The ‘Swell mob’ is undone by two ‘intrepid’ females

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Samuel Harris and George Edwards were, it was alleged, members of a notorious gang of smartly dressed criminals who targeted the  pockets of the wealthy at fairs and other large public gatherings. In July 1855 the two were out and about in Whitechapel and Harris had just taken a purse from a woman’s pocket when a sharp voice rang out:

‘You vagabond, you have just picked the lady’s pocket!’

The cry came from a servant girl, Emma Shearman, who was walking out with her mistress the widowed Mrs Whittaker. Emma moved swiftly to try and catch hold of Harris and in the process he dropped the purse he’d stolen. As he tried to pick it up she stood on it. Harris and Edwards fled with the two women in hot pursuit.

One of them grabbed Harris by the collar and spun him round, he lashed out with his cane hitting her on the head. The women persisted despite the violence and were eventually assisted by the arrival of PC H66 and the High Constable of Tower Hamlets, Thomas Reynolds. The two thieves were removed to the station house.

When they appeared for their hearing at the Worship House police court the station gaoler told the magistrate that the two were well-known to the police as members of the ‘swell mob’ who with a ‘gang’ of others turned up to races and the like, dressed in fine clothes and in a hired ‘stylish-looking chaise’ so they pass themselves off as moneyed and ‘respectable’. This ruse allowed them to get close to their victims. He added that recently one of them had a attended a confirmation at church where a man  was robbed of a £50 gold watch.

They were fully committed for trial.

The ‘swell mob’ was a term in common usage during the nineteenth century. It was applied to those criminals that lived well off the pickings they made as thieves and con-men. They saw themselves as the ‘elite’ of criminals and dressed to ape the habits of the middle-class. They were part of the so-called ‘criminal class’ of Victorian London – a term that historians of crime have warned us to not take too literally.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, July 14, 1855]

This post first appeared in July 2016

‘It was a bigger boy, sir’: youthful pranks in Rosemary Lane

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Rosemary Lane had a reputation for criminality throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The street was one of several in Whitechapel where the police were cautious about patrolling at night and where they would often turn when they needed to locate the ‘usual suspects’ for a bit of local thievery.

In 1847 PC H180 was passing nearby when he heard a terrible noise emanating from the lane and decided to investigate. He soon found almost two dozen young boys gathered together as some sort of impromptu orchestra, making an awful racket.  Some were banging pots and pans, others clashing knives and cleavers together; even bones were being used to pound out a rhythm on kettles and saucepans.

The policeman waded into this row and tried to get the lads to disperse. The boys were in high spirits and in no mood to listen. That day there had been a wedding – a Jewish marine store dealer, unpopular in the neighbourhood had married, and the reaction of the boys might have been some sort of youthful communal protest.

From the early modern period right up to the early twentieth century it was not uncommon for communities to express their displeasure or antipathy towards those they disliked or disapproved of by way of a charivari or skimmington. This was an old folk custom involving a mock parade with discordant (or ‘rough’) music.

As the policeman tried to stop the noise and make the crowd of boys go to their homes several of them turned on him and attacked him. One in particular hit him over the head with a kettle, knocking his hat into the gutter (before 1864 the police wore tall top hats, not helmets like they do today). He grabbed the boy and took him into custody, the others ran away.

The next day the child was brought before Mr Yardley at the Thames Police court charged with assaulting a policeman. Isaac Gardiner was so small his face could hardly be seen as he stood in the dock. When the magistrate was told that the boy had uttered the words ‘take that blue bottle!’ as he aimed a blow at the constable there was laughter in court. Isaac denied the charge, claiming some other boy was to blame.

‘It was a bigger boy, sir’, he said; ‘How could I reach up to a tall policeman’s head?’

It was a fair comment even if it was probably untrue. Mr Yardley was in no mood to have his court turned into a comic music hall act however, nor was he about to condone bad behavior by street urchins like Isaac. He told the prisoner that ‘boys must be taught to conduct themselves properly’. Isaac would be fined 5s and, since he had no money to pay, he’d go to prison for three days.

The poor lad was led away whimpering that it was unfair and he ‘didn’t see much harm in having a lark on a weddin’-day’.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, October 20, 1847]

A drunken German attracts the attention of police hunting Jack the Ripper

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Given the prevailing climate of fear that gripped the East End in the autumn of 1888 it is hardly surprising that Charles Ludwig found himself in court. He’d been in custody for two weeks by the time he was reexamined before Mr Saunders at the Thames Police court on the morning of the 2 October. This was just a day after news broke about the discovery of the bodies of two more victims of ‘Jack the Ripper’ and this effectively exonerated Ludwig of any connection to the murder series.

