Of the volumes that have been written about Jack the Ripper and the literal death grip he held over the City of London, very little has focused on the efforts of the police and investigators who were obligated to capture the villain and end the reign of terror. With the exception of some short biographies of the primary police personnel and the constant attention given to the error made by Sir Charles Warren in erasing the Goulston Street writings, not much effort has been spent on the over-all police effort from a law enforcement/investigative standpoint.
Contrary to popular belief (both in 1888 and present) the officers of the Metropolitan Police and City Police were not complete idiots. There is a vision of officers running around like Keystone Cops unable to catch a stray cat, much less a heinous serial killer. The only reason this image has persisted is that they did not apprehend Jack the Ripper. However, some understanding must be had as to the position Jack put the police in. Many of the police at the time had years of experience as beat officers or as investigators. Working in such a heavily populated area as London, these officers had seen just about every type of vice, crime and depravity known to exist. They certainly were not strangers to death and murder. During the mid to late 1880's, there was a frequent stream of bodies found in alley's, floating in the Thames and cries of "murder" in the night. Some of the officers in Whitechapel in the fall of 1888 may have been recently assigned, but most police will tell you that crime is the same everywhere.
What the police were not as thoroughly experienced with was murder without any obvious motive. A robbery gone bad or a jealous husband killing his wife's suitor would have been understandable. Likewise, if Polly Nichols had died as a result of cheating a customer in the early morning hours of 31 August, it would have been understood and would have easily fit the 'typical' mold of crime the police experienced and expected on their beats. When they were suddenly faced with a new twist to an old crime, it is equally understandable that it would take them some time to adjust.
From the beginning of the killings (Tabram or Nichols, it doesn't matter which is considered 'first'), when the body was removed from the crime scene and the blood washed away long before the sun was up enough to allow the most basic of crime scene exams, until 10 weeks later, when the police kept Millers Court closed until the scene was photographed and no bystanders were allowed to wander about trampling on evidence, it was obvious that the police had realized there would be no 'smoking gun' and they needed to change their approach if they wanted to catch the fiend. Jack may have been gruesome in his acts, but those same acts caused a revolution in the police sciences by forcing the police to develop new techniques and tactics for detecting unknown offenders, rather than simply laying hands on an obvious suspect.
19th Century Police Tactics
In 1888, Police Science was in its infancy. Police agencies around the world were starting to realize that in order to stay on top of rising crime rates, they were going to have to improve on their investigative methods. Science as a whole was advancing as new discoveries were made and the police were only beginning to realize that those advances could help them in their fight against crime. Regardless of the dawn of the new scientific age, law enforcement in 1888 was still heavily dependant on the old, tried and true methods of investigation and crime prevention. An examination of these methods is vital as most are still in use today.
THE CRIME SCENE
Protection and examination of a crime scene is the most basic and common sense step at the beginning of any investigation. Even in 1888, before forensic science, the need for preserving the crime scene was there. Many clues can be gleaned from the position of the body, items near the body or the condition of the ground around the scene. By allowing bystanders to wander around the crime scene, as was the general practice in those days, vital evidence, such as footwear impressions or blood flow patterns, could be destroyed. Items which may prove significant could be moved or altered, and in modern times, fibers or DNA material could be contaminated. Any of these things can easily cause investigators to look in the wrong direction for the offender and could possibly lead to a wrongful prosecution and, logically, the true offender escaping justice. By the end of Jack's killing spree in November 1888, the police were starting to get the idea about crime scene preservation. Millers Court, the last crime scene, was kept secure from the public so that the bloodhounds, Bruno and Burgho, could be brought in to sniff out the killer. While this was not the best reason to protect the scene, and the dogs never arrived, it got the job done.
