THE LETTER THAT CREATED ‘THE RIPPER’
“Dear Boss – I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they won’t fix me just yet…”
These are the opening lines of what has probably become one of the most infamous letters ever written. Commonly known as the ‘Dear Boss’ letter, it was written on 25 September 1888 and received by the Central News Agency in New Bridge Street, London , two days later. Up until the publication of this letter on 1 October 1888, the Whitechapel murderer had gone by his earlier soubriquet of ‘Leather Apron’, after a local man known to terrorise prostitutes on the streets of the East End.
After mocking the police about their ineffectiveness at catching the real killer and threats to commit further outrages, the author signed himself off with a chilling “Yours truly, Jack the Ripper” and thus a legend was born.
It is impossible to say if the real murderer wrote this letter and indeed, many police officials later stated confidently that the letter was a journalistic hoax. Nonetheless, on publication the name stuck and unfortunately inspired a welter of copycats.
The ‘Dear Boss’ letter now sits in the collection of the National Archives in Kew, along with around 260 other surviving Ripper letters (all in different handwriting!) that had been acquired by the Metropolitan Police in 1888 and a few years after. But how this most notorious letter ended up at the National Archives is an interesting story in its own right.
It had apparently gone missing from the Scotland Yard files prior to 1928 and was later believed to be in the possession of Gerald Donner, the grandson of former CID Assistant Chief Constable Sir Melville Macnaghten. After Donner’s death in 1968, the letter went missing again but would resurface two decades later under most extraordinary circumstances.
In November 1987, an envelope, sent anonymously from Croydon, arrived at Scotland Yard; in it were Dr Thomas Bond’s post-mortem report on Ripper victim Mary Kelly, some material relating to a few other criminal cases and the ‘Dear Boss’ Letter! No one has ever determined who sent this package with its fascinating contents, despite forensic testing being carried out. These Ripper-related documents were soon reunited with the material on the case which by that time had been moved from Scotland Yard to the National Archives.
Owing to its ‘iconic’ status, the letter and the other Ripper material is not generally available to members of the general public to view, although serious authors and researchers and TV companies have been granted access over the years.
It was displayed at the ‘Jack the Ripper and the East End’ exhibition, held at the Museum in Docklands between May and November 2008 and has occasionally been displayed at other events including Ripper conferences in Britain.
On the Jack the Ripper tour, you can handle a colour facsimile of the letter and read the whole chilling content for yourself!