Looking at the press coverage into the Whitechapel Murders over the period from late September to early October, it is interesting to read the letters pages of the various papers as they reveal the public preoccupation with the killings and the many ways being suggested that might result in the perpetrators apprehension.
A Mr. Archibald Forbes, for example, suggested that the murderer was evidently suffering from a “specific contagion” and was avenging himself on the prostitutes responsible for infecting him. Mr Forbes also suggested that, since the recent murders had, evidently, demonstrated a knowledge of anatomy, then it was highly possible that the murderer was a medical student.
Other correspondents were writing in to suggest that the aid of Spiritualists should be utilised in the hunt for the Whitechapel Murderer.
Another wrote in to advance his theory of what he called the “cryptogrammatic dagger.” According to this particular correspondent, he had examined the layout of the locations of the recent Whitechapel murders and had noticed that “lines drawn through the spots where the recent murders were committed assume the exact form of a dagger, the hilt and blade of which pass through the scenes of the sixth (Catherine Eddowes), second (Martha Tabram), first (Emma Smith) and third (Mary Nichols) murders, the extremities of the guard making the fourth (Annie Chapman) and fifth (Elizabeth Stride).” The writer of this particular missive then went on to wonder if, perchance, this could “possibly afford a clue to the position of the next atrocity.”
One of the more intriguing pieces of press correspondence was headlined “The Lunatic of Leavesden” and the writer went on to inform readers that “”twelve months ago an inmate of the lunatic asylum at Leavesden escaped. The local paper warned females against being out at night in the neighbourhood, as this man was dangerous only to women.” The correspondent then went on to pose the question “Where is he?”
The escaped lunatic theory was certainly one that the police were looking in to and it’s also interesting to note that Aaron Kosminski, who was recently named as the latest contender for the title of Jack the Ripper by author Russell Edwards, was later (1891) sent to Leavesden asylum, albeit he is not the person to whom the correspondent is referring.
Then there was the writer who suggested the use of local men in the hunt for the killer. As this particular correspondent observed “Policemen have beards, bass voices, and big feet,” which would make them totally unsuitable for the method of entrapment that the writer was advocating. As he explained, ” Give the pugilists a chance; there are numbers of we;;-trained pugilists in Shoreditch and Whitechapel, who are, many of them young, and, as is the custom in their profession, clean-shaved. Twenty game men of this class in women’s clothes loitering about Whitechapel would have more chance than any number of heavy-footed policemen.”
The Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde theory had certainly caught the public imagination by the end of September 1888. Indeed, on the 3rd October 1888, The Daily Telegraph reported on a letter from a “G.C.” who “had a fancy,” so the paper told its readers, that “the perpetrator is a being whose diseased brain has been inflamed by witnessing the performance of the drama of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ – which I understand is now wisely withdrawn from the stage. If there is anything in this, let the detectives consider how Mr. Hyde would have acted – for there may be a system in the demonic actions of a madman in following the pattern set before him.”
However, to my mind at least, the most intriguing letter to adorn the pages of a newspaper, at the time when the Jack the Ripper scare was at its height, was the author who wrote to propound another “Jekyll and Hyde” theory.
According to the author of this particular letter, “Possibly the culprit is an army doctor suffering from sunstroke. He has seen the horrible play, lives in Bayswater or North London, in perhaps a decent square or terrace, dresses well. Goes out about 10 P.M. straight to Whitechapel. Commits deed. Home again to breakfast. Wash, brush-up sleep. Himself again – Dr. Hyde (sic.). Meantime, everybody [is] scouring the scene of the tragedy for the usual type of a murderer.”
So, according to this particular writer, it would appear that the ailment that had sparked the murderous reign of terror that had brought fear and panic to the streets of the East End of London, was brought on by nothing more sinister than the perpetrator, who was otherwise an outwardly respectable, and respected individual, being afflicted by sunstroke!