Once a crime scene is secure and safe from contamination, a thorough search needs to be conducted. Probably the most critical need during this time is light. A few small lanterns or torches are just not enough to be able to conduct a detailed crime scene search. At the inquest into Polly Nichols' death, PC Neil stated that while he was waiting for Dr. Lewellen to arrive, he looked over the ground for "the mark of wheels." This was done while it was still dark outside. While something as large as wheel impressions may have been found, smaller evidence, such as blood droplets, would have been easily overlooked. Inspector Spratling piped in at this time during the inquest and stated that he reexamined the ground during daylight. This was after the blood had been washed off the street and hundreds of spectators had tramped through the crime scene at Buck's Row, so what new evidence would he reasonably expect to find? Even in the 1990's, during the age of electricity and battery powered halogen lights, police investigators often wait until daylight to conduct a crime scene search to ensure the clearest view possible.
The art of searching the crime scene is something that has not changed throughout history. The investigator simply looks for anything that does not appear to be at the scene naturally, something that could have been used during the crime, something that is the result of the crime or anything that just happens to catch the eye. Over the years we have learned more about what might be useful to the investigation (a 19th century inspector would hardly consider picking up a single human hair for analysis), but the basic principle has remained the same. It is during this search that evidence is located.
It is not possible today to detail and discuss all the evidence the police collected or neglected at each of the crime scenes, however we can speculate, based on a few documented instances, that their methods may not have been the most efficient. For example, a hatchet may have been present in Mary Kelly's room at Millers Court. If so, it's presence was largely ignored by police because of the 'common knowledge' that the Ripper used a very sharp knife to do his dirty work. What else was discounted because it did not fit in with the police theories of the time? The Goulston Street graffiti is another example. Sir Charles Warren, afraid of the political ramifications of the writing on the wall, ordered it destroyed against the advice of his police investigators. Whether the writing was done by Jack the Ripper or not, it should still have been documented and examined for elimination purposes, if nothing else.
Another major aspect of the crime scene is documentation. Even today this is still done in the form of crime scene sketches. Detailed measurements locate the precise placement of every item at the crime scene. Body location and position, locations of any evidence found, furniture arrangements and blood stains are all documented on a sketch. Photographs are taken of everything. Up close shots, distance shots, different angles, different lighting and exposures. It is important to note that you cannot have too many crime scene photos. Today it is easy to take photos with a disposable camera and have the film developed in an hour. Only the crime scene at Millers Court was photographed and that was only made possible because the scene was kept secure waiting for bloodhounds. To stress the importance of crime scene photography, remember that today, more than one hundred years after the death of Mary Kelly, investigators and Ripperologists can examine the scene of her death and may still find critical pieces of evidence that could bring her killer's name to light. Just imagine how valuable photos of the other crime scenes may have been to the men investigating the murders in 1888.
Only, and I stress ONLY, when the primary investigator on the scene is satisfied that all that can be done has been completed, can a body or evidence be removed and the crime scene closed. This obviously would have been a bone of contention for the police in 1888, as it seems the local doctor or coroner had more authority over the crime scene that the investigators did. In 1999, no self-respecting investigator would ever allow a Doctor, Judge or Coroner to remove a body or other evidence before the crime scene process was completed.
The final important aspect of the crime scene occurs after the search is completed. All documentation (sketches, preliminary interviews with witnesses, photos, physical evidence, etc.) needs to be organized and properly stored in a secure location. A musty old store room which is generally accessible to anyone just will not do. There have been many cases of murder which have been solved and successfully prosecuted years after the crime, but only because everything was kept safe and available for reexamination. Needless to say, this was not done in the Ripper cases.
MEDICAL ANALYSIS (AUTOPSY)
An autopsy is a critical part of any murder investigation. Although the primary reason for conducting an autopsy is to determine the cause of death, the doctors who conducted the postmortem examinations of Jack's victims took it a step further and may have started a whole new trend. They drew conclusions about the murderer based on the injuries to the victims. They believed the suspect was a male, left-handed, relatively large in physical size and strength and was well educated, with a background in medicine. Although the assumptions they made have been called into question many times since, they took the time to look at the victims with an eye toward helping the investigation, not just determining that the victim had been murdered. Continuing that trend in modern times, investigators use autopsy information, combine it with data from the crime scene and other evidence to help get an idea of what kind of person the offender may be. This is called profiling and is very popular with today's investigators.
INTERVIEW AND STATEMENTS:
At some point during any investigation there will come a time to interview and question people. There are unique differences between interviewing a witness and interrogating a suspect.
