Overshadowing Everything Else

On Tuesday 11th September, 1888, the newspapers were divided as to whether the increased criticism of the police that had been apparent since the discovery of the murder of Annie Chapman, on the 8th September, 1888, was justified.

Some newspapers were of the opinion that the police had shown themselves to be severely lacking in the necessary skills to bring the Whitechapel murderer to justice;  whilst others believed that, although the police could probably do better, their investigation was being severely hampered by the nature of the crimes and the complexity of the area in which the murders were occurring.

Newspaper headlines that appeared in the papers on 11th September 1888.
Newspaper Headlines From 11th September, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The Daily Telegraph opined that:-

“We are not inclined to agree with those who have raised an outcry against the local police for not preventing a repetition of these Whitechapel murders.

In a labyrinth like that surrounding Whitechapel ten times the number of constables now on duty could not see what is nightly and daily going on.

It is to be hoped that the investigation into these abominable crimes will be conducted with judgement, promptitude, and success.

Moreover, if the monster be captured it must not readily be assumed that he is responsible.”


According to The Evening Standard:-

“The feeling of insecurity will not be removed till the author of the crimes is lodged in gaol.

It is for Scotland-yard to put him there without loss of time.

The affair should put the authorities on their mettle, for if they bungle it their credit will be disastrously impaired.

This, of course, is understood at headquarters.

Every nerve will be strained in pursuit of this blood-thirsty scoundrel; and we trust that the contest will be short, sharp and speedily successful.”


The Dublin Daily Express, in its edition of Tuesday 11th September, 1888, published a Press Association Telegram that had been sent from London on the Monday morning.

Although pointing out, as other newspapers had, that it wasn’t fair to blame the Metropolitan Police for not preventing the murder, the article opined that the higher echelons of the force could do with improvement:-

“The Whitechapel Murder still continues to overshadow every other subject. Instead of diminishing, the excitement tends, if anything, to increase. A very rainy day had the effect of keeping the streets near the place rather clearer than they have been for the past two days, but this evening vast crowds are wandering from the scene of one tragedy to that of the other, and the efforts of a considerable force of police are necessary to preserve order.

Criticisms on the police  of a very rough-and-ready description are flying about, and these, indeed, are not confined merely to the mob.

It is, of course, absurd to say that the police might have prevented the murder.

Large as the police force is, it would have to be increased from nearly 15,000 to the dimensions of a large army if every hole and corner of the vast Metropolitan area were to be kept under such constant supervision as would render crime, committed under circumstances such as these, impossible.

But although this is the case, it scarcely says much for the detective force that four crimes, so similar in nature, could have been committed within so short a time, without anyone being brought to justice.


The Criminal Investigation Department is on its trial, and justice compels me to state that, in this matter, Sir Charles Warren is being taken severely to task, even by those who have not joined in the chorus of unmerited abuse, to which he has been subjected.

His policy has been to dissociate the detective from the central control, and the consequence is, that instead of working under the guidance of trained heads, they act through the inspectors in their own districts, and a good deal of their efforts are thus thrown away.

Perhaps – though of course Sir Charles Warren has nothing to do with this – the policy of ceasing to offer rewards for the detection of such crimes may be right enough to the main, but the present case seems to be an exception.

A portrait of Sir Charles Warren.
Sir Charles Warren, The Metropolitan Police Commissioner. From The Illustrated London News, 1st May 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Sir Charles Warren, by the way, is back in Scotland Yard, having returned from his holidays earlier than expected.

He says that there is no foundation for the statement that he has sent in his resignation and that he has been offered a post in South Africa, or anywhere else for that matter. I am pretty sure, however,  that if such an offer were made he would very quickly accept it.

His early return to town is said to be due to fears of further Socialist disturbances. Certainly the so-called unemployed have begun their demonstrations early enough to give rise to serious fears for what may occur during the winter months if proper precautions are not taken.”


The majority of the daily papers were featuring the important news that several suspects were now in police custody, two of whom held great potential.

One of the suspects was named William Henry Pigott, about whose apprehension The Morning Star had this to say:-

“Great excitement was caused in the neighbourhood of Commercial-street police-station in the course of the afternoon, on account of the arrival from Gravesend of a “suspect” whose appearance resembled in some respects that of “Leather Apron.”

This man, whose name is William Henry Pigott, was taken into custody on Sunday night at the “Pope’s Head,” Gravesend.


Attention was first attracted to Pigott by the fact that he had some blood stains on his clothes.

Superintendent Berry, the chief of the local police, was communicated with, and a sergeant was sent to the “Pope’s Head” to investigate the case.

On approaching the man, who seemed in a somewhat dazed condition, the sergeant saw that one of his hands bore several recently inflicted wounds.

Being interrogated as to the cause of the injuries, Pigott made a rambling statement to the effect that, whilst he was going down Brick-lane, Whitechapel, at half-past four o’clock on Saturday morning he saw a woman fall in a fit, and when he stooped to pick her up she bit him on the hand. Exasperated at this he hit her, but seeing two policemen coming up he then ran away.


The sergeant, deeming the explanation unsatisfactory, took Pigott to the police-station, where his clothing was carefully examined by Dr. Whitcombe, the divisional surgeon.The result of the scrutiny was an announcement that two shirts which Pigott carried in a bundle were stained with blood, and also that blood appeared to have been recently wiped off his boots.

After the usual caution, the prisoner Pigott made a further statement to the effect that the woman who bit him was in the street at the back of a lodging-house when seized with the fit.

