Jack The Ripper – Crime Scene Investigation Then and Now


Forensics as we know them were completely unknown to the police of 1888, and the inspection and investigation of the body of a murder victim would have been conducted by the doctors, who were able to advise of an approximate time of death, albeit with nothing like the accuracy that their modern counterparts would be able to achieve today.

The police themselves were somewhat suspicious of all the new-fangled methods of investigation that were starting to be advocated with regards to a murder investigation.

One such method was the Bertillon system of Criminal Investigation, which proposed that each individual had a unique combination of measurements of different body parts, and that by comparing these measurements it was possible to distinguish between individuals.


In the 19h century, the police would attend a crime scene and would take over the immediate examination, albeit  a doctor would be called for the purpose of pronouncing life extinct.

Contrast that with today, when a huge number of experts in various fields would be called in to lend their scientific expertise, and you see there is a yawing gap between investigation then and now.

In 1888, the police would have been wearing their everyday clothing, and they would, no doubt have contaminated the scene, the investigators in white suits that cover them from head to foot would have been unheard of!


The Victorian Police were, very much, reliant on witness evidence, as well as on a knowledge of the local villains.

They were dependent on their knowledge of which criminal were known to carry out which types of crime. They were, however, hampered by the fact that they didn’t have many of the techniques that their modern counterparts have come to rely on, such as video surveillance and forensic pathology. A post mortem, for example, would be carried out by a local GP or a local hospital doctor.


The forensics side of things was incredibly limited, and no attempt was made to either isolate or secure the murder scenes. Indeed, people trampled all over the murder scenes, amongst them the police themselves.”

In fact, the important thing for the police at the scenes of almost all of the Whitechapel Murders appears to have been a desire to get the bodies moves from the sites as quickly as possible – so much so that the majority of the victims were taken to the mortuary within a few hours of their bodies having been discovered.

In the case of Mary Nichols, for example, her body was discovered at 3.40 in the morning on August 31st 1888. By 5am her body had been removed to the nearby mortuary and the police had washed the blood away from the location where her body had been found in Buck’s Row.

Indeed, you can glean an idea of how cursory the examination of the body when it was in situ actually was from the fact that Dr Rees Ralph Llwellyn, the local doctor who the police called to the scene to pronounce life extinct, didn’t even notice that she had been disembowelled.


People might argue that we could look for him using CCTV. But, then again, if the area was still made up of the warren of narrow alleyways and dark passages, as it was in 1888, this might well assist him to avoid being seen, since he might well know the location of the CCTV cameras and use this knowledge to evade being seen.

As for modern techniques – such as fingerprinting and DNA – to stand any chance of leading to an arrest and a conviction, you’d have to have his fingerprints and DNA on record in the first place. If he’s not “in the system” then even finding his DNA at the scene of the crime is not going to lead the police to him and result in his subsequent apprehension.

The popular idea that forensics always solves the crime is, in reality, far from the truth,  Indeed, forensics are only one part of a murder investigation and they often yield mixed results.


So, the conclusion of our then and now crime scene investigation is that the police in 1888 did a fairly good job of hunting for Jack the Ripper, given the limited resources available to them. They most certainly made mistakes – as, indeed, modern police forces make mistakes. But, given the limitation of the resources, scientific knowledge and investigative techniques at their disposal, there was not that much more they could have done.