It i mazing to read about just how many people were affected by the Jack the Ripper crimes, and just how many different ways they reacted to their involvement in the saga.
One person was a twenty-five year old by the name of George Cullen, who was known in the district as “Squibby.”
SQUIBBY MISTAKEN FOR THE MURDERER
Twenty-five-year old George Cullen – or “Squibby” as he was better known around Spitalfields in 1888 – was a nasty piece of work. He was a notorious street gambler and an obnoxious thug of the type that infested the streets of Whitechapel in the latter years of the 19th century.
He was short of stature but stockily built and he was tattooed from head to toe. He was also so strong and powerful that the police nickname for him was “the pocket Hercules.” Indeed, on the frequent occasions when he was arrested it often took six to eight burly police officers to manhandle him to the station.
THREATENING A CONSTABLE
On September 1st 1888, with the area reeling from the shock of the brutal murder of Mary Nichols – which had taken place in the early hours of the previous day – Squibby was indulging in one of his favourite pastimes – threatening and abusing a police constable.
On this occasion the unfortunate recipient of his attention was Constable Bates of H Division.
According to The People newspaper, Cullen accosted the officer on Commercial Street and told him in no uncertain terms that, the next time he was interfered with, he would “do for him.” So saying, he picked up a stone and flung it with all his might at the constable.
Unfortunately, the missile missed the intended target and, instead, struck a young girl by the name of Betsy Goldstein.
Realising that he had overstepped the mark, Squibby fled the scene and went into hiding.
SEEN IN PUBLIC AGAIN
He was not seen in public again for just over a week when the potential pickings afforded by the inquisitive crowds that were arriving in Spitalfields in the aftermath of Annie Chapman’s murder of the 8th of September, proved too much of a temptation for him to resist.
On the 9th of September, Inspectors Walter Dew and Thomas Stacey were carrying out enquiries around Commercial Street, when Dew happened to spot “Squibby” loitering amongst the crowd that had gathered at the corner of Dorset Street, the thoroughfare in which Annie Chapman had been lodging at the time of her death.
THE CHASE BEGINS
In his autobiography, I Caught Crippen, published in 1938, Dew recalled what happened next:-
“Unfortunately for me, “Squibby’s” eyes were as sharp as my own. Recognition was mutual. He knew I would be after him, and was determined to give me a hard chase. He made a sudden dash, dived between the legs of a horse, crossed the road, and ran as fast as his short legs would carry him along Commercial Street.”
Drawing their truncheons, Dew and Stacey set off in pursuit.
IT’S JACK THE RIPPER!
Unfortunately for Squibby, in the aftermath of Annie Chapman’s murder, the locals were on tenterhooks, determined to lynch the perpetrator of the atrocities should they chance upon him.
According to Dew:-
“The sight of a man running away from the scene of a Ripper crime with the police officers in hot pursuit sent the crowd wild with excitement. They jumped to the conclusion that the man on the run was a murder suspect. “Jack the Ripper! Jack the Ripper! Lynch him!
The cry was started by a few and taken up by hundreds.”
I should mention here that Walter Dew’s recollection was faulty with regard to what the crowd were actually shouting, as this incident took place in early September, 1888, and the name Jack the Ripper would not be associated with the crimes until early October when the police made the Dear Boss letter public.
However, the chase itself and the mob’s reaction to it were reported by at least two newspapers at the time, so Dew’s recollection appears to have been accurate with regards to the mob’s joining in the chase.
THE FASHION STREET BRUTE
“Behind us as I ran,” Dew continued in his memoirs, “I could hear the tramp of hundreds of feet.
As I was passing Fashion Street a great, burly brute did his best to trip me by thrusting his legs in front of mine. He possibly thought I was the man the crowd was chasing, but more probably knew me as a police officer. I dealt him a heavy blow with my truncheon and he fell back into a baker’s window.”
INTO FLOWER AND DEAN STREET
By this time “Squibby” had reached Flower and Dean Street, where he entered one of the houses. Here, he jumped over a low wall and went inside the adjoining property.
Dew and Stacey followed him up the stairs and into a bedroom where they seized hold of him just as he was about to climb out of a back window.
Dew continued the story in his memoirs:-
“Now for a rough time, I thought. “Squibby” had never been known to be arrested without the most violent resistance. But this was a different “Squibby.”
Instead of finding, as we expected, an animal of a man, foaming at the mouth and ready to fight to the last breath, his face was a ghastly hue and he trembled violently.
In a flash I saw the reason. It was not myself or Stacey that the wanted man was afraid of but the howling mob outside. They were crying for his blood. Their cries reached us. “Lynch him. Fetch him out. It’s Jack the Ripper”, came the cry from a thousand throats.
The crowd now stretched to Commercial Street. Squibby saw the danger, and so now did I. His life wouldn’t have been worth twopence once that mob got their hands on him.
