The Police Still Baffled

Following the murder of Alice McKenzie, which took place on the 17th of July, 1889, the newspapers began, once again, to focus their attention on the districts of Spitalfields and Whitechapel, and upon the class of women that the victims of the Whitechapel murderer were evidently drawn from.

An article, that appeared in The Northern Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, 6th August, 1889, highlighted the problems that were confronting the police officers who were trying to catch Jack the Ripper, and also made mention of how some of the efforts of various members of the public to assist the police in their endeavours were hampering, rather than helping, the investigation.

Interestingly, the article also mentioned the fact that many of the police were so determined to track down the perpetrator of the crimes that they were even devoting their rest time to hunting their quarry.

The article also provided an intriguing insight into the attitude of the prostitutes of the district to the threat posed to them by Jack the Ripper.

The article read:-


Though nearly three weeks have elapsed since the murder of Alice Mackenzie in Castle-alley, the police are evidently and admittedly as far off from obtaining a clue to the murderer as when the George-yard and Buck’s-row outrages, following close upon the heels of each other, first warned London of the existence of a murder fiend in its midst.

For this result the police are not altogether to be blamed; on the contrary, so great is the anxiety evinced in the force concentrated in and around Whitechapel to lay the murderer by the heels, that many constables have lately been utilising the time ordinarily devoted to rest to patrolling the streets in their private capacity.

And if to this be added the fact that, at the present time, the comparatively limited area in which all the murders have occurred is literally swarming with police, that nearly every lodging-house of doubtful character has its detective in almost constant residence, and that every piece of information tendered, however absurd and improbable on the face of it, is being sifted and followed up in the most painstaking manner by the authorities at Leman-street and Scotland Yard, there is but one conclusion to be arrived at – that everything is being done by the police in the matter that is at all possible.


The letters, which continue to reach Superintendent Arnold at the Leman Street Police Station, are both numerous and curious, and partake chiefly of the character rendered familiar to the readers of the newspapers during the time when the murder scare was at its height in the autumn of last year.

There are, for instance, no end to the letters from spiritualists and thought-readers, who profess in some cases to have seen the spirits of one or other of the murdered women, with whom they have entered into conversation as to the appearance of their murderer.

The striking disparities evident, however, in these descriptions are sufficient on the face of them to condemn the letters and their writers as being absolutely useless for all practical purposes.

Then there are the people who are morally certain that they know the author of these crimes; and though the police have taken the trouble to make inquiries, and even to shadow some of the persons indicated, the result has always been that explanations have been asked for and given calculated to clear them from all suspicion.

A portrait of Thomas Arnold.
Superintendent Thomas Arnold.


As was to be expected, too, there are a number of individuals whose chief mission seems to have been to attempt to attain cheap notoriety by addressing letters with a “Jack the Ripper” signature to the police station, breathing threatenings and warnings.

For a time, the majority of these communications found their way to the wastepaper basket of the inspector’s office, without any further consideration being bestowed upon them; but the nuisance became at last so unbearable that pains were taken to discover some of the writers, who have been permanently cured of their literary inclinations by a visit from a uniformed police officer and a threat of police-court proceedings.


Next to the mysteriousness attached to the crimes, perhaps the most striking feature is the utter callousness of that class of women from whom the victims are selected.

They are to be found in hundreds in the lodging-houses in Spitalfields; but beyond the fact that “Jack the Ripper” has been included in their vocabulary as a kind of bye-word applicable to a suspicious character, they are, apparently, as little interested in that recent murder, and are as careless of their personal safety, as any of the dwellers in the West End.

Notwithstanding the fact that the police have repeatedly warned them against walking the streets singly, they may be found on any night standing or loitering at the street corners of Whitechapel and Spitalfields away from all company.

And, it is in this very fact that the murderer – whoever he may be – knows that he has an advantage over the police.


It has been asserted that the murderer knows every nook and cranny of Whitechapel, and that, therefore, he must be a resident in that district.

The police are not altogether inclined to believe this theory, because, as they point out, it is the business of these female outcasts to know every dark court and alley.

Practically, these very women invite and give every facility to the murderer, and therein lies his advantage.

Moreover, women of this stamp have – the majority of them – a kind of blind and unreasonable belief in fate. What their end may be seems a matter of the most supreme indifference to them.


Whether they die a natural or a violent death is, in their opinion, all a matter of luck, and in this connection is explained a fact which seems to have considerably puzzled the police lately.

It may be recollected that beside the mutilated bodies of two of the victims at least was found a farthing.

If the pockets of the women of this class were examined, it would probably be found that a very large majority of them contained a similar coin, some defaced by a hole bored through the centre.

This coin, in the opinion of these women, brings them luck, and, just as a cabman on the receipt of his fare will expectorate upon it, so these outcasts, on issuing from their lodgings for their nightly prowling of the streets, may be seen to take out their coins and spit upon them “for luck” as they say.”