Witnesses often see more than they realize, but will only report information they feel is significant to the case. Also, witnesses will often embellish their stories as time progresses. It takes an experienced and patient interviewer to get a witness to reach into their memory and pull out accurate details they didn't know they knew.
Suspects are, more often than not, skilled and experienced liars. They not only deceive out of a sense of self-preservation, but also for the satisfaction of "outsmarting" the police. Lying, like any other skill, takes a certain amount of practice to maintain a level of proficiency and a criminal practices constantly. To defeat this, an interrogator must never take what the suspect says at face value. Every claim the suspect makes must be verified by independent sources. Any confirmed lie must be brought out. This puts the suspect on the hot-seat and gives the interrogator the upper hand.
To best deal with both kinds of interviews, it is vital that written statements be taken. Relying on a verbal statement given at a Coroner's inquest, where the public and press are just waiting for any new, gory detail to be uttered, is the worst way imaginable for an investigator to obtain accurate information. By writing down the testimony and having the person sign their name to it, you are locking down the information they have given. Suspects who lie in writing are easier to pin down later when they change their stories. Witnesses fear being called into court to support a lie they told previously, so they will generally be more accurate when giving information.
Written statements are easier to confirm because there is no miscommunication of "what I meant to say was..." The investigator does not have to commit any details to memory if he has them committed to paper. Written statements are valuable in court, during appeals, for studies and analysis of crime trends, historical information and numerous other issues. No verbal statement should ever be accepted as it is then reduced to hear-say evidence. If the person being interviewed cannot write, write it for them. If they refuse to write or sign a statement, write one anyway and have a witness sign that it is accurate. Do what needs to be done to get it down on paper.
The investigative interview is not limited to a formal, sit-down type discussion in an interrogation room at the local police station. There are more "field interviews" done on the street by detectives and constables every day, than are done formally. Merely talking to someone and asking about a certain crime constitutes an investigative interview. It is vitally important that each and every one of these is documented in writing.
During Jack's reign of terror, there were hundreds of people in Whitechapel investigating the murders. Police, newspaper reporters, private detectives, vigilance committee members and hunters of fortune and glory were all combing a very small area of London looking for information. Rumors were flying, reports of fiendish looking men were common and mobs of scared and angry people chased down anyone who didn't seem to look right. At night, police were stationed close enough to see and hail one another in case of an emergency and they had orders to stop and question anyone seen out after midnight (though this was not always done). It is reasonable to believe that during the times of heightened vigilance, there were literally thousands of field interviews conducted. It is also reasonable to believe that Jack the Ripper was interviewed at some point during this time. Obviously he provided a good enough story to whichever officer stopped him that he was allowed to go on about his business, but the point is there was not a written record made of each and every field interview for later comparison, which could have possibly led to identifying a suspect.
The science of fingerprinting will be discussed now, and again later, because the theories behind the science were known and being used in a limited fashion during the fall of 1888. Several people had worked trying to develop the science since 1869 when William Herschel, a British colonial administrator, began experimenting with a classification system to ensure positive identification.
Most law enforcement agencies of the time were using the Bertillon system, which was based on the belief that a persons bodily measurements remained the same throughout their adult lives. When a suspect was arrested, the police took very exact measurements of about 30 different parts of their bodies (length of forearm, foot width, jaw line, etc.) and recorded them for later reference. There were two major (and several minor) problems with this system as an investigative tool:
These two problems show exactly why the Bertillon system could never be used to identify an unknown offender. If a person were arrested and charged as Jack the Ripper, the police could take his measurements, but what would they compare them to for positive identification that would also place him at the crime scene?
Fingerprinting did not become widely accepted as a science until the 1890's and was not considered a positive method for identifying offenders until the New York State Prison at Sing Sing established their fingerprint division in 1903.
One of the most basic concepts in police work is that of patrolling. A Bobby walking a beat in Victorian London served many purposes. His presence in an area showed that law and order were expected of the citizenry and that there would be a quick response to anyone who did not meet that expectation. A Constable on Patrol (COP) in a business district let store owners know they were being protected and often his mere presence prevented crimes. The same principle remains today. Criminal activity is lower in areas that are heavily patrolled by police.
