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From Constable to Commissioner
Sir Henry Smith

Sir Henry Smith was the Acting Commissioner of the London Police during the investigation of the Catharine Eddowes murder, as Commissioner Fraser was on leave at the time. Smith was among the most popular officials in the eyes of the press, but not everyone was won over by the Commissioner's charms. A penciled notation was made in Scotland Yard's copy of From Constable to Commissioner by the Secretary to the Metropolitan Police (1925-1927), George H. Edwards:

"A good raconteur and a good fellow, but not strictly veracious: most of the book consists of after dinner stories outside his personal experience. In dealing with matters within his own knowledge he is often far from accurate as my own knowledge of the facts assures me. (The Jack the Ripper A-Z, p. 140)"

From Constable to Commissioner was published in 1910, and devotes an entire chapter to the Ripper crimes.



THE excitement caused by the " ripper " murders it would be difficult to exaggerate, and the suggestions made by amateur detectives, and the abuse of the police in connection therewith, would have driven a sensitive man into the Earls wood Asylum.

There is no man living who knows as much of those murders as I do ; and before going farther I must admit that, though within five minutes of the perpetrator one night, and with a very fair description of him besides, he completely beat me and every police officer in London ; and I have no more idea now where he lived than I had twenty years ago.

None of the murders, I ought to explain, were committed within the City, bar one, that in Mitre Square. All the others were just outside the City boundary, in Whitechapel and Spitalfields. The coincidences in connection with the tragedies no one would credit. After the second crime I sent word to Sir Charles Warren that I had discovered a man very likely to be the man wanted. He certainly had all the qualifications requisite. He had been a medical student ; he had been in a lunatic asylum ; he spent all his time with women of loose character, whom he bilked by giving them polished farthings instead of sovereigns, two of these farthings having been found in the pocket of the murdered woman. Sir Charles failed to find him. I thought he was likely to be in Rupert Street, Haymarket. I sent up two men, and there he was ; but, polished farthings and all, he proved an alibi without the shadow of doubt.

In August, 1888, when I was desperately keen to lay my hands on the murderer, I made such arrangements as I thought would insure success. I put nearly a third of the force into plain clothes, with instructions to do everything which, under ordinary circumstances, a constable should not do. It was subversive of discipline ; but I had them well supervised by senior officers. The weather was lovely, and I have little doubt they thoroughly enjoyed themselves, sitting on door-steps, smoking their pipes, hanging about public-houses, and gossiping with all and sundry. In addition to this, I visited every butcher's shop in the city, and every nook and corner which might, by any possibility, be the murderer's place of concealment. Did he live close to the scene of action ? or did he, after committing a murder, make his way with lightning speed to some retreat in the suburbs ? Did he carry something with him to wipe the blood from his hands, or did he find means of washing them ? were questions I asked myself nearly every hour of the day. It seemed impossible he could be living in the very midst of us ; and, seeing the Metropolitan Police had orders to stop every man walking or driving late at night or in the early morning, till he gave a satisfactory account of himself, more impossible still that he could gain Leytonstone, Highgate, Finchley, Fulham, or any suburban district without being arrested. The murderer very soon showed his contempt for my elaborate arrangements. The excitement had toned down a little, and I was beginning to think he had either gone abroad or retired from business, when " Two more women murdered in the East!" raised the excitement again to concert pitch.

The night of Saturday, September 29, found me tossing about in my bed at Cloak Lane Station, close to the river and adjoining Southwark Bridge. There was a railway goods depot in front, and a furrier's premises behind my rooms ; the lane was causewayed, heavy vans were going constantly in and out, and the sickening smell from the furrier's skins was always present. You could not open the windows, and to sleep was an impossibility. Suddenly the bell at my head rang violently.

What is it?" I asked, putting my ear to the tube.

" Another murder, sir, this time in the City." Jumping up, I was dressed and in the street in a couple of minutes. A hansom-to me a detestable vehicle-was at the door, and into it I jumped, as time was of the utmost consequence. This invention of the devil claims to be safe. It is neither safe nor pleasant. In winter you are frozen ; in summer you are broiled. When the glass is let down your hat is generally smashed, your fingers caught between the doors, or half your front teeth loosened. Licensed to carry two, it did not take me long to discover that a 15-stone Superintendent inside with me, and three detectives hanging on behind, added neither to its comfort nor to its safety.

