THE LEATHER APRON SCARE
In the early days of the hunt for Jack the Ripper, police enquiries amongst the prostitutes of Whitechapel had revealed that these women were, apparently, fearful of a man known as Leather Apron.
Unfortunately they could tell the police very little about him, other than that he habitually wore a leather apron – hence their nickname for him – that he sometimes wore a deerstalker hat, and that he was running an extortion racket, demanding money off the prostitutes, beating up those who refused. Sergeant William Thick, an officer who was greatly involved in the investigation into the Jack the Ripper murders, was adamant that whenever the people of the area spoke about “Leather Apron” they were referring to a man named John, or Jack, Pizer. So the police set about trying to find him, to either prove his guilt or else eliminate him as a suspect.
Unfortunately, within days, their investigation suffered an almighty set back when, either through the unguarded comments of police officers, or more probably from the local title- tattle that appears to have been doing the rounds of the lodging houses and hostelries of the district, the newspapers found out about their main suspect.
On 5th September The Star newspaper ran the first of several articles that alarmed local residents and frustrated the police, who had hoped to keep their suspicions a closely guarded secret lest they alert the suspect to the fact that they were looking for him.
LEATHER APRON THE ONLY NAME LINKED WITH THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS. THE STRANGE CHARACTER WHO PROWLS ABOUT AFTER MIDNIGHT. UNIVERSAL FEAR AMONG WOMEN – SLIPPERED FEET AND A SHARP LEATHER-KNIFE.
In two articles The Star provided its readers with a description of this sinister character.
“… He is five feet four or five inches in height and wears a dark close fitting cap. He is thickset, and has an unusually thick neck. His hair is black, and closely clipped, his age being about 38 or 40. He has a small black moustache. The distinguishing feature of his costume is a leather apron, which he always wears, and from which he gets his nickname.
His expression is sinister, and seems to be full of terror for the women who describe it. His eyes are small and glittering. His lips are usually parted in a grin which is not only not reassuring, but excessively repellant. He is a slipper maker by trade, but does not work. His business is blackmailing women late at night. A number of men in Whitechapel follow this interesting profession. He has never cut anybody so far as known, but always carries a leather knife, presumably as sharp as leather knives are wont to be. This knife a number of the women have seen. His name nobody knows, but all are united in the belief that he is a Jew or of Jewish parentage, his face being of a marked Hebrew type. But the most singular characteristic of the man, and one which tends to identify him closely with last Friday night’s work, is the universal statement that in moving about
HE NEVER MAKES ANY NOISE.
What he wears on his feet the women do not know, but they all agree that he moves noiselessly. His uncanny peculiarity to them is that they never see him or know of his presence until he is close by them. When two of the Philpott-street women directed the Star reporter to Commercial-street, opposite the Princess Alice Tavern, as the most likely place to find him, she added that it would be necessary to look into all the shadows, as if he was there he would surely be out of sight. This locality, it may be remarked, is but a few steps from the model dwellinghouse in George’s-Yard, where the murdered woman of four weeks ago was found.
Through The Star’s campaign to alert the populace to the noiseless menace in their midst, John Pizer learnt of the police’s suspicions through it, and the prospect of falling victim to a baying mob, now that he was public enemy number one, so terrified him that he promptly went into hiding amongst his relatives, and the police operation was hugely frustrated.
Pizer would remain in hiding until the 10th September on which day Sergeant William Thicke went round to number 22 Mulberry Street and arrested him. But under intense interrogation Pizer provided cast iron alibis for the nights of the two most recent murders and was quickly rules out as a suspect.