Lost In Theories

“Theories! we were lost almost in theories; there were so many of them.” Inspector Abberline.


Of all the detectives working on the Jack the Ripper case, the one whose name is, probably, the most famous today is Inspector Frederick George Abberline (1843- 1929).

An image of Inspector Abberline.
Inspector Frederick George Abberline


He joined the Metropolitan Police in 1863 and worked his way through the ranks and districts of the force to end up, in 1873, working for H – Division. He remained here for fourteen years, during which time he gained an unrivalled knowledge of the district and, more importantly, the local criminal underworld.


In 1887,  his devotion to and success at apprehending the local villains was rewarded with a promotion to A Division. So, he bid the East End of London a fond farewell and headed west to begin a job that would, so it he no doubt thought, be largely desk based. However, his goodbye to his old beat was to prove a somewhat premature one.


For, no sooner had he settled into his new role, with a promotion to inspector first class to match, than the Jack The Ripper murders began in the area where he had previously been stationed, and the years of knowledge that he had acquired were deemed so important that he found himself sent back to the East End of London to head up the on the ground investigation into the Whitechapel Murders.

He remained in the area up until the aftermath of the Mary Kelly murder, which took place on the 9th November 1888,  whenhe was drafted out of the area, and his place at the helm of the on the ground investigation was taken over by Detective Inspector Henry Moore.


An image of Inspector Abberline
Inspector Abberline

On the whole Abberline remained tight lipped about his experiences during the hunt for Jack the Ripper.

But, in 1892, having retired from the Metropolitan Police, he spoke with a journalist from Cassell’s Saturday Journal. The interview he gave is interesting in that it is one of the few occasions on which we get to hear the actual voice (in print at least) of Abberline speaking to us across the divide of the intervening years between our age and that of Jack the Ripper.

The article appeared in the edition dated 28th May 1892 and is interesting in that the retired detective provides us with a glimpse at the conditions that Abberline and his fellow officers worked under as they tried to hunt down the Whitechapel Murderer.


The article began by informing readers that Abberline’s knowledge of crime and the people who commit it ” is extensive and peculiar.”

“There is no exaggeration,” the article continued, “in the statement that, whenever a robbery or offence against the law had been committed in the district, the detective knew where to find his man and the property too.”


It then went on to give details of the strain that the police in general, and Abberline in particular, were under as the murders increased in their ferocity and regularity:-

“His friendly relations with the shady folk who crowd into the common lodging houses enabled him to pursue his investigations connected with the murders with the greatest certainty, and the facilities afforded him made it clear to his mind that the miscreant was not to be found lurking in a “dossers” kitchen. In fact, the desire of the East Enders to assist the police was so keen that the number of statements made – all of them requiring to be recorded and searched into – was so great that the officer almost broke down under the pressure.”


The article continued by giving readers an insight into the dedication displayed by Abberline in his determination to bring the killer to book, and of the toll it must have taken on him personally:-

“…his anxiety to bring the murderer to justice led him, after occupying the whole day in directing his staff, to pass his time in the streets until early morning, driving home fagged and weary at 5am. And it happened frequently, too, that just as he was going to bed, he would be summoned back to the East End by a telegraph, there to interrogate some lunatic or suspected person whom the inspector in charge would not take the responsibility of questioning.”


Abberline did then go on to tell the interviewer that it was his belief that Mary kelly was the last victim to be killed by Jack the Ripper, “the others having been imitations.”


Aside image of Inspector Abberline.
Another Image of Abberline

But, there is one statement that Abberline made in his interview that could, nay should, become the benchmark of ripper studies the World over.

Indeed, if this quote was true as long ago as 1892, it is doubly, or even triply, true today, as theory after theory comes out to convince us that an author has finally done what Abberline and his colleagues failed to do and has succeeded in nailing Jack the Ripper:-

“”Theories!” exclaims the inspector, when conversing about the murders – we were lost almost in theories; there were so many of them.”


I wonder what Inspector Frederick George Abberline would have thought of the number of theories that are circulating in 2016 about the elusive miscreant who, despite the claims made each year that the case has “finally” been solved, remains as elusive today as he was in 1888?