Jack The Ripper The View From Fife

The Whitechapel murders, although specific to the East End of London impacted on the country as a whole. Newspaper readers across the land could not get enough of reports on the case, and editors were more than happy to provide them with the latest updates and opinions, as they knew full well that, in doing so, they would be guaranteed more sales.

As well as reporting on the details of the crimes, journalists were eager to try and convey the full horror of what was happening in Whitechapel and Spitalfields to their readership. Many of them were seeing the atrocities as an inevitable outcome of the criminal underworld that had been allowed to develop, unchecked, in the district where the crimes were occurring.

Typical of these “opinion articles” was the following one, which appeared in The Fife News on Saturday, 17th November, 1888:-


(From Our London Correspondent.)

“For the seventh time the Metropolis has been thrilled by the sensational deeds of the Whitechapel murderer, and the gaiety of the Lord Mayor’s Day crowd converted into horror and despair.

The slaughter of the latest victim, Mary Jane Kelly, presents no novel features, and only differs from the preceding outrage in the sickening minuteness of barbarity with which it has been accomplished.

Anything more ghastly than the details has never been conceived, even in the wild ravings of Edgar Allan Poe or the gruesome mysteries of Gaborieau and the realistic school of literature.


The murderer evidently chose his opportunity with a ghoulish delight in the sensation which his act would cause when made known among the holiday folk crowding the streets to enjoy the historical procession.

Above all, he must have been well aware that whilst the police battalions, horse and foot, were being mustered in Trafalgar Square, and a whole army of constables tailed off to conduct the Lord Mayor through the streets, the purlieus of Whitechapel and Spitalfields, which have been so closely watched during the period since his last act of murder was committed, would be comparatively free of police supervision.

Then, again, he had less cause to fear detection, inasmuch as the labours of the innumerable amateur detectives, and vigilant committees, after the first excitement of their self-imposed task had worn away, were beginning to relax their efforts.

Of these facts he was cognizant, and he has again, to all appearances, succeeded in baffling the pursuit of justice.


The columns of all the newspapers, as in the former cases, teem with revolting detail, and again the theorists are hard at work rolling their Sisyphean stones of conjecture.

These constantly repeated acts of violence cannot but have a completely demoralising effect on all who are brought into close communication with the inner life of our lower classes in the great centres of the kingdom.

An image of Mary Kelly letting a skeletal-like ghoul into her room.
A Depiction Of Mary Kelly Allowing Her Murderer Into Her Room.


There is as old saying that crime begets crime; and though the truism of the remark can only be upheld in a very restricted sense, yet it is certain that the example and punishment of crime amongst the lowest orders of our civilisation acts rather as an incentive than a deterrent. The dread of justice is a remote and remoter preventative of crime, as the immunity of murderer after murderer becomes an undeniable fact.

That brute instinct, which hyde-like underlies all human nature, and which finds a vent where the restraints of education and morality are but imperfectly developed, only too surely manifests its hideous existence in deeds of the kind which during this memorable autumn have become familiar to us.

What, then, is specially to be apprehended from these continued murders, with all their sordid and miserable surroundings, is that the disease may spread, and we may be subjected to a curse even more awful than the horrors which disgraced the later Roman Empire and the days of the French Revolution.

Meantime, we have to face the fact that there is among us a criminal class of which this monster fiend of diabolical ingenuity and truculence is the leading spirit and perfection of wickedness.

An image from Punch showing a knife-wielding ghoulish figure.
The Punch Cartoon The Nemesis of Neglect


There is one remarkable similarity about the series of his seven atrocities commenced by the violent death of an unknown woman in Whitechapel last Christmas. They have all been committed towards the end of the week; and it has been suggested that the assassin is only an occasional visitant to the locality where the crimes have been perpetrated.

Now, it is well known that there is a great shifting population upon the Thames, who come and go in the course of their trade between England and the Continent. Among the number is a guild of butchers trading between Antwerp and the City, whose advent in the river is usually at the end of the week.

The coincidence of time and the nature of detail in each ease may form an important clue in the eventual discovery of the murderer, for all along it has been clear that he is possessed of considerable anatomical skill, which enables him to carry out his barbarities with a precision that can only be the result of a certain knowledge in dealing with physiological subjects. Of all the thousand theories put forward this strikes us as the most remarkable and most hopeful to lead to discovery.

The police are apparently no nearer the object of their search than in the previous cases; and there is the same total absence of any definite to guide – therefore we must be content to wait, how long who shall say.”