By Brian W. Schoeneman
Crisis management, as a discipline, is young. Most of crisis management research dates only from within the last three decades. It is rare to find an analysis of any crisis earlier than 1960. If we go by what we read in the crisis management literature, it is easy to assume that there were no crises before the Cuban Missile Crisis and no one knew how to handle crisis communications, media relations and crisis planning until the late 1980s. Even the preeminent example of "what to do right" in a crisis - how Johnson and Johnson handled the Tylenol Poisonings - is as recent as 19821. Despite this lack of previous research, we know well that for as long as we have had governments and businesses, we have had crises.
We have learned the lessons of Three Mile Island, of Gary Hart and Bill Clinton, and of Tylenol. But what about less recent history? What can the crises of the past teach us? What can we learn about handling a modern crisis from analyzing how they were handled in the past?
What we can do by analyzing the crises of the past is confirm and expand upon what we have learned from the crises of the present. As the famous aphorism says, "those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." By examining the mistakes made in historical crises, we can learn from them, see examples of "what not to do", and prepare ourselves for future ones.
One of the most familiar crises to Americans, especially those of us who live in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, is that of the Beltway Sniper. For three weeks the capital region avoided the most mundane day-to-day activities - even filling their gas tanks - because of the fear of death at any time, delivered from the rifle shared by a pair of disillusioned men. The Montgomery County Police, along with the FBI, ATF and various other law enforcement agencies, did an excellent job of managing this crisis, and in the end they succeeded in apprehending their suspects. During the next few years, as we read book after book analyzing what happened in detail, we will learn what went right and what went wrong throughout these investigations. In the end, however, the responsible actions of the police kept the region from descending into panic and despair, and their excellent use of the media resulted in the public providing the breaks needed to solve the case.
But do we really have to wait to for those books to be written?
A similar case to the Beltway Sniper occurred 114 years ago, in another capital city. This capital city feared death at any time, at the hands of an unknown killer and stalker of women. The London Metropolitan Police did their best to solve the case, and manage the crisis, but, unlike their Montgomery County comrades-in-arms, failed to bring in their man. We know the names of the Beltway Snipers thanks to our police. No one in London knew the name of their serial killer. Just his nickname: Jack the Ripper.
The Jack the Ripper serial murders are the most famous, and earliest, examples of the genre, and as a result, the first time that a major metropolitan police force had to deal with it. By examining the way that the Metropolitan Police of London managed this first crisis, we can evaluate how well they managed it - what they did right and what they did wrong. With this analysis in hand, we will be armed with a much better idea of the difficulties Chief Moose and his men felt during their crisis - and we can see what might have happened had they failed to catch the Beltway Sniper, as the Metropolitan Police failed to catch the Ripper.
Our analysis will begin by taking a look at the historical context into which the Ripper murders fit. We will move from there to a discussion of the history of Metropolitan Police. Then we will examine the four crisis phases: pre-crisis, acute crisis, chronic crisis and the resolution. We will look into the role the media played through the crisis, and the effects of that role. Finally, we will examine three scenarios, to see how the crisis could have played out differently if different choices were made - or were available.
Through this analysis, we will see that while the Metropolitan Police did an excellent job of investigating the crimes, they failed to control public perceptions. This failure led to the crisis quickly spinning out of their control. Their fundamental mistake was their failure to control the flow of information, a fundamental aspect of any well-managed crisis. Second, they failed to prove that they were acting responsibly. They did not demonstrate to the public that they were doing everything in their power to catch the killer. By not doing so, they left themselves and the government open to significant criticism. Finally, the police allowed internal bickering and failed relationships to cause internal turmoil at the top of the force. This turmoil prolonged the crisis and damaged public perceptions of them. The failure of the Met during the Whitechapel murders was not that they never caught Jack the Ripper; it was that they failed to control public perception. They did not maximize their opportunities or minimize the damage caused by failing to apprehend the killer.
Before we can begin to analyze how the Metropolitan Police handled the crisis, we first need to look at the killings in their historical context. What happened?
The Ripper killings were the first widely publicized serial murders in history.2 While they were not the first recorded serial murders, none before - or after - became as infamous and widely known. Through the years, many authors have written many books, debated many theories, and announced many suspects. Yet the Ripper remains as elusive a killer today as he was in 1888. A number of factors contributed to this, not the least of which is the amount of time that has passed since he murdered his last victim. The serious researcher is also faced with the difficult task of sorting through a mass of information, much of which is based on rumor, hoaxes, or fiction. Many of the contemporary press accounts, memoirs of the officials involved and early books on the case are unreliable. This forces researchers to reinvent the wheel, and begin their reviews of the case from the primary material - the police files and memoranda. Only in the last year have the bulk of these primary sources become readily available to the public. The complexity of the case is considerable, and all aspects of it are much debated. The case is so debated that there is no clear determination as to even the simplest aspects of the case, such as the number of the Ripper's victims or the type of weapons used. In order for us to analyze the crisis, we need to lay a foundation of confirmed fact upon which to build. This requires us to start at the very beginning.
An unknown number of women, somewhere between five and fifteen, were killed between the years of 1888 and 1891 in the Whitechapel region of London. Researchers have identified this series of killings as the "Whitechapel Murders".3 Within these "Whitechapel Murders," there were a total of five victims whom most scholars believe were murdered by the same unknown assailant: Mary Ann (or Polly) Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes, and Mary Jane (or Marie Jeanette) Kelly. Their assailant - dubbed "Jack the Ripper" by the London press - is believed to have killed these women between August and November of 1888. Scholars commonly refer to these victims as the "canonical victims."4 Prior to the murder of Nichols, there were two other deaths - Emma Elizabeth Smith and Martha Tabram - which were similar, but not entirely consistent, with the later "confirmed" Jack the Ripper killings. After the death of Mary Jane Kelly, over the next two years there were at least three similar killings: Rose Mylett, Alice MacKenzie, and Frances Coles. While these killings were similar to the Ripper murders, they took place over a wider time period, did not display the same ferocity as the previous murders and the public did not receive them with the same fear and panic as they did the canonical killings. There has been a general consensus among Ripper scholars that of the six other murders, Martha Tabram's is most likely to be a legitimate Ripper killing. The other five non-canonical murders are still the topic of heated debate.5 Only Emma Smith's killing can be conclusively ruled out as a Ripper killing - she was attacked by a gang of three young men, and did not immediately die of her wounds. Despite this, in the contemporary public's view, the murders of Smith, Tabram and Nichols were linked.6 Although the first two killings, despite their unheard of ferocity and brutality, could have been written off as coincidence at the time, a third began to convince even the most skeptical that something odd was occurring in East London. After the fourth killing - the second "canonical" death, that of Annie Chapman - the series became a full-blown crisis.
The Whitechapel murderer had a firmly established modus operandi. He killed only women, and all of the canonical victims, as well as Tabram, were known prostitutes. Stephen Ryder, in the "Introduction to the Case" page of his enormous Internet repository of Ripper material Casebook: Jack the Ripper, describes the Ripper's modus operandi as follows:
- The Whitechapel murderer and his victim stood facing each other. When she lifted her skirts, the victim's hands were occupied and was then defenseless. The Ripper seized the women by their throats and strangled them until they were unconscious if not dead. … The Ripper then lowered his victims to the ground, their heads to his left. … He cut the throats when the women were on the ground. … The Ripper then made his other mutilations … No sign of intercourse was ever detected nor did the Ripper masturbate over the bodies. Usually he took a piece of the victim's viscera. The taking of a "trophy" is a common practice by modern sexual serial killers.7
All of the murders took place within the neighboring regions of east London known as Whitechapel and Spitalfields. The areas were poor, working class districts outside London City proper. It was a rough area, with a largely ethnic - primarily Jewish - population and was a considered a hive of criminality.8 Their location on the border of London City was a boon to criminals, as the competing jurisdictions of the Metropolitan Police, and the City of London Police created confusion that made the area an obvious base to operate from. Prostitution, petty theft and gambling were common.9
Victorian London in the late 1880s was the bustling, industrial center of the world's greatest empire. Imperial Britain spanned the globe, and the reign of Queen Victoria was one of the most prosperous in its history. London was the equivalent of New York and Washington, D.C. combined - the cultural and political capital of the world. Yet it was also a capital in strife. Socialist and communist dissidents rioted throughout London during 1887-1888, and the "troubles" with Ireland were in their formative stages. Irish nationalist unrest was at its height. The Metropolitan Police had dealt with the rioters in a heavy-handed fashion that was still remembered by many years later, especially the left-leaning press. It was just such a city, wracked with unrest, that created the London Metropolitan Police decades before.
