waggon and stole silently up to the church steps.
"Mary, my love," the "villain" was saying, "I was certain I had forgotten to lock the door after the service to-night. You see I was right, my dear. Well, we'll lock it securely now."
Saying which he turned the lock, slipped the key in his pocket, and he and his "victim" turned homewards.
Noticing Smith and I standing there, he said, in the kindliest possible manner: "Ah, my boys, you oughtn't to be out at this late hour, you know. Get away home, there's good lads, or Jack the Ripper may catch you." Little he knew that as far as we were concerned he might have been that gentleman himself.
This was our first disappointment. By all the rules of detective lore that man should have been "Jack the Ripper," but he simply wasn't, that's all. At that late hour he had no moral right to be anybody else, and he turned out to be a mere tame church official.
"At least 2,000 gone West," I murmured, as we retraced our steps.
Similar experiences befell other members of the syndicate, but our enthusiasm never waned or relaxed, and still those dreadful murders continued.
It was reported that Brown had been seen in deep conversation with a policeman in the neighbourhood of Spitalfields Market. This was a flagrant breach of our articles of association, wherein it was specifically laid down that this being a private effort communication of any nature with the police was strictly prohibited. A Board meeting was held to discuss the situation, when it was resolved that Brown should be retired from the company; but he obstinately refused to be retired.
"I was only asking the bobby to give me a few clues," he protested, "I should have handed all he gave me to the syndicate, and I refuse to go unless I am paid out in full."
This was hardly fair, for, after all, he had had his full share of those sand shoes, and it had already been decided that when we captured the murderer lots should be drawn for the remaining assets. Seeing that he had wantonly broken the rules, properly speaking he had no claim at all, but we thought, seeing that we stood to make thousands, it was wiser to choose the least line of resistance, and so we paid him out, deducting the sum of one shilling for wear and tear.
We continued our nightly vigils, and each evening saw us start off for our respective hunting grounds. There being now only nine couples and one odd man, we turned a duet into a trio. Evans and his partner ran after a cab all the way to Poplar, only to discover to their disgust that the inmates were merely joining a ship which was sailing early next morning for South Africa.
And the mystery was a far from a solution as ever.
The cause of the second split in the syndicate was due to the fact that a murder had been committed in a certain court which it was the duty of twoof our members to patrol and they could not satisfactorily explain where they had been at the time. It was 2,000 absolutely thrown away.
The final break-up of the syndicate was due to a call made by the secretary for an additional half a crown each. It is doubtful whether the whole of the shareholders could have put up half a crown among the lot of them, and, as the secretary seemed somewhat hazy as to why this second call had become necessary, we quite naturally concluded, the month being well advanced, that he required the luck if you like," I thought. money for his own private purposes, and, there and then, decided to close down as a syndicate, but to continue our detective operations privately in pairs.
As my half-section said to me:
"You see, as a syndicate, we should have shared the 2,000 between 19 of us, which would figure out, roughly, at 100 each, whereas when you and I catch the beggar we shall share the whole bang lot between us." Smith was rather hot stuff at figures. His father was something in a bank, so perhaps that accounted for it.
I can tell you that additional 900 made all the difference. We had been fairly keen before, but were now doubly enthusiastic. There wasn't a portion of the East End we didn't explore, and carefully noted likely spots for the next murder. One night, after an unusually strenuous search, we reached the side entrance - the "living in" entrance to the establishment - and, to our intense excitement, found pinned on the door, just as described in the papers, a rough, crumpled piece of paper, on which was rudely printed in red - probably the blood of his last victim - this message: -
"I'M GOIN TO KERMIT 2 MURDERS
TOMORRER NITE AT
LOOK OUT 4 THE MAN IN A CHEK
SOOT AND CAP.
JACK THE RIPPER. "
I tore the paper down at once and secreted it in my pocket
"Here's a piece of luck if you like," I thought.
"Smith, my boy," I said, "shake hands. This time to-morrow night, all being well, please God, we shall be worth exactly 1,000 each."
"Yes," he answered somewhat dubiously, "but where and what does ' S.M.' stand for?"
"Smith," I retorted, "don't try to be a bigger fool than nature has made you. Haven't you any brains? It's as plain as a pikestaff. What can 'S.M.' stand for but "Spitalfields Market"? He was plainly knocked in a heap.
"Man," he said, "what a brain you've got. Of course I see it now. What an ass I was."
We could hardly contain ourselves for the next 24 hours. I made up my mind to give notice to the firm the day after the capture and to take an extended holiday, possibly a Continental tour. At 19 one needs a complete rest and change.
Smith, who always had an eye for business, spoke of putting his share into a small shop that he knew of, and at the same time marrying a little girl in the lace department, who, he explained, would be a great help to him in the business.
Night came at last, and at 11.30, by special arrangement with the acting locker-up, Smith and I, closely muffled and wearing syndicate sand shoes, which we had paid sixpence a pair for when the company's assets came into the market, sallied forth into the night.
Noiselessly we crept down Commercial Street, and, leaving Spitalfields Church on our right, slipped noiselessly into the market buildings, concealing ourselves behind a great pile of empty fruit baskets. There are always people about a London market both day and night, but that night, somehow, there appeared to be more than usual.
The church clock struck one; and at that very moment we saw the figure of a man emerge from one of the side stands and creep furtively into the passage way. This was our man undoubtedly; there was murder written all over him, his very walk gave him away, and, what was more, he was dressed just as his blood-written note stated he would be.
"Come on, Smith," I whispered, shakily, "now's our time. You tackle him from behind."
With this we slipped noiselessly out and rushed at our man. As we did so there appeared to be simultaneous rushes from all quarters of the market.
"B-b-but w-w-what's all this?" we gasped; for there were Somerville and Jones, Tucker and Ball, Brady and Miller; in fact, every member of the defunct syndicate was there. And, in the centre of us all, simply convulsed with laughter, was Brown, the man we had expelled.
We returned disconsolately to our quarters, and a few days later, when our outraged feeling had, in a measure, subsided, and Brown had partially recovered from the hammering he had received, we summoned him to attend a meeting of what had been the original syndicate, when, by means of threats and a little judicious torture, we compelled him to disclose his wicked plot.
"Well, you fellows," he said, "it was like this. I felt very sore when you turned me out, so made up my mind to get my own back. I knew the time you chaps used to return from your midnight prowls, and wrote out about half a dozen notices all alike. As I saw you coming along in pairs, I kept pinning them on the door one at a time and then hiding until the next couple came along. Every one of you took the bait splendidly, and then - Oh well, you know what happened after that."
No, Smith didn't start in business and never married. That little girl in the laces Brown married, took her to Australia, and to-day he owns one of the largest businesses in that country.
The strangest thing about it all was, though, that the last of the "Ripper outrages" synchronised with our famous vigil in Spitalfields Market, so, after all, we may have done some good. Possibly the scoundrel saw the large crowd which was out tracking him down, and thought the scent was getting too warm. Who knows?
Being strongly of opinion that we had been instrumental in stopping the terrible crimes we wrote to the Scotland Yard authorities explaining what we had done, and suggesting that, although they might not feel inclined to pay over the whole 2,000, we should be quite satisfied with say, 500, but we were never favoured with a reply. And when, nowadays unsolved mysteries are being discussed, my blood still surges within me when I think of the scurvy trick played upon us by that, today, successful Australian merchant...