East End Crime

The murder of Alice Mckenzie, in July, 1889, brought renewed press interest in the Whitechapel murders.

However, the several newspaper reporters noticed a marked difference in the reaction from the public to that of the reaction to the murders of the previous autumn when the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper had been murdered.

Illustrations showing the murder of Alice McKenzie.
From The Illustrated Police News. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Whereas the murders between August and Novevember, 1888, had been followed a wave of terror and panic in the area, the murder of Alice McKenzie was followed by a decidedly muted response, that almost bordered on weary indifference.

It was also noticeable that the public had, so it seemed, lost any faith in the police and in their ability to catch the perpetrator of the crimes.

The plain-clothes detectives were still to be found walking the streets of Whitechapel by night. But, as many newspapers were commenting, no matter what disguise these detectives adopted. it was more than obvious to the local residents that they were police officers!

The mood of weary resignation and the feelings of contempt towards the police in the East End of London were both captured by the following article, which appeared in The Salisbury Times on Saturday, 14th September, 1889:-


There is an unfortunate feature in connection with the terrible East End crime which has had a painful effect on intelligent observers. London was callously indifferent to it.

For a moment it was, it is true, deeply impressed and saddened; that feeling was succeeded by a sense of inquisitiveness as to the incidents of the crime; that satisfied, Londoners paid about as much attention to the journalistic developments as they would to the latest racing result.


The meaning of these characteristics it is not difficult to comprehend; they mean that the public has given up all hope of catching the miscreant, that they apprehend that all these journalistic developments and prophecies are likely to have exactly the same result – the murderer secure and unarrested; they mean an absolute lack of confidence in the activity and intelligence of the police.

It is painful feeling this – it is the evidence of civic protection reduced to a degradation and an absurdity.

I am not, of course, blaming the police for the fact that this crime has been committed; I am giving an impression of the public apprehension.


And bear this in mind.

The Londoner is not habitually indifferent to crime and danger.

Naturally nervous and excitable, a course of horror and blood provokes a keen and prolonged inquisitiveness on his part; he thirsts for particulars, he is anxious for an infinity of detail; he reads with avidity.


That his natural disposition should have been benumbed into a cold passing observation reveals – paradoxically enough – the excess of his suspicion of the policeman.

To me, it has never been much of a wonder that our ordinary policeman should never deceive so astute a criminal as “Jack the Ripper.”

What motes it though he be dressed in plain clothes?

Here he comes along the street; who could mistake him? There are the broad shoulders, the rotund frame, the mutton-chop whiskers, that general air of severe authority and that well-set appearance; and, above all, there is that regulation, monotonously unvarying step.

A cartoon showing a detective in disguise.
From Fun Magazine, March 4th 1885.


What matter it, though he be on duty – he cannot disguise one of his well-cultivated habits.

A confrere approaches, you see them exchange significant look, a look that the world and his wife might easily perceive, you see them almost instantly repair to the nearest corner, there you can almost hear them exchanging and comparing notes.

The London plain-clothes officer is, as a fact, a palpable fraud.


Professional duty once brought me into close connection with a well-known detective inspector. We walked about together for some considerable time.

That officer seemed known to every hobbledehoy, man and woman we met; he was the object of a multitude of suspicious eyes.

At that very time he was engaged in investigating one of the terrible Ripper crimes; and was actually walking in the locale which was supposed to conceal the miscreant.

I left him pondering on the meaning of the word “detective” and wondering what detective-ism means.”