Where was Jack the Ripper in April, 1889?
Well, if the newspapers from the first week of April, 1889, are to be believed, he was here, there and everywhere.
Indeed, the murderous spree of the unknown miscreant who had terrorised the East End of London in the autumn of 1888, may have ended, but the name of “Jack the Ripper” was surfacing in all sorts of places, and in all manner of cases.
Here is a round-up of newspaper stories from the first seven days of April 1889, which demonstrate widely differing attitudes to a name that, by this time, had, most certainly, become infamous.
ATTEMPTED SUICIDE IN ELGIN
The Aberdeen Evening Express, on Wednesday, 3rd April, 1889, carried the following brief report of a domestic dispute that had taken place that afternoon in Elgin, in Scotland:-
“This afternoon George Findlay, a gardener, residing in High Street, Elgin, attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat with a gardener’s knife.
He only, however, succeeded in inflicting a slight wound in the left side of his neck, about four inches long.
He also threatened to be a “Jack the Ripper” with his wife, but the police arriving on the scene took him into custody before he managed to carry out his threat.”
THE BERKSHIRE JEWEL ROBBERY
On Thursday, 4th April, 1889, The Globe published an article about a robbery at the American Ambassador’s country residence, which demonstrated that people were still on the lookout for mysterious strangers who might be the unknown perpetrator of the Whitechapel atrocities:-
“At the Maidenhead County Police-court yesterday, Joseph Bonny, 47, a grocer and provisions dealer, of Tredegar-road, North Bow, was charged, on remand, with committing a burglary at Ramslade, near Bracknell, the Berkshire residence of Mr. H White, First Secretary of the United States Legation, on January 30th, and stealing a quantity of Jewellery valued at £4,000.
The accused was represented by Mr Dutton.
Fanny Bowerman, of Broad-lane, Bracknell, said her cottage was situated about a hundred yards from the carriage entrance of Ramslade.
She saw the prisoner on the Friday prior to the burglary, just before one o’clock.
He was going up the road towards Mr. White’s, and he passed her as she was standing at her door.
She saw, him three minutes afterwards as he went by again.
By Mr. Dutton: The prisoner was about 20 feet away when she saw him.
He was respectably dressed, and he had on a long, black coat, a black handkerchief, black round hat, and dark trousers, and bools were clean, as if he had not walked far. He carried a stick with a silver knob, and white pocket-handkerchief in his left hand.
She took particular notice of him the second time, and she was afraid of him because she thought he was Jack the Ripper.”
IN SEARCH OF “JACK THE RIPPER”
The Gloucester Citizen, in its edition of Friday 5th April, 1889, published a report about one of the “wandering lunatics” who saw fit to inject himself into the saga of the murders:-
“Charles Akhurst (24), a compositor, was charged at the Southwark Police-court, Thursday, with being a lunatic wandering at large.
Police-constable Leonard, 810 M, said that about two o’clock that morning he was stopped, near London-bridge by the prisoner, who said he wanted a special train to Lewes.
Witness asked him what he wanted the train for.
The Prisoner replied, “I slept last night at Lewes in the bed next to “Jack the Ripper.” He is there now, and I want you to come with me to arrest him. I have an order from the Home Secretary for a special train.”
He made other rambling statements.
On being asked at the station what he had to say, the prisoner said, “To the best of my belief it is perfectly true, and I should like an adjournment for two months to inquire into is.”
The prisoner, who was remanded to the workhouse, told the magistrate that something had been the matter with his heart for some time past.”
JACK THE RIPPER AND THE LIVERPOOL POLICE
That same day, many newspapers carried reports that the head of the Liverpool police had been sent a letter, which purported to have come from “Jack the Ripper.”
The following account appeared in The St James’s Gazette, on Friday, 5th April, 1889:-
“The head constable of Liverpool has received a letter signed “Jack the Ripper,” and addressing Captain Nott-Bower as “Dear Boss.”
In this missive, the chief of the police is informed that the writer means to operate in Liverpool after the Whitechapel manner, and that the special neighbourhood he has chosen is a street not far from the Sailors’ Home.
