The Detection Of Criminals

As the end of September, 1888, approached, the fact that the police had not caught the murderer who, within a few short weeks would become known as “Jack the Ripper”, led to a great deal of speculation in the newspapers about why it was that the police investigation had proved fruitless.

One reason being bandied around, not only in the newspapers but also amongst members of the local community, as to why the police had been unsuccessful in catching the killer was the refusal by the Home Office to sanction a reward for information that might lead to the apprehension of the perpetrator, or perpetrators, of the crimes.

The subject of rewards was discussed in an editorial that was published in The Western Daily Press, Bristol, on Monday September 24th, 1888.

The article read:-


“There are many reasons why, under ordinary circumstances, it is undesirable to offer rewards for the detection of criminals.

The Government considered the question some years ago, and after full deliberation decided that the offer of a reward for the detection of crime was harmful rather than beneficial.

Since that time no rewards have been offered, but it cannot be said that criminals are now more certainly traced than they were formerly.


The theory of those who oppose rewards is that the detection of crime is a function of the police, and that the offer of a reward has the effect of preventing the members of the force from exerting themselves until they see a prospect of pecuniary reward.

The contention is that no such stimulus should be necessary, and that its effect must be demoralising.


There is also a risk, the opponents of rewards say, of the fabrication of evidence. and of conspiracy against innocent persons with the object of obtaining the reward.

These objections deserve consideration, and it may also be conceded that private individuals who could help the police might be tempted to keep back information till they could turn it to pecuniary account.


But, when all this is admitted, can it be said that there is any great weight in the arguments against the old practice of offering a reward?

Where is there any evidence that the police have not acted promptly, apart from rewards, in cases of serious importance?

Can it be shown that innocent persons have been the victims of conspiracy organised with the object of obtaining a reward?

And if it were true that private individuals have refused to come forward with evidence in their possession until the inducement of a reward was offered, how can it be shown that these persons would ever have given information in the absence of such inducement?


On the whole, the reasons adduced against the offering of rewards are weak, and on the other hand something can be said in favour of rewards.

The recent murders in Whitechapel have led many to ask why a reward has not been offered.

The foreman of the jury that investigated the latest atrocity has expressed the opinion the if a reward had been offered in the previous cases the diabolical crime which is now bewildering the police would not have taken place.

There can be no doubt, indeed, that the popular view is that rewards are useful, not so much as a means of inducing policemen to do their duty as of obtaining information on which they can act.


There has been much complaining that the police have not succeeded in tracing the perpetrators of the murders in Whitechapel. But the police are not superhuman. They must have something to guide them. Their failure is not due to lack of exertion but to the absence of a clue.

These murders are altogether exceptional in their atrocity.

A motive for the crimes can hardly be assigned.

The unparalleled ferocity which marked the last murder has suggested that it was an act of insanity.

It is certain that the murderer must have been stained in the act of perpetrating his horrible crime. And it is difficult to conceive circumstances in which this could have been concealed from everybody.


After the crime was committed where did the murderer find the appliances to remove the evidence of his guilt? In a common lodging house or a house of ill-fame? In a tenemented house?

As all Whitechapel was on the alert as soon as the nature of the tragedy was revealed, it may be presumed that the inhabitants were watching their neighbours. Suspicion had aroused the whole community. There was a murderer at large who might be a common danger. This was sufficient to make every man and woman a helper of the police, unless in those cases in which there was reason for concealment.

If the criminal made his way to one of the abodes of criminals, or to one of the houses in which abandoned women find refuge, those who could supply information as to the condition in which he came among them immediately after the murder may have remained silent for obvious reasons. Their own discreditable life would be exposed by communicating with the police.

They may also have screened the murderer on the ground that is was not for one criminal to assist in the detection of another.


Among these classes the prospect of a reward would have been a potent influence. Their silence would in all probability have yielded to a reward of five hundred pounds. The omission to offer a substantial reward clearly cuts off the police from information that might be given by the hand-to-mouth living people who subsist by crime or immorality.

Under ordinary circumstances, it may be prudent not to be too ready in offering rewards for the detection of criminals. But the conditions in this case were altogether exceptional. Murder was following murder without any trace of the perpetrator, and the impunity with which the crimes were committed must be regarded as a dangerous encouragement to the lawless class.

For this reason all practical means of discovering the murderer should have been exhausted. The police would have been assisted by the offer of a reward inasmuch as the class most likely to have had opportunities of seeing the murderer immediately after the crime was committed would have been induced to give information.


The opposition to rewards may theoretically have much to commend it, but when we see the whole of our detective agency baffled, the public would overlook any disregard of mere sentiment if they could, without injury to the innocent, see this fearful crime traced home to its perpetrator.

To the people who reside in the district it seems that a large reward might have disclosed the criminal, and we can hardly wonder that they have come to the conclusion that it would have been better, in the general interests of the community, if such a reward had been offered.”