Jack The Ripper At Large

Although, with hindsight, we can now look back and declare that the Jack the Ripper murders had ended by January, 1889 – the Victorian public were unable to enjoy the luxury, not to mention the relief, of such a certainty.

Indeed, for several months after what is now generally believed to have been the last murder by the ripper – that of Mary Kelly on the 9th of November, 1888 – people were on edge, convinced that another murder by the uncaught miscreant was inevitable; and the police – and the amateur detectives – were trailing any suspicious individuals they came across on the streets of the East End of London, in the forlorn hope that one of them might yield up that elusive breakthrough that had steadfastly eluded them since the murders had begun.

A group of three man watch a Jack the Ripper suspect.
A Suspect Is Watched. From The Illustrated London News, 13th October 1888.


And it wasn’t just the people of London who were going about their daily lives fearful of another resurgence of the Whitechapel atrocities.

People all over the country, and, for that matter all across Europe, were fearful that the ripper was just as likely to strike in their town or city, as he was to strike in his established killing grounds in Whitechapel and Spitalfields.


Throughout January, 1889, the newspapers were on the alert for the tell-tale modus operandi of Jack the Ripper to surface in any murders, or other crimes, that took place anywhere in the world.

Indeed, if the newspapers that appeared throughout January, 1889 are to be believed, the Whitechapel murderer was travelling all over Europe at a rapid and exhausting pace, and, just like in London, he was striking with as much seeming impunity as he had done in the East End of London, in the autumn of 1888.


Some of the attacks that were reported were carried out by obviously deranged individuals who, for some reason, wanted to link themselves to the Whitechapel murderer.

An example of this appeared in The Hull Daily Mail, on Thursday 10th January, 1889:-

“Yesterday, at Barnsley, the magistrates remanded a collier, named Thomas Roebuck, for unlawfully wounding his mother with a formidable carving knife at Wombwell.

The prisoner resided with his mother, who is 71 years of age, and two brothers.

He returned home at a late hour on Tuesday night, when the family had retired to bed, but he insisted on his mother coming down to get him some supper.

On getting down she found the prisoner with a carving knife in his hand, and was horrified to hear him declare he would “Jack the Ripper” all the lot of them.


His mother quietly went to the cellar to get him something when he struck at her with the knife.

The blow missed the old woman but passed through the panel of the cellar door.

She ran upstairs, followed by the prisoner, who inflicted a serious gash on her wrist.


He next went to a bed where one of his brothers was sleeping, and struck at him with the knife.

The blow missed the lad, but with such force was it dealt that it passed through the bedclothes and through the bed into the mattress.

An alarm was raised, and two policemen arrived and found that the prisoner had undressed himself and quietly got into bed as if nothing had occurred.

He was ordered to dress himself and was taken to the Wombwell Police Station.

It is stated that although the prisoner had had something to drink he was not drunk, but seemed to be actuated by a fiendish desire to imitate Jack the Ripper.”


Other reports, that were coming in from all over Europe, were eager to link atrocities that had taken place in specific regions or cities to the previous year’s murders in Whitechapel;

The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, Tuesday 22nd January, 1889, reported that the murderer had made his way to the Spanish city of Coruña:-

“Telegrams received at Paris yesterday state that great excitement prevails at Corunna, where the sudden disappearance of two girls, the elder of whom is only seventeen, has been attributed to “Jack the Ripper.”

People affirm that the Whitechapel murderer reached the town on the 17th of January, and that he has been prowling about the place after dark ever since his arrival.

Young women and girls no longer go out at night, and they even have their doors barricaded to keep out the mysterious assassin.

It is also reported that the Whitechapel ruffian has written one of his customary cold-blooded epistles to the authorities, telling them that he is doing his rounds and that he means to disembowel several “ladies” before he leaves Corunna.”


Meanwhile, The Taunton Courier, in its edition of Wednesday, January 23rd, 1888, suggested that the Whitechapel assassin may have removed his field of activity to Austria:-

“The Vienna correspondent of the Daily Chronicle states that a sensational murder was perpetrated in the populous suburb of Neubau at a late hour on Saturday night, which in some of its features resembles the undiscovered crimes at Whitechapel.

The victim was an unfortunate, whose dead body was found on Sunday in the room that she occupied.

Death had been caused both by strangulation and stabbing.

Robbery was evidently not the motive of the crime, as none of the woman’s belongings had been stolen.

It is believed that the murderer, who is still at large, was prompted by motives of revenge or by a love  of butchery.”


However, according to an article in The North-Eastern Daily Gazette, on Thursday January 24th, 1889, the ripper was, in fact, in Paris:-

“A Paris telegram says another sensational report relative to ”Jack the Ripper” was spread about Paris on Tuesday.

The atrocious assassin of Whitechapel was temporarily supposed to have visited Algeria and Spain, and now he is alleged to be in Paris.


