Scared to Death By Jack The Ripper

By late October 1888, the name “Jack the Ripper” had, most certainly, entered the national, if not the international, consciousness and was adding an element of pantomime to the tragedy of the Whitechapel Murders. There are reports that numerous young men had come to see the unknown miscreant who was responsible for the East End atrocities as something of a hero and, as a consequence, were starting to imitate him, sometimes, as we will see in today’s press round up, with tragic consequences.


On October 25th 1888, The Daily News reported the death of 20 year old Miss Milligan, of Kilkeel, County Down, whose demise, so the paper informed its readers was as a direct result of a fright she had received two weeks previous from “a ruffianly practical joker…”

According to the article, three ladies were walking together in Kilkeel when a man brandishing a knife suddenly leapt out in front of them and shouted that he was “Jack the Ripper”.


To say that his antics scared the ladies would be an understatement as the ordeal left them positively terrified. Miss Milligan in particular  was particularly affected by the experience and, soon afterwards she became hysterical.

The next day she became seriously ill with a high fever and, despite the best efforts of the family doctor to save her, she died – her death being attributed to the  “the excitement she had undergone.”


The Daily News hoped that the “buffoon who perpetrated this abominable outrage” would soon be taken into custody and that he would be severely punished for his foolish, and tragic, action.


The newspaper concluded with a a very valid point stating that this: –

“sort of practical joking is a very serious offence indeed. It intensifies excitement, and, what is far more important, it tends to lead justice off the scent, and imposes an immense amount of trouble on the police at a time when it is most burdensome and perplexing. People who do these things should not have the full benefit of the absence of any criminal intention. It is perfectly gratuitous mischief and inexcusable folly, and those who are guilty of it may very fairly be required to pay the penalty, if only as a warning to others. If the law does not provide for their punishment it should speedily be made to do so.”


Meanwhile The Star  reported that another mystery which had been baffling some Londoners since 1883 had been cleared up in the Divorce Court on the previous afternoon. that of the 24th October 1888.

This pot-boiler   concerned a Mr Short who had gone missing from his home in Hampstead in 1883.

A few days later, his clothes had been found, as the newspaper so wonderfully put it, “untenanted” on the banks of the River lea in East London.

Despite the fact that no body had been found, Mrs. short accepted her new-found state of widowhood and bought a burial plot to accommodate the remains of her husband when they were finally discovered.

However, as it transpired, the plot was not actually required, as Mr Short himself was found alive and well in New Brunswick in the company of, as The Star delicately put it, “a former lady resident in Hampstead who had gone on her travels about the same time.”

The divorce of Mr and Mrs Short had been finalised the previous afternoon and the newspaper article concluded with the observation that:-

“Possibly Short appreciated the one-sidedness of our divorce law, and desired, by simulating suicide, to give”” his deserted wife an opportunity of consoling herself. At any rate, he shows once more that people who mysteriously disappear generally have their own reasons for it.”


Another more tragic end to a marriage was also being reported in the newspapers on this day in 1888.

Levi Richard Bartlett, who was sixty-six years of age – and whom newspapers described as “a dejected-looking old man” – went on trial at the Central Criminal Court charged with murdering his wife, Elizabeth, and attempting suicide on the 19th August 1888.

The couple ran a small general shop at 248, Manchester Road, Isle of Dogs, Poplar, where they, so it appears,  mostly sold milk.


According to witnesses, Bartlett was known for his drunkenness locally and, over the period of the three months prior to the murder of his wife, had been in an almost perpetual state of intoxication.  Indeed, so erratic was his behaviour that the local boys had given him the nickname of “Mad Dick the Jockey” and he was, it appears, generally known by that name in the district.

Martha Johnston, who had known the couple for the best part of 20 years testified that “when sober he was very quiet, when drunk he was rather romancing, he talked very curiously.”

Several other witnesses also gave testimony about his unusual behaviour and volatile character.


Dr William Murray Leslie, who had treated Bartlett on several occasions over the previous four or five years for various ailments, was even more damning  of his mental state.

