It is surprising how, once the infamous “Dear Boss” letter was made public, in early October, 1888, many people across the country began to take the Jack the Ripper murders as something of a joke and began imitating the writer of the letter by sending similar missives of their own to the authorities, or to friends and family.
One such letter writer was Welsh housewife Miriam Howells, who found herself hauled up before the local magistrates, in November, 1888, for having sent threatening letters, purporting to have been written by the Whitechapel murderer, to two of her neighbours.
The South Wales Daily News, reported on her first court appearance, in its edition of Wednesday, 21st November, 1888:-
JACK THE RIPPER AT ABERDARE
A PIECE OF STUPID FOLLY
“At Aberdare police-court on Tuesday, Miriam Howells, the wife of James Howells, labourer, Penrhiwceiber, was charged that she on the 16th inst. feloniously and maliciously sent letters threatening to kill Elizabeth Magor and Margaret Smith.
P.S. Luther Rees (Penhiwceiber) stated that be received the letters produced from the persons to whom they were addressed.
The clerk of the court read the letter received by Mrs Magor as follows:-
“Dear Mrs Boss,
I mean to have your life before Christmas I will play a ——— of a trick with you, old woman. I played a good one on the last, but, this will be better. Aint I clever?
Believe me to remain yours for ever.
JACK THE RIPPER. Beware.”
He also read the letter sent to Mrs Smith:-
“Dear Miss Boss.
Before Sunday night I mean to have your life. I shall be upon you without your thinking. I will play a better trick with you than I did with the last one, and that was clever.
Yours truly, JACK THE RIPPER. Beware.”
SHE MEANT NO HARM
The officer said that he saw the prisoner on Friday night last, and told her about these two letters. He said, “What in the world did you write those two letters for?” and she replied that she meant no harm, and only did it for a lark, and hoped nothing would come of it.
She admitted writing the letters, saying Polly Peak posted one, and David Davies posted the other, and that they were all together, and had the Echo on the table before them.
Prisoner now hoped the magistrates would look over it. If she had thought it was coming to that, she never would have done it.
Mr Rhys said it was most unwomanly. He did not know how to speak too strongly of such conduct.
At the request of Supt. Thomas, the prisoner was remanded for a week. She was admitted to bail in her own surety of £50.”
HER NEXT COURT APPEARANCE
Miriam Howells’s next court appearance was on Tuesday, 27th November, 1888, and The Cardiff Times published the following account of the proceedings on Saturday, 1st December, 1888:-
“JACK THE RIPPER” IN ABERDARE VALLEY
“At Aberdare police-court, on Tuesday – before Mr W. M. North, Mr R. H. Rhys, and Mr D. P. Davies – Miriam Howells, married woman, Penrhiwceiber, was charged on remand with sending threatening letters (signed “Jack the Ripper”) to Elizabeth Magor and Margaret Smith, on Nov. 16.
Mr T. Phillips appeared for the defence.
ONLY DONE FOR A LARK
David Davies, hairdresser, Penrhiwceiber, said he recollected being in defendant’s house on the 16th November.
He saw her write some letters, but he did not know what was in them. She gave him a letter to post – that produced was the one. He did know what the purport of the letter was. It was only done for a lark. She told him she had written another letter to Margaret Smith, and that Polly Peek had posted it.
She asked him if he could keep a secret. He said “Yes,” and then she told him.
Cross-examined. They all met the next morning. Miss Smith had a laugh about it.
By the Magistrates’ Clerk: She (Smith) was very frightened until she knew it was done for a lark.
HER HUSBAND WAS ANNOYED
Mrs Elizabeth Magor, 83, Leigh-terrace, Penrhiwceiber, stated that when she first received the letter produced she was alarmed, and gave the letter to P.C. Luther Rees.
Cross-examined. Mrs Howell was a neighbour. There was never anything between them. They all met together. Witness’s husband was annoyed, and he asked the defendant for an apology. Defendant gave a written apology, and paid one guinea.
THEY HAD A LAUGH
Polly Peek said she had lived with the defendant since last Wednesday week.