He was in custody because he was accused of threatening two people with a large knife whilst he was drunk. Mrs Elizabeth Burns had been confronted by Ludwig near the Minories on the outskirts of the City of London. When she saw the knife in his hand she screamed and two policemen came running up.

Elizabeth was so scared by the incident she quite forgot to tell constable John Johnson (366 City Police) that the man had got a  knife. PC Johnson said he been alerted to Elizabeth’s screams of ‘murder!’ as he perambulated his beat on the Minories. The sound came from a nearby alley that led to some railway arches, well known as ‘a dangerous locality’, he told the court. He found the woman but it was only after he had escorted her to the end of his beat that she mentioned that the strange man who had confronted her had ‘pulled a big knife out’.

‘Why didn’t you tell me that at the time?’ PC Johnson asked her.

‘I was too much frightened’, Elizabeth replied.

The copper raced off to see if he could find the man but he’d long gone. He gave a description to other officers he found but it was  a constable from K Division (PC 221K) that eventually made an arrest. He was called to a disturbance at a coffee stall on the Whitechapel Road. A drunken German (Ludwig) was remonstrating with the coffee stall owner who had refused to serve him.

Another customer, Alexander Finlay, was stood nearby and perhaps said something which brought him to Ludwig’s attention. Turning round Ludwig growled at him: ‘What are you looking at?’ and pulled out a long bladed knife which he threatened Finlay with. When the policeman arrived he took the ‘excited’ man into custody and since then they had been investigating his circumstances.

They may have thought he was the ‘Ripper’ or simply believed he was a possible suspect. He was potentially dangerous at least, so he was remanded in custody, being brought before the magistrate on a number of occasions. Now Inspector Pimley of H Division told Mr Saunders that Ludwig had ‘fully accounted for his whereabouts on the nights of the recent murders’ (meaning those of Polly Nichols and Annie Chapman presumably) and so all that rested against him was the charge of threatening behavior.

Ludwig was clearly guilty of that charge but since he’d already served two weeks in gaol the magistrate told him he was now free to go. Ludwig was just one of many men arrested on suspicion of being the Whitechapel murderer. In those months, when tensions were so high, the police and public were seeing killers in every dark corner of the East End and immigrants like Ludwig were top of the list of possible suspects.

In reality it is much more likely that ‘Jack’ was part of the indigenous population of the capital, someone who didn’t attract the attention that a drunken knife-wielding foreigner might.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, October 03, 1888]

Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available on Amazon

‘Skylarking’ leaves one youth in hospital when he picks on the wrong victim

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Historians of crime have estimated that in the 18thand 19thcenturies only a small percentage of assaults (even fairly serious ones) reached the courts. Even when prosecutors did bring assaults before the magistracy in 18thcentury London the most common outcome was a settlement between the two parties, often brokered by the justice.

Arguably, this was mostly because inter-personal non-fatal violence was treated as a civil rather than a criminal offence, and so did not always need a jury’s deliberations. In the previous century and for much of the 1800s it was property crime that occupied the minds of legislators and the justice system. However, it seems to be the case that over the course of the nineteenth century violence increasingly became the focus of concerns about crime.

Perhaps this is reflected in this case from the Thames Police court in 1864 which occurred just 3 years after parliament had consolidated the various laws concerning interpersonal violence in one piece of legislation: the Offences Against the Person Act (24 & 25 Vict. c.100).

Herman Menus, a German immigrant, was charged with cutting and wounding Timothy Bryan, an Irish labourer. The victim was not in court to press the charge and Mr Partridge was told this was because ‘he either did not care about the wound as a serious one’ or had been compensated by some of Menus’ friends.

Nevertheless the case against the 38 year-old skin-dresser proceeded because, as Mr Partridge said, it was serious. He stated that ‘cutting and wounding cases had become so alarmingly common that the investigation must be continued’ and he remanded the German in custody.

The facts presented were that a police constable from H Division was called to a disturbance in Lambeth Street where he found Bryan lying in the gutter with a long cut to his face. He took the injured man back to Leman Street police station where he was treated. Whilst there he had some sort of fit but was now stable.

