A Possible Clue

Following the night of the double murder – the 30th September, 1888 – when Jack the Ripper claimed the lives of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes in the space of just one hour, the newspapers began to question the efficiency of the detectives who were trying desperately to catch the perpetrator of the Whitechapel atrocities.

An illustration showing Berner Street victim Elizabeth Stride.
The Murder of Elizabeth Stride


All sorts of rumours and speculation were in circulation, and matters had not been helped by the bizarre claims that had been made by the Coroner, Wynne Edwin Baxter, at the inquest into the death of Annie Chapman (which had taken place on the  8th of September, 1888) that an American doctor had been touring hospitals offering £20 for wombs that he could give away with a publication he was working on.

The fevered newspaper coverage of the murders had had the effect of causing widespread panic in the districts of Whitechapel and Spitalfields, and maintaining public order was rapidly becoming almost a big a problem for the police in the area as trying to catch the murderer before he could kill again.

Against this background, The Tower Hamlets Independent and East End Local Advertiser, on Saturday, 6th October, 1888, published the following article:-


“The Whitechapel murderer is still at large, and the police have frankly confessed that they have no clue. This is what was to be expected. Nothing can come from nothing, and the police have no basis to go upon.

They do not even know the kind of class from which to select the criminal. They have not a single notion of his whereabouts. They do not know his motive, except so far as our guessing psychologists have enabled them to decipher it.

He has left no material trace, and practically no moral trace.

All the supposed guides, such as the pawn tickets, afford no real means of discovering his identity. The articles pawned are in the hands of the police, and the pawnbroker declares that they were left by a woman. But the police cannot even trace the identity of the woman by the name on the tickets.

For the rest, we are absolutely in the region of surmise.

The Punch Cartoon Blind Mans Buff showing a blind-folded police officer being taunted by criminals.
Blind Mans Buff – A Punch Cartoon From 1888.


Meanwhile, perhaps, the worst feature of the murders is the manner in which the panic seems to be growing, and is being aggravated by scoundrels to whom murders of the Whitechapel order only suggest further opportunities of mischief.

People’s imaginations are at work, finding dangers where there are none.

Every forbidding-looking man is the object of suspicion; every unfortunate in Whitechapel fancies herself the prey of a malignant ruffian.


Indirectly, perhaps the panic may lead to the discovery of the murderer.

The man may be baulked of the usual prey by the extra care of the class from whom he selects his victims, and getting unwary and disappointed may at length be captured.


From the evidence of the police nothing, however, may be expected.

It is clear that there is no detective force in the proper sense of the word in London at all, and that the constables are utterly unfitted for such work as is necessary to protect Whitechapel from these nightly visitations.

What is likely to happen is this: there will be more murders, and the ruffian’s heels may be tripped by chance, if not by the foresight of the police.

On the other hand, detective work of a specially superior and intellectual kind can be set in hand, and pushed vigorously and fearlessly may result in the discovery of the criminal.


What we have to complain of especially is the inefficiency of the surgical examinations and the coroner’s inquiries which have hitherto been held.

Owing to the scamping of detailed work, we were led astray by the absurd theory of the American and his offer of £20 for specimens of an organ, while a whole body could be obtained for nearly as many shillings.

Possibly to such a consideration may be added the off chance that the offer of a reward of over £1,000 may stimulate the detective instinct enough to put the community fairly on the track of its enemy.

A photograph of Coroner Baxter.
Coroner Wynne Edwin Baxter


The theory that the man has accomplices is, we are afraid, too remote and improbable to produce any good results. Accomplices would only hinder a man like the Whitechapel murderer in the execution of so deadly a purpose.


The success of the murderer really depends on the ability with which a single mind has been concentrated on the purpose.

Murders are generally clumsy affairs. They are committed by men who are drawn into them by circumstances, and have no time to think of a plan or suggest a means of escape.

If they are done in hot blood the chances are strong of their being detected in flagrante delicto. If they are committed, say, by a burglar who is suddenly interrupted, and has no choice between his liberty and homicide, they are again liable to clumsiness of method and its consequences.


Finally, if they are committed for any known or ascertainable motive there is always a probability of fixing the crime on a suspected person.

But here there is no ascertainable motive, and therefore no suspected person – no plunder committed in haste, no folly which would give a clue to the authorities.

The murderer has deliberately selected the most defenceless class of the community, and has chosen to slaughter them under circumstances which turn his own victims into his accomplices.


There is so much in this of a deeply thought out plan that we have to consider whether the murderer is a maniac in the narrow sense of the word, and is not rather a man with maniacal tendency, but with quite sufficient control of himself and of his faculties to impose upon his neighbours, and possibly to mix in respectable society unquestioned by a single soul.

He is probably able to command solitude whenever he pleases and that seems to be the only requisite for concealing his crimes.”