As 1889 got underway, people across the country were reading news reports of the horrible murder of eight year old John Gill which had taken place over the Christmas period, and about which you can read in this article.
Although the majority of newspapers were of the opinion that it was in no way related to the Jack the Ripper murders in London, there was, none the less, a consensus that the country as a whole was in the grip of a dreadful epidemic of murder of which was the latest, and most appallingly abhorrent manifestation.
The West Cumberland Times, on Wednesday, 2nd January, 1889, looked back on 1888, which it saw as nothing less than a year of murders:-
MURDERS OF UNEXAMPLED BARBARITY
“The year 1888 seems destined to dwell in human remembrance as a year of murders.
Not only in Whitechapel have fiendish deeds been done. In other places murders of unexampled barbarity have been accomplished, and the land has almost literally been reeking in blood.
The “red ruin and the breaking of the law” which have been the sinister accompaniments of the last twelve months have closed the year in bloody and characteristic fashion, a boy in Bradford being the latest addition to the heavy and horrible annual tale of unfortunate victims.”
A LOCAL MANIAC
The Suffolk and Essex Free Press, in its edition of Wednesday, 2nd January, 1889, was in no doubt that, if the latest atrocity was not, as it seemed, the work of the Whitechapel murderer, there was little doubt that it was the work of an imitator:-
“The Bradford murder revives the conflict of grim conjecture set on foot by the Whitechapel tragedies. It is not an unnatural tendency in timid minds, shocked afresh by horror so closely resembling in its terrible details the series of human butcheries in East London, to charge the atrocity to the same hand.
It is, of course, impossible to pronounce upon this point.
All that can be said is that the Whitechapel fiend may have transferred himself and the hideous passion which possesses him from the metropolis to another sphere of activity.
But apart from the views of experts like Dr. Forbes Winslow, who delivers an emphatic conviction on the subject, there is reason to believe that the murder and mutilation of the poor child Gill is the work of some local maniac, whose feeble intellect has been unhinged by poring over the exploits of the unspeakable miscreant, popularly identified as “Jack the Ripper.”
A DREADFUL FASCINATION
It need not be said that such details have a dreadful fascination for a class of mind in which they excite a spirit of morbid emulation. We all know the pernicious influence of a certain kind of sensational literature.
According to the French proverb, there are heroes in evil as in good, and a particularly notorious criminal has generally imitators. The Whitechapel murders produced quite a number of claimants to the perpetration of the crimes, not to mind the many cases in which ruffians went about waylaying woman with brandished Knives and declaring themselves to be the monster whose imaginary name has been a terror to a great community.
The revolting murder in Havant, like the more recent tragedy at Bradford, may well have been the effect of an epidemic of demoralisation generated among the multitude who live on the border land between sanity and insanity.
According to a statement from Bradford, “Jack the Ripper” left his name and other evidences of his presence at a house very near the place in which the body of the little victim was found.
MIMICRY OF THE ORIGINAL
But even if the facts are as reported they prove nothing, for the local disciple of the master murderer would most probably add such a device to the mimicry of his original.
It is a matter for gloomy reflection that all these murders – eight committed in London and two up to date in the provinces – have so far remained shrouded in impenetrable mystery.
It is, of course, to be hoped that the police authorities at Bradford will be be more successful than their colleagues elsewhere.
The public, which have “supped full with horrors,” are anxiously waiting for some proof that their paid protectors are equal to their trust, and hitherto, in regard to the seemingly wanton and aimless barbarities of which the Bradford murder is the latest instance, the proof, it must be confessed, is lamentably wanting.”