John Conley, a surgeon living on Whitechapel High Street, deposed that the wound was serious but not life threatening. In his defence Menus told the court that he had been attacked by a group of lads as he was going home from work. He was struck twice about the head and reacted, using the two cans he was carrying with him. One of these connected with Bryan’s cheek causing the injury. He used no knife at all.

The police confirmed that Bryan was one of the groups of lads that were involved in baiting the skin-dresser, which perhaps explains his reluctance to appear in court against him. Bryan was most likely part of the gang or group of ‘roughs’ who were known to pick on foreigners or anybody else they might like to terrorize on the capital’s streets. Unfortunately for him he had selected a victim who was quite capable of defending himself.

The prisoner was brought up the following day to be questioned again and so Mr Partridge could finally decide his fate. Now the court heard that Bryan was a fireman on a steam ship bound for Bordeaux in France. Menus had hired a solicitor to represent him.

Bryan appeared and said he was having some difficulty in speaking due the injuries he’d sustained in the attack on him. He told the court that he and his mates had just been ‘skylarking’ when Menus had said something to him. One thing led to another and blows were exchanged. He was drunk at the time he admitted, so his memory of the events was hazy at best. Several witnesses for both parties testified that there was equal fault on each side.

In the end the magistrate decided the best thing was this to be sorted out by a jury and so he committed Menus to take his trial.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, September 24, 1864; The Standard, Monday, September 26, 1864]

‘Leather Apron’ is rescued from an angry mob.

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The wild publicity surrounding the Ripper murders in 1888 escalated after the murder of Annie Chapman on 8 September. Lots of suspects began to emerge but one in particular caught the public’s attention following reports in the press in the aftermath of Polly Nicholl’s murder in late August. The name was ‘leather apron’ (aka John Pizer, a 38 year-old cobbler).1

 Pizer was apparently a notorious individual, known for his antipathy towards prostitutes and for threatening them with a knife that he carried as part of his work. He quickly disappeared when it became apparent everyone wanted to speak to him (or worse) and it took several days for Sergeant Thicke (H Division) to track him down. Pizer had an alibi for the Nichol’s murder and none of the witnesses the police had identified him either.

He was in the clear but that didn’t stop speculation about ‘Leather Apron’.  What if Pizer wasn’t ‘Leather Apron’? The press – notably the Star and the Illustrated Police News published rough sketch images of the mysterious suspect and this led the public to seek out suitable candidates in the street. Unknown

One of those unfortunate enough to be misidentified was Thomas Mills. Mills was a 59 year-old cabinetmaker and so, by all the witness statements we have, far too old to be the Whitechapel murderer. Mills was a drunk, but not a dangerous or particularly anti-social drunk. He had been before the magistrate at Worship Street ‘at least 100 times’ for drunkenness but violence doesn’t ever seem to have been associated with him.

He was back in court on the 20 September 1888, 12 days after the Chapman murder (and just over a week before the so-called ‘double event’ that saw two killings on one night). A policeman had found him in Wellington Row, Shoreditch, quite drunk and surrounded by a small crowd. They were ‘pulling him about and threatening him’ the officer explained to Mr Saunders.

‘We’ll lynch him’, they cried. ‘He’s Leather Apron’.

The constable arrested him for his own safety and took him to the nearest police station.

‘It’s quite true, sir’. Mills told the justice. ‘Whenever I go out they say I’m “Leather Apron,” because the Police News published a portrait of the man, and I’m like it’.

‘I was out looking for work, and wherever I go they say, “that’s him”, and I can’t get work’.

The lack of work, he suggested, drove him to drink and the whole cycle started again. Mr Saunders had little sympathy. If he stayed off the booze no one would take any notice of him. He fined him 2s6and dismissed him.

It is revealing of the panic that gripped East London in the autumn of 1888 and of course the power of the press in creating mythical scapegoats for the murders. Some believe that ‘Leather Apron’ (but not John Pizer) was ‘Jack the Ripper’ and I would agree that it is more likely that the serial killer that stalked London that year was a local man.

I have a different candidate in mind and explain why  in my recent book on the subject. book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available on Amazon 

[from The Morning Post, Friday, September 21, 1888]

 

1.Neill R. A. Bell, Capturing Jack the Ripper, p.150

‘Another Whitechapel outrage’ in Berner Street

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The panic over the Whitechapel (or ‘Jack the Ripper’) murders were really beginning to set in by the second week of September 1888. Martha Tabram, Polly Nicholls and Annie Chapman had all been murdered in the past few weeks. Annie was found in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street in the early hours of Saturday 8 September, and crowds soon gathered to watch the police investigation unfold.