He told the court that:-

“…my opinion is that he is not quite sane, even when sober I could not honestly say he was quite sane, when drunk he is a dangerous lunatic—that is my experience of him—several times when driving I have seen him come up with an unmeaning grin on his face, put his arms round the horse’s mouth and kiss it, and sometimes he would take the foam from the horse’s mouth and put it into his own—he was quite sober then, but strange in his actions—for instance, he came up to me on one occasion and struck me a very hard blow—I looked straight at him to see if he was angry, and he appeared perfectly friendly, and there were no symptoms of liquor, he could stand, walk, and speak accurately—I attended him once for a dislocated arm—I found him sitting in a chair, I bandaged his arm up, and visited him again one or two days afterwards, he had then taken off all the bandages and wrappings, and either by accident or design taken the head of the bone out of the socket, which hung loosely by his side, and he was looking at it rather complacently; that occurred on two occasions with reference to the same injury…he was perfectly mad in the ordinary acceptation of the term when under the influence of drink – he was the most furiously mad man I ever saw…”


Charles Serel, a church warden at Poplar church, also testified to the eccentric character of the accused and pointed out that his “strangeness” was not necessarily the result of his being drunk:-

“He was always very strange in his character all the time I knew him – he has been a teetotaler for a long time, and he was more strange then than when he was drunk – it was connected with his work in Millwall Docks I saw his strangeness, but I could not illustrate it exactly just now…I can only say he was very strange and eccentric, that was always the impression on my mind…”


Thomas George Jones, who worked for and lodged with the couple, said that he had seen the couple rowing on the evening of Saturday the 18th of August 1888. He testified that the defendant had seemed quite drunk to him throughout the whole of the evening. Indeed, he, Jones, had had to lock up the shop at 11pm on the Saturday night. As he lay in best, at around 15 minutes after 11, Jones said that he “…could hear them talking, but could not hear what they said—it was more friendly than rowing, it seemed friendly and quiet..” Soon afterwards he fell asleep.


He was woken between 4am and 5am the next morning when Bartlett came into the room, which Jones shared with a fellow lodger, Benjamin French, and asked the latter if he had any beer. French replied that he didn’t, whereupon Bartlett shook hands with him and said, “Good-bye, you won’t see me no more alive.”

He then left the room, but returned 20 or so minutes later, said goodbye again and once more went back to his own room.


However,  when he returned a third time, he was holding a razor in his hand and his throat was gashed. This time he came to Jones’s bedside and, shaking him by the hand, exclaimed “”Good-bye, Tom, I have done for my missis, and I am going to do for myself.” As Jones watched, he turned and left the room.


Jones later recalled how he quickly put on some clothes and went after him. On reaching the Bartletts’ he found his employer sitting on the bed next to his wife, who wasn’t moving. He raced over and shook her, calling her name as he did so, but, although she was breathing she wasn’t, he said, “sensible.” It was this point that he noticed that “…there was blood on her head on the pillow, up the wall, and on the ceiling.”


Jones’s cries brought other residents at the premises to the room, amongst them Walter Still, who recalled the scene that greeted him:-

“He [Bartlett] was sitting on the bedside with his hands in his throat trying to tear his throat open with both hands – I did not notice anything in his hands – I ran round to Mrs. Bartlett; she was lying in bed -I shook her, and saw blood coming from her throat…”


Benjamin French, meanwhile, a raced out to find a policeman and, shortly afterwards, returned with Police Sergeant William Doe, who was on plain clothes duty in the vicinity. Doe later reported the sight that met him when he entered the first floor bedroom:-

“The prisoner was sitting on the side of the bed in his shirt, bleeding from the throat; the front of his shirt was covered with blood – he had a razor in his right hand; I saw blood on the razor – I said “Halloa…what is the matter?” – he muttered something which I could not understand – he struggled very much, trying to get his hands to his throat – with assistance I tried to prevent his doing so – I got the razor from him – three constables came to my assistance in holding him – he struggled very violently on the bed – I found this hammer under the bed, right between his legs; the handle had smears of blood on it – this knife lay by the side of the hammer on the floor, it was covered with blood – Mrs. Bartlett was lying on the other side of the bed, apparently dead – from the condition of the bed more than one person had slept in it – there was no disturbance of the furniture in the room – I saw that Mrs. Bartlett was bleeding very much from the head and throat – Dr Smythe came; he stitched up the prisoner’s throat, and by his direction I took him to the hospital…”


Giving his testimony at the trial, Dr Charles Smythe recalled that when he reached the room Mrs Bartlett was beyond his help. “She had been stabbed in the neck,” he told the court, “and the head was fractured – she was insensible and was dying; she died in about an hour afterwards…”


He then went on to describe the findings of his subsequent post-mortem examination:-

“The skull was fractured over the left temple, about 4 inches in diameter – the bones were quite broken in, and the brain substance knocked out -that blow alone was quite sufficient to cause death – it was such a wound as a hammer of this kind would inflict – there were three stabs in the neck such as might have been made with this knife – one was two inches deep, another an inch and a half, and the other between an inch and an inch and a half – there was effusion of blood into the left, eyelid, and the left ear was split – in my judgement the blow was given first – that would produce immediate insensibility – I should say the slit in the ear was produced by the knife…”


At the end of the trial Bartlett was found guilty of murder and the judge duly sentenced him to death.