Invoking the old saying, “set a thief to catch a thief”, The Dundee Courier, on Saturday, 18th April, 1891, published an interview with a reformed criminal by the name of Ned Wright, who was involved in a noble attempt to reform as many criminals as it was possible to do.
Having questioned him about the work he was doing amongst the criminal fraternity, the interviewer decided to ask his opinion on the identity of Jack the Ripper.
This is the interview in full:-
THE STORY OF A NOTORIOUS EX BURGLAR.
HIS THEORY OF THE WHITECHAPEL ATROCITIES.
HOW HE WOULD SPEND MONEY.
“There are few among the criminal population of London by whom the name of Ned Wright is not as reverently regarded as the man himself is familiarly known amongst them.
Ned, indeed, although he has severed himself from the villainous associations which formed those strong ties of friendship is not ashamed to still rank as one of themselves, and now that he has devoted himself to the work of reclaiming his former companions in crime, he is able to exert such an influence over them as none but a friend and confidant could obtain.
KNOWN TO MANY LONDON CROOKS
He can boast of being personally known to almost every “crook” of London, and there is not a haunt or a “dive” in the Metropolis where they rendezvous where he is not made welcome.
Men who are being “looked for” to serve out an unfinished term in prison; burglars who have been concerned in some recent job, and have been “spotted” by the police; “guns,” i.e., pickpockets, who are wanted; and thieves of all classes and descriptions do not think of concealing their identity or hiding when Ned approaches, for they know that he will not betray them.
A REFORMED CRIMINAL
For many years Wright followed the profession of an “all-around crook” and prizefighter, and there is very little in the line of downright villainy into which he has not dipped.
Born and reared in London he took to crime as naturally as a duck takes to water, and he served his first term in prison while yet a boy.
The change which has come over the character of the man will best be understood in the light of the good work in which he is now engaged.
NOW REFORMING OTHER CRIMINALS
“Having once been a thief myself,” he said to a reporter who interviewed him the other day, “and having found the error of my former ways, I naturally feel that I can accomplish greater results in reforming them than one who is not so familiar with their peculiarities.
Long ago I conceived the idea of inviting them to a soup supper, and ultimately I carried out my plan.
Before the night of the supper, to which every thief in London was invited, I caused many tickets of admission to be distributed among them in their haunts in the slums, and no person was permitted to partake of the banquet who would not acknowledge that he had been convicted of theft.
You will be surprised to learn that when the night of the supper arrived there were many persons who applied for admission who were willing to swear, and did swear, that they had been convicted of theft, but who, owing to my own experience behind the bars, I was speedily enabled to convict, then and there, of honesty.
The tickets of admission that I issued read like this:- “Admit bearer to supper specially for thieves. This supper is only for men who have been convicted of theft.”
On the back of each ticket were the significant words:- “Anyone wishing to enter and leave the hall without being observed may do so.”
Two hundred thieves attended, the first supper, and although there was not a policeman present, those men, who were habitual criminals, who were confirmed law breakers, behaved themselves as decorously as the congregation of a West -End Church.
LONDON’S GREATEST BURGLAR
Did you ever hear of London’s greatest burglar Charles Peace? asked Ned.
“Peace had one confidant, a woman known as Sue Thomson, and the day came when she ’rounded’ on him – that is, betrayed him to the police.
When she was given the money that her treachery had earned the thought that it was blood money overwhelmed her, and she would not receive it. She offered it to me to use in this work, but I declined to touch it.
Ultimately she became a converted woman, and the very violin which had once been the favourite instrument of Charles Peace was given by her to me.
There are times when even the name of Ned Wright fails to draw an audience of thieves, but I have only to announce that my daughter will play upon the violin that once belonged to Charles Peace, and the biggest hall in London will be thronged with criminals to see it.”
HIS VISIT TO NEW YORK
Recently Mr Wright has crossed to New York to continue then the work begun in London – to labour among the thieves, to visit their haunts, and to urge them to reform and work honestly for a living.
He has no fear of the reception he will meet with among the “cribsmen” there.
On the contrary, he expects to receive as cordial welcome as would be extended to him in London, for, as he explains, the fraternity have a system of signs and a language so distinct that one who is capable of utilising them will have no difficulty in going amongst them.
HE COULD LOWER LONDON’S CRIME RATE
“My business,” he says, “is not to get men into prison; it is to get their hearts out from behind the bars. They all know it.
If I had the means and the assistance I desire I would guarantee to do more in the way of lowering the percentage of crime in this city in one year than your entire police force could do in three.”
“It would be strange, indeed, if one of Wright’s experience had not some pretty reliable theory as to some of the horrible crimes which have of recent years been perpetrated in the by-ways of the great Metropolis.”
HIS VIEWS ON JACK THE RIPPER
“It is preposterous,” said Ned the other day, to suppose that all of the so-called Whitechapel murders were committed by the same person. Every crime is followed by copies, be they good or bad, and every criminal is aped by one or more in the same line of business, who seek to become as proficient as the selected criterion.
Jack the Ripper may be an individual, but I doubt if he has committed more than two or three of the crimes which have been attributed to him.
WHAT WHITECHAPEL IS LIKE
One who has never been in Whitechapel can have no conception of it.
A maze of dark and narrow streets and darker alleys, through which one who is familiar with them can dodge and disappear with the utmost dexterity.
Why, sir, I do not hesitate to say that I could murder a companion in any of these dark alleyways on any night in the year, and escape without the slightest fear of apprehension then or later.”
“Then you think the police force too small?” asked the interviewer.
“No, there are bobbies enough, but they are not of the right kind.
As a rule, they know every rogue who frequents their locality, and they are only too willing to turn their backs and look the other way for a small bribe.”
Q. “You do not mean that the police would connive at crimes so horrible”?
A. “Oh, no; I am speaking generally, and my previous remarks refer to lesser crimes.”
WHO WAS JACK THE RIPPER?
Asked who, in his opinion, Jack the Ripper was? Ned without hesitation replied – “A man who commits crime from pure enjoyment and nothing else, but who derives a small profit therefrom in the shape of whatever money his victim may happen to possess.
He is doubtless a well known criminal, and has perhaps served out more than one sentence for lesser faults.
Some have thought that he is a sailor because of the intervals which elapse between the commission of his crimes. It is more likely that he is a thief or a cracksman who often spends a week or a month, or more, in limbo.
WHERE ARE THE POLICE?
The police of that locality spend their time in pubs, in hallways, and, in short, anywhere except in patrolling the beat where they should be.
I know because I have dodged them many a time in the old days; because I dodge them even now frequently to avoid betraying some poor devil who is wanted, but with whom I am labouring in the effort to transform him into an honest man.
When the crimes to which you refer were committed the officer on that beat knows that he should have been at a certain locality at a certain moment.
If he had been there he would have seen the woman who was murdered, and he, therefore, reports that he did see her.
HE WILL NEVER BE TAKEN
Jack the Ripper will never be taken red-handed, and I doubt if the real perpetrator of the crimes which earned him that sobriquet will ever be captured.
He is expert, he is savage, he is quick, he is cunning, but I could name a hundred London criminals at this moment who possess every one of those qualifications.
He is a well-known crook, as you call them here; of that you may rest assured, and unless he murders somebody down in the old city, he will never pay the penalty of his acts in this world.””