‘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

‘Leather Apron’ at Marylebone Police court?

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As London woke up to the news that two women had been murdered in one night of horror in the East End the search for the murderer known to history as ‘Jack the Ripper’ continued. The police pursued all the leads they got, some of which were clearly red herrings.

In the immediate aftermath of Catherine Eddowes’ murder a policeman found a piece of bloodied cloth in Goulston Street. Above it was a chalked message which seemed to infer the murders were being committed by a member of the Jewish immigrant community.

The idea that the killer was Jewish had surfaced soon after Annie Chapman’s inquest when one witness said the man she had seen with Annie just before her death ‘looked foreign’. Anti-alienism (racism) was endemic in Victorian society and it was easy to point the finger of blame at local Jews.

One man in particular felt the pressure of this local xenophobia. John Piser was arrested and questioned when he was thought to be a suspect. The Star newspaper even ran with the story, claiming that the mysterious character ‘leather apron’ was in custody for the killings. leatherapron

‘Leather Apron’ was the name given to a local Jewish man who had a reputation for violence against women. He may well have been an unpleasant character and he may have attacked women but that hardly made him unique in Whitechapel. As for whether Piser and ‘Leather Apron’ were one and the same person, the jury is out’.’

In the end Piser was able to provide Sergeant Thicke for an alibi to cover his movements at the time of the murders so he was released. Many local Jews ran the gauntlet of being arrested by the police or chased through the streets by lynch mobs. It is always much easier to pin the blame for something awful that happens on an outsider, rather than look for the suspects within your own community.

On the day that news of Stride and Eddowes’ murders hit the newsstands a man appeared at Marylebone Police court seeking compensation. The complainant was ‘a man of the artisan class’ and if accused a ‘gentleman’ of injuring him while making a citizen’s arrest. No names were given but the court heard that the man had been working on repairs to the organ at St Saviour’s church  in Paddington. As he walked home a stranger ran up to him and declared that he was ‘Leather Apron’ and tried to take him into custody.

He was dragged to the nearest police station, held for three and half hours, and then released. He wanted compensation for the hurt done to him but the magistrate was unable to help him. Mr De Rutzen explained that he would have to take his claim to a county court.

I wonder how often men were chased, abused, arrested and falsely accused in that ‘autumn of terror’? The press whipped up a storm with their wall-to-wall coverage of the story and the wild speculation as to the murderer’s identity must have caused dozens or more men to be looked on with suspicion.

In reality the killer was probably must closer to home and to the community within which all the victims lived and worked. It is highly unlikely that he was a ‘champagne Charlie’ or a ‘mad doctor’, or even a ‘desperate foreigner’. I believe he was a local Gentile who had grown up in Whitechapel and knew its streets like the back of his hand.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, October 02, 1888]