There were two policing agencies involved in the Whitechapel murder investigations. The primary agency was the Police Force of the Metropolis - the formal name for the London Metropolitan Police. The "Met," as it was known, was responsible for the entire London metropolitan region. The other policing agency was the City of London Police force. This force was responsible for the one square mile zone that made up London City proper. The City of London was a separate political entity, with its own figurehead - the Lord Mayor - and city council. The boundaries of the City dated back to the original Roman settlement. These two police agencies remain independent to this day, despite multiple attempts by the Met to acquire the City's force.10
For the purpose of this analysis, we will focus primarily on the Metropolitan Police. There are three reasons for this. The bulk of the canonical murders took place within the jurisdiction of the Met - only Catharine Eddowes was killed inside the jurisidiction of the City.11 Second, the heavy German bombing campaigns of the Second World War destroyed many of the City Police archives. Many of the Met's archives still exist. This is not to say that there are no records of the City's investigation, but they are incomplete. Finally, in the eyes of the public and the press, the Met alone was responsible for the Ripper's successful apprehension.
Prior to 1829, a mish mash of royal soldiers, Yeomanry, river police, local sheriffs, and night watchmen policed London.12 Over time it became apparent that London needed a professional full-time policing agency for the city. A rise in overt criminality throughout London, dangerous riots and loud public unrest finally forced Parliament to act. After much deliberation, it passed the Police Bill, which received royal assent and became law on May 25, 1829.13 This bill established a central policing agency, the Police of the Metropolis, under control of the Secretary if State for domestic affairs. The Home Office, as it was known, was the primary domestic affairs branch of Her Majesty's government. The Home Secretary in 1829 was Sir Robert Peel, whom is credited with the creation and original organization of the Metropolitan Police.14
This idea of central control over a large, professional police force was a radical concept. In contrast, the first analogous policing agency in America, the New York Police Department, was not formed until 1845 - 16 years later.15 The Metropolitan Police was a novel idea - the cutting edge in law enforcement theory at the time.
The original Metropolitan Police, policing an area of 688 square miles, consisted of seventeen divisions. This was augmented by the incorporation of the River Police in 1839, an additional three divisions added in 1865, and one more added in 1886.16 A Superintendent lead each division, who, in turn, supervised a number of inspectors and sergeants. The inspectors and sergeants were responsible for the individual Police Constables who walked the beat. By 1888, the Metropolitan Police numbered a total of 14,106 officers, not including the senior administrators.17 The two divisions that responded to the Whitechapel killings - Division H (Whitechapel) and Division J (Bethnal Green) - numbered 548 and 617 officers, respectively.18
The most important development in the Met over the next thirty years was the creation of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). This department was a new incarnation of the old "Detective Branch", originally begun in 1842.19 It was made up of plainclothes detectives and inspectors, and had a troubled history. It was consistently undermanned - 15 men in a force of over 8000 in 1868 - and was constantly embroiled in controversy and, near its end, in allegations of misconduct.20 Reconstituted in 1878, the CID played the lead role in the investigations of the Ripper murders.
The real contribution of the Met to the crisis was not from its structure, but from the men who held the reigns of authority through the crisis. The highest-ranking officers of the Metropolitan Police were at odds with each other, and during the Whitechapel murders - when they should have been united in the resolve to catch the Ripper, and appear united to the press - they were engaged in near constant bickering. In the end, the two most important leadership positions within the Met - the Chief Commission, and the head of the CID - were vacated during the Ripper crisis. This was due in small part to the failure to catch the murderer, but primarily because of personality conflicts. This failure of the Met's leadership to make the crisis their primary priority exacerbated it, and caused much embarrassment for the government.
The three central figures in our analysis are the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, the Chief Commissioner of Police, Sir Charles Warren, and the Assistant Commissioner for CID, James Monro. These three individuals caused the most of internal friction at the top of the Met during the Ripper crisis. Their inability to place petty politics and personal feelings aside did not play well in the press, and contributed to the public losing confidence in their police.
Henry Matthews, later Lord Llandalf, became Home Secretary in 1886.21 His term as Secretary of State was a fairly troubled one, as he oversaw the Met during a period of frequent unrest by socialist and radical elements in the city, and the Whitechapel murders. He was considered an excellent administrator, but was lacking in leadership and "people" skills.22 He strongly believed that, as Home Secretary, he had the power to make decisions over the internal operations of the Metropolitan Police - an opinion that would place him firmly at odds with Commissioner Sir Charles Warren.
Sir Charles Warren became Chief Commissioner of the Met in 1886. Warren was a soldier who had seen combat, and had been severely wounded years earlier in the Kaffir War. Prior to becoming Commissioner, Warren held a number of administrative posts in Africa.23 Warren was accustomed to command, and he did not tolerate outside interference in his administration of the Met. He viewed the force as he would view a regiment - he responded to higher authority and took orders, but he was firm in his view that he and he alone had the authority to make decisions about the internal workings of troops.24 Matthews and Warren butted heads frequently on a number of issues, not the least of which was the control over the CID, and Assistant Commissioner James Monro.
James Monro became Assistant Commissioner for CID in 1884.25 CID was always a semi-autonomous branch of the Met. Its relationship was similar to the one enjoyed today by the FBI and the Justice Department. When Monro took control, the Met was under the administration of Commissioner Sir Edmund Henderson. Henderson allowed Monro his freedom. Warren, however, did not believe in the autonomy of the CID and expected Monro to report directly to him when internal matters arose.26 Monro believed that he was directly supervised by the Home Secretary, not Warren, and acted accordingly. Another friction point between Monro and Warren was Monro's secondary role as a "secret agent" for the Home Office. Monro led a division of CID detectives who were tasked with infiltrating the radical and violent socialist groups - and in this capacity, Monro did report directly to the Home Office.27 Warren found this second job intolerable - especially when Monro used his connections to circumvent him and bring up issues directly to the Home Office. For example, Monro complained about the heavy workload of CID - which was valid, based on their lack of manpower - and requested that the Home Secretary create an Assistant Chief Constable for CID position. This position was to be filled by his friend and colleague Melville - later Sir Melville - Macnaughten. Matthews approved this without Warren's consultation. When Warren found out about the issue, he confronted Monro, and requested to see the memoranda Monro sent the Home Office about the requests. Monro refused. Warren then complained to Matthews who, under the threat of Warren's resignation, reversed his decision and denied Macnaughten's appointment.28 As a result, Monro resigned effective August 31, 1888- the same day as Polly Nichol's murder.
