Should the Police Have Caught Jack The Ripper?

One of the things that astonishes people who venture into the districts of Whitechapel and Spitalfields to walk the streets of Jack the Ripper’s London is just how small and localised the area is in which he was operating. Indeed, at a fairly brisk pace, it is quite possible to visit all of the murder sites in less than an hour. So, the question that immediately springs to mind with many of our tour participants is why didn’t the police catch him.

One of the main problems faced by the police at the time was that Crime Scene Investigation was very much in its infancy, to the point that it was almost none existent. With the exception of Mary Kelly, the last of Jack the Ripper’s victims, the bodies were removed from the scene within and hour or two of them being discovered.

The police would search the vicinity to see if the murderer had left anything behind, and they would interview those who either lived or worked nearby to see if they had witnessed anything. But, since Jack the Ripper was leaving no clues behind, apart from in the aftermath of the murder of Catherine Eddowes when he left a police of bloodstained apron in a doorway in Goulston Street, and since very few people actually saw him, the police had very little to go on.

In addition, when we walk the streets of Jack the Ripper’s London today we are not viewing the district as it was in 1888. Only a handful of the old alleyways – all of which we walk through on our Jack the Ripper Tour – have survived. It is when you walk through these alleyways and passageways, such as Puma Court, pictured below, that you begin to gain an understanding of how the riper was able to carry out his crimes and then slip away, unnoticed, into the night.

Houses in the very atmospheric Puma Court.
Puma Court

Today, these surviving courts and passageways are lit at night. But, in 1888, very few of them had any lighting. And, since the area was riddled with them, they provided the ripper with the perfect escape routes from the scenes of his crimes.

In addition, Jack the Ripper’s victims played a part in helping him to commit his murders in places where there was little chance of detection. His victims were street prostitutes who had the local knowledge of the places to take their clients without fear of interruption. As a leading detective on the case put it: “It’s not as if he has to wait for his chance, those women make that chance for him.”

So, with the combination of the locations where the murders were committed, the fact that the killer was leaving no clues behind, and the warren like complexity of the alleyways, courtyards and passageways, that snaked their way through the district, there was little chance for the police to have caught Jack the Ripper unless he gave himself away and was caught by a police officer in the act of murder. But, since this never happened, Jack the Ripper was able to evade his pursuers and carry out his reign of murder and terror with seeming impunity.