The Police in 1888

The police officers who struggled to catch Jack the Ripper have, over the years, come in for an awful lot of stick for their, apparent, inability to bring the murderer to justice.

There can be little doubt that they did make some major blunders in the way they handled the case.

Releasing the Dear Boss letter for example did little in helping identify the Whitechapel Murderer, nor, for that matter, the letter’s actual author.

The fact that the letter’s chilling signature, Jack the Ripper, helped ensure that this particular set of murders, together with the unknown miscreant responsible, would gain a gruesome immortality and become the stuff of legend.

But, from a practical point of view, it did nothing to advance the polices chances of bringing the killer to book.

Deciding, very early on in the case, not to involve the press in their investigation was also a mistake. Their reason for adopting an arms length approach to journalists was a fear that the newspapers might inadvertently publish information that would alert potential suspects that the police were on to them.

In some ways, that was a reasonable enought fear. But the press were determined to milk the story for all it was worth and so, starved of information, they began tailing detectives through the streets of the East End; attempted to bribe officers; interviewed locals and  witnesses to see if they knew anything; and, when all else failed, they could fall back on making up stories in order file their copy.

The effect of all this on the police investigation itself was to muddy the waters. The police were forced to follow up many duff leads, and the number of letters that flooded in in the wake of the release of the initial Jack the Ripper missive, came close to overwhelming the police investigation.

So, from a PR point of view, the police most certainly mishandled the investigation into the crimes.

But, then again, they had little experience of dealing with this type of serial killer and trying to solve the case in the spotlight of newspaper coverage and a huge amount of press criticism. 

They were. literally, inching their way through a type of investigation that they had never had to conduct before and doing so under the ever watchful gaze of journalists who had realised that these murders could sell papers and who were only too happy to bring  police failings to their readership.