An increase in patrolling, by both police and vigilance committee members, right after Jack claimed each victim probably resulted in his inability to find another victim a night or two later without putting himself in a position where he was likely to be caught in the act. He had to wait until police and public vigilance decreased before he could go hunting again.
Advances of the 20th Century
Since 1888, Police Science has made leaps and bounds, keeping up with and taking advantage of new technological advances. If a Personal Computer had been available to keep track of the incredible amount of information collected during the Jack the Ripper investigation, it could have made all the difference in bringing a suspect to trial. Other investigative techniques and tools, which we consider basic and routine today, would have been considered magical in Victorian London.
As mentioned earlier, the concept of fingerprinting was available to the London Police in 1888. The practical use of it was not. Since that time, fingerprinting has become a mainstay of most criminal investigations. By simply spreading some dust around and lifting whatever prints may develop, police can positively place a suspect at a crime scene.
However, it is not as simple a procedure as television would lead you to believe. Fingerprints are kept on file by many agencies, including the FBI, DIA, NSA, U.S. Military and every Police Department in the nation. There is no magical computer database that a single fingerprint can be scanned into that will search through the holdings of all these agencies and pop out a positive match within a few minutes. When a fingerprint is found at a crime scene and is submitted for identification, a comparison set of a suspects prints must also be provided. This comparison set can be acquired from many different sources (old arrest records, employment or security clearance records or taken as part of the investigation), but regardless of where they come from, it must be certified that they belong to the suspect. Only then can a positive comparison take place.
It is easy to see that, although fingerprints are valuable tools, an investigator will remain at square one without a suspect to compare them to. That means the investigator must still get out and pound the pavement, develop leads, interview witnesses and establish suspects through the same basic techniques that were used in 1888.
In 1888, the police and press made an attempt to garner public assistance in identifying Jack the Ripper. Two suspect sketches (accuracy unknown) appeared in the Illustrated Police News on October 20, 1888, after the "from hell" letter and "kidne" were delivered to Vigilance Committee Leader George Lusk. The best that can be said for these sketches is they were more the artist's impression of what a sinister and evil Jack the Ripper should have looked like than accurate sketches which could have helped identify the killer. They probably helped boost circulation of the newspaper, but did little help catch the Ripper. Nonetheless, anyone who bore the slightest resemblance to the sketches immediately came under suspicion. It could be considered a lame attempt to generate the same kind of public cooperation enjoyed by "America's Most Wanted."
As the years have passed, suspect sketch artistry has improved greatly. The artists started paying more attention to details such as hair length and shape, distance between the eyes, shape of the nose and chin, etc. The more sketches that were done, the more the artists realized many facial features could be broken down into 'sets' or 'types'. This led to the development of the Ident-I-Kits which use overlapping layers of plastic. Each later is imprinted with a separate facial feature to create a composite of what a suspect may look like. Modern computer imaging serves much the same purpose, but with a larger selection of features to choose from. Computer imaging generally creates a much more accurate and lifelike image in a much shorter time.
The most important thing that must be remembered is that no artist, no composite and no computer can provide an accurate picture without a witness who can provide a good description.
On separate occasions, there were several people who saw Jack, or a viable enough suspect that the police should have dedicated the time and manpower to tracking the man down. A description, and composite sketch, of the man Elizabeth Long saw talking with Annie Chapman outside 29 Hanbury Street, only 30 minutes before her body was found, should have been published by every newspaper in London the next day. This man should have been rushed to the top of the suspect list.
The Double-Event provided several opportunities for new composites to be created. Israel Schwartz, Joseph Lawende, Joseph Levy, Henry Harris and PC William Smith (whose witness testimony would automatically be considered credible) all had the potential of providing descriptions of the men seen with Stride and Eddowes. By comparing their description and composites with the information provided by Elizabeth Long, an even more compelling suspect may have been developed.
