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The Man Who Caught Crippen
By Nicholas Connell
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Nicholas Connell,
All rights reserved.
The Beginning of the Red Terror
I knew Whitechapel pretty well by the time the first of the atrocious murders, afterwards attributed to Jack the Ripper, took place. And I remained there until his orgy of motiveless killing came to an end.
The Metropolitan Police's surviving files upon the unsolved series of Whitechapel murders are now held at the National Archives, in Kew, Surrey. They list eleven murders that took place between 1888 and 1891, more than one of which was committed by the unknown murderer who was to become known as Jack the Ripper. Walter Dew worked as a detective in Whitechapel through the very worst period of the Ripper's reign of terror, a period upon which he commented, 'Life for the police officer in Whitechapel in those days was one long nightmare.'
The first name that appears in the files is that of 45-year-old prostitute Emma Smith. Separated from her family, she lived at a common lodging house at 18 George Street, Spitalfields. In the eighteen months she had lived there, Smith had gained the reputation of one who stayed out all hours, often returning drunk. Dew said of her:
Her past was a closed book even to her most intimate friends. All she had ever told anyone about herself was that she was a widow who more than ten years before had left her husband and broken away from all her early associations.
There was something about Emma Smith which suggested that there had been a time when the comforts of life had not been denied her. There was a touch of culture in her speech unusual in her class.
Once when Emma was asked why she had broken away so completely from her old life she replied, a little wistfully: 'They would not understand now any more than they understood then. I must live somehow.'
Around 1.30 a.m. on the night of 3 April 1888 Smith was attacked in Osborn Street by three men. They robbed and assaulted her, inflicting fearful injuries by thrusting a blunt instrument into her vagina with great force. This ruptured her peritoneum, adding to her injuries of a bruised head and a torn right ear. She managed to drag herself back to her lodging house, from where she was taken to the London Hospital. Smith managed to point out where the attack took place, and said that one of her attackers was a youth of about nineteen years of age. Emma Smith died at the hospital the next day, at 9 a.m., from peritonitis.
Dew was not surprised that such a terrible crime had been committed in the Whitechapel division, but had no idea about what was to follow; nor did the police or the public. 'How could they do so?', Dew asked. 'The crime itself, save for the unusual nature of the injuries, was no novelty in Whitechapel.' He pointed out that 'a single killing in the streets of Whitechapel of that time was not unknown'. The streets were terrorised by the High Rip gang, who extorted money from prostitutes. Smith's fellow lodger, Margaret Hames, had been attacked the previous December, but she had survived and told of her attack at the coroner's inquest on the death of Emma Smith.
The police investigation, under Detective Inspector Reid, was thorough. Dew recalled:
As in every case of murder in this country, however poor and friendless the victim might be, the police made every effort to track down Emma Smith's assailant. Unlikely as well as likely places were searched for clues. Hundreds of people were interrogated, many of them by me personally. Scores of statements were taken. Soldiers from the Tower of London [which stood within H Division] were questioned as to their movements. Ships in docks were searched and sailors questioned.
There were two issues with the Smith case in which Dew was at odds with the general consensus of opinion. Firstly, there was the question of the motive behind the murder. Inspector Reid and Chief Inspector West both clearly stated in their reports that the motive had been robbery. Mary Russell, the deputy keeper of the lodging house, also testified that Smith told her that she had been robbed before she died. In spite of this, Dew was adamant that robbery had not been the motive.
Dew conceded that the High Rip gang was initially suspected, partly on account of Smith's purse being found empty. However, Dew argued that Smith might have had no money when she had left the lodging house, and having an empty purse was 'far from being a novel experience to women of their type'. If robbery had been the motive, surely the killer would have chosen a different type of victim? Dew's theory is flatly contradicted by the surviving evidence.
