Between August and November 1888 a series of horrific murders took place in Whitechapel, London.
The targets were typically women who lived and worked as prostitutes in the slums of the East End whose throats were cut before their abdomens were mutilated.
It was gold dust to reporters and newspapers across the whole country who knew if they stoked the flames of fear they could boost their coffers. Reports of “Provincial Jack the Rippers” swept the country and women were left so petrified of being targeted that lovers lanes were deserted, shops were empty, and people died just through the fear of being “next”.
I’ve been trawling the newspaper archives looking for reports of these Provincial Jack the Rippers, their victims and the fear that gripped a nation.
Stabbed in the face
In Glasgow late one November night, when Ripper fear was reaching its height, a policeman doing his rounds hears shouts of “murder”.
He rushes to the area where the cry came from and found a woman lying in a pool of blood on St Vincent Street. Georgina Douglas , who was 30, said she had gone up the stairs with an unknown man.
He suddenly stabbed her in the chin and threw her out of a staircase window. She plummeted 20 feet onto the street. An ambulance wagon took her to hospital.
She described the man; he had dark whiskers and looked like a sailor (the sailor description crops up quite often in Jack The Ripper stories).
A man was later arrested but she was unable to identify him.
According to the paper “The Whitechapel tragedies are causing the Glasgow police to take extra precautions. All of the policemen have per circular been instructed to keep their eyes open, and if they hear any cries of distress, such as “Help,” “Murder,” or “Police,” they are to hasten to the spot at once.”
Manchester Sex Pest
Manchester – Wednesday the 10th October – 12.20am.
A Mrs Sarah Burgess from Argyle Street in Hulme was returning home along Lower-Moss Lane when she was accosted by a man. The case was reported in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser
She refused to have anything to do with him but he continued to stalk her as far as Clopton Street. “Do you know who am” asked the man, and Sarah replied “No”
“Jack The Ripper!” he said, and then threatened her with violence unless she complied with his demands (which aren’t detailed in the paper but you could might assume it was something sexual). Luckily another young man came to her aid her assailant was arrested.
But the Police took the case very seriously as there was a “great deal of terror existing among women” and there were “far fewer women about than usual” as a result of fear of Jack the Ripper.
A Woman’s Bloody Hand
November 21st 1889. A ship pulls into Middlesbrough docks. As the dockers unload the heavy cargo one of them makes a grim discovery – a woman’s right hand perfect except for little finger which was missing both knuckles.
As soon as the discovery was made one of them remembered that when emptying the rubbish some time previously a bag had also been thrown away – the contents of which was emitting “an unsupportable odour” – initially thinking it must have been a dead cat, no more was thought about it. But in light of the “ghastly” discovery of the hand a search for the bag began.
It was now buried below the cargo which had been loaded 15 days earlier in Millwall near the East end of London where the “fiendish atrocities” that had been terrifying the country had been happening. The remains, it was surmised, were surely that of a previously unknown victim of the “monster widely known as Jack the Ripper”.
That evening the bag and its putrid contents was found and one crew member had the unenviable task of opening it up…
Somerset Girl Butchered
A fog of crime was said to have descended over the country which was currently being gripped by a “MURDER EPIDEMIC”.
That was the headline in The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 10 January 1889 which then went on to describe a shocking case involving a 10 year old girl called Emma Jane Davey from South Petherton in Somerset.
She was working as a maid and every morning would fetch milk from Bridge house
She left the cottage at around 8 o’clock but didn’t return when expected. At midday her remains were discovered in ditch – with her head almost severed off, covered by her dress. Her throat had been cut and a rope tied around her neck. Blood was lying about the field among the footprints. These footprints were to be preserved in the hope of catching the killer. Several strangers had been seen in the area and it was supposed that one of them must be responsible. The comparison was soon drawn with the killer from Whitechapel
A number of people were arrested; a tramp at Birmingham, and a travelling glazier in Gillingham – but they were released. But then the police arrested a man called Samuel Reyland. He was 23 and a native of the area, who’d been away for 5 years. He’d apparently been sacked by the girl’s father from the farm and went to Cardiff but had returned 3 weeks before the attack. It’s said he still ”entertained some ill-feeling against Mr.Davey”. He tried to escape the police when they came for him and he resisted before being taken to the police station at Ilminster.
An inquest was held but Reyland took his own life in his cell by strangling himself with handkerchief before he was put on trial.
“I’m Jack the Ripper”
Veritable panic hit Shrewsbury in October 1888 . What had been a quiet period soon turned to intense excitement as rumours spread fast that Jack the Ripper was in town. It plunged the inhabitants into a dreadful consternation “too dreadful to depict.
On Wednesday afternoon a suspicious looking stranger was seen walking around the town. That evening he walked into a pub, Morgan’s Vaults, in Mardol (the red light district) and during a brief conversation with the landlady Mrs. Lord he said “You don’t know who I am”. When she said no he replied “I am Jack The Ripper”. He left the pub and Mrs. Lord, very much agitated that she was in “such close proximity to the Whitechapel murderer”, went and told her husband who raised the alarm at once.
Despite being such obvious hoaxes women were keen to protect themselves from the “Ripper’s Onslaught” and as such lovers lane previously populated by amorous lovers were deserted.
The following month a man called George of Admaston, Wellington was beaten up on New Street for making the claim…
Fear enough to kill
For some, just the thought of Jack the Ripper was said to be enough to kill. In Birkenhead where women would walk in two and threes at night one poor woman had a fit just through the fear of meeting Jack the Ripper.
Another women at Banbridge Northern Ireland was so petrified when her “friend” played a prank on her “brandishing a weapon and crying out “I am Jack the Ripper” that she ended up in an asylum.
And poor Annie Master, it was feared, took her own life after a fortune teller told her that Jack the Ripper would “probably get hold of her”.
She went missing soon afterwards and was found weeks later in the canal.
Stoking the fire of fear
Newsagents and reporters keen generate and sell stories were in their element and keen to stoke the flames of fear wherever they were – and where they weren’t!
One such salesmen in Cornwall almost found himself on the end of a hot poker after showing a group of women “anatomical pictures of the human frame”. The women of the village near Camborne said the pictures weren’t fit to be shown especially “having heard the disgusting and brutal manner in which the bodied of the victims of the Whitechapel villain have been mutilated”.
One furious woman took action!
The deep dread continued and at a time when shop keepers would keep their stores open long into the night customers stopped coming for fear of the Ripper.
Journalists and newspaper proprietors weren’t the only people to profit from the stories of Jack the Ripper
The morbid fascination that spread was jumped on as a means of entertaining.
In the many years following stage shows were put on at theatres for punters eager pay to see the story retold – but even as the story was unfolding, sandwiched between gingerbread stalls and fairground rides, Jack the Ripper Peep Shows (this one below in Bridgnorth) were put on in for people to see the Ripper in the act of committed his “atrocious crimes”.
The killer was never caught although stories, sightings and crimes linked with Jack the Ripper continued into the early the early 20th Century but did fade. It still proved great foil for authors and playwrites and later film makers.
But the fear the gripped the streets faded too. It wouldn’t be for almost another 100 years until that terror would once again grip women across the country – but it wasn’t the “diabolical” Jack who was the feared night stalker – it was the Yorkshire Ripper