Monro's resignation resulted in his replacement with Dr. Robert, later Sir Robert, Anderson. Besides being a seasoned investigator, he also was very conceited.29 Long after the crisis had abated, in his memoirs he claimed that he knew exactly who the Ripper was, and that the individual had killed himself shortly after the end of the terror. He was supremely confident in his theory, despite having never having enough evidence to arrest his suspect. When he came to the CID, he was much fatigued by his previous positions as a spy-handler (he handled Thomas Miller Beach, who had infiltrated the Fenian Irish terrorist movement) and as a Commissioner of Prisons. He was so fatigued that his Doctor ordered him to take a month long holiday.30 One week after his appointment to head CID - the same day as Polly Nichol's murder - he left London bound for Switzerland. Coincidentally, the day he left, Annie Chapman was killed, and the Whitechapel murders became a full-blown crisis. He did not return to London for almost a month.
Monro's resignation and Anderson's vacation left the CID leaderless during four of the five canonical murders - the bulk of the crisis. Luckily, before he left, Anderson, acting on orders from Warren, placed Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson in total control over the Whitechapel case.31 As a result there was no immediate leadership vacuum in the day-to-day operations of the detectives. However, while there may have been no actual problems with Anderson's absence at such a critical time, the public disagreed. The press made sure of that. For example, the Pall Mall Gazette wrote "The chief official who is responsible for the detection of the murderer is as invisible to Londoners as the murderer himself. You may seek Dr. Anderson in Scotland Yard, you may look for him in Whitehall Place, but you will not find him . . . Dr. Anderson, with all the arduous duties of his office still to learn, is preparing himself for his apprenticeship by taking a pleasant holiday in Switzerland."32 Anderson didn't return until October 6, after a personal plea from Matthews caused him to shorten his stay.
The friction between Matthews and Warren did not end with Monro's resignation. As the crisis deepened, Warren became increasingly irritated with Matthews attempts to manage the Met, constantly demanding updates, providing meaningless or useless courses of action, and attempting to trap Warren into admitting the Met was incapable of solving the case - thus removing the blame from himself. There was a very contentious debate between the two after the Stride and Eddowes killings about providing rewards that will be discussed later. The situation came to a head after Warren wrote an article for Murray's Magazine, a small London paper, regarding minor points on the administration of the Police. Matthews, unable to tolerate such an open display of independence from Warren, made him aware of a circular from the Home Office dated May 27, 1879, which stated that the Home Secretary must review and approve all written correspondence by the Police to the press.33 Warren announced that had he been aware of the circular, he would never have accepted the position, as it would have allowed the media to attack the Met without him being able to respond effectively. This was the last in a long line of perceived insults and interference from the Home Secretary, and Warren had had enough. He tendered his resignation on November 9, 1888 - the same day Mary Jane Kelly was murdered. His resignation was not effective until December 1st, but as with the resignation of Monro, the timing left much to be desired. It was not reassuring to the public to have the chief law enforcement officer in London quitting his post at the apparent height of the crisis.
Now that we have a basic understanding of the players involved, we will shift our focus to the actual events of the crisis - what occurred and what those events meant to the police and the public. Using what Steven Fink, in his book Crisis Management: Planning for the Inevitable, has defined as the four stages of a crisis, we will review the facts of the case and the actions of the Police through the timeline of the murders. The first stage, which he calls the pre-crisis or "prodromal" stage, is where we will begin our analysis. What hints did the Met have that the Ripper murders were not just the average, run-of-the-mill homicides?
Whitechapel was a rough neighborhood in 1888, and killings and assaults were not uncommon. However, the ferocity that had attended a number of recent murders in the area had caused press and public attention to be focused there.34 The first of these, that of prostitute Emma Smith, occurred in April of 1888. Smith was assaulted and raped by a gang of three ruffians, who brutally forced an unidentified blunt object into her vagina, tearing the perineum and causing her to bleed to death later the following day.35 The case was significant enough that the London Times of April 7, 1888 ran a story on the inquest. This death was not attributed then, or now, to the Ripper, but it raise public awareness of crime in the area.
The next killing took place four months later, during August of 1888. Martha Tabram - also known to her contemporaries as Emma Turner - was, like Smith, a prostitute. She was murdered in the pre-dawn hours of August 7, 1888, while she was attempting to earn money to pay for the bed she kept at a common lodging house at 19 George Street, in Spitalfields. She was stabbed 39 times, including one wound that pierced her sternum. The East End was shocked by the savagery of the murder, and the press hastily fed the public as much information as they could find. The murder was so extraordinarily vicious that it spawned a rudimentary form of neighborhood watch. These self styled "vigilance committees" sprung up all over the East End in the wake of the murders. Local residents set up the St. Jude's Vigilance Committee, the first of these, a few days after Tabram's death.36 In contrast, no committees were set up after the death of Emma Smith.
Researchers hotly debate the inclusion of Martha Tabram as a Ripper victim. There were witnesses who saw her in the company of a pair of soldiers before she was killed, and the police dutifully followed up on these leads. No soldiers exactly fitting the descriptions were found, and these leads did not yield any suspects.37 Further, she was not mutilated, and her throat was not cut, which differed from later Ripper attributed killings.
It is here where the Metropolitan Police received their first pre-crisis warning. Within the span of six months, two brutal murders took place in the same area. While no one feared that this murder would be the start of two months of similar crimes, the press began to question the significance of two violent murders in such a short span of time in the same area. These questions should have raised a red flag at Scotland Yard, and the case should have been given added attention.
The final canonical killing of the prodromal, pre-crisis phase of the Whitechapel murders took place in the early hours of August 31, 1888. Mary Ann Nichols, also known as Polly, was found in the rear of Buck's Row, with her throat slit and her abdomen mutilated. Nichols, like Tabram and Smith, was a prostitute.38
This third killing prompted a larger police response, primarily in the person of Inspector Frederick Abberline who, at the time, was assigned to Scotland Yard, the central CID division. Abberline had formerly been the CID inspector for the Whitechapel (H) Division and was familiar with the area. Abberline led an investigation into Nichols' death - one which was no more successful than the Smith and Tabram investigations.39
This killing was the second, and final, pre-crisis stage warning to the police. While in hindsight, it does not appear that the Smith, Tabram and Nichols murders were linked, there was the definite belief in London that the Tabram and Nichols murders were linked.40 The public, press and police began for the first time to discuss the idea that a deranged killer was stalking Whitechapel, and that he would strike again.41 Despite the growing disquiet in the area, there was as yet no panic. Because of this, the Met and Home Office leaders were content to let their subordinates deal with the case.42
If there were any doubts among the public, press and police that a serial killer was stalking the women of Whitechapel, they were all dispelled on the morning of September 7, 1888. On this morning, the body of Annie Chapman was found in the rear of 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields. Chapman, like the others, was also a prostitute. But unlike the others, Chapman's body displayed extensive mutilation and, for the first time it appeared that the killer had removed organs; her uterus had been cut out and taken. First, the killer had cut her throat. Then he proceeded to open her abdomen and removed the intestines and placed them above her right shoulder. He also removed part of the stomach and placed it over the left shoulder, as well as removing the uterus and part of the bladder, which were never found.43 All of these mutilations occurred after her death.44
The press was out in force in Hanbury Street after the death of Annie Chapman. However, many of the earliest accounts from the scene carried gross misrepresentations and errors that were soon picked up by many of the other papers of the day. For example, reporter Oswald Allen's piece in the Pall Mall Gazette of September 7, 1888, included a passage that claimed that Chapman's rings had been wrenched from her fingers and placed at her feet.45 This did not happen. Chapman's rings were wrenched from her fingers, as was indicated in the inquest reports, but they were never recovered - in fact, Chief Inspector Donald Swanson reported on October 19, 1888 in a report to the Home Office that the police had canvassed all of the local pawn shops, jewelers and jewelry dealers in an effort to discover if the rings had been sold by the killer.46 Another falsehood espoused by the papers was found in the Daily Telegraph, London's most popular daily paper at the time. On September 10, 1888 they claimed that at Chapman's feet were found two highly polished farthings that the killer had attempted to pass off as half-sovereigns to Chapman47 (a farthing being worth one quarter of a penny, and a half sovereign being worth 10 shillings - 120 pennies, or half a Pound)48. Again, the report of Chief Swanson is clear - there were no coins or rings found on the body. These were not the only mistakes that were made by the press about the Chapman murder.
