By mid-September 1888, the East End of London was on edge, ever fearful that the killer who had committed the recent murders of Martha Tabram, Mary Nichols and Annie Chapman was bound to return and perpetrate another Whitechapel atrocity.
The police were pulling in suspect after suspect, desperate for the elusive find that would give them the breakthrough they so strongly needed. Unfortunately, time after time, promising suspect after promising suspect was able to provide a cast iron alibi and had to be eliminated from the investigation.
With the killer still at large, many newspapers began questioning whether the police were really up to the job of catching the perpetrator of the crimes, whilst some began subjecting the police to an intense barrage of ridicule and criticism.
And then, in the early hours 18th September 1888, it seemed that the breakthrough had finally come.
As PC John Johnson, of the City of London Police, was walking his beat along Minories in the early hours of that morning, a loud scream of “Murder!” suddenly shattered the silence.
The cry had emanated from a notorious trouble spot named Three King’s Court, which was located close to the railway bridge that still spans the road at the Tower of London end of Minories today.
Hurrying in the direction of the scream, Johnson found a man and woman standing close to one of the railway arches. Johnson demanded to know what the man was doing. “Nothing,” came the surly reply.
The woman, who was evidently distressed, begged him “oh policeman do take me out of this,” whereupon Johnson escorted them out of the alley onto Minories and ordered the man to be on his way.
Once the stranger had gone, Johnson turned to the woman to see what other assistance he could render. “Dear me,” she said, “he frightened me very much when he pulled that big knife out.”
We can only imagine Johnson’s shock on hearing that he may well have had the Whitechapel Murderer in his clutches and had let him, quite literally, slip through his fingers!
“Why didn’t you tell me that at the time,” he demanded of the woman. “I was too much frightened,” she replied, coyly.
Johnson carried out a quick search of the area in the direction the man had gone, but to no avail. No doubt it was a very nervous Johnson who walked the remainder of his beat, trying to figure out how he was going to explain what had happened to his superior officers.
However, the crestfallen constable needn’t have worried. For the man had, in fact, made his way over to Whitechapel High Street, where he became involved in a heated altercation with a coffee stall holder and a youth by the name of Alexander Finlay.
Having threatened the stall holder, he pulled out the knife and proceeded to chase Finlay around the stall brandishing it.
A police constable duly arrived at the scene and the man was quickly overpowered and taken into police custody where he was soon identified as a German hairdresser by the name of Charles Ludwig.
It would appear that the police saw Ludwig as a very viable suspect in the recent Whitechapel Murders and, at his subsequent appearance before the local Court, the Magistrate described him as a dangerous character and duly remanded him in custody to give the police the opportunity of carrying out further enquiries.
The investigation into his possible guilt was still ongoing when he next appeared before the magistrate on 25th September 1888, and Inspector Abberline asked that he be remanded again, a wish that the magistrate willingly obliged.
However, five days later, the case against Ludwig would fall apart when, with the German hairdresser, safely under lock and key, the Whitechapel Murderer struck again and claimed two victims in the space of one hour.
For the people of the East End, their autumn of terror was about to get even more horrific.