On November 9, Mary Ann Cox and George Hutchinson both saw Mary Kelly at or near Millers Court with a man. Both Cox and Hutchinson followed Kelly and the suspect, and both had somewhat close up contact with the couple at different times. It would be reasonable to believe they each saw enough of the man's face to be able to provide a description. Again, a comparison of this information with that previously collected could have taken the investigation into new areas.
FORENSICS AND DNA
A police officer at a crime scene does not need a Ph.D. in Forensic Pathology to conduct an effective investigation. Simply being aware of, and following, accepted evidence collection procedures is the start of the forensic process. It is unnecessary to go into a long diatribe about the scientific procedures used to type blood or DNA test biological material. Most investigators need only be concerned with what they need to look for at the crime scene and the results they can expect for their efforts.
Blood testing: Any murder scene where the victim was killed by a knife will contain some blood, yet there is controversy over exactly how much blood was present at some of the Ripper crime scenes. The Illustrated Police News, when reporting on the inquest into the death of Polly Nichols on September 8, 1888, reported PC Neil testified, "There was a pool of blood just where her neck was lying. The blood was then running from the wound in her neck." The same article has Dr. Henry Lewellen stating, "There was very little blood round the neck. There were no marks of any struggle or of blood, as if the body had been dragged." Why this discrepancy was not addressed at the inquest is unknown, but the confusion persists today and has given life to various theories about the body being placed there after Polly was killed at another location.
In either case there was blood! The assumption was made that it was all Polly Nichols' blood. Experience has taught that often in a knife attack, the attacker will also be cut, usually due to inexperience at handling a sharp blade in a violent situation. This results in the offenders blood also being left at the crime scene. Therefore it is important that blood samples, from different locations at the scene, be collected for typing and DNA analysis.
This procedure may have had a major impact into the investigation of the murder of Catherine Eddowes. The killer took a piece of apron with him, which was later found near the Goulston Street graffiti with blood on it. Again it was assumed the blood belonged to Eddowes and Jack used it to clean her blood off his knife or hands. It is just as reasonable to assume that he inadvertently cut himself during the attack (it was a hurried affair) and needed something to cover his own blood flow.
Since the need to look for this type of evidence and information was unknown to them, it is understandable for the police to come to the conclusions they did. The truth will never be known because the evidence is long since gone and no testing was available at the time.
Defensive Wounds/Actions: With what is currently believed about Jack's style of killing, it seems unlikely that there would be any defensive wounds on the victims. When a person is strangled to the point of unconsciousness or death before the slashing begins, they have no opportunity to put their arms up to try and deflect the cutting blows. However, when a person is being strangled, even by someone larger and stronger than they, there is time to take some defensive actions.
The first thing most people would do, if being strangled, is to grab for the hands of their assailant and try to force them off their neck. As a few seconds pass and fear begins to take over, the "fight or flight" response is evoked. Since flight would be impossible, fighting would begin. Fingernails can be an effective weapon for causing a pain reaction and forcing an assailant to let go. It is also natural for a person to scrape and claw if that is the only action left available to them. Experience has shown that when this occurs, the assailants skin and blood will remain under the victims fingernails and can thus be collected and used as evidence.
Again, as the knowledge of DNA testing was unknown, there was no reason for anyone to do this.
The "Kidne": Probably the single most important piece of evidence in the Jack the Ripper investigation was the piece of human kidney delivered to the home of George Lusk. If DNA testing had been available and that piece of kidney could have been positively identified as having come from Catherine Eddowes, the entire course of the investigation would have changed. As it was, Dr. Openshaw's examination of the kidney was inconclusive, other than the fact that the person it was removed from was a heavy drinker and suffered from Brights Disease. Eddowes fit this description, but so did many others in London at the time.
If a positive identification could have been made, the police could have focused more effort on the "from hell" letter accompanying the kidney, as it would have been good evidence the letter came from the Ripper himself. Handwriting analysis, paper and ink analysis and suspect identification of the man seen "haunting the house or Mr. Lusk." All of this and more could have been put at the top of the investigative list based on the positive identification of the kidney.
