An Interview With Roy Tyzack

Today, I am joined by a very special guest former Murder Squad detective Roy Tyzack, who joined the Metropolitan Police Service in the early 1970s and was actually based in Whitechapel from 1975 until the early 1980s, when he transferred to  J Division around Ilford.

Thereafter, he moved to Essex, where he spent a few years as a forensic officer before moving to the serious and organised crime directorate, dealing with murders and other serious and high profile cases.

He retired from the police in 2010, since when he has kept himself incredibly busy working as a trained response medic, event medic and qualified First Aid Instructor. And if all that wasn’t enough, he also conducts tours around Whitechapel,  manages a few singers, works as a Toastmaster and officiates as a celebrant for funerals.


1) So Roy, you were based in Whitehapel in the 1970s. You must have seen many changes between then and now?

Whitechapel has changed greatly since the 1970’s. It was a predominantly Jewish area, the main business was the ‘rag trade’. Brick lane, for example, was full of small clothing shops and manufacturing warehouses. Many were, what we would now call, ‘sweat-shops’ but they provided a good living for the inhabitants.

It was around the mid 70’s that the influx of Bangladeshi immigrants became noticeable. The Jewish businesses began to move away and were replaced by Bangladeshi and Pakistani clothing manufacturers and, of course, restaurants.

The murder of Altab Ali on May 4th. 1978 was a catalyst and race relations became strained, leading to the setting up of the Brick Lane police office and eventually the renaming of St. Mary’s park, Back church Street, Whitechapel as ‘Altab Ali park’.

Bank robberies were still quite common in the area as banks still had open counters. Security vans were also targeted frequently. Violent crime was common, but it was different in nature from today. Teenagers did not routinely carry knives and most violence was in the course of committing a crime, such as robbery or fights between those known to each other. Post code gangs had not been thought of.

After about 8pm, once the businesses and shops had all closed up, Whitechapel was like a ghost town with just the flow of traffic to and from the city and west end (a good source of drink driving jobs for traffic division). There were pockets of activity and the odd pub ‘lock-in’ as well as the ‘early doors’ pubs at Limehouse and Spitalfields but a PC ‘on the beat’ would have had the back streets to him (or her) self and the burglars.

The former Police stations are now closed with Arbour Square being turned into luxury apartments, Leman Street, the former ‘H’ Divisional H.Q., being the home of the armed response units and Limehouse is also closed. Only Bow Road remains open to the public.

The East End of London is a fascinating place with, as the title of one of my illustrated talks says, ‘A story on every street corner’, and it has to be one of the most ‘history rich’ areas of our capital city.

People living there now accept it for what it is today, but it is very different to the Whitechapel of the 1970’s.

2) Did you have a favourite part of Whitechapel when you were stationed there?

One of my favourite parts of Whitechapel, whilst I was there, was Spitalfields Market. It never slept and was a great training ground for police officers and would-be detectives.

During the early hours of the morning 2 – 3am, the vans would arrive from the farms and growers, dropping off their produce ready to be sold by the wholesalers when the opened. There was then a gap of a couple of hours or so before the wholesalers would arrive to open up and start to load the goods into their shops and display them ready for the retailers to arrive to buy.

If I had a new detective or crime squad officer who dared to tell me that ‘nothing was happening’ on the streets, I would take him to BrushfIeld Street in the period between the farmers drop off and wholesalers opening and we would watch a van arrive with a couple of likely lads in, who would then proceed to load their vehicle with the goods, until we pounced !

Brushfield street was also the home of many of the local homeless people, male and female, who would gather round a bonfire made from all the empty wooden fruit and vegetable crates and that would be their home. They would live there, eat there and sleep there, covered with discarded cardboard.

When the market was open, it was amazing to watch the traders, many who;s families had been there for generations. The deals would be struck with a handshake and after the market closed and before the street cleaners got there, the homeless plus a few wise old locals, would scout the area for left-over fruit and veg af which there was plenty.

As the News of the World used to say ‘All human life is here.’

A view of Spitalfields Market by night.
Spitalfields Market Today.

3) Did yourself and your fellow officers discuss the Jack the Ripper case much?

