One of the more intriguing Police Officers whose name crops up time and gains in investigation of the Jack the Ripper Murders was Sergeant William Thicke (also spelled Thick in some newspaper accounts).
It was Thicke who, in the wake of the Leather Apron Scare early on in the investigation, claimed that, whenever anyone in the area spoke of Leather Apron they were in fact referring to John (or Jack) Pizer.
By the time of the Jack the Ripper Murders Thicke was an established, and highly effective, police officer in the area, a fact that is amply demonstrated by a newspaper report that appeared in the East London Observer on Saturday June 9th 1888 under the headline “A SEVERE STRUGGLE WITH A BURGLAR.” The article gives us the opportunity to look back at the everyday criminals that the police officers who hunted Jack the Ripper encountered on an almost daily basis.
According to the article, on the previous Saturday Thicke was on duty at the junction of Wentworth Street and Commercial Street when he noticed 23 year old George Neighbour and a companion walking along the road. Thicke’s suspicions were aroused by a large bundle that Neighbour was carrying in a black bag and he duly stopped them and asked what was in the bundle.
He wasn’t convinced by Neighbour’s claim that he was only carrying it for another man. Realising this, Neighbour promptly dropped the bag and head-butted Thicke in the stomach. The policeman reacted to this assault by seizing Neighbour by the necktie and then standing on the bundle.
You begin to get an impression of the bravery of those long ago police officers when the report continues by detailing how Neighbour’s companion rushed off to get help and returned with a gang of men who then attempted to free the prisoner and retrieve the bundle.
But Thicke wasn’t having any of it and he promptly drew his truncheon and used it to keep the mob at bay while, at the same time, keeping a tight grip on Neighbour’s necktie and a firm foot on the bundle. He then managed to drag the prisoner and the bundle into a nearby hairdresser’s shop where he awaited the arrival of re-reinforcements. In the meantime he searched the bundle and found inside it a bank book with the address 11 Hooper Street on it, plus a large number of other articles.
Once Neighbour had been taken into police custody, Thicke went round to this address and found that it had indeed been burgled, entrance being gained by use of a false key. Several tenants lived there and they explained how their rooms had been broken into jackets, shirts, quilts and a clock had been stolen. They were subsequently able to identify these missing items among the articles found in the bundle that Neighbour had been carrying when stopped by Sergeant Thicke.
As a result Neighbour appeared at Thames Police Court on the following Monday where he was remanded in custody.
On our Jack the Ripper Tour you will pass the corner where Thicke made this arrest and hear how his name crops up time and again in press coverage of the Whitechapel Murders.