When it comes to the Jack the Ripper case, there are all manner of red herrings and false trails that can so easily trip up the unwary investigator.
One of the most debated over of these was a mystery message that was found chalked on the wall of a doorway in Goulston Street, just over an hour after the body of Catherine Eddowes had been found in Mitre Square.
WATCH OUR VIDEO ON THE “CLUE”
CATHERINE EDDOWES MISSING APRON
Following the murder of Catherine Eddowes – which took place in Mitre Square, in the City of London, in the early hours of Sunday, 30th September, 1888 – the police officers who were investigating the crime noticed that a portion of her apron was missing. They presumed that it had been taken away by her killer.
Just over an hour later, Police Constable Alfred Long was patrolling his beat along Goulston Street, located between five and ten minutes walk from Mitre Square, when, in a doorway of an apartment block known as Wentworth Model Dwellings, he found a piece of bloodstained apron.
LONG’S FIRST THOUGHTS
According to Long’s inquest testimony, at this point he was unaware that there had been a murder in Mitre Square, so his initial thought was that somebody may have been attacked in one of the flats or on one of the block’s landings, and they might, at that moment, be lying injured or dead within.
So he stood up intending to search the stairwell.
THE MYSTERIOUS MESSAGE
But, as he did so, he noticed a message that had been chalked over two rows of bricks, fairly low down on the inner door jamb.
The message read “The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.”
At that moment, another police officer passed by, and long called him over and told him to keep an eye on the doorway and the flats, and to observe anyone coming in or going out.
Long then took the apron to Commercial Street Police Station, where he handed it over to an inspector.
H DIVISION DETECTIVES ARRIVE
It wasn’t long before the detectives of the Metropolitan Police’s H division were gathering around the doorway, and they were looking at the chalked message with a great deal of trepidation.
The message was, as far as they could tell, implicating the local Jewish immigrants in the Whitechapel murders, and Wentworth Model Dwellings, was, more or less, exclusively lived in by Jewish residents.
Furthermore, the Sunday morning Petticoat Lane Market was due to take place in the surrounding streets from 6am on the Sunday morning, and that would bring thousands of gentile buyers into the area to purchase goods and articles from stalls that were largely operated by local Jewish tradesmen.
The police feared that, if the graffito was still on the wall when the market began, there might well be an uprising against the local Jews, and so the Metropolitan Police made the decision that the message should be erased forthwith, in order to prevent this from happening.
THE CITY OF LONDON POLICE GET INVOLVED
However, Catherine Eddowes murder had taken place in Mitre Square, which was located on the eastern fringe of the City of London, and so her murder was being investigating by a separate police force, the City of London Police.
Their detectives had soon arrived at the doorway, and they were of the opinion that the graffito constituted an important clue, and wanted to have it photographed before it was erased.
The Metropolitan Police argued that photographing it would mean that they would have to wait until it got light, by which time the market would have started and there would, therefore be a real danger of anti-Jewish unrest.
SIR CHARLES WARREN’S DECISION
The argument over what to do about the graffito was still going strong when, at a little after 5 a.m. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren, arrived at the scene.
Alarmed at the fact that the stallholders were then setting up for the market, he agreed with his detectives that the message might well instigate anti-Semitic unrest if it was left any longer.
So, he made the decision that it should be erased immediately, and before any photograph of the graffito could be taken.
NOT REALLY A CLUE
And so, a chalked message, that the City of London Police felt was a clue in their investigation into the Mitre Square murder was erased on the direct orders of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
It should be pointed out that the graffito wasn’t actually a clue. Indeed, many of the officers who saw it recalled that it looked faded as though it had been there for some time.
It is, therefore, probably a complete coincidence that the genuine clue, the apron, was dropped in the doorway where the graffito was already on the wall.
Or was it?