Although there is a general consensus today that Jack the Ripper’s last victim was Mary Kelly, who was murdered on the 9th November 1888 in her room in Miller’s Court, off Dorset Street, it must be remembered that, for the citizens of London at the time, they were apprehensively awaiting another murder for months, if not years, afterwards.
Of course, there were other Whitechapel murders between November 1888 and February 1891 when Frances Coles became the last Whitechapel murders victim.
DECEMBER 1888 PRESS REPORTS
And, as November gave way to December the newspapers were still reporting on the case, and were willing to attribute any random attack to the unknown miscreant who was now universally known as “Jack the Ripper.”
Today, I thought it might be nice (if that is the correct word to use?) to take a look at some of the newspaper stories that kept the ripper’s name before the Victorian public in December 1888.
It is interesting that the reports were appearing, not just in the London papers, but in papers up and down the country.
IS IT JACK THE RIPPER?
So, for example, on Saturday December 1st 1888 The Dundee Courier and Argus featured the following report:-
“A man was arrested last night at the Crystal Tavern, Mile End Road, London, on suspicion of being the Whitechapel murderer.
He met a woman there whom he urged to accompany him, but she refused.
He also met a photographer who was soliciting orders, and asked whether he could take some photographs, using expressions which induced suspicion.
He gave the address, Mr Stewart, 305 Mile End Road.
He was given into custody, but at the police station he gave the name of Ever.
He appeared to be a Polish Jew.”
What is remarkable about this story is, that it should be reported so extensively, after all, it appears to have been nothing more than a random drunk making a nuisance of himself.
Yet, such was the apprehension at the fact that the Ripper was still at large, and might strike again at any moment, that the newspapers were, evidently, willing to bestow the mantle of “Jack the Ripper” on any oddball that they got to hear about!
JACK THE RIPPER IN HARTLEPOOL
And, it wasn’t just in London that suspicious characters were making nuisances and fools of themselves.
On Monday the 3rd of December 1888, the following report appeared in The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail:-
“At West Hartlepool police-court today…George Bolton, grocer, was charged with being drunk and disorderly in Mainsforth-terrace on the 24th of November.
PC Iveson stated that, at shortly after half-past seven o’clock on the day named, he saw the prisoner rushing along the street with a number of women in front of him and yelling out, “I’m Jack the Ripper.”
The defendant made a statement in which he totally denied the charge, but the officers statement having been corroborated by a woman, the Bench imposed a fine of 5 shilling and 9 shillings and sixpence in costs.”
THE JACK THE RIPPER SCARE
However, it wasn’t just drunks and oddballs who could draw suspicions to themselves by claiming to be the murderer.
Indeed, such was the heightened anxiety in relation to the crimes that anyone who looked different, or shared any characteristics with the public’s perception of what the murderer might look like could easily find themselves apprehended on suspicion of being the perpetrator of the Whitechapel atrocities.
Of course, carrying a little black bag around the streets of London in early December 1888, might not have been the wisest thing to do, as can be seen from this short article, which appeared in the St James’s Gazette on Tuesday 4th of December 1888:-
“At an early hour this morning a man was given into custody on suspicion of being the Whitechapel murderer.
The man, who had the appearance of a foreigner, and carried a small black bag, had inquired the way to the Strand from a man in the neighbourhood of Drury-lane.
This fact, coupled with the bag in his hand, was regarded by the man as a suspicious circumstance, and the stranger was given in charge and conveyed to Bow-street.
There he was speedily able to clear himself, and was at once set at liberty.”
JACK THE RIPPER IN GERMANY
Ever since the police had made public the infamous Dear Boss letter, in early October 1888, the hunt for the murderer had become bogged down with a veritable tidal wave of copycat missives purporting to come from the killer.
Hoaxers and jokers, it seems, simply couldn’t resist the temptation to put pen to paper and inject their own brand of humour into the investigation.
But, it wasn’t just the English authorities who were receiving these prank missives, as can be seen from this report that appeared in The Sheffield Evening Telegraph on Tuesday the 18th of December 1888:-
” Monday Night.”Jack the Ripper” – whoever he may be – is about as well known by name in Germany as he is in England for the extraordinary crimes in the East End of London; and the series of letters written in connection with the man have formed the subjects of numerous despatches and articles in the Press from time to time.
The Berlin public are now informed by “Jack the Ripper” that he is in their midst.
The Chief of Police this morning received the following letter:-
“As I now intend to stay some time here, I should like to see if the celebrated Berlin police succeed in catching me. I only want 15 victims. Therefore, beware! JACK THE RIPPER”
The letter is written in German, and the police look upon it as the work of a practical joker.”
JACK THE RIPPER – ANOTHER SENSATION
On Wednesday 19th December 1888, the following story appeared in The Northern Daily Mail:-
“At Dalston Police Court, London, today, a poor woman giving the name of Sarah Delliear, aged 40, was charged with being drunk under the following extraordinary circumstances.
A constable, at one o’clock this morning, heard terrible screams proceeding from a stable yard, and running to the spot found the accused lying on a costermongers barrow, quite nude, and bearing traces of blood on her face.
An inhabitant of the house overlooking the mews said she was alarmed by screams and, looking out, saw a woman lying on a barrow with two men near her.
Thinking it was “Jack the Ripper” at work, she roused a lodger, who shouted from the window and the men ran off.
Prisoner said she was a poor widow, and her late husband held a respectable position.
She could not remember how she got into the mews, but she was badly treated and two rings were stolen from her.
She was remanded.”
WHAT HAD HAPPENED?
Of course we can’t know with any degree of certainty how she came to be in the yard, nor, for that matter who the two mysterious assailants that the witness saw standing with her were.
Maybe she was a prostitute who had gone with the men into the mews, and had then been attacked by them?
Perhaps she had been so drunk, that the two men had waylaid her, dragged her into the yard, where they robbed her and were then preparing to assault her further when her screams attracted the attention of the neighbour, causing the men to run off?
However, it is interesting that the woman who witnessed the scene instantly jumped to the conclusion that she was seeing Jack the Ripper “at work.”
ONE FINAL CASE
My final round-up of Jack the Ripper’s who appeared in the newspapers in December 1888 is taken from The Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph, dated Saturday 29th of December 1888:-
“At Dalston Police-court today, Theophil Hurbart, 24, was charged with wandering while of unsound mind, at Haggerstone yesterday.
Constable Whitfield said that he noticed the prisoner’s strange demeanour and arrested him when he remarked that he was the Whitechapel murderer.
The reverend W. Mathias said the prisoner was in his employ as a language master near Bath. He suffered with delusions, and witness brought him to London for a change.
The prisoner was remanded to Shoreditch Infirmary.”
So, one of the most traumatic years for the people of the East End of London drew to close, and the aforementioned people who – either from a desire for attention, under the influence of alcohol, or because they were mentally ill – had seen fit to inject themselves into the case, prepared to usher in 1889.
We’ll never know what became of them… just as we’ll never know the true identity of the notorious homicidal maniac who they were so keen to emulate.
Indeed, the only two things we can say about Jack the Ripper are that, as 1888 became 1889, he was either still out there somewhere, or that something had happened to him that made it impossible for him to strike again; and which, therefore, ended his reign of terror.