The Career of Frederick Williamson
of the Detective Department and the C.I.D.
By Belton Cobb, 1956
We reprint below the entire contents of Chapter 16 from this book, which in its entirety covers the history of the Criminal Investigation Department from 1860 to 1889. The final chapter deals almost entirely with the "Crisis of 1888" - i.e. the Jack the Ripper murder investigation of 1888/1889.
The Yard Against Itself
By August, 1888, there had been several further changes at Scotland Yard.
Chief-Superintendent Williamson was a sick man, with heart trouble, and it was realised that he would not be able to continue at work very much longer. But he had had far more experience than anyone else, and his advice was very valuable: so a sinecure post was found for him, where he would not have to be active, and yet would be available for counsel when that was needed. Thus Williamson became the first Chief Constable of the Criminal Investigation Department. 1
Chief-Inspector John Shore succeeded him as Superintendent: there were five Chief-Inspectors (Greenham, Neame, Butcher, Littlechild and Swanson) and fourteen inspectors. Six of the inspectors had only just been promoted, but the other eight were old hands.
Thus, as far as the regular personnel of the Department was concerned, the position was entirely sound.
Among the higher officials, however, affairs were not nearly so happy.
Colonel Henderson had gone from the office of Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and had been succeeded by Sir Charles Warren, an autocratic, elderly soldier who wanted to run everything in his own way - the military way. He was inclined, moreover, to regard his fellow men (or at any rate the civilians amongst them) as fools, and not to suffer them gladly. One of the `fools', in his opinion, was the Home Secretary, who was above him; another was Mr. James Monro, who, as Assistant Commissioner (Crime Department) in charge of the C.I.D., was immediately under him.
The Home Secretary presumably regarded the Commissioner as a valuable man, even if a cantankerous one: and for a time nothing very much happened in that direction.
Mr. Monro, however, held very much the same opinion of Sir Charles Warren as Sir Charles Warren held of Mr. Monro. Consequently, there were 'bickerings', with plenty of faults on both sides. Neither man, it would seem, was at all tactful towards the other. `Every morning for the last few weeks there has been a protracted conference between Mr. Monro and the principal detective inspectors, and the information furnished to the Commissioner in regard to these conferences has been, the Commissioner states, of the scantiest character."
The fact was that Mr. Monro wanted to run his own Department, and Sir Charles Warren wanted to run all Departments, including Mr. Monro's. It was impossible for that situation to continue: and while it continued the efficiency of the Criminal Investigation Department was considerably lessened.
On August 7th, a prostitute named Martha Turner was murdered in a street in Whitechapel. That, of course, was not an event of much moment from the point of view of the authorities at Scotland Yard: it was merely one of the numerous cases reported in the daily list. The divisional detectives were left to deal with it. The authorities continued to bicker amongst themselves.
A fortnight later, Mr. Monro resigned his post as Assistant Commissioner, and Dr. Robert Anderson was appointed to succeed him.
Dr. Anderson had been in the Prison Department, and had done secret service work in connection with the Irish troubles. One of his major activities was the writing of a very large number of books on religious matters: he had very firm opinions, particularly on religion "and morals, and was never afraid of expressing them. But he was not a quarrelsome man-nor one given to `bickering'. `During all my official life,' he wrote later in his autobiography, 'I have never failed to "get on" with any man, no matter what his moods, if only he was honourable and straight .. . My relations with Sir Charles Warren were always easy and pleasant.'
Nevertheless, he had certain characteristics-and held certain opinions-which did not entirely fit him for some of the work he had to do.
During the night before Dr. Anderson took up his post at Scotland Yard, a prostitute named Mary Ann Nichols was murdered in a street in Whitechapel. That, of course, was not of much moment-but it was disturbing that there should be another woman of the `unfortunate' class murdered in the same district, only twenty-four days after the previous crime. Still, such things happened. No doubt the divisional detectives would be able to find the murderer, though it would be well for them to have some assistance from the Central Office, particularly as the newspapers were inclined to give some prominence to the two murders.
