When the people of East London returned to bed on the evening of Friday 7th September, 1888, the thoughts of many of them would have been concerned with the unknown miscreant – whom the gentlemen of the press were reporting was known as “Leather Apron” – who had, so it was believed, carried out three brutal murders in the district of Whitechapel over the previous few months.
Many of them would have been extremely nervous about the inevitably of another murder, and, if the newspaper articles that had appeared over the previous week were to be believed, many of the residents in the area were asking the simple question, “who will be next?”
Readers of the early edition of the East London Advertiser would have been waking up to an article which warned them that:-
“…The murderer must creep out from somewhere, he must patrol the streets in search of his victims. Doubtless he is out night by night…and unless a watch of the strictest order be kept, the murder of Thursday will certainly be followed by a fourth.”
THE PREDICTION COMES TRUE
As it transpired, after the journalist had written his chilling prediction the previous day, but before the newspaper had actually hit the streets, word was spreading through the area that the killer had, indeed, struck again.
The newspapers that were published later on in the day were filled with lurid headlines that left no doubt that the nightmare was nowhere near over.
HORRIBLE MURDER AT WHITECHAPEL
Later on that day the Eastern Evening News would report to its readers, using information that had been generated by the Central News Office in London, that:-
“All London will be awakened this morning to the painful and awful fact that another murder, far more diabolical and fiendish, has been perpetrated on another woman of the same class as the poor wretch found in Buck’s Row on Friday last.”
A WOMAN MURDERED AND MUTILATED
On the same day, The Pall Mall Gazette published the known details of the crime, going into a great deal of detail, and relating a few “facts” – such as the fact that the murderer had tied a neckerchief around his victims neck so as to prevent the head from rolling away – that would later be disproved.
However, the article most certainly captured the essence of the police investigation, and the general revulsion that was being felt in the area, as news of what had been done to the victim began to trickle out that day:-
“A painful sensation was created all over London to-day when it was known that early this morning another shocking murder, with even more horrible details than those which characterized others reported recently in the same quarter, was perpetrated in Spitalfields.
Again the victim is a woman, again there has been a fearful mutilation of the body, and this is the fourth tragedy of the kind in the East-end within a very short period.
This neighbourhood is to-day in a state of wild excitement, bordering on panic, for the other cases are fresh in everybody’s memory, and nobody has been brought to justice for any one of the crimes.
ATROCIOUS AND REVOLTING CIRCUMSTANCES
The victim is again a woman of the “unfortunate” class, but the circumstances are so atrocious and revolting as to render it difficult to state the facts.
The victim was found in the back yard at No. 29, Hanbury-street, Spitalfields (close to the spots where the other unfortunate women have been found), by a Mr. Davis, who lodges in the house.
As Mr. Davis, who is a market porter, was going to work at about six o’clock he happened to go into the back yard, which is a piece of ground flagged with stones about thirty feet long, and immediately behind the door, in the left hand corner, close to a brick wall, he found the woman lying, horribly mutilated in a pool of blood.
Her head was facing the door, the throat was cut and the body ripped.
A large knife stained with blood and a leather apron, it was at first reported, were discovered near the body; but this is not so.
There was, it is true, an apron, but that belonged to a young man who lives in the house, and he uses it in his work.
There were blood stains on the wall, and there is no doubt that the murder was committed where the deceased was found, although no one – and there were four families in the house at the time – heard the least sound.
The house is occupied by a Mrs. Emilia Richardson, who lets it out to various lodgers, and it seems that the door which admits into the passage, at the foot of which lies the yard where the body was found, is always open for the convenience of the lodgers – a fact, no doubt, known to the perpetrators of the crime.
A Mr. and Mrs Davis occupy the upper storey (the house consisting of two stories).
When Mr. Davis found the woman she was lying on her back close up to the flight of steps leading into the yard.
The throat was cut open in a fearful manner – so deep, in fact, that the murderer, evidently thinking that he had severed the head from the body, tied a handkerchief round it so as to keep it on.
It was also found that the body had been ripped open and disembowelled, the heart and abdominal viscera lying by the side.
The fiendish work was completed by the murderer tying part of the entrails round the victim’s neck.
There was no blood on the clothes.
HANBURY STREET AND NUMBER 29
Hanbury-street is a long street which runs from Baker’s-row to Commercial-street. It consists partly of shops and partly of private houses.
In the house in question, in the front room, on the ground floor, Mr. Harderman carries on the business of a seller of catsmeat.
At the back of the premises are Mrs. Richardson’s, who is a packing-case maker.
The other occupants of the house are lodgers.
One of the lodgers, named Robert Thompson, who is a carman, went out of the house at half-past three in the morning, but he heard no noise.
