Friday, April 13, 2012

Why were the police unable to catch Jack the Ripper

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Why were the police unable to catch Jack the Ripper?

There are three main reasons why the Police were unable to catch the Whitechapel murderer the nature of the killings, the limitations of police methods and the problems with the investigation.

The Nature of the Killings

Whitechapel housed a lot of immigrants and most people were poor, meaning a lot of crime took place. The police estimated that there were around 1,00 prostitutes in Whitechapel and many more women who took clients to supplement their weekly earnings. Prostitution made the women extremely vulnerable and an easy target for Jack the Ripper, as they always took their clients into dark and deserted alleyways. This made it very hard for the police to solve the case, as their were only ever a few witnesses, many of whom were reluctant to come forward, especially of they were middle-class men from the city, in search of prostitution. The witnesses, who did come forward, were often unwilling to fully co-operate with the police because they were frightened of retribution or were simply not interested in helping to solve the crime.

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The nature of the killings, the fact that Jack the Ripper was a serial killer, made solving the crime extra hard for the police. He was the first known serial killer and the police had no idea how to deal with him. They had no idea where to start and how to amass clues about the murderer.

Limitation of police methods

The police were extremely limited when it came to catching criminals. Finger printing had not yet been invented and photographic evidence had only just been introduced. There was no such thing as forensic science, just the clues that they found in the area of the crime scene and on the body. Detectives had very little experiences as their department had only been running for 10 years. Lack of DNA testing meant that the detectives could not tell if blood at the crime scene came from the victim or murderer. Psychological profiling did not exist in the 1th century, meaning the police could not build up a profile of the murder’s habits or lifestyle. Crime scenes were always disturbed even by the police themselves, leading to clues and evidence being destroyed.

Problems with the investigation

The first prostitute to be killed by Jack the Ripper was Polly Nicholls. Over a week later, Annie Chapman was also brutally murdered. Medical experts linked the two murders and witnesses came forward. At an inquest, all stated to believe that Annie Chapman had been murdered at around 5.0 am. One witness even gave a detailed description of the man she had seen with Annie and believed to be the ripper. “…he was dark complexioned and was wearing a deerstalker hat.” The evidence given by the three witnesses created another problem for the police. The police surgeon, Dr George Phillips, had given the death to be about 4.0 am. The police however, decided to accept the evidence of Doctor Phillips and so did not follow up any evidence from the witnesses. Instead, they started to research into abattoirs and slaughterhouses after Doctor Phillips claimed “… the injuries have been made by someone who had considerable anatomical skill and knowledge”.

Elizabeth Stride was the first woman murdered on the night of the double murder. 4 Witnesses came forward, one of whom was Police Constable William Smith. He described the man to have been wearing a dark, deerstalker hat, this was backed up by a second witness. In the murders that followed, that of Annie Chapman and Catherine Eddows, other witnesses believed the man to have been wearing a dark, deerstalked hat. However, the police were to busy interviewing more than ,000 lodgers and 76 butchers. The press had their own ideas about the murderer and appointed a Jewish slipper maker nicknamed ‘Leather Apron’, who had to be questioned. The murders were now big news and the police received hundreds of letters, by people who claimed to know or be the Ripper. Unfortunately for the police, all these leads led nowhere and after weeks or research, all accused produced alibis.

On the night of the double murder, Jack the Ripper crossed boundaries between two police forces, the Metropolitan Police Force (MPF) and the City Police (CP). At this time in history, there was immense rivalry between the two forces and evidence was not shared and sometimes even destroyed. On the 0th september, the murderer left a note written in chalk on a wall. When it was found, a CP officer was sent to guard it but a commissioner from the MPF came upon the note and wiped it out. If it was a clue, it was now gone, and therefore they could not be used to compare handwriting. Or it could have be false, leading to riots. The Jews in the past had been blamed for a lot of murders, as they were widely disliked and any mention of the killer being Jewish would have lead to riots, which the police did not want on top of trying to catch the killer.


It is evident that there were a lot of factors, which stopped the police from catching the Ripper. The nature of the killings meant it was for police to prevent them or catch the Ripper. This was not helped by the fact that their department was underdeveloped. The largest factors however, were the problems and errors, which occurred during the investigation. False information or leads meant police time was wasted, which prevented them from catching the ruthless Ripper.

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