It is all too tempting to judge the Victorian Metropolitan Police as incompetent as a result of their inability to catch Jack the Ripper.
To do so, however, is both unfair and inaccurate.
Yes, the police did make mistakes in the hunt for the Whitechapel murderer, but, at the same time, they were hampered by the fact that they were hunting for a lone assassin in one of London’s most densely populated and crime-ridden district’s.
Unfortunately, the press coverage and criticisms that they received can colour our judgement as we look back on those long ago detectives and constables who were tasked with apprehending history’s most elusive criminal.
Many officers with the Victoria police force, were both dedicated and brave; and, when you read about some of the cases they had to deal with, and read accounts of the bravery they displayed in the face of great personal danger, you come away with nothing but admiration for them.
ATTEMPTED MURDER OF A LONDON DETECTIVE
One such case was reported in The Southern Reporter, on Thursday, 12th January, 1888:-
“A desperate attempt was made on Saturday to murder Inspector Lansdowne, of Scotland Yard, by a man who at present refuses to give his name.
It appears that on Friday Earl Compton arrived at Pancras Station, and during the journey to his residence, his portmanteau was stolen, including a cheque of the value of £44.
Notification was immediately given to the bankers, Messrs Drummond, and about half-past nine the man in question attended, and, presenting the cheque, asked for cash.
Inspector Lansdowne apprehended him, and was about to convey him to Scotland Yard when the fellow presented a revolver, but Mr Lansdowne twice succeeded in preventing its discharge by putting his thumb between the hammer and cap.
After desperate resistance, the prisoner was secured and taken to jail.”
“I HAVE NO NAME”
The Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser reported on the would-be assailant’s court appearance in its edition of Saturday, 14th January, 1888:-
“At Bow-street Police-court, a man, who refused his name and address, aged 30, has been charged with uttering a forged cheque for £44, and with attempting to shoot Inspector Lansdowne while in the execution his duty.
Upon being asked his name when placed in the dock, the prisoner said, “I have no name, and you can put down what name you think proper; but I can assure you I have no name…”
A crowd assembled, but immediately the people caught sight of the revolver they ran away.
The Witness was left struggling desperately with his prisoner.
Mr Bridge: “Are we ceasing to be English?”
Witness said the cabman and the driver of a coal cart eventually came to his assistance, and the prisoner was secured.
On examining the revolver, it was found to be a six-chambered one, but only five chambers were loaded.
Fortunately, the empty chamber had been presented at the witness and his thumb had prevented the firing of the next chamber.
Mr. Bridge: “It is a most narrow escape for you.
(To prisoner.) Do you wish to ask any question?”
Prisoner: “No. I prefer to reserve all questions.”
Mr. Bridge marked the charge-sheet to the effect that Inspector Lansdowne had had a most fortunate escape from death in arresting the prisoner, and that the prisoner did not escape was owing to the officer’s great courage and presence of mind.
The prisoner was remanded.”
SAMUEL PRINCE APPEARS IN COURT
By the time of his next court appearance, the police had managed to ascertain his name, and The Bury Free Press, carried a full report on his appearance in court in its edition of Saturday, 21st January, 1888:-
“At Bow-street Police-court, before Mr. Bridge, the man who attempted to shoot Inspector Lansdowne, of the Criminal Investigation Department, Scotland Yard, has been brought up on remand.
At the last hearing, he refused his name and address, but he has since given the name of Samuel Prince.
EARL COMPTON’S LUGGAGE STOLEN
It appeared from the evidence already given that on the night of Friday week Earl Compton’s luggage was lost from a cab between the St. Pancras Station of the Midland Railway and Lennox-gardens.
CHEQUE PRESENTED AT THE BANK
On the following day, the prisoner presented a cheque for payment at Messrs, Drummond’s bank, which was amongst the stolen property.
The clerk at the bank communicated with the police, and Inspector Lansdowne saw the prisoner at the bank.
A FALSE STATEMENT
When questioned he said that he had received the check from his partner, Mr. W. Clements, a jeweller, of 145, Bamsbury-road.
He was taken to that address in a cab, when it was found that his statement was false.
Inspector Lansdowne then arrested him, and was about to take him away in the cab when he endeavoured to shoot the officer, who grasped the revolver with his thumb between the hammer and the cartridge, by which his life was saved, although his thumb was injured by the hammer.
Mr. Sims, who appeared for the Treasury to prosecute, upon the prisoner being placed in the dock said that he proposed to call further evidence as to the attempt to murder Inspector Lansdowne, and then to prefer another charge of forging and uttering cheques on the High Wickham [sic] branch of the London and County Bank.
