Yesterday In The East End

On the morning of the 10th of November, 1888, the people of England were rapidly becoming aware that, on the previous day, another murder had taken place in the East End of London.

This time the crime had actually taken place indoors, and the victim was a 25 year old lady by the name of Mary Jane Kelly who, although younger than the previous victims, was, so the newspapers were informing their readers, “of the same class.”

As with the previous murders, the newspapers were questioning whether the Metropolitan Police force, under the rule of its Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren, was up to the job of hunting down and bringing to justice a killer who, so it seemed, was outwitting and outmanoeuvring them at every twist and turn in their investigation.

The Bristol Mercury featured the following article in its edition of Saturday 10th of November, 1888.

The article is interesting in that it appears that the author had not yet heard of Sir Charles Warren’s resignation.

It is also of interest in that it makes mention of a description of a suspect who had been seen in the vicinity of the crime who was carrying a “black bag.”

Thus it is evident that, in the public consciousness at least, “Jack the Ripper” had acquired one of the most iconic items of his apparel by the second week of November, 1888.

However, the article is also of interest because it really does capture the mood of hopelessness and helplessness that was, evidently, gripping the public mood in the wake of yet another Whitechapel Murder.

A sketch of Mary Kelly.
Mary Kelly. From The Illustrated Police News, 17th November 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Here is the article in full:-

“Yesterday the East End of London was thrown back into that state of excitement which is becoming habitual to it by the news that a fresh “Whitechapel” had been committed close to the scenes of the recent murders.

It was only what every one had been looking for, because it is impossible, so long as the murderer is at large, to hope for a cessation of the horrible tragedies which have convulsed the metropolis for four months.


But the elaborate detective preparations, and the response to the clamour for a thorough system of police supervision, had succeeded in allaying to some extent the public apprehension, especially as week after week continued to elapse without catastrophe.

It is evident that the murderer has for the interval been terrified into inactivity.


Since the public in the Whitechapel district have been thoroughly roused to a sense of the insecurity of life and property under the rule of Sir Charles Warren and Mr Matthews, and have taken the work of street patrolling into their own hands, it would have been practically impossible for the most astute murderer to carry out his crimes uninterrupted.

The Whitechapel fiend, whatever may be said of the motives of his actions, is at all events a man who values his own person.

He has remained in hiding during the six weeks that have elapsed since the Berner street and Mitre Square atrocities, till the white heat of public vigilance and indignation should have cooled down.

A group of three man watch a Jack the Ripper suspect.
A Suspect Is Watched. From The Illustrated London News, 13th October 1888.


Now that the less enthusiastic of the amateur detective forces which last month thronged the Whitechapel streets at night, mistaking one another for the hunted criminal in their zeal, have wearied of their self-appointed task, he has ventured forth again to add fresh fuel to the panic by the perpetration of the Miller’s Court murder.

There is no doubt that the hand is the same.


It goes without saying that the criminal escaped: it seems as if he would go on escaping to all time, though he chose to perpetrate a daily series of butcheries under the nose of the Home Office and Scotland Yard authorities.

But the tokens of his presence are too well known now to be easily mistaken.

A sketch showing the exterior of the room in which Mary Kelly was murdered.
Mary Kelly’s Room. From Lloyd’s Weekly News, 11th November 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The unknown murderer may be read in his choice of a victim – for though Mary Jane Kelly differed in some respects from the women who were previously murdered, she was of the same social class – in the workmanlike system of mutilation, and in the unearthly secrecy which enshrouds his movements.


It is difficult to know what stress to lay upon the statement of a woman of the neighbourhood that she saw a man with a black moustache, and carrying a black bag, near the spot where the crime was committed.

There is a danger at the present moment that persons will hesitate to be seen carrying black bags, lest they should be taken for the Whitechapel murderer; and probably the story is worth no more as a clue to the mystery than the loathsome obscenities of “Jack the Ripper.”


The police have let another chance slip, and not even the fact that an imposing array of officials was upon the spot immediately after the body was discovered, is of much avail towards hunting down the culprit.

The old well worn methods of official investigation have again and again proved their futility in dealing with these cases, and there is absolutely no hope that success will be any greater in this instance.


Some explanation is required as to why, after the fuss that has been made, bloodhounds were not used on this occasion.

There could have been no better opportunity, and it seems a pity that bloodhounds should be retained at the police stations for no explainable purpose whatever, unless to illustrate the unparalleled vacillation and ineptitude with which our police force is administered.”

The bloodhounds used in the trials.
The Bloodhounds. From The Illustrated London News, 20th October 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


What is interesting about this particular Whitechapel murder is that, as the article mentions, the panic and unrest that had been so evident in the wake of the previous murders was noticeably absent from the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields.

It is almost as if the people of the area had become inured to the sheer and pointless violence that Jack the Ripper was demonstrating in their midst.