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Jack the Ripper Coursework – Failures of the Police, Living Conditions and the Character of the Killer

In the streets of London in Whitechapel between August and September 1888, a disturbed man, given the name of ‘Jack the Ripper’ by the press, brutally murdered five prostitutes. His unfortunate victims included Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth stride, Katherine Edows, Mary Kelly and his 1st possible victim Martha Tabram. This essay will evaluate the question ‘Was it the police’s fault that ‘Jack the Ripper’ was never caught’ by looking at the role of the police, conditions in Whitechapel and whether ‘jack’ had medical knowledge. I will assess this by looking at a variety of sources to answer the question.

In this section, I will argue if it was the police’s fault they were or were not capable of catching murderers in 1888. Some people believe that the police were capable of catching murderers in 1888. Source 2 shows this by explaining that the police were very loved and happy to help. A quote even says, ‘the blue coats, the defenders of order, are becoming the national favourites’ this shows that the police were so willing to help they should have been able to catch a murderer. However, the quote was taken from a magazine called a punch, a patriotic newspaper. It was written in 1851, which means its reliability is tiny as a lot can change by 1888.

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It was written to talk about how great the establishment is as it is patriotic and therefore could be biased. However, it is reliable as it was taken from a well-known magazine. A table is taken from the official police records in source four also shows that the police were capable of catching the Ripper. It shows how the number of police increased dramatically from 8 to 294 between 1842 and 1884. Also showing the number of arrests were dramatically increasing. Therefore we can assume the police were becoming more robust. Additionally, with the introduction of the CID, the chances of the police succeeding in catching murderers escalated quickly.

The source was written for police records to show police and arrests and is therefore reliable. However, it is not that useful to us as it doesn’t state what the arrests were for. If they were significant incidents such as murder, we must assume that they were capable. Some people argue that the police force was incapable of catching murderers. Source A1 quotes ‘only 1,383 officers were available for beat duty at any one time.’ Considering the population of London was 5,255,069, there would have been a lack of police and so would have made catching criminals considerably hard for such a crowded place.

The source is reliable as it is from the government statistics for the year 1885. I can trust it as it is facts and therefore can’t be biased. Another reason is that the police disobeyed instructions, as quoted in source A3. This would mean they were incapable as they were disobedient and would not follow instructions appropriately. It was written for an official report in 1885, and so the content would be reliable and fair. However, the information is not that valid to us as it is for the Derbyshire, Nottingham and Birmingham police and not for the metropolitan police force. Although, we must consider that if this behaviour were widespread, it would have impacted the capability of the police.

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After assessing all the above sources, I have concluded that the police could not catch the Ripper. I believe this because there was a lack of police at the time, as quoted in source A1 but also we found from source A6 that fingerprinting and police photographing were appointed after the 1900s. Therefore they wouldn’t have all the modern technology they have today, so it would be unfair to say they should have been able to catch ‘Jack the Ripper’. So in this section, I will use the sources to assess whether or not living conditions made it hard to catch the Ripper.

The first argument I will be evaluating is that Whitechapel’s living conditions made it hard for the police to catch the Whitechapel murderer. Source B1, B2 and B6 were written by middle-class visitors to Whitechapel. This makes them unreliable as they could be biased and exaggerate the truth as they were not used to the conditions. It’s also limited because it doesn’t tell us the purpose of why they were written. However, it is a primary source, so it includes some reliability. Source B1 demonstrates just how much Whitechapel was overcrowded. This shows it would be straightforward for ‘Jack’ to blend in or get away from the police. ‘Every citizen wears a black eye’ is a quote taken from Source B2. From this, we can tell the crime rate must have been high so no one would notice anything suspicious.

Also, practically everyone was always drinking and so wouldn’t notice any screams. It would also mean that most witnesses would have been unreliable due to being drunk. Source B6 backs this point and does source B2 by saying, ‘Filthy men and women lived on gin.’ Finally, source B5 gives us a good overview of Whitechapel. It quotes ‘The police used to make a point of going through this only in couples.’ From this, we can see how dangerous Whitechapel was at the time. Also, people fighting and screaming was a regular thing as this source says, ‘an out surging into the streets with fighting and screaming’ the source was taken from a description published in November 1888 after the murders.

It is reliable as it is a primary source; however, it gives no information on why it was published or who wrote it. Therefore we can not judge if it has much reliability as it could be biased or completely untrue. Some people argue that the living conditions in Whitechapel weren’t that bad. ‘All the surviving descriptions were written by middle-class people who were horrified by what they saw.’ This is a quote taken from Source B3, which supports the point.

It explains that the other quotes were written by middle-class visitors who were not used to the conditions and exaggerated their views. Another quote that supports this is ‘the levels of crime were not high’ this suggests that even though Whitechapel had a bad reputation, it is only opinionated, and the facts prove differently. The source was taken from Law and Order, recently published by London revision and was written to show we can’t trust the sources written by middle-class visitors in Whitechapel.

