For us today, separated as we are by the passage of 130 years from the awful events of the autumn of 1888, it is difficult to comprehend the sheer horror that gripped the minds of the general public, all across the country, as they awoke on Monday October 1st, 1888 to the news that, over the weekend, the Whitechapel fiend had claimed the lives of two more victims.
There were no 24-hour news channels or social media to bring news to the masses within moments of events occurring; the Sunday newspapers had gone to press by the time that the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were carried out, within forty-five minutes of each other, in the early hours of Sunday, 30th September, 1888.
People living in the East End of London, and some in neighbouring parts of London, would have learnt of the murders on the Sunday; but for the majority of people across the country as a whole, the first they would have known of the “double event” would have been in the newspapers that appeared on the Monday and Tuesday in the first week of October, 1888.
ONE SUBJECT OF CONVERSATION
The Western Daily Press in a detailed article, which was published on Tuesday, 2nd October, 1888, captured the reaction of the people of the East End, as they came to hear that the murderer had struck again:-
“The excitement which was created in parts of London on Sunday by news of the atrocious crimes in Berner Street and Mitre Square was doubly intensified this morning when the daily newspapers carried the startling news into every household, and today there has been but the one subject of conversation everywhere.
Thousands of people visited the localities of the crimes, but there was nothing then to see.
The police had removed all traces of the murder from the yard in Bemer Street where the unfortunate woman – who has today been definitely identified as Elizabeth Stride – was found, while at Mitre Square there was nothing which could recall the horrible spectacle which met the eyes of Constable Watkins at quarter to two o’clock on Sunday morning.
The remains of the victim had been removed to the City Mortuary, and the pavement cleansed.”
Having provided readers with a snapshot of the people in the area, the article then went on to give details of some of the clues that the police were receiving concerning suspicious characters who seemed to be cropping up all over London:-
“During the day, all sorts of stories were brought to the police, with the effect of showing more less effective “clues” to the perpetrators of the murders.
One informant deposed that, at about half-past ten on Saturday night, a man, aged about 33 years, entered a public-house in Batty Street whilst some men in the public-house were talking about the Whitechapel murders.
He stated that he knew the murderer, and that they would hear about him in the morning, after which he left.
It been thought that this was merely idle talk, no notice was taken of the matter.
HE THREATENED TO CUT HER THROAT
A description circulated this morning of a man who is said to have accosted a woman in the vicinity of Commercial Road on Saturday night, and to have threatened to cut her throat if she did not give him money.
The woman gave him a shilling, and he went away.”
THE ARRESTS OF POTENTIAL SUSPECTS
The police, however, had not been idle in the aftermath of the murders, and, as the article went on to report, several arrests had been made, albeit none of them had, in fact, resulted in a positive identification of the perpetrator of the crimes:-
“During last night and today, no less than five men were arrested in East End London, in connection with the murders.
Three were, at different times, conveyed to Leman Street police station, but one was immediately liberated.
Another was detained until noon, when he was set at liberty, after giving a statement of his movements. He was found to have been in straitened circumstances, and to have passed much of his time in common lodging-houses in Whitechapel, but there was nothing to show that he had anything to do with the murders.
A third man was detained in the afternoon, when he, after due inquiry, was also liberated.
Of the two men detained at Commercial Street Police Station, one was liberated soon after his arrest, but the other, named Frank Raper, was kept in custody.
THE ARREST OF FRANK RAPER
It appears that he was arrested late on Saturday night at a public-house known as Dirty Dick’s, near Liverpool Street.
He was standing in the bar while under the influence of liquor, and, it is alleged, made a number of extravagant statements about the murders of Mrs Chapman and Mrs Nicholls.
The bystanders sent for a constable, and Raper was removed to the police station, followed by a large and excited crowd.
On being charged, Raper said he had no settled address, and inquiries have satisfied the police that he is not the man wanted, so he was set free later in the day.”
SINGULAR ARREST OF A REPORTER
Meanwhile, journalists were out on the streets in force, desperate to gather as many facts on the murders as they could, and some of them, as the article went on to detail, were resorting to desperate measures in the hope of acquiring the all elusive scoop for their papers:-
Yesterday morning, a newspaper reporter, who has been on the lookout for the murderer for several nights past, thinking it possible that, after the cool audacity of the murders on Sunday, he might possibly repeat the murder during yesterday morning, shaved off his whiskers and moustache, and, dressing himself as a woman, walked from his home in Leytonstone to Whitechapel, and made the tour of the streets frequented by the assassin, passing several detectives and constables on the way.
He was unmolested until after he had covered a great deal of ground.
Upon getting into Whitechapel Road again, however, he was pounced upon by constable Ludwig, 273 H, who said, “Stop, you are a man.”
Seeing that is was useless to deny it, the reporter admitted the fact, upon which he was asked,”Are you one of us?” and was answered in the negative; and it was explained why the disguise had been adopted.
The constable, however, said that he must take the reporter to the police station, and he was accordingly conveyed to Leman Street, where the inspector on duty, after several questions, said, “I must detain you until inquiries are made.”
After a delay of an hour and a half, the officer was satisfied of the reporter’s bona fides, and he was liberated.”
A MEETING IN WHITECHAPEL
Meanwhile, the article continued, the Whitechapel Board of Works had held a meeting to discuss the detrimental effects that the murders were having on businesses in the area:-
“At a meeting of the District Board of Works, Mr Robert Gladding presiding, Mr Catmur said he thought that the board, as the local authority, should express their horror and abhorrence of the crimes which had been perpetrated in the district.
The result of these tragedies had been a loss of trade to the district, and the stoppage of certain trades, by reason of the women being afraid to pass through the streets without an escort.”
THE INEFFICIENCY OF THE POLICE
The Board also couldn’t resist having a dig at the evident inefficiency demonstrated by the police, and highlighted how, around the time when the police were out in force in the area, in the wake of the two murders, a group of daring thieves had carried out a robbery right under the noses of the officers of both the City of London and the Metropolitan Police:-
“The inefficiency of the police was shown by the fact that, an hour or two later than the tragedies in Berner Street and Mitre Square, with the streets swarming with police officers, the post office in the vicinity had been broken into and much property stolen.
The Rev. Daniel Greatorex said that the emigrant houses of call were feeling the panic to such an extent that emigrants refused to locate themselves in Whitechapel, even temporarily.”
It was more than apparent that, in the wake of these two latest atrocities, the police were no nearer to bringing the miscreant – who was now becoming widely known as “Jack the Ripper” – to justice, and, although no further murders would occur throughout the whole of October, the police themselves would find themselves subjected to a huge amount of press scrutiny and criticism.