In the October and November of 1888, as the Whitechapel murders gained momentum, and increased in ferocity, newspapers began commenting on whether anything like this murder spree had ever been seen in London before.
To that end, several papers began drawing comparisons between the East End atrocities and a series of crimes that had taken place around the West End of London in the late 1780’s, and which had been carried out by a perpetrator who had been dubbed, “The Monster.”
As the ripper murders intensified, several newspapers began reminding their readers about this previous reign of terror.
A STARTLING CHAPTER FROM LONG-FORGOTTEN HISTORY
One newspaper that provided its readers with a lurid account of the fear and trepidation that this previous maniac had instilled in the citizens of London a century before was The South Wales Echo, in which, under the above headline, the following article appeared on the 4th of October 1888:-
“To find a parallel for the state of fear into which the population of London is thrown by the Whitechapel murders, we have to go back exactly 100 years.
In the year 1788 commenced a series of atrocious outrages upon women in different parts of London.
So frequent were they that women were afraid to go about unattended.
It was in daylight that many of the outrages were committed.
The manner of them consisted in stabbing women with a long, sharp-pointed knife in the lower part of the body, cutting through the clothes and attempting to rip up the abdomen.
This was done by a miscreant as he passed women in the open thoroughfares, and the frequency with which he accomplished his purpose and the ease with which he made his escape created quite a panic.
Many women were frightfully injured by him, and the fiendish character of the outrages earned for the mysterious person who committed them the sobriquet of “the Monster.”
His name was in every mouth.
For close upon two years he kept London in a condition of terror…”
FROM THE ST JAMES’S GAZETTE
A more detailed account of “The Monster’s” antics had already appeared in the St James’s Gazette on the 3rd of October 1888.
Attributed to, “A Correspondent,” the article read:-
“The recent series of enormities which have excited such horror must in all probability be due to some distorted or monomaniacal appetite which has grown by what it fed on.
That this theory is a probable explanation of these hideous incidents is supported by the fact that there are recorded instances of cases nearly analogous.
PANIC ALL OVER LONDON
Just ninety-eight years ago there was a general panic all over London, caused by the atrocious doings of a mysterious person, who came to be generally known as, “the monster.”
This wretch pursued his work in the open streets, and seemed to defy detection.
Women were always his victims.
A lady would be walking, unattended, when she suddenly felt herself stabbed from behind.
Often, if her dress happened to be thick, the stroke missed, though the depth of the cut showed how sharp was the instrument and how narrow the escape.
More often, however, there was a serious stab or cut.
HE INSPIRED TERROR
The terror thus inspired could not be conceived; and nothing was talked of but “the monster.”
A Miss Anne Porter and her sisters had often encountered a man in the streets who used to come up and, “leaning his head to their shoulder,” utter some horrible words and then disappear.
He was known to these ladies as “the wretch,” and inspired them with a great deal of alarm.
AN ATTACK ON ANNE PORTER
One night when Miss Anne Porter was coming from a ball at St. James’s, walking home to her father’s, the mysterious being stole up behind her as she was entering the house and struck her a blow on the hip; after which outrage he came up and stared into her face.
It proved that she was terribly wounded, the cut being four or five inches deep.
Yet, strange to say, though his face was familiar to the sisters, no traces of him could be discovered.
THE MONSTER HUNTED DOWN
Six months passed away; and a Mr. Coleman chanced to be walking in St. James’s Park, when Miss Porter called out that there was the man.
Mr. Coleman followed him promptly and hunted him down.
THE ARREST OF RENWICK WILLIAMS
He was arrested, and proved to be a respectable tradesman named Renwick Williams.
It was found at the trial that he was “the monster” from whom numbers had suffered in this extraordinary fashion.
The shops were filled with portraits of “the Monster”, and the newspapers with extraordinary stories.
THE HIGHEST CHARACTER
Seventeen witnesses at the Dial gave him the highest character for humanity, good-nature, and “kindness to the fair sex.”
He was found guilty; but a point of law being “saved” and determined in his favour, he appears to have got off.
SIMILAR TO THE WHITECHAPEL ASSASIN
It will be noted what a similarity there is in this case and that of the Whitechapel assassin.
The victims of “the monster” were women, and he seems by preference to have attempted something like the mutilations described in the newspapers.
The monster of our day is evidently a wretch with demoniac and homicidal propensities, which have been stimulated by notoriety and discussion; the other monster appears to have pursued his course for six months, and, like his successor, to have used a sharp knife several inches long.
Renwick Williams was undoubtedly a maniac; but a maniac who in ordinary life was mild, bland, and to all appearance quite inoffensive.”
You can read the full transcript of Renwick Williams’s Old Bailey Trial here.