A Jack The Ripper Scare In Whitechapel

In August 1891, a man by the name of Percy Greathead, found himself in court when, after having been drinking heavily for two weeks, he decided to head to the East End in the early hours of the morning, and pay a visit to the scenes of the Whitechapel murders.

He, accordingly, took a cab to Buck’s Row, alighted, and, almost immediately, found himself embroiled in a nightmare scenario in which he found himself being accused of being Jack the Ripper!

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper carried a full report on the case in its edition of the 23rd of August 1891:-


“A sensation was caused in the notorious Buck’s Row, Whitechapel, late on Friday night, when a gentleman drove up in a cab, and alighted at the corner of Ann-street.

He opened a conversation with a woman who was standing nearby, and the woman, resenting the intrusion, called him “Jack the Ripper.”

He immediately became excited, drew a six-chambered revolver, and threatened to fire indiscriminately upon the crowd which had rapidly gathered.

A police inspector and sergeant, who were near at hand, immediately arrested him, and he was taken to Bethnal Green police station.

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


Upon his being searched, a large-bladed knife was found upon his person.

On Saturday morning, the gentleman, who gave his name as Percy Greathead, aged 29, was charged before Mr. Montagu Williams. Q. C., at Worship-street police court, with presenting a loaded revolver at Margaret Sweeney, “supposed with intent to shoot her.”

A report having been circulated that “Jack the Ripper” had been caught, Detective Inspector Helson attended for the police.

The prisoner was represented by Mr. Morris, on behalf of Messrs. Abbot and Co.


The prosecutrix, a young Irish woman, living in Queen Anne Street, a bye thoroughfare off Bucks Row, Whitechapel, said that, at half-past two o’clock that morning, she was standing at her door, and the prisoner passed.

A minute later he came back and put a revolver in her face.

He did not say a word before he did it, but he then threatened to put a bullet in her.

He walked away, and she and a man named Hayes followed and gave the prisoner in charge.

He seemed sober.


Dennis Donovan said that he was standing with Sweeney outside her door, and as the prisoner passed she remarked that he was a detective. About the same time, a man who she knew spoke to her, and she called out to him, “Now then, big head, it is time you were in bed.”

Then the prisoner walked back and presented a revolver at her, saying that if she meant him he would shoot her.

She said she had not said anything to him, and he walked away.

They followed him, and meeting a constable told him, and gave the prisoner in charge.


Police constable Handley deposed that he asked the prisoner if he had a revolver, and the prisoner denied it.

When taken to the station, however, he admitted that he had, and produced a six-chambered weapon. He also admitted that he had put it to the woman’s face, but denied that he had meant to shoot her.

Inspector Webb, J Division, said that the prosecutrix, when she charged the prisoner at the station, admitted having said as he passed, “Is that Jack the Ripper?”

The revolver was fully loaded.

Upon the prisoner was also found six cartridges, and a huge bowie knife in a case. The latter weapon which, was produced, was evidently new, and Mr. Montague Williams directed that enquiries should be made where it was purchased.

The prisoner said he had bought it in the Strand a day or two ago.

The revolver was evidently not a new weapon, and the prisoner’s account of his night’s proceedings was that, having a desire to see the scene of the Whitechapel murders, he had taken a cab to Buck’s-row, and leaving the vehicle there had walked down it.


He declared that he was sober, but admitted that he had been drinking heavily for some days. His nerves were affected, and a man walked towards him and said something which he took as referring to himself.

The woman Sweeney was close by, and called out, “Big head.”

He thought “Big head” meant “Greathead”, his own name, and took it to mean that there was an attack intended on him. He also heard the remark, “Here’s Jack the Ripper,” and, under the influence of the moment, produced his revolver.


Mr W. W. Lees, manager of Wood’s Hotel, said that the prisoner had been drinking heavily for a fortnight, and had been attended by a doctor. He had travelled a great deal, and was of no occupation.

Mr Montagu Williams remanded the prisoner for a week, refusing bail.”


On Saturday 29th August 1891, Percy Greathead appeared again before Mr. Montagu Williams, and was duly bound over to keep the peace for twelve months. He was also ordered to provide a personal surety of £400, and warned that, if he offended again,  he would be sentenced to twelve months in prison.

Apparently, the police had been investigating his antecedents and had, according to The Sheffield Evening Telegraph, in an article published on the 1st of September 1891, discovered that:-

“Mr Greathead and his revolver are both well known near Sandringham, where he usually resides with his mother, and he has been known more than once to fire the weapon at random.”

In reporting on the case the Telegraph closed its article by opining that:-

“The revolver craze demands putting down with a heavy hand, and we anticipate the time when far more stringent regulations than are at present in force will obtain, with regard to the persons who carry revolvers on their persons as carelessly as pocket knives. In the rough Western States a revolver may be a necessity; but, in our own country, there is no excuse for the man who carries one, except under very exceptional circumstances.”