Two unmarried girls, who also live in the house, were talking in the passage until half-past twelve with young men, and it is believed that they were the last occupants of the house to retire to rest.
A DESCRIPTION OF THE VICTIM
The body is that of a woman evidently of about forty-five years of age. The height is five feet exactly. The complexion is fair, with wavy dark brown hair. The eyes are blue, and two teeth have been knocked out in the lower jaw. The nose is rather large and prominent. The third finger of the left hand bore signs of rings having been wrenched off it, and the hands and arms were considerably bruised.
The deceased wore laced-up boots and striped stockings. She wore two cotton petticoats, and was otherwise respectably, though poorly, dressed. Nothing was found in her pockets but a handkerchief and two small combs, besides an envelope bearing the seal of the Sussex Regiment.
EXCITEMENT IN THE DISTRICT
The excitement in the vicinity is intense, and unfounded rumours are flying about.
One report has it that the leather apron found near the place where the body lay, belonged to a man whose name is unknown, but who is nicknamed “Leather Apron,” and evidently known in the district.
A further report stated that another woman was nearly murdered early in the morning, and was taken to the hospital in a dying condition.
Several persons who were lodging in the house, and who were found in the vicinity where the body was found, were taken to the Commercial-street station, and are now being closely examined, especially the women who were last with deceased.
COMMITTED BY A MANIAC
Looking at the corpse no-one can think otherwise than that the murder had been committed by a maniac wretch of the lowest type of humanity.
Indeed, we should have to go to the wilds of Hungary, or search the records of French lower peasant life, be!ore a more sickening and revolting tragedy could be told.
A grave responsibility rests with the police in the district.”
THE EXCITEMENT INTENSIFIES
Something of the impact that the murder was having on the people of the area, as more and more horrible details were being made public throughout the day, can be gleaned from an article that appeared in The Sunderland Daily Echo later that day:-
“The excitement in the district has grown in intensity as the day draws on. Crowds have gathered at various points in the vicinity, and the prevalent feeling is one bordering on panic.
Rumours are plentiful, but the report of a second murder this morning is entirely unfounded.
The excitement in Spitalfields is now rendering the people almost frantic.
Two ordinary prisoners were arrested for trifling offences this morning and, on each occasion, a maddened crowd ran after the police shouting, “The murderer is caught.”
Another man, injured in a quarrel and carried to the police station on a stretcher, received similar attention.”
THE VICTIM IDENTIFIED – ALMOST
Later that day The Nottingham Evening Post, quoted Chief Inspector West as stating that:-
“…The woman’s name is believed to be Annie Siffey, aged 45, who for the last few months has been sleeping at a common lodging house at 39, Dorset Street, Spitalfields, where she was seen at two 0’clock this morning. Deceased was a prostitute, and was known in the neighbourhood of Brick Lane as, “Dark Annie.”
Later that day, it transpired that the victim’s name was, in fact, Annie Chapman – The Nottingham Evening Post explained the earlier wrong identification by pointing out that:-
“In explanation of her being known by the name of Siffey, it is said that she lived for a time with a man who worked at sieve making.”
With regards the circumstances of the victim The Eastern News provided details of how she had come to be on the streets in the early hours of the morning:-
“The Deceased, it transpires, was unable to pay her lodging money last night and went out onto the streets again with the object of getting it. She was then under the influence of liquor and was seen drinking again in the early ours of the morning.”
THE MURDERERS MESSAGE
The terror in the neighbourhood was heightened by rumours that were circulating in the vicinity that the murderer had left a message on a wall close to the scene of his latest atrocity.
Several newspapers reported on the message and its chilling threat, amongst them The Lancashire Evening Post:-
“On the wall of the yard where the body was discovered, the following words were found to be written “Fifteen more and then I give myself up.””
THE POLICE FAILURE TO PREVENT IT
The Pall Mall Gazette, in its fourth edition on the 8th September, 1888, provided more details of this fresh atrocity:-
“Something like a panic will he occasioned in London today by the announcement that another horrible murder has taken place in densely populated Whitechapel.
This makes the fourth murder of the same kind, the perpetrator of which has succeeded in escaping the vigilance of the police.”
The article couldn’t resist a sly dig at the police, by contrasting their handling of the Bloody Sunday protest of the previous November, with their inability to bring the Whitechapel murderer to justice.
“The triumphant success with which the metropolitan police have suppressed all political meetings in Trafalgar-square contrasts strangely with their absolute failure to prevent the most brutal kind of murder in Whitechapel.
