East London Observer
Saturday, 10 August 1889.
What The Police are Doing.
All About the Farthing.
And the Women.
Though nearly three weeks have elapsed since the murder of Alice Mackenzie in Castle-alley, the police are evidently and admittedly as far off from obtaining a clue to the murderer as when the George-yard and Buck's-row outrages, following close upon the heels of each other, first warned London of the existence of a murder fiend in its midst. For this result the police are not altogether to be blamed; on the contrary, so great is the anxiety evidenced in the force concentrated in and around Whitechapel to lay the murderer by the heels that many constables have lately been utilising the time ordinarily devoted to rest by patrolling the streets in their private capacity. And if to this is added the fact that, at the present time, the comparatively limited area in which all the murders have occurred is literally swarming with police, that nearly every lodging-house of doubtful character has its detective in almost constant residence, and that every piece of information tendered, however absurd and improbable on the face of it, is being sifted and followed up in the most painstaking manner by the authorities at Leman-street and at Scotland-yard, there is but one conclusion to be arrived at - that everything is being done by the police in the matter that is at all possible. The letters which reach Superintendent Arnold at the Leman-street Police-station are both numerous and curious, and partake chiefly of the character rendered familiar to readers of newspapers during the time the murder scare was at its height in the autumn of last year. There are, for instance, no end to the letters from spiritualists and thought-readers, who profess in some cases to have seen the spirits of one or other of the murdered women, with whom they have entered into conversation as to the appearance of their murderer. The striking disparities evident, however, in these descriptions are sufficient on the face of them to condemn the letters and their writers as being absolutely useless for all practical purposes. Then there are the people who are morally certain that they know the author of the crimes, and though the police have taken the trouble to make inquiries, and even to shadow some of the persons indicated, the result has always been that explanations have been asked for and given calculated to clear them of all suspicion. As was to be expected, too, there are a number of individuals whose chief mission seems to have been to attempt to attain cheap notoriety by addressing letters with a "Jack the Ripper" signature to the police-station, breathing threatenings and warnings. For a time the majority of these communications found their way to the waste-paper basket of the inspector's office, without any further consideration being bestowed upon them, but the nuisance became at last so unbearable that pains were taken to discover some of the writers, who have been permanently cured of their literary inclinations by a visit from a uniformed police-officer and a threat of police-court proceedings.
Next to the mysteriousness attached to the crimes perhaps the most striking feature is the utter callousness of that class of women from whom the victims are recruited. They are to be found in hundreds in the lodging-houses of Spitalfields; but beyond the fact that "Jack the Ripper" has been included in their vocabulary as a kind of bye-word applicable to a suspicious character, they are apparently as little interested in the recent murder, and are as careless of their personal safety as any of the dwellers in the West End. Notwithstanding the fact that the police have repeatedly warned them against walking the streets singly, they may be found on any night standing or loitering at the street corners of Whitechapel and Spitalfields, away from all company, and doing their best to carry on their loathsome trade away from the prying eyes of the police. And it is in this very fact that the murderer - whoever he may be - knows that he has an advantage over the police. It has been asserted that he knows every nook and cranny of Whitechapel, and that, therefore, he must be a resident in that district. The police are not altogether inclined to believe this theory, because, as they point out, it is the business of these outcasts to know every dark court and alley where they may ply their trade unseen, and to know also at what time the policeman on the beat may be expected. Practically, these very women invite and give every facility to the murderer, and therein lies his advantage. They are for the most part the very lowest type of humanity; they are able neither to read nor write, and though they may hear of the murders, they pay but the least attention to them, and seem absolutely unconcerned as to the manner in which they are carried out. Moreover, women of this stamp have - the majority of them - a kind of blind and unreasoning belief in fate. What their end may be seems a matter of the most supreme indifference to them. Whether they die a natural or a violent death, is, in their opinion, all a matter of luck, and in this connection is explained a fact which seems to have considerably puzzled the police lately. It may be recollected that beside the mutilated bodies of two of the victims at least was found a farthing. If the pockets of women of this class were examined it would probably be found that a very large majority of them contained a similar coin, some defaced by a hole bored through the centre. The coin, in the opinion of these women, brings them luck; and just as a cabman, on the receipt of his fare will expectorate upon it, so these outcasts, on issuing from their lodgings for the nightly prowling of the streets, may be seen to take out their coins and spit upon them "for luck," as they say.
But while the identity of the murderer remains as complete and profound a mystery as ever, his ghastly work has incidentally resulted in some good being done in the district which has been befouled by his crimes. Not the least of these incidental benefits has been the directing attention to the condition under which these outcasts exist - for they cannot be said to live. Missions and other agencies have been started for their benefit, and it is no exaggeration to say that many have been rescued from the terrible life of shame which they formerly led. Then the District Board of Works and the Vestry have been bestowing increased attention upon the plague spots revealed in the district as a result of the murders, and lamps have been erected, lumber and vehicles removed, and, indeed, every effort has been made, as far as possible, to decrease the facilities which formerly existed for streets, courts, and alleys being used for immoral purposes. Finally, the terrible, dark and fetid shed in Old Montague-street, which has done duty as a mortuary for the district for many years past, and in which the bodies of nearly all the victims have, at one time or another, found a temporary resting place, has been doomed, and there will shortly be erected a mortuary and a post-mortem room more fitted for the purpose.