Jack the Ripper was not really a subject talked about between officers. We all had our own agenda’s and there was always plenty to do in relation to ‘modern’ crimes, so the subject rarely came up. We were certainly aware of the locations and I, personally, used to feel quite strange if alone at night walking past a ripper scene and frequently used to let my imagination wander and think what it must have been like to walk those same streets in 1888.

The Ten Bells pub – or the Jack the Ripper  as it was called then – was a constant reminder of course, although, if you had dealt with a particular job at a location, it was that which stuck in your mind as it still does when I pass particular spots, even today.

A photo of the exterior of The Ten Bells Pub.
The Ten Bells On Commercial Street.

4) As a former murder squad detective yourself, how do you think the Victorian detectives handled the Whitechapel murders investigations?

With regard to how the Ripper enquiry was handled by the Victorian detectives: Considering the times, the disjointed training, the lack of forensic awareness by many officers and the public pressure, I think that they did as good a job as we could expect.

It is very easy, in hindsight, to criticise scene protection, witness appeals, quality of statement taking when we know what we know today.

Even the Peter Sutcliffe ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ murder was flawed and brought about the introduction of the ‘H.O.L.M.E.S.’ computer system which was supposed to aid ‘joined-up’ policing. Just as an aside: I once investigated the murder of a man named ‘Moriarty’ in Basildon, with the assistance of ‘H.O.L.M.E.S.’ and the irony was not lost on me.

5) Would you have liked the opportunity to have pitted your wits against Jack the Ripper?

I would have loved to have been part of the investigating team on the Ripper enquiry.

Even then, with no computers, DNA profiling, CCTV or a fingerprint database, the chance to pit my wits against such a prolific killer would have been a great challenge. Even better would have been the opportunity to investigate in 1888 but with today’s technology. I don’t think he would have been at large for very long and I would have loved it to have been my name on the charge sheet !

Catching a murderer can be a tricky job but they all have that ‘eureka’ moment when the jigsaw falls into place and you suddenly know who it is that you are looking for and all becomes clear. For that to have happened in 1888 would have been stupendous but, alas, may have curtailed the ambitions of many an author and speculator.

6) When you were stationed in the area it must have still had the flavour of the old East End, and the memory and influence of the Krays must have been very much alive. Did you ever come into contact with any of their associates? 

As the Kray twins had been imprisoned in the ’60’s, I never got to have any dealings with them although did meet the brother, Charlie when he was arrested at Leman Street on minor charges. However, their arrest and removal from the picture did leave a power vacuum in the east end which went on for many years.

Every ‘two bit’ criminal wanted to be Reggie or Ronnie Kray and attempted to start their own gangs to fill the gap. They would try the same tactics of extortion by fear, with ‘protection rackets’ but always lacked one thing: the name KRAY ! The Blind Beggar pub, although never actually a haunt of the twins, became notorious and lived off the Krays for many years although not so much in modern times.

I, for some months, worked on two of the former Kray gang members who were running a ‘jump-up’ gang, stealing parcels from the rear of BRS delivery lorries around Whitechapel. They were prolific, and they would sometimes ‘strike gold’ with a box of watches or jewellery; and other times they would end up with a box of plastic toys or left shoes !

I finally followed their vehicle on a hunch one day, and I saw them commit a theft. I followed them to the ‘Aladdin’s cave’ lock-up, which we had been trying to find for ages, and when my partner and I tried to arrest the two of them, we ended up fighting and rolling round on the floor with them. We won and recovered many 1000 of pounds worth of stolen goods, and, what’s more, brought their little ’empire’ to an end.

Despite claims that ‘they were good to their mum’ or ‘they always gave to charity’ or ‘they only hurt other villains’, the Krays were nasty, greedy, cowardly villains who eventually got exactly what they deserved.

7) If you were investigating the Jack the Ripper (Whitechapel Murders) case) how would you go about gathering evidence?

If I were investigating the Ripper murders today, I would have a set format to follow. Firstly, ‘victimology’, if you know as much as possible about your victim it can often tell you a lot about your killer. Secondly, scene preservation and very highly detailed forensic examination. In modern day investigations, we will keep a scene sealed for as long as it takes, weeks if necessary until every possible piece of evidence has been extracted.