Why did the press make these mistakes? First of all, they were never granted access to the crime scenes. All of the information they printed came either second or third hand from the hearsay of neighbors, witnesses and others, or from their own imagination.49 More important, however, was that the police did not officially reveal any aspects of any part of their investigations to the press. The only way the press was able to get this information is by publishing coroner inquests where police officials and doctors testified. Police officials, though, were loathe in providing such details to the inquests as well.50 The policy of the Metropolitan Police on the matter of the press was crystal clear: under no circumstances were facts about the investigation, witnesses or suspects to be shared with the press in any case where the identity of the perpetrator was not already established.51 We will probe this policy in depth later, as it was a primary cause of the escalation of the crisis.
The murder of Chapman sparked an unprecedented run on the evening papers. And the public devoured these papers despite the lack of facts that forced them to rely on rumor, faulty information, and sensationalism to fill their columns. This, in turn, lead to public panic, based mainly on false information.52 Thousands of people thronged Whitechapel in the days after the killings, angry and willing to turn that anger on anyone whom they felt deserved blame. Worse, the indignation of the community, Sugden writes in The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, quickly developed anti-Semitic overtones and the crowds began to pour abuse on the Jews.
The murder of Chapman also marked the first time a reward was offered in the case of the killings. This was not the first time that a reward had been suggested to the police or the Home Office, however. The first suggestion of a reward was in a letter from L & P Walter and Son, a business located in Church Street, Spitalfields. Mr. Walter suggested that the offer of a reward was the "only way … to tackle this matter".53 The reply to the Mr. Walter's letter became a familiar one, continuously repeated by the Home Office until they had painted themselves into a corner with it. Each individual who wrote them requesting a reward was reminded that there was a standing policy of not offering rewards, as they appeared to do more harm than good. Furthermore, if this case were determined to be an exception to that rule, the Home Office would have already offered one.54 This stubbornly arrogant attitude was to cause serious problems for Matthews in the future.
In the Chapman case, however, Samuel Montagu, the Member of Parliament for Whitechapel, requested that he be permitted to print and post placards offering a £100 reward for information leading to the capture of the murderer.55 Through a mix-up in communications, he had already begun publicizing the offer of the reward before he received a response from the Home Office requesting that he not offer the once. Throughout the case, many groups raised money for rewards, and many members of the press and public pushed for one, but the government never offered a monetary reward for information.
Three weeks passed between the death of Chapman and the murders of the next two victims. These deaths plunged the entire metropolitan area - not just the East End - into a panic. Early on September 30, 1888, Elizabeth Stride was found with her throat cut in Dutfield's Yard, Berner Street.56 Her body was not mutilated, and the coroner reports indicate the Stride was dead only a short time - 15 to 30 minutes - when her body was discovered.57 Less than an hour later, the body of a second prostitute, Catharine Eddowes, was discovered in Mitre Square, within the jurisdiction of the City Police. She was covered with mutilations, particularly on her face, and her abdomen had been laid open.58 Upon inspection by the City coroner, it was discovered that her left kidney and uterus had been removed.
The "double event" of September 30 provided the police with their first significant clue, and it also presented Sir Charles Warren with a mini-crisis of his own. During their investigation, the police found a piece of bloodied apron that was identified as having been cut from one Kate Eddowes was wearing. It was dropped outside the Wentworth Dwellings in Goulston Street, a building occupied almost entirely by Jewish immigrants.59 Written in chalk above the piece of apron was the phrase "The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing."60 While the piece of apron came from Eddowes, who was killed within the jurisdiction of the City Police, the graffiti was within the boundaries of the Met. Sir Charles was faced with a critical decision - to wait, and allow the handwriting to be photographed, or to expunge the writing before it was widely seen and thus prevent an anti-Semitic riot.
Warren's fear of a riot was not unfounded. As noted before, there was a strong anti-Jewish feeling in the area, and this would not have helped matters. Warren decided that it was more important to quash the riot and had the writing erased. He was roundly criticized for this decision, both by an already critical press and by his colleagues from the City Police.61 While it is doubtful that having an extant photograph of the graffiti would have been of any forensic value to the case, the criticism Warren faced for his decision in the press further marred public perception of the Met's competence.
It was in the period between the killing of Chapman and the double murders of Stride and Eddowes that the first "Ripper Letters" began to be received by the press and police. The most famous of these, dubbed the "Dear Boss" letter, was received by the Central News Agency on September 17, 1888. This letter is credited with providing the Whitechapel murderer with his nom de guerre: it was signed "Yours truly, Jack the Ripper".62 Despite the feelings of the Central News Agency, who considered the letter a hoax, it was passed on to the Metropolitan Police. Later, on October 1, 1888, after the double killing, a postcard - referred to as the "Saucy Jacky" postcard, and in the same hand as the "Dear Boss" letter - was received by the Central News Agency. This card referred to the "double event" of September 30, which gave these killings their nickname. While the police felt they were probably a hoax, the timing and the language of the "Dear Boss" and "Saucy Jacky" correspondence forced the police to take them seriously.
These two letters were made into posters and plastered across London, requesting anyone who recognized the handwriting to notify the Met immediately. This was a bad idea. By printing and posting copies of the letters, the Metropolitan Police had inadvertently lent credence to the belief that they were authentic, which they were probably not. They gave the press a moniker for the killer - Jack the Ripper - which fueled more press stories and gave the tabloids something to sensationalize. Finally, the posters gave the less respectable members of the public language and styles to imitate, and the Met was deluged by hoaxers copying the style and wording of the letters. Coming so close to the "double event" of the Stride and Eddowes killing, publishing the letters and pasting them about Whitechapel was like adding rocket fuel to a bonfire. The Met's timing couldn't have been worse.
When October began, the crisis was in full swing. The press, egged on by record sales and constant demand for news, was printing anything and everything they could find in regards to the killings. The Police, despite the Goulston Street clues and the two fresh murders, were no closer to catching the Ripper than they were in August. All of Whitechapel waited in fear for Jack to strike again.
October was free of Ripper killings. It was not free, however, of the crisis. During October a number of hoax letters, and possibly the only legitimate letter from the killer, were received by the police. The Met began to experiment with a number of new detection methods, including officers dressed as prostitutes and the use of bloodhounds to track the killer. At the end of the month, though, the police had made no progress.
The crisis continued throughout October - but not merely for the police. The East End merchants were weathering the period poorly. Business was off by nearly 50% from September, some merchants in the area claimed.63 Legitimate businesses were not the only ones affected. Prostitution had noticeably fallen off in the area, though the poorest of the poor continued to walk the streets at night, turning tricks for their beds and booze.
Over 200 local merchants, including MP Montagu, petitioned the Home Office for an increase in the number of police on the streets, claiming that "the Government no longer ensures the security of life and property in East London …"64
On October 13, the Met undertook a thorough house-to-house search of the Whitechapel area. Metropolitan Police detectives searched nearly every house - all with permission of the inhabitants - in some of the worst slums of Whitechapel and Spitalfields.65 The search was fruitless, but it did provide the police with a positive boost in public opinion.
As part of the Met's ongoing attempts to use any and all means to catch the killers, they investigated the usage of bloodhounds to track the killer. The dogs were procured and tested by the Police, with much success. However there was a miscommunication over the cost of using the dogs. Matthews was hesitant to approve a yearly expenditure for the experimental program, and his foot dragging effectively killed the program. By the time of the Kelly killing, the dogs had been returned to their owner.