About twelve months before, Inspector F. G. Abberline had been brought onto the Scotland Yard staff from H. Division, which worked in Whitechapel and the Commercial Road. Inspector Abberline was an officer of considerable experience and skill,2 and he had a thorough knowledge both of East End topography and of the people of that district. There could, therefore, be no more appropriate officer to be put in charge of murder cases in Whitechapel.
There was, of course, no need to do more than that - particularly in view of the class of women who had been murdered. That, at any rate, was Dr. Anderson's view.
Dr. Anderson had, moreover, only accepted his post on the condition that he had a month's holiday (in accordance with his doctor's advice) before he properly took up the work. He therefore spent one week at Scotland Yard in finding out what he would have to do there, when he returned from the holiday.
On the night of September 8th, a prostitute named Annie Chapman was murdered in a street in Whitechapel. As had happened in the other murders, the body was horribly ripped and mutilated.
On the morning of September 9th, Dr. Anderson, the new Assistant Commissioner (Crime Department) in charge of the C.I.D., started for Switzerland, on his holiday.
That third in the series of murders committed by `Jack the Ripper' brought public excitement to a high pitch. It seemed as if the most devilish murderer of all time was at large in London. No one knew when he would strike next-but everyone was sure he would strike again. No one knew whom he would strike next: the fact that he had only attacked women `of a certain class' was ignored in something very closely resembling a public panic, and even respectable women in the West End of London were afraid to go out at night.
The newspapers devoted many columns to the murders. A `Vigilance Committee' was set up in the East End. Parties of men from other parts of London went down to Whitechapel every night to help patrol the streets - some men even dressed themselves as women in the hope that they would be attacked and so would have a chance of collaring the assassin.
The Police were extremely active. Sir Charles Warren regarded it as being as much a case for the Metropolitan Police as for the Criminal Investigation Department, since, as there were no reliable clues of any sort to the identity of the murderer, the best chance seemed to be to catch him red-handed when he tried to strike again. That could only be done by increasing the patrols in the Whitechapel streets-so, `Sir Charles Warren has sent every available man into the East End."
Meanwhile, the C.I.D. followed up everything that showed the slightest sign of leading towards a clue....
Yet the situation of the Criminal Investigation Department in this case was very peculiar.
Chief Constable Williamson, who knew more about detective work than anyone else-and who should therefore have been permanently at the scene of the crimes, directing operations if not personally conducting them was a very sick man and unable to do more than sit at his desk in Scotland Yard. Superintendent Shore, with the whole weight of the Department on his shoulders, was far too busy to leave his office, even for such an important case as this: there were other major crimes to demand his attention, including one unsolvable one concerned with the body of a woman, headless and without limbs, and wrapped in a piece of black petticoat, which was found in the basement of the partly-constructed building which was to be the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police and the C.I.D., with the name of New Scotland Yard.
And after four years under an Assistant Commissioner who had spent much of his time in bickerings with the Commissioner, the Department was now under a very new Chief-who was on holiday in Switzerland.
Consequently, the case was handled very much by routine, without any exceptional measures as far as the C.I.D. was concerned. A large force of divisional detectives dealt with it, with one Inspector from Scotland Yard to assist them. . . . `Since September 30th, Inspectors Reid, Moore, and Nairn, with Sergeants Thicke, Godley, McCarthy and Pearce' (all of H. Division) `have been constantly engaged under the direction of Inspector Abberline. Each officer has had on the average, during the last six weeks, to make some thirty enquiries weekly in different parts of the metropolis and the suburbs. No fewer than 1,400 letters have been received by the police.'
The newspapers were extremely critical of the way the enquiries were being conducted. As each fresh murder was announced, every morning paper and every evening paper devoted a whole page or more of its space to the account of it, with street plans, interviews with anyone who had seen anything, and speculations on who the murderer could be. More pages were filled on the following days. And every paper published a leading article on these 'atrocious crimes'.