The Criminal Investigation Department under Mr. Monro was so preoccupied in tracking out the men suspected of meditating political crimes that the ordinary vulgar assassin has a free field in which to indulge his propensities.
Whether or not this is the true explanation of the immunity which the Whitechapel murderer enjoys, the fact of that immunity is undoubted.
Four poor women, miserable and wretched, have been murdered in the heart of a densely-populated quarter, and not only murdered but mutilated in a peculiarly brutal fashion, and so far the police do not seem to have discovered a single clue to the perpetrator of the crimes.”
THE KNIFE FOUND
The report then went on to say that two important finds had been made at the scene of this latest murder – one of which was the knife that the perpetrator had used.
However, as it transpired, neither the knife found, nor the leather apron referred to in the next section of the article, were in any way related to the murder – this is a case of early gossip, in the wake of a murder, being reported as fact in the newspapers:-
“There is some reason to hope that the latest in this grim and gory series of outrages will supply some evidence as to the identity of the murderer.
The knife with which he disembowelled his unfortunate victim and a leather apron were, it is said, found by the corpse.
If so, these are the only traces left by this mysterious criminal.”
THE CHALLENGE FOR ROBERT ANDERSON
Having provided the brief, and erroneous, description of the clue found at the crime scene, the article then turned its attention on the newly appointed head of the Criminal Investigation Department, Robert Anderson:-
“Dr. Anderson, the new chief of the Detective Department, will now have an admirable opportunity of showing that wits sharpened by reflections upon the deeper problems of “Human Destiny” and the millennium are quite capable of grappling with the mundane problems of the detection of crime.”
A CUNNING PLOY?
Having thrown down the gauntlet to Anderson, the article then continued by questioning whether the leather apron found near the body had, in fact, been left by the murderer as a cunning ploy to throw the police of his actual trail:-
“The fact that the police have been freely talking for a week past about a man nicknamed “Leather Apron” may have led the criminal to leave a leather apron near his victim in order to mislead. He certainly seems to have been capable of such an act of deliberate preparation.
The murder perpetrated this morning shows no indication of hurry or of alarm. He seems to have first killed the woman by cutting her throat so deeply as almost to sever her head from her shoulders, then to have disembowelled her, and then to have disposed of the viscera in a fashion recalling stories of Red Indian savagery.
A man who was cool enough to do this, and who had time enough to do it, was not likely to leave his leather apron behind him and his knife, apparently for no other purpose but to serve as a clue.
But, be this as it may, if the police know of a ruffian who wears a leather apron in Whitechapel, whom they have suspected of previous crimes, no time should be lost in ascertaining whether this leather apron, if it really exists, can be identified as his.”
THE MR HYDE AMONGST US
Having questioned whether the character know as “Leather Apron” had, in fact, carried out this latest murder, the article then went on to wonder if the murderer might not be a creature bred by the slums of the district.
“This renewed reminder of the potentialities of revolting barbarity, which lie latent in man, will administer a salutary shock to the complacent optimism which assumes that the progress of civilization has rendered unnecessary the bolts and bars – social, moral, and legal – which keep the Mr. Hyde of humanity from assuming visible shape among us.
There certainly seems to be a tolerably realistic impersonification of Mr. Hyde at large in Whitechapel.
The Savage of Civilization whom we are raising by the hundred thousand in our slums is quite as capable of bathing his hands in blood as any Sioux who ever scalped a foe.
But we should not be surprised if the murderer in the present case should not turn out to be slum bred.
The nature of the outrages and the calling of the victims suggests that we have to look out for a man who is animated by that mania of bloodthirsty cruelty which sometimes springs from the unbridled indulgence of the worst passions.
A PLEBEIAN MARQUIS DE SADE
We may have a plebeian Marquis DE SADE at large in Whitechapel.
If so, and if he is not promptly apprehended, we shall not have long to wait for another addition to the ghastly catalogue of murder.”
Having pondered the type of person who might be capable of carrying out such a heinous crime, the article returned to goading the police to do more in their endeavours to bring the man responsible to swift justice. The writer also hinted at the fact that morale amongst the police officers tasked with catching the perpetrator was at an all time low:-
“There is some reason to hope that the sentiment of horror which the peculiar atrocity of the present crime excites, even in the most callous, will spur the police into a display of vigorous and intelligent activity.
At present the disaffection in the force is so widespread that, unless we are strangely misinformed, the police are thinking more of the possibility of striking against a system which has become intolerable than of overexerting themselves in the detection of crime.”
THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE
The article closed by talking about the panic that was likely to surface in the area in the wake of this latest atrocity, and by wondering what would happen were a similar murder to take place in the more affluent West End of London:-
“As for the community at large, the panic will probably be confined to the area within which this midnight murderer confines his operations.