On the 24th of December last, a portmanteau belonging to Colonel Logan was stolen from the top of a cab, and in the portmanteau was a cheque-book.
On the 28th one of those cheques was presented to Mr. Field, a baker, in payment of an account.
There were several other forgeries of cheques from the same cheque-book, but into those he did not propose to go.
A DESPERATE AND DANGEROUS MAN
The prisoner was evidently a desperate and dangerous man.
He was formerly in the Royal Navy, and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for assaulting his captain.
He was afterwards in the 3rd Hussars, when he was accused of larceny, and when the corporal endeavoured to arrest him he shot him in the leg with a revolver which he had stolen from the regimental stores. For this offence he was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment.
THE CASE AGAINST HIM
Mr. Geo. Hurrell, the bank cashier, recalled, said that the prisoner brought the cheque endorsed after he had been told that it could not be paid without the endorsement.
Inspector Lansdowne, recalled, said that he went to the house in the Barnsbury-road, and said, in the prisoner’s presence, that he had come about the cheque.
The person to whom he spoke was Mr. Freeman, a jeweller, the landlord of the house. He said that there was no one named Clements living there, but that a young man of that name worked for him. He also added that someone came about a cheque on the previous week, upon which the prisoner said to the witness, “You make a note of that.”
SEARCHED AT THE POLICE STATION
When searched at the police-station, a cheque-book of the London and County Banking Company was found upon him. The counterfoil of the cheque which had been presented was in the book, and there were several other cheques missing.
The revolver was loaded with ball cartridge in every chamber.
A COURTROOM EXCHANGE
By the prisoner: “I do think that it was your intention to take my life.”
Prisoner: “Why do you think so, considering that I rode with you in a cab to Barnsbury-road? If I had desired to take your life could I not have done so then?”
Witness: “At that time you were not a prisoner.”
Prisoner: “Then you still persist in thinking and swearing that I intended to take your life?”
Witness: “I do.”
Prisoner: “Then all I can say is that am very sorry. I think I shall be able to prove different at the trial.”
By Mr. Bridge: “The hammer of the revolver fell upon my thumb and cut it to the bone. The trigger must have been pulled down the moment I grasped the weapon. The hammer would not have cocked if the trigger had not been pulled.”
THE CAB DRIVER’S TESTIMONY
Edward Glesson, of 29, Tavistock-road, Westbourne-park, a cab-driver, said that on Saturday last he drove the inspector and the prisoner to 145, Barnsbury-road.
They both went into the house, and after a few minutes came out together.
As they came out, the Prisoner made an attempt to walk to the near side of the horse’s head, but the inspector pushed him on to the footboard.
The prisoner then made a rush to get off on the other side, but the inspector caught him by the collar and pulled him back.
He then deliberately turned round and caught the officer by the collar and, pushing him against the side of the cab, said, “You are a dead man if you do not let me go.”
He was then holding a revolver in his hand, which he pointed at Mr. Lansdowne’s chest.
The pistol was quite close to the Inspector’s chest, and he immediately grasped hold of it, saying, “He is trying to murder me.”
A struggle then ensued, during which the prisoner endeavoured to point the revolver at Mr. Lansdowne, who, however, kept hold of the barrel until a carman seized the prisoner from behind, when the revolver was taken from him.
He then said, “I am a done man.”
FREDERICK WILSON’S EVIDENCE
Frederick Wilson, coal carman, said that Saturday last he was in the Barnsbury-road with his van, and saw the struggle.
He stopped his van and caught the prisoner from behind.
At that time he was struggling with the inspector in the road, and both were holding the revolver.
HIS HALF-BROTHER’S TESTIMONY
William Clements said that he lived at 145, Barnsbury-road, and was assistant to Mr. Freeman, the jeweller.
The Prisoner was his half-brother, and his name was Charles Bonnett.
He had no trade, and the Witness did not know where he had been living.
The cheque produced had not been given by him to the prisoner. The endorsement on the back was in the prisoner’s handwriting. The two other cheques signed “Strudwick” were also in the same handwriting.
On the Wednesday previous to the arrest, someone called at 145, Barnsbury-road, and showed him a similar cheque.
Cross-examined by the Prisoner: “I believe the endorsement to be in your handwriting, but I could not swear to it. I saw you about six months ago, but, prior to that time, I had not seen you for five or six years.
