Sightings And Letters

In the weeks that followed the murder of Mary Kelly – which took place in Miller’s Court, off Dorset Street, on 9th November 1888 – people in the East End of London were on high alert for any sign that “Jack the Ripper” was about to carry out another murder in the district.

In addition to the huge number of letters that purported to come from the perpetrator of the atrocities, various witnesses had come forward to claim that they may have seen Mary Kelly in the company of her murderer in the hours leading up to her demise, and various descriptions of the murderer were being circulated.


One of those descriptions was given by Mary Ann Cox, a neighbour of Mary Kelly’s, who testified that she had seen Mary Kelly returning home, drunk, around the midnight prior to her murder. She was, so Cox stated, in the company of a “blotchy-faced man with a carroty moustache.”


George Hutchinson, the man who had met Mary Kelly on Commercial Street in the early hours of 9th November, 1888, had also given a description of the man he had seen Mary kelly lead into Miller’s Court.


As a consequence of these sighting, various descriptions and depictions of these men appeared in the newspapers, and the residents of Whitechapel and Spitalfields now, so it was believed, now had an idea of the type of person they should be looking out for; and, in consequence, anybody who even remotely resembled this description was liable to attract unwanted attention from vigilant passersby.

Newspaper sketches showing various suspects.
From The Illustrated Police News, 24th November, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Interestingly, as the following article, which appeared in The Gloucester Citizen on Friday 16th November 1888, demonstrates, the police themselves, or, at least, the constables on the beat in the area, had their own ideas of what the perpetrator of the crimes looked like and, as is apparent from the last paragraph of the article, it was at odds with the descriptions of the miscreant that were being circulated in the popular press.

However, the article also reported on a bizarre happening in Battersea, plus the news that yet another letter had been received from the “murderer” in which he warned them that he was going to kill again on the following Wednesday.

The article read:-


“The funeral of the murdered woman Kelly has been arranged to take place on Monday.

The excitement in the neighbourhood of Dorset-street has considerably subsided, but two policemen still guard the entrance to Millers-court, to the great inconvenience of the humble dwellers therein, and the pecuniary loss of the landlord, M’Carthy, who is losing tenants every day.

The police at Battersea are in search of a man who is stated to answer to the description of the man wanted for the murderer of Mary Jane Kelly.

He was seen under somewhat singular circumstances yesterday afternoon. He entered a coffee-house in that neighbourhood, and displayed a lock of hair, which is stated to have been human, with congealed blood attached.

No one thought to detain him, but information was subsequently given to the police. I

t is understood that he left the hair behind him.


The police have received another letter from “Jack the Ripper.”

It commenced “Dear Boss,” and went on to explain that the writer always addressed his cousin in those terms.

He threatened to perpetrate another murder in the locality on Wednesday next, on which occasion he would inflict similar injuries on his victim to those on Kelly.

At a late hour last night, no one was detained in connection with the murders. Earlier in the evening, an arrest was made, but, after inquiry, the man was liberated.


Mr. Galloway, a clerk employed in the City, and living at Stepney, has made the following statement:-

“As I was going down the Whitechapel-road in the early hours of Wednesday morning, on my way home, I saw a man coming in the opposite direction, about fifty yards away.

We both crossed the road simultaneously and came face to face to face.

The man had a very frightened appearance, and glared at me as he passed.

I was very much struck with his appearance, especially as he corresponded, in almost every particular, with the man described by Mary Ann Cox.

He was short, stout, about thirty-five to forty years of age. His moustache, not a particularly heavy one, was of a carroty colour, and his face was blotchy through drink and dissipation. He wore a long, dirty, brown overcoat, and altogether presented a most villainous appearance.

I stood still and watched him.

He darted back almost immediately to the other side of the road, and then, apparently to avoid a group of women a little further on, crossed the road again.

I determined to follow him, and, just before reaching the coffee-stall past the church, he again crossed the road.

On nearing George-yard, he crossed over and entered a small court. He re-appeared in a couple of minutes, crossed Whitechapel-road for the sixth time, and proceeded along Commercial-street.

Up to this point he had walked along briskly, but directly he got into Commercial-street he slackened his speed and accosted the first woman whom he met alone, but was repulsed.

On approaching Thrawl-street a policeman on point duty suddenly appeared.

A photograph of Commercial Street.
Commercial Street.


The man was evidently startled, and for a moment it looked as though he would turn back or cross the road.

He soon recovered himself, however, and went on.

I then informed the constable of what I had seen and pointed out the man’s extraordinary resemblance to the individual described by Cox.

The constable declined to arrest the man, saying that he was looking for a man of a very different appearance.”