The South Wales Echo, on Monday, 29th October, 1888, carried the following report about how a man from Halifax paid a visit to Sheffield, where, thanks to a bizarre and unfortunate series of events, he found himself mistaken for Jack the Ripper!
A HALIFAX MAN MISTAKEN FOR JACK THE RIPPER
“The truth that man is a weak vessel, and prone to err, had to be regretfully acknowledged on Saturday morning by certain members of the local constabulary (says The Sheffield Telegraph), whose enthusiasm in their calling for once led them into a blunder to all appearances as absurd as any that Dogberry could have committed.
According to information that has reached us, a mild and inoffensive looking person, whose real name and address are in our possession, but who for the time being we will call Edwin Jones, arrived in Sheffield on Friday from Halifax to transact some business.
It so fell out that, by the time his business was done, Mr Jones found that it would be necessary for him to stay overnight in Sheffield, and accordingly he procured lodgings in a certain quarter of the town.
AWOKEN BY A SUDDEN NOISE
About a quarter-past one on Saturday morning, as he was wrapped in the deep slumber which novelists tell us is the monopoly of the righteous, and was dreaming peacefully of his happy home in Halifax, Edwin was awakened by a sudden and violent noise at his bedroom door.
With a start, he raised himself on his elbow, rubbed his drowsy eyes, and peered into the darkness.
A POLICEMAN’S LANTERN
To say that Edwin was surprised on finding himself confronted by the glare of a policeman’s bull’s-eye lantern would be to under-estimate his feeling, and his surprise was in no way abated when behind the glitter of the lamp he saw the burly forms of a police-sergeant and two constables.
Readers of Smollett will recollect that when Strap unwittingly ventured into Captain Weasel’s bedroom in the dead of the night, the gallant warrior took prompt vengeance upon him by breaking all the available crockery upon the intruder’s head.
But Edwin Jones was too much astonished and alarmed to bethink himself of any such deeds of valour, so he simply pulled the bedclothes round him, blinked at the attacking posse of policemen, and, with all the dignity he could collect at such an hour and in such a position, awaited events.
QUESTIONED BY THE SERGEANT
With a voice that sounded stern and hollow in the stillness of the night, the sergeant approached his bewildered victim, and demanded his name and address.
Edwin, from behind his barricade of blankets, promptly gave both.
Then came a series of questions as to different places in Halifax, which also were satisfactorily answered.
Thereafter Edwin, who had recovered from his awakening shock, and began to feel the courage of the true-born Briton returning to him, made a movement as if to rise from the bed.
HE WAS SURROUNDED
In an instant the constables had made a countermarch, and, removing a coat and overcoat which they probably feared might conceal the Ripper’s fatal knife, drew a cordon round the bed, effectually preventing the now indignant Jones from springing to the floor.
Edwin, like a sensible man, resigned himself to his position.
Leaning back on his pillow, he once more submitted himself to cross-examination.
“Did he know anyone in Sheffield?” was the first question put to him, and Edwin was pained to have to disappoint his interrogators by answering, “No.”
But the sergeant of police was an acute man, and knew how to come at his point.
THE BOAR’S HEAD HALIFAX
“Then do you know the Boar’s Head in Halifax?” he inquired, fixing his glance with official sternness upon the bedcover, beneath which palpitated the form of Edwin Jones.
“Certainly,” responded the latter in effect, “Dick Ford, a Sheffield man, either is or was the landlord of that establishment.”
Further questions as to whether Ford would be likely to recognise his Halifax acquaintance were also answered in the affirmative.
HE WAS VOUCHED FOR
Then, breathing freely, but still keeping a watchful eye upon the dangerous quarry, who in his capacity of “Jack The Ripper” might be inclined to spring upon them, the policemen retired from the bed, and Edwin was graciously accorded permission to don his clothes.
Dressing rapidly, the party proceeded to the Queen’s Hotel, and on reaching there about a quarter to two, Mr Ford, the landlord, speedily identified his former Halifax acquaintance.
THE UNFORTUNATE LETTER
Then only was the true meaning of the night attack explained to the perturbed Edwin.
Some time ago, it appears, the latter left his home at Halifax in search of employment, and made his way into the Derbyshire district.
While he was there, his wife wrote to him, mentioning casually that “Jack the Ripper” was supposed to be in Halifax.
In replying to that letter, Edwin jocularly remarked that he wished they would send the assassin into Derbyshire, and, in playful mood, signed himself, “Jack the Ripper.”
Having read the letter, Mrs Jones, of Halifax, lovingly stowed it away in a drawer, little dreaming of the tragi-comedy that was yet to be enacted on its account.
A TOO CLOSE HAIRCUT
On his return home, her husband went to get his hair cut, and finding that after that tonsorial operation that his hat slipped loosely over his head, he rummaged among the drawers for something wherewith to pack it.
As ill luck would have it, his hand lit upon the fatal epistle, and, without further thought, he fitted it snugly into the lining of his head-gear.
Therein lay the whole mystery of the Sheffield police suspecting him.
THE LETTER AND THE POLICE
In putting off his hat as he went to bed at the lodging-house last night, Edwin must have dropped the letter, which was picked up by somebody about the place.
Alarmed at the supposed disclosure of its contents, they had hastened for the police.
Nobly responding to the call of duty, the sergeant and his two constables had hurried to the scene and had boldly stormed the supposed Ripper in his bedroom.
It was a blunder, of course, but one for which only Edwin’s own misplaced epistolary playfulness can be blamed.
A MIDNIGHT ADVENTURE
All’s well that ends well, however, and Mr Jones, of Halifax, than whom no milder-mannered man was ever suspected of cutting throats, now treats his midnight adventure with frank good humour.
To the policemen, thanks are due for their heroic, if unsuccessful, effort at capturing “Jack the Ripper,” and to Edwin we are indebted for the narrative of his comic mishap.
All the same, we can sympathise with him when he says that it is thirty years since he was in Sheffield before, and it will be thirty more before he appears in it again.”