Each of those leading articles blamed someone, either directly or by innuendo. Even those which carefully explained that the police could not be expected to solve a case which contained no clues went out of their way to say 'It does not at all follow that the police are useless or corrupt.'
The Home Secretary was assailed, partly because he was the Rome Secretary, but more particularly because he had refused to offer a reward for 'information' 3 and would not go further than to promise a pardon to any accomplice who would betray the actual murderer. The Daily Telegraph expressed its opinions quite plainly: `London this morning will talk and think of nothing else except these new proofs of the continued presence in our streets of some monster or monsters in human form ... And where, forsooth, is Mr. Matthews all this while? ... Is the Home Office waiting for Nos. 7, 8 and 9 in this ghastly catalogue of slayings? . . . Justice-personified unhappily just now in the helpless, heedless, useless figure of the Rt. Hon. Henry Matthews-ought at length to arouse herself . . . in order to unearth this unspeakable villain whose deeds appall a whole kingdom.'
Sir Charles Warren-'this hopeless and conspicuous failure'2-was assailed, partly because he was a soldier playing the part of a policeman, but more particularly because he had the Army man's dislike of co-operating with the Press; and also because of an unfortunate affair connected with bloodhounds.
The idea of using bloodhounds to track the murderer appealed very much to the public imagination, and the idea was taken up by the Press. It also appealed to Sir Charles Warren, and he was publicly seen exercising bloodhounds in Hyde Park. Then the day came when `Inspector Abberline sent a message to the Commissioner, asking for the bloodhounds.' But no bloodhounds appeared on the scene of the crime, then or ever ... The explanation of that appeared later in the columns of The Morning Post: `The non-appearance of the bloodhounds yesterday is accounted for by the fact that during recent trials in Surrey the animals bolted, and have not been recovered.' The Press had a lot to say about Sir Charles Warren and his bloodhounds.
Individual members of the Police were not attacked. But the Force as a whole certainly did not escape. For example, The Daily News said in one of its leading articles:
`It is impossible to avoid the depressing conviction that the Police are about to fail once more . . . The Police have done nothing, they have thought of nothing . . . The most astonishing of the East End mysteries is the mystery of the utter paralysis of energy and intelligence on the part of the Police.'
Dr. Anderson knew all about what was happening. In his autobiography, he tells us that he read the English newspapers and found that they were commenting on his absence from his post at such a time. He also received official letters and reports from Whitehall. And after three weeks, he says, he decided to spend the last week of his holiday in Paris, so that he might be in touch with his office. He was that much concerned about the matter.
But ... `When the stolid English go in for a scare,' he wrote later, `they take leave of all moderation and commonsense. If nonsense were solid, the nonsense that was talked and written about those murders would sink a Dreadnought. The subject is an unsavoury one, and I must write about it with reserve. But it is enough to say that the wretched victims belonged to a very small class of degraded women who frequent the East End streets after midnight, in hope of inveigling belated drunkards or men as degraded as themselves....'
It is probably the fact that prostitutes, only spoken of-if at all-in Victorian Society as `unfortunates' or 'women of a certain class', achieved recognition as human beings through the publicity given to them over these murders. They certainly did achieve it then, and Dr. Anderson was therefore rather alone in taking the line that the [subject could only be written about 'with reserve'. There was certainly little 'reserve' in the columns of the daily press in 1888, which dealt very fully with these women and their habits, and even printed quite sickening descriptions of their internal anatomy after Jack the Ripper had been at work on them.
In any case, Dr. Anderson's feeling that agitation over the murder of such people could be dismissed under the heading of 'nonsense' was not shared by the authorities.
So Dr. Anderson received, while he was in Paris, 'an urgent appeal' from the Home Secretary asking him to return to London and take up his job.
He did so - 'Of course,' he says, 'I complied.'
On the night of his journey back, two prostitutes, named Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, were murdered, one in a street in Whitechapel, and the other in a street in the neighbouring district of Aldgate.4
'I spent the day of my return to town, and half the following night, in re-investigating the whole case, and next day I had a long conference on the subject with the Secretary of State and the Commissioner of Police.'
