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Detection: Disagreement and Despondency
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Detection: Disagreement and Despondency
“Who chased Cock Warren?”
“I”, said the Home Sparrow,
“With my views cramped and narrow,
I chased Cock Warren”.”
Punch, November 1888

THE RESPONSIBILITY for catching the murderer lay with the Metropolitan Police. As the killings continued unabated, criticism from all quarters mounted. What were the constabulary doing?

From the outset, policemen on the ground seemed despondent about their chances of success. We must remember that they had none of today’s cars, phones or radios and that systematic detection work was a very young science. Fingerprinting was not an accepted tool of detection; analysis of blood groups was unknown. Instead, police depended almost entirely on local knowledge, the use of informers and evidence of witnesses, cemented together by hours and miles of legwork. If arrests did not follow a crime fairly swiftly, the prospects were bleak.

Things were not improved by internal disruption and disagreement behind the scenes. Sir Charles Warren, a disciplinarian ex-general, appointed Commissioner of the “Met” in 1886, repeatedly clashed with the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, over government interference in police matters, and especially the question of who controlled the CID. On the issue, Warren forced his Assistant Commissioner, James Monro, head of the CID, to resign from 31 August 1888, a critical time in the Ripper inquiries. Because he was suffering from chronic fatigue, Monro’s successor, Robert Anderson, was unable to begin work for a month after that.

Critics on all sides made their views known. The radical Star newspaper predictably and continually bayed for results. The Vicar of Whitechapel called for more police supervision, pointing out that because manpower was short, the constabulary had allowed rows, fights and thefts to go unchecked in the “rookeries of crime”. Others criticized apparently casual police methods. The coroner at Annie Chapman’s inquest complained that he was given nothing at all to show where the body was found. A chalked message mentioning “Juwes” near where the scrap of Catherine Eddowes’ bloodstained apron was found was erased on Warren’s orders, to prevent racial disharmony.

As noted previously, public meetings demanded resignations and even Queen Victoria showed her disquiet. Warren did resign on 8 November, bur over his quarrel with the Home Office, not his failure to catch the Ripper. The subject of rewards provoked angry debate. As the Ripper continued his work undetected, the chorus demanding a reward grew, but the government steadfastly refused. The fact that subsequent private rewards failed to uncover the murderer tends to vindicate the stance.
All of this could have done morale no good, yet on the ground Abberline and Swanson, the detectives in charge of the case from September onwards, generally enjoyed the whole-hearted cooperation of local people.

The real reason why the Ripper was never caught, besides the embryonic state of the science of criminal detection, seems to have been the circumstances of the crimes themselves, committed at the dead of night in the darkest, quietest corners of a mazy, criminous area.

Detection: Disagreement and Despondency

Sir Charles Warren.

Detection: Disagreement and Despondency

Blind Man’s Buff. A cartoon dated 1888.

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