New York, USA
4 August 1889
The London Stews Where Murder Stalks Undetected
NO PLACE IN THE WORLD LIKE IT
London Letter in the Boston Herald
Ten days have passed, leaving behind them no clew to the Whitechapel murderer. Ten days have passed and the name of the eighth victim, her story and her horrible death are all but forgotten. Whitechapel itself lives on, unheeded by the greater London, and outside of its own boundaries it will scarcely be thought of again until the fiend's steel takes another human life. the police have done nothing, they merely stand and wait. To be sure, the force in Whitechapel has been increased both by men in uniform and by men in mufti, but the reinforcement is not large enough to do what is required of it. All that the police seem to do is watch. Watching Whitechapel is like watching the algae of a vast swamp. It is almost vain to hope that the heavy booted constables will catch Jack the Ripper red handed, for their ponderous footfalls sound the signal for a criminal's flight. Perhaps they have more than once alarmed Jack the Ripper, and enabled him to get safely away. As for the so called vigilance committees, some idea of their usefulness may be gathered from the fact that one of their chiefs destroyed the letter which he claims to have received from the assassin, giving warning of the renewal of operations in July. These committees meet in public houses, patrol the streets unarmed, save for sticks and knuckle dusters, and, with the exception of three or four whistles distributed among every dozen members, they have no means of calling aid in case of an emergency. It is idle to say, as some people do, that Whitechapel has become unnerved, excited and alarmed because of the mysteriously committed crimes. Another community might become so affected by similar causes, but Whitechapel cannot be - it is out of the question. England should look Whitechapel squarely in the face and see the horrible blotches that disfigure it, but England does no such thing. She does not wish to offend her modesty, and therefore she sentimentalizes and talks of sending missionaries and blankets. The fact is that too much sentiment has been wasted over Whitechapel, and some missionaries there have done more harm than good. Whitechapel must be understood before it can be helped. The few outsiders who understand it are just as powerless to help the dismal region. They take a few basketfuls from the ocean of misery, but the vast depths remain. There are respectable people in Whitechapel among the tradesfolk and better working classes; perhaps there are even some comfortable people among the former, and there are some brave people doing battle with wretchedness there, but all of these can be counted without much difficulty. Whitechapel bas been extensively written about during the past year, but rarely has any writer probed its lowest strata or detected the undercurrents of its evil life. You are told that Whitechapel is desperately poor, but it is idle to lump poverty in a single phrase and leave it there. You are told that Whitechapel abounds in crime, and you are left to infer some direct, inevitable connection between poverty and the worst of vice. But look Whitechapel squarely in the face, and you will see something worse than thievery there, something worse than threatening. Fastidious England calls to immorality and refuses to look. Fastidious England is wrong. The lowest classes in Whitechapel are not immoral. They do not know what immorality means, they are unmoral. From among their women Jack the Ripper selects his victims. These women of Whitechapel streets are the very worst products of the glorious civilization of the Nineteenth Century.
What saddens you most in Whitechapel are the legions of children in the gutter; children run in that district like weeds in untended fields. There are almost as many children as paving stones in the streets. They are unguarded, uncared for, dirtier than pigs, and as vile in every way as their elders, and they no sooner reach their teens than they increase number. Girls of 15 and 16 dandle their own babies in Whitechapel alleys. "Impossible," says the British matron; "neither the law nor the church permit child marriages in England." Perhaps not, but neither the law nor the clergy have anything to do with these affairs in Whitechapel. When legal age permits the clergy to interfere, these bad matters are generally made worse. The well meaning old blackgowns induce the offending young people to marry. They marry them in batches of a dozen couples at a time, then the legal living together is even worse in result than the illegal. One squalid room serves as a home for all and a breeding place for children, who come faster than the means of support; indeed, the father can scarce support himself to begin with. Cleanliness is unknown, decency not heard of, there is only bestial poverty and ignorance.
