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Victorian London's Finest Forum for discussing the police and authorities in London circa 1888.

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Old January 14th, 2013, 11:21 PM   #1
admin tim
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Default Were the police to blame for not capturing Jack the Ripper?

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At the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, the police forces of London were inefficient and traditional. This lead to the Police force's mishandling of the Jack the Ripper case and in this respect; they were responsible for not capturing Jack. However it is also possible to say, that due to a lack of technology and funding as well the harsh conditions in Whitechapel at the time, the Police were facing a case that they could not crack.
In some ways the police force were not to blame for not capturing Jack the Ripper because of the harsh conditions that they had to work in. A newspaper article describes the streets of Whitechapel as "containing some headquarters of infamy" and "The sights and sounds are an apocalypse of evil" This gives a very negative image of the streets of Whitechapel and leads us to feel sympathetic towards the Police because they had to work in these conditions. The conditions would also affect a policeman's efficiency and make him less alert. The conditions can also explain why Jack could get away so easily. Because the Ripper wore a "dark coat", he may have been able to camouflage into the dark surroundings, described -"The main thoroughfares of Whitechapel are connected by a network of narrow, dark and crooked lanes”-. This is also shown in a map where the roads are very close together. This may have made it nearly impossible for the police to catch Jack the Ripper. The narrow winding streets and alleyways also made hard for the police to trace Jack and made Jack's escape much more efficient that it would be on a busy, congested main road. This difficulty was made even worse by the fact there was no tram system in Whitechapel so it would have been hard for the police to get around quickly and to swiftly visit places where Jack the Ripper may have been.
The technology available at the time was also a big factor in understanding why it was nearly impossible for the Police to catch Jack the Ripper. At the time, there was separation and competition between various police forces across London, so information was not shared. This was also provoked by the lack of computers. This meant that vital evidence was not shared so an individual police force could not catch Jack by themselves. Lack of technology also extended to detective work, which was still primitive at the time. Without any forensic evidence, there were no clues as to who the Ripper was and he was therefore impossible to catch. We can see that there is a lack of technology from this quote, where the journalist for the Times says that the only way that the police can only catch Jack was "red handed", and not actually to solve the case in a contemporary manner, "some accidental circumstance will lead to a trace…" This statement led to operations where police officers attempted to dress as prostitutes to catch Jack "red handed". These failed to to work. This lack of resources and technology was mainly caused by the low wages of police officers and the lack of funding from the government.
The very fact that Jack was the very first savage serial killer also posed a problem for the police as they had never come across a person with that sort of mind-frame before and had no experience in dealing with the type of investigation that they came across. Therefore they found it hard to find out who was able to commit such a crime.
Journalists also ruined the Police investigation and muddled an already hard case. Evidence leaked out about the Jack the Ripper murders and was published in the newspapers. This is shown by the fact that some newspapers have information on the murders, which was released to the public, This spoilt the police investigation as any member of the public could commit a copycat murder and confuse the police by leading them to a fake Jack the Ripper. This leads us to the question whether all five murders were committed by the same person, or was each murder a copy of the previous. This publicising of material confused the police investigation and made it very hard to solve because a lot of the evidence obtained became contradictory.
On the other hand, it is possible to disagree with the statement and say that it was the Police force's fault for not capturing Jack the Ripper. One of the main arguments behind this view is that the Police forces around London did not combine for a national investigation where evidence and ideas could be shared and the probability of catching Jack would increase. This lack of sharing was mainly due to the petty competition between Police forces. An example of this is when Sir Charles Warren told the city policeman guarding the writing on the wall ("The Jews are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.") that he should rub it out. If the police forces around London were united they would have had a higher chance of catching Jack the Ripper.
The Police can also be blamed for failing to catch Jack the Ripper as they insisted on using narrow lines of questioning. For example, they only looked at certain groups of people (butchers, doctors and slaughterers) and only people in the local area of Whitechapel were questioned, "the murders are supposed to be committed by someone residing in the immediate neighbourhood." This localising of questioning went against popular opinion that the Ripper looked foreign and might have come from a different area of London, or might have even been a foreign doctor (this idea was even suggested by Queen Victoria). This narrow line of enquiring may be the reason that the Ripper was not caught.
On many occasions the police failed to take into account vital witnesses. One of the most evident of which is from the coroner’s report of the death of Polly Nichols where he says, "No mere slaughterer of animals could could have carried out these operations." Even though the coroner made this report, the police still continued to waste time in the questioning of slaughterers and less skilled people. Another example of this happening would be where Dr Fredrick implied that the murder of Elizabeth Stride had been committed for money, "There was no money on the body" and yet the police still thought that the Ripper must have committed the murder. Turning a blind eye to witnesses may be the main reason why they never captured Jack the Ripper.
Although the media played a partial role in provoking copycat murders, so did the police. This is evident by the fact that the newspaper could gain access to such information as how brutal the murders were, "…a demented being…extraordinary violence…" This means that the police must have released some of the information, which could provoke copycat murders and confuse clues. The police published information such as the letter from the Ripper containing the words, "Next time I shall cut of her left ear." By publishing these vital clues the police were effectively shooting themselves in the foot.
In conclusion I believe that it was not the fault of the police for not capturing Jack the Ripper. This is because of the harsh conditions the police had to work in, the lack of technology and funding, the fact that Jack was the first serial killer and journalists also ruined the investigation. But there is a fair amount of other evidence to suggest that the police were to blame for not capturing Jack. This includes the fact there was unnecessary rivalry between police forces around London, the narrow line of investigation that the police used, the misuse using eyewitnesses and the fact that the police published evidence that could provoke copycat killings.
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Old January 15th, 2013, 12:20 AM   #2
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Good article.

