Sixty years ago the most terrible killer ever to roam London's streets came to a chill end in the Thames - or so the world was told. But that report was a hoax, deliberately engineered by the London Police.
ALMOST sixty years have passed since the unsolved "Jack the Ripper" murders invoked the horror of people everywhere.
These atrocious crimes, over a period of months, were committed in the infamous East End of London . . . the heart of the most populous city on earth . . . in defiance of every conceivable precaution taken by the C.I.D. (Criminal Investigation Department) of Scotland Yard, and the assistance of special police and citizen patrols spread throughout the district.
It was in autumn of 1888 that the first of these murders was committed, and as others of a like nature soon followed without a clue as to the identity of the killer, it became apparent that a Master Criminal was at large. His victims were always poor, miserable women of the streets, friendless prostitutes, who were stabbed to death and then horribly ripped and mutilated by what appeared to be surgical knives of extreme sharpness.
After the second of these murders the public took alarm, and a dread of this mysterious Terror who killed swiftly and without warning by night, spread throughout London. Lonely women wayfarers, abroad when darkness came, hurried through the streets, terrified with the premonition that the notorious murderer was dogging their footsteps.
The newspapers fanned the fearful anxiety of the public with sensational headlines and minute details of the horrible and gruesome crimes. Popular resentment against the ineffectiveness of the police to deal with this killer ran high. The C.I.D. took particularly caustic criticism leveled at it from all quarters.
At the height of the controversy, the London Police Commissioner resigned his office, and the frenzied hunt for the murderer became totally disorganized. The killings ascribed to "Jack the Ripper" - so named from the signature of one of the bogus letters published by the police - continued without respite during 1888, but no arrests were made.
In blaming the detective police of this time, it must be remembered that as compared to forces in other countries, English authorities worked under the severe handicap of not being allowed to arrest on suspicion or question the man they suspected. They first needed to be in possession of the guilt of their man. And this evidence they were never able to acquire.
In only one instance did a policeman have sight of the fiendish criminal. A young officer, named Thompson, was patrolling Chambers Street one evening when a man came running out of Swallow Gardens toward him. Upon seeing the police uniform the man turned tail and headed off in the opposite direction.
An experienced officer would have pursued the suspect, but Thompson turned into Swallow Gardens . . . and almost stumbled over the mutilated body of Frances Coles.
The error of his judgment preyed on the young officer's mind. He seemed to consider it the first episode of an unfortunate career . . . and his forboding eventually came true. The first time he had gone on night duty he had discovered a murder by stabbing . . . and some years later he himself was stabbed to death by a man named Abrahams. The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter in his killing, and Abrahams died in prison.
There were many sensational sidelights during this period of fear and unrest on the part of the public. A practical joker, at midnight, in a secluded street in Whitechapel, accosted a woman and yelled, "I'm Jack the Ripper!" He was immediately set upon, and knocked about by indignant bystanders. Luckily two constables arrived at the scene to rescue him from death at the hands of the angry mob.
At another time a Liverpool mail-steamer was held up from sailing for several hours, while the police searched her from stem to stern for a sailor who had produced a huge knife in a low tavern at that seaport, and boasted that he was the notorious Jack the Ripper. The police were compelled to follow every clue, however seemingly ridiculous the "information" sifting into its intelligence headquarters . . . for they had so few known "facts" from the actual scene of the crimes to work from.
But the murderer, who operated alone, at night, in lonely places, escaped detection. His very boldness and familiarity with the district in which he "operated", thoroughly outwitted his would-be captors. The mystery of his identity was intensified when it became known at the coroner's inquests that medical experts had certified that the perpetrator of these murders had considerable anatomical knowledge and skill, and more than likely was either "a butcher, an advanced medical student, or a doctor."
Many pathetic scenes were enacted in the dim Police Court where the inquests were held. Of one woman victim it was said that she was repulsed by the custodian of a doss house because she had not the necessary fee for a bed. "All right, dearie, I'll soon get it ! Look at my new bonnet, ain't it a beauty. I'll soon be back." She was discovered an hour later, stabbed and mutilated, in a nearby alley.