Although we rolled like a "seventy-four" in a gale, we got to our destination - Mitre Square - without an upset, where I found a small group of my men standing round the mutilated remains of a woman.

It was in Berners Street, a narrow thoroughfare off the Commercial Road leading to the London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway, that Elizabeth Stride, the first of the two victims that night, met her fate. The street is entered by a large wooden gate, folding back in the middle, and almost always left open, and it is conjectured that the murderer took the woman in, closing the gate behind him. At 12.40 a.m., as far as could be made out from the evidence of the inmates, the street was vacant.

Within five minutes of that time a man who had been out late opened the gate. He was driving a pony-trap. The pony shied at something behind the gate, and looking down he saw the body of a woman, and instantly gave the alarm. The woman was seriously injured about the head, and must have been thrown down with great violence, and her throat was cut from ear to ear. Not a sound was heard by anyone. No doubt she was rendered insensible by the fall. The assassin must have slipped past the off-side of the pony, and-as there were civilians and some men of the H Division close at hand-escaped by a very hair's-breadth an experience sufficient, one would have thought, to shake his nerve for that night. But no, either because he was dissatisfied with his work, or furious at having been interrupted before he could finish it, he determined to show that he was still without a rival as a slaughterer, and, walking straight up to Houndsditch, he met Catharine Eddowes,* and finished his second victim within the hour. The approaches to Mitre Square are three-by Mitre Street, Duke Street, and St. James's Place. In the south-western corner, to which there is no approach, lay the woman. I was convinced then, and am convinced now, that had my orders been carried out in the spirit-they may have been to the letter-the reign of terror would have ceased that night. The orders were to account for every man and woman seen together. It may be that the man and woman, having made an appointment, went separately and met in the Square. That does not exonerate the officers of the City Police. On hundreds of occasions I have defended them and stood up for them when unjustly accused of neglect or excess of duty ; but that is not, as Shaver Quackenboss used to say, my "platform" now. The "beat" of Catharine Eddowes was a small one. She was known to a good many of the constables, but, known or not known, she was in the streets late at night, and must have been seen making for Mitre Square. With what object? In pursuance, it is needless to say, of her miserable calling. Had she been followed, and men called to guard the approaches, the murderer would to a certainty have been taken red-handed. The Square, every inch of it, was carefully examined, but not one mark or drop of blood did we discover to indicate by what approach he had made his exit.

By this time a stretcher had arrived, and when we got the body to the mortuary, the first discovery we made was that about one-half of the apron was missing. It had been severed by a clean cut. My men, thoroughly awake at last, were scouring the whole neighbourhood, and one of them, Halse by name, who had been with us in Mitre Square, thinking he had a better chance down Whitechapel way, ran at his best pace in that direction. Goulston Street, Whitechapel, is a broad thoroughfare running parallel with the Commercial Road, just one-third of a mile from the Square, and in that street, at the door of one of the model workmen's dwellings erected by Peabody, he saw a light, and, halting, found a constable of the Metropolitan Force looking at the missing piece of apron. It was folded up, and immediately above, on the wall, written in chalk, were the words, "The Jews are the men that won't be blamed for nothing." It was thus proved beyond doubt that the murderer, on that evening at any rate, made, in the first instance, for Whitechapel. Sir Charles Warren was instantly apprised of this discovery, and, coming down himself, ordered the words to be wiped out, alleging as his reason for so doing that he feared a rising against the Jews. This was, I thought, a fatal mistake, as Superintendent Mac William plainly told Sir Charles when he called about seven o'clock, accompanied by Superintendent Arnold. It is just possible the words, if photographed, might have afforded an important clue. The assassin had evidently wiped his hands with the piece of apron. In Dorset Street, with extraordinary audacity, he washed them at a sink up a close, not more than six yards from the street. I arrived there in time to see the blood-stained water. I wandered round my stationhouses, hoping I might find someone brought in, and finally got to bed at 6 a.m., after a very harassing night, completely defeated. The revolting details of this murder would shock my readers ; but there are certain facts-gruesome enough in all conscience-which have never appeared in print, and which, from a medical and scientific point of view, should certainly be put on record.

