The Hunt For The Ripper

With the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, in the early hours of the 30th of September, 1888, the newspapers and the public alike went into an absolute frenzy of speculation and criticisms over the Whitechapel atrocities and the lack of success in tracing their perpetrator or perpetrators.

All manner of theories were circulating about what should be done to bring the murderer to justice.

One solution, which had been doing the rounds since the murder of Martha Tabram, in early August, 1888, was that a reward should be offered for any information that might lead to the identification and capture of the perpetrator of the crimes.

The Home Secretary, Sir Henry Matthews, had point blank refused to sanction a reward, and this had led to an awful lot of criticism by the newspapers and the local citizen groups.

A portrait of Sir Henry Matthews.
Sir Henry Matthews. The Home Secretary.


However, the murder of Catherine Eddowes had taken place in the City of London, and thus a second police force, the City of London Police, were responsible for the investigation of her murder.

Almost immediately, the City of London authorities did sanction the offer of a reward – although, ultimately, this offer would prove fruitless.

In the meantime, amateur detectives had flocked to the East End of London in the hope of enjoying their moments in the spotlight for succeeding where the police had failed, and bring “Jack the Ripper” to justice. Their presence, however, hindered rather than helped the local police, since these amateurs were ready and willing to pounce on anybody whom they considered out of place or out of the ordinary, a description that could be applied to a large percentage of the amateur detectives!

Then, there came the suggestion that bloodhounds might be able to track the murderer, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren, had conducted trials in a London park to test the efficiency of canine detectives.

The two bloodhounds are released.
The Bloodhounds Are Released. From The Illustrated London News, 20th October 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


So, by early October, 1888, the East End of London and the City of London were witnessing a flurry of activity in all quarters, all of it aimed at one goal, bringing the Whitechapel murderer to justice.

The Dundee Evening Telegraph published a summary of all this activity in its edition of Wednesday, 3rd October, 1888:-


“Excitement regarding the Whitechapel murders continues throughout London generally, and especially in the neighbourhood more immediately affected.

Unhappily the mystery which enshrouds the personality and motives of the perpetrator or perpetrators of the crimes is as dense ever.

The fact superimposes upon the excitement a strong feeling of irritation and distrust as to the capacity of the police for the task with which they have to deal.

Both in the press and at local meetings this impatience finds expression in censure, suggestion, and offers of assistance in various shapes.

If they do nothing else, the money and services placed at the disposal of the authorities testify to the depth and genuineness of the indignation and horror which the butcheries have aroused in all classes.


A few readers of a City newspaper subscribed a sum £300, which they forwarded through the editor to the Home Secretary, with a request that it might be offered as a reward for such information as would lead to the apprehension of the murderer. It need scarcely be said that the request could not be complied with.

Individuals have shown their anxiety for the satisfaction of justice in the same way.

“A Magistrate of Middlesex,” suggesting a reward of £1000, offers £30 as his contribution to a fund for the detection of heinous crime in general and of the recent murders in particular.

The Colone of the Tower Hamlets Royal Engineers, besides offering a contribution of £100 for self and officers, is ready to place at the disposal of the authorities members the corps who are ready to be employed in any way deemed advisable.

These offers, if they do nothing more, vouch for the public spirit and healthy moral sense of those who make them.


Whether a money reward ought or ought not to be offered is, so far as concerns the occasion, a moot point, which the City police authorities have decided one way and the Metropolitan authorities another.

The latter after due consideration and much experience have concluded that, as a mode crime detection, the reward system is accompanied by pernicious results, and they decline to make an exception of the present case.

The City Commissioner of Police, Colonel Fraser has, on the other hand, issued a proclamation offering £300 for information from any person, not a member of any police force in the United Kingdom, who gives information that will lead to the detection of the Mitre Square assassin.

The result will be awaited with deep interest.


If the intelligence of volunteer and amateur detectives equalled their zeal, it is clear that the criminal would have a bad time of it.

As it is, many innocent persons are being put to no little inconvenience.

Numerous arrests have already been made, but the speedy liberation of the suspects shows how inadequate the grounds have been on which they were arrested.


Among the suggestions pressed upon the police through the press is the employment of bloodhounds, and the success with which, twelve years ago, the Blackburn murderer was traced by this means is a strong argument in favour of the proposal.

Unfortunately, any result that can be anticipated from this source must have reference to the future rather than the past.

There is a general admission that, with the lapse of time and the obliteration of the sanguinary evidences of the crime, little could now be for hoped from canine instinct.

It indicates the intensity of the alarm prevailing when it is seriously proposed that a couple of hounds shall be in readiness for being used at the police station nearest the district chosen by the callous monster for his operations.

There is a settled belief that the whole of the recent crimes are the work of a single person.


All sorts of guesses are hazarded to the stamp of individual who might by possibility harbour an ambition so diabolical and attended with such terrible personal risk.

One correspondent draws attention to a series of murders similar in character perpetrated some months ago in America, and asks whether the Texan homicide has not shifted his field.

Others, among whom is Sir James R. Bennett, suggest religious enthusiasm amounting to insanity as the motive.

Revenge, a sheer brutal thirst for blood, and pecuniary gain have each their adherents.


What these different theories suggest most vividly is the difficulties that they impose upon the police in trying to unearth the criminal.

They imply the possibility a homicide occupying a position society as far as possible removed from that in which he seeks his victims.

The search, difficult enough when confined to one quarter of London and one class, becomes hopelessly toilsome and intricate when the range extended from Kensington the Isle of Dogs, and excludes no rank or pursuit in life.”