By Sir Melville Macnaghten, 1914
The memoirs of Sir Melville Macnaghten, Days of My Years, were published in 1913, only one year after the restired Assistant Commissioner of the CID publicly stated that he did not intend ever to write them. Chapter IV, entitled "Laying the Ghost of Jack the Ripper," is dedicated to the Whitechapel murders.
Macnaghten did not join Scotland Yard unti 1889 and was therefore not involved with the investigation of the five canonical Ripper murders, yet his views on the case are perhaps the most widely publicized of any police official. This is due to a memoranda he authored in 1894 listing three of Scotland Yard's top suspects; Druitt, Kosminski, and Ostrog. Rediscovered in 1959, the "Macnaghten Memoranda" has since become one of the cornerstones of Ripper study.
Shades of the memoranda's suspects can be found within the text of Days of My Years, and these tenuous descriptions were repeated numerous times in various other literature of the period.
LAYING THE GHOST OF JACK THE RIPPER.I'm not a butcher, I'm not a Yid,
Nor yet a foreign Skipper,
But I'm your own light-hearted friend,
Yours truly, Jack the Ripper."
THE Above queer verse was one of the first documents which I perused at Scotland Yard, for at that time the police post-bag bulged large with hundreds of anonymous communications on the subject of the East End tragedies. Although, as I shall endeavour to show in this chapter, the Whitechapel murderer, in all probability, put an end to himself soon after the Dorset Street affair in November i888, certain facts, pointing to this conclusion, were not in possession of the police till some years after I became a detective officer.
At the time, then, of my joining the Force on 1st June 1889, police and public were still agog over the tragedies of the previous autumn, and were quite ready to believe that any fresh murders, not at once elucidated, were by the same maniac's hand. Indeed, I remember three cases - two in 1888, and one early in 1891, which the Press ascribed to the so-called Jack the Ripper, to whom, at one time or another, some fourteen murders were attributed-some before, and some after, his veritable reign of terror in 1888.
I will deal with the terrible sobriquet of " Jack the Ripper " later on. Suffice it at present to say that the Whitechapel murderer committed five murders, and - to give the devil his due - no more. Only two or three years ago I saw a book of police reminiscences (not by a Metropolitan officer), in which the author stated that he knew more of the " Ripper murders " than any man living, and then went on to say that during the whole of August 1888 he was on the tiptoe of expectation. That writer had indeed a prophetic soul, looking to the fact that the first murder of the Whitechapel miscreant was on 31st August of that year of grace. No one who was living in London that autumn will forget the terror created by these murders. Even now I can recall the foggy evenings, and hear again the raucous cries of the newspaper boys : " Another horrible murder, murder, mutilation, Whitechapel." Such was the burden of their ghastly song ; and, when the double murder of 30th September took place, the exasperation of the public at the non-discovery of the perpetrator knew no bounds, and no servant-maid deemed her life safe if she ventured out to post a letter after ten o'clock at night. And yet this panic was quite unreasonable. The victims, without exception, belonged to the lowest dregs of female humanity, who avoid the police and exercise every ingenuity in order to remain in the darkest corners of the most deserted alleys.
I remember being down in Whitechapel one night in September 1889, in connection with what was known as the Pinchin Street murder, and being in a doss house, entered the large common room where the inmates were allowed to do their cooking. The code of immorality in the East End is, or was, unwashed in its depths of degradation. A woman was content to live with a man so long as he was in work, it .being an understood thing that, if he lost his job, she would support him by the only means open to her. On this occasion the unemployed man was - toasting bloaters, and, when his lady returned, asked her "if she had had any luck." She replied with an adjective negative, and went on to say in effect that she had thought her lucky star was in the ascendant when she had inveigled a "bloke " down a dark alley, but that suddenly a detective, with indiarubber soles to his shoes, had' sprung up from behind a waggon, and the bloke had taken fright and flight. With additional adjectives the lady expressed her determination to go out again after supper, and when her man reminded her o; the dangers of the streets if " he " (meaning the murderer) was out and about, the poor woman replied (with no adjectives this time), " Well, let him come-the sooner the better for such as I." A sordid picture, my masters, but what infinite pathos is therein portrayed !
The attention of Londoners was first called to the horrors of life (and death) in the East End by the murder of one, Emma Smith, who was found horribly outraged in Osborne Street in the early morning of 3rd April 1888. She died in the London hospital, and there is no doubt that her death was caused by some young hooligans who escaped arrest. On 7th August the body of Martha Tabram was discovered lying on the stairs of a house in George Yard. Her death was due to a number of wounds in the chest and abdomen, and it was alleged that a bayonet had been the weapon used upon her. The evening before she had been seen in the company of two soldiers and a female friend. Her throat was not cut, and nothing in the shape of mutilation was attempted. I think I am right in saying that the soldiers were detained, but that the available witnesses failed to identify them.
