ON THE TRAIL OF JACK THE RIPPER
INSPECTOR ABBERLINE ARRIVES
Today there is considerable debate as to whether or not Martha Tabram was a victim of Jack the Ripper. But in 1888 there was no doubt in peoples minds that she was.
Thus, when Mary Nichols was found murdered on August 31st 1888 it made three brutal murders of women in a relatively small area over a short period of time, and as far as the people, press and police were concerned one man, or group of men, were responsible.
So in early September they faced up to the alarming possibility that a repeat killer was loose on the streets of the East End.
The powers that were at Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police, decided that the local division of their force, H Division, would not be up to the hunt for the killer or killers. So they sent back to the area a detective who had been promoted out of the area the previous December.
His name was Inspector Frederick George Abberline and if you have seen the film ‘From Hell’ he is the person upon whom the character of Johnny Depp is very loosely based!
Abberline was 45 years old in 1888. He was a portly, balding officer with a thick moustache and bushy side whiskers. He had already spent fourteen years as a detective with the local police force, H division, and had gained an unrivalled knowledge of the area’s streets and criminals.
The magazine Toby praised him as:-
“A well known East Ender…[to whom] scores of persons are indebted…He has a decent amount of curiosity, and has been known to stop gentlemen at the most unholy times and places and enquire about their health and work – questions which are often settled by a magistrate, generally in Mr Abberline’s favour.”
The previous year Abberline’s dedication and service had been recognised with a promotion to Central Office at Scotland Yard, and a farewell dinner was held for him in December 1887 at the Unicorn Tavern, on Shoreditch High Street.
But he had barely settled in to his new position when it was decided that his knowledge of the East End villains was just what was needed in the hunt for the Whitechapel Murderer. Thus, in early September 1888, he found himself recalled to his old stomping ground of Spitalfields and Whitechapel.
Almost immediately on arriving back in the area Abberline appears to have disagreed with the common consensus amongst police officers that the crimes were gang related. He appears to have quickly come to the conclusion that he was dealing with a lone assassin. But how were the police to catch this unknown miscreant?
Abberline began his investigation by looking for a common denominator. What did the victims share in common?
Two things stood out. Firstly, they were all common street prostitutes. Secondly, they all lodged in a relatively small area that consisted of 9 to 12 streets which were known known collectively as “the evil quarter mile.”
This was a neighbourhood where the common lodging houses were predominant and Abberline decided that a solution to the mystery might lie in this area. So in early September his detectives went in to the evil quarter mile to interview the estimated 1200 prostitutes that police intelligence suggested lived in and worked out of the neighbourhood.
Very soon their investigation turned up a likely sounding suspect whom the local prostitutes knew. simply as "Leather Apron."