27 October 1888
Mysterious Murder and Mutilation of Eight Women
THE SLUMS OF WHITECHAPEL
Three Murders Before the Public Were Interested - Two More create a Regular Panic - The Isolated Case in the North of England
- Two More, and the Most Shocking of All, Within One Hour - A Reign of Terror in Whitechapel - The Various Theories: An American, a Homicidal Lunatic, a "Sexual Pervert", a lascar or a Medieval Ghoul?
During the first week in September the people in London learned with amazement, not unmixed with horror, that there was an unknown and mysterious murderer haunting that district commonly called Whitechapel. To describe the central section of this district in terms fit for refined readers is not possible. It combines the worst features of old "St Giles", as London novelists once described it; of the Five Points of New York as it was in 1850 and of the Chinese quarters of San Francisco, and has, in addition, some local horrors of its own.
It is a tangled wilderness of narrow streets and shut alleys, dark lanes and dirty courts, surrounded by vile gin shops and viler lodging houses. It is the center of the noted East End of London, and lies on both sides of the broad Whitechapel road, which is the main outlet in that direction through Stratford and Ilford into the agricultural districts of Essex. The population of Whitechapel may be broadly divided into three classes: The fairly well to do tradesmen, the industrious but ill paid artisans, and the hopeless, homeless, helpless thousands of unemployed who drag out an existence from day to day as devoid of ease and comfort as any of God's creatures on this broad earth. Common lodging houses abound in Whitechapel, and wretched and miserable as are every variety of these refuges of the destitute and desolate, the East End "padding kens" enjoy an unenviable notoriety as the filthiest and most disreputable of their kind. Within a very small territory, which is traversed by but five streets of any width beside the Whitechapel road, are crowded at least 150,00 human beings; and there vice prevails in its most revolting forms. By day the district is comparatively quiet; but soon after nightfall all the "gin palaces" are lighted up, dark red lanterns shine dimly in the narrow passages leading to the inner courts, the occasional sound of music is heard from a low concert room a cellar "dive", and the streets are thronged by reckless sailors, adventurous apprentices, curious visitors and the regular habitues of the locality. And among the latter are hundreds of women whose only care is to procure the means for one day's food, one night's lodging, and the fiery liquor which temporarily drowns reason and remorse. Of course, many of these women are accomplices in robbery; and there are houses in the narrower streets lying off the main thoroughfares in which every facility is afforded for hocusing and robbing the already half drunken prey of these painted jezebels. Scarcely a day passes but a tale of daring robbery is unfolded in th adjacent police court, in which these women and their contemptible male companions figure as the despoilers of inebriated sailors or workmen. Such is Whitechapel; such are its inhabitants and visitors, and such are the women from whom this modern ghoul selects his victims. The reader will see at once why the case presents almost insuperable difficulties to the police. Not only is the environment the best for murder, but the victims naturally avoid the police, and conduct the murderer to the most secret places.
The First Murder Was in August and Attracted Little Attention In August 1887 (sic) the first of these murders occurred; but it was only noticed as a curious variation of the many murders in Whitechapel. On the morning of Aug. 7, this year, a policeman on his regular beat in the rear of old Whitechapel church found the body of a poorly clad woman on the pavement in front of a row of small houses standing in a blind alley. Day was just breaking when the officer found the body. She was quite dead and her throat was cut from ear to ear. A subsequent examination of the remains disclosed the fact that she had been disemboweled after death. At the inquest the body was identified as that of one Martha Turner, a social outcast well known to the police of the district as an habitual frequenter of the Whitechapel road. The police, aided by Scotland Yard and city detectives, worked hard on the case but failed to obtain the slightest clew to the murderer. On Aug. 31, just before daybreak, a policeman found another woman of the same class, named Mary Ann Nicholls, lying dead, with her throat cut in precisely the same manner as Martha Turner's had been and with the same nameless outrages committed upon the body after death. The body of his second victim was found in Buck's court, a narrow thoroughfare running off Brady street and only 200 yards distant from the scene of the first murder. The woman Nicholls was well known in the neighborhood, but all efforts to discover a motive for her assassination or the wretch who butchered her proved completely abortive. The third murder brought the matter to the attention of newspaper readers everywhere, and scores of curious theories were offered. The police force of the neighborhood was double, scores of detectives from other districts were dropped into the district. Citizens by the hundred patrolled the streets throughout the nights, suspicious looking men prowling around after dark were arrested on suspicion by the score, but the murderer remained at large. Exactly a week later, almost to the very hour, a policeman discovered the dead body of Annie Sievey in the open doorway of a tenement house in Hanbury street, a narrow lane at the back of one of the great Whitechapel breweries. Again the victim was an "unfortunate", and again her throat was cut from ear to ear, but in his devilish treatment of the remains the fiend had exhibited an accession of blood curdling brutality hitherto unprecedented in the annals of barbarous and revolting crimes. He had actually torn out the woman's heart and laid it across the face along with the viscera.
