On 15th November 1888 the Daily News published a statement which had been made to one of its reporters by Matthew Packer, a shopkeeper who had hit the headlines in the wake of Elizabeth Stride’s murder on 30th September 1888, when he claimed to have sold some grapes to a man who was in the company of the murdered woman shortly before her body was discovered a few doors away from his shop in Berner Street.
However, Packer’s latest claim was even more sensational, and the paper duly gave it the headline “EXTRAORDINARY STATEMENT.”
He had, he told the reporter, recently been visited at his shop by two men who purchased 12 shillings worth of rabbits from him. They had also asked if he could give them a description of the man to whom he had sold the grapes, and who was supposed to have committed the Berner-street and Mitre-square murders.
Apparently, one of the men believed that the killer was his cousin who had moved to America several years previous, but who had returned to London “…seven or eight months ago…”
According to Packer the man had told him that this cousin’s first words on his return were “Well, Boss, how are you?”
The man explained how he and his cousin had gone on several walks in the area where, on passing the “Whitechapel women” (the local prostitutes), his cousin had remarked, “How do you think we used to serve them where I come from? Why, we used to cut their throats and rip them up. I could rip one of them up and get her inside out in no time.” The cousin had then said “We Jack Rippers killed lots of women over there. You will hear of some it being done over here soon, for I am going to turn a London Jack Ripper.”
When the murders began, the man told Packer, he felt very uneasy but didn’t say anything as it was his own cousin. His suspicions increased when the “Dear Boss” Jack the Ripper letter had been made public. However, he still couldn’t bring himself to inform on his cousin. But, since the last murder, that of Mary Kelly on 9th November 1888, he felt unable to stay silent any longer and he felt that something had to be done.
The journalist to whom Packer had recounted his tale claimed to have sent a copy of his statement to the City Police and two detectives were, according to the article, sent to the man’s house. The man told the detectives where they could find his cousin but they failed to locate him and, according to the article, “late last night a search is being made for him upon the river.”
The fact that no arrest of such a man was made suggests that, either he had been located and eliminated as a suspect, or that the police doubted Packer’s veracity. Indeed, there had been suggestions that his original claim to have sold grapes to Elizabeth Stride’s killer was only made in the hope of getting a reward, so perhaps the police concluded that he was up to his old tricks again.
On 16th November 1888 a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reader’s letter appeared in the St James Gazette, which questioned the motives of both Packer and the journalist to whom he had told his story:-
“Sir,- The “extraordinary statement” – very properly so headed – which appeared in today’s papers about the Whitechapel murderer’s cousin, whose conscience suddenly impelled him to make a confession to a fruiterer from whom he had just chanced to buy twelve shillings’ worth of rabbits, seems rather to lack finish. It omits to add how many rabbits the murderer’s cousin got for his twelve shillings. In justice to the fruiterer this should have been told, and I think there might also have been some slight acknowledgement of the zeal and intelligence of the reporter who was conveniently at hand to take down the fruiterer’s story and convey it promptly to the Home Secretary – and to the News Agencies…”