Well into the 20th century, journalists and retired police officers were reminiscing about the Whitechapel murders in newspapers across the country.
Since many of them were remembering, as opposed to consulting notebooks and official documents from the time of the crimes, their musings were often riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies, which, given many of them when they came to write of their experiences were thinking back on events that had occurred over fifty years before, is understandable.
One such article appeared in The Berks and Oxon Advertiser on Friday 12 July 1929, and, although in some of the events mentioned the facts are not particularly accurate, it does make an interesting read in that we get to see what people believed about the case as many of those who were actually involved in it at the time approached the ends of their lives, and a fund of anecdotal history and folklore was about to be lost:-
THE JACK THE RIPPER MYSTERY
“I am old enough to remember, although but indifferently, the scare which was created in London, and the sensation which accompanied them in the country by the “Jack the Ripper” murders.
“Jack the Ripper ” was the name which was applied to an obvious madman who, in 1888, terrorised women in the East End by a series of revolting murders.
In “The Mystery of Jack the Ripper,” recently published, the author assures us that the murderer was a doctor who, mad for revenge for the death of his son, as a result of a liaison with a Whitechapel woman, sought to track her, and in his pursuit of her he killed a number of suspects in a revolting manner.
WAS THE MURDERER A DOCTOR
Not new is the presumption that the murderer was a doctor.
At the inquest on one of his victims, a woman who assisted at a coffee-stall told how a man wearing a silk hat and carrying a bag, as a doctor might do, spoke to her the morning after the murder.
“Have you heard about the murder,” she asked him.
His reply was, “I know more about it than you do. I have something in this bag that ladies don’t like.”
The manner in which the women were knifed seemed to prove that the murderer possessed a knowledge of anatomy. It was consequently assumed that he was either a doctor or a medical student.
Against this there is the fact that letters received by the police, purporting to be from the murderer, bore evidences of illiteracy.
Several suspects were arrested – one was actually a Hertfordshire clergyman – but the mystery was never solved.
A MAN WHO SAW THE “RIPPER”
Contemporaneously with the publication of “The Mystery of Jack the Ripper,” there has been issued “Scoundrels, Scallywags, and Some Honest Men,” the author of which is ex-Chief Inspector Divall, of the Criminal Investigation Department. Scotland Yard.
The first case of murder with which Mr. Divall was required to deal, when he was in the Whitechapel division, was of a police constable, named Ernest Thompson, who was fatally stabbed. Mr. Divall writes:-
“Thompson is believed to be the only constable who ever saw “Jack the Ripper.”
Some time previous to his end, he was, one dark night, going down a turning off the main street when he saw a man, with a bag in his hand, a little distance ahead under a lamp. He ran after him, but he fell over something on the ground; turning his bull’s-eye lamp on it to see what it was, he was shocked to find the mutilated body of a female.
The sight so upset him that he wandered about in a dazed state. When he came to himself again he told those around him that he was sure he would never die a natural death.
Little did we then think he had so surely predicted his own doom.”
SOME NOTES OF EXPLANATION
Constable Thompson, who is mentioned as having “predicted his own doom” was the police officer who discovered the body of Whitechapel murders victim Frances Coles, who was murdered in the early hours of Friday, 13th February, 1891.
The “woman who assisted at a coffee stall” is, in fact, referring to Mrs. Paumier, who was actually selling chestnuts when she was approached by the man.