A Strange Story From South Shields

It is interesting to note how, for many years after 1888, newspapers the world over were still publishing stories on new finds about the Jack the Ripper case, and many of these articles featured accounts of characters who, so the papers opined, may well have been responsible for the Whitechapel Murders.

On Saturday 19th March, 1892, The Shields Daily Gazette, alerted its readers to a local down and out whose movements and suspicious behaviour had led those who encountered him to become convinced that he may well have been Jack the Ripper.

What is interesting about the article is that we can get an insight into how people were perceiving the murders, and the murderer, four years after they had occurred.

It is intriguing to note that several of the stereotypical images of the ripper were certainly lodged in the common consciousness not long after the murder spree had come to an end.

It is also worth noting that, in the mind of the author of the article at least, the writer of the Jack the Ripper letters and the perpetrator of the murders were one and the same person.

The article read:


“It will be remembered that the theory most favoured by the police was that the Whitechapel murderer invariably managed to get away on board some vessel trading from London. Bilbao was believed to be his destination, and vessels from that port were closely watched.

It was apparently not considered necessary, however, to keep a similar watch over ships bound to and from ports in our own country, and to this circumstance “Jack the Ripper” may have owed his escape.


Between London and the Tyne, for instance, a regular traffic by sea is carried on, and it would be a simple matter for anyone wishing to get out of the metropolis speedily to ship on board a Tyne-bound vessel.

Lending colour to this theory, a curious story was current in South Shields last year.


A young man who had “come down in the world” became a lounger near the docks, and attracted the attention of some of the frequenters of the public-houses by his strange behaviour.

He was often heard muttering to himself, and his morose manner made him an object of suspicion.

Little heed was paid to him amid the bustle of the port, but it was noticed that on several occasions he disappeared for about a fortnight, suddenly turning up again and resuming his habits, though more gloomy and repellent in his manner than ever.


Women appeared to be objects of aversion and hatred in his eyes, and his mutterings boded no good to them.

At last he disappeared from the neighbourhood, leaving not a trace behind, and nothing was heard of him until some weeks afterwards, when he was found in a state of destitution on the outskirts of a North-country town, and there died in delirium.

Meanwhile the “Jack the Ripper” scare had reached its height, and the wildest rumours were afloat.


People in South Shields, however, now began to recall things connected with the young man who had led such a strange existence in their midst, and it was remembered that his periodic disappearances coincided in a remarkable manner with the date of each successive tragedy.

It was known that a fast life had been his ruin, and his mutterings had led them to believe that he nursed revenge against “unfortunates.”

Putting various circumstances together, they came to the conclusion that he was no other than the dreaded “Jack the Ripper.”

And, strange as the story may appear, it is a fact that since his death no crime has been perpetrated in Whitechapel which could be without doubt ascribed to this notorious murderer


The writing that attracted so much attention has never been seen again, and nothing has been seen of the writer.

The young man in question was an outcast from his family.

He had been a prodigal in every sense of the word, and had even been a soldier of fortune abroad, being concerned in at least one sanguinary episode.

He had been well educated, he wrote a good, bold hand, and, we believe, possessed a considerable amount of medical knowledge.

His reckless career had made him callous.

We do not assert that he was “Jack the Ripper,” but merely state the grounds for this supposition.

Never-the-less, it is possible that his handwriting may form some clue.

It will be remembered that the “Jack the Ripper’s” letters were reproduced in facsimile in many newspapers, and that the writing was believed to be disguised.

The Shields story, as we have now stated it, came some months afterwards to the ears of the editor of an important journal who had accepted some articles from the individual in question.

Thereupon, purely out of curiosity, he had the “copy” hunted out, and, on comparing it with the published facsimiles of “Jack the Ripper’s” letters was struck with the singular resemblance in many of the characteristics!


Taking all the circumstances into consideration, there is some reason to suppose that the Whitechapel murderer and the destitute tramp were one and the same.

The theory may be deemed far-fetched, but it has to be borne in mind that no fresh crime has been committed and nothing has actually been heard of “Jack the Ripper” since.”