On the 30th September, 1888, Jack the Ripper carried out two audacious crimes when he murdered twice in less than an hour.
The first victim, on what has become known as the “night of the double murder”, was Elizabeth Stride, who body was discovered in a dark yard off Berner Street, Whitechapel at 1 am that morning.
The next day, a witness by the name of Israel Schwartz, came forward to say that he believed that he may have witnessed Elizabeth Stride struggling with her killer shortly before her body was discovered.
If that was the case, then Schwartz has the distinction of being the only person who actually saw Jack the Ripper in the act of carrying out a murder.
HE DIDN’T INTERVENE
Schwartz claimed that, at 12.45 am, he had seen a man and a woman struggling in the very gateway to Dutfield’s Yard where her body of Elizabeth Stride was discovered just fifteen minutes later.
However, at the time, he believed that he was witnessing a domestic argument between a man and his wife, and so, not wishing to get involved, he had crossed the street to avoid them.
THE COWARDLY SCHWARTZ
When it became public knowledge that Schwartz might not only have prevented the Berner Street murder but might also have apprehended the perpetrator in the act of committing one of his atrocities, many newspapers were outraged at his cowardice and Schwartz found himself facing open hostility from the press.
The Sheffield Evening Telegraph, on Tuesday, 2nd October, 1888 published the following article in which it opined that, whereas Schwartz was, undoubtedly a “hen-hearted creature”, his evident cowardice was symptomatic of a general lack of humanity that was more than evident in everyday life in the East End of London.
NO COURAGE OR CURIOSITY
“It adds to the horrors of the two fiendish crimes, with which London has most recently been thrilled, to find that one of them was actually seen in the course of committal.
The unknown assassin was actually beheld at his loathsome work by another man, who had not the courage – or, to put it with more brutal coherence to fact, the curiosity – to interfere.
A DOMESTIC INCIDENT
Callously careless, the spectator imagined that when he saw London’s foulest ruffian hurl his helpless victim to the earth, with her head all but severed from her body, it was only a commonplace quarrel between a man and his wife.
As such, he considered that he had no call to interfere.
Little as he thought of it, the witness was then looking upon one of the most atrocious crimes that have ever disgraced England.
HE COULD HAVE CLAIMED THE REWARD
It was within his power – had he only had a spark of proper manhood within him – not only to solve the horrible mystery which now hangs like a nightmare over the Metropolis; but – what would probably have seemed to him more to the purpose – to reap the golden reward offered by private persons for the discovery of the murderer.
That chance his negligence lost, and all that can be said is that it serves him right.
But, he is not alone in such conduct.
THE INEVITABLE OUTCOME OF LONDON LIFE
Many of the frenzied persons who are loudest in their denunciations against the police would have acted with similar cowardice.
For cowardice it undoubtedly was which prevented the witness to the foul deed from rushing to the assistance of a helpless woman struggling vainly against the violence of a ruffian.
Such cowardice, however, sorrowful though the admission may be, seems to be the inevitable outcome of London life.
In that vast seething ocean of flesh and blood, individual humanity is lost. The more men and women there are, the less manhood and womanhood there is.
The duty of helping our neighbours, of succouring the weak, and of exercising personal common sense and courage is forgotten or ignored in London.
LEAVE IT TO THE POLICE
There, those highest virtues of citizenship are delegated to the policeman.
A hulking brute of a man is allowed to maul his wife, almost to death, without any bystander doing more than look about to see if a blue-coat is within hail.
“It is none of his business,” is the cowardly Cockney excuse that is invariably urged in such cases.
Then, when the policeman does come, and when the ruffian turns his violence upon the officer, if the latter but breaks his thick sconce for him, at once a howl of appalled humanity ascends to the welkin!
THE HEN-HEARTED CREATURE
The police have been undoubtedly slack in tracing down the Whitechapel murderer; but, if all the help they are to get from Londoners be like that of the hen-hearted creature who saw the woman’s throat cut from a distance, and who didn’t interfere because he imagined it was a domestic brawl, the sooner the hypocritical outcry against the constables is hushed the better.”
WOULD YOU HAVE ACTED DIFFERENTLY
Of course, it is easy for us to criticise Schwartz’s actions from the safety of 130 years hindsight, but put yourself in his shoes.
There you are, making your way home through one of the most crime-ridden and dangerous parts of London, when you suddenly encounter a man carrying out a brutal attack on a defenceless woman.
Would you have acted differently?