It may be imagined that the Home Secretary was not in any tranquil mood: those remarks about his 'helpless, heedless, useless figure' were still in his mind. Sir Charles Warren would not have been tranquil either, because of remarks about 'hopeless and conspicuous failure.' The extreme tranquillity of Dr. Anderson, edged with the freshness of mountain air from Switzerland, must therefore have been very trying for them.
So the interview did not have a very good start.
"'We hold you responsible to find the murderer" was Mr. Matthews' greeting to me. My answer was to decline the responsibility. "I hold myself responsible," I said, "to take all legitimate means to find him." But I went on to say that the measures I found in operation were, in my opinion, wholly indefensible and scandalous; for these wretched women were plying their trade under definite police protection.'
It is likely that the Home Secretary was not greatly interested in Dr. Anderson's opinion about that. For the function of the British Police is to protect all peaceable citizens who are not breaking the law: and what the Home Secretary wanted just then was the arrest, without delay, of someone who was breaking it - by murder.
But Dr. Anderson had a plan. "'Let the police of that district," I urged, "receive orders to arrest every known street woman found on the prowl after midnight."'
This action, which he considered would have been `merciful to the very small class of women affected by it', because while in the cells they couldn't have been murdered, was `deemed to be too drastic'. It would, in fact, have been illegal, for citizens of this country cannot be arrested unless they are believed to be breaking the law, and the law permits prostitutes to be `on the prowl' provided they do not solicit.
Dr. Anderson therefore fell back on a second suggestion. "'Let us warn them that the police will not protect them."'
On the authority of his own statement, it appears that he was allowed to do that: and he did it. Though precisely what it meant is not clear. Hundreds of policemen remained in the district and it is not at all likely that one of them - whatever his orders about non-protection - would have stood quietly by, watching Jack the Ripper murder a woman and disembowel her.
Seven days later the Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren, resigned. There had been trouble all through his period of office, and it came to a head over `work or bread' riots in Hyde Park by the unemployed. Sir Charles dealt drastically with that, even to the point of calling out a squadron of Life Guards (each with 20 rounds of ammunition) to support his 2,000 policemen. Then there were criticisms, and when it appeared that the Home Secretary was himself making criticisms in public, Warren was foolish enough to retort to them in a magazine article. He could, in fact, `no longer brook the nagging ways' 5 of the Home Office and resignation finally became the only possible course for him. Besides, there were those bloodhounds.
During the night following that resignation, a prostitute named Marie Jeanette Kelly6 was murdered in a house in Whitechapel. Though even more horrible in the matter of disembowelling and mutilation, that murder was exactly like the others except for the fact that it was not committed in the open street, but in the victim's house:7 and also for the fact that it was apparently committed in the morning, not at night. It was, in fact, the morning of Lord Mayor's Show day, and the vast crowds lining the streets were horrified when the newsboys shouted `Another 'orrible murder in Whitechapel'.
Sir Charles Warren's resignation had not yet been announced, so the newspapers again clamoured against him, as well as against the Home Secretary. They recorded the fact that Dr. Anderson `drove up in a cab at ten minutes to two and remained some time' at the scene of the crime, and that Chief-Inspector Swanson of the Criminal Investigation Department was there as well as Inspector Abberline. But otherwise the enquiries proceeded according to the usual routine-and with the customary lack of result.
There was, in fact, nothing that Scotland Yard could do. This murderer left not a single clue, save the bodies of his victims. He appears to have been the one murderer who never made a mistake.
Marie Jeanette Kelly was the last woman he killed.8 In due course, therefore, the outcry in the newspapers quietened down. Sir Charles Warren had been thrown to the wolves-or to his bloodhounds. But the Home Secretary survived, Dr. Anderson survived (to remain at his post for another six years, and then to retire with a K.C.B.)and, although somewhat shaken and with an unhappy stain on its record of successes, the Criminal Investigation Department survived.