The question of a reward was raised again, spurred on by the offering of a £500 reward by the Lord Mayor of the City of London. The Lord Mayor, as we mentioned before, was not responsible to the Home Office, and thus exempted from their ban on rewards. Many members of the public petitioned the Home Office unsuccessfully for a reward in its wake, including the Mile End Vigilance Committee, chaired by George Lusk.66 This public cry for a reward caused friction between Matthews and Warren to hit a critical point. Matthews began to realize that public opinion was swinging sharply in favor of offering a reward, and that if he reversed himself after two months of denials, his political career could be in jeopardy.67 Matthews wanted to justify offering a reward - and he wanted to do it by blaming it on the incompetence of the Met. Warren, on the other hand, wanted to Matthews to shoulder the blame. Warren wrote frequently to Matthews in October, each time asking for the offer of a reward, or pardon to any accomplice who would step forward. Matthews, in return, tried to trap Warren into providing him with an "out", by forcing him to answer that a reward was their last best hope.68 Both went back and forth, but the Home Office never buckled.
It was this same George Lusk of the reward business, who was to receive a letter and package in the mail on October 16, 1888. The letter was undated, addressed "From Hell" and signed "Catch me when you can, Mishter Lusk." That alone was not enough to lend credence to the belief that the letter had been sent by the Whitechapel murderer. What was in the package was - half a human kidney.69 Lusk was extremely frightened by the letter and package, despite his belief that it was a practical joke.70 The kidney was examined by Doctor Thomas Openshaw, Curator of the Pathological Museum of the London Hospital, who confirmed that it was human. It was then forwarded on to the Met. Despite having such an important clue, forensic science at the time was limited, and further analysis of the kidney was inconclusive. At best, Doctor Openshaw was able to determine that the kidney was human, and came from an adult.71 While modern Ripper scholars tend to believe that the kidney and Lusk letter were genuine, it is important to note that the majority of the police - except for Major Henry Smith, acting Commissioner of the City of London Police - viewed it as a hoax.
Warren and Matthews continued to spar, and their bickering finally ended after Warren's piece in Murrary's Magazine. The article had nothing to do with the Ripper investigation, but it nonetheless angered Matthews, who rebuked Warren. Warren resigned, and was replaced by Monro.
The day of Warren's resignation, the final canonical murder of Jack the Ripper's autumn of terror took place. On November 9, the body of Mary Jane Kelly was found lying in her bed in Miller's Court, Whitechapel. She had been horribly mutilated, her internal organs strewn about the room, and her heart had been removed. Had she not been murdered in her bed, her identification would have been almost impossible. 72
The police were out in force, but the public and press did not expect any success. The Ripper had killed again, and he had whipped London into a frenzy - made all the more worse by the hope that the month-long respite from killings indicated the crisis was over. The whole of London was alight with the talk of the Ripper. Although he had never ventured out of the East End, and had only killed prostitutes, Jack had struck a chord of fear that resonated with women across the city. The public began turning on itself - anyone who displayed too keen an interest in the case, particularly in what the police were doing, would soon find themselves surrounded by a mob. Kelly's death had sparked national headlines around the world, and even resulted in an angry telephone call from Queen Victoria to the Home Office, who was loaded with questions about what the Police had and hadn't done. Throughout the rest of the winter, the police and the vigilance committees patrolled the streets, hoping to catch Jack in the act.
As suddenly as the killings had begun, they stopped. Though there were a number of similar murders over the next two years, none were conclusively linked to Ripper, and none were treated the same way by the press, police and public. London and the East End had adapted to the fear. There were no further Ripper style killings after 1891. The crisis had resolved itself - though not through the actions of the Metropolitan Police, the Home Office or the public. The Ripper resolved the crisis for them. He simply stopped killing.
With this background in mind, let us move to a critique of the Met's actions, based on our crisis management techniques.
This is a difficult question to answer, primarily because nothing they did stopped the murders, or caught the killer. But the Met did make a number of good decisions, which we must acknowledge.
Although it took them a while, the Police did recognize that they needed more troops on the ground in Whitechapel. After the death of Annie Chapman, they significantly increased the number of police on the streets, and after each subsequent event, that number was increased further. The public would have been blind not to have noticed so many PCs in the neighborhood. This was a good PR move, as it provided some comfort to the residents of the region that something was being done. Unfortunately, it was also viewed as being too little, too late.
Warren's decision to appoint Chief Inspector Swanson as the primary officer on the case was equally fortuitous. By filtering all the information through one man who had no other responsibilities, the Met was able to continue the investigation despite the resignations of Monro and Warren, and the absence of Anderson. In police investigations, as in crisis management, continuity of command is a critical function.
Monro's replacement of Warren as Chief Commissioner was a good public relations move for Matthews, although he ended up having similar issues with Monro as he did with Warren a few years later. Monro was well known, and was well thought of by other members of the government, and the constables on the street. Matthews minimized what could have been very significant confusion - the unintended result of acclimating a new, unknown person to the high office of Commissioner - by choosing the veteran detective Monro.
Utilizing photography, bloodhounds (to a limited extent), and other not readily accepted forensics techniques was an excellent decision on the part of the police. New technologies were instant media pieces, and they did much to show that the government was willing to try new things to catch this new breed of killer. Although the steps taken were not enough to actually catch the Ripper, they played well in the papers.
The decision to offer a pardon after the Mary Kelly murder was a good one, despite coming so late in the case. Although it was too little, too late, the offer of a pardon was as close to offering a reward that the Home Office came during the crisis. It did generate considerable press attention, but by that time the damage had already been done.
These, and other decisions made by the Met were good ones, and helped to decrease the public's perception that the police and the Home Office were incompetent. Even without formal crisis management training, the Police and government had some good instincts about how to handle the crisis. Unfortunately, what the Met failed to do had a more lasting, and damaging, impact on the crisis than what they did right.
From a crisis management perspective, the primary responsibility of the Metropolitan Police was to resolve the crisis, and do so in a way that would minimize the damage to themselves and the government, while maximizing the opportunities that were presented. This means that they were responsible for more than simply catching the Ripper - they were also responsible for reassuring the public, helping to ease public panic, and protecting their reputation.
While the Metropolitan Police did as good of a job at trying to capture the Ripper as could be expected of them, given their level of technological and criminological sophistication, they consistently failed to minimize the damage not catching the Ripper had on their organization, and they completely lost control over their crisis communications. The result of their failure to control the crisis manifested itself in many ways. The public lost confidence in the Police. The upper echelons of the police were shaken up, with resignations of many of the highest ranking officials of the Met during the crisis. The public was awash in fear. And the case remains a controversial black-eye to this day. Instead of grasping the opportunity presented to them by such widespread attention, the let it slip through their fingers, along with so many other aspects of the situation.
Once we review the different mistakes made by the Met and Home Office, we can hypothesize how different choices or different tactics could have made a difference in the outcome of the case.
The Met's first major error in handling the crisis was missing its warning signs. Whitechapel, while being a poor, crime filled sector of London, was not Detroit. It was not a place of frequent homicides. Murder is not listed as the cause of death for any Whitechapel resident in 1887.73 Thus, the first three killings - Smith, Tabram and Nichols - should have been enough to show to the officers of H Division (Whitechapel) that the area needed a beefed up police presence. It was expected, even in 1888, that the police would monitor crime levels and trends in the area. The public recognized the trend - the letter from L & P Walter and Sons after the Chapman murder demonstrates it. Why didn't the Police? We don't know.
The Criminal Investigations Department was not what it needed to be. It was perennially understaffed, despite the efforts of Monro (as head of CID) and Warren. Monro finally made some headway in increasing the number of officers once he was made Commissioner following Warren's resignation, but this had no effect on the Ripper crisis. Throughout the Whitechapel murders the CID was small and unsophisticated. Unfortunately, the public's misconceptions about the CID detectives and the corruption in the old Detective Branch had hindered its growth, and this had hindered the organization during the Ripper killings.