The second point of dispute was as to whether Emma Smith was in fact the first victim of Jack the Ripper. Smith's dying statement that she had been attacked by a gang would appear to eliminate her as a possible victim of Jack the Ripper. Dew disagreed. Decades later, in his retirement, Dew said with hindsight, 'some even now doubt that the murder of Mrs. Smith was the handiwork of the Ripper. In some respects the crime differed from those which followed.' Nevertheless, Dew continued, '[i]n its brutality and its lack of motive the murder in Osborne [sic] Street had the stamp of the Ripper upon it'.
Dew elucidated his theory:
The silence, the suddenness, the complete elimination of clues, the baffling disappearance all go to support the view which I have always held that Emma Smith was the first to meet her death at the hands of Jack the Ripper.
I have another theory. It is that the Ripper having, like a tiger, tasted blood, remained unsatisfied until his dread knife had cut short the lives of one after another of his victims.
While it seems wholly unlikely that Emma Smith was the first victim of Jack the Ripper, her murder was the beginning of the terrible series of unsolved Whitechapel murders which were to bring panic and fear to London for the next three years.
The next prostitute who became a Whitechapel murder victim was Martha Tabram, on 7 August 1888, the August Bank Holiday. Her body was discovered shortly before 5 a.m. by a labourer named John Reeves, who was on his way to work. She lay on her back in a pool of blood on the first-floor landing of George Yard buildings, formerly a weaving factory but now cheap housing. Dr Timothy Killeen, who lived in nearby Brick Lane, examined the body. Killeen found thirty-nine stab wounds on Tabram. He thought that they had all been inflicted with a knife except for one that had gone through her chest bone. This he attributed to a heavier weapon, a bayonet for example.
The victim was identified as Martha Tabram, or Turner. She had left her husband Samuel Tabram some thirteen years before, and had been living with a man named Henry Turner for twelve years, up until one month before her untimely death. The marital status of the first two Whitechapel murder victims led to Dew revealing his belief that the women separating from their husbands was partially to blame for their downfalls, and thus their eventual deaths. 'How often has tragedy resulted from such separations! I have seen it again and again in the course of my career. All the victims of Jack the Ripper, with the exception of Marie Kelly, were women of this type.' (Kelly was allegedly widowed when her husband died in a colliery explosion.)
Dew also noted that the victims had put themselves in a fatally perilous situation. In the case of Tabram, he believed she had met her killer in the busy main roads of Whitechapel Road or Commercial Street. From there she had led him 'to this backwater known as George Yard to escape the watchful eyes of passing policemen and others'. It was of course natural for the local prostitutes to take their clients to secluded areas to conduct their business. This only made it easier for the Whitechapel murderer to kill and escape undetected. Dew recalled: 'An unlighted alley; the back of premises which could be reached by a passage from the street; an unfrequented court; a dark archway. It was in such spots that all the murders took place.'
Martha Tabram had a companion on the night of her murder, a fellow streetwalker by the name of Mary Ann Connolly who was known as 'Pearly Poll'. Connolly said that Tabram had gone off with a soldier. This seemed promising to Dew, for 'the fact that a soldier would probably have been wearing his bayonet, a weapon with which the injuries might have been inflicted, seemed to point in the right direction'.
An extraordinary series of identification parades of soldiers took place before Mary Ann Connolly at the Tower of London and also the Wellington Barracks, but these led nowhere. Despite adhering at that time to the soldier suspect theory, Dew was quick to defend the reputation of the soldiers at the Tower of London:
It was not the practice of the Tower soldiers to frequent the East End and associate with women of Martha Turner's type. The majority of them had too much decency and too much common sense to penetrate at night into the haunts of Whitechapel. But there were always a few, generally among the younger ones, who were not so mindful as they should have been of their own reputations or of the dignity of their uniforms.
Once again, the police investigation of the murder was a vigorous one. Dew 'played my own small part. At first we seemed to make a little progress. Then we came up against a blank wall.' After the coroner's inquest had returned a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown, the search for Tabram's killer continued unabated. The efforts of Dew and his colleagues were laborious, their rewards scant.
