On Tuesday January 15th, 1889, people woke up to the news that a man, who was suspected of being the perpetrator of the Whitechapel atrocities, had been arrested in Tunis.
Given that the public as a whole were still pondering the mystery of who the killer known as “Jack the Ripper was,” and, more importantly, if he was likely to strike again, the news of the capture of a likely suspect was, to say the least, a major story; and, over the next few days, newspapers across the country updated their readers on the latest particulars of this important breakthrough.
The St James’s Gazette, in its edition of Tuesday the 15th of January, 1889 had this to say about the issue, albeit the article makes it plain that the detectives of the Metropolitan Police were somewhat incredulous as to the veracity of the news from Tunis:-
REPORTED CAPTURE OF JACK THE RIPPER
“PARIS, January 15th. – The Petit Journal publishes a telegram from Tunis of yesterday’s date, stating that the police there have captured a band of robbers and assassins, and that several suspicious circumstances give rise to the supposition that the London murderer known as “Jack the Ripper” is among the number.
The arrest caused great excitement.
The British Consul demanded to see the man who was being held in custody, and immediately afterwards telegraphed to the authorities in London.
Three examining magistrates are permanently sitting.
SCOTLAND YARD UNAWARE
We are informed that the authorities at Scotland Yard have received no information regarding the reported capture of “Jack the Ripper” at Tunis.
If an arrest has been made, as reported in the Petit Journal, no intimation of it has been given to the Criminal Investigation Department, where the story is discredited.”
WHITECHAPEL BUTCHERIES IN TUNIS
The next day, The Northern Daily Telegraph, on Wednesday the 16th of January, 1889, was able to expand a little on the known facts of the arrest, and was even able to name the suspect now in police custody in Tunis, albeit it also noted that the Metropolitan Police didn’t believe a word of the story!:-
“Information now to hand regarding the rumoured capture of “Jack the Ripper” at Tunis shows that the report arose from the fact that among the robbers recently captured by the Tunis police was a British subject named Gray.
The individual in question is one of a band of malefactors who have been captured by the police, and it would appear from the Consul’s report that when undergoing examination he stated that he had recently lived in Whitechapel.
As he stands accused of crimes of a similar character to those which recently horrified the inhabitants of London, the English Consul was at once communicated with.
THE POLICE WERE RETICENT
The police are very reticent about the matter, but it is stated that Superintendent Arnold, and other officers engaged in the district of Whitechapel, were at once summoned to Scotland Yard, where the principal officers of the Metropolitan police held a consultation.
From inquiries last night, says the Press Association, it appears there is a very slender basis upon which to found the supposition that the man under arrest in Tunis is connected with the recent crimes in the East End of London.
THE POLICE DENY ALL KNOWLEDGE
It seems to be undisputed that a gang of robbers has been arrested in Tunis, but as to one of them being the Whitechapel assassin, the police in the East End deny all knowledge.
Had it been so, it would have been necessary to have communicated with them.
The explanation of the story is that one of the men, when arrested, gave, as a reference for his previous character, the name of a resident in Whitechapel, where he stated that he had recently resided.
This was at once communicated to the British Consul for verification, and was in due course received in London, but with what result is known only to the police.
NO REAL CONNECTION WITH JACK THE RIPPER
It is supposed that the construction that this man had to do with the recent crimes was placed upon the communication en route to England, for well-informed officials positively aver that the above is the only connection between the men detained in Tunis and Whitechapel.
NO SCOTLAND YARD CONSULTATION
The Press Association further says that they have authority for contradicting the statement that Superintendent Arnold, of the Whitechapel police force, and other officers were summoned to Scotland Yard yesterday for a consultation regarding this particular case.
No consultation has taken place on the subject, but Mr Arnold was at Whitechapel yesterday as the result of an appointment made a week ago.”
THE KILLER STILL IN THE DISTRICT
The Glasgow Evening Post, in its issue of Thursday January 17th, 1889, revealed that, far from believing that the murderer had travelled overseas, many of those involved with investigating the case were convinced that the murderer was still residing in Whitechapel, and that he was being kept at bay by the sheer volume of police officers who were patrolling the streets by night, making it too dangerous for him to strike again.
“The authorities in the East End are of the opinion that the author of the crimes is still in the neighbourhood of Spitalfields, but by reason of the continued vigilance which is maintained by a large body of constables from other divisions, who patrol the streets by night in plain clothes, he is afraid at present to attempt any fresh crime.”
With reference to the report published by the Petit Journal, of Paris, of the arrest of a man supposed to be “Jack the Ripper,” the following are the facts:-
The French police recently arrested as a vagabond, an individual named Alfred Gray, who cannot give a satisfactory account of himself.
His height and age, as well as his moustache and hat, correspond with the description given in the London papers of the Whitechapel murderer.
The British Consul has informed the Foreign Office of the arrest.”
THE ARREST IN TUNIS
The newspapers, however, were divided as to whether the man now languishing in police custody in a Tunis gaol was, in fact, the perpetrator of the Whitechapel atrocities.