The first real " Whitechapel murder," as before stated, took place on 3ist August, when Mary Ann Nichols was found in Bucks Row with her throat cut and her body slightly mutilated. This was succeeded nine days afterwards by the murder of Annie Chapman in the back yard of a house in Hanbury Street ; the throat was cut in a precisely similar manner, but the mutilations were of a much more savage character. On 27th September a letter was received at a well-known News Agency, addressed to the " Boss." It was written in red ink, and purported to give the details of the murders which had been committed.
It was signed, " Jack the Ripper." This document was sent to Scotland Yard, and (in my opinion most unwisely) was reproduced, and copies of same affixed to various police stations, thus giving it an official imprimatur. In this ghastly production I have always thought I could discern the stained forefinger of the journalist indeed, a year later, I had shrewd suspicions as to the actual author! But whoever did pen the gruesome stuff, it is certain to my mind that it was not the mad miscreant who had committed the murders. The name " Jack the Ripper," however, had got abroad in the land and had " caught on " ; it riveted the attention of the classes as well as the masses. It is small exaggeration, to say that little else besides these murders was talked of, leading articles appeared in nearly all of the principal papers, and feeling against the police in general, and the detective department in particular, ran very high.
When public excitement then was at white heat, two murders-unquestionably by the same hand-took place on the night of 3oth September. A woman, Elizabeth Stride, was found in Berners Street, with her throat cut, but no attempt at mutilation. In this case there can be little doubt but that the murderer was disturbed at his demoniacal work by some Jews who at that hour drove up to an anarchist club in the street. But the lust for blood was unsatisfied. The madman started off in search of another victim, whom he found in Catherine Eddowes. This woman's body, very badly mutilated, was found in a dark corner of Mitre Square. On this occasion it is probable that the police officer on duty in the vicinity saw the murderer with his victim a few minutes before, but no satisfactory description was forthcoming. During this night an apron, on which bloody hands had been wiped, was found in Goulburn Street (situated, if my memory is correct, about half-way between Berners Street and Mitre Square). Hard by was a writing in chalk on the wall, to the effect that " the Jews are the men who will not be blamed for nothing." The apron gave no clue, and the chalk writing was obliterated by the order of a high police official, who was seemingly afraid that a riot against the Jews might be the outcome of this strange " writing on the wall:' This was the only clue ever left behind by the murderer.
After this double murder the town had rest, forty days, and public excitement, to some extent, calmed down. But worse remained behind! On the morning of 9th November, Mary Jeanette Kelly, a comparatively young woman of some twenty-five years of age, and said to have been possessed of considerable. personal attractions, was found murdered in a room in Miller's Court, Dorset Street. This was the last of the series, and it was by far the most horrible. The mutilations were of a positively. fiendish description, almost indescribable in their savagery, and the doctors who were called in to examine the remains, averred that the operator must have been at least two hours over his hellish job. A fire was burning low in the room, but neither candles nor gas were there. The madman made a bonfire of some old newspapers, and of his victim's clothes, and, by this dim, irreligious light, a scene was enacted which nothing seen by Dante in his visit to the infernal regions could have surpassed. It will have been noticed that the fury of the murderer, as evinced in his methods of mutilation, increased on every occasion, and his appetite appears to have become sharpened by- indulgence. There can be no doubt that in the room at Miller's Court the madman found ample scope for the opportunities he had all along been seeking, and the probability is that, after his awful glut on this occasion, his brain gave way altogether and he committed suicide ; otherwise the murders would not have ceased. The man, of course, was a sexual maniac, but such madness takes Protean forms, as will be shown later on in other cases. Sexual murders are the most difficult of all for police to bring home to the perpetrators, for motives there are none ; only a lust for blood, and in many cases a hatred of woman as woman. Not infrequently the maniac possesses a diseased body, and this was probably so in the case of the Whitechapel murderer. Many residents in the East End (and some in the West!) came under suspicion of police, but though several persons were detained, no one was ever charged with these offences.
Only last autumn I was very much interested in a book entitled The Lodger, which set forth in vivid colours what the Whitechapel murderer's life might have been while dwelling in London lodgings. The talented authoress portrayed him as a religious enthusiast, gone crazy over the belief that he was predestined to slaughter a certain number of unfortunate women, and that he had been confined in a criminal lunatic asylum and had escaped therefrom. I do not think that there was anything of religious mania about the real Simon Pure, nor do I believe that he had ever been detained in an asylum, nor lived in lodgings. I incline to the belief that the individual who held up London in terror resided with his own people ; that he absented himself from home at certain times, and that he committed suicide on or about the 10th of November 1888, after he had knocked out a Commissioner of Police and very nearly settled the hash of one of Her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State.