On the evening of Wednesday 26th September, news broke that a man had walked into a London police station and confessed to having murdered Annie Chapman, whose body had been found in the backyard of 29, Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, on the 8th of September, 1888.
The South Wales Echo, in its edition of Thursday 27th September, 1888, carried the following report on this suspect and on the circumstances behind his confession:-
ANOTHER MAN CONFESSES
“The Central News understands that a man giving the name of John Fitzgerald gave himself up at Wandsworth police-station last night, and made a statement to the inspector on duty to the effect that he was the murderer of Annie Chapman in Hanbury.street, Whitechapel.
TAKEN TO LEMAN STREET POLICE STATION
He was afterwards conveyed to Leman-street police station, where he is now detained.
The same news agency, in a later despatch, says the man in custody at Leman-street is a plasterer or a bricklayer’s labourer.
He says that he has been wandering from place to place, and he is believed to have been more or less under the influence of drink lately.
He has not yet been formally charged with the crime, but is merely detained pending further inquiries.
His description does not tally with that given at the inquest by the witnesses of a certain man seen on the morning of the murder.
HOW HIS CONFESSION CAME ABOUT
It seems that Fitzgerald first communicated the intelligence to a private individual, who subsequently gave its purport to the police.
A search was made, and the man was discovered in a common lodging house at Wandsworth.
He is known to have been living recently at Hammersmith.
His self-accusation is said to be not altogether clear, and it is even reported that he cannot give the date of the murder, so that the authorities are disinclined to place much reliance on his statements.
The police are nevertheless pursuing vigilant enquiries, and if the confession be found to contain any semblance of truth the prisoner will be formally charged before a magistrate at Worship-street.
HIS NAME WAS JOHN FITZGERALD
Another telegram says – The name of the man who made the confession is John Fitzgerald.
A companion of his, named John Locus, has made a statement to the effect that Fitzgerald had entered a public-house in Wandsworth last evening, and commenced talking about the Whitechapel murder, and produced a knife, with which he illustrated a theory as to how the murder was committed.
He then left, saying he had no home.
He will be charged at Thames police-court.
STILL IN CUSTODY
A telegram received just before going to press says that Fitzgerald, who confesses to being the Whitechapel murderer, is still in custody pending the result of police enquiries.
He is not likely to be charged today, if at all.”
MORE DETAILS ON JOHN FITZGERALD
The next day, The Belfast Newsletter, in its edition of Friday, 28th September, 1888, published the following account of the arrest and confession of John Fitzgerald:-
“In reference to the confession of the crime which was made by a man named Fitzgerald, and which was reported in these columns yesterday, our London correspondent says – We are confronted by a fresh and startling incident in connection with the Whitechapel horror.
It occurred late last night.
The scene of its initiation was the charge room in the police station at High Street, Wandsworth.
HE WAS EXCITABLE
Shortly before twelve o’clock the sergeant in charge and Inspector Blackmore were accosted by a man who pushed the door open and who walked deliberately into the room. He was rather above medium height, dark, unshaved, and shabby. He was evidently labouring under considerable excitement.
Before the inspector could leave his chair, the man advanced, and said that he wanted to make a confession.
When asked his name he is said to have hesitated before replying. However, eventually he stated that he was known as John Fitzgerald; he is unmistakably an Irishman, and, after the usual manner of his countrymen, commenced to tell a lengthy story.
HE WANTED TO TELL ALL
This led to the interposition of the inspector, who duly cautioned the man that any statement he might make would be used against him.
However, Fitzgerald was determined to “tell all he knew,” as he himself put it, and forthwith asserted that he was the murderer of Annie Chapman, in Hanbury Street, Whitechapel.
What he said further is reserved by the police. They refuse to divulge any other facts.
Fitzgerald was immediately taken into custody, and placed in one of the cells.
He was not, however, charged in the usual way, being merely detained.
Later on, between one and two o’clock this morning, he was conveyed by a sergeant to the Leman Street Police Station, in Whitechapel.
A STRANGER TO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
Fitzgerald is a stranger to the locality.
He is unknown to the police at Wandsworth, and, up till ten o’clock this morning, nothing had been discovered as to his antecedents.
During the latter part of last evening, he is said to have spent some hours in public-houses in the High Street.
JOHN LOCUS’S STATEMENT
John Locus, who states that he was one of Fitzgerald’s companions in the course of the evening, says, “I met him in a house not far from the police station. He seemed very desirous of conversing with almost everybody who came into the bar, and he especially devoted himself to the Whitechapel murder.
He explained how he thought the woman was killed, but I really couldn’t tell what his theory was.
I didn’t take much notice of what he said at the time.
To the best of my belief, he said he had been in the locality on the night of the occurrence. He said that he knew Whitechapel very well, and Hanbury Street particularly.
HE HAD A KNIFE
Then he had a knife in his possession, the blade of which was about five inches long.
With this, he attempted to illustrate his explanation, and he actually knelt down on the floor of the bar as though bending over a recumbent person.”
Locus went on to say that Fitzgerald left the public house shortly before he did.
HE HAD NOWHERE TO GO
He, however, saw him again about half an hour later. He was then leaning against the wall of a house in a dark part of the street.
Locus spoke to him and asked whether he was going home, but he only received in reply an intimation that he had nowhere to go.
Locus says that he then left him, and Fitzgerald presented himself at the police station three-quarters of an hour later.
The police state that, though Fitzgerald had undoubtedly had beer, he was by no means drunk, and after being cautioned made his statement very clearly.”
But, by Saturday, 29th September, 1888, as can be seen from the following article, which appeared in The Star, it had transpired that Fitzgerald could not have committed the murder:-
“The police have succeeded in tracing the antecedents of Fitzgerald, the man who confessed to having committed the recent murder in Whitechapel, and who is at present under detention.
They have ascertained definitely where he spent the night of the murder, as well as his movements on the following morning.
Their information shows conclusively that he could not have committed the crime.
It is expected he will shortly be released.”