A Strange Story

By 1892, it was becoming more than apparent that something had happened that had prevented Jack the Ripper from being able to claim another victim, and that this had now been the case for several years.

Commentators, however, were still discussing the case and were wondering exactly what had happened to the perpetrator of the East End atrocities that had so terrified society as a whole throughout the autumn of 1888.

It has to be said that, just like today, much of the speculation as to the identity of the Whitechapel murderer was little more than speculation, and, in most cases, again just like today, there was little hard evidence to back up any of the theories, and those who said they had the evidence to back their suspicions up, were extremely reticent about actually sharing their evidence.

However, the theories are interesting, because, amongst other things, they do give an idea of the general consensus about what type of person the murderer had been, albeit, again just like today, the type of people who were coming under suspicion were many and varied.

Various sketches of the crimes and the suspects.
A Round Up Of Suspects And Events. From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 24th November, 1888. Copyright, the British Library Board.


The St James’s Gazette, on Saturday, 20th February, 1892, published the following story: that, very much, illustrates the aforementioned points-

“It is two years and a half since the last of the Whitechapel atrocities Shocked London to its deepest depths. The “mystery” has remained a mystery, and we have been content to regard it as impenetrable.

But there is a gentleman, holding a rather responsible position, who thinks he has unravelled it; who says he knows who the criminals are, and where they are to be found.


This is his case, which he has put into print and is circulating.

He maintains that, a priori [based on theoretical deduction rather than empirical observation], the murderer or murderers might be expected to be Portuguese, of Oporto, because (so he says) Portuguese of Oporto are more likely than other people to commit crimes of that sort; and he quotes a ghastly passage from Napier’s “Peninsular War” to show the ways of the Oporto Portuguese three-quarters of a century ago.


This is not very conclusive.

But he now asserts that the murders invariably occurred just after two vessels, trading with cattle from Oporto to London, had arrived in the Docks, and at no other times, except in one instance.

When those boats had been spotted by him the police took to watching them closely, and thereupon the murders ceased.

But he goes further.

He says that on each occasion there was on board these ships one or other of four Portuguese cattle-men, whom he names and can identify.

On the only occasion when a murder was committed, without either of the two vessels referred to being in the Docks, another cattleship from Oporto had just arrived; and one of his four suspects was on board her.


All these four men are now engaged as boatmen or bathing-men at Oporto; and our informant thinks that the police ought to have their eyes – if not their hands – upon them.

Such is the theory, which is both curious and interesting, and may have something in it.


In the volume called “Later Leaves,” by Mr. Montagu Williams, Q.C, a remarkable passage occurs with reference to the Whitechapel murders; and this, we have reason to believe, bears upon the information in the hands of our correspondent.

When Mr. Montagu Williams’s book was published this passage attracted a good deal of notice.

It is as follows:-

I have something to say in reference to the Whitechapel murders that I think will be read with interest by many of my readers.


I was sitting alone one afternoon, on a day on which I was off duty, when a card was brought to me and I was informed that the gentleman whose name it bore desired that I would see him.

The visitor was at once shown in.

He explained that he had called for the purpose of having a conversation with me with regard to the perpetrator, or perpetrators, of the East-end murders.


He had, he said, taken a very great interest in the matter, and had set on foot a number of inquiries that had yielded a result which, in his opinion, afforded an undoubted clue to the mystery, and indicated beyond any doubt the individual or individuals on whom this load of guilt rested.

My visitor handed me a written statement in which his conclusions were clearly set forth, together with the facts and calculations on which they were based; and I am bound to say this theory – for theory it, of necessity, is – struck me as being remarkably ingenious and worthy of the closest attention.


Besides the written statement, this gentleman showed me copies of a number of letters that he had received from various persons in response to the representations he had made.

It appeared that he had communicated his ideas to the proper authorities and that they had given them every attention.

Of course, the theory set forth by my visitor may be a correct one, or it may not.

Nothing, however, has occurred to prove it fallacious during the many months that have elapsed since the last of this terrible series of crimes.

As I have said, I cannot take the reader into my confidence over this matter, as, possibly doing so, I might be hampering the future course of justice.


One statement, however, I may make, and, inasmuch as it is calculated to allay public fears, I do so with great pleasure.

The cessation of the East-end murders dates from the time when certain action was taken as a result of the promulgation of these ideas.”