In a newspaper controversy by criminologists and others, it was claimed that Jack the Ripper was either a homicidal or religious maniac . or that his impelling urge was one of revenge.
After the last of these murders, the police had brought their investigation to the point of suspecting one or another of three homicidal lunatics. One was a Polish Nationalist reported by Police Constable Thompson, the only officer who had caught sight of the murderer.
The second was an insane Russian doctor who had been a convict both in England and in Siberia. This man was reported to be in the habit of carrying surgical knives in his pockets. At the time of the outrages. he was in hiding; at any rate he could not be found,
The third suspect was also a doctor, of prominent and impeccable reputation, living on the West Side of London, whose mind was "cracking up" and on the borderland of insanity. It is with this individual, the real Jack the Ripper murderer, that our story deals.
According to the files of Scotland Yard, after the last of the Jack the Ripper murders in Miller's Court on November 9th, 1888, this man disappeared . . . and seven weeks later his body was found floating in the Thames. The medical evidence was that it had been in the water for a month, With his death, the mutilation-murders, ceased as abruptly as they started, and as far as generally known, the criminal responsible for these bizarre slayings was never apprehended. But the crime was solved, and by the police !
The "inside story" of how this notorious murderer was "clairvoyantly" traced and finally arrested was first published by the "London Daily Express," and later incorporated into a book edited by Charles Neil, entitled "World's Greatest Mysteries." The remarkable information this volume contained has never been refuted, incredible as it may appear.
In his book Neil states that "a dozen London physicians, who sat as a court of medical inquiry, or a commission in lunacy, definitely proved that the dreaded Jack the Ripper was no less a person than a physician of high standing, living in the West End of London. When it was absolutely proved that the physician in question was the murderer, and his insanity fully established by the commission, all parties having a knowledge of the facts were sworn to secrecy."
The document, disclosing the details of the case, was placed in the hands of the "London Daily Express" soon after the death of the "clairvoyant," Dr. R. J. Lees, who led the police to a solution of the crimes. Dr. Lees dictated the document in question, and issued instructions that its contents should not be revealed until after his death.
The circumstances which led to the detection of this inhuman monster are incredible to the extreme . . . and altogether unparalleled in the history of crime. It is only proper that credit be given (even though posthumously) to Dr. Robert James Lees, author of "Through the Mists," as the man who (according to this report) put the London police on the track of the killer. He himself had religiously observed his promise not to divulge the identity of the Ripper.
The document states that Dr. Lees developed an extraordinary faculty for "second sight" early in life, and that it enabled him to have an "in-sight" into the nature of things hidden from the perceptions of ordinary men who have to depend entirely upon their "out-sights" for seeing things. At the age of 19, he was summoned before Queen Victoria, where he gave evidence of his unusual clairvoyant gift, "exciting her utmost wonderment."
At the time of the first three murders, Dr. Lees was at the height of his powers as a "seer". One day, while writing in his study, he suddenly became apprehensive, and in translating his feelings, he became convinced that the Ripper was about to commit another murder. He tried to shake off this premonition, but it remained with him, increasing in intensity until, as it were, an "inner eye" opened, and a scene flashed itself before his vision.
He seemed to see two persons, a man and a woman, walking down a dimly-lit side street. Following them in his mind's eye, he saw them enter a narrow court. He read the name of the court. There was a gin palace near the court, and this was ablaze with light. Inside a rowdy crowd of East Enders, the scum of London, shouted in boisterous and indecent merriment. The hands of the clock above the bar pointed to 12:40 . . . the hour at which the public houses close for the night.
As he looked, the crowd melted from the tavern. He was drawn toward the man and woman who had entered the court. The woman was half-drunk; the man perfectly sober, and intent upon an errand. In a dark corner of the court the woman leaned against a building to support her reeling senses. Suddenly the man, dressed in a dark suit of Scotch Tweed and carrying a light overcoat over his arm, hastened forward.
