Jack the Ripper was one of Britain’s first serial killers. The police had only been set up in 1829, and had no experience in catching serial killers or knowing how one operated. During this time techniques such as forensic doctors or murder investigation teams was not even dreamt of. They simply had no way of finding clues as to who the Ripper was. This and the fact that the ripper was using methods unheard of at that time; combined to leave the police helpless in ever catching the Ripper out.
The Ripper had used the police force’s inexperience and the victims’ vulnerability to his advantage. In the early months of 1888, several attacks on prostitutes had occurred. These included Emma Smith on April 2nd and Martha Tabram on 6th August. Both had been violently stabbed in several parts of the body. No one was convicted for their murders. When the Ripper investigation had started, people made links with these two murders and the Ripper’s murders. Many similarities had been found between the murders, most notable was the knife used and where the wounds were found on the body.
However the April attack was a robbery and not a murder and was carried out by several men. Despite this difference, many people were suspicious and Whitechapel was not a safe place to be in. at first it was thought that the suspect was a local but as the murders continued, it emerged that he was not local. After the Nicholls murder, the name ‘Leather Apron’ was rumoured around Whitechapel. This man was known for demanding money from prostitutes and using violence if they refused. The Chapman murder was in Spitalfields, investigated by Inspector Chandler.
The Whitechapel cases were lead by Inspector Abbeline, the two came to the conclusion that both the murders were committed by the same person. ‘Leather Apron’, known as John Pizer was arrested but had alibis for both murders. This was a waste of police time and so were the other leads that they followed up but all suspects were released. It seemed that as the murders took place on weekends, and the murderer travelled into the area to commit the murders. This suggested that he or she had a job.
If he or she was local then someone would have seen them run away or with the victims. Also the informants were not scared of coming forward with evidence, which suggests that the killer was not a local face. But because the police had wasted time on false leads and concentrating on local suspects, the murders had continued. If the murderer was an outsider, then witnesses would not be able to see them and remember he killers face The incisions into the victims’ bodies were similar to that of a surgeon. The killer knew exactly what he was doing.
But after the Kelly murders, doctors said that the killer used no medial knowledge or that of a butcher, while he was killing the victim. This had the police confused and made them embarrassed as they had said that the killer was a doctor or surgeon, they would need to change their focus from medical suspects to other members of the public. This would take up the time and resources of an already stretched police force. Before this the police had been investigating slaughterhouses and abattoirs But they did not convict anyone. This further wasted valuable police time.
Conflicts in witness statements and evidence led to further press coverage and wasted police time. Evidence includes time of death, witness reports and the value place on the witness reports by senior inspectors. There was much speculation that the murderer was a foreigner, as described by Elizabeth Long, however this was not solid evidence and could not be proven. During this period in time, many people were against the settling of Jews in Whitechapel, there was a feeling suspicion towards them. The Star newspaper released a description of a Jewish slipper maker.
This report had said that the man was sinister and women were scared of him. The press were releasing these descriptions of ‘Leather Apron’ and several other characters, this forced the police to follow up investigations about them as the people demanded that whoever was suspected by the press should be investigated. This press coverage had diverted the police and because the police had a bad reputation, they had no choice but to listen to the public demands. Therefore people suspected the Jews over any other people in Whitechapel.
In an attempt to catch the ripper out the police had increased the amount of officers on beat duty also PCs were walking through Whitechapel and then go back along the same route. This means that the murders would needed to have been quick as the police would have been coming back the same way. On the night of the Eddowes murder. (30 September) PC Watkins had passed through the murder scene at 1:30 am, and then returned at 1:44 am and found the body. This suggests that the murderer was watching both the PC and the victim. This also shows us that the murderer knew what he was doing and had done it before.
Also, to perform a quick and detailed operation like this would need medical and anatomical knowledge. Because the murder was so quick it would have been hard for the police to find any witnesses and if there were any, they would have walked of in terror. This made evidence limited and eye witnesses very hard to find. Police methods of trying to catch out the killer consisted of undercover work, door-to-door inquiries, questioning butchers and slaughterers, gathering evidence from sailors on Thames river boats and using police dogs to follow the scent of the killer.
All of the above proved useless, especially the undercover work. Policemen would dress up as prostitutes to see if there was anything suspicious happening. Another waste of time was going to slaughterhouses and abattoirs. The Coroner for the inquest of Chapman’s murder had dismissed the possibility of them carrying out the murder. After the double murder in September, police had made appeals to 80,000 houses, asking for any suspiciousness happening. This shows us that the police had no leads or did not know who to investigate.
This highlights the ineffectiveness of a young detective police force. The police had only been trained in the prevention and not solving of crime. The police had also published letters sent to them supposedly by the killer. This made things worse and further frightened the public and also sparked violence and mob attacks on anyone who was acting suspiciously. The police did not have a clue what to do. They had no methods of catching the killer out or following his moves. The police were limited to how much detective work they could do.
The murderer took advantage of the fact that the police was set up to prevent crime and not solve it. Throughout the 19th century detective work went through a lot of changes. Corruption in detectives was still around and detective methods had developed slowly. Fingerprints and photography was created in 1901 and so in 1888 there was no way to catch killers using the forensic methods which were developed in the 20th century. The only forensic method before 1884 was used in a gun murder. Police training was not as it is today. It consisted of military drills and inspectors parades.
Most people blamed the police for not doing enough and said that they could have done a lot more, but for a force that was created to prevent crime found it hard to investigate suspects, carry out beat duty, make door-to-door inquiries and deal with mob attacks on suspects. It was simply impossible to do this with so little police numbers and deal with other crimes at the same time. Because the murders seemed random it was extremely difficult to solve the case. If the deceased knew their killers then it is easier to find lines of enquiries and find out who the killer is through relatives of the deceased.
When you bring all of the previously mentioned above, we can see that the police had several difficulties in trying to solve the murders or 1888. All of these factors played a big part in the police forces unsuccessful attempt to catch the killer. This is because the false leads that the police followed up wasted the time of a stretched and ill-equipped police force. Also the press coverage made the police shift the lines of enquiry a lot and further wasted time. The factors linked together and had equal importance. However the most important factor was the police forces inability and therefore ineffective attempt to solve the murders.
This linked together with the problems of interpreting and evidence in an effective way, which resulted in angry mobs attacking people which the press had named. If the murderer was from Whitechapel, then people would have seen him and come forward to the police and give information, but because of the police’s problems in using the evidence and their methods used of gathering this evidence, they were unable to follow up the line of enquiry because of the limitations of detective work. So all of the main factors link together and therefore resulting in the police’s unsuccessful attempts to catch Jack the Ripper.