In early May 1889, numerous references to Jack the Ripper were cropping up in various newspapers across the country.
Although none of the reports featured the news that many Victorians must have been desperate to hear, that the murderer had, at long last, been caught – they most certainly show that interest in the ripper was still intense a good seven months after he had carried out what is generally believed to have been his last atrocity, the murder of Mary Kelly, in Miller’s Court, Spitalfields, in November, 1888.
SUICIDE FOR FEAR OF “JACK THE RIPPER”
The month began with several newspapers carrying the tragic story of a lady who had been driven to commit suicide for fear of the Whitechapel murderer.
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph published the following article on Wednesday, 1st May, 1889:-
“At an inquest at St. Pancras, London, on Monday, on the body of a young woman named Annis, 31, who was found drowned in the Regent’s Canal; it was stated that the deceased had been told by a fortune teller that “Jack the Ripper” would probably get hold of her.
She was greatly agitated, and told her mother she would never become the victim of “Jack the Ripper.”
She disappeared three weeks ago, and last Saturday was found in the canal.”
PUNISH THE FORTUNE TELLER
The Penarth Chronicle and Cogan Echo covered the same story on Saturday, 4th May, 1889, and, additionally, wondered if the fortune teller had not been complicit in the woman’s “murder.”
“Is the fortune-teller to be allowed to get off Scott free? She is, without doubt, the murderess of the unfortunate girl.”
THREATENING A SWEETHEART
Meanwhile, a revolting story from the north of England was being reported by several newspapers.
The Sheffield Independent, on Wednesday, 1st May, 1889, gave the following account of a crime that was as disturbing as it was stomach-churning:-
“A man named Frederick Noble, formerly of Belper, but who has lately been residing in Halifaxfax, is in custody at Belper for having threatened to “Jack the Ripper” his sweetheart.
On the 23rel April, he sent a letter through the post to Harriet Harrison, of High street, Belper, which contained these: sentences:-
“I will cut your head off, and do a Jack the Ripper on you, so say your prayers, for I will be your murderer. If you go from Belper, I will find you wherever you go. I shall take your heart out and fry it and eat it, and will write a letter to your mother with the blood I get from your throat. I will do you with a razor across your throat. I will swing for you.”
The letter was posted in Halifax, and the writing was at once identified.
Sergeant Mee received the prisoner and brought him to Belper, where he has been remanded.
The prisoner has served three months for sending a similar letter to his father about a year ago.”
The Derby Daily Telegraph, on Friday, 3rd May, 1889, wondered if a severe flogging would be a suitable punishment for the obnoxious Frederick Noble:-
“Of the many foolish fellows who have threatened to emulate the atrocities of “Jack the Ripper,” Frederick Noble, formerly a resident of Belper, at present in custody awaiting trial, may claim to be the most bloodthirsty of sentiment.
Frederick, it would seem, has been quarrelling with his sweetheart, a Belper girl, and has sent her through the post, one of the most appalling missives ever produced.
Not content with a casual threat as to the removal of his lady love’s cranium, this ardent professor of Ripperism intimated his determination to “fry her heart, and then eat it,” as a preliminary to composing an epistle to her mother with a pen dipped in the younger lady’s gore.
Were ever cannibalic tastes so fiercely expressed before?
And yet we are inclined to think that Frederick Noble is more foolish than ferocious, although he has already been punished for threatening his father.
The probability is that now his wrath has simmered down a bit, he is ashamed of having attached his name to such deplorable and disgusting nonsense.
We don’t know what the Court of Quarter Sessions will do with him. But we strongly incline to the notion that a few instalments of the “cat” would exercise a salutary influence upon his career.
Of course, he won’t be dealt with in any such form. It is only when a violent person outrages the rights of property that he can be flogged. We are, however, none the less persuaded that men can best be cured of brutality by the whip. Fellows who bully old men and terrify women are usually afraid of taking punishment themselves.”
THE JACK THE RIPPER NUISANCE AGAIN
The South London Press, on Saturday, 4th May, 1889, carried one of the frequent stories of a young man who had got drunk and had, in his cups, decided it would be a good idea to claim to be the Whitechapel murderer:-
“Francis George Smith (23), a respectably dressed young man, was brought before Mr. Sheil charged with being drunk and disorderly.
