The Jack the Ripper crimes attracted the attention of all sorts of people who showed a marked determination to either venture out onto the streets of the East End, in the forlorn hope of tracking down the perpetrator of the crimes; or else wrote letters to the police and the Victorian authorities proffering sage advice and opinions as to how the mystery of the Whitechapel murders might best be solved once and for all.
Amateur detectives abounded in the area – both as members of the vigilance patrols and as individuals who felt that they could succeed where the police had failed – and private detectives, many of them employed by various newspapers, were also out on the streets trying to catch the murderer and gain a valuable scoop for their employers.
A MAGNET FOR THE UNSTABLE
However, the murders also proved something of a magnetic to the mentally unstable, and the newspapers of the time are filled with accounts of people who were only too willing to confess to having carried out the crimes, or who cast themselves in the role of street vigilantes who had been tasked with bringing the Whitechapel murderer to justice.
ALFRED COOPER IN COURT
One such person was Alfred Copper who, in March, 1894, appeared before the magistrate Mr Mead, at the Thames Police Court, charged with attempting to pass himself off as a police officer.
It must have been apparent from very early on in the case that Copper was of “unsound mind”; and his constant interruptions, as the case against him unfolded, must have made for a lively court session.
The South Wales Echo, reported on the case in its edition of Thursday, 1st March, 1894:-
A SUCCESSOR TO SHERLOCK HOLMES
“Alfred Cooper (34), a well-dressed man, who described himself as a detective, of 106, Elmore Street, Islington, was charged at the Thames Police Court, yesterday, with unlawfully assuming the character of a police-constable, supposed for an unlawful purpose.
Mrs Mary Finnigan, wife of the proprietor of the Sugar Loaf public-house, Backchurch Lane, Whitechapel, stated that, shortly before 12 o’clock on Tuesday night, Cooper entered the house and called for a glass of ale.
Witness served him.
He then asked to see “the governor,” and said, “You can tell him that I am a police-officer from Scotland Yard.”
Defendant: “Quite right – Great Scotland Yard.”
The Witness, continuing, said when her husband came down the defendant said that he had come to warn him about the gambling that was being carried on in the house. He also said Detective-sergeant White had told him to come there.
Defendant: “Detective-superintendent White, of Stone. That is the man I trained.”
Detective-sergeant S. White, H Division, said that he found the defendant being detained at Leman Street police station, and on seeing the witness he said, “That is the gentleman I mean.”
Witness said that he knew nothing about him.
HE WAS UNEMPLOYED
Constable 96 H said that he asked the defendant what he was, and he replied, “To tell you the truth I am a steward, but I am out of a job now. The officer gave me 2d to go there and see if I could detect any gambling.”
He afterwards said he was an officer from Old-street.
Defendant: “Quite right. I have a roving commission. I am one of the greatest and cutest detective officers in the universe.
I have been kidnapped and detained at the City of London Asylum, at Stone, for 11 months.
WHERE WAS JACK THE RIPPER?
On getting to London Bridge I saw, much to my surprise, the question “Where is Jack the Ripper?”
That woman (pointing to Mrs Finnigan) is the one who held Jack the Ripper’s tools. The bag, which contains the tools of Theophilus Montgomery, alias John the Ripper, and with which he did the murders, is in her house. It is close to where the last murder was committed. I have also invented a machine to do away with Anarchists.”
Mr Mead: “You had better stand down for the present.”
Defendant: “Good morning.”
HE WAS INSANE
Later in the day Dr. Grant, of Commercial-road, attended, and said that the defendant was insane.
Defendant: “You are a liar. I have been trapped, and am not insane.”
Mr Mead ordered the defendant to be discharged, and gave instructions for the overseers to be notified of his condition.
Cooper had to be forcibly removed from the dock.”