Every so often a book on Jack the Ripper is published that becomes a must have. Not because of some lurid, talked about suspect theory or sensationalist evidence (that usually does not stand up under scrutiny) or some gimmick (DNA testing, a scientific examination, written by a murder squad detective or a suspects descendent) but because it is an indispensable resource to those who seriously study the case and the Late Victorian Period. A must for any Ripperologists bookshelf. Previous titles that have received this honour include “Letters from Hell” (by Stewart P Evans and Keith Skinner), “The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook” (also by Evans and Skinner) and “The Complete Jack the Ripper A-Z” (by Paul Begg, Martin Fido and Keith Skinner). Without a doubt, “Capturing Jack the Ripper: In the Boots of a Bobby in Victorian London” by Neil R. A. Bell also deserves a place amongst those ranks.
For those not familiar with Neil Bell, he is one of the most highly respected students of the Jack the Ripper case. He has been published extensively in specialist journals such as Ripperologist and Casebook Examiner, as well for the BBC. Neil was the Police Advisor for the Channel Five documentary Jack the Ripper: The Definitive Story, and provided information for BBC’s hit TV series – Ripper Street.
Focusing on the Victorian Police of Scotland Yard (particularly of H Division Whitechapel who investigated the Ripper case) and the City of London, Neil Bell has produced a fully researched and indispensable reference work, not just for Ripperologists but for anyone interested in the Late Victorian Period, London, crime and the history of the police. Much has previously been written before on the senior police officers – the Warren’s, Swanson’s and Anderson’s and the detectives – the Reid’s and the Abberline’s, but very little on the uniformed Bobby on the beat and the procedures police had to follow. The book is divided into two parts: the history of the police in London and the Whitechapel Murders themselves.
In the first part, Bell charts the events that led to the establishment of the police and their rocky early years, recruitment and training procedures, how they were structured, what life was like for a police officer, and the tough regimental rules and procedures they had to follow. He also charts the formation of the detective branch, looking at their successes and scandals (including the infamous Trial of the Detectives).
In the second part, Bell focuses on each individual Whitechapel Murder and the steps the police took in the investigation and the procedures they followed. Many of the myths and accusations of incompetence or coverup are dispelled thanks to the thorough research and knowledge that Neil Bell demonstrates in his writing.
As well as throughly (and passionately) knowing his topic, Neil is also an engaging writer and easily explains some quite complex topics about police procedures. There are also many photographs that really bring to life the subject matter, and many of which are previously unseen. If you had any doubts about buying Capturing Jack the Ripper, but consider yourself a serious student of the Ripper case, dispel them immediately and go order a copy. You won’t regret it. We look forward to future projects from Neil Bell.
Neil Bell is also one of the key speakers at the 2015 Jack the Ripper being held in Nottingham on the weekend of August 21st-23rd. The theme for the conference is “The Ripper and the Police”. Neil’s talk “A Policeman’s Lot: Walk the beat with author Neil Bell, as he takes us out into the dark streets of Whitechapel to show what life was like for a constable in H Division.” is surely to be one of the highlight’s of the weekend. For more information or to book visit: http://www.ripperconference.com
It would also be remiss to not mention the recently announced project that Neil has been working on. A republishing of “Howard Vincent’s Police Code, 1889”, one of the many primary sources that Neil used for his research for his book, with an introduction by Neil and fellow researcher Adam Wood. Proceeds from the book are to go to the Metropolitan and City Police Orphans Fund, and it is expected to be published in April 2015.