Police-constable 407 M said that about 1.30 that morning he found the prisoner in the Borough creating a great disturbance and shouting out in a loud voice that he was the “new Jack the Ripper.”
Witness tried to get him away, but as he continued to shout, he was compelled to take him to the station.
The prisoner said he was very sorry. He did not remember anything about it, and was quite sure that he was not “Jack the Ripper.”
Mr. Sheil: You people create a great disturbance, shout out, and call yourselves a lot of names, and then the next morning know nothing about it. I will fine you fifty-five shillings or five days.”
SARAH RICHARDS CHARGED
Another tragic case was reported in The Bristol Mercury, on Saturday, 4th May, 1889, albeit one cannot help but wonder if the magistrate couldn’t have done more to help a woman who was, quite clearly, suffering from mental illness:-
“At the city police court, on Monday, Sarah Richards was charged with wandering abroad, supposed to be of unsound mind, in Bridge-place, Holloway, on the 27th instant.
Mr H. Culliford Hopkins, the police surgeon, said that the girl was unfit to be at large.
Police Sergeant Bence took her in charge, and, when he did so, she said that “Jack the Ripper” had written to her threatening to cut off her ears and send them to her mother.
She was remanded for a fortnight.”
“JACK THE RIPPER” SCARE IN NEWRY
A YOUNG WOMAN SERIOUSLY INJURED
The Northern Whig, on Monday, 6th May, 1889, featured a story about another wannabee Jack the Ripper who had terrified two girls in Newry, in Northern Ireland:-
“It has just been reported to the constabulary in Newry that when two young girls named Carroll were out walking along the Downshire Road, between nine and ten o’clock, a few nights ago, a man wearing a long coat and a slouched hat ran after them, exclaiming that he was “Jack the Ripper.”
The young girls, in their efforts to get out of his way, ran up a bye road known as the “New Cut,” and one of them stumbled and fell, dislocating her shoulder.
She, however, got up again and ran home, arriving there in an exhausted state.
Her injury was so painful that medical assistance had to be called in, and, on examination, it was found that her shoulder had been injured as stated above.
The other girl escaped without injury.
The fellow who attempted to personate the notorious Loudon murderer made off when he came to the top of the Rathfriland Road, but the Carrolls believe they can identify him, and the police are investigating the affair.”
FREAKS OF A HUDDERSFIELD EVANGELIST
Doing a “Jack the Ripper” had, apparently, become a common threat in cases of domestic violence by May, 1889, since numerous newspaper reports were speaking of husband’s threatening their wives or lovers with imitating the unknown miscreant of the crimes.
Under the above headline, The Northern Daily Telegraph, on Tuesday 7th May 1889, carried the following story:-
“Thomas Wantling, who described himself as a “traveller and evangelist” was charged yesterday at the Huddersfield Borough Police Court with assaulting his wife and using threats towards her.
Mr Walter Armitage defended.
From the complainant’s statement, it appeared that on the 10th March he thrashed her and gave her a black eye, threatened to murder her, and told his mother that if she (his wife) did not go before the week’s end, she would see her coffin and funeral.
The complainant said that he told her that he would kick her to death if she did not go out and that he would not live or sleep with her again, and eat nothing she made.
She was afraid of him, and especially when he told her later that “he would kill her and the children, that there would not be an odd one left, and that he would be a “Jack the Ripper” that night.”
She then hastened home to her father in Sheffield.
She has three children, the oldest a little over four years old.
In cross-examination, she said that the mission business was not a very profitable one. She had had occasion to go and see her husband when he was conducting a mission service, and he told her that if she did not go away in three minutes he would kick her to death.
The defendant, however, denied these charges, and Mr Armitage said that there was no threat at the mission hall.
Witnesses were called in support of this statement.
The magistrates bound him over in his own recognisances of £20 to keep the peace for six months.
Later on, the wife again appeared before the magistrates, and said that her husband had locked himself in the house and would not open the door to her.
The Clerk then instructed her to go the Guardians.
A large number of people gathered near the defendant’s house at the mission hall, and the case seemed to excite a great amount of interest.”
THE NAME HAD CAUGHT ON
What these various reports are illustrative of, is the fact that, despite the police having no idea who the murderer was, the name “Jack the Ripper” had certainly captured the imaginations of sundry people by mid-1889, and was being bandied around in all manner of circumstances, some tragic, others both disgusting and disturbing.