Following the murder of Annie Chapman, which took place in the back yard of number 29 Hanbury Street on the 8th of September, 1888, the newspapers began wondering about the sort of person who could carry out such a motiveless and ferocious crime.
Although with the earlier murders of Emma Smith, Martha Tabram and Mary Nichols, there had been a belief the the atrocities were the work of one of the criminal gangs that plagued the area – and that the murders might have been carried out as the result of attempted extortion of the local street walkers – the consensus that the murders were the work of just one man had now become fixed in the minds of the police, press and public.
THE SPITALFIELDS MURDER
The St James’s Gazette, on Saturday, 15th September 1888, provided a round-up of newspapers views on the case:-
The Saturday Review is of opinion that neither the police nor their enemies in the press can be sincerely congratulated upon the circumstances which have attended the fourth Whitechapel murder.
It is absurd to expect that a crime committed with a singular mixture of ferocity and deliberation, in a crowded city, at an early hour of the morning, will be at once discovered. On the other hand, it is scandalous that protection for life should be practically withheld from a populous and turbulent district of the East-end.
The police in Whitechapel and Spitalfields, but not in Whitechapel and Spitalfields only, are notoriously undermanned.
NEGLECTED BY HENRY MATTHEWS
Mr. Matthews is responsible to Parliament for securing and maintaining their efficiency.
This duty he has hitherto discharged by no means adequately, and the inhabitants of London, especially of its poorer districts, have good reason to complain of his neglect.
The ordinary London constable has quite as much work to do as human nature will endure, and adding to its amount would certainly diminish its effectiveness.
Unfortunately there is another fault to be found with Scotland-yard – the quality of the English detective has seriously declined.
ONLY THE CRIMINAL IS GUILTY
The Spectator does not see that society, or the Home Secretary, or the police, or any one else except the criminal, is guilty.
The crime was not due to the poverty of the neighbourhood; the murderer might have committed his crime in the small streets of Westminster or Marylebone as well as in Whitechapel, and in the riverine boroughs more easily than in either.
As to inadequate protection, no conceivable number or organisation of the police can enable them to protect every wretched woman in this vast city who, by the very nature of her evil trade, is driven to run the risk of hide-away places and dangerous companionship.
If, indeed, the original theory had been correct, and Mrs. Chapman and the two previous victims of the same kind of atrocity had been murdered by a gang of blackmailers, there might have been reason to criticise or condemn the failure to find the guilty.
A LONE ASSASSIN
But it was almost from the first clear that there was no gang.
The solitariness of the criminal once established, and the man having got away long enough to wash himself, the difficulties of the police became almost insuperable.
Thought cannot work without material, and the Spectator cannot remember a murder in this generation in which the materials for thought were so few, while they are all disturbed by the probability that the criminal is a lunatic in the true professional sense.
A MAN ACCUSTOMED TO A LONG BLADE
If he is sane, he must, in all human probability, be a man accustomed to carry or use a long knife, “almost a dagger,” it is said – that is, must be either engaged in butchering or leather-cutting of some kind, or be a sailor in the merchant service; and he is, if he is the author of the successive murders, still in possession of this knife. That is one highly probable, but only probable, fact.
He must also know that district of Whitechapel well. And he is not a man to excite by his mere appearance immediate or intense alarm.
Those seem to be the only facts that are fairly clear, and they will carry the keenest very little way.