In conclusion, I believe that the Whitechapel conditions did make it hard to catch ‘Jack.’ This is because police were reluctant to go into certain areas; overcrowding and an unrecorded immigration class meant it would be easier to “disappear.” Also, every day’s “casual” violence would be ideal for the Ripper to hide his murder, making it extremely difficult for the police. In this section, I will use the sources to assess whether the Whitechapel murderer had medical training.

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The first argument is that the statement is true. Source C2 quotes, ‘no unskilled person could have known where to find the organs.’ The purpose of this source is to prove jack did have medical knowledge. The source is reliable as it is a coroner’s report and therefore official and would be the truth. The only limitation would be there wouldn’t have been any forensic evidence to support it. Source C3 also backs up this point as it tells us how precisely Elizabeth Stride was laid out. For example, it quotes, “her feet close against the wall of the right side of the passage” The source is from a report of Dr. Frederick Blackwell explaining how her body was laid out. It is a primary source but could also be opinionated.

On the other hand, some people argue that the killer did not have medical training. Source C1 explains that some people believed that the murderer was crazy and violent but didn’t necessarily have medical knowledge. It uses quotes like ‘excess of an effort,’ ‘demented being’ and extraordinary violence’ to explain how crazy and violent ‘Jack’ and the murders were. The source was taken from a tabloid newspaper, ‘the east end observer’ It was written to describe the murders of Martha Tabram and Polly Nichols to the public. Therefore it could be biased, exaggerated and catered for the illiterate to sell newspapers. However, it is still a primary source. Also, the source isn’t that useful to us as Martha Tabram was not thought to be one of the ‘Jacks’ murders.

My overall conclusion is that the riper did have medical knowledge. Source C2 and C3 come from reliable sources, whereas C1 is from a tabloid newspaper. It would be tough to find the organs with no medical knowledge. However, with no forensic, the coroner’s report could be unreliable. In this section, I will discuss whether it was the fault of the police force and their investigation that led to the Whitechapel murderer never being caught. The first argument is that the Whitechapel murderer was never caught because of the poor police investigation.

One reason for this is because the commissioner, of the metropolitan police, ordered that the message was written by chalk at the death place of Catherine Edows to be wiped away. The message said “The judges are the men that will not be blamed for nothing” The message could have caused more of a disaster as it could have caused people to attack the Jews. We see this from source D5. This was a major mistake as this could have been vital evidence that would have helped solve the case. The information is reliable as why would the police lie about making this mistake, however, there were no photographs or evidence of the message so it is also very limited. Also, the police warned about how dangerous the streets were but they failed to act.

Source D3 quotes “he warned that murder would ensure if matters were left as they are”. The police had rubbish tactics as they offered money to anyone who could discover the criminal. This would mean poor people would come forward and pretend to be “jack” in order to claim the money. “It tended to do more harm than good” is a quote taken from source D6. Alternatively, some people argue that it wasn’t the fault if the of the police force that the Ripper was never caught. Source D3 explains that the murders were done so cunningly that it’s no wonder the police couldn’t catch him.

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“Not a trace is left of the murders” is a quote that supports this argument. The source is reliable as it is primary and is a broadsheet and therefore must be factually balanced. Also, the police had hardly any witnesses and those that did come forward would have most likely been drunk. We see this problem from Source D4 as the witness said things like “but I cannot be sure.” and “as well as I could make out”. This would be difficult for the police to work with. In conclusion, I believe it was the fault of the police force that the Ripper was never caught. However, it wasn’t their fault completely as they didn’t have all the new ways of catching criminals we have today and “Jack” left no trace as we can see from source D3.

From analyzing all of the sources, I can now answer the question, was it the fault of the police that Jack the Ripper was never caught? I believe that it wasn’t the fault of the police. This is because, during the time that the police were looking for the Ripper, they didn’t have half the things we have today, so I believe it is unfair to judge them by today’s standards. They had a shortage of officers and considering the overcrowding streets and the constant repetitive crime, the police had no chance of catching someone with such skill. The Whitechapel conditions were also on the Ripper’s side.

The smog and the drunken citizens overcrowding the streets would not have been any help to the investigation. The experience and expertise of the Ripper would have also largely contributed to the failure as most criminals would have had no experience and would have been easy to catch, whereas “Jack” was just too clever even for the entire police force. Not to mention the lack of equipment the police had, there was no fingerprinting or DNA, this meant that they had no way of tracking the Ripper as he was too clever to leave any evidence useful to the police behind.

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Jack the Ripper Coursework - Failures of the Police, Living Conditions and the Character of the Killer. (2021, Sep 25). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from