Although it was the Whitechapel murders in the East End of London that dominated the newspapers throughout September, 1888, they were not the only crimes that the people of Victorian Britain had to face up to.
Indeed, on the evening of Monday, 10th September, 1888, in Arbroath in Scotland, the Reverend Andrew Douglas and his wife, were both victims of an outrage which, although it didn’t result in their deaths, most certainly gave them both a nasty shock.
The crime is also of interest in that the perpetrator, almost prophesying the appearance of “Jack the Ripper” later that month, added to the audacity of his actions by sending a letter to his victims.
The Arbroath Guide, covered the story of the outrage in its edition of Saturday, 15th September, 1888:-
STRANGE OUTRAGE AT ARBROATH
REV. MR. DOUGLAS SHOT AT
“An occurrence of a nature happily rare – indeed, within our knowledge, previously unknown in this district – took place on Monday night at the residence of the Rev. Andrew Douglas, minster of the Abbey Church. Arbroath.
Mr Douglas and his wife were last Monday night deliberately fired at by some person, as yet unknown, while they were sitting in the manse study. The circumstances connected with the crime all point to a very deliberate attempt to do bodily hurt, and both Mr and Mrs Douglas have made a wonderful escape.
The Abbey manse, which is situated on the Auchmithie Road, between the Ladle Well and Hayshead, is enclosed on each side and behind by a stone wall, with an ornamental railing in front. Mr Douglas’s study is in the west side of the house, and here there is a pathway between the house and the boundary wall, there being a cottage on the other side of the wall.
The window of the study is low enough to give a full view of the interior from the outside.
SHOTS IN THE DARK
About half-past ten on Monday night, Mr and Mr. Douglas were in the study, the latter sitting near the right side of the window and distant from it only about three feet. Mr Douglas was at the farther end of the study table, three or four yards from the window, reclining in an easy chair. The other members of the household had retired for the night. Both were engaged in reading, and without having had their attention previously awakened in the quiet of the night by any unusual noise outside, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas were suddenly startled by the sharp report of a pistol shot and the simultaneous crashing of the glass of the study window.
Before either could take any steps to get out of danger, three more shots were quickly fired, the bullets whistling close past the occupants of the room.
IN PURSUIT OF THE PERPETRATOR
Naturally, both were greatly alarmed, but quickly recovering from the shock they made for the door in the hope of getting a glimpse of the would-be assassin. At this time, however, it was quite dark, and there was so sign nor sound to indicate the direction in which the miscreant had gone.
A collie dog belonging to Mr Douglas was let out, and it went some distance from the house into a field of grass lying to the east, barking loudly, as if it had been attracted by something or somebody; but the perpetrator of the outrage, who apparently had decamped instantly, had effectually disappeared.
Nothing remained for the inmates of the house but to inform the police of the outrage. and Mr Doualas at once conveyed information of what had occurred to the Police Office.
THE SCENE OF THE OUTRAGE
An examination of the scene of the outrage at once led to the conclusion that it had been deliberately planned, whatever had been the intention of the perpetrator it was evident that both Mr and Mr. Douglas has narrowly escaped with their lives.
At the side of the window, where Mrs Douglas had been seated, the glass was smashed, and the Venetian blinds, through which it is likely that the perpetrator of the dastardly act had able to see the occupants of the room, were perforated in four separate places, the different bullet holes being an inch or two apart in a nearly vertical direction, indicating that he had deliberately shifted his aim.
A short search brought to light two of the bullets, which had passed across the room and lodged in books in the bookcase. A third bullet was found on the floor, having struck on the wood shelving of the bookcase and fallen down on the waxcloth which covered the floor.
Mrs Douglas seems to have been seated nearly in the direct line of the bullets, and it is almost a miracle that she escaped injury. Indeed, the skirt of her dress is perforated in one part in such a manner as to suggest that the hole had been made by one of the bullets, which must also have passed very near to the spot where Mr Douglas. was located.
The fourth bullet has not been found. It would not appear from the effect of the shots that the weapon with which the assassin was armed had been a very powerful one, but still, it must have been quite fit for accomplishing the purpose of the perpetrator of the deed.
A CAREFULLY COMMITTED CRIME
The only traces which have been left by the person who committed the outrage are footmarks, which lead to the supposition that he had crossed over the railing in front of the house at the west end, and passed along by the side of the wall skirting the premises.
That he had gone about his nefarious work in a careful manner is evident, for although the pathway between the house and the wall is covered with flinty shingle, not the slightest warning did the objects of the outrage receive till the report of the revolver startled them.