As much as we like to support the police and their procedures of the time there is no mistaking the fact that they were out of their depth with this murderer of strangers.

Due to the overwhelming lack of official documents, 99% of which must have vanished, it is very difficult for us today to appreciate how difficult it was for the police of the time.

The best example of a failed investigation we have, in my estimation, is to compare this with the Yorkshire Ripper murder investigation of the 1970's, almost a century after his namesake.

How the West Yorkshire Police suffered from information overload, index files, action cards, the piles of reports and witness statements, filed, some mis-filed, and some simply lost, filled mountains of boxes, so much so the floor of the incident room had to be reinforced. And nothing was cross-referenced, this was before computers.

Scotland Yard and the Met. at the time of Jack the Ripper must have suffered from something similar. A murderer of strangers who can strike anywhere at any time is about the worst type of killer to pursue. It was just as true in the 1970's as it was back in 1888.

Capturing the killer is certainly the responsibility of the police, so it cannot be denied that in this they failed in 1888 (and in the 1970's if truth be known, Sutcliffe was caught by accident after being on the loose for over five years. The investigation plan for the most part, failed).

Regards, Jon S.
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Old January 15th, 2013, 02:53 AM   #3
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Biggest pile of crap I've read in weeks, and that's saying something.

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Old January 15th, 2013, 03:59 AM   #4
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Was the article written by a school child? The arguments and conclusions are very simplistic.

I thought Jon's post was excellent though. Some very good points made.
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Old January 15th, 2013, 04:11 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Debra Arif View Post
Was the article written by a school child? The arguments and conclusions are very simplistic.

I thought Jon's post was excellent though. Some very good points made.
If so then I apologise.

Quote:
Capturing the killer is certainly the responsibility of the police,
Solely?

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Old January 15th, 2013, 04:31 AM   #6
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Hi Neil,
Although your second quote was taken from Jon's post, I do agree with his point to a certain extent. Ask the public why the police are paid a wage and they will say to prevent and solve crime, surely? The LVP newspapers were full of criticism of the police and their failure to capture the killer, the same as in the 1970s. If not the police's responsibility to catch a killer, then whose?

Last edited by Debra Arif; January 15th, 2013 at 05:14 AM. Reason: typo
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Old January 15th, 2013, 08:42 AM   #7
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Quote:
Hi Neil,
Although your second quote was taken from Jon's post, I do agree with his point to a certain extent. Ask the public why the police are paid a wage and they will say to prevent and solve crime, surely? The LVP newspapers were full of criticism of the police and their failure to capture the killer, the same as in the 1970s. If not the police's responsibility to catch a killer, then whose?
Hi Debs,

Well yes, I agree in essence. I inserted the word ‘solely’ because I do not think it was the sole responsibility of the Police to catch the killer, I feel it’s the collective communities responsibility, including the Police.

Too often people sit back and just watch events unfold and point out failings. Whilst Im not stating the community should have been deeply active in the investigation they should take some responsibility in assisting the Police. Obviously they did to a degree with regards the Vigilance Committees and the passing on of information in this case however within certain aspects of investigating, the Police can only act upon the information provided by the public. And if that is unreliable or deliberately misleading then are they to blame for that?

The majority press failed to take a constructive role in the case also, choosing to criticise rather than provide useful information or pleas.

I just feel that the failure to capture the killer should lay partly with the community however I do concede that the Polices remit does indeed state the prevention and investigation of crime.

Cheers
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Old January 15th, 2013, 08:54 AM   #8
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Well, I certainly don't think it's my partly my responsibility to go out and catch murderers, Neil! Hell I'll never get the ironing done if it is.

Having responsibility for certain tasks as part of your paid work is not the same as being responsible for failing in those tasks due to circumstances beyond your control, though, is it?

This is what I mean and that's what I understand Jon to be saying-he even outlines the reasons why the police had such a difficult job and makes some good comparisons with the Yorkshire Ripper investigation.

Police did fail in their responsibility to catch the killer in 1888 (theories to the contrary aside) and the question posed was "Were they to blame for not catching him?" ...to which I think we are all saying " No!"
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Old January 15th, 2013, 09:19 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wicker Man View Post
Good article.

As much as we like to support the police and their procedures of the time there is no mistaking the fact that they were out of their depth with this murderer of strangers.

Due to the overwhelming lack of official documents, 99% of which must have vanished, it is very difficult for us today to appreciate how difficult it was for the police of the time.
This is true, Jon, on both counts... that they were out of the depth and that the lack of some key documents that have disappeared prevent us from getting a full idea of what the police were up against. However, nonetheless, the documents that do still exist give us an appreciation of the complexity and wide nature of the investigation.

Referring back to the thread about Swanson, I think it was the huge amount of information that was generated, and that Swanson was marshalling -- hundreds of witnesses, thousands of tips -- that shows that part of the problem the police had in trying to solve the case was that overload of information in itself, to the extent that it became a trees and forest situation.

Best regards

Chris
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Old January 15th, 2013, 09:21 AM   #10
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Of course, some people think they did catch him, but a couple of years too late.

Suppose on the other hand that the murderer was Druitt. That would have given the police about 3 months to catch a (canonical) killer. As serial cases go, I'd have thought that 3 months would be a very good result for the police. So, even for those who think the police were to blame, they weren't that much to blame if the killer was Druitt (or David Cohen).
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