It might seem a strange way for a policeman to enjoy a week’s leave; but, it would appear that, in at least one case, a Victorian officer of the law opted to spend his break by going to Whitechapel, checking into a different common lodging house each night, and then venturing out to see if he could glean any information about Jack the Ripper.
The Wellington Journal published the following article about his experiences on Saturday, 28th December 1889:-
A POLICEMAN’S SEARCH FOR “JACK THE RIPPER”
A policeman belonging to the Staffordshire constabulary recently utilised a week’s leave of absence in an attempt to track down the Whitechapel murderer.
Dressing himself as a labourer of the very poorest class, he went to the lowest quarter of Whitechapel, determining to live a week in the worst dens of degradation and vice he could find.
The following is an account of his experience in his own words:-
THE DRINKING HAUNTS
“I first visited the drinking vaults frequented by bullies and prostitutes, and paid for beer for women with their faces knocked shapeless, some with their noses flat, their eyes blackened, chins split, cheek bones knocked in, and, to one not accustomed to them, their appearance was loathing and hideous.
I sympathised with them, treated them to “arf a pint of arf and arf,” and, although I tried to conceal it as much as possible, they were not long in arriving at the conclusion that I “hailed from the country.”
I questioned them as to how their faces had been disfigured, when they answered frankly as they began to trust me.
“Oh,” says one, “my bully smashed this with a pewter pot,” and another, “Our Jim hit me on the head with the powker ‘cos I pawned a watch he had sneaked,” but mixing it with language of the coarsest character.
TO A COMMON LODGING HOUSE
After spending the biggest part the first day in this way, I accompanied them to a low lodging-house, and paid 4d. for my “doss” in advance.
I was then taken into a large room, where there were 40 or 50 lodgers of both sexes seated on wooden benches at rickety tables, dirty, deformed, and loathsome.
I quarrelled with one as to which should have the use of the frying pan to cook twopenny-worth of meat scraps in, and soon a struggle ensued between us.
The women whom I had previously treated prevented my getting seriously injured, but ultimately I was compelled to give way, as he had paid 6d. for his “doss,” which entitled him to first turn with the pan and fire.
I cooked my scraps and left them on the hob to fetch some beer, but when I got back the scraps had gone, no one knowing anything about them.
I was told by one of the women that it didn’t do to leave freshly cooked steaks amongst so many hungry people.
AND SO TO BED
The lodgers drank, sung, swore, fought, and I went to bed soon after 1 a.m.
Through a narrow, dark, cavernous-looking passage I followed my fellow lodgers to bed, with the determination to keep awake some hours and watch their movements.
One of the lodgers, examining me carefully to make sure that I was asleep, then ran over my pockets, stockings and boots, but, failing to find anything, uttered a curse and got into bed again.
Next morning, I went out with this same individual to try and “pick some’at up,” as he put it, and after hanging about for some time I took him into one of the vaults to have a drink.
He saw me change half-a-crown to pay for the “fours,” and exclaimed, “——– me, mate, where did you put that last night? If I had found it you would not have seen me for a week.”
We visited Billingsgate Fish Market together and earned a few coppers carrying parcels, my companion stealing a silk handkerchief and a few other trifles of less value.
A DIFFERENT LODGING HOUSE
I went to another lodging-house this night, feeling that the previous night’s experience would enable me to play my part better.
This house was kept by a veritable “Fagin,” whose lodgings “vos the cleanisht in all Vitechapel.”
During the evening two detectives entered the living room and made some inquiries from the deputy in charge. The deputy bowed and scraped, and made answer loud enough for everyone to hear, “Oh yes, Shir, I’ll make sure to let you know. Shir,”
After they had gone, I inquired who they were and what they wanted, but the deputy cursed me for my ignorance, and the whole company laughed and ridiculed the idea of anyone there turning ” —– informer.”
The one they called a “sneak “being an old detective, and the other a “check,” meaning one recently appointed.
THEY DELIGHTED IN JACK THE RIPPER
The presence of the detective opened the subject of the “Jack the Ripper” horrors, but the company appeared to delight in them, several with awful curses expressing the hope that some of the women present would be the next victims.
As this discussion proceeded, one of the male lodgers had emptied the cup of one of the women who was smoking a short clay pipe in a corner.
She rose from her seat livid with passion, and shattered the empty cup into fragments off his head, which led to a scene of inconceivable confusion, men and women fighting together like tigers, but word was passed that a policeman was in the house, when the blood was hastily mopped from their faces, and in a few minutes the women who had been kicked and beaten unmercifully, were sitting peaceably at the feet of their assailants.
A PAIR OF BOOTS
The next day, I purchased a pair of boots from a second-hand shop, which had on them a price ticket. I put them under my arm as they were, and arriving at the lodging dropped them with the ticket fastened to them on the table.
The lodgers cursed me for not throwing the ticket away; one reminding me that if the “sneak” had collared me, he would have known in a minute where I had stolen them from.
The ticket was immediately destroyed, and several volunteered to get rid of the boots for me.
I asked a woman called “Sal” who was best to lake them, and she replied, “Oh, Groper, he teks ’em regler,” pointing to a youth who was a cripple. ” He’ll bring the money back, but t’other devils won’t.”
The youth brought back 1s. 2d., but when I asked him for the ticket he replied, “my plant don’t gee tickets, they tells tales.”
A hint was then given that it was usual to treat when stolen stuff had been “planted,” so I sent for half-a-gallon of “fours,” when they all wished success to their jolly good pal, but again advised not to carry the price ticket the next pair I “copt.”
A BITE IN AN EATING HOUSE
I visited a low eating-house next day and paid one-and-a-half pence for half-a-pint of tea, with a slice of bread and jam, called “arfe a tea and arfe a jam.”
From 7 am. to 9 am from 200 to 300 persons visited the place, scarcely a word being spoken the whole time.
I assisted to get a load of coal in and received 9d. between two of us, and as I then started to walk away the lady remarked that I did not belong to the city, as she handed a jug of beer ready drawn, which she evidently thought I should ask for.
EARNING A FEW PENNIES
Next day, I assisted a Jew to sell roasted chestnuts, six a penny.
The Jew would receive a sixpence for a pennyworth, and would pretend to have no change. He dodged about with the sixpence until the gentleman was tired of waiting, and went without it, then the Jew returned and rubbed his hands with delight.
I pulled in with a woman next day selling toys, and the next represented a one-armed man with my arm nicely arranged down my trousers by a fellow-lodger, who was acting the “blind” man.
THE SLUMS OF WHITECHAPEL
Each night I walked about the slums of Whitechapel, and tried to pick up scraps of information respecting “Jack the Ripper,” but my efforts were utterly worthless.
I was fully convinced in own mind, however, that there were scores of men frequenting the lodging-houses in that locality, all thoroughly capable of committing even the horrible crimes attributed to “Jack the Ripper,” and even if fifty persons in one house saw the murder actually committed, I believe they would screen him, and keep the murderer out of the clutches of the law by all means in their power.
The dens of thieves, painted so vividly by Charles Dickens, I have always regarded as exaggerated stories, but, after what I have seen with my own eyes, I believe them to be plain facts.
I am pleased to see that the newspapers are agitating for the courts in our large towns to be lighted, and, certainly, these dens of infamy which exist should be swept away entirely, when crime would decrease, and there would not be so much difficulty in catching such men as Jack the Ripper” as there is at the present time.”