The failure to offer a reward is one that cannot be borne solely by the Police. The Home Office and Home Secretary Matthews in particular, deserve the lion's share of the blame. It seems obvious now to the knowledgeable 21st century observer that offering a reward would not have resulted in this case being solved. That's beside the point. The offering of a substantial reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the Ripper by the government would be a signal to the public of the determination that government had in capturing the killer. A reward of significant proportions, of £5,000 to £10,000, would have generated pages of favorable press for the Home Office and for the Police, at a minimum of cost - there was a pretty good chance they'd never have to pay. Matthews seems to have recognized his mistake in blindly following past precedent at the end of the crisis, when a full pardon was offered to any compatriots of the Ripper after the Kelly slaying. This did not, however, generate the coverage a large reward would have generated earlier on in the case. Not to mention the cynicism and skepticism the media had once it was announced. Matthews' failure to explain himself to the public beyond the standard "A reward will do more harm than good…" boilerplate is inexplicable, and irresponsible. Despite being offered frequent opportunities, such as continual offers to speak to the various vigilance committees, he consistently failed to sell his reasoning to a skeptical public. Had he at least made the attempt to explain himself, he may have been met with less anger from an unhappy public. His remarks would have made it into the press, and at least some of the pressure being applied to the Home Office and the Met could have been relieved temporarily. By failing to offer a reward, and further failing to adequately explain himself, Matthews and his police force game the impression to the public that they were not doing everything they could to catch the Ripper.
The Home Office must also be implicated in the bloodhound debacle. It seems obvious to us today that once the dogs had proven themselves capable of tracking individuals in the city - which they did - the Home Office should have been willing to approve whatever expenditures necessary to keep the two hounds in active police service. The miscommunication that resulted in both Burgho and Barnaby being returned to their owner was easily avoided, had Warren been given the necessary authority by Matthews to approve the funds in a timely fashion. Matthews' unwillingness to commit to an expenditure of less than £100 per annum is a mystery. Worse than the failure of using the dogs, was the fact that no one communicated this to the press and the public. When Mary Kelly was found murdered, the public and press had expected the police to call in the dogs. Once the story of the hounds broke, the media pounced on it, and we had yet another example of the failure of the police and the Home Office to demonstrate their willingness to do all that could be done to catch the Ripper.
The inner turmoil among the highest ranking members of the Metropolitan Police did not help their poor media portrayal, either. But who is to blame? Do we blame Henry Matthews? His baiting of Sir Charles and James Monro led to the shake up of the CID. Do we blame James Monro? His belief in the autonomy of the CID led to his feud with Sir Charles, and ended in his resignation. Do we blame Sir Charles Warren? His military sensibilities forced him into a turf war with Monro and Matthews, and ultimately left him vulnerable to criticism when the Ripper investigation dragged on. Do we blame Robert Anderson? His vacation in the midst of the crisis - albeit for "health reasons" - seems irresponsible to modern eyes. The answer to our question is: yes. They all deserve blame. All of their actions were, in varying degrees, irresponsible. They let personal feelings and their relationships with each other hinder their performance in office. As the Commissioner of Police, by statute, Sir Charles had control over the uniformed police and the Criminal Investigations Department. There should have been no issue between him and Monro. Monro should not have attempted his end around plays to Matthews, and Matthews should have told Monro that he needed to go through his boss with personnel decisions (the hiring of Macnaghten as Assistant Chief Constable of CID). Warren should have been less intransigent and not thrown his childish ultimatums. His doing so ensured that by the time the Ripper murders were in full swing, he had wasted his political capital on these turf wars and thus was unable to weather the storm of the Ripper killings. Despite the feelings of some other researchers in the field, it is likely that the Ripper killings had some part to play in Warren's resignation. One logically scenario would be that the constant bickering between the Met and the Home Office about the Ripper murders led to Matthew's decision to rebuke Warren for his article in Murray's Magazine, a minor offense that could have been easily smoothed over had Matthews and Warren had a cordial relationship. Instead, the Home Office slapped him for it, and he resigned rather than face further public humiliation at the hands of Matthews. The Ripper murders then, were the catalyst for his resignation - if not the direct reason. Finally, Warren had the ability to not sign off on Anderson's vacation, and require him to stay in the city, as did Matthews. This would have been preferable to having the head of the CID out of the country during 3 of the 4 remaining canonical slayings. Although the decision to allow Anderson his vacation was not the worst of all of the decisions of the Met's ruling troika, it did show the public and the press - incorrectly - that the Met did not view the Ripper killings as a serious crisis.
The final failure of the police was the most critical, and had the most long term repercussions - the failure to use the media to control the flow of information. Steven Fink put it best when he wrote:
- Try to envision events in two categories [of events]: those over which you are probably not in total control, and those over which you are in much greater control. The former is the crisis itself, and the latter is your communication of the crisis to the outside world. And since it is your crisis, you at least have the ability to shape the public's initial (and perhaps total) perception of what has happened or is happening. But, as with anything else, the time to begin is not when the crisis is upon you, but well before.
The real failure of the Met in handling the press began with the press gag order of Howard Vincent, the first director of the CID in 1878.74 Vincent wrote:
- Police must not on any account give any information whatever to gentlemen connected with the press, relative to matters within police knowledge, or relative to duties to be performed or orders received, or communicate in any manner, either directly or indirectly, with editors, or reporters of newspapers, on any matter connected with the public service, without express and special authority . . . The slightest deviation from this rule may completely frustrate the ends of justice, and defeat the endeavor of superior officers to advance the welfare of the public service. Individual merit will be invariably recognized in due course, but officers, who without authority give publicity to discoveries, tending to produce sensation and alarm, show themselves wholly unworthy of their posts.75
From what is written here by Vincent, you can see that there are at least two reasons for the press gag order. First, keeping the public from panicking. This is naive, as a press who is starved of confirmed facts is more likely to print rumor and sensationalism than one armed with solid information from the police. Second, Vincent was trying to keep officers from trumpeting their personal accomplishments to the press. This is a very cynical excuse. A better reason for this policy would be that during this time period had to rely almost solely on eyewitness testimony. Therefore, promoting discoveries created many false "witnesses" who did nothing more than parrot what they had heard in the media, forcing the police to commit resources to confirming their bogus stories.
Whatever the reasoning behind the gag order, Vincent effectively destroyed any chance the Met had of containing the Ripper crisis a decade prior, by setting a precedent of non-cooperation with the press. Instead of using the media effectively, as was done during the Beltway Sniper investigation, the Metropolitan Police tried to ignore it completely. This resulted in a number of miscommunications that damaged the credibility of the Met.
Even when the Met tried to use the publicity to catch the killer, the used it ineffectively. The posters of the "Dear Boss" letter and the "Saucy Jacky" postcard did nothing to aid the investigation, while causing almost irreparable harm. This lesson was apparently learned by the Montgomery County Police, who refused to release the "tarot card" found at the scene of on of the shootings for just this reason.