UNIFORMED POLICE ARRIVE
I told him I would do what we could, but I have often wondered what would have happened had not a number of uniformed police officers followed and, as I discovered afterwards, with great difficulty held the door of the house in which we were marooned.”
Word of what was occurring in Flower and Dean Street was quickly sent to the local police stations, and reinforcements had soon arrived at the scene, but, as Dew later recalled, the mob was far from put off by the site of the additional officers:-
“The baffled crowd became more bloodthirsty than ever. The very precautions the police were taking confirmed them in their conviction that the man whose life they were demanding could be none other than the East End Terror.
The cries of “Get him! Lynch him! Murder him”, became more insistent than ever, and I am sure little “Squibby” was convinced that his last hour had come.
ABJECT TERROR IN HIS EYES
No policeman who had previously had the unpleasant task of arresting him would have believed that such a change could come over a man. Abject terror showed in his eyes as again and again he appealed to me for protection.
I myself wouldn’t have given much for “Squibby’s” life at that moment, and I was not at all happy as to what might happen to Stacey and myself if the mob reached us.
Presently, however, the yells of the crowd became more subdued, and I ventured down to the front door of the hovel into which our prisoner had led us.
The sight I saw filled me with relief. Scores of lusty policemen were clearing a space in front of the house. Never in all my life have I more warmly welcomed the sight of the blue uniform.
Several officers came into the house and it was only with their assistance that our scared prisoner could be induced to descend the stairs and face the street.
THE MOB WENT MAD
On emerging into Flower and Dean Street I realised that our dangers were far from over. At the sight of the little man being shepherded by a posse of police officers the mob seemed to go mad.
They made one mad concerted rush which threatened for a time to break down the police barrier. Their cries became louder than ever, filthy epithets being intermixed with the demands for “Squibby’s” summary execution.”
TO COMMERCIAL STREET POLICE STATION
Dew and his fellow officers succeeded in getting their prisoner onto Commercial Street, but here the crowd was so thick that their progress was severely impeded, and the baying mob grew ever more threatening.
Disaster was averted by a constable who managed to acquire a four-wheeled cab into which the two detectives bundled their prisoner, and, with police constables holding back the crowds to create a lane, the cab began its slow progress towards Commercial Street Police Station.
However, the crowd were not about to allow them an easy passage, and numerous charges were made at the vehicle with the result that it was almost overturned several times.
The day was saved, so Dew recalled, by a big burly inspector by the name of Babbington who suggested that they would be much safer on foot, and so the officers scrambled from the cab as it passed Spitalfields Market and, with a line of constables holding the yelling, hooting mob at bay, they made their way to Commercial Street Police Station where they fought their way inside. However, the mob was still determined to get hold of their prisoner.
“Even now,” Dew recalled in his autobiography, “they did not abandon hope of taking the law into their own hands.
The police station was attacked again and again, and it was only the indomitable pluck of the men in blue which prevented an innocent man being crucified. There were many sore heads in Commercial Street that day.”
HE WAS INNOCENT OF THE CRIMES
The constables outside the police station shouted to the crowd that the man in custody was innocent of any involvement in the murders, but their assurances fell upon deaf ears, and several surges were made toward the building.
Inspectors appeared at the upstairs windows of the station and tried to explain who the prisoner was and why he had been taken into custody, but this also proved fruitless.
MUCH SAFER IN CUSTODY
Inside the station “Squibby” had been put in a cell, where, now feeling safe, he began to regain his composure. “I shall be much safer in Pentonville for a bit,” he observed to Dew with a smile.
Eventually the crowd dispersed and order descended onto the streets of Spitalfields.
SQUIBBY IN COURT
A few days later, “Squibby” appeared before the magistrate Mr Bushby at Worship Street Police Court, charged with assaulting the young girl Betsy Goldstein.
Probably much to his relief, he was sentenced to three months hard labour, during which time, he had plenty of time to reflect on how close he had come to a lynching.
A CHANGED MAN
“After this experience,” Dew wrote in his memoirs, “Squbby was a changed man. Whenever he met me he never failed to thank me for “saving his life”, and as far as I know he never gave trouble to police officers whose duty it was to arrest him.”
AN ILLUSTRATIVE CASE
Squibby’s experience is illustrative of just how on edge the East End of London was as the realisation began to dawn that a repeat killer was loose in the district, and fear of the unknown assassin began to increase.
He was just one of several men who came within a hair’s breadth of being lynched by the mobs when a false cry went up that the perpetrator of the atrocities had been found, and many a hardened criminal must have been thankful to the police for the protection that they provided.
A FOOLISH SHOUT
As Walter Dew would put it in his memoirs fifty years later – albeit he again misremembered the timeline as to when the name Jack the Ripper first appeared:-
“I have seen many riotous crowds in my career, but none quite like the one I have described. Every man and woman in that mob was ready to tear a fellow-creature to pieces because some fool, seeing a man pursued by police officers, had shouted “Jack the Ripper.”