The parents take to drink, and the children follow them and soon become ruffians, and the daughters worse than ruffians. The tens of thousands of children in Whitechapel streets have only the school of life. They will soon give birth to tens of thousands more, who will multiply and intensify. Lust and wretchedness. Their elders are already without shame, just as they are without soap. The gospel is wasted on them, so are blankets, so is money. You cannot treat them like other people, because they are unlike any other people on the earth. They live and cheat and steal and fight and kill without compunction, because they have no conscience. They have no reverence for human life, which is the cheapest thing in Whitechapel. You may pity those people; perhaps you can find it possible to sentimentalize over them; but it is absolutely impossible to like them or to repress feelings of deep disgust when you see them. On the other hand, it is quite as impossible to blame them. They are creatures of their surroundings; they are absolutely the scum of civilization. That civilization should produce scum, and such scum, is the severest criticism of such vaunted developments of the human race. A public that does not call a spade a spade refuses to look Whitechapel squarely in the face, and to apply a remedy to the manifestations of social disease there.
Whitechapel is overpopulated, but this condition is due to the most reckless improvidence, born of ignorance and lack of any responsible moral sense. This is the key to the utter degradation of Whitechapel. There is no mystery about it. It is as plain as day. Let the moralists put aside their false modesty and tackle the evil as it stands. Let the reforming radicals who are always lamenting the condition of the East End of London take their self imposed charges in hand and apply their powers to cure the chief cause of the woe, the want and the crime. Whitechapel grows steadily worse from this very cause.
Tonight I have seen hideous sights there. Most of the adult female creatures there would welcome death, I think, even at the Ripper's knife. They are vermin living among vermin. Vermin covered Whitechapel is a sickening place at any time. It is incomparably so Saturday night. It is bad enough on the broad, bright High Street, but behind that, on either side, it is cruelly dismal. I have walked among its purlieus 10, 15, 20 minutes at a time without hearing or seeing policemen in either uniform or in plain dress. It is impossible to mistake a London policeman in plain dress, for his manner and his walk betray him.
The London police are dull, heavy fellow, with no detective capacity worth mentioning. Their superior officers, if not dull, are heavy, fettered with traditions and hopelessly bound with red tape. Scotland Yard not only refuses information but resents being asked; it scorns suggestions and absolutely declines to afford the press any facilities whatever for the investigation of the Whitechapel murders and hunting the Ripper. It is jealous of outside efforts, and does not know what to do on its own account. Its present method of guarding Whitechapel is demonstrative, but not particularly useful. Attention is chiefly paid to the scenes of former murders, as if Scotland Yard innocently suspected that Jack the Ripper would revisit them. I know at least one beat which a policeman covers in three quarters of an hour, affording ample opportunity for the commission of any crime. Miles of Whitechapel byeways are wretchedly lighted, and it is easy enough to kill and butcher there, with scarcely any possibility of detection.
Some one asks why the police do not institute a house to house search after a murder by Jack the Ripper, but law forbids the police searching a house without a warrant from a magistrate. There are 8,000 houses in Whitechapel, and to search them all would require 8,000 warrants. Before they could be drawn the murderer could be 8,000 miles away. Some one also asks how is it that nobody hears the shriek of the Ripper's victim, but it is extremely unlikely that the victims have time to shriek, so quickly is the murder done. But if they rent the air with cries no one in Whitechapel would heed them. Cries of "Murder!" and calls for the police are so common in Whitechapel that nobody notices them. They are the constant companions of drunken brawls. I heard such cries tonight, but nobody stirred, for the men and women there are always shouting. At every corner there is a brawl.
Tonight the public houses are filled with poor looking people, and publicans do more business than any other tradesmen in Whitechapel. There are stuffy, garish taverns everywhere, and this is their gain night. The men are guzzling, the women are guzzling and brawling, and there are almost as many babies and little toddling youngsters as there are adults in the bar rooms. It is a frightful and revolting sight. There are none of the decent poor among this riotous lot. These creatures are not honest workers. They are barely like human beings. For the most part they are English born. That they should be born as they are, that they should live as they do, and die as they do in the gutter, the docks and the river, is a disgrace to English civilization. Perhaps Jack the Ripper will bring this fact home to English minds and warn the rest of humanity. Meanwhile this mysterious assassin remains undiscovered, and there is no present hope of finding him. Will he follow his last year's method and kill another woman before the month is over? If he does, he will probably escape unhindered. A well known lunacy doctor in London promises positively to catch Jack the Ripper within six weeks if Scotland Yard will render assistance, but Scotland Yard refuses it and will not even take a hint.