September 15th, 1888
The sensation of the week in London has been another brutal murder in the East-end, the victim's body being hacked about with the same mad ferocity which has marked other recent murders in the same neighbourhood. A profound sensation was created throughout the metropolis; and in defence to popular suspicion the police arrested a man known as "Leather Apron," and widely accused of complicity in the crime. He was able, however, to prove his innocence and the real culprit, who is very possibly an escaped lunatic, is still at large. The police, as usual, desire it to be generally understood that they are in possession of information which may lead to the murderer's arrest at any moment.
THE shocking murder and mutilation which we report elsewhere makes the third of these atrocious crimes perpetrated in East London within the last few weeks, and the fourth within the last few months. In each case the victim was a woman; in each case she was murdered in the early hours of the morning within a short distance of frequented thoroughfares in the midst of a densely populated district; in each case the crime was accompanied or followed by circumstances of such monstrous and disgusting barbarity that it is impossible to give all the details. Such is the state of affairs: and it is plain that if there is not to be a regular panic in the East-end, followed, as panics generally are, by some act of blind savagery, the murderer or murderers must be captured without delay.
Two theories have been suggested to account for these assassinations. One is that they are the work of a gang of desperadoes something like (but definitely worse than) the "High Rip" ruffians of Liverpool. The other is that they have been committed by a maniac, whose madness has taken the form of a thirst for blood and the mutilation of the dead. This suggestion, fanciful as it seemed at first, has gained in plausibility until it is very largely accepted in the district. The crimes have been almost motiveless, so far as can be ascertained. There was scarcely enough to be gained by killing these poor women to tempt the most hardened desperadoes as long as they were in their senses; nor is it easy to conceive that any sane beings, however wicked, would run the risks of committing Saturday's murder while the hue and cry raised upon that of the 31st of August was so hot. But if we suppose that there is some savage creature to whom the lust of slaughter has become an insatiable instinct, the horrible series of crimes will at least have an explanation -- shocking and terrifying as it is.
If there is such a lunatic in the case, it is obvious that he must be hunted down with the unremitting zeal and energy with which a man-eating tiger is ensnared by the ryots (sic) of an Indian village. The police now "have the case in hand." But perhaps some steps should be taken to supplement the leisurely activity of Scotland-yard. We are no advocates of police work by voluntary agency, but this may be a case for exceptional treatment. In the Western States of America, when a murderer or horse-thief has succeeded in baffling the "sheriff" for some time, the citizens form a sort of Watch Committee, which deliberately undertakes the work of trapping the criminal, and very seldom fails. The roads are patrolled by day and night, the district is regularly quartered among the volunteer sentries, and every suspected person is "shadowed" so closely by his neighbours that escape is impossible. Something of that sort might be attempted in Whitechapel; at least so far as regards the organization of a body of patrols which should guard the streets by night in a much more effectual way than is possible for the sparse and thinly scattered watchers of the Metropolitan Police Force. If this were done quietly and without needless ostentation, it would diminish rather than add to the panic which seems to be setting in at the East-end.
At present, there is scarcely a street in London in which it would not be tolerably easy to get twenty minutes or so for any deed of darkness in the small hours of the morning. We are not making this a reproach against the police. As we have said over and over again, the force under Sir Charles Warren's control is ridiculously inadequate to its numerous duties. How can 13,000 men watch and patrol by day and by night every yard of hundreds of leagues of pavement, of hundreds of square miles of courts, alleys, dark areas, and similar places? Even if the London police force were twice as strong as it is, it could not prevent an insane wild beast getting possession of some wretched drunken outcast, taking her into a dark corner, and then and there quietly assassinating her. This is a point worth remembering at a time when wild deductions are drawn from this affair, which, startling and terrifying as it is, it does not in the smallest degree warrant.
