ADVERTISER 150: Terror stalks Whitechapel as Jack the Ripper murders at least 5 women—maybe 11

1888: Jack the Ripper terrorises East End

1888: Jack the Ripper terrorises East End - Credit: Archant

The East London Advertiser marks its 150th anniversary in this nightly trip back into our past, looking at the biggest sensational news story of the 19th century. Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of the East End in what becomes the most-reported story around the world —‘The Whitechapel Murders’—as the notorious Victorian serial killer slays and mutilates at least five street prostitutes, perhaps even as many as 11, and is never caught. The Metropolitan Police carry the can for the Ripper eluding justice. The Metropolitan Commissioner resigns. The Ripper’s identity remains a true mystery to this day...

1888: The Summer and autumn are wracked with fear as Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields.

Five murdered prostitutes are officially linked by Scotland Yard, but some theorists put it as many as 11—any murder in Whitechapel that year is identified with the Ripper if there is any mutilation.

The coming of the telegraph makes ‘The Whitechapel Murders’ the first mass-reported crime around the world.

Just before the five “acknowledged” Ripper murders is the slaying of Martha Tabram, a prostitute stabbed 39 times on Bank Holiday August 6 in George Yard Buildings (today’s Gunthorpe Street).

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It sends shock waves through the community. District coroner George Collier calls it “one of the most dreadful murders any one could imagine.”

The East London Advertiser’s editorial comment describes George Yard as “one of the most dangerous streets in the locality” with its dark landings ideal for prostitutes.

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“There is a feeling of insecurity that in a great city like London, the streets of which are continually patrolled by police, a woman could be foully and horribly killed almost next to citizens peacefully sleeping in their beds, without a trace or clue being left of the villain who did the deed.”

Three weeks later, the mutilated body of Mary ‘Polly’ Nichols is discovered a mile away at Buck’s-row (today’s Durward Street), in front of a stable entrance at 3.40am, her throat slit, her body slashed.

Local press reports link Nichols’ killing to two previous murders, Emma Smith in Osborn Street and Martha Tabram in George Yard.

Polly’s inquest begins a day later, September 1, at the Working Lads’ Institute opposite the London Hospital. She is identified by a Workhouse laundry mark on her petticoats.

The inquest concludes on September 24, when Coroner Wynne Baxter dismisses the possibility that her murder is connected with Smith and Tabram.

But by then, another woman, Annie Chapman, is murdered in a back yard in Hanbury Street. Baxter notes that similarities of the two cases are considerable. Police merge the two investigations.

The hunt is under way for the killer soon to be dubbed “Jack the Ripper” by the press.

Annie Chapman’s inquest opens on September 10. She was murdered at 5.30am in the yard of a terraced house occupied by 16 people, but none saw or heard anything, the inquest is told.

Then news of two more victims sweeps through the now-terrified population.

Lizzie Stride, known as ‘Long Liz’, is discovered in Dutfield’s Yard opposite the International Working Men’s Club in Berner-street (today’s Henriques Street), around 1am on September 30.

She has been murdered just moments before the club steward arrives on a pony and two-wheeled cart, blood still flowing from her neck. It is possible the Ripper was interrupted before he had a chance to mutilate the body.

That same night, Catharine Eddowes is murdered less than an hour later at Mitre Square in Aldgate. Both victims lived in lodgings in Flower & Dean-street, off Commercial-street.

The double murder sends London into panic, the first time the Ripper strikes twice in a night.

Eddowes’ inquest opens on October 4 in the City, three days after Stride’s inquest at St George’s Vestry Hall in Cable Street.

The Advertiser runs a critical editorial comparing the Whitechapel Murders to the notorious 1811 Ratcliff Murders at Ratcliff Highway, when John Williams was caught within days of his five killings of the Marr family and their maidservant.

