Sir Charles Warren, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in 1888, has received a great deal of criticism over the years for his force’s inability to catch Jack the Ripper. In fairness to Warren much of that criticism is largely undeserved.
Take, for example, his controversial decision to erase the message found on the wall of Wentworth Model dwellings in Goulston Street on 30th September 1888. The message was scrawled in chalk on a wall above a bloodstained piece of Catherine Eddowes apron. It was discovered by PC Alfred Long a little over an hour after Catherine Eddowes body had been found in nearby Mitre Square. The message read something like “The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.” I say “something like” because different police officers remembered different spellings of the word Juwes.
Now, when the City of London Police, in whose jurisdiction Catherine had been murdered, came to hear of the graffiti they believed it to be an important clue and wanted to photograph it. But that would mean waiting until it was light, and the Metropolitan Police, in whose jurisdiction the Goulston Street doorway was located, had good reason to want the message to be erased before dawn.
The flats around the doorway where the chalked message had been scrawled were lived in, more or less exclusively, by Jewish tradesmen and their families. In the wake of the previous murder, that of Annie Chapman on the 8th September 1888, speculation was rife that the killer may well have been a Jewish immigrant. As a result there had been a huge backlash against the Jewish community in the area that had bordered on anti-Semitic rioting, which the police had just about to manage to bring under control.
Furthermore the 30th September 1888 was a Sunday and the Petticoat Lane Market was due to take place later that morning. This would bring thousands of gentiles into the streets to purchase from stalls largely run by Jewish traders.
The Metropolitan Police were concerned that, should these gentiles see or learn of the message then there would be a recurrence of the anti-Semitic unrest in the course of which innocent Jews might be attacked and even murdered.
When Sir Charles Warren arrived at the scene he took one look at the message and ordered its immediate erasure before any photographic record of it could be taken. It was a controversial decision, and one that subjected Warren to a lot of criticism from the press and the City of London Police.
Yet, given the location, and the context against which he made the decision, it was probably the right one to make and Warren’s action probably did prevent attacks on innocent Jews.
Warren also gave his consent for a somewhat radical plan to aid the apprehension of the ripper and, furthermore, a plan that was in some ways, ahead of its time. The plan was the idea of two detectives named Gill and Payne and it entailed the use of a female decoy at a time when women were not allowed to join the police force.
Since they had no female police officers Amelia Lewis, the 20 year old daughter of a Stepney Licensee, was persuaded to act as bait for Jack the Ripper by walking around the grounds of the London Hospital at night armed with nothing more than a whistle to summon assistance should she be approached by the killer. Gill and Payne were to hide nearby in readiness for the tell-tale blast of the whistle.
Suddenly Miss Lewis was startled by a rope being dropped over a wall in the darkness and she duly raised the whistle to her lips and blew. Gill and Payne were there within seconds but were unable to find any trace of the person responsible for casting the rope over the wall. When Amelia’s father heard of this, he forbade her to repeat such a dangerous task.
For the rest her life Amelia Lewis was convinced she had narrowly missed being murdered by Jack the Ripper who, she ever after believed, “was a doctor who was after me that night.”