31st August 1888 – News

The big story that many of the newspapers were reporting in the first editions on 31st August 1888 was the “retirement” that very day of the Assistant Commissioner, James Monro, to be replaced by Dr Robert Anderson.

The Daily News informed its readers that:-

“The late head of the Criminal Investigation Department [Monro] is a man of great ability and wide experience, and though he has not held the position for any great length of time he has managed to render very valuable service to the public. He has been greatly respected and trusted by his men, and his loss at Scotland Yard it is universally felt will be very difficult to make good.”

The paper also spoke of a general  malcontent that was festering within the detective department at Scotland Yard.


Although the paper did concede that Monro may well have had other reasons fro departing his post, it was also reported that “…within the Metropolitan Police there is only one reason assigned, and it is generally believed to be entirely due to friction with the Chief Commissioner,” Sir Charles Warren.


A photo of the 1888 Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren.
Sir Charles Warren

Warren, so the article claimed, had come to his post as Chief Commissioner “… strong in the conviction that the whole police system needed complete overhauling and rearranging…” and, although those who served under him were happy – so the article assured its readers – to acknowledge Warren’s  “…great ability as an administrator, his boundless energy, his high character, and the chivalrous readiness he has always shown to stand by his men whenever and wherever he believes they are right….” many of his underlings found his style of command to be overbearingly military in style.

As the article put it:-

“When he came to Scotland Yard he soon made it felt that there, as in the tented field, everything and everybody must be subordinate, and must act only under the general in charge.”

Warren, therefore, expected Monro to  follow his orders to the letter and without question – a state of affairs that Monro had come to resent, with the result that relations between the two men had become strained and any semblance of a working relationship has become all but impossible.

Apparently, according to the article, the straw that had broken the camel’s back, so to speak,  and which was directly responsible for Monro’s resignation was that “Sir Charles Warren distinctly snubbed him before the superintendents of the force.”


Warren, so the newspaper claimed, may have been a decent, strong and upright man, but his style of government was both autocratic and high-handed, whilst his idea of discipline was excessively military in style. He was, so the article went on to lament, little short of a one-man show and:-

“Everything done by the force must be done by him. With the best possible intentions, he rides roughshod over everybody’s feelings and susceptibilities, and some of his oldest and ablest superintendents feel themselves under a military despotism quite new to their experience. Every detail of the service has been upset, and they are in continual receipt of “Orders” and circulars, the study and carrying out of which they find add very greatly to their work and anxiety. All sorts of petty details of the service, formerly left very much to the direction of the officers, are made the subject of stringent and minute instructions. No doubt this is felt to be the more irksome and vexatious from the fact that by general consent the late Chief Commissioner was somewhat easy going…”


What nobody realised, as the back stabbing and squabbling was going on amongst the senior echelons of the Metropolitan Police, was that, in the East End of London, a series of murders had begun that would, within a few short weeks, stretch the abilities of the Scotland Yard detectives to their uppermost limits whilst, at the same time, placing their endeavours under the unforgiving glare of an international press spotlight that would, at times, leave them looking totally incompetent and out of their depths.


The Daily News had already gone to press when news began trickling in throughout the 31st August 1888 that another murder, similar to that of Martha Tabram a few weeks previously, had taken place in Whitechapel in the early hours of that very morning.

The Star, however, being an evening newspaper, was able to acquaint its readers with the most up to date details of this latest atrocity and it wasted no time in ramping up the horror factor of the crime:-

“A REVOLTING MURDER. ANOTHER WOMAN FOUND HORRIBLY MUTILATED IN WHITECHAPEL. GHASTLY CRIMES BY A MANIAC. A Policeman Discovers a Woman Lying in the Gutter with Her Throat Cut – After She has been Removed to the Hospital She is Found to be Disembowelled.”

It’s headline screammed, whilst the opening paragraph of the subsequent article made little attempt at curbing the sensationalist reporting of the hideous crime:-

“Scarcely has the horror and sensation caused by the discovery of the murdered woman in Whitechapel recently had time to abate, when another discovery is made, which for the brutality exercised on the victim is even more shocking. As Constable John Neil was walking down Buck’s-row, Thomas-street, Whitechapel, about a quarter to four o’clock this morning, he discovered a woman lying at the side of the street with HER THROAT CUT FROM EAR TO EAR.”

Looking along Buck's Row to the site where the murder took place.
Durward Street, Formerly Buck’s Row


Accoring the to article the body had been “immediately conveyed to the Whitechapel mortuary”, where an even more gruesome discovery awaited the police officers charged with investigating the crime:-

“..it was found that besides the wound in the throat the lower part of the abdomen was completely ripped open and the bowels were protruding. The wound extends nearly to her breast, and must have been effected with a large knife…As the corpse lies in the mortuary, it presents a ghastly sight. ”


Of course, at this early stage, the newspaper had no idea about the identity of the victim and was only able to give a brief description to its readers. She appeared to be between the 35 and 40 years old and was around five feet two in height.


The article also linked this latest atrocity with the previous two murders of Martha Tabram and Emma Smith but, interestingly, the reported also hinted that the police were no longer following the theory that a local gang had been responsible for this and the previous murder of Martha Tabram:-

“The other murder, in which the woman received 30 stabs, must also have been the work of a maniac. This murder occurred on Bank Holiday. On the Bank Holiday preceding another woman was murdered in equally brutal but even more barbarous fashion by being stabbed with a stick. She died without being able to tell anything of her murderer. All this leads to the conclusion, that the police have now formed, that there is a maniac haunting Whitechapel, and that the three woman were all victims of his murderous frenzy.”


The Evening News, meanwhile, informed its readers that the police enquiry was focussing on identifying “the deceased, and then, if possible, trace in whose company she was last seen…She was wearing workhouse clothes, and it is supposed she came from Lambeth.

Their article also suggested that those who lived in the immediate vicinity of the crime may well have heard something untoward:-

“In Buck’s-row, naturally, the greatest excitement prevails, and several persons in the neighbourhood state that an affray occurred shortly after midnight, but no screams were heard, nor anything beyond what might have been considered evidence of an ordinary brawl. In any case, the police unfortunately will have great difficulty in bringing to justice the murderer or murderers.”


The Evening News article was at odds with the report in The Star in that, according to the former, the police were still actively pursuing the theory that the murders were gang-related:-

“The officers engaged in the case are pushing their inquiries in the neighbourhood as to the doings of certain gangs known to frequent these parts, and an opinion is gaining ground amongst them that the murderers are the same who committed the two previous murders near the same spot. It is believed that these gangs, who make their appearance during the early hours of the morning, are in the habit of blackmailing these poor unfortunate creatures, and when their demands are refused, violence follows, and in order to avoid their deeds being brought to light they put away their victims. They have been under the observation of the police for some time past, and it is believed that with the prospect of a reward and a free pardon, some of them might be persuaded to turn Queen’s evidence, when some startling revelations might be expected. Up till noon Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, the Coroner for the district, had not received any official intimation of the occurrence, but he will probably do so during the day, and the inquest will most likely be held on Monday morning.”

A view of the brick building that still looms over the site of the murder of Mary Nichols.
The Mary NIchols Murder Site

As the people of Whitechapel retired to their beds on the evening of the 31st August 1888, a feeling of trepidation hung heavy over the district and one wonders how many of them realised that, for them, the autumn of terror was beginning?