On the 15th instant, she saw defendant write the letter produced to Miss Smith, and the witness posted it at the Miskin Post Office.
Cross-examined: Witness suggested that the letter should be written to Miss Smith for a lark.
Next morning, she went to Miss Smith’s, and saw Miss Smith open the letter. She explained it, they had a laugh over it.
The letter was handed to P.C. Rees, who said he would take it down the street for a joke.
Afterwards, there was some annoyance, through the letter getting into the public press.
RATHER FRIGHTENED AT THE TIME
Miss Smith, confectioner, said she received the letter produced by the second delivery on the 16th inst. She was rather frightened at the time, but she afterwards thought it was a joke. Polly Peek was present when she received the letter, but she did not explain anything then. P.C. Rees happened to go by, and she handed the letter to him.
Afterwards, Polly Peek explained, and she quite forgave the defendant. The letters got into the press in a day or two, and that caused her as much annoyance as the receipt of it. It was generally known in the village who the writer was. It was looked upon as a stupid joke.
Police-constable Rees said that, on the Saturday morning, he saw Mrs Howell and Miss Peek in Miss Smith’s shop.
MIRIAM HOWELL ARRESTED
Mrs Howell said, “Do you think anything will come of it, Mr Rees?” and she cried. She said the same thing on Sunday morning.
On the following Tuesday, he arrested her, and when she was in the police-station she said she wrote the letters, and that Davies and Polly Peek were with her and assisted ber.
They had a copy of the Echo on the table, with “Jack the Ripper” letter in it. She copied it off that.
David Davies posted one letter to Mrs Magor, and Polly Peek posted the other. She added that she had since apologised to Mr and Mrs Magor, and had given one guinea towards the Public Institute.
A CURIOUS CASE
The Stipendiary Magistrate said that it was a curious case, and the magistrates wished to adjourn it for consideration.
The case was then adjourned for a week, and the accused was admitted to bail in her own recognisance of £25 and one surety of £25.”
THE ABERDARE ”JACK THE RIPPER” SCARE.
Her final court appearance was on Tuesday, 4th December, 1888, and The Cardiff Times carried the following account of the outcome of the case on Saturday, 8th December, 1888:-
“Miriam Howells, Penrhiwceiber, appeared at Aberdare police-court, on Tuesday, in answer te the adjourned charge of sending threatening letters, signed “Jack the Ripper” to Mrs Magor and Miss Smith, Penrhiwceiber, on the 15th of November.
Mr T. Phillips was for the defence. Mr North, stipendiary, magistrate, now delivered the deferred decision.
A VERY SERIOUS CRIME
He said that it had been a matter of very grave deliberation with the bench respecting the course they should take with regard to the defendant, because she must know that although she thought she was doing something very funny, she was committing a very serious crime.
She sent to two women letters threatening to murder them.
She said she only meant it in fun, but it was not a question whether the letters were sent in fun or with the deliberate intention of carrying out the threat conveyed – that was not what they had to consider. What they had to consider was, did she send these letters to these women threatening to murder them.
The matter with them was whether they should send her for trial to the assizes, and if she had been so dealt with, she would have been liable to be sent to penal servitude for life.
She never thought of that? (Defendant:- “No, Sir”.)
SHE MADE A JOKE OF THE LONDON CRIMES
Nor did she think of the effect it would have upon these two unfortunate women.
He thought it was an equally unfortunate thing for her to have made a joke of the crimes in London of a ruffian who so far had not been found. She had made a joke of crimes of a revolting character.
SHE WAS DISMISSED
He hoped she was thoroughly ashamed of it, and that it would be a lesson to her, and to everyone else who had thought well to make these a subject of jokes, and that they would hear nothing more of this.
Mr Rhys, stated that anonymous letters of every kind are bad enough.
The defendant was then dismissed, the magistrates disallowing the expenses of the two witnesses who were with the defendant when she wrote the letters, as they were as guilty as she was.
The expenses of Mrs Magor and Miss Smith were allowed.”