SIX – INSPECTOR ABBERLINE
It sounds like the name of a branded product created to appeal to women, perhaps a perfumed soap meant to suggest romance and sunshine. Inspector Abberline was far less complicated and had nowhere near the amount of sex appeal of Johnny Deep. In the fanciful movie From Hell the actor portrayed the Inspector as a moody opium addict. The film had other absurd notions. But even if we resist the Jack the Ripper investigation as romantic mystery, bashful Inspector Abberline still had two relationships with women that would have been useful as plots for movies.
In the tradition of a fine Hollywood weepie his first wife Martha Mackness died eight weeks after their marriage. Martha was twenty-five years old but no match for a lung infection that became tuberculosis. Bette Davis would have been great as Martha. Davis would have stammered and died after a couple of poignant blinks. George Marshall is the obvious choice for Abberline. The English actor would have hidden refined grief behind his famous stiff upper lip. It gets better because Marshall and Abberline both limped. Marshall carried an artificial leg, and Abberline had a serious varicose vein in his left leg below the knee.
The biographers believe that Abberline coped with grief by focussing on work and that his obsessive application resulted in promotion to sergeant two years after being recruited by the Metropolitan Police. His attitude also helped. Frederick Abberline was unusual. He was an honest policeman who had the unusual idea that crimes should be reported and criminals prosecuted. The other London policemen liked to dismiss burglaries as disturbances and to report thefts as lost property. Despite his zeal Abberline was reluctant to arrest women for crimes he regarded as petty. The policeman who grew up in a quiet Dorset village had a reputation for being shy with the opposite sex but perhaps because of what happened to Martha he was sensitive to the suffering of women and able to recognise victims. He would make an effort to research the lives of women and understand their plight.
The shyness of Abberline was also an important element in the second romantic episode in his life. Abberline met Emma Beaument in the foyer of a London theatre. She dropped her ticket on the floor, and the off-duty detective picked it up. In protective mood he accompanied Emma into the theatre, and they sat together to watch the show. Not much was said and when the show finished they separated. Outside the theatre , though, Abberline witnessed a thief robbing the purse of Emma. Abberline chased the man, arrested him and returned the purse to Emma Beaument. They married and stayed together until Abberline died at the age of 86. Emma died three months after the death of her husband. The romantic tale, though, should not be mistaken for a weepie. The tragedy of old age happened well after this movie finished. A story of accident, coincidence, mishap, stumbles and love belongs in a heart-warming comedy.
Fred Abberline was born in Dorset in a village called Blandford on the 8th January 1843. Almost a hundred years later someone else with another interesting name would be born on the same day. Elvis Presley arrived in 1935 and before he became the King of Rock and Roll he drove a truck. Fred Abberline worked as an apprentice clockmaker before he left Dorset to join the police and later become involved with the notorious chart-topping murderer Jack the Ripper. As an apprentice clockmaker, Abberline walked three miles each way to his place of work. The journeys extended the time away from home. The working day of Abberline in Blandford lasted from five in the morning to ten at night. Abberline was not as pretty as either the rock and roll king or the film star who pretended that the detective was an addict of opium. The height and build of Abberline have been described as medium, and at the time of the Ripper murders his dark brown hair was thinning. Abberline, though, had a square serious face that looked good under a Victorian Derby hat. The one half decent photograph that exists of the detective reveals a man who would have been acceptable as one of the farmworkers in the 60s movie version of Far From The Madding Crowd. Yet the white shepherd smock, staff and battered straw hat would have reduced him.
Abberline was wise to move to London. As a detective, he wore a suit. His appearance may have helped him to establish contacts in Whitechapel. Liverpudlians like to talk about honorary Scousers, people born outside the City but who settle and share sympathies. Abberline was an honorary East Ender. He developed friendships, and his rural Dorset accent slipped towards Cockney. In Whitechapel his face was recognisable and his manner was something that felt familiar to the locals in every sense. Abberline was not in charge of the Ripper investigation. Chief Inspector Donald Swanson was responsible for the enquiry but he was based in Scotland Yard managing his superiors and the media. Abberline was based in Whitechapel searching for witnesses amongst the people he knew and understood.
He joined the Metropolitan Police in 1863 when he was twenty years old. Two years later he was promoted to Sergeant. Fifteen years after joining the Metropolitan Police he attained the rank of Inspector. There was some subsequent progress because he became a detective and was transferred to Scotland Yard where he became a Chief Inspector. Four years after being replaced on the Ripper investigation by Inspector Henry Moore, Abberline left the police. Moore continued to investigate the murders for another seven years after the final Ripper murder but his team was much smaller, a token force. In subsequent interviews Abberline referred to 16,000 papers being examined or produced as a result of police enquiries into the Ripper crimes. ‘Theories,’ said Abberline, ‘we were lost almost in theories, there were so many of them.’
When Severin Klosowski was put on trial in 1903 for poisoning his three wives, Abberline speculated that perhaps Klosowski was Jack the Ripper. But by then Abberline was just another amateur expert. His conviction about Klosowski faded with time. When journalist and dramatist George R Sims alleged later that the police knew the identity of the Ripper, there was a response from Abberline. ‘You can state most categorically that Scotland Yard is really no wiser on the subject than it was fifteen years ago.’
A year after he left the Ripper investigation, Abberline had a role in the Cleveland Street scandal. The police arrested a telegraph boy for theft but the boy explained that he was being paid as a prostitute in a brothel in Cleveland Street and that was why he had fifteen shillings in his pocket. The other prostitutes in the brothel were also telegraph boys. The boy who was arrested named names, and Abberline went to serve a warrant to Charles Hammond who ran the brothel and eighteen-year-old Henry Newlove who was the telegraph boy that recruited other boys. The brothel had aristocratic customers. Prince Albert Victor was rumoured to call at Cleveland Street. In the following century he was also suspected of being Jack the Ripper. The latter rumour is nonsense, and there are doubts about the former. Prince Albert appears to have been anything but useful, and some of the rumours are maybe true but there are so many they contradict each other.
Neither Hammond nor the aristocratic customers were prosecuted. The boy prostitutes received what were considered to be light sentences. The radical newspaper, the North London Press, was suspicious about what had happened in court. In the scandal that followed there were trials and litigation. Reputations and possibly honour were at stake. It all became very complicated. Abberline was disappointed that the warrants he served had little effect, and it may or may not have been a factor in him resigning from the police three years later. He worked as a private enquiry agent for Pinkerton and six years after joining the Agency he was put in charge of the entire European operations. His record in the Pinkerton Agency indicates not only that Abberline continued to be inspired by detective work and crime but he also had a capacity for administration. The man had authority, and it was not restricted to the forgotten of Whitechapel.
He retired at the age of 61. In the next 25 years two people who had been obliged to once visit the theatre alone settled in Bournemouth and shared their lives, leisure and comfort. Today he would have exploited his celebrity and even at the end of the 19th Century he could have used the murders to assemble a fortune. He did not. Neither Fred nor Emma left much money but it does no harm to think he had a code that gave him self-respect. Fred and Emma were buried in an unmarked grave but in 2007 there was a campaign for the grave to be marked. A local stonemason donated a headstone. The building in Holdenhurst Road Bournemouth where Fred and Emma lived and died has a blue plaque. It remembers a Detective nowhere near as famous as the villain he pursued. Holdenhurst Road now has a Tesco Express store.
Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.