These miscommunications led to the belief that the Met was not doing all that it could to catch the killer. The police had pulled out all the stops in this investigation, pouring manpower and resources into the area. They even went so far as to try many as yet untested innovations in the case. They flooded Whitechapel with uniformed officers, and with plains-clothes detectives. Detectives even disguised themselves like prostitutes, hoping to catch the Ripper in the act. That bloodhounds were also brought in and tested shows a further willingness to go outside the bounds of "traditional" policing to try and solve this case. Yet the press was not given any of this information. They had to ferret it out for themselves, and they often got it wrong. They never got updates from the police about the course of the investigation. They never listened to press conferences with Sir Charles, or Henry Matthews. They never saw the crime scenes first hand. As a result, they resorted to paparazzi style journalism, tailing Detectives and cornering witnesses. In the absence of confirmed, reliable information from the Police, they printed anything and everything they could find - rumor, hearsay from neighbors and residents, suggestions from the public, and analysis from the journalists themselves. The flood of information available to the public rivaled that of today. During the Beltway Sniper crisis, the public had access to 24-hour news coverage, including analysis from retired police and military "experts" and the journalists themselves. During the Ripper crisis, we saw the exact same flood of information, although this was transmitted via the newspaper rather then the television. Morning and evening papers, "extra" print runs, weekly and semi-weekly magazines and tabloids were the CNN and Drudge Report of their day. By failing to control the flow of this information, and make it work for them, the Met allowed the press to blow the crisis out of proportion.
But what would have happened if they hadn't made these mistakes? Let's take a look at three possible outcomes had different decisions been made.
What would have been different about the Whitechapel crisis if the top ranks of the Metropolitan Police - meaning Matthews, Warren and Monro - had all gotten along? And what would have had to have been in place for this to occur?
First, the relationship between the CID and the Met needed to be cleared up. This should have been done when the CID was recreated in 1878. The Commissioner of the Met at that time, Sir Edmund Henderson, and the head of the CID, Howard Vincent should have made it abundantly clear that the CID was subordinate to the Commissioner, not the Home Secretary. The detective branch should never have been led to believe it was an independent branch. The Metropolitan Police existed because of statute - the CID as the result of an order from the Home Secretary. This unfortunate blurring of the lines of authority caused the resulting confusion, and when took over from Henderson, he refused to allow Monro his independence.
If this distinction was clear, and Monro and Warren were not fighting, the way would have been paved for Melville Macnaghten to be added to Monro's staff as Assistant Chief Constable at the CID. Instead of having a detective division bereft of its leadership during the bulk of the Ripper murders, there would have been a pair of intelligent detectives, in direct roles of responsibility. While Monro did lend his ideas and opinions to Matthews as an "advisor", he would have been much more effective in his old role as the head man at CID. Monro enjoyed much prestige amongst his peers and in parliament, and having him leading the CID would have done much to bolster public confidence in the Met's handling of the case. His popularity can be confirmed by the fact that he was chosen to be Warren's replacement as Chief Commissioner.
The second friction point that needed to be eliminated was between Matthews and Warren. This one is trickier to work through. The real issue between Warren and Matthews was more personal than business, and much different than the one between Warren and Monro. Matthews was a politician, and Warren was a solider - albeit a politically savvy one. For Warren and Matthews to work well together, Warren needed to be willing to recognize that Matthews had the authority to make decisions about the internal workings of the Police force. And Matthews needed to restrain himself from using that authority. In reality, there simply needed to be more trust between the two men.
What would a unified command structure, willing to support each other have meant to the case? First of all, there would have been fewer people for the press to snipe at. Each of the individual members were vulnerable, but by working together and presenting a unified front to the public and to the press, the Police would have given the press fewer targets. The result would be the government and policy seeming more responsible as a whole. Imagine what would have occurred if Governor Glendenning had attempted to step in and take more control over the sniper investigation? Imagine if Chief Moose had resigned on the day of a shooting? Imagine if the media had had those stories to run with? The focus of the public's attention would have been taken away from the killings, and focused intently on the inability of the police to work together. And this is what happened during the Ripper murders. The press - particularly the left leaning press, who hated Warren for his heavy handed tactics during "Bloody Sunday" and the unemployment riots of 1887 - had a field day reporting about the dissention in the ranks of the police. Taking away that story would have forced them to focus on what the police were actually doing to catch the criminal - assuming of course that they were given those facts by the police (but that's a different scenario).
Having a stable crisis team would probably not have caught the Ripper. But it would have created the perception that the Police were competent, and were diligently investigating the case. This perception would have been aided if the Met had then used this stable structure to create a central message to send to the public, and use that message to control the media coverage. This leads us to our second scenario, proper press control.
An integrated, easily implemented crisis communications plan is a critical part of any business or public agency's crisis management plan today. What would have happened had the Met had one in place? What would have happened if instead of stone-walling the media, the Police had been willing to provide information, confirm facts and dispel rumors? What would it have taken for this to have happened?
First, the Metropolitan Police would have had to have been able to foresee this kind of crisis occurring before they could prepare a plan to communicate both internally and externally what they were doing about it. This was a difficult thing to do, as the sexually motivated serial killer was a rarity in the late 19th century. The Met had never dealt with one before, so they had no previous experiences or models to work from. Second, the Met would have needed good relationships with members of the press ahead of time, so that they could utilize them to get their message out when they needed to. This was also difficult, because of the prohibition established by the Home Office. In order for proper press control, the Home Office would have had to have removed the order barring speaking to the media, and instead replaced it with one that created a spokesman for the police, or better yet, a police media relations office.
A number of individuals could have played this role at the time. To be credible, it would have had to have been a high-ranking member of the police force. However, in order for them to be able to handle the duties, they could not be directly involved with leading the day-to-day investigations. Warren, Monro, Anderson and Swanson would have been too busy running the investigations to do handle it. Matthews and his Home Office staff weren't credible, as they weren't police. If Monro had been permitted to hire Macnaughten as his Assistant Chief Constable, he could have filled this role. A better choice could have been Adolfus Williamson, the Chief Constable of CID, who had worked his way up through the ranks and had 34 years worth of experience in 1888. This would have played well the press - the CID have put their top, most experienced investigator, in place to liaise with the media.
What would Williamson have done? During the crisis, he would have been responsible for crafting the message and determining what information should have been passed by the police on to the press for consumption by the public. He could have given interviews to members of the respected, fair and unbiased - for the most part - papers like the Daily Telegraph and the Times. This would have given those articles an air of legitimacy, and the public would have come to rely on those accounts, and not the accounts of other, less accurate papers, such as the Star. In addition, he would have been able to relieve a significant burden from the detectives on the case, by helping to remove the journalists shadowing them wherever they went, trying to get stories. The press wouldn't have had to avail themselves of such tactics had the police been able to confirm who they were talking to as witnesses, which suspects they had discounted, and avenues of investigation they were pursuing.
The police needed the following message to be heard by every Londoner from the poorest of the poor, to Queen Victoria herself: "The Metropolitan Police is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to catch the Whitechapel Murderer, and keep the city safe and free from fear."
A careful balance of providing and concealing facts would have been necessary here, in order to not damage the investigation by making all of the police techniques open and thus available to the killer. However, it would have been easier to withhold information from the press had the police established working relationships with them ahead of time. If the press could have trusted that they would be provided information by the police, they would have been willing to cooperate and withhold certain information if the police deemed it necessary. We see these relationships everywhere today. Instead, the press printed everything they could get their hands on, because they didn't know what the police didn't want released, or even what was true, and they felt obligated to provide as much information to the public as possible.
With this communications plan and message in place, the Met would have done a much better job of reassuring the public that they were doing everything possible to catch the Ripper. Vigilance committees could have been briefed by members of the Police, and their actions coordinated. Journalists could have walked the beats with officers, getting first hand accounts of what the Police were doing to catch the Ripper. Press conferences could have been held, giving direct access to Williamson, and other high ranking officials on certain occasions. False facts and rumors could have been identified and corrected. And with these contacts, the Police and the Home Office could have minimized the damage caused them by Warren and Monro's resignations, the absence of Anderson, the failure of the house-to-house searches and the bloodhounds.
The fear filled, rumor saturated public of London could have instead been a wary, confident and fact focused public, assured that the police would catch the killer, and that they were as safe as ever.