Refrigeration: Of the multitude of other modern investigative tools, I feel it is important to note something about refrigeration. It is something we are so accustomed to that it is hard to believe it once didn't exist. Today we have refrigerators and freezers in our homes, offices, mini-vans and motor homes, but in 1888 it was a luxury that few were able to afford because it required an icehouse and a lot of work to maintain.
Refrigeration is used by police today to keep murder victims literally on ice until a proper autopsy can be performed. Freezing preserves, for extended periods, bodily tissues, organs and fluids in the exact state in which they were found. It keeps bacteria from growing and stops the decomposition process which begins immediately after death. It also allows for long term storage of biological samples that can be used decades later for DNA comparison if new information comes to light, without having to exhume the whole body.
With a lack of refrigeration, it is no wonder the autopsy and coroner's inquest's needed to be held with such haste. Imagine being a juror and being required to get up close and personal with a body that had been lying on a slab at the mortuary for a week or two without being refrigerated. I'm sure three to four days was bad enough.
There are literally hundreds more topics that could be discussed in this section, such as weapon identification and comparison, skin samples, footwear impressions, personality and behavioral profiles, etc. I would like to reiterate that while any one, or combination of, these techniques and procedures would have undoubtedly had a major impact on the investigation and possible capture of Jack the Ripper, none of them were available to the Police in 1888. As such, the police cannot be blamed for failing to catch Jack, for they were handicapped by their methods, not by their desire to achieve a result. In addition, knowledge and technology do not always make the case. The Zodiac Killer of San Francisco and the Green River Killer of Seattle have not been caught despite using most of the techniques discussed above.
Even with the great forensic minds and modern technology now available, there are many reasons why an investigation can fail. When an investigation crosses jurisdictional boundaries, there can be friction between the departments, all of which feel a responsibility to find the killer.
The way we try to resolve this today is by establishing a joint task force with all concerned departments assigning officers to work on the case as a unit. Without such a combining of forces, information one department collects can easily be lost or denied to another. In essence what you have is a large puzzle to assemble, only you have half the pieces and your uncle in Iowa has the other half. No investigation can succeed under those circumstances.
This was never more evident than in the lack of cooperation between the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police. While the individual officers of the two departments seem to have had at least professional courtesy for each other, the heads of the departments were constantly embroiled in the type of political head-butting that keeps anything from being accomplished.
The public, the press, the Home Office, even the Queen of England herself knew that the murders were linked and that Jack the Ripper was a threat to all of London, not just one part of it. Despite this, when Annie Chapman was killed in Hanbury Street, Sgt. Godley, of Bethnal-Green Police Station, was unsure if the Chapman murder would be investigated along with the murder of Polly Nichols because Chapman was killed, "just out of our district." Even the newspaper reporter from The Star suggested that it was common sense for the two murders to be investigated together, but the police didn't see it that way.
The police did recognize that the killings were linked and were likely to be the work of a single man, but, once they reached that conclusion, they did not follow through by combining departmental efforts to catch the killer. Ted Bundy eluded justice for several years in the 1970's by simply moving from one area of the United States to another, knowing there would be no reason for the authorities in cities a thousand miles apart to consider their cases linked. Once those departments did recognize a link, their immediate cooperation led to a rapid apprehension. The same cohesive operations led to the arrest of David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) whose killing spree crossed several precinct lines in New York City. Cooperation is a proven and effective tool that even small children watching Sesame Street are taught.
The press again brought the lack of cooperation to light on November 13, 1888 when the Daily Telegraph pointed out that the description, provided by Mary Ann Cox, of the man seen entering Millers Court with Mary Kelly was largely discounted by the City of London Police, while the Metropolitan Police "are inclined to attach significance to it." Each of the departments must have had their reasons for the decision they made regarding Mary Ann Cox's description. Most likely, in order to come to two separate conclusions, each was in possession of information the other lacked. Together they may have had a chance of seeing the whole picture. When the amount of information that could have been shared between the various districts and departments is lost, it is not at all hard to understand why Jack the Ripper was never caught.
A major factor that played into this lack of cooperation between the two departments was Sir Charles Warren himself. Being a military officer and colonial administrator for the British Empire in Africa did not necessarily make him the right man for the job of Police Commissioner. In fact it hurt his performance.