Scene tampering, as may have happened in the Ripper case, would be out of the question today and the logging, recording and photographing of every clue is vital.

I would designate specific jobs to the officers who are most suited to that task by their training, natural aptitude, such as Statement takers, forensic liaison, family liaison, CCTV gathers, house to house coordinator, general enquiry team, exhibits officer.

Regular briefings would be held to update everyone and to monitor progress. It is a long, painstaking business that has to be done correctly. Identifying and arresting a suspect is just the start, the really hard work comes with building a watertight case and getting in past the CPS and into court.

8) Do you think that Jack the Ripper was somebody who lived in the area?

Jack the Ripper could have been a local person, although not necessarily a native to the area. There is nothing to suggest that he knew the area intimately and anyone with a basic knowledge of the layout of the streets could have committed these offences.

His choice of victims does not tell us a great deal more. Prostitutes were used by sailors from overseas, immigrants in the area and locals alike, so that does not take us much further.

9) Do you have a favoured suspect who you think was Jack the Ripper?

Who do I think was Jack the Ripper?

Oh, I wish I knew.

Druitt is, to my mind, a good choice, particularly as the killings stopped following his death, but there are many pieces of evidence that support others and weighing one against another can lead you on a virtual roller coaster ride.

A photograph of Montague John Druitt
Montague John Druitt

10) In your professional opinion, do you think that all the murders were carried out by the same person, or do you think there were several different perpetrators?

I do believe that the same person committed all murders.

Experts can find evidence that supports a ‘copy cat’ killer and this can, indeed, often be the case but there is nothing, from my understanding of the cases, to definitively suggest that different murderers were involved.

11) Since retiring from the police you have kept yourself incredibly busy with an amazing variety of pursuits. Do you think it is important to keep busy in retirement?

Policing is a unique occupation. It has often been quoted that ‘when members of the public run away from danger, police officers run toward it’ and this is very true.

During my time in Whitechapel, as well as being verbally assaulted and spat at frequently, I was held at knife point, had a revolver pushed against my stomach by a teenage psychopathic killer, had guns pointed at me by fleeing suspects, been hospitalised following assaults and been in 2 police car crashes.

It is called ‘The Job’ as it is unique and it is not a job that you can just walk away from and forget.

I have been at the scene of fatal car crashes, fatal fires, have had to attend post mortems, and have had to tell people that there loved ones are dead. I have been at numerous murder scenes and seen bodies that have been shot, stabbed, chopped up and burnt, and I have arrested and interviewed and jailed some of London’s hardest criminals.

When this is all over, to go and sit at home, on your back lawn, with a beer and a newspaper is just not an option. I have seen many try to do it after 30 years in the force, and I have seen many die within 2 or 3 years of retirement.

I have so many things that I want to do. I am currently writing a book about my experiences policing the East End, and just have to fit this in with my other activities.

There is an old expression, “If you want a job done, give it to a busy man”. This is very true, somehow, everything gets done but I’m not sure how. I have thought about the wording on my memorial stone when I’m gone and I want it to say “I can’t go yet, I’ve got too much to do”!

12)  Do you think that the detectives who worked on the Jack the Ripper case would have been disappointed at not having caught him when they retired, or do you think they would just have accepted the fact that he had got away as being just part of the job.

I can imagine how the detectives in 1888 felt, having not ‘got their man’. They must have been devastated although time would have overtaken them and they would soon have become embroiled in new investigations which, hopefully, they would have had more success with.

I still think about murders that we could not solve. Two in particular which both involved petrol bombing of houses. Fire is a great destroyer of evidence, be it DNA or fingerprints, with a fire, nothing is left. I still feel that we let the victims down and still hope that, one day, someone will come forward with new evidence which will reopen the cases and lead to prosecutions.

A car sprayer would not leave a car half done, a baker would not leave his bread unbaked, a gardener would not leave his flowers unwatered and good detective never wants to leave a case unsolved.


Roy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. It really has been a revelation learning of your time in Whitechapel, and you given those of us who can only look back on the bygone East End a true insight into what it was like.