On the 10th William Seaman, a local builder, was accused of attempted murder at the Thames Police court.  Charles McCarthy testified that he had been walking along Ellen Street at about midnight on Saturday when he’d heard a scream. It seemed to be coming from Berner Street and he hurried off in that direction.

There was a chemist’s shop at number 82 and McCarthy found the chemist, John Simkin, his beard covered in blood, slumped over his counter. A hammer was on the counter and Seaman was standing nearby. The elderly chemist was hurt but still alive and conscious. He told McCarthy ‘here is the hammer he hit me with’ and handed it to him.

Seaman made no attempt to run away and when the police arrived he was taken quietly into custody. Constable 85H deposed that when he arrested Seaman his prisoner declared: ‘I shan’t tell you what I did it for, but I will tell the magistrate’. The man had been drinking he added. Since John Simkin was bedridden and recovering from his injuries the justice, Mr Saunders, remanded Seaman in custody while enquiries continued.

The chemist didn’t recover sufficiently until early October and so Seaman remained in custody till then. On Sunday 7 October Reynold’s carried areport of his committal for trial. The senior investigating officer was Inspector Thresher of H Division (who presumably wasn’t otherwise busy with the ‘Ripper’ case). Simkin testified that Seaman had entered his shop and asked to purchase some alum and zinc. While the chemist sorted the order hit him twice with the hammer, for no obvious reason. Having promised to explain his actions the accused chose now to keep silence and was fully committed for trial at the Old Bailey.

He appeared there on the 26 October 1888 and all he would say in his defense was that he’d been drinking. The jury convicted him of grievous bodily harm (rather than the more serious offence of attempted murder). The court was told he had a previous conviction for burglary – a sentence of 14 years  – and so the judge now sent him away for a further seven years of penal servitude.

By then Whitechapel was in full ‘Ripper panic’ mode. On the 30 September, a few weeks after the incident Liz Stride had been found dead in Berner Street, just yards away from Mr Simkin’s chemist’s shop. An hour later Catherrine Eddowes was brutally murdered in Mitre Square. The pair of murders have been dubbed the ‘double event’ after the Central News agency received a handwritten letter and then a follow up postcard from someone purporting to be the killer. The postcard read:

I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, you’ll hear about Saucy Jacky’s work tomorrow double event this time number one squealed a bit couldn’t finish straight off. had not the time to get ears for police. thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again.

It was signed ‘Jack the Ripper’.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, September 11, 1888; Reynolds’s Newspaper , Sunday, October 7, 1888; The Morning Post, Saturday, October 27, 1888]

Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available on Amazon and other bookshops 

A ‘lunatic’ with a hammer stalks the East End – could he be ‘Jack’?

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I imagine the police in the East End of London were on high alert in the late summer of 1888. Two women had been brutally murdered in the space of a couple of weeks – Martha Tabram and Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nicholls – and in early September no one had been charged with their deaths.

All sorts of ideas floated around as to the killer’s identity. At first Martha’s killer was believed to be an off duty guardsman but enquiries there had drawn a blank. Perhaps he was a slaughter man, or a foreign sailor, or a deranged member of the local immigrant community, a butcher perhaps? This speculation would continue throughout the autumn as three more women were killed by the serial murderer known to history as ‘Jack the Ripper’.

At 4 in morning on the 4 September 1888 as PC Eugene Murphy (25H) was perambulating his beat on Carr Street in Limehouse a man walked past him ‘in a very excited state’. The officer caught up and stopped him, to ask what he was doing.

He was clutching a hammer and looked quite distracted. He said his master had stolen £133 from him – a huge sum ( about £11,000 today and so hardly likely) – and added that others had borrowed money, leaving him impoverished. He looked threatening and PC Murphy judged he was ‘of unsound mind’ so took him back to the police station.

There he was examined by the divisional surgeon who concurred with the policeman’s judgment of his mental state. As a result Charles John Matthews (aged 41) was charged with being a ‘wandering lunatic, not under proper control’ and appeared before Mr Lushington at Thames Police court. The worthy magistrate sent him to the parish workhouse for a week. Hopefully there he would get some help.

The Ripper’s murders weren’t committed with a hammer of course, but the person that did kill all those women was probably suffering from some form of illness that affected his mind. He was certainly a local man and probably someone the police had in custody at some point.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, September 05, 1888]

Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London.

The book is available on Amazon