The police redoubled their efforts; all the lodging houses of the district were polled, and every man required to give an account of himself. Many men were arrested, but proved innocent; but at length the public mind settled down to the belief that a wild looking, half insane Israelite of the vicinity was the guilty man. The police held him some time, but it was easily proved that he spent his evenings indoors, and that he had not the physical strength which circumstances show the murderer to possess. It is a curious fact, by the way, that the worst murders were perpetrated in a region occupied almost entirely by foreigners, and one of them under the very windows of a club house used by Socialists from eastern Europe. The fourth murder completed the chain of evidence as to the general nature of the crimes. It was demonstrated that the murderer possessed great strength; that he was able to prevent his victims from making an outcry; that he probably killed at a single blow; that his animosity, or whatever the motive is, was directed against a single class, or that he considered them safer victims; that robbery was not a motive, and that he was probably actuated by a monomaniacal frenzy not inconsistent with apparent sanity in other matters, of which mental and moral perversion history unhappily gives many instances. And on these facts local opinion attributed the murders to a mysterious person called "Leather Apron", because he wore one of those articles and no one knew his real name. No one can remember having seen this man in daytime, and he has not arrested; but some of the women of the quarter testify that he was often seen at night, and that he wore a shoemaker's knife under his apron. Since the search became very vigorous he has not been seen.
There was a pause of two weeks, and then a woman of the same class was found dead and similarly mutilated in Gateshead. This is part of the great northern English seaport and manufacturing town, Newcastle-on-Tyne. Newcastle lies on one side of the river Tyne and Gateshead on the other. The two towns are connected by three bridges. The iron foundries, locomotive works, machine shops and many other important industries are located in Gateshead and the contiguous districts of Biker, Walker and Scotswood. Many thousands of men are employed in the various works, and they and their families reside for the most part in and around Gateshead. The last year or two fully one fifth of the whole working population of the district, which numbers over 12,000, have been out of employment, and during last winter but for the establishment and maintenance of a liberal scheme of outdoor relief hundreds must have literally perished of hunger. The people are densely ignorant, brutal in their habits, and live for the most part in a condition of filthy squalor. The speech of the natives is simply unintelligible to strangers, and their manners are as rough and harsh as their vernacular. The abandoned women from amongst whom the murderer here, as in Whitechapel, selected his victim are in Gateshead sunk to the lowest depth of human abasement.
About this time two curiously absurd stories gained credence. It was said than an American medical student had offered a large sum for several specimens of the uterus, and that he, or some vile agent of his, was murdering these women to obtain them. For some time the alleged "American" was eagerly looked for; but the fact that such specimens can be obtained at small expense dissipated that theory. Another was that the murderer was a woman dressed in man's clothes; but no motive could be conceived. Another theory - that the murderer had suffered robbery or worse by association with such women, and was seeking revenge - is still maintained by many; but medical men are almost unanimous in the opinion that the perpetrator is simply a homicidal maniac, probably a "sexual pervert" - one in whom the natural instincts have been perverted by disease or excess into a blind hatred or morbid desire for blood. And while these theories were being discussed the most shocking cases occurred - two murders within the same midnight hour. A few minutes before midnight of Sept. 29 a woman's corpse, still warm and quivering, was found on the sidewalk on Berners street, a narrow thoroughfare of the dangerous district; and an added element of amazement lies in the fact that at that hour there are still many persons on the street, and at that very time the socialists were holding their meeting in a hall near by. In fact, it was a foreign laborer on his way to the meeting who first discovered the corpse.
