A Disgraceful Trick

At the height of the panic around the Whitechapel murders, all manner of weird and wonderful stories cropped up in the newspapers concerning the behaviour of individuals who found the allure of involving themselves with the case almost impossible to resist.

In November, 1888, chimney sweep, William Avenell, found himself in court in the West End of London, when he posed as a detective in Berners Street, off Oxford Street, and attempted to apprehend a man whom, so Avenell claimed, was Jack The Ripper.

The Sheffield Evening Telegraph reported on the fact of this case in its edition of Tuesday, 13th November, 1888:-


At Marlborough Street Court William Avenall, a chimney sweep of Adam and Eve Court and Frederic William  Moore, a carver and gilder of Carlisle Street, were charged with being disorderly and assaulting Henry Edward Leeke, an oil and colour man in Berners Street.

The prosecutor, a little man, deposed that about five o’clock on Saturday afternoon, he went into a public house on Berners Street and there was accosted by a group of men.

The two prisoners followed him out, accused him of being Jack the Ripper and told him that they were detectives in private clothes and should arrest him.


They dragged him through several streets into Newman Street, treating him in a most brutal manner, and when he appealed to passers-by to assist him, the men told them he was “Jack the Ripper” –  and that they were detectives taking him the station.

He told them that he had delivered some oil at 62, Berners Street, and they said that they would see whether his statement was correct.


When they got to the house, he sprang away from them, rushed downstairs and hid himself.

The prisoners followed him, and Avenell, entering the kitchen, where about fourteen young ladies were at tea, told them that “Jack the Ripper” was in the house and that he was a detective and had come to arrest him.

The young ladies screamed, and Avenell came and fetched him out, when the girls exclaimed, “Why, that’s our little oilman.”


Madame Munz, the occupier of the house, and one of her apprentices, deposed to Avenell and two other men coming in and to Avenell stating that there was a strange man and that he was a detective.

They also saw him seize Leeke, whom Mrs Munz had known for years as her oilman, by the throat and drag him out of the house.

The constable in the case stated that Avenell had told him that Leeke was “Jack the Ripper”, and, as the police would not do their duty he was doing it for them.

Moore came out of the house and tried to run away.

Leeke was quite sober, but Avenell was not.


The defence was that, when Leeke entered the public house, somebody remarked, “Here’s a funny little man, perhaps he’s Jack the Ripper.”

Avenell asked him what was the matter with him, and he said that he was in trouble, that his name was Smith, that he was a tin-plate worker, and that he lived at 62, Berners Street.

Avenell said that he would see him home, and left with Moore and a man named Bennett for that purpose.


Avenell knew that Leeke had not right in number 62, so, when he ran in there, he gave an alarm, but did not say that he was a detective, nor that Leeke was Jack the Ripper.

Moore stood on the stairs and said that it was time to leave off the foolish joke – and Bennett then went away.


Mr Hannay remanded the men for a week, to give the prosecutor the opportunity for commencing a civil action, and to enable the police to charge Avenell with the offence of pretending to be a detective.”