It is the evening of 7th September 1888. People are gripped by unease at the knowledge that a savage, silent killer is walking amongst them. The newspaper have discovered that police enquiries have unearthed a major suspect whom the local prostitutes have nicknamed Leather Apron.
Newspapers are receiving letters from disgruntled residents complaining that police protection is “shamefully inadequate” or that the police are “conspicuous by their absence.”
Some local residents have banded together and formed the St Jude’s Vigilance Committee with the intention of making up for the police shortcomings in the area where the murders are occurring. Amateur sleuths are arriving in the area determined to hunt down the perpetrator of the crimes.
But these amateur patrols are hindering rather than aiding the police who are finding increasingly difficult to distinguish between the indigenous cranks and crackpots and the newcomers. At the same time the amateur detectives are bombarding the police with so many false leads and bogus suspects.
One newspaper has even observed that the “amateur detectives who nightly patrol Whitechapel are of great help – to the murderer in evading detection” and goes on to raise a chilling idea. “If the murderer be possessed…with the cunning of lunacy…[it] is probable that he was one of the first to enrol himself amongst the amateur detectives.”
As the evening of the 7th September draws to a close a journalist on the East London Advertiser begins penning his copy for the next morning’s edition. He observes that the recent “successful murders” will have had the effect of “whetting [the murderers] appetite” and warns that “unless a watch of the strictest order be kept, the murder of Thursday [Mary Nichols] will certainly be followed by a fourth.”
What the journalist didn’t know was that, as he was finishing his piece, over in Dorset Street, a lady named Annie Chapman was about to be evicted from a Common Lodging House because she, like Mary Nichols before her, didn’t have the fourpence to pay for a bed.
At the same time, somewhere in the East End of London, the killer was leaving his lair, and the events were in motion that would cause the trepidation and unease, that had been bubbling away in the East End of London for the past week or so, to boil over into outright panic and terror. The autumn of terror is about to begin.