Again, it is unlikely that controlling the flow of information would have led the Met to the Ripper's doorstep. But then again, it could have kept the Police from running down every false lead trumpeted by the evening paper. That would have meant more police on the streets, or chasing down viable leads, and perhaps getting the one piece of information that could have cracked the case.
This scenario show us that by implementing a defined, pre-planned means of working with the press and the public, the Met could have controlled the crisis and kept it from turning into a fiasco. While none of the crisis communications plans would have captured the killer, they would have minimized the abuse the Police would have received at the hands of the press, and it would have reassured the public that their public servants were doing their best to keep them safe. Our final scenario explores the possible results of choosing different paths.
The failure of the Home Office to offer a reward is an obvious demonstration of the inability of the government and the Met to realize the roll public opinion was to play in the case. It must be made clear that offering the reward would have done little - if anything at all - to catch the Ripper. Sexually motivated serial killers rarely act with accomplices, and they care nothing for money. They are killing for the thrill of it. But that wasn't the point. The point was that the public thought that it would help. By offering a reward after the first canonical killing, the Home Office and the Met would have had a significant amount of positive media coverage, and the public would have been satiated for a time. It also would have given the police an easy way to do "more" in the case - after every killing they could have increased the amount of the reward. It would have cost them nothing, as there was little or no chance that they would ever have had to pay it out. Putting a large bounty on the head of the Ripper would have been an easy way to show that the Police meant business, and the continual increases would have generated large amounts of free media with a positive message for the police. By offering the reward, Matthews could have knocked the legs out from under many of the members of the press who were critical of the steps the police and Home Office were taking in catching the Ripper. He could have deflected much of criticism that was levied on him personally as well.
The argument that a reward would have caused people to make fake accusations, provide false information and generally annoy the police is easily dispelled. They were doing it anyway. There is no reason to believe that any more hoaxers would have been lured out by substantial sums than were lured out by the substantial press coverage. There is no reason to believe that a reward would have fueled more hoaxing. In fact, the additional people interested in catching the Ripper would have been a disincentive to pranksters. More people looking would have meant less willingness to risk their lives for some fun, lest they be accused of having actually committed the crimes, and thrown to the mob.
The second idea that the Met should have followed to fruition was the use of the bloodhounds. This is the only avenue of investigation that could have made an impact on the actual apprehension of the Ripper, in addition to being an excellent public relations tool. Using the bloodhounds would have demonstrated to the public that the police were doing everything in their power - even using experimental methods of law enforcement - to catch the Ripper. The dogs themselves generated significant press coverage, and had they become a permanent addition to the Police, they could have continued to take the focus off the Met's failure to catch the Ripper.
It is impossible for us to claim that by making any of these decisions, the Met would have had a better chance to catch the killer. The reward would have only been a ploy to convince the media and the public of the thoroughness of the Police. The use of the bloodhounds was the only unused idea that had the potential of providing clues that may have caught the Ripper. However, both would have furthered the idea through easily earned media coverage that the Police were sparing no expense in the Ripper investigation. Each of these three scenarios provides a similar outcome: minimized damage to the public perception of the Police, and a maximization of opportunities to increase public confidence in their government and police force despite its failure to stop the killer. None of them would have ended the crisis, but if any or all of them had actually occurred, the progression, length, and long term effects of the crisis would have been greatly changed.
Our analysis confirms that the Whitechapel crisis was unavoidable. No matter what actions were taken by the Metropolitan Police ahead of time, no matter what steps they took after the killings started, and no matter how they handled or mishandled the press, there was no way to stop Jack the Ripper from killing his victims. This was the part of the crisis they couldn't control. The Met's failure to catch the Whitechapel murderer was through no fault of its own - Jack was smart and very, very lucky. The Met did not possess the knowledge and technology that would have solved the case today. They did the best job that they could, with the resources they had.
We have shown that had the Met been well versed in the fine art of crisis management, they could have easily avoided some of the familiar pitfalls they fell into. Ignoring public perception, snubbing the media and infighting are common aspects of poorly managed crises, even today. The most well managed crises demonstrate many common traits that were missing in the Ripper crisis - the presence of a coherent message, efforts to court public and media opinion, and unity of leadership.
The Met's true failure was in not controlling the part of the crisis they could control - the perception held by the press and the public. This was a result of poor planning, a lack of cohesive leadership, a failure to recognize the role of the media in controlling crises, and the failure to heed the pre-crisis warnings they were given.
Looking back on how the Met dealt with the public relations nightmare the Ripper murders presented, we have an excellent example of what failing to anticipate and plan for crises can do to an organization. And using the lessons the Metropolitan Police learned the hard way, the police and government officials of today can prepare themselves to maximize the opportunities and minimize the damage they will face in their next crisis - wherever and whenever it may be.
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- Mitroff and Anagos, page 13
- Sugden, page 2
- Ryder, "Introduction to the Case"
- Ryder, ibid.
- Ryder, ibid.
- Sugden, page 58
- Ryder, "Introduction to the Case"
- Sugden, page 68
- Sugden, ibid.
- Hitchcock, "Victorian London Research, London Police Divisions".
- Evans, Ultimate Companion, page 199
- Hitchcock, "Victorian London Research, London Police Divisions
- Browne, page 78
- UK Home Office, "Home Secretaries 1782 to Date"
- New York Historical Society, "NYPD Timeline 1801-1863"
- Hitchcock, "Victorian London Research, London Police Divisions
- Hitchcock, ibid.
- Hitchcock, ibid.
- Browne, page 114
- Browne, page 123
- UK Home Office, "Home Secretaries 1782 to Date"
- Browne, page 202
- Ryder, "Sir Charles Warren"
- Evans, UC, pages 389 - 390, quoting from the London Times of 13 November 1888
- Ryder, "James Monro"
- Sugden, page 65
- Sugden, ibid.
- Browne, page 210
- Sugden, page 66
- Sugden, ibid.
- Evans, UC, pages 123 - 124 - quoting a letter from Sir Charles Warren to Sir Robert Anderson dated 15 September 1888
- Sugden, page 300, quoting the Pall Mall Gazette
- Browne, page 211
- Sugden, page 19
- Sugden, page 33
- Sugden, page 19
- Sugden, page 27
- Sugden, page 45
- Sugden, page 49
- Sugden, page 56
- Sugden, page 55
- Sugden, page 76
- Sugden, page 73
- Sugden, page 91
- Sugden, pages 109 - 110
- Evans, UC page 75 - referencing a report of Chief Inspector Swanson to the Home Office dated 19 October 1888
- Sugden, page 110
- Cunningham, "Some British Coins…"
- Sugden, page 112
- Sugden, page 70
- Sugden, page 71
- Sugden, page 119
- Evans, UC, page 28 - quoting a letter from L&P Walter and Sons to the Home Secretary, 31 August 1888
- Evans, UC, page 30 - quoting a letter from E. L. Pemberton, Matthew's assistant, to L&P Walter and sons, 4 September 1888
- Evans, UC, page 126 - quoting a letter from MP Samuel Montague to police Assistant Commissioner A. C. Bruce, 10 September 1888, which was then forwarded along to the Home Office for response.
- Evans, UC, page 134
- Sugden, page 173
- Sugden, page 178
- Sugden, page 255
- Sugden, page 218
- Sugden, page 188
- Evans, Letters from Hell, page 16
- Sugden, page 279
- Sugden, page 280, quoting a letter from Montagu of 6 October 1888
- Sugden, page 291
- Sugden, pages 283 - 284
- Sugden, page 298
- Sugden, page 298 - 299
- Evans, Letters, page 63
- Sugden, page 263
- Sugden, page 274
- Sugden, page 324
- Sugden, pages 341-342
- Paley, pages 174 - 175
- Sugden, pages 70 - 71
- Sugden, page 71, quoting from Vincent Howard's A Police Code, and Manual of the Criminal Law, 1881.