When the body was examined by the police surgeon, Mr. Gordon Brown, one kidney was found to be missing, and some days after the murder what purported to be that kidney was posted to the office of the Central News, together with a short note of rather a jocular character unfit for publication. Both kidney and note the manager at once forwarded to me. Unfortunately, as always happens, some clerk or assistant in the office was got at, and the whole affair was public property next morning. Right royally did the Solons of the metropolis enjoy themselves at the expense of my humble self and the City Police Force. "The kidney was the kidney of a dog, anyone could see that," wrote one. " Evidently from the dissecting-room," wrote another.

Taken out of a corpse after a post-mortem," wrote a third. "A transparent hoax," wrote a fourth. My readers shall judge between myself and the Solons in question.

I made over the kidney to the police surgeon, instructing him to consult with the most eminent men in the profession, and send me a report without delay. I give the substance of it. The renal artery is about three inches long. Two inches remained in the corpse, one inch was attached to the kidney.

The kidney left in the corpse was in an advanced stage of Bright's Disease ; the kidney sent me was in an exactly similar state. But what was of far more importance, Mr. Sutton, one of the senior surgeons of the London Hospital, whom Gordon Brown asked to meet him and another practitioner in consultation, and who was one of the greatest authorities living on the kidney and its diseases, said he would pledge his reputation that the kidney submitted to them had been put in spirits within a few hours of its removal from the body-thus effectually disposing of all hoaxes in connection with it. The body of anyone done to death by violence is not taken direct to the dissecting-room, but must await an inquest, never held before the following day at the soonest.

The Ripper certainly had all the luck. Three or four days after the murder in Mitre Square, a letter addressed to me by name-and for which I, or rather the Corporation, had to pay twopence sterling-was delivered at my office. The writer was complimentary to myself personally. He said he was anxious to see me, as he had a lot to tell me about the murders ; that he was not afraid to meet me, but that he was on ticket of leave, and hadn't reported himself, and that if he came to the Old Jewry the "tecs" - of whom he evidently had a very low opinion - would apprehend him, and send him back to work out the remainder of his sentence ; that he was living on the earnings of his wife, who, by the kindness of the missioner, had got a laundry and was doing well ; that if I wanted to write to him, a letter addressed to a certain place in Hoxton - a large, and, generally speaking, disreputable district-to be left till called for, would find him.

Besides being a convict, the writer was evidently an ex-soldier. "You're not on the right scent at all," he said ; "the man you want is not in London, he's in Manchester. What you think is his writing isn't. He writes just like an orderly-room clerk." (A facsimile of the writing of the purloiner of the kidney-whence obtained I know not-had appeared in an evening paper.) Sir James Fraser, who had been on leave for two months, came back to work next day, and I instantly laid the letter before him. "You have had all the bother over this business," he said ; "do as you like. Consult MacWilliam ; but, take my advice, no one else."

There were two courses open to me : to watch the house in Hoxton, and apprehend anyone or everyone who called, or to trust the man who trusted me. I chose the latter. I wrote, making an appointment with him for 10 p.m. in one of the quietest squares in the West End ; assured him I would be alone, and that not one detective would accompany me from the Old Jewry. I told him to stand under the lamp at the north-west end of the gardens and wait for me. Shortly before the hour named I took up my position on the pavement opposite. Punctual almost to the minute I saw a man advance from the north, and halt under the lamp. Crossing the road at once, I walked quickly up to him and looked him over steadily. The man confronting me could not have been more than five feet two or three inches in height. He was stoutly built, black-bearded, and of an ugly and forbidding countenance. " Have you come to meet anyone, my man ?" I said. "No, I haven't," he replied, in a civil enough tone. "Well, I have," I said, "and I mean to wait a bit longer to see if he keeps his appointment." To turn your back on a gentleman is indicative of bad manners ; but I thought this gentleman might, like Callum Beg, have a "skene occle," or some such weapon about him with which he might "kittle" my "quarters" if he got the chance, so, like the Court officials at Buckingham Palace in presence of Royalty, I retreated back foremost till I got to my original position. There we stood facing one another for five or six minutes, when the man turned and walked leisurely away. If the letter I received was written by a soldier, as I think it must have been, this man could not have written it, for he was well under the standard for any branch of the service.

