One of the more intriguing aspects of the Jack the Ripper police investigation is that, for us today, it is possible to, quite literally, watch the Victorian police come to terms with a type of criminal that they had very little experience of dealing with, and, at the same time, witness them grapple with how to handle a crime scene investigation of this kind.
What becomes apparent when you tour the sites where the murders took place is how differently the Victorian Police handled an investigation compared to how a similiar investigation would be conducted today.
Take Buck’s Row (now Durward Street), where the murder of Mary Nichols (who many now consider the first victim of Jack the Ripper) took place. This was, and to a degree still is, a relatively narrow street that was dark and not particularly busy. Mary’s body was found in a gateway in Buck’s Row at around 3.40am. Today the surroundings would be sealed off and a tent would be erected around and over the body, which would remain in situ until it was certain that no more evidence could be gleaned from the scene.
But, within minutes of Mary Nichols body being discovered, curious sightseers – including several slaughter men who worked in the neighbouring street – had begun arriving at the scene. Admittedly the Victorian police could have done very little at the scene itself, since forensics were unheard of in an investigation of this type at the time, but there remains a possibility that, had a more thorough search of the immediate vicinity – the type of fingertip search were are so used to seeing today – been carried out, some clue or piece of evidence, no matter how minor, may have been discovered.
Instead, a little more than an hour after the discovery of her body, Mary Nichols was placed on a police ambulance (in reality little more than a hand cart) and trundled off to the local workhouse infirmary, whilst a policemen proceeded to wash the blood away from the site where the murder occurred. Indeed, so little Crime Scene Investigation had been done that it hadn’t even been noticed that a deep gash had sliced open her abdomen. That discovery wasn’t made until 5.30am, when Inspector Spratling turned up at the mortuaryto take down as description of the deceased woman. But even then the body was stripped and washed down before any further inspection could be made.
What is interesting, however, is that, as the number of Jack the Ripper murders increased, the police appear to have begun to realise and understand the need to secure a crime scene and thus, if you take a Jack the Ripper Tour of the murder sites, you can effectively watch the Victorian police begin to acquire an understanding of the basics of Crime Scene Investigation.