The blood was still flowing, the corpse still warm; the murderer had been frightened away before completing the mutilation, yet he had lustily slashed and hacked the body. The chief commissioner of police, Sir Charles Warren, was hastily called from his bed, and ordered all the available policemen into the district. In a short time they found another warm and bleeding corpse in Mitre square, not ten minutes walk from the scene of the other murder. It was truly a night of horrors. The murderer, evidently enraged at being driven from his first victim, had rushed to the next convenient spot and slaughtered the first woman he could secure. He had had time to do his fiendish work thoroughly. The victim's clothes had been thrown over her head and one horrible slash with a large knife had laid the body open from the pelvis to the ribs. A cross cut had then divided it almost to the backbone. The viscera had then been torn out and scattered over the corpse, and a great number of small stabs inflicted upon the corpse. The sight was indescribably horrible. The policeman who discovered the body fainted. The next day was one long to be remembered in Whitechapel. Not only were all the denizens drawn to the spot by the horrible fascination, but many thousands from other parts of London. A correspondent of the New York Sun gives the following:
"London is dreadfully frightened. Scores of women are hysterical. Tens of thousands could not possibly be induced to stop out alone. Everyone, of course, expects fresh atrocities, and that is how things stand at present. It is not flattering to the police nor comforting to Londoners, who imagined themselves well protected. The following tells what is known of the fresh crimes, which, as an evidence of an almost unprecedented condition of the human mind, are more interesting to the philosopher even than to the simple citizen who likes to have his blood curdled.
"Your correspondent has spent from early evening until now, past midnight, wandering through the Whitechapel slums. The best idea of the awful degradation of the men there can be gathered from a description of the women, whose ability to keep alive proves the existence of men so low as to consort with them. These wretched women swarm the streets by thousands even now, but keep close together and look sharply around for murderers, even while pretending to laugh, and asking each other whose turn to be cut up will come next. The language in which they speak of the fiend who has made it his business to murder them it is impossible to reproduce. Such profanity and hideously foul language as may be heard coming from the group of women of any Whitechapel corner can probably not be heard anywhere else. Some of these poor animals have actually grown old in their misery, shriveled, horrible, gin soaked hags, who fight and quarrel on the gutter's edge, and to approach within yards of whom is torture.
"The younger women, the queens of these slums, are even more distressing to look at. Some are mere girls, almost children, but all celebrate any stroke of fortune by getting drunk. Bright colors distinguish them. Light blue is the favorite color. Cheap brocades, dragging in the mud, and ostrich feathers, so sadly out of curl as the dissipated owners' hair, are favorite outward signs of such prosperity as may be attained in Whitechapel. The poor creatures when born were dropped upon the surface of the worst pool of degradation that can be boasted by any great city on earth, and all they can do is to sink deeper down into it, fighting and drinking cheap gin as they go. "Infants crawling through heaps of refuse in the slums, never having been made jealous by the sight of clean, fat babyhood, were fairly contented, and their parents evidently found their lives much enlivened by the sensation which had come upon them. The scenes of both murders were swarming with curious crowds, preference being given to the place where the most savage murder occurred, and up to tonight morbid citizens were busy lighting wax matches in the dark corner of Mitre square trying to discover blood stains."