After the meeting in the West-End square, I had a short note from my short friend. "Now," he said, " I know I can trust you, I'll be at the Old Jewry as soon as I can." I had also a letter from the missioner, in which he told me that the man I had met had "some very startling revelations to make."

I waited patiently for the promised visit, and confidently for a further communication from the missioner. The man never came, nor was I able to get the missioner's handwriting identified. Had either of them asked for money, I would have sent it willingly, believing, as I did, that at last I was on the right scent ; but I never had any such application from either.

To return to Mitre Square and the night of the murder.

At the exit leading direct to Goulston Street, opposite the corner where the murder was committed, there was a club, the members of which were nearly all foreigners. One, a sort of hybrid German, was leaving the club-he was unable to fix the hour-when he noticed a man and woman standing close together. The woman had her hand resting on the man's chest. It was bright moonlight, almost as light as day, and he saw them distinctly. This was, without doubt, the murderer and his victim. The inquiries I made at Berners Street, the evidence of the constable in whose beat the square was, and my own movements, of which I had kept careful notes, proved this conclusively. The description of the man given me by the German was as follows : Young, about the middle height, with a small fair moustache, dressed in something like navy serge, and with a deerstalker's cap - that is, a cap with a peak both fore and aft. I think the German spoke the truth, because I could not "lead" him in any way. "You will easily recognize him, then," I said. "Oh no!" he replied ; "I only had a short look at him." The German was a strange mixture, honest apparently, and intelligent also. He "had heard of some murders," he said, but they didn't seem to concern him.

Yes, the Ripper had all the luck.

Since this chapter was written my attention has been drawn to an article in Blackwood's Magazine, of March this year - the sixth of a series by Sir Robert Anderson - entitled "The Lighter Side of my Official Life." In this article Sir Robert discourses on the Whitechapel, or Jack the Ripper, murders, and states emphatically that he, the criminal, "was living in the immediate vicinity of the scenes of the murders, and that, if he was not living absolutely alone, his people knew of his guilt and refused to give him up to justice. The conclusion," Sir Robert adds, " we came to was that he and his people were low-class Jews, for it is a remarkable fact that people of that class in the East End will not give up one of their number to Gentile justice, and the result proved that our diagnosis was right on every point."

Sir Robert does not tell us how many of "his people" sheltered the murderer, but whether they were two dozen in number, or two hundred, or two thousand, he accuses them of being accessories to these crimes before and after their committal.

Surely Sir Robert cannot believe that while the Jews, as he asserts, were entering into this conspiracy to defeat the ends of justice, there was no one among them with sufficient knowledge of the criminal law to warn them of the risks they were running.**

Sir Robert talks of the "Lighter Side" of his Official Life." There is nothing "light" here ; a heavier indictment could not be framed against a class whose conduct contrasts most favourably with that of the Gentile population of the Metropolis.

In the early morning of September 30, 1888, Sir Robert Anderson being in Paris, "two more victims" - to use his own words - fell to the knife of the murder fiend, the second victim being Catharine Eddowes, killed in Mitre Square. This was the only crime of the series committed within the jurisdiction of Sir James Fraser, and he being in Scotland, I was in command of the City Police. Inasmuch as two women met their fate on September 30, and it was discovered which way the Ripper walked or ran after the second crime, and how he wiped his hands to get rid of the blood-stains, that morning is far the most eventful connected with the "reign of terror."

How Sir Charles Warren wiped out - I believe with his own hand, but will not speak positively - the writing on the wall, how he came to my office accompanied by Superintendent Arnold about seven o'clock the same morning to get information as to the murder of Catharine Eddowes, I have already stated on p. 153. The facts are indisputable, yet Sir Robert Anderson studiously avoids all allusion to them. Is it because "it would ill become him to violate the unwritten rule of the service," or is he unwilling to put on record the unpardonable blunder of his superior officer ? I leave my readers to decide.

