Impersonating Jack the Ripper appears to have become a popular pastime for certain people – in particular young men, and, specifically, drunk young men – as the Whitechapel atrocities raged in the East End of London throughout the autumn of 1888.
Given the public mood at the time, it seems impossible to believe that people would, quite literally, risk their lives by claiming to be the perpetrator of the crimes; but, as many of the court reports from the period demonstrate, there was no shortage of drunks who were willing to put their lives on the line by going about claiming that they were the ones who were carrying out the Whitechapel murders.
On 20th November 1888, The Daily News, published an article on several appearances that had taken place at Marlborough Street Police Court and Marylebone Police Court, where people appeared before the magistrates on charges of threatening behaviour, or public order offences, in the course of which they had claimed to be the murderer.
The article read:-
THE “JACK THE RIPPER” SCARE
“At Marlborough-street Police-court yesterday William Avanell, 26, chimney sweep, Adam and Eve-court, Oxford-street, and Frederick W. Moore, 28, carver and gilder, Carlisle-street, Soho, were charged on remand with behaving in a disorderly manner and assaulting Henry Edward Leeke, an oil and colour man, of Gilbert-street.
The evidence previously given was to the effect that on the evening of the 10th inst., shortly before eight o’clock, the prosecutor, who is a man of small stature, went into a public-house in the neighbourhood of Berners-street, Oxford-street, when some one in the bar suggested that he was “Jack the Ripper.”
On leaving the House, the two prisoners seized hold of him, and Avenall, who said he was a detective, behaved very violently towards him.
They dragged him along the street, pretending they were going to take him to the station.
THEY BELIEVED HE WAS THE MAN
Mr. Arthur Newton, solicitor, who appeared for the defence, said the explanation of the affair was that the prisoners really believed that the prosecutor was the real Jack the Ripper, and that they were, therefore, justified in taking the accused to the station.
His clients, he said, were hard-working and respectable men, and were willing to make compensation, so far as their modest means would allow.
The magistrate said he thought that, as far as the assault was concerned, it was one that might be settled by a civil action if the prosecutor desired such a course to be taken.
The prosecutor intimated that he would prefer the magistrate to deal with the case.
A PRACTICAL JOKE
The magistrate said that if people took upon themselves the responsibility of making practical jokes they must put up with the consequences.
In the present excited state of public feeling it was a highly dangerous thing to drag a man about the streets saying that he was the Whitechapel murderer, and such conduct might actually lead to loss of life.
Mr. Newton said the prisoners were willing to give the prosecutor a sovereign each.
In answer to the magistrate, the constable who arrested the prisoner said that when Avenall was taken into custody he did not say that he was a detective of the police force. He merely said that he was a private detective.
Mr. Romney said that with regards to the charge of impersonating a detective the evidence was somewhat conflicting, and he would, therefore, dismiss it.
With respect to the assault he must, however, inflict the full penalty of the law as, although the prisoners did not actually beat the prosecutor, they so frightened him as to cause him to become ill and to get into a state of nervous depression.
A FINE OF FIVE SHILLINGS EACH
There was no reasonable ground for the accused acting as they had, and they would each have to pay a fine of five shillings, with the alternative of one month’s imprisonment. Half the fine – 5 shillings – would be given to the prosecutor by way of compensation.
JAMES BUNYAN ASSAULTS GERSIE SOMO
At Marylebone Police Court, James Bunyan, 45, of Kennel-road, was charged with being drunk and disorderly, also with assaulting Gersie Somo, of The Avenue, Harlesden.
On Saturday night the prosecutor was passing along the Harrow-road, and near a man selling books in the street he saw the prisoner.
The latter was shouting, and that caused the prosecutor to notice him.
Mr. Somo walked on towards his home, and directly afterwards found that the prisoner was following him, so, to avoid him, he crossed the road.
The prisoner shouted out several times, “I’ll have you,” and the crowd which followed called out, “He’s Jack the Ripper.”
The prisoner got the prosecutor against the wall and shouted out, “Now I’ve got you,” and a struggle ensued in the course of which the Mr. Somo’s coat was torn.
Mr. Somo tried to run away and prisoner followed him, saying, “I’ll have you.”
Police Constable 186X said he heard the crowd shout out “Jack the Ripper,” and, as he could not get a satisfactory explanation from the prisoner, he took him into custody.
The prisoner had been drinking.
SO MANY INSTANCES OF THIS
Mr. de Rutzen remarked that the horrible tragedies in Whitechapel seemed to have an extraordinary effect on people the worse for drink.
There were so may instances of this kind that it was scarcely safe to go about the streets.
He sentenced the prisoner to fourteen days’ imprisonment, and he refused an application to impose a fine.
HENRY HUMPHREY’S “STUPID JOKE”
At the same Court Henry Humphrey, 38, a professional billiard player, was charged with behaving in a disorderly manner and using threatening language towards Ann Vaughan, of Malvern-road, Kilburn.
The prosecutrix, a young woman, testified that she was standing at the junction of Cambridge and Malvern roads, at about 20 minutes after nine o’clock on Sunday night, waiting for a female cousin to arrive.
The prisoner came up to her and said, “Good evening, Miss,” but she took no notice of him and walked towards her cousin, who was approaching her.
The prisoner followed and said something about their being nice young women, and other foolish talk.
The prisoner then uplifted his arm, and from up his sleeve produced a long dagger with a very sharp curved point, and, drawing her attention to it, said, “This will do for you.”
She and her cousin screamed at the top of their voices, and the prisoner told them not to do that.
He went away, and they went to a policeman and gave information of what had happened to them.
Police-constable 382X arrested the prisoner in the Chippenham public-house and, when told the charge, he said it was only a stupid joke.
The prisoner was in drink, hut knew what he was about.
He had been into a shop and had sharpened the knife on the counter.
Mr. de Rutzen said this sort of thing must be stopped.
He remanded Humphrey for a week, and at present refused bail.”