He put a hand over her mouth and drew her to him. She struggled feebly, but was too much under the influence of liquor to offer effective resistance. Then her days on earth were over . . . her throat slit from ear to ear. The blood spurted from her neck and onto the man's shirtfront. He held her by the waist and mouth and dropped her limp form to the ground.
With his knife already dripping with blood, he inflicted deep gashes in various parts of her body, slitting her skin and flesh with the finesse of an accomplished butcher. Then he deliberately wiped his knife clean on his victim's clothes, and sheathed it. Calmly he put on his light overcoat, buttoning it up to hide his shirtfront, and casually walked away. These are things Dr. Lees saw in "clairvoyance." He went at once to Scotland Yard to inform them of his vision.
The sergeant on duty faithfully recorded Dr. Lees' account of the murder . . . but only by way of humoring one whom he considered a harmless lunatic. It was quite a fad these days - giving one's self up as Jack the Ripper - and the psychopathic hospitals were full of would-be murderers. Also alarmists were besieging the offices of Scotland Yard with phoney information and threats of new murders.
So, in Dr. Lees' instance, the sergeant did not take the information seriously. He was half-way tempted to lock him up. But decided that he'd best take the story down, and let the man go his way thinking he had "helped the authorities" in this famous case. At any rate, the sergeant noted the hands of the imaginary tavern's clock at 12:40 when the Ripper met his victim in the court, and promptly forgot the whole affair - until the next day.
At 12:30 on the following night, a woman entered the public house near the court in question. She was quite under the influence of drink, and the bar-keeper refused to serve her. She was seen by another witness to enter the court again at 12:40 in the company of a man dressed in a dark suit and carrying a light overcoat. This was the evidence given before the deputy coroner who held an inquest on the body of a woman found "with her throat cut, and horribly mutilated," to quote from the coroner's records.
Dr. Lees was shocked when he read of the murder in the court, in the newspapers next day. To use his own language: "My whole nervous system was seriously shaken and under the advice of a physician I removed with my family to the Continent." While he was away, Jack the Ripper continued his butchering of women of low repute . . . adding four more murders to his list. It then became necessary for Dr. Lees to return to London.
One day, while riding on a bus with his wife, a man entered the vehicle. When he saw him, "every nerve in my body tingled with excitement." The stranger was dressed in a suit of dark Scotch tweed and carried a light overcoat; but he was no stranger. Leaning over to his wife, Dr. Lees whispered tensely, "That man is Jack the Ripper!"
When the bus turned into Oxford Street, the man got off. Dr. Lees was determined to follow him. About half-way up the block, he met a constable, to whom he pointed out the man, and informed him that he was the dreaded Ripper murderer. But when he asked the officer to make an arrest, the constable only looked at him and laughed. Instead he began questioning Dr. Lees, retaining him long enough for the suspect to escape.
That night Dr. Lees again received premonitions that the Ripper was on the prowl, and about to commit another murder. The scene of this outrage was not as distinct as in the former instance, but the face of the woman victim was clearly defined, A peculiarity of the mutilation was that one ear was completely severed from the face, and that the other remained hanging by a mere thread of skin.
As soon as he had recovered from his trance, Dr. Lees hastened to Scotland Yard, and insisted upon an immediate audience with the Head Inspector of Police. That official listened with a smile of incredulity to the first portion of the visitor's story. The smile, however, died away as Dr. Lees reached that portion of his narrative where he described the severed ears of the victim.
With sober deliberation the Police Inspector reached into a drawer of his desk and took out a post card. He laid it in front of Dr. Lees for his perusal. It was an ordinary post card written in red ink. But it had two finger marks traced in blood in one corner, and included the message:
"Tomorrow night I shall take my revenge from a class of women who have made themselves most obnoxious to me, my ninth victim.
Jack the Ripper.
"P.S.-: To prove that I am really Jack the Ripper, I will cut off the ears of this ninth victim."
The Inspector had at his command a force of nearly 15,000 constables. By dusk of next day no fewer than 3,000 of these, in addition to 1500 detectives, were patrolling the courts and alleys of Whitechapel. Notwithstanding all these precautions, Jack the Ripper, with infinite cunning, penetrated the cordon, slew his victim, and disappeared.
