Abberline and Thick 1878

One of the interesting exercises when it comes to studying the police officers who investigated the Jack the Ripper murders, is tracing them in the newspapers and official records before their names became synonymous with the Whitechapel atrocities.

It is fair to say that the majority of the detectives would have been long forgotten were it not for the links to the ripper crimes.

It is also fair to say that many of them had distinguished careers, both before and after the East End murders that, in a way, immortalised them.


Two of the best known officers who worked on the case on the case, today at least, are Inspector Frederick George Abberline and Sergeant William Thick.

In 1878, their names were featured in reports of a court case that was heard before Mr Prentice, Q. C., at the Middlesex Session, on Friday the 13th of December.

The following account of the proceedings appeared in The Morning Post on Saturday 14th December 1878:-


Stephen M’Carthy, 42, a general dealer, was indicted for receiving a gold watch, value £14, the property of George Mansell, well knowing it to have been stolen.

Mr. Thorne Cole prosecuted; Mr. Warner Sleigh defended.

The prosecutor, a shipwright, on Saturday night, the 9th of November, was walking down Rosemary-lane, when a man came up behind him and snatched his gold watch and ran away.

The prosecutor followed in pursuit, but while running was knocked down, and the thief got away.


In consequence of information given to the police, Inspector Abberline, of the detective department, went at three o’clock in the morning to a room occupied by the prisoner, on the ground floor of a house in Flower and Dean-street, Spitalfields, where he found him in bed, and asked him if he had any watches, to which the prisoner replied that he had not.

Inspector Abberline told  him that he believed he had, upon which the prisoner remarked, “You are not come at this house in the morning to turn me over.”

At the same moment the inspector noticed a movement of his right hand underneath the bedclothes, apparently searching for something, which he passed into his left hand.

An image of Inspector Abberline.
Inspector Frederick George Abberline


Sergeant Thick, who was also there, took hold of his left hand, and took from it a silver watch.

Inspector Abberline then pulled back the bedclothes, and in a cigar-box at the aide of the bed he found the gold watch produced, which was identified by the prosecutor as the one stolen from him.

The prisoner was asked how he accounted for the possession of these watches, but he made no reply.


After the inspector had left the room the prisoner told Sergeant Thick that neither of the watches belonged to him, as they had been left there by three young men, but he would rather have his head cut off than “lag” (send them to prison).

He also said that, “The, party that ‘put me away’ ought to be burnt.”

Joseph Marriott, another detective-sergeant, was also present, and heard the statement the prisoner made to Sergeant Thick about refusing to “lag” his accomplices.

Mr. Warner Sleigh, having made an able address, the jury found the prisoner guilty.

A sketch of Sergeant William Thick.
Detective Sergeant Thick


The following convictions were proved against him:-

Three months, February 15, 1860, at Hammersmith; six months, May 16, 1860, at Bow-street; three months, February 16, 1864, at Marlborough-street; two years, January 3, 1865, at Warwick Assizes.  He professed to be ill, and so deceived the doctor that a portion of his sentence was remitted and in March, 1866, was sentenced at Greenwich to three months. Lastly, seven years penal servitude in this court on August 6, 1855.

Mr. Prentice sentenced him to be kept in penal servitude for seven years, followed by seven years’ police  supervision.

He also warmly commended the zeal and activity displayed by all the officers engaged in the case.

He also ordered the prisoner to pay the costs of the prosecution from the money found in his possession.”


What I find interesting about the above article is that it demonstrates that Abberline and Thick had been colleagues for at least a decade before the Jack the Ripper murders brought them together again in what would prove an unfruitful search for the perpetrator of the crimes.

I wonder if they ever sat and reminisced about previous cases they had worked on together, such as the Stephen M’Carthy, during the long autumn nights when they were pitting their wits against the unknown miscreant who was proving far more elusive that M’Carthy and his ilk had?

Oh to have been a fly on the wall during those discussions!