The East London Horrors

During the first week of October, 1888, all sorts of theories and discussions were taking place in the daily newspapers concerning the East End murders that were being carried out by the killer who was by then becoming universally known as Jack the Ripper.

Many of the papers were struggling to comprehend what possible motive could have driven somebody to carry out a series of such depraved, horrible and brutal murders.

Others were questioning the efficiency of the Metropolitan Police and the ability of the force’s Chief Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren.

There was much puzzlement as to why no official reward had been offered for information that might lead to the apprehension of the Whitechapel murderer.

Inevitably, some newspapers were having a field day with the details of the horrific mutilations endured by the victims that their reporting on the inquests into their deaths was enabling them to report in great and salacious detail.

Other newspapers were adopting a more balanced and less sensationalist approach.


On Friday the 5th of October, 1888, The Kentish Mercury published the following insightful report on the crimes:-

“The excitement that prevails in London with respect to the murders which have been perpetrated there with such unparalleled brutality, continues unabated, and the mystery that still shrouds the horrid deeds remains impenetrable.

There is no value in dwelling on the revolting features of the case – it is the one topic that absorbs, to the almost complete exclusion of every other, the attention of the public.

The newspapers are crowded with details, and when the supply of facts fails, the lack is made up with surmises and rumours, for the insatiable demand for something to satisfy the feverish anxiety of the people must be furnished.

More practical and more important it is to consider what it is possible to do to put an end to this condition of alarm, and to secure the capture of the murderer or the murderers.”


The article then went on to ponder, as, indeed, many journalists were wondering, what would have happened if Jack the Ripper was killing the daughters of the wealthier west-enders as opposed to the penniless street-walkers of the East End?

“But before this, it may be well to consider for a moment with such light as we have, the probable nature and origin of the crime.

On this subject, it is true, we have nothing certain or final to guide us, as every hypothesis that has been suggested is found beset with difficulties, but there are some features, of what we may call a negative kind, which show what the motive of the murderer or the object of the murders could not be.

One thing, for example, is quite certain, these atrocities have no political significance. They are not the evidence of any war of class against class.

If, instead of outcast women of East London, daughters of West end aristocrats had been thus butchered, it would have been at once proclaimed that this was a new method which the discontented poor had adopted to avenge themselves for the wrongs they thought they suffered from the rich.

But, in this instance, no such motive can be assigned.

Nor is it possible to attribute the deed to any hope of gain.”


Next the article examined the theory that had been put forward by Coroner Baxter, at the inquest into the death of Annie Chapman, that the murders were being committed by somebody who wanted to acquire sections of the human body for the purposes of medical experimentation:-

“The poor victims were of a class utterly penniless, and the suggestion put forward by the coroner, Mr. WYNNE BAXTER, must be dismissed as quite untenable, as it has been shown, conclusively, that students have no difficulty in obtaining the organs alluded to, for scientific purposes, in any quantity that may be desired, and at very moderate cost.”


The article then went on to dismiss several other possibilities that were circulating about the killer’s motives:-

“It is still harder to think that any feeling of the nature of jealousy could have incited to the perpetration of the deed.

Nor is it possible to conceive that these attacks on the unhappy, degraded women who have been the victims of them, could be the outcome of an organised conspiracy.

For what purpose could such a conspiracy exist?

Men would not band themselves together in such an atrocious, and, at the same time, perilous enterprise, without some very powerful inducement, which, in this case, it is impossible to imagine.

None of the ordinary motives, then, that incite to deeds of violence and murder, it is safe to say, can have operated in the case of the East London horrors.”


The article then turned its attention to an idea that had been favoured by numerous newspapers throughout the coverage of the murders of Mary Nichols and Annie Chapman in early September, 1888:-

“One only reasonable hypothesis suggests itself, and that is by no means free from difficulties.

It is that it is the work of a homicidal maniac – probably a mono-maniac. His hatred and fury are all directed against the one class of street wanderers.

It may be the mania of some disordered fanatic, who takes this method of executing what he thinks is judgement on the wickedness of the streets; or it may be the terrible vengeance of a madman for some wrong, or for some fancied wrong, he has suffered from this class.

But, although this theory may seem encompassed with fewer difficulties than any other, it is only surmise after all.”


Having taken a close look at the possible motives that could have encouraged an individual to carry out such brutal and gruesome murders, the article then went on to examine the police investigation into the crimes, whilst proffering some advice on what the authorities could be doing in order to bring the perpetrator to justice.

The seventh woman mentioned in this section of the article, incidentally, is a reference to the torso that had been found in the foundations of New Scotland Yard which, at the time, was being built on the Embankment:-

“Up to this moment the whole fearful story is wrapped in mystery – a mystery which is but deepened, and rendered more bewildering, by the discovery, made on Tuesday, of the mutilated body of a seventh woman, which, however, does not indicate that, whatever might have been the object of the murder, it was perpetrated by the same hand as those at the East End.

What is to be done to trace these outrages to their source, and get hold of the perpetrator of them?

That is the question of real importance.


We cannot join in the violent abuse of the Police, which appears unreasonable and unjust; but, at the same time, it must be admitted that the machinery under the control of Sir CHARLES WARREN has proved unequal to the strain put upon it.

The responsibility, under these circumstances, rests with the HOME SECRETARY, and if the ordinary means at his disposal are not adequate to the emergency, then it becomes his duty to improvise new methods to meet the crisis.

It is not the province of inexperienced amateurs to offer advice to those who are officially responsible; but if they persist in confining their operations to modes which have hitherto proved totally inefficient, they must not be surprised if advice is thrust upon them by those who think that, in such a strait, resort ought to be had to any means that afforded the slightest chance of probable detection, and we believe that if the man in authority resolutely determines to maintain an attitude of inactively, trusting only to the ordinary and stereotyped methods of the Police force, then it becomes his duty to retire, and make room for some one who will, at least, make an effort out of the common course to allay the panic that prevails, and to secure the capture of the murderer.

A portrait of Sir Charles Warren.
Sir Charles Warren, The Metropolitan Police Commissioner. From The Illustrated London News, 1st May 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The pertinacious refusal of MR MATTHEWS to offer a reward for information that would lead to the detection and capture of the perpetrator of these murders, has created a very great degree of public dissatisfaction.

The LORD MAYOR, in the name of the Corporation of the City of London, has offered a reward of £500 for the purpose.

A large portion of the business community would gladly contribute to a fund to be placed at the disposal of the Government for the same purpose, but the HOME SECRETARY, following the traditions of Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT, declines to accept the money or to act in harmony with the commercial public of the Metropolis, who, in this matter, are in accord with the masses of the people.

This being so, it appears to us that the HOME SECRETARY should ask for the advice of the Cabinet in such an emergency, and not assume a monopoly of responsibility that may overwhelm him with personal odium and political destruction.

A portrait of Henry Matthews.
The Home Secretary, Henry Matthews. From The Illustrated London News, 14th August, 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


To our view, it would be a wise measure to offer a reward of such magnitude as would stimulate the whole population of Whitechapel to engage in a minute search for the murderer and turn them into amateur detectives.

If the Government would offer a reward of say £10,000, is it unreasonable to think it would have a magical effect in setting to work hundreds of the people, who have the best means of investigation, to discover clues to the guilty perpetrator, and to bring the truth to light?”