Pendragon’s Handbook

By the end of September, 1888, speculation was rife in the newspapers as to who the murderer might be, what sort of person could have carried out such horrific crimes, and why the police had had no success in bringing the perpetrator of the crimes to justice.

The Referee, in its edition of Sunday, 30th September, 1888, pondered the aforementioned issues, whilst, at the same time, wondering if the Whitechapel murderer, and others like him, might be hiding in plain sight, just an ordinary citizen of London:-


This is not much of a week for one who – to paraphrase the Game Chicken – lives on his ability to criticise current topics. There are not many about just now above and beyond those that have already received a full share of criticism.

Sensations with which the silly season commenced, and other sensations which have cropped up in their wake, are pretty well played out, and the public appetite requires something entirely new and as startling as possible.

The Whitechapel murders having begun to lose their attractiveness, an endeavour has been made to stir up popular feeling to frantic newspaper-purchasing pitch by means of some revelations made by the coroner on the closing day of the Chapman inquest.


What he said was doubtless very horrible; but it was little beyond what anyone of sense might have expected after the preparatory announcements to the missing parts of the body made by Dr. Phillips.

That what was told the coroner by the sub-curator of an important surgical school or college will lead to the detection of the murderer, I for one do not believe; above and beyond the sensationalism of the revelation, there was next to nothing in it.


Besides, in the present state of our police arrangements under Mr. Matthews and Sir Charles Warren, any person who lays his plans with calmness and circumspection can commit murder after murder without much fear of being found out.

Accident may deliver him over to the hands of justice, as accident will in a variety of other matters often upset the best-arranged plans of men and mice; but, under ordinary circumstance, and without the interference of good or ill luck on either side, there is no more reason, so far as fear of the police is concerned, why a man should not murder anyone he dislikes, or who stands in the way of his getting anything he desires, than there is why be should not eat his dinner, post his letters, or go to the theatre.


In witness whereof, I should like to ask, How many brutal and bloody murders have been committed almost openly in London, the perpetrators of which are still at large – living, it may be, in our midst as peaceable and law-abiding citizens, regular Sunday churchgoers, agreeable husbands, and loving fathers of families?

Who would suspect a man who wears a sober frockcoat and surmounts that with a handsome burnished broad-brimmed tall hat – whose shirt is spotless, his trousers well cut, and his boots of the latest shape and the highest polish – who, I say, would suspect such a man as this, as he walks to divine service in company with his daughters, of being the Coram-street murderer? or, going a few years further back, of being the still undiscovered slayer of yet another unfortunate in George-street (now Dyott-street), St. Giles’s.

Since these two women were butchered, for no reason that has ever presented itself so far, by men – or it may have been by one man – described as of intensely respectable appearance, who dived into the crowd of London and disappeared, there have been any number of murders the perpetrators of which have never been so much as suspected.


How do you know, reader, when you meet your old friend in the street, and give him a hearty grasp of the hand as you ask him how he has been getting along since last you met – how do you know that he is not a murderer? And how does he know that you are not one? For the matter of that, how do either of you know that I – who to you speak – have not had a hand in some of this licensed slaughter?

If the murders go on getting done, and the murderers still remain at large, we shall have no option but to begin suspecting one another.

I don’t like to be either personal or pointed, but I must say that the other day, as I listened to one of the contributors to this paper describe exactly how Nicholls and Chapman were murdered, and watched him act the operation with as much certainty as though he had been present, I could not help wondering how he came to know so very much about the deadly and disgusting details.

Could he —-  But, no; perish the thought. It doesn’t seem possible.

Yet, seeing that the murders have been done, somebody must have done them. And that same somebody, or it may be two or three dozen somebodies, each of them with the blood of a fellow-creature on his soul, is or are riding in the same railway carriages and omnibuses with us, sitting at the same tables, drinking maybe out of the same pewter or joining in the same bottle of champagne, and all the while hiding the guilty secret, and wondering if it ever in this life will be discovered.