MR. PUNCH this week directs attention to a very serious matter which has already received consideration in the St. James's Gazette. Our contemporary asks if it is not "within the bounds of probability that to the highly coloured pictorial advertisements to be seen on almost all the hoardings in London, vividly representing sensational scenes of murder, exhibited as 'the great attractions' of certain dramas, the public may be to a certain extent indebted for the horrible crimes in Whitechapel?" We think there can be very little doubt, indeed, about the effect of this kind of thing upon ill-regulated minds; and, as we hinted a few weeks ago, the time has very nearly come when some sort of supervision should be exercised over "posters" and "pictorial advertisements." If the huge gaudily coloured bills of which complaint is so reasonably made were merely vulgar and tasteless, the artistic eye would be offended, it is true; but that would be the end of the business. Nobody would be harmed; there would be little danger of persons of weak mind being tempted to commit crimes because a picture upon a poster was out of drawing or was somewhat less refined than a fastidious criticism approved. Unluckily the offence of which Punch complains is much less venial than this. Every one who walks much about the streets of London, or of any other large town, must have observed that during the last two or three years the illustrated posters on the walls have shown an increasing tendency to be grossly horrible and revolting. Theatrical advertisements sin most frequently in this direction. It is a powerful recommendation to the latest melodrama that it should contain plenty of killing; and, to the end that people may be induced to pay their money to see the melodrama, it is necessary to make it perfectly clear to them that the piece contains an abundance of sudden death and reeks with gore. No more effectual means of bringing this home to the comprehension of the public has yet been discovered than the flaring poster, gaudy with prismatic colour and plentifully bespattered with blood, as red and realistic as the colour-printer can make it. No detail is spared. We have the fiendish expression of the villain's countenance as he plunges a dagger into the bosom of the hero. The crimson stains upon the white shirt-front are very effectively managed; and when the murderer withdraws his knife, as in some of the posters, there is sure to be a significant splash of red upon the point of it. Often, too, the blood is seen trickling from the knife to the ground. Or a bullet may be the agency of murder; and then we have the picturesque flash, the dramatic uplifting of arms, the sudden ashy pallor of the victim's face some little suffused by the red glare of the discharge. Or the wicked heroine ma push her perfidious lover off the rocks into the sea. It is all right so long as there is murder; and the more blood there is the better. The agonized contortions of a person who meets with a sudden and violent death, the dripping of the gore, and all the unpleasant physical details of the shambles are reproduced with the minutest fidelity.
It must, we are persuaded, be quite obvious that constant doses of this kind of thing can only have one result -- the degradation of those who are weak enough to be influenced by such representations. In all great communities there are certain to be a number of small-brained creatures, only half-human, whose minds, muddled by bad air and bad gin, readily take fire when they are confronted with the ghastly particulars of murder. Such pictures as these produce upon them the same effect that the taste of blood produces upon the tiger. Some men -- usually, no doubt, men partially destitute of intellect -- at once fly into a murderous frenzy at the sight of blood. Of such was the negro Bruce, who ghastly story Mr. W. B. Churchward has just told with an over-abundance of gory minuteness in a book ("Blackbirding in the South Pacific") which it is greatly to be hoped is wildly exaggerated. Whenever Bruce saw blood he "went mad," and performed an amount of miscellaneous killing which would have done honour to one of Mr. Rider Haggard's heroes. And if the sight of blood will have this effect, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the sight of a picture of murder and gore will have much the same influence. Indeed, it is notorious that a picture is often more seductive than reality. For our present purpose it does not matter very much whether the picture is a drawing or a description in words. The picture is the more glaring and momentarily the more shocking; but the effects of the description are perhaps more lasting. But there is this to be said of the posters: that they influence persons who never open a book and rarely read even a newspaper.
It is the horrible fashion of the day to revel in blood. There is no need to put a fine point upon the matter; and that statement represents the simple fact. We find blood everywhere: at the theatre, in the three-volume novel, in books of travel, in "shilling shockers," and (not least) in the newspapers. Certain important and influential provincial newspapers seem to have deliberately set themselves to glorify the most sordid and brutal crime: and week by week their columns are gorged with accounts of crimes for which hanging is all too good. Is it, then, to be wondered at that we are just now suffering from an epidemic of murder? Surely public decency calls for the suppression of the abominable illustrated posters to which it is extremely likely that many a murder has been due. They have become more numerous and more horrible of late: so have murders. No good purpose is to be served by this bold advertisement of the details of bloodshed; while it is certain that the horrible longings of homicidal maniacs are quickened by their contemplation.