Dressing As Women To Catch The Ripper

One of the intriguing aspects of the Jack the Ripper case is the number of disguises that various people employed in their endeavours to catch the killer.

From fairly early on in the investigation police officers in plain clothes were deployed on the streets of the area in which the murders were occurring. The hope was that they would be able to glean vital information that might lead to the apprehension of the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders.

However, the popular perception was that people could always tell the plain clothes men by their military gait, and the fact that they often wore their policeman’s boots, no matter what their disguise.

A sketch showing a police officer in plain clothes.
An Officer In Plain Clothes.


Journalists also took to the streets in all manner of disguises, hoping that they would be able to obtain scoops for their newspapers by either catching the killer red-handed or even being approached by the perpetrator of the atrocities.

As for the type of disguises that were adopted, well, dressing up as women in order to try and attract the attention of the murderer was up there with the best of them!

More than one man would find himself in an embarrassing situation when he was caught out on the streets of Whitechapel dressed in female attire.


In the wake of the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, both of which took place in the early hours of Sunday, 30th October, 1888, a newspaper reporter decided that he would make a serious attempt to land the murderer.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go according to plan.

The Coleraine Chronicle told the story of what happened in its edition of – Saturday, 6th October 1888:-

On Monday morning, a newspaper reporter, who has been on the look out for the murderer for several nights past, thinking it quite possible that, after the cool audacity of the murders of Sunday, he might possibly repeat the murder during Monday morning, shaved off his whiskers and moustache, and, dressing himself as a woman, he 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 Police-Constable Ludwig, who said, “Stop, you are a man.”

Seeing that it was useless to deny it, the reporter admitted the fact, upon which he was asked “Are you one of us?”

He answered in the negative, and he explained to the officer why the disguise had been adopted.

A policeman talking with a woman.
“Are You One Of Us?”


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 about an hour and a half the officer was satisfied of the reporter’s bona fides, and he was liberated.”


Constable Ludwig’s asking the reporter “are you one of us?” suggests that there may well have also been plain clothes police officers out on the streets disguised as women, although this was never officially confirmed.

A detective disguised as a woman.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 3rd November, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


We do, however, know of at least one policeman who most certainly did don female attire in his attempts to catch Jack the Ripper.

In the early hours of the morning of Tuesday, 8th October, 1888, Detective Sergeant John Robinson, of the Metropolitan Police’s G Division, was approached by some Italians on Eyre Street Hill, Clerkenwell, and informed that a man who answered the description of the Whitechapel murderer had been seen in the company of a woman who had hastily left him.

They told him that the man had entered a cabyard in Phoenix Place, Clerkenwell.

A photograph showing a cabyard.
A Victorian Cabyard.


Sensing an opportunity to run the perpetrator of the East End crimes to ground, the plucky Sergeant Robinson borrowed a woman’s hat and mantle (sadly the newspapers didn’t reveal who he borrowed the clothing off) and went in search of the suspicious man.

Robinson entered the cabyard and hid himself behind some cabs so that he could, hopefully, apprehend this suspect.


Unfortunately for him, the sight of a man wearing a woman’s hat and cloak, hiding in the shadows, attracted the attention of several cab washers, and they approached the detective demanding to know what he was up to.

Robinson told them that he was a police officer, and asked them to go away, which they did.

But then, two other cab washers, James Phillips and William Jarvis,  approached him and asked, “what are you messing about here for?”

Robinson disguised as a woman in a cab is approached by two cab washers.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 10th November, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Robinson whipped of his woman’s hat and informed them that he was a police officer, whereupon Jarvis punched him. Robinson seized Jarvis by the coat, and, in the subsequent scuffle, Jarvis drew a pocket knife and stabbed the officer above the left eye.

The detective drew his truncheon from under his mantle and went to strike Jarvis on the hand. However, he missed and instead struck him a heavy blow across the head.

At this point, several other officers and members of the public intervened, and Jarvis and Phillips were taken into custody.

Sadly, the suspect whom Robinson had been keeping under surveillance used the confusion of the melee to slip away.

The attack on detective Robinson.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 10th November, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


At their subsequent court appearance, on Tuesday 30th October, Jarvis would be sentenced to six weeks in prison, whilst Phillips would be acquitted.


And as for the plucky detective Robinson?

Well, it doesn’t seem to have struck anyone to ask him why he opted to disguise himself as a woman in order to apprehend the suspect.

Nor, for that matter, did any of the journalists covering the subsequent trial of the two men, at which Robinson gave evidence, reveal what outfit the detective chose to wear to court!