The murdered woman was found slaughtered "with one ear completely severed and the other hanging by a mere shread of flesh." At this news the Inspector turned deathly pale, and confided in Dr. Lees that he was "up a tree" in his investigations. The solution of the murders was no nearer now than at the beginning of the case, and the Inspector asked Dr. Lees to assist him.
Unfortunately the clairvoyant had business on the Continent and was not able to do so at the time. But he promised that he would come to see him upon his return. While he was abroad, the Ripper continued his evil ways and murdered his sixteenth victim . . . coolly informing the Scotland Yard authorities that he intended to kill twenty, and then stop.
Shortly after this Dr. Lees returned to England and made the acquaintance of two Americans visiting London, Roland B. Shaw and Fred C. Backwith. One evening these three gentlemen were having dinner in the Criterion when Dr. Lees suddenly turned to his companions and exclaimed: "Great God! `Jack the Ripper' has just committed another murder!"
His companions were amazed at this disclosure, and looked at Dr. Lees in askance. The "visionary" then had to tell his friends the whole story of his apparent "sensitiveness" to the Ripper while in London. Mr. Shaw checked his watch. It was 11 minutes to 8. At 10 minutes to 8 a policeman discovered the body of a woman in Crown Court, in the Whitechapel district, with her throat cut and her body bearing the cutmarks of the Ripper.
Dr. Lees and his companions went at once to Scotland Yard. The Inspector had not yet received the news of the murder, but while Dr. Lees was relating his story, a message arrived with the details of the outrage. The Inspector, taking with him two men in plain clothes, together with Dr. Lees and his two friends, drove at once to Crown Court. As they entered Dr. Lees said: "Look in the angle of the wall. There is something written there."
The Inspector, by this time, as anyone can readily imagine, was himself in a state bordering on insanity. Never in his long career as a criminal investigator had such a baffling series of murders been committed, without any clues to work from in the detection of the culprit, except the claims of a "seer" who says he has "visions" (and verifiable visions!) of the murders before they take place. Enough to drive any man mad, Especially an ordinary police officer, who likes his work "routine" and "conventional !"
It must be borne in mind here that Jack the Ripper had eluded the resourcefulness of the greatest police force in the world; that, rendered desperate at last, the authorities had summoned to their assistance the most experienced detectives of France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain and America. They had lavished immense sums of money in an endeavor to trace the fiend, and there was a standing aggregate reward of £30,000, together with a pension of £1500 per annum . . all to go to the man who should first deliver to justice the terrible Ripper.
The Inspector, having abandoned every known scientific means to trace the criminal, turned as a last desperate hope to Dr. Lees. It was fantastic . . . but possible (at this stage anything was possible!) . . . that this man's unusual "clairvoyant" faculty might do the incredible and discover the identity of the killer, It was evident that there did exist some subtle "magnetic" connection between the medium and the fugitive.
All that night Dr. Lees turned his mind inward to its impalpable sensitivity to Jack the Ripper, and wandered through the streets of London "like a bloodhound following hot upon a scene!" The Inspector and his aides followed a few feet behind him.
At last, at 4 o'clock in the morning, with face pale and eyes bloodshot with effort, Dr. Lees halted at the gates of a West End mansion. Gasping through cracked and swollen lips, he pointed to an upper chamber where a faint light was visible. "In that room you will find the murderer you seek!" he said.
The Inspector was visibly shaken. "Impossible," he said. "That is the residence of one of the most celebrated physicians in the West End."
It could not be. Yet the "visions" and "impressions" of this clairvoyant had been astonishingly accurate. Perhaps a test of his powers would prove or disprove the validity of his extravagant statement.
"If you will describe to me the interior of the doctor's hall," the Inspector remarked, "I will arrest him at the risk of my position."
"The hall has a rough porter's chair of black oak, on the right hand, as you enter. A stained-glass window is at the extreme end. And a large mastiff is, at this moment, asleep at the foot of the stairs," offered Dr. Lees, after a moment of deep insight.