If, however, a similar crime were now to be committed in the West-end there would, no doubt, be a panic, the like of which we have not seen in our time.
From that, however, we shall probably be spared; but the public will be more or less uneasy as long as the Whitechapel murderer is left at large.”
THE MURDER-OUTBREAK IN THE EAST-END
The St James’s Gazette, in its edition of 8th September, 1888, opined on what might well happen in the district if the murderer was not swiftly brought to justice:-
“We are not surprised to hear that the East-end is in a state of consternation this morning.
The shocking murder and mutilation which we report elsewhere makes the third of these atrocious crimes perpetrated within the last few weeks, and the fourth within the last few months.
In each case the victim was a woman; in each case she was murdered in the early hours of the morning within a short distance of frequented thoroughfares in the midst of a densely populated district; in each case the crime was accompanied or followed by circumstances of such monstrous and disgusting barbarity that it is impossible to give all the details.
Such is the state of affairs: and it is plain that if there is not to be a regular panic in the East-end, followed, as panics generally are, by some act of blind savagery, the murderer or murderers must be captured without delay.”
RUFFIANS OR A MADMAN?
Several newspapers, The St James’s Gazette amongst them, were coming to see the murderer as a wild animal loose on the street of Whitechapel, and were looking at solving the crimes by, quite literally, hunting this murderous savage down:-
“Two theories have been suggested to account for these assassinations.
One is that they are the work of a gang of desperadoes, something like (but infinitely worse than) the “High Rip” ruffians of Liverpool.
The other is that they have been committed by a maniac, whose madness has taken the form of a thirst for blood and the mutilation of the dead. This suggestion, fanciful as it seemed at first, has gained in plausibility until it is very largely accepted in the district.
The crimes have been almost motiveless, so far as can he ascertained.
There was scarcely enough to be gained by killing these poor women to tempt the most hardened desperadoes as long as they were in their senses; nor is it easy to conceive that any sane beings, however wicked, would run the risk of committing this morning’s murder while the hue-and-cry raised upon that of the 31st of August is so hot.
But, if we suppose that there is some savage creature to whom the lust of slaughter has become an insatiable instinct, the horrible series of crimes will at least have an explanation – shocking and terrifying as it is.
If there is such a lunatic in the case, it is obvious that he must be hunted down with the unremitting zeal and energy with which a man eating tiger is ensnared by the ryots of an Indian village.”
THE CITIZENS SHOULD ACT
With the evidence suggesting that the police were no nearer catching the killer than they had been in the wake of the earlier atrocities, the Gazette article went on to suggest that the local people might have more success were they to take up the hunt themselves:-
“The police now “have the case in hand.”
But perhaps some steps should be taken to supplement the leisurely activity of Scotland-yard.
We are no advocates of police work by voluntary agency; but this may be a case for exceptional treatment.
In the Western States of America, when a murderer or a horse-thief has succeeded in baffling the “Sheriff” for some time, the citizens form a sort of Watch Committee, which deliberately undertakes the work of trapping the criminal, and very seldom fails.
The roads are patrolled by day and night, the district is regularly quartered among the volunteer sentries, and every suspected person is “shadowed” so closely by his neighbours that escape is impossible.
Something of that sort might be attempted in Whitechapel; at least so far as regards the organization of a body of patrols which should guard the streets by night in a much more effectual way than is possible for the sparse and thinly scattered watchers of the Metropolitan Police Force.
If this were done quietly and without needless ostentation, it would diminish rather than add to the panic which seems to be setting in at the East-end.
Meanwhile Scotland-yard must bend every energy to the task of catching this monster.
We may hope that it realizes the gravity of the situation, though the signs are not very apparent.”
DOES LEATHER APRON EXIST?
The article then turned a critical eye on the reports that the mysterious “Leather Apron” had actually been in the clutches of two police constables earlier that week, but had been allowed to walk away!
However, the article also questioned whether “Leather Apron” actually existed, or whether he was nothing more than a fiction dreamt up by journalists in order to ramp up newspaper sales:-
“We do not know whether there is any reasonable ground for the suspicion which has been loudly uttered against a particular person.
“Leather Apron” may be no more than a myth, fostered by the imagination of vivacious reporters; and the fact that a leather apron and a shoemaker’s knife were found near the body of the latest victim may just as well be as blind as a valuable piece of evidence.
Still this individual, we are told, has been openly accused of the crimes by many people in Whitechapel; and if that is so, it is scarcely possible to believe that the man has already been in the hands of the police during the last week and has been allowed to slip through them.
Yet such is stated to be the case.
Obviously there would be something for a Watch Committee to do.”