Murderers At Large

Although the Jack the Ripper crimes are considered to be Victorian London’s most infamous series of unsolved murders, there were many other homicides at the time that also went unsolved by the police, and, on Thursday, 1st June, 1882, The Pall Mall Gazette provided its readers with an insight into some of these mysteries, as well as some of the reasons why the police had failed to capture the perpetrators:-


“It is not pleasant to think that we might meet murderer in everyday converse, do business with them, or pass them unsuspected in the streets; yet it is by no means impossible. “How many plain, unvarnished faces of men do we look at unknowing of murder behind those eyes?” asks Thackeray.

How many, indeed, when every year adds considerably to the number of murderers at large?

Since the beginning of 1881, there have been numerous executions in England. In the majority of cases detection has followed crime with great swiftness; but, in spite of all the efforts of the police, there are at least eight unpunished murderers whose criminality is not yet eighteen months old.


The most notorious case is that of the murder of Lieutenant Roper, who, on the 10th of February, was found lying outside his quarters at Chatham in a dying state, shot through the heart. There had been an entertainment at the barracks, at which many strangers were present, and that circumstance was extremely useful in aiding the murderer to escape.

Probably Lefroy’s statement that he was the assassin will always find somebody to believe in it, but, as was easily proved, it had not the shadow of a foundation.

The confession may have been suggested by that of Peace, who, while resting under conviction, owned to the commission of the Whalley Range murder, the punishment of which had fallen on others.

The most recent mystery is that of Georgina Moore, in connection with which there was another unfounded confession, but neither the self-accused nor the person tried for the offence was convicted.

The small town of Slough, recently so earnest about changing its name, has two “mysteries” of its own, the most terrible being the murder of Mrs. Reville, who on April 11th of last year was murdered under circumstances of the most shocking barbarity, her head being split open with a chopper as she sat at home in her chair.

In this case also an innocent person was arrested and tried, while the real criminal escaped.


There is, indeed, almost invariably an arrest of some kind.

At the beginning of last year, the body of a child was found in an empty house in Radnor-place, Paddington. There were, it was said, incontestable proofs that it had been murdered, and a nurse named Hayes was afterwards arrested and subsequently discharged.

The chance of escape for the murderer seems very curiously to be greatest where his act was accidental rather than premeditated.

On February 25th 1881, the body of a woman belonging to Westminster was found in a garden in King’s-road, Chelsea. The unfortunate creature had complained to a constable of being assaulted by a man, but not much notice seems to have been taken of the complaint, and, later on, the assault appears to have been renewed with fatal results.

The murderers of Police-constable Atkins, who was shot at Kingston while preventing a burglary on September 25th, are probably known to more than one person of the same class as those who recently appeared as witnesses in the Finchley case; but they are effectually concealed by that sort of honour which is proverbial among thieves.


The murder of Lucy Sands, at Workington, was evidently a case in which there was no premeditation, and was not improbably the work of tramps.

In this case, the natural solitude in which the deed was committed would seem to favour the murderers’ chance of escape, but the same kind of protection is not unfrequently afforded by a crowd, as in the case of a woman at Limehouse, who was found lying drunk and wounded outside a public-house, and who, according to the verdict of the coroner’s jury, “came to her death by violence, inflicted by some person or persons unknown.”


In proportion to its population, London is remarkable among cities rather for the fewness of its murders than for their number. Last year there were sixteen, for which thirteen persons were apprehended.

This number, of course, only includes the known murders, or those about which there cannot be any doubt.

That some of the bodies found in the Thames are those of persons who have come by their death otherwise than by accident or suicide is what few who have given their attention to the subject would be prepared to deny.

But the river keeps its grim secrets with tenacity.

No crime is so little likely to leave a clue behind it as one in which the river is an accomplice.

A Dr. Ryan, who once wrote about London low life, drew a picture of the bullies of the period shooting their victims into the Fleet ditch at midnight, much as a notorious Frenchwoman had her lovers thrown into the Seine. Such descriptions are apt to be over-coloured, and can seldom rest on a stronger foundation than conjecture; but the materials for surmise are abundant and all but convincing.


That the police do not penetrate the mystery is scarcely so wonderful as it appears.

Even the most acute detective cannot act without a clue.

Unfavourable comparisons are frequently made between our own secret police and those of Paris; but since the middle of 1873, there have been fourteen murders in Paris and the suburbs the perpetrators of which have not yet been defected.

This is a higher average than London, if we take population into account.

In 1876 two Parisian murderers succeeded in eluding pursuit, in 1877 two, in 1878 four, and in 1879 three.


It would appear as if there must be failures in some cases.

Sometimes, as in the case of Fury, the murderer escapes even where he is known; but such instances are very infrequent. If the murderer leaves any trail behind him, the police generally follow it up to some certain result.

But there are crimes of this nature as to the author of which not the slightest clue is obtainable.

If he escapes at all, he is not unlikely to escape for good,

In a city so vast and so crowded as London, especially, it is easily conceivable that a man might walk unnoticed out of a house where he had committed a murder, mingle unconcernedly with the crowd in the street, and leave behind him as little trace as the raindrop which is swallowed up in the all-absorbing sea.”