Is There A Murder Gang

By September, 1889, the excitement and panic that had been generated by the Jack the Ripper murders of the previous year had, to a large extent, begun to subside.

It had been briefly re-ignited with the murder of Alice McKenzie, in July 1889, but, on the whole, the area appears to have learned to live with the notoriety that the Whitechapel murders had foisted on it.


But then, on the 10th of September 1889, Police Constable Pennett, discovered the headless and legless torso of a woman under a railway arch in Pinchin Street – just a short distance from Berner Street, where Elizabeth Stride had been murdered on 30th September 1888 – and, once more, the area found itself the subject of press coverage and the was rampant speculation about this latest East End atrocity.

Illustrations showing scenes from the finding of the torso in Pinchin Street.
The Pinchin Street Discovery. From The Illustrated Police News, 21st September, 1889. Copyright, The British Library Board.


As with the previous murders, the Pinchin Street mystery generated a huge amount of press coverage all over the country as journalists once again began focusing their attentions on the streets of East London.

On September 14th 1889, for example, The Sheffield Evening Telegraph And Star, reproduced an article from The Echo that pondered if a gang might have been responsible for this latest atrocity.


The article is of interest from several angles.

Firstly, it reveals how little progress the police investigation into the Jack the Ripper crimes had made almost a year later.

Secondly, it mentions the fact that the irrepressible Matthew Packer had, once more, managed to inject himself into the investigation into the crimes.

And finally, it records some of the methods being employed by the police in their ongoing endeavours to catch the perpetrator, or perpetrators, of the Whitechapel murders.


“Is there a secret murderous gang with headquarters in the East End or in some other part of London?

This question, says The Echo, is now exercising the minds of the authorities at Scotland Yard, as the police are almost satisfied that the latest crime is known to be the work of more than one man.


Inspector Tonbridge and Inspector Swanson are pursuing their investigations, but at present it is stated there is but the smallest possible clue.

The issue, however, has been somewhat narrowed.

A photograph of Inspector Swanson
Inspector Swanson


If the murder was the work of one man, his abode, so the police assert, must be close to Pinchin Street; if the deed was not committed in Whitechapel, then the trunk could not have been conveyed so great a distance unless the miscreant had a vehicle at his disposal, and the most exhaustive enquiries at cab yards, of carmen, and at places where barrows are lent on hire, have produced an absolutely negative result.


That more than one person knew of the crime is considered probable from a significant circumstance, thought little of at the time, in connection with Mr Packer, whose declaration that he could identify the author of the Berner Street murder excited some amount of interest.

Shortly after the commission of the murder, preceding the Pinchin Street discovery, Packer again expressed an opinion that the criminal did not live “very far from Batty Street,” which is within three minutes walk of the railway arch.

Not long after that, Packer averred that, while he was standing near his doorstep, two men rushed up on him and knocked him down with the remark, “know where Jack the Ripper lives, do you?”


The unfortunate man was, as a result, admitted to the London Hospital, where he was detained for three weeks.

An Echo reporter has since seen Packer.

He declares that this story is quite true and that he was seriously injured by the attack; “but I don’t wish to say any more,” said he, ” I’ve had quite enough of this Whitechapel business already – too much for me.”

An exterior view of the London Hospital.
The London Hospital.


The police have not yet discovered the head or legs of the deceased woman.

The minute and exhaustive investigation, which has been going on for the last two days and a half, has failed to produce the slightest information likely to lead either to the identification of the poor creature whose headless trunk was found in the Pinchin Street archway, Whitechapel, on Tuesday morning, or the faintest clue to the criminal by whom this terrible and extraordinary murder has been perpetrated.


Although, of course, the Home Office has been fully apprised of everything that has come to the ears of the Chief Commissioner since the body was found, no reward has yet been offered for the arrest of the criminal.


For some time past the plain clothes men have been provided with india-rubber galoshes, in order to deaden the sound of their approach, special instructions been given that dark corners or recesses should be carefully examined.

These orders have since been supplemented – in fact precautions of the most precise nature have been arranged by which it is hoped that the murderer will soon be captured.


As in previous murders, where portions of the victim’s body were missing, Inspector Regan, of the Thames Police, has been engaged daily searching the river, especially at low water, with a view of discovering, if possible, the missing head and legs.


From present appearances, without the former, it appears impossible that identification of the victim can ever be accomplished, as, otherwise, there is not the slightest clue.

Dr Phillips, the Divisional Surgeon, is particularly reticent, even to the police authorities, as to the precise result of his examination of the trunk, but it is stated that the cause of death has not yet been thoroughly established.”