A significant aspect of Dew's character was that he would always respond to any criticism levelled against either himself or the efforts of the Metropolitan Police in general. This was first evident after the Tabram murder, and would continue long after his retirement, when he would write to the newspapers defending his conduct in the Crippen case whenever it was brought into question.
In the case of Tabram, Dew's belief that the criticism – from both press and public – that the police had failed to find any clues was 'grossly unfair', was reasonable. His defence was that the police, for 'the sake of their own prestige, quite apart from their natural desire to avenge a heinous crime ... were determined to succeed'. Dew also pointed out another element 'our critics overlooked'. This was that the detectives of the busy Whitechapel Division were 'already grievously overworked. Other crimes were being committed and other criminals had to be hunted' – a fact that has often been overlooked by subsequent commentators on the case. The Metropolitan Police could not be criticised for any lack of effort in hunting the Whitechapel murderer, but they had never had to investigate a series of murders like these before. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren described them as 'unique in the history of our country'.
Dew's only criticism of his colleagues throughout the Whitechapel murders was of their policy 'to keep the Press at arm's length'. It was fine that individual officers were prohibited from divulging information to the newspapers, 'but I have always thought that the higher police authorities in ignoring the power of the Press deliberately flouted a great potential ally, and indeed might have turned that ally into an enemy'.
The press was in agreement with Dew. After one of the later Whitechapel murders the London evening newspaper the Star fumed:
One thing is absolutely certain, and that is that murderers will always escape with the ease that now characterises their escape in London until the police authorities adopt a different attitude towards the Press. They treat the reporters of the newspapers, who are simply news-gatherers for the great mass of the people, with a snobbery that would be beneath contempt were it not senseless to an almost criminal degree. On Saturday they shut the reporters out of the mortuary ... The constable at the mortuary door lied to them; some of the inspectors at the offices seemed to willingly mislead them; they denied information which would have done no harm to make public, and the withholding of which only tended to increase the public uneasiness over the affair.
The police investigation following the coroner's inquest on Tabram was again painstaking and difficult. Dew remembered:
Police efforts were not relaxed.
It would be impossible to recount here all that was done, the hundreds of inquiries made, the scores of statements taken and the long, long hours put in by us all. No clue was turned down as too trivial for investigation.
We all had heartbreaking experiences, several times I got on to something which looked like a clue, followed it up day and night, only to find in the end it led nowhere.
The murders of Emma Smith and Martha Tabram remained unsolved.CHAPTER 2
Long Days and Sleepless Nights
Whitechapel was harbouring a devil in human form.
A third Whitechapel murder took place on 31 August. Mary Ann 'Polly' Nichols had separated from her husband some nine years previously and, as in the case of Martha and Samuel Tabram, it had been on account of her drunkenness. She had lived in workhouses and common lodging houses ever since.
Nichols had left her common lodging house around 1.40 a.m. on a quest to find 4d, the price of a bed for the night. Her body was found by Charles Cross, a carman, on his way to work shortly before 4 a.m. While Cross went to look for a policeman, patrolling PC John Neil came across the corpse lying in Buck's Row. Her throat had been cut, and when she was examined at the mortuary it emerged that her abdomen had been cut open. Dr Rees Ralph Llewellyn, a surgeon living in Whitechapel Road who examined the body, thought that the weapon used was a 'long-bladed knife, moderately sharp, and used with great violence'.
The murder had taken place in J Division, Bethnal Green, adjacent to Whitechapel Division. Dew described J Division as 'squalid. The spot for such a crime was ideal. Close by were a number of slaughterhouses.' Indeed, three local slaughtermen were questioned after the murder, but were all subsequently released.
Once again the police had few clues to work on. Dew explained the reality of the police's situation:
The hope and ambition of every East-End policeman – myself included – was to catch the Ripper red-handed. This seemed the only way. There was small chance of the killer being caught and convicted through circumstantial evidence. Of such evidence there was virtually none.
