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A Criminologist's Opinion

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A Criminologist's Opinion

Post by Karen on Sat 25 Jun 2011 - 10:19


By EDWIN T. WOODHALL, late of the Special Branch at Scotland Yard.

During the last two generations there have been no series of crimes which have so disturbed the public conscience and so exercised the resources of the police as have the "Ripper" murders, as they were called, of 1888. In the eighties, criminal investigation was not by any means what it is now - a science, but great advances had been made upon previous methods. There were two very efficient police chiefs sitting at Scotland Yard and the Old Jewry respectively, in charge of the metropolitan and city police forces. Sir Charles Warren, then Commissioner, has stated upon more than one occasion, that there was something strange, weird, uncanny, almost superhuman about the "Ripper," and almost hints that he evaded arrest by means of some supernatural power. When one remembers that after the first two murders the whole of the two police forces, metropolitan and city were on the watch, when one reflects that he was seen by the side of his newly murdered victim upon more than one occasion and yet evaded arrest, there amost appears to be something in the Commissioner's hint. On the other hand, Colonel Sir Charles Smith, who was second in command of the city police in those days, pooh-poohs the idea. He speaks of the "luck of the Ripper," which stood him in such good stead all the time. And, more significantly still, he points to grave faults in the police conduct of the enquiry, his own police and those of the metropolitan headquarters.

The Story Retold.

Very briefly, I will outline the problem with which the police had to deal - and then I will state the new facts. On the night of the 31st of August, 1888, a woman of the unfortunate class was murdered and to some extent mutilated, her throat and face being cut. She was found in Buck's-row. There was not a trace to be found of her assailant. The records show that the whole resources of Scotland Yard were employed to try to trace the murderer, men were interviewed who had been seen in her company either on that night or formerly, but it was all useless, there was no clue. The coroner held his inquest and the woman was buried. The verdict at the inquest was of course, "Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown."
The public had hardly digested that gruesome piece of news when it was followed by something more terrible still. Nine days exactly after the first murder, Anne Chapman, also a woman of the streets, was found murdered in a backyard in Hanbury-street. Her throat was cut and she was terribly mutilated. The mutilations in her case were of far too terrible and loathsome an order for me to describe, but the important thing about it was that the mutilations were obviously the work of a trained surgeon. By now the public were thoroughly aroused, questions were asked in the Commons, and the police severely criticised. All sorts of precautions were taken. The murders were obviously the work of the same man, and both were committed in the area of Spitalfields and Whitechapel. The metropolitan forces were concentrated in that area and a rigorous search was made for any man who might have blood-stains on his clothes or any man in that area who might have had some training in anatomy. Every effort failed.
While the police were still straining every nerve the third murder occurred, and the fourth! It was on the night of Saturday, September 29, that Elizabeth Stride, another girl of the streets, was found with her throat cut in Berner-street. In this case there were no mutilations, the circumstances pointed to the murderer having been disturbed, but half-an-hour afterwards, while police chiefs were still running to the scene, came the report of still another murder in Mitre-court. It would almost appear as though the fiendish murderer, baulked of his lust for mutilation, in the case of Elizabeth Stride, remedied matters by taking the second victim on the same night.
In this case, as well as other mutilations, one kidney had been extracted deftly from the body. That kidney arrived at the offices of the "Central News" the day following, accompanied by a note of ribald jocularity quite unfit for publication.

A Fatal Blunder.

On this occasion, when the body of the unfortunate girl, Catherine Eddowes, was found, half her apron had been torn off. Later that night a constable found the half apron, upon which was written in a bold hand - "The Jews are the men that won't be blamed for nothing!" That apron was examined almost at once by Sir Charles Warren, the Commissioner, who was on the scene, and he made a fatal mistake, in my opinion. He ordered the chalk in which the letters were formed to be rubbed off instantly, fearing a rising against the Jews.
Sir Charles Smith, in charge of the city police, remonstrated at the time, but the Commissioner insisted, and had his way. I believe if that important clue had been kept the solution might have been possible. The terror might have stopped that night. Had Sir James Fraser, the senior commissioner of the city police, been on the spot, he would doubtless have been able by his authority to prevent the Metropolitan Commissioner from taking his high-handed and exceedingly stupid action. It must be remembered Mitre-court is in the city jurisdiction. This was indeed the only murder of the series committed within the city police's jurisdiction. But Sir James was in Scotland, and his assistant, Sir Charles Smith, was not strong enough to defy the Metropolitan Chief.

Another Error.

