Very early on in the police investigation in to the Whitechapel Murders the police learnt of a particular, and seemingly promising, suspect.
In the wake of the murder of Mary Nichols, on August 31st 1888, detectives began questioning the area’s prostitutes in the hope that they might be able to shed some light on who might have been responsible for the killings of Nichols, and the previous murder of Martha Tabram, which had taken place on the 8th August 1888.
The prostitutes began talking about a mysterious character whom they had nicknamed ‘Leather Apron’ on account of the fact they he habitually wore such a garment.
It seems that this man was running an extortion racket and was threatening the district’s street walks that he would rip them up if they didn’t give him money.
However, the prostitutes were unable to give the police much information about him.
But then, the newspapers found out about this suspect and, on 5th September 188, the Star newspaper ran the first of a series of articles that caused genuine unease in the area.
The article’s headline read:-
LEATHER APRON THE ONLY NAME LINKED WITH THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS. THE STRANGE CHARACTER WHO PROWLS ABOUT AFTER MIDNIGHT. UNIVERSAL FEAR AMONG WOMEN – SLIPPERED FEET AND A SHARP LEATHER-KNIFE.
One particular aspect of the Star’s reports on man would have far reaching consequences on the police investigation into the Jack the Ripper Murders:-
“His name nobody knows, but all are united in the belief that he is a Jew or of Jewish parentage, his face being of a marked Hebrew appearance…”
The Star’s singling out of the suspect’s Hebrew appearance fed a growing belief amongst the gentile populace in the area that an Englishman could not be responsible for the crimes.
As a result anti-Semitism, which had been gaining momentum in the area over the previous few years, was greatly escalated and the police became alarmed that this could easily boil over into full scale anti-Jewish rioting in the course of which innocent Jews might lose their lives.
Consequently the police officers investigating the case began to play down suggestions that the murderer might be a member of the Jewish immigrant population. On several occasions, witness statements that referred to suspects as being of “Jewish appearance” were altered to the more universal of “foreign appearance” when circulated to the public at large.
Read more about the Leather Apron Scare