Other difficulties presented themselves. Dew pointed out that 'the Whitechapel victims were all strangers to their slayer, and died within a few minutes of their first meeting with him'. In addition, the murders appeared to be motiveless unless, as Dew suggested, for some unknown reason, 'the killer was wreaking his vengeance against a class'.
Scotland Yard was now called in, and they took charge of the whole Whitechapel murder investigations. This was no reflection on the local divisions; Scotland Yard had greater experience in big cases and murder investigations than they had. Three inspectors were sent by the Yard. They were Henry Moore, described by Dew as 'a huge figure of a man, as strong minded as he was powerful physically. He had much experience behind him, and was in every way a thoroughly reliable and painstaking officer.' He was joined by Walter Andrews, 'a jovial, gentlemanly man, with a fine personality and a sound knowledge of the job'. Finally there was Inspector Abberline, making a welcome return to the district he knew so well.
Three murders in such a short space of time in a small area led to the people of the East End becoming extremely uneasy. Dew recalled:
There were definite signs now of panic among the populace. The publicity given by the newspapers and the freedom with which the cases were discussed everywhere caused the actual dangers to be magnified.
A moment's serious thought would have been sufficient to show that the only people to whom the fiend was a menace were the poor women of the streets. The three victims had all been of this class. Those that followed were the same.
But I am afraid that the respectable women of Whitechapel derived small comfort at the time from any such reflection, and everywhere extreme precautions were taken against the Ripper's coming.
As soon as the darkness set in on the night following the Mary Nicholls' [sic] murder hundreds of women locked themselves in their homes. Tradesmen made a rich harvest in making houses secure. Courts, which had hitherto remained in sinister darkness, were now illuminated by feeble lanterns.
Dew felt a degree of sympathy for the prostitutes, who were the ones who faced the real danger. 'They were defenceless, not knowing from where the danger would come and unable to seek police protection due to the nature of their work.' Many left the district and Dew remembered that those who remained 'walked about in groups, and made a picture of frightened misery'.
There was one lead that seemed promising. A bootmaker called John Pizer, known as 'Leather Apron', on account of the garment he habitually wore, was reputed to be terrorising and extorting money from prostitutes. Dew described Leather Apron as 'a doubtful character known to the Police. Moreover, he invariably wore boots with rubber soles, this fitting with the popular conception of the silent-working Ripper.' Before his identity became known, the press described this shadowy character in lurid detail. 'His expression is sinister, and seems to be full of terror for the women who describe it. His eyes are small and glittering. His lips are usually parted in a
grin which is not only not reassuring, but excessively repellent.' But for the moment Leather Apron had gone to ground. The Whitechapel murderer had once again escaped detection and left no clues. As Dew put it, 'He came, no one knew whence and departed, no one knew whither.'
Dew described the effects the investigation was having on him personally. They must have reflected the feelings of many of his colleagues:
Those were wretched days for me. The hunt became an obsession. I spent long, long hours on duty, only to return home worn out but sleepless.
Excerpted from Walter Dew by Nicholas Connell. Copyright © 2013 Nicholas Connell,. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
Prologue: Walter Dew's Early Days,
1. The Beginning of the Red Terror,
2. Long Days and Sleepless Nights,
3. The Elusive Jack,
4. 13 Miller's Court,
5. Other Whitechapel Murders,
6. Theories and Suspects,
7. Harry the Valet,
8. Conrad Harms/Henry Clifford,
9. The Disappearance of Belle Elmore,
10. Doctor Crippen,
11. The Remains,
12. The Hunt,
13. The Capture,
14. Magistrates and Coroners,
15. Rex v. Crippen,
16. The Verdict,
17. Rex v. Le Neve,
18. Appeal and Execution,
19. Retirement and Libel Cases,
20. The Wee Hoose,
Appendix 1: Aftermath of the Crippen Case,
Appendix 2: Dew's Appearances in Films and Fiction,
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