Saturday, 6 October 1888
A SUCCESSION of the most ghastly crimes conceivable to the human understanding is engrossing the outraged public mind, to the dwarfing of interest in all other current matters. Politicians may attend important gatherings and deliver addresses intended to weightily influence the party position; Churchmen may assemble in Congress to discuss a pre-arranged program affecting our religious life most urgently, but statesmen's speeches and the deliberations of spiritual leaders are drowned in the appalling clamour of comment upon the tragedies brought to light with such startling effect of late in London. These tragical occurrences - which have, happily, no parallel in anything the story of the life of the teeming millions of the metropolis has to tell - have been mainly confined to a densely-populated part just on the border of the City proper, where the squalor of Spitalfields and the wretchedness of Whitechapel crowd close to the wealth of the world's richest centre. There and thereabout exist many whose daily and nightly career is miserable in the extreme, whose scanty clothing is as uncleanly as their lives, whose struggle against starvation is unceasing, whose proneness to immorality and to crime is matter of common knowledge to all acquainted with the slums of the capital. Many unsexed women there horde or hide, women ever ready to barter their shame for the price of a pot of beer or the wherewithal to obtain the shelter of the "padding-ken" for a single night; poor abandoned creatures, who have drunk the deepest dregs of infamy, and are dragging on deathwards through all sin's fearsome final consequences to the female outcasts of our towns. Dreadful details of the barbarous butchery of six of these unfortunates, and, in several instances, of their fiendish mutilation also, have been given within the last few months in the newspapers, the terrible crimes having been perpetrated, as has been said, within that small London area which some one has aptly styled the Eastern Murder-land. The thrilling particulars of these nameless outrages have proved all-engrossing, not alone in the great metropolis, but throughout the length and breadth of Britain. The atrocities of Whitechapel and its vicinity have formed by far the most frequent theme of conversation, in public and in private; and everywhere the revolting subject has called forth expressions of shuddering indignation. In East London itself the feeling of pain has grown into a deepening sense of terror and apprehension as each recurring alarm of murder has been raised, until now something very like a panic holds possession of the inhabitants. Of course, all this has been intensified by the mysterious way in which the designer or designers of this dreadful plurality of homicide have succeeded time after time in eluding the vigilance of those on the alert to bring him or them to the bar of justice. In each case the act of murder was completed with brutal effectuality, and on several occasions abominable hackings of the corpses of the poor victims were then proceeded with. The savage work done, the guilty one vanished out of site, leaving no trace which seemed likely to lead to his capture. All sorts of theories, as might have been expected under the circumstances, have been floated as regards the murders; hundreds of suggestions have been offered, but up to the writing of these words, without any avail. The police have been sorely blamed, their officers attacked, and popular indignation has more than once gone beyond the region of reason. Then when, on Wednesday, all the country was told by the Press of the ghastly discovery, on the very site of a new central police office at Whitehall, of the dismembered body of yet another woman, London had an added thrill of horror. On calmly reflecting upon all the incidents of this sanguinary chapter of unexampled crime, it is difficult to discover in what respect the constabulary have failed to discharge their duty of guarding the lives of Londoners to the utmost of their ability, and no unbiased person will seriously deny that the policemen at the call of Scotland-yard or the Old Jewry would risk their lives at any moment to get hold of the miscreant or miscreants concerned in the murders. But they have to face cunning of no ordinary order, which has proved sufficient for months to entirely outwit all the plans of police detective experience. It is to be most earnestly hoped that the exertions of the authorities - who, though admittedly puzzled and perplexed so strangely, have left no stone unturned in the endeavour to bring to bay the monster or monsters they are pursuing - will succeed in discovering some clue, the skillful working out of which will put a speedy period to a state of things altogether unbearable in our age of bloated civilisation. Society cannot bear the continuance of murder in its midst so foul and so unnatural.