COMMITTED FOR TRIAL
Formal evidence having been given as to the forgeries, the prisoner was committed for trial upon the charges of attempting to murder, of forgery, and of stealing from the portmanteau.”
CHARLES BOULETT AT THE OLD BAILEY
The London Daily News, on Monday, 6th February, 1888, reported on his appearance at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) which had taken place on the Saturday, two days before, and by which time it had been established that his real name was, in fact. Charles Boulett:-
“At the Central Criminal Court on Saturday, before Mr. Justice Hawkins, Charles Boulett, otherwise Samuel Prince, 30, jeweller, was indicted for forgery and stealing a portmanteau, and also for attempting to discharge a loaded revolver at Inspector Lansdowne with intent to murder him.”
The article then went on to report the circumstances of the crime, followed by an account of the arrest of the accused and his attempt to shoot the inspector, before reporting Boulett’s defence of his actions:-
HE HAD NO INTENTION OF USING THE REVOLVER
“The prisoner, in his defence, said that the statements against him were made up of falsehood and misrepresentation.
He had not the slightest intention of using the revolver against Inspector Lansdowne. Had he such an intention he had many opportunities of doing it.
The jury almost immediately found the prisoner guilty of attempting to shoot Inspector Lansdowne with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
The prisoner pleaded guilty to a conviction of twelve months hard labour at Leeds for assault.
One charge of forgery was then proceeded with, and the prisoner was found guilty.
The other charges were postponed until the next sessions
Mr Mathews said the Grand Jury had made a presentment praising Inspector Lansdowne for the able and plucky manner in which he arrested the prisoner, and also the coalman, Wilson, for the assistance he promptly rendered him.
Mr Justice Hawkins said that he concurred in the recommendation, and would consider between now and the next sessions whether he had any power to order something more substantial. It would only be his want of power which would prevent his doing so.
The sentence on Boulett for attempting to shoot the inspector was postponed until the next sessions.”
INSPECTOR LANDSDOWNE’S ASSAILANT
His final court appearance, for charges of forgery, was reported by Croydon’s Weekly Standard on Saturday, 3rd March, 1888.
By this time the police had also traced an accomplice who duly appeared in court alongside him:-
“At the Central Criminal Court on Tuesday, before Mr. Justice Hawkins, Charles Boulett, 30, jeweller, and Frederick Brenham, 22, labourer, were indicted for forging and uttering a cheque for £5.
Mr. Poland and Mr. Mead conducted the prosecution; the prisoners were not defended by counsel.
The prisoner Boulett was tried at the last sessions for attempting to discharge a loaded revolver at Inspector Lansdowne, of Scotland-yard…”
The article then provided another summary of the crime and the attempted murder, before recapping on the fact that Boulett had already been found guilty of the attempt to murder Inspector Landsdowne.
The article then continued:-
“The jury at the last sessions convicted Boulett of having attempted to discharge the revolver at Inspector Lansdowne with intent to do him grievous bodily harm, and they also found him guilty of uttering the forged endorsement to the cheque for £44.
Sentence upon Boulett was postponed until these sessions, in order that he might be tried upon the present charge.
THE PRESENT CASE
It seemed from the evidence in the present case that the prisoner Brenham on December 24 took a cheque for £5 to a confectioner’s shop near Tavistock-square with a note purporting to be signed by a student at the London University ordering some pastry and asking that the change for the cheque might be given to the bearer.
The change was given to the prisoner Brenham, and the goods ordered were sent by a boy, but another man, alleged to be Boulett, met Brenham and they told the boy that they would carry the goods.
The cheque was eventually discovered to be a forgery.
BOULETT WAS ARMED
When Brenham was apprehended he said it was a good job that the officer had not arrested him when he was passing the cheque, as “Jack” (meaning Boulett) was waiting outside with a revolver, saying that he would shoot anyone who attempted to arrest him.
It was alleged that the handwriting on the cheque was that of the prisoner Boulett, who, however, denied the charge.
Mr. Justice Hawkins having summed up, the jury found Boulett “Guilty” and Brenham “Guilty” of uttering the cheque only.
There were other indictments, but Mr. Poland intimated that he did not propose to proceed upon them.
TWELVE YEARS PENAL SERVITUDE
Mr. Justice Hawkins sentenced Boulett to 12 years’ penal servitude, and Brenham to 15 months’ imprisonment with hard labour.
A REWARD FOR INSPECTOR LANSDOWNE
His lordship highly commended the courageous conduct of Inspector Lansdowne, and directed a reward of £10 to be paid to him in recognition of his valuable services.”