The Portsmouth Evening News, for example, published the following article about him in its edition of Friday 18th January, 1889:-
“With reference to the Englishman taken into custody at Tunis, on a charge of vagrancy, the correspondent of the Debats there telegraphs under date the 16th inst:-
The man suspected to be ‘Jack the Ripper’ is certainly of English nationality. He comes from Whitechapel. On his right arm are tattooed English female names, and on his left arm his own name, James [sic] Gray, as well as a drawing representing a naked woman. He lived with a woman in coming from England.
Up till now he has not been able to explain how his time was spent for a year, and during his stay here.
The English Consul has had photographs taken of this person. These have been sent to London, whence information is expected.
It was remarked that Gray trembled very much when the photograph was taken.”
THE LATEST THEORY
Reynolds’s Newspaper, in its edition of Sunday 20th January, 1889, seemed equally eager to portray the mysterious Alfred Gray as the notorious Jack the Ripper:-
“The latest theory as to the whereabouts of “Jack the Ripper” is to the effect that that notorious individual has actually been discovered in Tunis, and is, moreover, securely under lock and key.
A few days ago the police effected the wholesale capture of a gang of ruffians of the deepest dye, and among them was a man whom they were led by various signs and symptoms to suspect of being the murderer who has hitherto baffled the researches of their colleagues in England.
The British consul at Tunis, on hearing of this important “find,” asked to be allowed to see the prisoner, and he at once sent a long telegram on the subject to London.
THE EXCITEMENT WAS INTENSE
The excitement at Tunis is intense; three examining magistrates are devoting the whole of their time to the investigation of this mysterious case, and the police are busily hunting up particulars in every conceivable direction.
Such is the startling news embodied in a French despatch to a French contemporary, which evidently conveys the impression that at Tunis the prisoner is regarded as being the real authentic “Jack the Ripper.”
THE MURDERER WAS A SAILOR
There is nothing inherently improbable in this hypothesis, since in the opinion of many competent judges the author of the Whitechapel murders was probably a sailor.
The ruffian may have deemed it prudent to prolong his sojourn in the regency during one of his voyages in the hope that the affair might eventually blow over.
A SUBSTANTIAL FOUNDATION
At any rate, the police authorities at Tunis think that they are in possession of a clue, and it is hardly likely that such an idea should have occurred to them without some very substantial foundation to work upon.”
A NEEDLESS ALARM
On the other hand, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, in its edition of Sunday 20th January, 1889, was adamant that the statements that had been circulating in the newspapers throughout the previous week had been the cause of needless alarm:-
“…However, later despatches admitted that a needless alarm had been created, and stated that the report arose from the fact that among the robbers was a British subject named Alfred Gray, who cannot give a satisfactory account of himself.
His height and age, as well as his moustache and hat, correspond with the description given in the London papers of the Whitechapel murderer.”
What is interesting about the above accounts is the general consensus that people had a good idea of what “Jack the Ripper” looked like, thanks to descriptions circulating in the British press, which had, evidently, been sent to police forces in various parts of the globe.
The full story of Gray’s arrest and the case against him – which was proving virtually none existent – was reported in The Totnes Weekly Times, on Saturday 26th January, 1889:-
“The following are some further particulars regarding the arrest and detention of the man Alfred Gray in Tunis on suspicion of being the Whitechapel murderer.
It appears that Gray, who is stated to be 24 years of age, was examined by the British Consul, and that his statements were of a most contradictory character.
LIVED BEHIND ST MARY’S STEEPLE
A woman who arrived with him was also interrogated, and declared that she had been in London, where she lived “behind the high steeple in Whitechapel.”
A box in their possession was searched, and among some wearing apparel a razor was found, which the woman asserted was used by Gray for shaving.
The woman is of Italian nationality, but spoke English fluently.
The contradictory statements of Gray and the woman, as well as the former’s similarity to the description of the supposed assassin published in the London Press, excited the suspicions of the authorities, and in consequence the British Consul sent telegraphic and detailed information on the subject to the Foreign Office.
THE MARY AND POLLY TATTOO
Gray is tattooed on the chest and back with different emblems.
Both arms are also tattooed, one bearing the figure of a naked woman and the other representations of guns and ropes, with the letters M. and P., which he declares stood for “Mary” and “Polly,” two women whom he formerly knew.”
HIS REAL NAME WAS BOXALL
By the next week, it was becoming more than apparent that there was no case whatsoever against Gray, albeit it was becoming obvious that he wasn’t a particularly savoury character whose name, as it had transpired, wasn’t even Gray.
The Globe, on Monday 28th January, 1889 reported that:-
“The Central News says that the Criminal Investigation Department have been able to fix the identity of the British subject named Gray, who was recently arrested in Tunis, and who, it is reported, was suspected of being “Jack the Ripper.”
The man’s real name is Boxall.
He deserted from the 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade in 1887.
He was arrested and went abroad with his regiment the same year, and it is surmised that he deserted again.”
THE SUPPOSED WHITECHAPEL MURDERER
In the same issue The Globe, featured an update on the case, which was now rapidly losing its newsworthiness, and published the following brief article as to the fate of the man Gray, or Boxall, and, thereafter, coverage of the story ceased:-
“Tunis, January 28th.
The man Alfred Gray, who was recently arrested here, and who was suspected of being the Whitechapel murderer, has been sentenced to three months’ imprisonment as a vagrant.”