It was twenty-nine years since Constance Kent had murdered her brother. All the men who were at that time in the Detective Department at Great Scotland Yard had now gone, some by death, some by retirement, some to prison: the last, the most brilliant, the one who deserved fame although, as it happens, he has never really achieved 1 it- Frederick Williamson - had retired as a very sick man. He died a few months later, in December 1889.
Thus ended an epoch. And it is perhaps fitting to close the record with the account from The Times of the funeral of this one man who had lived and worked through the whole of it. There had, as has been shown, been tragedies in his life, and he had become mistrustful, rather cynical, doubtful perhaps whether he had any friends. And yet St. John's Church, Westminster, was yesterday the scene of a striking ceremony. Woking Cemetery had been selected as the burial place of the late Mr. Adolphus Frederick Williamson, Chief Constable of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Metropolitan Police; but a desire was expressed that the funeral service might be held in London, to enable the police of all ranks to render fitting respect to the memory of the deceased.
`From his house to the church, the coffin, wholly concealed by flowers, was carried by six of the inspectors of Scotland Yard, accompanied by the Assistant Commissioner and the Chief Constables of four of the London districts.
`The main body of the church was filled by officers of all ranks in the service, including nearly all the superintendents, and a large proportion of the inspectors of the Force. So general was the wish to be present that the attendance of sergeants and constables from the divisions had to be limited by order.'
The Criminal Investigation Department survived . . . it did, of course, do much more than merely `survive'.
In the past twenty-nine years, the Detective Department, with its staff of eight men, had grown and developed into the C.I.D., with a staff of nearly 700 men: from being an unimportant and experimental offshoot of the Commissioners' Office, it had become, in its buildings at New Scotland Yard, the essential organisation in the war against crime.Notes
1. An appointment which is not regularly filled.
2. He was one of the 14 Inspectors `appointed' to Divisions, without being put on probation, when the C.I.D. was first formed.
3. This system had only recently been abandoned, as unwise and dangerous, and could hardly be immediately re-started. Besides, it seemed obvious that no one had any true information to give, so that the offer of a reward would only have wasted the time of the police in dealing with useless correspondence.
4. This being within the boundaries of the City of London, the case was handled by the City Police and not by the Metropolitan Police.
5. Dr. (by that time Sir Robert) Anderson.
6. It is not the function of this book to deal with the vexed question of the identity of Jack the Ripper, but only to deal with the conduct of Scotland Yard in trying to arrest him. But it may be mentioned here that there had been many theories about him: he is said to have been a seaman, a butcher, a policeman, a Malay, a doctor, a lunatic, etc. Dr. Anderson claims that `the conclusion we came to was that he and his people were certain low-class Polish Jews.... And the result proved that our diagnosis was right on every point. For I may say at once that "undiscovered murders" are rare in London, and the Jack the Ripper crimes are not within that category.' There has, however, never been any official claim to that certainty: and indeed it has been contradicted by a high police official who took part in one of the enquiries.
One of the more interesting theories is that the Ripper was trying for one reason or another-to kill a particular woman, but that beyond knowing that she was an East End prostitute (and perhaps knowing one of the names under which she had lived) he did not know enough to identify her; and that therefore he slaughtered five other women `by mistake', before, in Marie Jeanette Kelly, he eventually found her. In that connection there is one point which does not seem hitherto to have been stressed. One of the earlier victims, Catherine Eddowes, had for the past seven years been living with one man, and (as was proved by his evidence and by the name on a dropped pawn-ticket) had been using his name. That name was Kelly. Thus all of the six victims had in common the fact that they were East End prostitutes; and two of the six had in common the fact that they lived under the name of Kelly.
7. After explaining his plan for keeping the Whitechapel prostitutes off the streets, Dr. Anderson says, `However the fact may be explained, it is a fact that no other street murder occurred.' The change in `locale', however, did not make much difference to Marie Jeanette Kelly.
8. It is presumably a coincidence that, a few months after the last of the murders in England, there was a closely similar outbreak in the West Indies, and a few months later still, another in South America.