Of course, the letter may be a stupid practical joke on the part of somebody who might easily be much better employed, and it may be hoped that this is really the case.
But the head-constable resolved to take adequate precautions, and he has consequently put the whole police force on their guard, the letter of the so-called “Jack the Ripper” being read to the men on the setting of the night and other watches at the various divisional stations.
A little over six months have elapsed since the ghastly-looking letter and postcard bearing the above signature reached the head of the Metropolitan police, after four women had been murdered and horribly mutilated; and, after some months’ quietude, it was hoped that the last had been heard of “Jack the Ripper.””
FADED FROM THE PUBLIC TONGUE
The next day, many newspapers published an article, which had evidently originated from a press agency, wondering if the murderer had, in fact, retired?
The Western Times, Saturday, 6th April, 1889 was one of the papers that went with the story:-
“It is curious to note how entirely the once horror-inspiring name “Jack the Ripper” has faded from the public tongue.
His name is never mentioned now, and Whitechapel has gone back undisturbed to its old ways.
As for the police, they have long since dropped the promising “clues” about which we heard so much.
It is twelve months last Christmas since the first of the murders was committed.
Then came the epidemic in the Autumn, the series closing with the tragedy that made memorable Lord Mayor’s Day.
After that the crimes ceased as suddenly they began, and “Jack the Ripper ” seems to have permanently taken his place in society as a murderer retired from business.”
JACK THE CLIPPER
Meanwhile, The Burnley Express, on Saturday 6th April, 1889, carried a report from Dublin, suggesting that the ripper may have adopted a different modus operandi:-
“Jack the Ripper has been succeeded by Jack the Clipper.
The latter has made his appearance in the streets of Dublin, armed with a pair of scissors, with which he cuts off the flowing tresses of little girls who are unlucky as to fall in his way.”
A JOURNALIST’S FRIGHT
However, as the following article from The South Wales Echo of Saturday, 6th April, 1889 makes abundantly clear, the memory of the murderer was still lingering in the minds of the deranged:-
On Thursday night a seedy-looking individual walked into one of the London newspaper offices in a state of great excitement, and asked to see the sub-editor.
On confronting that gentleman, he said he had no less important information to impart than that he had captured Jack the Ripper.
Then he went on to explain that early that morning he met a man who attacked him with a knife and threatened to cut him open, and that in the man he recognised the individual who had written the notorious Jack the Ripper letters.
While this sensational story was being related the sub-editor, glancing casually at the man’s overcoat pocket, observed protruding from it what appeared to be the handle of a pistol.
This brought the perspiration to his brow, and as the strange visitor became momentarily more excited and eccentric in his manner, the journalist, making a hurried excuse, retired backward to the door and summoned aid from an adjoining room.
The stranger, who turned out to be a lunatic, was then seized, but the weapon in his pocket turned out to be nothing more dangerous than a workman’s chisel.”
PRINCESS MARY OF TECK
Finally, on Sunday, April 7th, 1889, Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper ran a rather snide article that had a nasty dig at Princess Mary of Teck, who was engaged to Prince Albert Edward Victor, and who, that week, had opened an extension to a mission premises, which was located in George Yard – scene of the murder of Martha Tabram on August 7th, 1888:-
“A most brilliant speech was made the other day by our well-developed Princess Mary of Teck, at the opening of some mission premises at Whitechapel.
We will give it verbatim, for precious outbursts like this should be preserved:-
“I have great pleasure in declaring this place open. I pray that it may be a bless ing to the neighbourhood and that all those who come here may grow in religion, in loyalty, and in devotion to their Sovereign and their country.”
Mark how religion and loyalty are coupled, and devotion to the Sovereign made to precede devotion to the country.
Whitechapel has not of late shown much graces of any sort, but surely this magnificent aspiration of a live (and very fat) Princess may touch even Jack the Ripper, and induce him to be more merciful in his future performances.”
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
What all these articles show is that, despite the fact that we, with hindsight, can now say that the actual Jack the Ripper murders had probably ended by April 1889, the Victorians of the time didn’t share that luxury; and the name itself was still capturing the collective imaginations of the public at large long after the spree that had spawned the chilling moniker had ended.