Jack the Ripper: The Plot Thickens

The city of London in Great Britain would never be the same after the late summer and early autumn of 1888. That was the time when the infamous “Jack the Ripper” killer exploded onto the scene with a series of brutal murders. This malevolent individual left a bloody trail of mutilated female bodies in his wake. Much to their great frustration, the Scotland Yard police department found themselves unable to spot the killer. As a result of the Ripper murders, and forced to rely on only a few unreliable eyewitness accounts of the purported attacker, Scotland Yard had to reinvent their approach to crime investigation.Jack the Ripper: The Plot ThickensThe police department’s first two orders of business were to increase their population of new recruits assigned to the Whitechapel District and to draft and reassign officers from those precincts not experiencing the slayer’s wrath over to those precincts that were. Officers were told to make their rounds in pairs—a marked contrast to the traditional solo constable—so as to avoid the risk of encountering and perhaps being subdued by an obviously powerful and athletic sociopath, one eminently capable of committing his crimes in a matter of seconds, not minutes or hours. Although the manpower needed to hunt him down had now been made available, this adaptation failed to bring the Ripper in. Soon, officers of the law were doing their best to camouflage themselves and their “sounds,” and many of them were permitted and encouraged to dress in plain clothes so they could blend in with the locals and not scare off the Ripper. Now, the local constables could walk into taverns and doss houses without drawing attention to themselves. They also could engage in conversation with the denizens of Whitechapel and question them without them violating what Jack London had called the unwritten rule of not sharing information with the authorities.To one unidentified but extremely resourceful constable, we owe the introduction of an item of footwear that would evolve into a contemporary multibillion-dollar industry—the sneaker. To prevent his footfalls from being detected by the Ripper, he nailed rubber strips he had obtained from bits of old bicycle tires to the bottoms of his noisy and clumsy regulation boots. In a testimony to the theory of natural selection, his fellow officers followed his lead for they, too, wanted their efforts to be successful. Their tacit acknowledgment of Darwinian theory allowed them to sneak around Whitechapel and to retain their relevance. They were adamant in their refusal to let themselves be thrown down onto the scrap heap of history.

The police also made a rapid response to the obvious need in the way they handled crime scene investigations. When the bodies of the first few Ripper victims were discovered, they were immediately carted off to local mortuaries as per the convention of the time. But the major drawback of this time-honored process was that there was no way of knowing exactly in what position the body had been found, where extremities had been placed, and whether there was any accompanying evidence that had been purposely left and/or arranged at the scene. Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown’s attempts at drawing the victim in two-dimensional sketches fell short of the mark. And soon his methodology was replaced when another investigator suggested it would be advisable to take a series of photographs of the corpse prior to removing it from the scene. This would preserve, in perpetuity, a record of the body’s position—and with it came the possibility that details that had been initially missed could be discovered weeks, months, or even years later.


Another change in procedure that would bring forth soon enough a radical change from the norm failed to materialize at first. This was the potential use of bloodhounds to track down the Ripper and although the Commissioner of Police, Sir Charles Warren, was fully prepared to unleash the famed dogs Barnaby and Burgho, the dogs’ keeper put an end to it. He was wary of the possibility that the dogs entrusted to him ran the risk of getting injured or poisoned in the process, and, as there was no reparation clause in the contract offered him, he backed out. This, however, did open the door for the adoption twenty-six years later of a regulation that officially permitted more than one hundred of London’s constables to bring dogs on patrol with them.


And still, the killer known as “Jack the Ripper” remains unnamed to history. Until now, that is. But that’s another topic for another blog . . .