Jack the Ripper and the Goulston Street clue
The Metropolitan Police were under significant pressure from all sides even before the double murder on 30th September 1888. With the publication of the infamous “Dear Boss” letter three days prior and the growing criticism from the public press, it was becoming imperative that they be able to give some sign of progress in the baffling case of the Whitechapel killer.
DRENCHED IN BLOOD?
In all probability the killer had fled from mitre square with only his hands and lower arms covered in blood. The autopsy on some of his victims showed a swollen tongue, the hallmarks of strangulation which would suggest the killer would wait until alone with his chosen victim and as she went to raise their dress for sex he would lunge forward grabbing the throat and forcing them to the ground. By the time the first cut to the throat had commenced the victims heart would have been all but stopped, causing very little outward spray to cover her attacker.
While this would have reduced the likelihood that the killer would have been fully covered in gore, his hands and arms would surely have borne the hallmarks of his grisly deeds.
However, there had as yet been no witness statements that told of a blood-spattered individual hurrying away from the scene of the crime. Nor had anyone reported seeing a man with a large knife or anything else out of the ordinary. Then again, Whitechapel was full of slaughterhouses and butchers plying their trades – men covered in blood with large knifes were hardly out of the common way on those dark streets. Moreover, the people of Whitechapel would not have gone out of their way to notice anything – the East End of London was a place where people kept their heads down and their mouths shut in order to survive.
The police were now desperate to find some clue as to the Ripper’s identity, particularly after the horrific murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes. With the press panting at their heels for the latest chilling story, the police spread out, questioning residents and stopping any passers-by in the hopes of finding a lead. These queries came to nothing, and it looked as though the police were stymied once more. Soon after the discovery of Catherine Eddowes’ body, however, a discovery would be made that would forever be linked to crys of conspiracy and incompetence .
A CLUE IS DISCOVERED
At 2:55 AM on 30th September, PC Alfred Long of the Metropolitan police was walking his beat along Goulsten Street. Just over an hour before, the ravaged body of Catherine Eddowes had been discovered less than half a mile away. As he passed the Wentworth model dwellings, he shone his lantern into the staircase entrance of 108 – 119. In a corner, he found a piece of cloth covered in blood and feces. It later transpired that this piece of cloth was a portion of Catherine Eddowes’ apron which had been cut away by the killer and probably used to clean his hands or knife, possibly both.
For the first time, the police had found a clue to the killer’s identity. This cloth had been dropped in the middle of the East End. This implied that, instead of fleeing to the rarefied halls of a West End mansion or racing to the docks to flee aboard a merchant ship, the killer was, in fact, taking refuge in the dark passageways of the same neighbourhood in which he committed his atrocious acts.
In Mitre Square, the Ripper clearly knew that he had to affect a quick escape from the scene. Rather than cleaning up on site, he cut a piece of cloth from his victim’s apron and raced away in to the dark. Stopping in a convenient corner in Goulston Street, he wiped away the evidence of his brutal crimes, discarded the cloth, and calmly melted away in to the shadows of the East End.
A CHALKED MESSAGE
There is another piece of this puzzle which is far more befuddling. As the constable raised his lantern further up the wall, he discovered a message scrawled in chalk.
It read, “The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing”.
When PC Long reported the discovery of the apron scrap and the cryptic message, several city and metropolitan police went to see the scene for themselves. It quickly became clear that the message, regardless of who had left it, posed a serious problem. Goulston Street was directly adjacent to the Petticoat Lane Market. Most of the traders there were Jewish, and there had already been problems in the area with anti-Semitic rioting and intimidation due to the Ripper case. Many believed that the Ripper might be Jewish, and violence against Jews around London had become a major public safety issue.
A fierce debate broke out among the officers present. The metropolitan police, fearful of further violence against the Jewish population of the area, advocated removing the message immediately. They knew that the area would be swarming with people in only a few hours as early morning traders started their work day. The City Police, new to the Ripper hunt and keen to avail of any new evidence, argued that this was a crucial clue, and that it was necessary to wait for the light of dawn so that the message could be photographed before it was washed away.
Around 5:30 AM, Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, arrived on the scene. This was his first visit to the East End since the investigation in to the Ripper’s killing spree had begun. He entered the doorway and examined the scrawled message himself. To the consternation of the City Police on the scene, he then ordered that the writing be erased immediately.
With this one simple act, Sir Charles Warren may indeed have prevented another spate of anti-Jewish rioting, but he also sparked one of the most enduring conspiracy theories related to the Ripper saga.
Why did he remove the message, counter to all protocols and, indeed, all common sense?
We may never know the real answer, but the debate over Charles Warren’s actions on that day continues to rage among Ripperologists 126 years later.