Sir Robert says "the Ripper could go and come and get rid of his blood-stains in secret." The criminal, no doubt, was valeted by his co-religionists -warned not to run too great risks, to come home as soon as he could after business, and always to give notice when he meant to cut up another lady ! On three occasions - the only three of which I can give reliable details - there was no need to provide the murderer with hot water and Sunlight soap. In Berners Street he did not mutilate the woman, and probably had very few blood-stains about him ; in Mitre Square he used the woman's apron ; and in Dorset Street he carefully washed his hands at the sink.

The writing on the wall may have been written - and, I think, probably was written - to throw the police off the scent, to divert suspicion from the Gentiles and throw it upon the Jews. It may have been written by the murderer, or it may not. To obliterate the words that might have given us a most valuable clue, more especially after I had sent a man to stand over them till they were photographed, was not only indiscreet, but unwarrantable.

Sir Robert Anderson spent, so he tells us, the day of his return from abroad and half the following night "in reinvestigating the whole case." A more fruitless investigation, looking to all he tells us, it would be difficult to imagine.

The "lighter side," we learn, is "to be continued." Meantime, if Sir Robert can spare a few minutes, there are two books, I think, well worthy of his perusal - "Bleak House" and the Bible. In the former book Mademoiselle Hortense, to divert suspicion from herself, writes "Lady Deadlock, Murderess" - with what result Inspector Bucket tells us. In the latter, Daniel interprets the writing on the wall which brought things to a crisis at Belshazzar's Feast. Sir Robert is fortunate to live in times like the present. Mr. Blackwood's readers seem pleased with his tales, but I fear the King of the Chaldeans would have made short work of him.

* This woman was in my custody at Bishopsgate Police Station twenty minutes before she was murdered.

** In murder cases accessories after the fact-according to "Stephen's Digest," an absolutely reliable work on criminal law-are liable to penal servitude for life ; and thus the Jews in the East End, against whom Sir Robert Anderson made his reckless accusation, come under that category.

Related pages:
  Henry Smith
       Dissertations: A Mystery Play : Police Opinions on Jack the Ripper 
       Message Boards: Henry Smith 
       Police Officials: Henry Smith 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 4 March 1921 
       Ripper Media: From Constable to Commissioner 
       Ripper Media: Police Work From Within 
  Robert Anderson
       Dissertations: A Reply to Kosminski and the Seaside Home 
       Dissertations: An Alternate Kosminski Suspect and Police Witness 
       Dissertations: Anderson and the Swanson Marginalia 
       Dissertations: Anderson, Monro and Jsfmboe 
       Dissertations: Arthur Griffiths, Robert Anderson, & Jack the Ripper 
       Dissertations: Coles, Kosminski and Levy – was there a Victim/Suspect/... 
       Dissertations: Dr. Anderson at New Scotland Yard: An 1892 Interview Redi... 
       Dissertations: Emily and the Bibliophile: A Possible Source for Macnaght... 
       Dissertations: From Dublin Castle to Scotland Yard: Robert Anderson and ... 
       Dissertations: Isaac Kosminski 
       Dissertations: Kosminski and the Seaside Home 
       Dissertations: Reader Reactions 
       Dissertations: The Lighter Side of My Official Life - Textual Comparison... 
       Dissertations: The Men Who Suspected Kosminski 
       Message Boards: Sir Robert Anderson 
       Police Officials: Sir Robert Anderson 
       Press Reports: Jewish Chronicle - 11 March 1910 
       Press Reports: Jewish Chronicle - 4 March 1910 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 30 August 1888 
       Press Reports: Pall Mall Gazette - 4 November 1889 
       Press Reports: Pall Mall Gazette - 8 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 31 August 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 18 November 1918 
       Press Reports: Washington Post - 21 March 1910 
       Ripper Media: Criminals and Crime 
       Ripper Media: Lighter Side of My Official Life, The 
       Ripper Media: Sir Robert Anderson and Lady Agnes Anderson 
       Ripper Media: Sir Robert Anderson and Lady Agnes Anderson 
       Ripper Media: The Life and Memoirs of John Churton Collins 
       Ripper Media: The Lighter Side of My Official Life 
       Ripper Media: The Police Encyclopedia: Volume IV