Being a military leader on the frontier, you are accustomed to acting independently. You give orders which you expect to be obeyed without question or delay. If you have disciplinary problems, you handle them as you see fit. You are, as ship captains have been for centuries, master of all you survey.
Suddenly, Warren was placed into a political appointment, in the Capitol of his nation, where his superiors could look over his shoulder and immediately evaluate his work. This did not allow him the same freedom of authority as he was afforded while he was on the frontier.
Warren tried to take the policies and attitudes that served him so well in Africa and the Middle East and use them, unchanged, in London society. This especially hurt him with regards to James Monro and the Criminal Investigations Division. By trying to militarize the CID, Warren placed unrealistic and time-consuming demands on the detective division thus seriously undermining their ability to fulfill their primary role of investigating crime. Instead of allowing the men with talent and experience to investigate the murders, he dictated to them how they were to go about catching Jack the Ripper. He then interfered with those efforts when they did not meet political agenda's or when they could have offended prim and proper English society.
Whether it is Sir Charles Warren or anyone else, no political appointee should ever be allowed to dictate to an investigator which information he should pay attention to or disregard. No one without a firm background and years of experience investigating crimes should ever be made the head of a police agency. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that still has not been completely learned today and occasionally still raises its ugly head.
Another factor that hurt the chances of catching Jack the Ripper was the provincial attitude of English society. No one was willing to consider the possibility that Jack the Ripper, butcher of women and the monster of Whitechapel, could be a normal Englishman. With few exceptions, and against advice, attention was forced away from those who lived in proper society and onto the poor and foreign.
A normal Englishman, who led a normal English life, could walk through Whitechapel virtually unnoticed, while anyone who looked mad or evil would be immediately proclaimed "Jack the Ripper" by someone in the street. Mrs. Fiddymont, of the Prince Albert pub, displayed just this attitude when she reported the man who came in and ordered a half pint. His "rough appearance frightened her," and he kept his hat pulled down. A friend of Mrs. Fiddymont reported the man to be "startling and terrifying." Their suspicions were heightened when they saw some small blood spots on the back of his hand. In an area of London containing slaughter houses, cattle boats, fish markets and cat-meat shops, of course a fellow with a little blood on his hand and wanting a pint of ale must be Jack the Ripper! (Sarcasm intended)
It wasn't just the English who held these attitudes. In New York people started looking for a crazed madman after the New York Times ran a story about the murder of Carrie Brown in 1891 and posed the theory that Jack the Ripper was then in America. The French discovered that several years earlier a man suffering from "a rare form of homicidal mania" had been arrested for a series of Whitechapel type murders in Paris. Their evidence? "A young girl, who, struck by his repulsive look, felt convinced that he must be the long-sought assassin."
This attitude that only insane and repulsive looking persons could commit murder persisted right through 1930 when Alfred Hitchcock filmed the movie "Murder." In the movie, while the jurors are deliberating the guilt or innocence of the accused young actress, one juror proclaims, "She said she didn't do it."
The supportive response from another juror was, "Do those sound like the words of a murderer?" Need I say more?
Even when using all available techniques and technology, there is no guarantee of capturing any given criminal. Often a police agency investigating a series of murders is put in the unfortunate position of having to sit back and wait for another murder to occur, knowing that it will cost another life, but hoping that this time the killer will make a mistake and leave a clue to his identity. The best case scenario that modern knowledge and investigative procedures could have provided to the London Police in 1888 is the ability to better 'clear the waters' along the way by eliminating certain information and suspects from consideration based on hard fact. Eliminating information that was proven irrelevant would have allowed them to spend more time investigating clues that might have eventually led them to the killer.
Naturally, we must come to the conclusion that if the London Police had the knowledge and technology that law enforcement enjoys today, the result would have been a suspect being arrested, convicted in court and hung. Unfortunately, this would leave us without the Mystery of Jack the Ripper which fascinates us so.
|Dissertations: Turning a Modern Eye Toward an Old Investigation|
|Dissertations: Jack the Ripper, the Green River Killer, and the Police|
|Ripper Media: In the Footsteps of the Whitechapel Murders|