Much unjust criticism of the London police has resulted, but a glance at the testimony will convince any one that with such witnesses and in such a locality it is almost impossible to get a clew. For instance, at the inquest on the body found in Berners street, a sister of the victim was called and deposed that she awoke and heard kisses and a sound which she thought was made by a person falling to the ground. She was convinced that her sister was dead, and, after reading the accounts of the murder in the newspapers, went to the morgue and recognized the body of the murdered woman as that of her sister. As she lives some distance away, this is taken to prove that the body of the murdered woman was carried to the place where it was found. But how could the perpetrator do that without getting blood upon his clothing; and how could a man with bloody clothing escape all scrutiny? To such questions the police have as yet no answer, and the stupidity or drunken indifference, at the time of the murder, of the friends of the murdered women appears to be such that very little can be learned from them.
The inquest on the other body found that night was somewhat more satisfactory. It was shown that the murderer met the women at some distance from the square and walked with her along the main street that led to the square. It was probably this fact that caused the murderer to mutilate the face of his victim, as he feared that they had been noticed in company and the woman's identification would lead to his capture. The faces of the other Whitechapel victims were untouched, while this one's was hacked beyond recognition. Various measures were then adopted by the people of the east end for their protection, as little confidence is felt in the police. That night fifty working men, all armed and ready to attack even a blood-thirsty insane man, patrolled the neighborhood frequented by the murderer. The papers print columns of letters on the subject every day and suggestions are numerous. The latest is that public prayers shall be said as a means of gaining relief from this epidemic of murders.
The next suggestion was by a sailor named Dodge, who declared that in August last he met a Malay cook named Al Aska, with whom he had previously been acquainted on shipboard, in a music hall in London, and that Al Aska told him he had been robbed of all he had by a woman of the town, and threatened that unless he found the woman and recovered his property he would kill and mutilate every Whitechapel woman he met. The police searched the city, but no such Malay was found.
And now appeared one of the strangest phenomena connected with such crimes - one that all criminal history shows to be a concomitant of popular excitement. People began to "confess" - one in person and meny by letter. John Fitzgerald surrendered himself to the police as the murderer, and apparently thought he was; but he was easily proved to be a feeble hypochondriac.
A letter signed "Jack the Ripper" was received by the police. It addresses the chief as "Dear Old Boss", confesses to the murders and says the motive is revenge. Another letter of "confession" gives religious conviction as the reason, and alleges that the writer has a mission to drive all lewd women from London.
On the wall by one of the victims these worlds were rudely scrawled: "This is five; fifteen more and I give myself up;" and various letters in the same strain have been received. During the same time there has been a great increase in robberies and street outrages in every part of London.
Another horror, the seventh for London, came to light on Oct. 2, when a woman's corpse, far advanced in decomposition, was found within sight of the police headquarters in Scotland Yard. It had been literally hacked to pieces, and a pair of arms found in another place some time before were probably those of this corpse. One important fact was now proved. When the murderer wrote on the wall the he had killed five only four were known; it is evident that this last discovered woman was killed before that time, and the police accept this as evidence that the writer was the wholesale murderer. But whether that knowledge brings them any nearer catching him is quite another matter. For the present London holds its breath in a sort of tremulous waiting for another murder. The situation is not without some amusing features, and surely a little of that sort of thing will be a relief after such a feast of horrors. The Sun correspondent above quoted writes:
"The greatest effect produced by the series of butcheries has been upon women of a different class. Probably the most hysterical female in existence just now is the, as a rule, calm and unmoved London chambermaid. When the London fog creeps down it finds lots of park benches in the West End on which there is neither chambermaid nor soldier. That is beyond all question an entirely new sensation for the London fog.
"A friend has assured me that peace has reigned in his household since Sept. 8, when the terror commenced, because not a solitary female servant has wanted an evening out. The effect of the murders has not done the gentleman's wife as much good as it would have done but for the fact that she is most awfully frightened, too. Another friend, less fortunate, finds himself deprived of the services of his only male servant, as the maids and the cook must have their airing, and won't go out alone. "Theories are being built up by thousands, but they are not worth much. I chanced to hear that of George Lewis, the best known solicitor in London. He believes the woman killer to be a religious maniac, who has sworn to root out the social evil, and has adopted the plan in each case of making his punishment so awful as to deter others from evil ways. This view, I learn, is shared by Sir James Risdon Bennett, an eminent authority on lunacy, who has expressed the opinion that the murderer imagines himself ordained from above to kill all bad women, and has set about his difficult task with lunatic enthusiasm.
