Despite the fact that there had been no Whitechapel murders throughout the whole of October, 1888, the press reporting of the case, coupled with the intense excitement being generated by the number of letters, signed “Jack the Ripper”, that were being sent to the authorities and then reproduced in the newspapers, meant that people across the country were going in fear of a reemergence of the murderer.
There also appear to have been no shortage of men who saw it as a huge joke to claim to be the notorious East End fiend, and were willing to use the London slayings to try and instil fear into women across the country.
One such incident took place in the Somerset town of Crewkerne and was duly reported by The Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser in its edition of Wednesday, 7th November, 1888:-
“JACK THE RIPPER” SCARE AT CREWKERNE
Some time ago, a note was found in a field leading from Crewkerne to North Perrott, purporting to have been written by the now notorious mysterious personage – “Jack the Ripper.” The incident was treated as a joke, and nothing further was thought of it.
That was, in itself, a harmless incident, but, of late, certain persons have been indulging in practical jokes, with results that perhaps, they did not look for.
WALKING HOME IN A GROUP
Young women are employed at the shirt works and elsewhere who reside at some of the neighbouring villages, and since the “Ripper Scare,” they have made it a practice to go home in a body, so as to minimise the chances of being molested.
As a number of young women, who are employed at the West Somerset Manufacturing Co.’s works, in Abbey-street, were returning home to Merriott last week, an incident happened which, taking into consideration the fact that these unprotected females were at the time under mental excitement, luckily was unattended with any very serious results.
TWO PEOPLE WALKING
Just after passing Broadshard, two of the young women, who were in advance of the rest of their companions, noticed two persons walking in the road, one close to the pathway, and the other close under the opposite hedge. They noticed nothing peculiar about them beyond the fact that the one near the path walked noiselessly.
On passing them, one of the females jokingly remarked that it appeared to be a “courting couple, over the left,” but this drew forth no reply.
On the “main body” passing, they were wished “Good night,” but no reply was returned.
The young women who were behind, having heard the men addressed by their friends in front, and, having heard no response, thought the circumstance so strange that, after having proceeded a short distance, they turned round to “take stock” of the man, who was gliding, rather than walking, near the path.
His behaviour became so singular that the young women became frightened.
He was attired in a long cloak, girdled at the waist, from the band of which depended something white, which the young women took to be a knife, similar to that described so minutely in the papers having been used in connection with the Whitechapel murders. He wore a tall hat, and was about 5ft. 10in. to 6ft. in height.
On nearing the women, he swayed his cloak to and fro, which caused a rattling noise as of chains, assumed a dramatic attitude, and said, “I am Jack the Ripper!”
The ladies screamed, most of them took to their heels, but one of them remained. She, however, speedily recovered, and all reached home safety.”
AN UNPLEASANT MISTAKE CALLING A MAN “JACK THE RIPPER”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, 7th November, 1888, The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, published the following account of a court case in which the London murders had featured, albeit, they were invoked as a drunken insult as opposed to any serious suggestion that the man in question was the Whitechapel murderer:-
“At Hartlepool on Tuesday, before the Mayor (Ald. Richardson), Mr R. C. Black, and Mr R. Walker, John Jackson was summoned for assaulting Ellen Athey.
The complainant’s evidence was that she and her husband bad been quarrelling, and that immediately after leaving him a few words arose between her and a group of young men, when the defendant struck her in the mouth, knocking her down and knocking one tooth out and loosening another.
The defendant denied this.
SHE CALLED HIM NAMES
He said that the complainant, mistaking him for another person, got hold of his arm. He gave her a hard push, which constituted the assault complained of.
The woman then followed him from one end of the town to the other, and called him such names as “‘Jack the Ripper” and “Leather Apron.”
Eventually a policeman locked her up for being drunk and noisy.
The case was dismissed.”
THE MOOD IN LONDON
Meanwhile, in its edition of Wednesday the 7th November, 1888, The Falkirk Herald, published a “Letter From London” in which a correspondent provided readers with an idea of the mood in Whitechapel, and conveyed how the people were very wary of one another:-
“The publication of letters signed “Jack the Ripper” is to be much deplored, but they do answer the purpose of keeping the alarm alive.
The panic was so great at the time that a reaction was setting in unusually soon, and the East End Vigilance Committee is about to be dissolved.
The general impression is that the murderer has got clear away.
The fogs of the last week have revived the fears of the poor East End people who have so long been living in terror.
AN AFTERNOON STROLL
On Saturday afternoon I was compelled to walk abroad in a darkness as complete as midnight, and through streets in which the public lamps were not lighted. There was no fog in them, but it spread high overhead, like a dense pall of funeral crape.
EVERYBODY WAS SUSPICIOUS
If I heard the name of “Jack the Ripper” mentioned by passers-by once I heard it mentioned fifty times, and I noticed that everybody regarded everybody else with suspicion.
At the sound of approaching footsteps, we seemed involuntarily to step aside, every man avoiding his fellow.”