Dread of the Knife

The murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes took place in the early hours of Sunday, 30th September, 1888, and, the week that followed, saw an increase in police activity in the district, as the detectives on the case became desperate to bring the perpetrator of the crimes to justice and end his reign of terror in the East End of London.

But, as far as the people of Whitechapel and Spitalfields were concerned, the police were unable to protect them from the unknown miscreant who was apparently running amok on the streets of the district.

It had been generally noticed, and was being widely commented upon, that the murderer seemed to favour the weekends to carry out his outrages, and, as the next weekend after the night of the double murder approached, the residents were on edge, convinced that another murder was going to happen over the Saturday night to Sunday morning, the period which, according to some newspaper reports, was being referred to as “the killer’s night,” or “the knifer’s night.”

As it transpired, the killer didn’t strike again on that particular weekend, and the district as a whole was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief come the Monday morning.

However, that day, Monday, October 8th, 1888, an American newspaper, The Daily Leader, published the following article, which had, apparently, been written on the Saturday night, in which the writer took the time to observe the mood in the district as the people readied themselves for news of another atrocity:-

DREAD OF THE KNIFE

It is Intended to Put Bloodhounds On the Track

EXPECTING THE MURDERER,

And Still No Clue Has Been Found By Which The Murderer Could Be Traced. A Walk Through Whitechapel on the “Knifer’s Night” – Not a Large Enough Police Force.

Feverish anxiety still consumes all Londoners over the Whitechapel murders.

There is absolutely no clue to the monster yet, all the volunteered statements having been sifted into nothingness.

All sorts of rumors are flying about, bogus letters, telegrams and threats are received hourly by the police and at the press agencies.

THE USE OF BLOODHOUNDS SANCTIONED

The use of bloodhounds, which Sir Charles Warren has sanctioned, interests Londoners greatly.

It should be explained that no use can be made of the animals in the case of the old murders, but that, should a fresh crime occur, the dogs will at once be brought to the scene of the crime before anything about the corpse has been disturbed, and will then be put, if possible, upon the scent of the fleeing miscreant.

Several fine hounds familiar with town work have been secured and are held in readiness at the police stations.

The to bloodhounds.
The Detective Bloodhounds. From Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 20th October 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.

A WALK THROUGH THE MURDER DISTRICT

A walk through the murder district of Whitechapel last evening was a strange experience.

Saturday is the “killer’s night,” and the shadows of a coming calamity seemed to be over everyone.

The miserable, though cheaply tricked-out, objects of the murderer’s hate were on the streets, as usual, elbowing their ways through the great crowds with their old-time brazen effrontery,

Girls, not over sixteen, pushed into the crowded gin palaces of the Whitechapel Road and joined in the drinking and the universal talk about the murderer.

The murderer had almost always killed the older women, and they seemed seared with an undefinable dread that was painful to witness in their efforts to purse up their painted cheeks into the ghost of a smile.

An illustration showing the busy Whitechapel Road on a Saturday night.
Whitechapel Road On A Saturday Night.

MORE POLICE THAN EVER

There were more police than ever about, and the unmistakable “plain clothes” policemen were seen scrutinizing everybody they met.

In the dismal back streets, people stood at their doors as though expecting the murderer to go by, knife in hand.

Drunken men are at last suspected and one who went down a miserable street toward Bethnal Green was halted and examined by the police and citizens half a dozen times.

ANOTHER MURDER BY DAWN?

But the thought in everybody’s mind, and the one that seemed to shape itself out of the hum and stir of the Whitechapel Road, was that another mutilated corpse of a woman would be lying on the flagstones before morning.

MORE POLICE NEEDED

People are beginning to believe Sir Charles Warren’s statement that London is insufficiently policed.

The government contemplate an increase in the strength of the force. Owing to the drafting of an exceptional number to Whitechapel, in some districts of London one now hardly ever sees a policeman.”