"Until something is found out London is going to be mighty nervous, and it grows evident that if the murderer is taken it will be his fault. Detectives in plain clothes, on whom London relies, are swarming in Whitechapel, it is true, but as a rule they wear regular police boots and go two by two. They may readily be distinguished a block off when it's clear. I would again advise some American to come over and prove there is still a detective left who can detect."
The London police labor under some peculiar disadvantages. By the last returns they number 10,940, as against 8,250 in Paris and 3,264 in New York, but London contains three times as many people as New York; is spread over six times the area, and yet the very poor and the lowest criminal classes are crowded as in New York and their districts are vastly more difficult to police. A considerable portion of the older part of the city of London is built on the most irregular and confusing lines. Dark alleys, small courts, squares having but one street of egress, and narrow lanes make up a good part of the great city, and it would require at least 50,000 policemen properly to cover the whole of London. The stringent police regulations, which require the emptying of public houses at the hour of 1, while adding to the security of those parts of the British metropolis where such houses most abound, increase also their insecurity after that hour. With, therefore, a force of men wholly insufficient for the first duty they have in hand - the watching of the public streets - it is not strange that in such dark corners as Mitre square such daring deeds of violence are done after nightfall with impunity.
An excited and indignant public must have a scapegoat, and London has, by common consent, selected for a victim Sir Charles Warren, chief commissioner of police. Much color is given to the common accusation by the fact that there was a serious quarrel among the police after the Trafalgar square riots, and that in August last the force was generally remodeled. After being badgered by a corps of critics and men offering all sorts of suggestions, Sir Charles has consented to the use of bloodhounds for tracking the murderer, but the methods proposed for their employment make it plain enough to an American that the Londoners know very little about the nature of that brute.
Of course all the eminent alienists have been called on for an opinion, and their concurrent statement as to what the lunatic is capable of doing without detection is enough to frighten the London women out of their few remaining senses. They report and cite many cases to prove that the old notions of human vampires, ghouls weir wolves and demoniacs were based on actual facts; that in very age there have been men seized with an insane desire to slay and mutilate women, that along with this there is often unnatural cunning in concealment and that actual cannibalism is not an unfrequent accompaniment. Dr. William A. Hammond adds that what are called "sexual perverts" are practically unknown in America, but in countries where there is less freedom, and where the relations of the sexes are not on such a natural basis, they are often met with. Perhaps the most recent case of note is that of Sergt. Bertrand of the French army, who was arrested in Paris as a ghoul in 1847, and convicted of digging up the corpses of women in the cemetery. The particulars of his cannibalism, published by the French medical author, Morel, cannot even be hinted at here.
The London police have engaged in what looks to Americans much like comedy, that is in "testing" the bloodhounds. The correspondent of the New York Sun gives this account of it: It was barely daybreak, and the frost lay thick upon the grass, when Warren's stalwart form showed the way to the place of trial, followed by a few experts, one holding a pair of dogs in the leash.
Sir Charles, in a fit of enthusiasm, offered himself for the quarry, and started off at a good swinging trot. He was soon lost to sight, and then different policemen crossed his track. The dogs were laid on, and worked surely but slowly along until they arrived at the sopt where the first policeman had crossed the trail. Here the dogs were at fault for a time. but soon took up the scent again, the 2 year-old Burgho, who won first prize in the New York dog show this year, leading off.
Burgho has been trained from a puppy to hunt the clean shoe and was well up to the work, though evidently the scent did not lie well. Finally both dogs failed, going off on some side scent. A new trial was started. Sir Charles again acted the hunted man, taking 1,200 yards start. The dogs did well for a while, but finally were baffled, owing to the number of people who crossed the trail. Three more courses were tried, but in only one did the hounds succeed in catching their man, and then they licked and fondled him as an old friend.
