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In Defence of the Police

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In Defence of the Police

Post by Karen on Fri 3 Jun 2011 - 17:46


If we may judge by the cartoon in Punch, the subject that engaged the public attention most when the mail that arrived yesterday left home, was the Whitechapel murders, and the failure of the police to discover the criminal. Of course with the town in such a state of excitement as it was, an excitement that must have been enormously increased by the later murders of which we have had news by wire, much injustice has been done to the police, and it is well to read what the Spectator has to say on their side: -

The solitariness of the criminal once established, and the man having got away long enough to wash himself, the difficulties of the police became almost insuperable. A man in the East End of London is a grain of sand; as invisible, and almost as much beyond identification amidst the mass. There are tens of thousands of men nearly alike, dressed substantially in the same way, living the same life, and usually so little offensive that the eye and the memory lose the habit of noticing or recording their appearance. Ask any servant or clerk to describe the caller who has not left a name, enquire as to dress, age or even colour, and you will find how little impression any personality whatever makes in this endless jungle of mankind. It is true the police constantly catch criminals; but it is either because they have "information" - that is, somebody has betrayed the man wanted - or they discover some material substance connecting the criminal and the crime - a wad, made of newspaper, as happened recently - or the existence of a motive, revenge, anger, jealousy, or cupidity, limits the range within which enquiry can be fruitful. In the Whitechapel case, the criminal can, by the first laws of English nature, have no confidant; there is no material clue, except two undiscovered brass rings taken from a wretched woman's dead fingers; and the motive was blood-thirst, - that is, the crime itself was its own impelling cause. The police have nothing to go upon, and are reduced to an endless enquiry in innumerable lodging-houses whether a man who may have been a solitary, may have put on an overcoat, and may have cleaned his hands in earth, had come into any of them at 6 o'clock in the morning with blood upon his fingers and clothes. It is the last thing he would do at that hour of the day; supposing him sane enough to feel fear; but what are the police to ask about, except, indeed, whether anybody anywhere saw before, say, 7 o'clock, a man of whom they can give no certain description whatever, except that he must have blood on him, and that somewhere about him he carried a formidable knife.
The idea that the murders were committed by someone inspired by a mere lust of bloodshed is contradicted by the evidence of one of the doctors, who alleged that there appeared to be a scientific motive for the accompanying mutilation, while the Pall Mall, in a ghastly leader, asks if they may not have been carried out by a Scientific Humanitarian, anxious to make people ask themselves, in the words of the Times, "how far our social organisation is responsible for the soil and atmosphere in which such crimes are produced." The St. James's deprecates making too much of the murders; and adds, in reference to the strictures on the police; "It is fair to remember that the murders themselves are of a character which makes it peculiarly difficult to trace the perpetrators, and that certain sensational organs of the press have done their utmost from the outset of the case to render the work of detection as hard as possible."

Source: The North China Herald and S.C. and C. Gazette, November 2, 1888, pp. 492-493

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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