One of the most tragic things about studying the oceans of newspaper ink that was expounded in the reporting of the case, is the number of ordinary people, men women and children, who found themselves caught up in the scare and, as a result, had their lives blighted and ruined.
On 30th April 1889, The Shields Daily Gazette carried the story of the inquest into the death of a 21 year old woman whose body had been found in the Regent’s Canal.
Her name was Annie Masters and the story that emerged from the inquest highlights the sheer terror that some members of society held towards the possibility that Jack the Ripper might well come for them.
The article began with the dramatic headline:
SUICIDE TO ESCAPE JACK THE RIPPER
and it went on to detail how:-
“…the deceased had been told by a fortune teller that Jack the Ripper would probably get hold of her.
She was greatly agitated, and told her mother she would never become a victim of Jack the Ripper.
She disappeared 3 weeks ago, and last Saturday her body was found in the canal…”
THE JACK THE RIPPER CRAZE
Another story, this time from Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, illustrates another aspect of the public’s fascination with the Whitechapel murderer.
This article appeared on the 11th August 1889 and it read as follows:-
“A young man was arrested in Spitalfields, on Thursday, at the instance of a woman, and taken to Commercial-street station, on the charge of being the Whitechapel murderer.
The woman declared that she had watched the accused for some days, and that he pressed her to go with him into Miller’s-court, where Mary Kelly met her death.
The story was denied.
The young man said he was molested by the woman, who threatened that if he did not give her money she would swear he was “Jack the Ripper.”
The young man, who has twice before been arrested on similar charges, was released after a brief detention.”
IT POSES SEVERAL QUESTIONS
The article is an intriguing one on several levels.
Firstly, it would be interesting to know what the woman meant when she stated that she had “watched the accused for some days.”
Had she been suspicious of his presence in the area?
If so, why did she go with him to a location that, less than a year previously, had been the scene of one of the most gruesome and frenzied of the Whitechapel Murders.
DID THE MURDER SITES HOLD A PERVERTED ALLURE?
That then, of course, begs the question, was she a prostitute, and were the murder sites themselves coming to hold a sexual allure for the clients of the district’s street walkers?
I remember Martin Fido telling me that when, in 1988, he had done a radio interview on the centenary of the crimes, he and the programme’s producer, Brian Sibley, had interviewed several of the current prostitutes in the area and had been astonished to discover that it was quite common for men to pull up in their cars and ask if they would go with them to the Jack the Ripper murder sites.
Perhaps this was also happening – minus the cars of course – in 1889?
DID SHE EXTORT MONEY FROM HIM?
Another intriguing feature of this is the young man’s assertion that the woman had tried to extort money out of him with the threat that she would denounce him as “Jack the Ripper” if he didn’t pay up.
WHAT WERE THE PREVIOUS CHARGES
Finally there is the puzzling assertion that the young man had been arrested twice before on similar charges.
There is no mention that he in any way attacked the woman.
Indeed, the gist of the article appears to be that he himself was the injured party, having been the victim of attempted blackmail.
Does that, therefore, mean that two other prostitutes had, in the past, accused him of being the Whitechapel murderer in previous attempts to extort money out of him?
WERE THE LOCAL STREETWALKERS USING THE CRIMES?
Which then makes you wonder, had the local prostitutes come to see the Jack the Ripper crimes as a means by which they could elicit additional funds from their punters? After all, as far as many men must have been concerned, paying up would have been a far preferable option to finding yourself named publicly as the monster who had subjected the area to a reign of terror the previous year