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A Very Discreet Man : James Monro and the Whitechapel Murders

Andrew L Morrison

James Monro
Of all the senior police officials who were involved with the Jack the Ripper case, James Monro remains the most enigmatic. He alone amongst the high ranking policemen did not publish any memoirs and yet it is possible that he was more informed about the case than most if not all his contemporaries. If anybody knew the truth about the events of 1888 it was him.

Before going over what he could have known, who he could have told, who could have provided him with information, etc., I will give a brief summary of his life and career.

1838: Born in Edinburgh. His father was George Monro, a solicitor. He was educated at Edinburgh High School and the Universities of Edinburgh and Berlin.

1857: Enters Indian Civil Service and holds post of Assistant Magistrate and later Collector.

1863: Married.

1877: Becomes District Judge and Inspector-General of the Police in Bengal.

1881: Meets and becomes friends with Melville Macnaghten after the latter is assaulted by natives.

1883: Appointed Commissioner of the Presidency Division (Bombay).

1884: Resigns his post and returns to England to become Assistant Commissioner Metropolitan Police (Criminal Investigation Department).

1888: August - Resigns after a struggle with Commissioner Charles Warren over the independence of the CID and Warren's blocking of the appointment of Melville Macnaghten. Monro is appointed "Head of the Detective Service" by Home Secretary Henry Matthews.

November - Charles Warren resigns as Commissioner and is replaced by Monro.

1889: June - Appoints Melville Macnaghten Assistant Chief Constable (CID).

July - Investigates the murder of Alice McKenzie.

1890: Resigns as Commissioner after an arguement over the Police Pensions Bill and attempts to make civil servant Evelyn Ruggles-Brise Chief Constable (CID). Monro returns to India and sets up a medical mission at Rhanagat, 40 Miles from Calcutta.

1905: Returns to Scotland and then Cheltenham

1920: January 28 - Dies age 81

The first thing that a researcher would point out is that during the period of the Ripper murders Monro was not actually a member of the police. However, officers involved in the case were encouraged by the Home Office to consult this "Head of the Detective Service" about the murders, much to the annoyance of Charles Warren.

Who were these men who consulted with Monro? One of them was his successor in the CID, Robert Anderson. Much of Monro's work had involved combatting the threat from the Fenian terrorists. In this he had been assisted by Anderson who from 1876 to 1886 was the Home Office "Adviser to matters relating to political crime". Thus, the two men knew each other very well indeed and it is very likely that Anderson shared all the information he had about the Whitechapel murderer with Monro. Monro was also consulted by Chief Inspector Donald Swanson and Chief Inspector Reid.

There were other sources that Monro could get information from. In 1887 Inspector Frederick Abberline was transferred to Scotland Yard from H Division (Whitechapel) on the express wishes of Monro and the Chief Constable (CID) Adolphus Williamson so it is possible that he also consulted Monro.

The Special Branch or Special Irish Branch came under Monro's control when he was Assistant Commissioner (CID). The head of that department between 1883-1893 was John George Littlechild who in recent years has come to the fore in Ripper studies due to his letter implicating Tumblety.

Monro was surrounded by sources of information about the murders and not all his information was necessarily second-hand. He investigated the murder of Alice McKenzie in Castle Alley, 1889 as at the time it was thought it could be the work of Jack the Ripper. There is even some evidence to suggest that he visited the site of Mary Kelly's murder. His grandson James recalls him saying "It was terrible, even the ceiling was splashed with blood."

Further evidence that Monro was deeply involved in the Ripper case exists in the form of a memo sent by Home Secretary Henry Matthews to his Private Secretary Evelyn Ruggles-Brise. It reads "Stimulate the Police about the Whitechapel murders. Monro might be willing to give a hint to the CID people if necessary." This suggests that Monro had knowledge that the CID did not or at the very least had come to some very different conclusions.

So what did Monro know and what was his theory about the case? Here there is a problem because as mentioned before he did not publish memoirs or give much in the way of interviews. However, although there are no published memoirs there do exist some private, written memoirs that Monro wrote for his family. These were uncovered by Martin Howells and Keith Skinner. They do not contain anything about the Ripper case or even the Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889. What they do contain however gives us an idea of Monro's character. One passage shows his pride in his discretion. "But says the Times 'Mr Monro albeit a strong man was not always discreet' ...But what does the Times mean by being discreet? I suppose it means that I did not always do as the Times thought I should have done. This may be so. But where is all the evidence of indiscretion on my part? Let me hear them and I shall be able to reply."

One might well ask if Monro did have a theory about the Ripper murders. After all, it could have been not so much a matter of discretion on his part as a case of ignorance. We may not know what his theory was but we do know he had one because in 1890 he told Cassells Magazine he had "decidedly" formed a theory and "When I do theorise it is from a practical standpoint and not upon any visionary foundation." His grandson Christopher remembers him saying "Jack the Ripper should have been caught." Even more exciting, he was supposed to have left his eldest son Charles some papers relating to the case. If these ever existed they were probably destroyed by Charles Monro but he told a younger brother Douglas that their father's theory on the case was "a very hot potato."