Considering that the dogs were following the scent of a man alone, and that the morning was extremely bad for following any trail, the result was not altogether unsatisfactory. If the Whitechapel murderer, on the occasion of his next crime, smears himself with blood or carries off any portion of the body, it is believed the dogs will hunt him down.
Sir Charles Warren, in his tight military dress, and puffing and blowing with his exertions, did not look a very dignified chief commissioner, but if he went back to Scotland Yard hot and tired it was certainly with the most novel feeling that he had a made a good start with his day's work. He was very mad when the evening newspapers came out with reports of his morning's doings, which doubtless were also read and noted by the murderer.
The Opinions of Experts - The Law of Atonement.
The Opinions of Experts - The Law of Atonement.
Professor Ordrenaux, of Columbia College Law school, author of standard works on the legal bearings of insanity, and for nine years state commissioner of lunacy for New York, gives this opinion:
"The murderer is a lunatic, of course. There is no doubt of that. His very cleverness in eluding the police might be a proof of it. The devilish cunning and resource of some maniacs is marvelous. The question is, what frightful nightmare of madness is this that possesses him? When he is caught he will speak out; he won't hesitate to give reasons as far as he is able.
"Meanwhile, we can only guess. But cases of the kind have not been so rare that we need guess at random. The vampires of the middle ages that haunted the cemeteries and dug up the bodies of women to tear the flesh from their bones were doubtless madmen of his caliber. They were a very real terror to their time, not at all creatures of an excited fancy. At times their peculiar madness became fairly epidemic on the continent of Europe. The reason why the psychology of the middle ages presents many more such cases than our day is that then they ran unhindered, while nowadays such lunatics would be very soon arrested.
"Science may ridicule the idea of demoniacal possession. Those who deny that there is anything but matter will see no proof to the contrary. Proof expires with the conditions of matter you are examining, and when you drop the subject as a mental and take it up as a moral question you tread on uncertain ground in a sense. It is true that you cannot find a demon with a microscope or figure it out by tables of logarithms: and yet it is not irrational to suppose that a distance evil agency does dominate the human mind under circumstances when it is overthrown to the last degree and has lost its personal and subjective identity. When insanity, originating in a perversion of the sexual instinct, passes beyond bounds within which it can be explained on conditions of physical deterioration, it is permissible to recognize a superhuman cause as the controlling power in the domination of human conduct. This is demoniacal possession. Granted that the only foundation for belief in it is the utterly inhuman and illogical conduct of the victim, yet if he alone of ten thousand lunatics similarly affected goes this length, we shall have to assume either that he is a being differently formed, which we cannot do, or that some new agency is discovered in his case, as in that of this London murderer. Here is where 'possession of an evil spirit' steps in to supply the explanation. It seems to me as admissible in this last emergency as the law of gravitation. Nobody sees it, yet nobody doubts it. We all see its results.
"The law of blood atonement is written on the constitution of the human mind, and when utterly perverted by a sense of intolerable wrong makes of the man such an ogre as this slayer of women. There are many kinds of vampirism, but they all cluster around this one idea of motiveless mutilation of dead bodies. No one would do the deeds of this monster unless dominated by the law of blood atonement mingled with an evil principle that then takes the form of demoniacal possession.
"The law must furnish by punishment some motive for the man to resist. The taking possession of a mind is a gradual process, a consequence of willful sin against nature's law, or weak yielding. The whole subject opens up such a wide field of metaphysical study and religious suggestion that you cannot answer any question in one word, yes or mo. It is yes up to a certain point and no beyond it."
Dr. Hammond is also emphatic in his opinion that such murderers should be executed, and alienists generally are adopting the view that a monomaniac is often morally responsible for his condition and that the responsibility can be fixed. And, adopting the opinion of medical men, the London police now have a theory that satisfies them and claim to have a particular individual in view and to possess corroborative evidence in support of their theory. He has been repeatedly tracked and traced, and is a well known and wealthy resident of Grosvenor square, the most fashionable quarter of London. A sensation of immense magnitude is expected in connection with this matter..