The Inspector was reluctant to arouse the household at that ungodly hour of the morning on such flimsy evidence. So the party waited until 7 A.M., when the servants in the fashionable residence began to stir. Then they entered the house and learned that the doctor was still in bed. They requested to be allowed to see his wife.
The servant left them standing in the hall, and the Inspector called Dr. Lees' attention to the fact that there was no mastiff visible, as he had described, although, in all other respects the description tallied exactly. Upon questioning the servant as to the whereabouts of the dog, she informed the men that it generally slept at the foot of the stairs at night, and was let out into the garden in the morning. When the Inspector heard this, he exclaimed: "It is the Hand of Providence!"
In a few minutes the doctor's wife made her appearance, and after a half-hour's searching inquiry into her husband's activities, it was ascertained that the wife doubted the doctor's sanity during the past few months. There had been moments when he had reversed his usual mild and pleasant disposition, and terrorized both herself and her children at the slightest provocation. The wife also noted, with deep forboding (though she would not permit herself to reveal these suspicions to the authorities) that whenever a Whitechapel murder would occur, her husband would be absent from the house.
An hour later the Inspector had summoned to the house a group of the greatest experts on insanity in the city of London. The doctor was awakened and confronted with the accusation that he was responsible for the Ripper murders. At first the noted doctor recoiled in shock and horror at the bold statement that he was a brutal murderer. Then he shook his head in bewilderment, and his shoulders slumped in puzzlement and weariness. He admitted that his mind had acted strangely for several months, and that there were lapses of time for which he could not account . . . hours during which he was unable to recall doing anything.
That he was guilty of the Whitechapel killings, however, filled the doctor with awe and repugnance. But he would not deny the possibility of its being true. He told the physicians that occasionally he would find himself sitting in his room as if aroused from a long stupor . . without being able to remember the passing of evening. In one instance he had found blood on his shirtfront, which he couldn't account for; blood which he had finally attributed to a bloody nose during one of his "lapses" of memory.
Upon the confession of mental inaptitude, the Inspector made a thorough search of the house, and found ample proof that the famous physician was indeed Jack the Ripper. A dark Scotch tweed suit, together with a light overcoat, was found in a closet.
An exhaustive inquiry before a commission in lunacy developed the fact that the doctor was a sufferer from schizophrenia (split personality) with paranoid tendencies . . . and while, in one mind, he was a prominent and respected doctor of medicine, in the other, he was an inhuman beast, with an insatiable urge to slit the throats and mutilate the bodies of women who prostitute themselves for a price.
The new turn of events put the police in an incredible dilemma. The climax of one of the greatest manhunts in the history of Scotland Yard had culminated . . . in an anticlimax !
Circumstantial evidence all pointed to the guilt of one of London's most eminent physicians as the murderer Jack the Ripper. This doctor was adjudged insane by a committee of psychiatrists, and it was more than likely that the facts on the murders would never be clearly established.
If the accused was brought to trial for his actions, his guilt would have to be proved . . . and no one, not even the doctor himself, knew positively that he was the murderer, Then, the issue would arise whether a man could be adjudged guilty of a crime he committed while in a state of "somnambulism," or, to put it more exactly, when a "secondary personality" had possession of his body.
It would have been interesting to follow the course of reasoning presented by the opposing counsel in such a psychological case. But the trial was not to be. For the physician was removed to a private asylum where he became the most cunning and dangerous madman confined in that institution.
In order to account for the disappearance of the doctor, a sham death by drowning in the Thames, and burial were gone through, and an empty coffin (supposed to contain the mortal remains of a great West End physician whose untimely death all London mourned) was deposited in the family vault.
Back in the private mental sanitarium, none of the keepers ever knew that the desperate and violent maniac who threw himself from side to side in his padded cell, and made long night vigils at the window facing outside, emitting piercing cries of frustration, was the famous Jack the Ripper ! To them, he was simply known as "No. 124."
|Ripper Media: The Inside Story of Jack the Ripper|
|Dissertations: Robert James Lees and Visions From Hell|
|Press Reports: Daily Express - 16 March 1931|
|Press Reports: Williamsport Sunday Grit - 12 May 1895|