In 1914, Sir Melville Macnaghten, the retired former chief of the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard, published his memoirs, which he titled Days Of My Years.
Although he wasn’t actually a member of the Metropolitan Police at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888, he would later become a high profile officer and could always be counted on by journalists to hold forth on the Whitechapel murders.
Indeed, it is to his assertions, made in 1894, that we owe the widely held belief that the perpetrator of the infamous crimes had five victims and five victims only.
Thus, when Sir Melville Macnaghten’s memoirs were published, his views on the Ripper crimes were greeted with great interest, and were often mentioned in reviews of the book, such as in the following assessment, which appeared in The Sketch on Wednesday, 11th November, 1914:-
THE EVERLASTING WAR: C.I.D. VERSUS CRIMINAL
There is an everlasting war. It is against the criminal. The C.I.D. is the Expeditionary Force sent against the enemy who slinks by day and night, armed with knife and jemmy, poison or confidence trick, blackmailing letter or Browning.
Sir Melville Macnaghten has been a Commander-in-Chief of the army acting against the evil-doers. Many days of his years have been spent in the service of his country. He may be called, as he calls Sir Edward Henry, “the best all-round policeman of the twentieth century; a man to whom London owes more than it knows.”
For that reason, his reminiscences are of much value.
They may reveal comparatively little – the writer, necessarily, keeps innumerable secrets – but they are none the less vastly entertaining to all students of criminology, whether amateurs or experts.
Sir Melville’s own leanings towards crime in others began when he was of tender years.
The Chamber of Horrors at Tussaud’s fascinated him J. Blomfield Rush, the Mannings, Courvoisier, Palmer, the Rugeley poisoner, and the others, to say nothing of “a half-length figure of bathing Marat, upon whose chest and throat red sealing-wax was profusely sprinkled.”
HIS START IN THE POLICE
For all that, he joined the police by chance, after he had made a start in life in India, and had come to know Mr. James Monro, then Inspector-General of the Bengal Police, who offered him the post of Assistant Chief Constable at Scotland Yard. His decision was a happy one, for himself and for the country.
“As I put down my pen,” he writes, “I raise my cup of tea and drink to the memory of my dear children of the C.I.D., knowing as I do that they will maintain the best traditions of the Yard.”
While in the Yard, needless to say, Sir Melville had many experiences.
Jack the Ripper was before his official time, but he has something to say of him.
He states that the Whitechapel murderer committed five murders, and, to give the devil his due, no more, and he is of the opinion that the Ripper, who was a sexual maniac, took his own life on or about Nov. 10, 1888.
THE NAME “JACK THE RIPPER”
The name “Jack the Ripper,” by the way, came into being in curious fashion.
“On 27th September, 1888, a letter was received at a well-known News Agency, addressed to “the Boss.” It was written in red ink, and purported to give the details of the murders which he had committed. It was signed “Jack the Ripper.”
In this ghastly production I have always thought I could discern the stained forefinger of the journalist – indeed, a year later, I had shrewd suspicions as to the actual author. But whoever did pen the gruesome stuff, it is certain, to my mind, that it was not the mad miscreant who had committed the murders.
The name “Jack the Ripper,” however, had got abroad in the land and had caught on.”
NOT NEIL CREAM
Sir Melville adds that, despite the widely published statement that on the scaffold Neil Cream exclaimed “I am Jack the…” just as the bolt was drawn, he does not credit the idea that the Doctor was Jack.
“There is a perfect alibi. During the whole period covered by the Ripper’s crimes Neil Cream was in prison on the other side of the Atlantic.” Ordeal by Many other points follow.
ORDEAL BY TOUCH
Many other points follow. There is the story of Ordeal by Touch.
This is concerned with the Hampstead murder of Mrs. Hogg.
Her sister-in-law and a friend were awaiting admission with a view to identification. As soon as these two women entered, the sister- in-law (regardless of grammar) said, “Good God, it’s” her, but she was at once dragged away by her friend, who, in very excited tones, cried out, “Don’t touch it, don’t touch it.”
That friend was a Mrs. Pearcy, who was arrested a few hours later, and subsequently tried and hanged for the murder of Mrs. Hogg.”
It was Mrs. Pearcy who played the piano while the police searched her house, and sang, when asked to explain the bloodstains found, “Killing mice, killing mice, killing mice.”
TIME AND THE DIFFICULTIES OF PROOF
The most anxious time Sir Melville had, however, was less connected with crime done than Proof with crime possible.
It was at the death of King Edward VII, which gave many trying hours to the chiefs of the Yard.
“Never had so many crowned heads been gathered together in London before; never had such elaborate arrangements been necessary, and never had there been less time for perfecting their plans.”
But to hark back to actual violence, Sir Melville notes, “It was a very favourite saying of my predecessor at the Yard that, if you didn’t catch a murderer in the first twenty-four hours, you didn’t get him at all.
This statement is a bit too arbitrary, but, for all that, it contains a great deal of truth.
At the commencement of a murder investigation, every minute is of golden importance.”
CONSIDERING THE LAW
And there is always the law to consider: it is not always easy to secure a conviction, even when you know.
“In England, every man is innocent until he is legally proved to be guilty.
As a well-known London detective once put it, “When I am absolutely assured of the guilt of my man, then the difficulties of the case begin to crop up.”
Sir Melville Macnaghten’s book is engrossing.”