Night On The Scene

The murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes – both of which took place in the early hours of the morning of the 30th of September, 1888 – led, not only to an upsurge in fear and panic in the district but also to an almost feverish level of interest in the case.

Over the course of the Sunday and Monday that proceeded the atrocities, people flocked to the murder sites to discuss the case and profer their opinions on who might have been responsible for such heinous crimes.

Among the crowds were many journalists. whose intention was to gather as much news about the latest crimes, and of the area in which the crimes had occurred, and then convey something of the excitement that had gripped the East End of London back to their readership, wherever that readership might be in the country, or, for that matter, in the World.

An illustration showing crowds gathered at the murder site in Berner Street.
Crowds In Berner Street At The Scene Of The Murder Of Elizabeth Stride. From The Penny Illustrated Paper. Copyright, The British Library Board.


However, several of the reporters who were wandering the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields in the aftermath of the crimes, actually worked for news agencies, as opposed to for specific newspapers, and the articles that they wrote were syndicated and, over the next few days after the murders, were republished by local newspapers nationwide.

The following article, which originated with a journalist from the Press Association, appeared in The Western Daily Press on Tuesday, 2nd October 1888, and it really did capture the mood in the area as the people struggled to come to terms with yet another atrocity occurring in their midst:-


“A reporter of the Press Association, who was engaged during Sunday night prosecuting inquiries in the East End, concerning the revolting murders of Sunday morning, says:-

“Whitechapel appears to have a charm for one person only, and that person, who is at present known as the “Whitechapel Murderer,” continues to make his presence dreaded in every nook and corner in the locality.

The dreaded word “Whitechapel” was to be heard on all sides.

Policemen, cabmen, coffee-stall keepers, the very lowest types of humanity, such as prostitutes, tramps, etc. – to whom this quarter of London appears to afford home – were to be found eager to discuss the latest tragedies which have not only brought before all grades of society the shocking condition of our East End poor, but have revealed a state of things hitherto incomprehensible.


Mr Walter Besant provided remarkable details of East End life, but never before has the neighbourhood been shown more strikingly than at the present time, when not only women and children go in fear for their lives, but even men express a dread of the Whitechapel murderer.


The exception to this fearful community are the policemen, who with measured tread patrol the thoroughfares and small bye-ways with an anxiety which almost amounts to a determination to track the dastardly coward to justice.

To have been present in the vicinity of the crimes at midnight, one might well have felt surprised to find the augmentation of the ordinary patrols which had been made by the authorities both of Metropolitan and City forces who have, undoubtedly, by the latest addition to our long list of tragedies in that quarter, been awakened to a sense of duty which until now has seldom been apparent.

In every street was to be heard the “Regulation” step of the policeman.

It was he only who disturbed the silence of the night, for, with very few exceptions, detective officers were invisible.


Walking along the main thoroughfare, one would occasionally be startled by the sudden unexpected appearance of a plain-clothes officer from some obscure doorway or recess, where, unless he had made his presence known, much to the beholder’s dismay, he and his comrades might have been passed unobserved.

It is necessary to speak in the plural, for the force at hand appeared to be all that could be desired; unfortunately for past victims, the precautions had been taken too late.

Nevertheless, it may have the desired effect in the future.


One can but doubt that the strength of the force in this rough and notorious locality is sadly deficient, and that many blunders have been made over the recent crimes, but the police must notwithstanding receive a fair share of compliment for the very hard task they are set.

The force is deficient and an exceptional emergency has to be dealt with.

Both Sir Charles Warren for the Metropolitan Police Force, and Colonel Fraser, of the City Police Force, have drafted a large number of men into the neighbourhood for special duty.

The former has ordered constables on to Commercial Street and Leman Street police stations from the “A” and “B” divisions, while Colonel Fraser has drawn men from every district of the City for duty in that portion of area nearest Whitechapel, which is considered dangerous.

These augmentations are only at night.


Thanks to the courtesy of an officer, the reporter was escorted through what he thought the worst slums in the East End, but was informed that “this was nothing compared to some.”

Five minutes’ observation off the main thoroughfare was sufficient proof that nothing was too bad for East End.

“Why,” remarked my guide, in anything but an encouraging manner, “Murders might at the present time be perpetrated either side of us here. How should we know?” “And yet,” said he, we are supposed to know and be there also.”

After trying to force several doors – not of private houses, for they had no doors to force – he said, “Why, that might be the very murderer who has just passed us. How are we to know? We can’t arrest the man.”


We passed through several narrow streets, if such they could be called, from which at a glance there appeared to be no escape for a stranger, and at every house was to be found the door wide open, affording ingress for any person who felt disposed to run the risk of entering.

The clock chimed three as we passed through some dreadful “dens” on which I was about remark when my friend said, “Everyone of these places is full of the worst thieves. We have to provide men to watch the ends of the thoroughfares.”

As if this was not sufficient, he pointed to a dirty street of small houses opposite, and guaranteed to show me “thirty women sleeping in a shed.”

This is a brief illustration of Whitechapel.

One would not credit the dreadful surroundings unless they were seen, and, once seen, one can easily imagine how crime goes unconvicted.”