Divining By Spirit Medium

An intriguing aspect of the investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders is just how many “outside influences” were brought to bear on the police who were tasked with the thankless job of trying to hunt down the perpetrator of the Whitechapel atrocities and bring him to justice.

From letter after letter that offered, allegedly, useful advice on means that might be employed to solve the crimes, to the amateur detectives who felt compelled to venture out onto the streets of the East End of London and attempt to catch the mysterious miscreant themselves, the beleaguered detectives of the Victorian Metropolitan Police force were, most certainly, not short of  offers of assistance.


But, without doubt, one of the strangest public involvements put at the disposal of the detectives, was that of the spiritualists and mediums, who opted to adopt supernatural means by which to solve the case and “help” the police to catch the murderer.

Following the murder of Elizabeth Stride – which took place in Berner Street on the 30th of September, 1888 – a mysterious lady by the name of Mary Malcolm had claimed that the Berner Street victim was her sister and that her spirit had come to her bedside at the exact moment of her murder to kiss her farewell.

Ultimately, it was proved that the two were not in any way related, but the press reporting on the “supernatural aspect” that the Mary Malcolm saga had introduced into the Whitechapel murders mystery led to numerous London spiritualists contacting the police with messages from the victims concerning the man responsible for their murders.

An illustration showing a woman spiritualist talking to a police officer.
From The Illustrated Police news, Saturday, October 20th, 1888.


However, it wasn’t just the London police who were being approached by these purveyors of paranormal theories – indeed, the phenomenon was countrywide, as is illustrated by the following story, which appeared in The Birmingham Daily Post, on Thursday, 11th October 1888:-


Shortly before ten o’clock last evening a decently-clad man, by the name of John Whitehouse, of 164, Saltley Road, met Police-constable William Fletcher in Moor Street, and intimated that he had something important to communicate to him.

So mysterious was his behaviour that Fletcher thought that he was insane, and escorted him into detective office. There were present there Detective-inspector Stroud, Detective-sergeant Monk, and Detective Thomas.


Whitehouse said that he had information of the utmost importance to divulge, and whispered: “that he knew where the Whitechapel murderer was to be found.”

His manner was so earnest that the detectives for the moment thought that he was really in possession of some valuable information, and, as might naturally be supposed, were most eager to receive it.

They pressed Whitehouse for his statement, but their hopes of rendering the country a valuable service were dashed to the ground when he informed them that he had, by spiritualistic influence, obtained the fact that the Whitechapel murderer would be at 9, Berner Street, at ten o’clock that evening.

He wished, he said, for the detectives to telegraph to London and inform the police authorities, so that they might capture the murderer.


Being questioned as to how he worked the spiritualistic oracle, he told a story with an earnestness that showed that he fully believed that the communication he had received was supernatural, and, therefore, infallible.

He said that he and three of his shopmates employed at Atkins’s sawmills in Rea Street were possessed of the secret of holding communication with the other world, and that, having observed how futile the efforts to capture the murderer have at present been, they determined after a long consultation to try their method.


A man named Alfred Owen was chosen as the medium, and he was put “under the influence” by Whitehouse himself.

The experiment worked apparently successfully, for without the slightest hesitation the medium wrote on a slip of paper in a hand, certainly not very refined, the words “9 Berner Street. 10 o’clock.’


The detectives put questions to the man, and they received answers which showed that he was a firm believer in the result.

He volunteered several stories as to the success which had attended previous seances in which he had been an actor, remarking that he had told shopmates where certain things were hidden, and positively affirmed that on one occasion, whilst acting as a medium, he had drawn six strong men along against their will.

He begged and implored the officers to send a telegram to London, and he only left the office when convinced that they were going to yield to his wishes.”