Sir Charles himself, in the opinion of many with inside knowledge, made a fatal error later. He got a note from a man who declared himself to be an ex-convict, telling him that he had most important information to give him re the murders. The conditions were to be that the Assistant Commissioner was to meet the convict, who said he had infringed his "ticket of leave," and was therefore liable to re-arrest, in a quiet West-end square. The Assistant Commissioner was to come alone and unaccompanied. After carefully thinking it over, Sir Charles went, and sure enough a man turned up and stood under a lamp-post. The man was short, not more than five feet two, dark, black bearded (the beard might have been false, of course), stout and of a most forbidding countenance, with a strange expression. Sir Charles walked up to him, then as neither spoke, he stepped back again across the road, keeping his face to the man all the time in case he attacked him. The description given of the "Ripper" by all who actually saw him, one a German, another a woman who saw him leaning over a victim, was about five feet in height, thick-set, swarthy, dark, "queer" looking. There is not the slightest doubt Sir Charles had the "Ripper" in his hands that night.
Following this the man wrote again, saying that now he knew that Sir Charles was a man of his word and had kept faith, he would attend at Old Jury and give him some information which would make his hair stand on end. But the man never came - the opportunity was lost.
And so the weary list could go on, finishing with Mary Jeanette Kelly, a pretty girl of the streets on November 9, a case in which the mutilations were of the most terrible character of all.
Now to generalise. All the murders bore the stamp of almost brilliant surgery. In two of the cases where terrible mutilations had occurred, the murderer had worked without gas or candles, just by the light of a low fire, and yet he had taken out organs and arranged a gruesome "display" on the table.

The Problem.

During this time the terror in the Whitechapel area knew no bounds! Can you imagine a "vigilance committee" in London? There was one in 1888. It met at Paul's Head Tavern, Crispin-street, Spitalfields. The society were banded together to enrol civilian help against the "terror." And then it stopped, as suddenly as it began.
Why? What is the answer to the problem? Sir Melville MacNaughton, my late reverred chief at Scotland Yard, gave it as his view that a certain incident which happened on the 10th November, 1888, might be the explanation. On that day a man, thick-set and swarthy, with medical training, obtained an interview with the Commissioner of Police and a certain Secretary of State. He knocked out the Commissioner of Police and nearly murdered the Secretary of State, then rushed out of the building into the purlieus of Whitechapel and committed suicide. The affair was hushed up because he was the son of a very exalted father!

The Answer

But is that the answer? I think not. It is a significant thing that from the time of the "Ripper" murders right down to the present there have been occasional outbreaks of murder in various parts of the world. In 1893 there was a series of revolting murders similar to the "Ripper" murders in Madrid. In every case when the murderer was seen, he was described as "stocky," about 5 ft. high. In 1914 - just before the war - there was another outbreak in Lisbon, which terrorised the whole country. In 1920 there was a series of murders of women in Athens, and again there was the same description - five feet two!
Now a few months ago, Pierre Rey, described as "Landru the Second," cheated the guillotine by carrying to its logical conclusion a "hunger strike" in the prison hospital at Marseilles.
Description of Rey, according to the French records: "Original nationality unknown, height 5ft. 3in., thick-set, piercing and hypnotic eyes, considerable knowledge of surgery, mutilations, and dissection of his victims well carried out; known to have travelled considerably. Arrived from Salonika in 1922."
Is this mere coincidence? Note the consistent witness of every person who got a glimpse of the "Ripper" about his size, "queerness," and thick-set proportions.
Rey accounted for 15 women in Marseilles before he was brought to justice. But this time the method of selection of his victims was greatly varied. In the days of the Whitechapel murders the women chosen were the women of the streets in every case and the murders were carried out immediately. This time his victims were engaged as servants and then murdered. A suggestion was put forward by the French police in the beginning that it was to obtain the savings of the women that he murdered them, but in the face of the revealed facts it was nothing of the kind. Many of them had no savings.

Crimes Now Impossible.

An interesting reflection is the question whether or not the "Ripper" could commit his crimes in England today and "get away with it" as he did 40 years ago.
The answer is an emphatic "No."
The scientist and the chemist and the psychologist are all to be found at Scotland Yard. There would have been in every case a search for remote clues, such as finger prints, type of knife and scalpel used, footmarks, even the very dust of his tread would have been examined. With quicker telephonic communication, the "Ripper" could not have got a dozen yards away from the scene of his crime without capture after the first two murders. If a last fact be required to reconcile the "Rey" of 1928 with the Ripper of 1888, it is in the fact that Rey was 63-66 years old according to the French authorities, the "Ripper" of 1888 as young - probably 23! I cannot resist the series of coincidences. In my mind the Berlin maniac of 1895, the Madrid murderer of 1905, the Lisbon "Terror" of 1914, the Greek "Fury" of 1920, the "Marseilles Landru" of 1928, and "Jack the Ripper" are one and the same!

Source: The Advertiser, Saturday 27 July 1929, page 23

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

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