What could have been Monro's theory? Some clues might be found in the Macnaghten Memoranda. Monro and Macnaghten had known each other since 1881 and all indications are that they were very good friends and colleagues. Macnaghten wrote of Monro that "I doubt whether any of the gentlemen who filled his position before or after his time gained more completely the affection and confidence of their officers (Days of My Years, 1915)." Macnaghten did not join the Met until 1889 so his information on the case was second hand. Where did it come from? If we look at M J Druitt then there is a connection between him and Monro. The Private Secretary to Charles Warren, James Monro and his successor, Edward Bradford, was Walter Ernest Boultbee. Boultbee married in 1885 Ellen Barker, a niece of Alfred Mayo who was a distant relation of the Druitt family. Macnaghten talks about "private information" could this have come from Monro who had been told something by Boultbee?

What about Kosminski? The most obvious source that Macnaghten could have heard about him from is Robert Anderson. However, Macnaghten and Anderson don't seem to have got on all that well. In his memoirs Anderson recalls a colleague making a silly fuss over a threatening letter and in his copy of the book Donald Swanson identifies the colleague as Macnaghten. Macnaghten dedicated his memoirs Days of My Years to Anderson's successor Edward Henry. More telling perhaps is that in 1891 there were reports of attempts to get Macnaghten moved to the uniform branch of the Police. Therefore, although it is possible that Macnaghten heard about Kosminski from Anderson he could just as likely have heard it from his friend James Monro who had been told by Anderson or Swanson. The same could apply to the information about Michael Ostrog.

There could be another link between Macnaghten, Monro and the Ripper. In The Rise of Scotland Yard by Douglas G Browne (1956) there is the statement "Sir Melville Macnaghten appears to identify the Ripper with the leader of a plot to assassinate Mr Balfour at the Irish Office". The department which would have dealt with any such plot would have been the Special Branch. Could John Littlechild have told Monro something and could Macnaghten have then picked up on it? It has been suggested that this is a distorted reference to Tumblety who was known to sympathise with the Fenians and was nominally implicated with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

James Monro
The annecdotal quote by Monro "Jack the Ripper should have been caught" could apply to Tumblety or Kosminski. The former was able to escape to America and the latter was certified insane and so it could never be proved he was the killer. Both these events could have been very embarrassing to the Met if they had been revealed. Scotland Yard allowing the Ripper to slip through their fingers was "a very hot potato" indeed.

The same could apply if Druitt was the killer as he "escaped" by committing suicide. It would apply even more so if the theory in Howells and Skinner's The Ripper Legacy is true: i.e. Druitt was killed by a group of powerful and influential men who did not want Druitt caught and tried in case he brought them down with him. On the other hand perhaps Monro's theory involved somebody else who we have never heard off.

In their book "Jack the Ripper : Summing up and Verdict" Colin Wilson and Robin Odell mention a theory in which Monro is actually the murderer! His motive is revenge against the police and in particular Charles Warren for the way he was treated and made to resign. Needless to say this theory has not gained any support.

On December 2 1888, the day before Monro officially took up the post of Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police G R Sims (the journalist who was later to write about the Ripper being a man whose body was dragged from the Thames) wrote "It would be strange if the accession of Mr Monro to power were to be signalised by such a universally popular achievement as the arrest of Jack the Ripper. From information which has reached me I venture to prophesy that such will be the case" It didn't happen but did James Monro know who the Whitechapel murderer was and if he did does this information still exist? It is possible that this very discreet man took the truth about the Autumn of terror to his grave.


Begg, Paul. Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts (London, Robson 1989)

Begg, Paul & Fido, Martin & Skinner, Keith. The Jack the Ripper A to Z (London, Headline 1991)

Evans, Stewart & Gainey, Paul. The Lodger: The Arrest and Escape of Jack the Ripper (London, Century 1995)

Fido, Martin. The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper (London, Weidenfeld 1989)

Howells, Martin & Skinner, Keith. The Ripper Legacy (London, Sphere 1988)

Sugden, Phillip. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper (London, Robinson 1995)

Wilson, Colin & Odell, Robin. Jack the Ripper : Summing Up and Verdict (London, Corgi 1988)

Related pages:
  Andrew Morrison
       Dissertations: A Mystery Play : Police Opinions on Jack the Ripper 
       Dissertations: Stephen White, Amos Simpson and Eddowes' Shawl 
       Dissertations: The Life and Possible Deaths of Sir William Gull 
       Dissertations: Whodunit? : Choosing a Ripper Suspect 
       Police Officials: An Introduction to the Metropolitan Police 
  James Monro
       Dissertations: Anderson, Monro and Jsfmboe 
       Message Boards: James Monro 
       Official Documents: Parliamentary Debates - November 12 1888 
       Official Documents: Parliamentary Debates - November 28 1888 
       Official Documents: Parliamentary Debates - November 6 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily News - 29 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 7 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 8 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Echo - 5 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening News - 28 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening News - 3 December 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening News - 5 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening News - 6 December 1888 
       Press Reports: Freemans Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser - 4 Sept... 
       Press Reports: Freemans Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser - 6 Sept... 
       Press Reports: Graphic - 1 December 1888 
       Press Reports: Irish Times - 29 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 1 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 3 December 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 4 December 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 4 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 6 December 1888 
       Press Reports: Pall Mall Gazette - 29 August 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 19 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Woodford Times - 30 November 1888 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - James Monro