Had you lived in the East End of London on this day in 1888, and in particular in the districts of Spitalfields and Whitechapel, then you would be feeling decidedly uneasy.
Just a few days before, on August 31st 1888, a woman had been murdered in Buck’s Row Whitechapel and the press were now naming her as Mary Nichols. Less than a month prior to that another woman, Martha Tabram, had been murdered in the area.
In both cases the women’s bodies had been mutilated and the paper’s, reporting from the inquest into the latest victims death, which had opened on 1st September 1888, were starting to hint at the ferocity of the attacks and the horror of the mutilations.
The police, meanwhile, had been interviewing the prostitutes of the district to see if they could shed any light on the mystery of who was responsible for the killings. Their enquiries had delivered a promising suspect in the form of a man who the prostitutes had nicknamed “Leather Apron” was attempting to extort money from them at knife point.
Unfortunately they didn’t know this man’s name and the only description the street walkers could give police was that he habitually wore a leather apron (hence the nickname) and that he sometimes wore a deerstalker hat.
The police were making discreet enquiries to trace this man when their investigation received an almighty set back when the press found out about their major suspect.
On 5th September 1888 you would have opened your copy of the Star newspaper and been confronted by the following alarming headline:-
LEATHER APRON THE ONLY NAME LINKED WITH THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS. THE STRANGE CHARACTER WHO PROWLS ABOUT AFTER MIDNIGHT. UNIVERSAL FEAR AMONG WOMEN – SLIPPERED FEET AND A SHARP LEATHER-KNIFE.
If the horror of the murders that had occurred in their midst hadn’t alarmed the residents, this article, together with several subsequent alarmist articles set pulses racing as people began to sit up and take notice of what was happening.
Thus a general feeling of extreme unease began to ripple through the neighbourhood and when, just three days later, a third woman was murdered, that unease gave way to outright panic.
Book places on our Jack the Ripper anniversary Tour on 8th September 2008 and see for yourself the results of the panic.