Our editorial includes two earlier murders: “Three weeks have now passed since Elizabeth Stride was murdered in Berner-street, and Kate Eddowes was butchered and mutilated in Mitre-square—so far as circumstantial evidence can prove it—by the same ruthless hand which had previously dispatched and mutilated Emma Smith, Martha Tabram, Mary Ann Nicholls and Annie Chapman. Yet to all appearances the police are as far off the scent of the murderer as when the discovery of the Buck’s Row victim first set them seriously to work.

“That so many murders should have been committed with impunity; that very nearly a year should have elapsed since the first ‘unfortunate’ fell a victim to the destroyer’s hand; and that the murderer should still remain undiscovered, is a condition of things absolutely without a parallel in this country.

“John Williams, the ‘Marr murderer’ of Ratcliff, was caught within a short time after the commission of his fifth crime.

“Even Burke, of Edinburgh, only managed to dispatch his third victim before the law had its iron hand round his throat.”

Then three weeks later, the mutilated body of Mary Jane Kelly is discovered in her ground-floor lodging at Miller’s Court in Dorset-street, off Commercial-street, the Ripper’s last acknowledged victim.

Thomas Bowyer, who has been sent in the morning to collect her overdue rent, looks through the broken window and sees her mutilated corpse on the bed.

Detectives arrive and break in, to find a fire in the grate fuelled with discarded clothing fierce enough to partly melt a kettle spout. It is the worst mutilation of all. Kelly’s face is gashed beyond recognition. The bed and floor are saturated with blood that is also splattered on the walls.

Kelly’s body is taken to Shoreditch mortuary and an inquest is hurriedly opened and held in a single day at Shoreditch Town Hall on November 12. The speed of the inquest is criticised in the press.

But there is also a seventh slaying reported that year when Rose Mylett is discovered on September 20 in Poplar, three miles from the Ripper’s previous stalking ground—so she never makes the headlines as one of the Whitechapel Murders.



1888: The Metropolitan Police are blamed by members of the Whitechapel Board of Works for failing to catch Jack the Ripper.

They accuse Scotland Yard of “weakness and incompetence” in a debate at Whitechapel’s Vestry Hall, reported in the Advertiser in October.

A large force of police has been drafted into the Whitechapel district with the Home Secretary promising “no means will be spared in tracing the offender and bringing him to justice”.

A resolution is tabled declaring police are “not sufficient in numbers or efficiency to protect the lives and property of the ratepayers” and calls for a Parliamentary committee of inquiry into policing the metropolis.

But the chairman asks if they really have anything tangible to take to Parliament and whether it is “desirable to increase the police force and so increase taxation”. The resolution is rejected by a majority of one.


The Ripper’s “legacy” eventually improves the squalid conditions of the East End’s poor—whatever you think of his crimes. It brings social reformers to the area.

1889: Charles Booth, the Victorian social reformer, produces a social map showing that Whitechapel “should not be written off as totally crime-ridden, a place to be avoided”, that its poverty is not endemic.

His street-by-street survey sets a poverty level at 21 shillings a week (today’s £1.05p) for a family of six. He finds 45 per cent of the population living below that level with poor nutrition, in bad housing conditions, damp and overcrowded, leading to the spread of tuberculosis.

It shows 300 common lodging houses with 8,000 homeless men, women and children queuing for a bed for the night—8d (3p) gets you a double bed, 4d a single, or 2d just to shelter and lean against a rope drawn across the room.

Many rented rooms are used for prostitution, so families renting the accomodation have to be out on the streets until the early hours in all weathers.

1891: The national census shows six people living in one room at 13 Miller’s Court, where Jack the Ripper had murdered prostitute Mary Kelly three years earlier.

Another reformer making changes to East End life in the 1890s is William Rogers, Rector of St Botolph’s at Bishopsgate, an educationalist who witnesses poverty on his doorstep and realises that there is no place for working class people to learn to improve their lives.

So he establishes the Bishopsgate Institute to give them that chance in life.

It is the twisted legacy of Jack the Ripper bringing terror to the streets and public attention to an impoverished East End that previously had been ignored by Victorian society.


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