He added that he slept at a lodging-house in Osborne-street on Thursday-night, but that on Friday he was walking the streets of Whitechapel all night.

He tramped from London to Gravesend on Saturday.

He gave his age at 52, and stated that he was a native of Gravesend, his father having some years ago had a position there in connection with the Royal Liver Society.


As the prisoner’s description tallied in some respects with that furnished by headquarters of the man “wanted,” Superintendent Berry decided to detain Pigott.

In response to a telegram apprising him of the arrest Inspector Abberline proceeded to Gravesend yesterday morning, and decided to bring the prisoner at once to Whitechapel, so that he could be confronted with the women who had furnished the description of “Leather Apron.”

A considerable crowd had gathered at Gravesend railway station to witness the departure of the detective and the prisoner, but his arrival at London-bridge was almost unnoticed, the only persons apprised of the journey beforehand being the police, a small party of whom were in attendance in plain clothes.

Inspector Abberline and the prisoner went off at once in a four-wheel cab to Commercial-street Police Station, where from early morning groups of idlers had hung about in anticipation of an arrest.

The exterior of Commercial Street Police Station.
The Suspect Was Taken To Commercial Street Police Station.


The news of Pigott’s arrival at once spread, and in a few seconds the police-station was surrounded by an excited crowd anxious to get a glimpse of the supposed murderer.

Finding that no opportunity of seeing the prisoner was likely to occur, the mob, after a time, dispersed, but the police had trouble for some hours in keeping the thoroughfare free for traffic.

Pigott arrived in Commercial-street in much the same condition as when taken into custody.

He wore no vest, had on a battered felt hat, and he appeared to be in a state of great nervous excitement.

Mrs. Fiddymont, who is responsible for the statement respecting a man resembling “Leather Apron” being at the “Prince Albert” on Saturday, was sent for, as were also other persons likely to be able to identify the prisoner, but after a very brief scrutiny it was the unanimous opinion that Pigott was not “Leather Apron.”


Nevertheless it was decided to detain him until he could give a somewhat more satisfactory explanation of himself and his movements.

After an interval of a couple of hours the man’s manner became more strange, and his speech more incoherent, the divisional surgeon was called in, and gave it as his opinion that the prisoner’s mind was unhinged.

A medical certificate to this effect was made out, and Pigott will for the present remain in custody.”


The other Person of Interest who was in police custody was John Piser – who, supposedly, was the person who was known in the area as “Leather Apron,” albeit the majorirty of those who knew him were adamant that he had never been known under such a sobriquet!

The Evening Standard gave details about him in its edition of the 11th September 1888:-

“The scene of the murder on Saturday morning in Hanbury street, Spitalfields, was visited again yesterday by crowds of sightseers, and there was a good deal of excitement throughout the district, due chiefly to the arrests and the many rumours of arrest.


About nine o’clock yesterday morning a detective constable arrested a man he supposed to be “Leather Apron.”

The name of the man arrested is John Piser, but his friends deny that he has ever been known under the nickname of “Leather Apron.”

When the detective called at the house, the door was opened by Piser, “Just the man I want,” said the detective, who charged him on suspicion of being connected with the murder of the woman Chapman.


The detective searched the house and took away some finishing tools which Piser is in the habit of using in his work. He is a boot finisher, and for some time has been living in Mulberry street with his stepmother, and a married brother, who works as a cabinet maker.

When he was arrested by the detective his brother was at work, and the only inmates of the house were the prisoner’s stepmother, his sister in law, and a Mr. Nathan, for whom he has worked.


His mother and his sister-in-law declared positively that Piser came home at half past ten o’clock on Thursday night, and had not left the house since.

They further stated that the prisoner was unable to do much work on account of ill health, and that he was by no means strong, as some time ago he was seriously injured.

About six weeks ago he left a convalescent home, in which he had been an inmate on account of a carbuncle in his neck. He is a Jew, about 35 years of age, and since he was three years old has been brought up by Mrs. Piser.

He lost his father about sixteen years ago. Several residents in Mulberry street, which is a narrow thoroughfare off Commercial street East, give the man who has been arrested a good character, and speak of him as being a harmless sort of person.


A young woman residing next door said she had known Piser as a neighbour for many years, and had never heard of his bearing the name of “Leather Apron.”

He had always seemed a quiet man, and unlikely to do any such crime as that of which the police suspect him.

She says she heard him about the yard a day or two back, but had not seen him in the street for the last few days.


At the Leman street Police station, to which place Piser was taken, a large force of police were kept in readiness with drawn staves.

Only a few people amongst the crowd outside seemed aware that an arrest had been made, and so quietly did the police act in Mulberry street that few even in the neighbourhood connected the arrest with the murder.”


News was also circulating that a witness may well have seen the murderer of Annie Chapman at 2am on the morning of her murder.

The Shields Daily Gazette published the supposed description in its edition of the 11th September, 1888:-

“A description of the supposed murderer has been circulated by the police in London and the provinces as follows: Description of a man who entered a passage of the house at which the murder of a woman was committed at 2am, on the 8th. Aged, 37, height 5ft 7in., rather dark beard and moustache. Dress: Shirt, dark; jacket, dark; vest and trousers, black; scarf, black; felt hat. Spoke with a foreign accent.”


The other snippet of news, mentioned by the Gazette, was that, despite the reluctance of the Home Office to sanction a reward that might bring in information that could lead to the killer being identified, Member of Parliament, Samuel Montagu:-

“…has given one hundred pounds for the capture of the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murder.”