At all events, it is certain that the police are at present looking for a man who has tried to murder four women in succession in the Roche-chouart locality, a neighbourhood which resembles the East End of London.

It is said the fellow went with an unfortunate to a room in a house in the Rue Manuel, and that there he threw her down and tried to choke her.

The woman’s cries were heard, however, by the landlord of the establishment, who came to the rescue, and was knocked down by the assailant as that worthy was making his escape.


About a quarter of an hour afterwards the same person attacked another woman in a precisely similar manner in a house in the Rue des Martyra, but was again obliged to take to flight before he had succeeded in strangling his victim.


Two other women reported to the police that they had had narrow escapes from strangulation at the hands of a tall, fair-haired man, about thirty-five, who spoke French with a strong German accent.

The mysterious assailant of low-class females is, therefore, diligently given out as a Teuton, and much satisfaction and consolation are derived from the fact by patriotic Frenchmen.”


Wherever the ripper was, there was certainly a steady stream of would-be detectives who were on his trail.

Some of them were eager and rational (ish); others were, to put it mildly, slightly odd, as is demonstrated by the following article that appeared in The Shepton Mallet Journal on Friday, January 25th, 1889:-

The most serious case investigated by Messrs. W. H. Budgett and A. Robinson, the sitting magistrates at the Bristol Police-Court on Saturday morning, was that where a young man named Wm. Hicks was charged with being disorderly in the Mall, Clifton, on Friday morning, with assaulting several constables and damaging a window at the police station.

The prisoner, who during the last few months has several times appeared at the court to answer various charges, went into the Mall on Friday morning, where he met a wheelchair man named English.

This man he charged with circulating a statement through Clifton to the effect that he (the prisoner) was of unsound mind, and was also connected with the Clifton Park robbery.

English denied this accusation, and then the defendant struck him in the face.

To escape from further assault the wheelchair man took refuge in the rest: but he was not safe there, as Hicks burst open the door.


He continued to behave in such a violent manner that P.C. Shorter was called to protect English.

The prisoner would not go away, so he was taken into custody. He thereupon kicked the officer many times, and also bit a piece out of a finger on his right hand.

Several other constables were called to the scene, but they failed to remove the prisoner till they had the assistance of the stretcher.


The prisoner denied that he had assaulted either the policeman or English, and said that it was they who had made a brutal assault upon him, and that they had nearly killed him. Some of them jumped upon him till he was nearly as flat as a pancake.

They had brought a false claim against him, had committed perjury, and were guilty of false imprisonment.

For the past four months he had been followed all about Clifton.


He had hunted “Jack the Ripper” to Bristol, slept with him for eight nights, then communicated with the police, who let the man go.

He had done what no other man in Europe had done by tracing “Jack the Ripper,” and was entitled to the whole of the reward.

He declined to be dealt with by the magistrates, and demanded to be tried by a judge and jury.

It was stated that the defendant had been examined by a doctor, who certified that he was of sound mind.

The prisoner was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment with hard labour.”


But it wasn’t just Jack the Ripper hunters who were turning up in court in January, 1889.

Indeed, several men found themselves appearing in court who, in their defence, tried to claim that reading about the Whitechapel murders had led them to try to imitate the unknown miscreant responsible for the atrocities, as is demonstrated by the following case, which was reported in the Banbury Advertiser on 31st January, 1889:-

“In the High Court of Justiciary, Edinburgh, John Stevenson, 19 years old, a coach trimmer, has been charged with having, in a close or court at Glasgow, assaulted Catherine Mackenzie, at present a patient in the Royal Infirmary, by stabbing her.

He pleaded guilty.

The deposition of the woman was to the effect that Stevenson followed her into a close, and suddenly struck her with a knife.

She saw the knife and then he struck her two or three times and knocked her down. He then raised her clothes, and cut her about the legs.

At that moment the police arrived and the prisoner ran off, but was caught immediately afterwards.


On behalf of the prisoner, it was urged that he had a hasty temper, and that his mother had been in an asylum, and that she was still living in the country under restraint.

Letters were read from several clergymen and others giving him an excellent character.

Although there was information as to the impulsive disposition of the lad, there was no evidence of weakness of mind or anything approaching to insanity.


It might well be (said the Advocate-Deputy) that reading the details of what happened at Whitechapel had acted to a certain degree on his mind, and had induced him to commit this crime.

After consultation with some of the other judges, the Lord Justice Clerk said that he should have been very glad if he had been able to limit the sentence to one of imprisonment, but he found it impossible to do so.


To pronounce any sentence of imprisonment, in a case where a man attacked a woman without any provocation whatever, and stabbed her in various places in a most disgusting manner, would be the worst possible example of all.

He felt bound in the exercise of his duty, to disregard all idea of the prisoner not being responsible for what he had done.

There would be ample opportunity when he was in confinement for an investigation being made for the purpose of seeing whether that was the case or not.

He could not pronounce a shorter sentence than one of seven years’ penal servitude.”