The late hour and the dark were favourable to escape, and the means which the police have for detecting the culprit are thus very meagre.
The affair has created quite a sensation in the district, and is the all-absorbing topic of conversation. What the motive for the deed could possibly have been would be difficult to imagine, and Mr. Douglas himself can offer no probable explanation. Nothing had occurred previously that could be taken to indicate the existence of murderous enmity towards him on the part of any one, and, as is sometimes the case when projects of revenge for real or fancied wrongs are entertained, not even a threatening letter had been received.
The late hour and other circumstances would tend to indicate that it had been the purpose to injure Mr Douglas alone, and it is a very fortunate thing that neither he nor Mrs. Douglas sustained any harm beyond the shock which resulted from having been placed in such a trying position.
As yet, all efforts to discover the perpetrator of the outrage have been without success.
A LETTER FROM THE PERPETRATOR
We have been requested to publish the following statement from Mr. Douglas:-
As a general and almost inviolable rule, the wastebasket is the safe and suitable receptacle for all anonymous communications. There are, however, exceptions that prove every rule, and I, therefore, beg that you put the public, through your in columns, in possession of the following interesting communication:-
“Reverend Andrew Douglas’, Abbey Manse, Arbroath.
Reverend Sir, – Your life is yet at stake. Although I was not successful in striking my mark on Monday night, I will yet have your life before the year is gone. You have done a grievous injury; it’s now my turn. Beware, I say again; be on your guard. – I remain. Your Assassin.”
HE IS IN THEIR MIDST
I have asked the publicity of your paper for several reasons.
Since the Arbroath police are relying solely on their own energies and abilities (whatever these may be) and have refused to employ the services of a skilled and trained detective officer in unearthing this criminal, I wish to inform the Arbroath public that he is still living in their midst.
But further, having no intention of alluding to this almost unparalleled atrocity from the pulpit, some of my words may catch the eye of the unfortunate and misguided man in your pages.
As an immortal spirit for whom Jesus Christ lived and died, he demands all charitable consideration. Let me tell my would-be nemesis that I fully believe him to be insane and labouring under a delusion. I can say with more veracity than most men that I never throughout my career wrought or thought injury to any man.
Some fancied wrong must have resulted in ‘a mind diseased,’ and rather than believe that any citizen of Arbroath – evidently respectable and educated – can thus combine the murderer and the liar in one person, insanity of an acute kind is the preferable alternative.
CONSULT HIS DOCTOR
Let me earnestly exhort him to consult his medical adviser, take a dose of purgative medicine, and then go to bed for a week.
Why, again, should he not call here or send me his address, so that his fancied wrongs may be considered, and that he should not earn universal scorn and reprobation by attacking a defenceless man and risking the life of an inoffensive woman.
Conveying my best thanks to yourself and the public for their sympathy with me and mine, I beg to assure them of my abiding confidence in the future as in the past in a divine and protecting power.
Abbey Manse, Arbroath. Sept. 14.”
The communication from Mr. Douglas’s assailant, which has been handed to the police, bears the Arbroath postmark and is besmeared with blood. Another anonymous letter has been received by the reverend gentleman bearing on the outrage, but no importance has been attached to it.”
ANOTHER LETTER IS RECEIVED
The Fife News reported on the sending of another letter in its edition of Saturday, 29th September, 1888:-
“The Rev. Andrew Douglas on Thursday morning received another threatening letter, apparently the handiwork of the same person who sent him the former communications signed “Your Assassin.”
The letter bears the Anstruther post-mark, and has certain characteristics which ought to assist the police in making a speedy apprehension.
The contents of the letter are not such as can be published, but they tend strongly to bear out Mr Douglas’s first impression that his would-be assassin is a man suffering from homicidal mania.
The miscreant intimates in this letter his intention to take the life of another citizen of Arbroath, who is noted for his inoffensive disposition. It is supposed that these letters are either written by some maniac or are the cruel joke of somebody desirous of making a sensation.”
NOBODY CHARGED WITH THE CRIME
In early October, 1888, the Reverend Douglas offered a reward of £20 for any information that might lead to the apprehension of the perpetrator of the outrage, and, although the promise of financial gain appears to have prompted many people to “remember” having seen or heard “something” on the night of the crime, no useful information was forthcoming.
Indeed, as far as I can find, nobody was ever charged with the crime, or with the sending of the letters, and, as the infamous “Dear Boss” Jack the Ripper letter captured the public imagination, the case of Mr and Mrs Douglas and the threats from their “assassin” were sidelined by the eruption of reporting on the events in Whitechapel.