23 – THE WRITING ON THE WALL
Conspiracy or cock up, either way whatever occurred in Goulston Street in the early hours of the 30th September 1888 points towards something odorous. In simpler language it stinks. This is what happened. At 2.55 a.m. PC Long passed 118-119 Goulston Street, the entrance to Wentworth Model Dwellings. On his previous tour he had passed the archway at 2.20 a.m. The hallway was about five foot deep and dark but PC Long noticed a piece of apron on the floor below the stairs that led to the dwellings or flats. The apron was smeared with blood. PC Long stepped into the passageway and saw that there was writing on the wall. Reports are vague about which wall but Superintendent Arnold stated that the chalk writing ‘was in such a position that it would have been rubbed out by the shoulders of persons passing in and out of the building.’ That implies the writing had not been there long and it was left on a wall at the side of the archway, perhaps the wall at the right of the entrance. The wall was divided by a border, and the writing was on the black dado, the lower half. The bricks above the border were white. This is what the writing said or almost said. ‘The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.’ Amongst the witnesses there was a difference of opinion about the spelling of the word Jews, Juwes or Juews and where the negative was placed in the sentence.
Prior to the discovery of the apron and the writing on the wall two murders had been committed that morning. Liz Stride was discovered dead around 1 a.m., and 45 minutes later PC Edward Watkins found the mutilated body of Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square. Apart from being the scene of a brutal crime the location is important because Mitre Square was covered by the City Police. Goulston Street came under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police.
After discovering the apron and seeing the writing on the wall PC Long called PC 190H, whose name is not recorded. PC Long asked PC 190H to keep guard at the entrance to 118-119 Goulston Street. Detectives arrived and these included Superintendent Arnold from the Metropolitan Police. Detective Halse and Major Smith who had visited the body of Eddowes in the mortuary also came to Goulston Street. Because both the Metropolitan Police and the City Police were interested in the discoveries by PC Long, more detectives arrived. Plenty were available because the City Police had recruited additional men to patrol the streets of their territory. They had hoped to prevent the murders in Whitechapel spilling over into the City.
Superintendent Arnold of the Metropolitan Police wanted the writing to be washed away because, so it was said, it would inflame anti-Jewish feeling in Whitechapel. The dwellings at Goulston Street were occupied by local Jewish people. Superintendent Arnold left an inspector in charge until Sir Charles Warren could make a decision about what should happen to the writing. Armed with a bucket and sponge the inspector waited. Superintendent McWilliam of City Police also made some decisions. He ordered the residences in the building to be searched. Unlike Superintendent Arnold the City Police Superintendent wanted the writing on the wall to be at least photographed. Superintendent McWilliam visited the mortuary and matched the piece of apron to the apron that the victim Eddowes was wearing. Whether McWilliam expected the writing to be photographed while he was absent is not known. Despite the difference in opinion and the presence of detectives who had a territorial interest in what happened next both Superintendents felt they could leave the scene of the crime.
Sir Charles Warren arrived at Goulston Street at 5.00 a.m. Following discussion and perhaps heated argument Warren ordered the writing to be washed away. This happened at 5.30 a.m. and as daylight arrived. Without the daylight the arguments may have been more protracted. No photographs were taken. The evidence was lost. Six weeks later Sir Charles Warren was no longer Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
The official explanation is that the writing on the wall if seen could have caused an anti-Semitic riot. Superintendent Arnold mentioned what had happened after the rumours of a Jewish killer called Leather Apron. There had been ill feeling to suspicious characters but no riot. Neither was there a riot after the writing became public knowledge. Even if the fears of rioting were valid they only justified concealing the existence of the evidence. There were no grounds for destruction. When the writing was discovered, the police thought they were hunting a man who had killed six women with escalating savagery. A compromise had been suggested before Sir Charles Warren arrived. The writing could have been washed away after a photograph was taken. In view of the misgivings of the rival police force it is odd that Warren made such an emphatic decision.
Opinion regarding the behaviour of Sir Charles Warren at Goulston Street has become polarised. His defendants argue that he was right to be concerned about social unrest. Some of his critics claim a masonic conspiracy and insist that the actual spelling of Jews in the writing was either ‘Juwes’ or ‘Juewes’. Their belief is that ‘Juwes’ refers not to the Jewish people but to the three men who murdered Hiram Abiff the architect of Solomon’s Temple. The three men were called Jubelo, Jubela and Jubelum. Sir Charles Warren was an enthusiastic freemason who had excavated below Solomon’s Temple. Some of the conspiracy theories to emerge have been fanciful but a masonic conspiracy does not have to exist for us to wonder whether Sir Charles Warren that morning reacted to the writing as a freemason rather than an objective policeman. We should be wary of creative theories but we are obliged to be suspicious.
Sir Charles Warren had Chief Inspector Donald Swanson employed at Scotland Yard to ensure that all aspects of the investigation reached the desk of the Commissioner. Neither man was disposed to visit the East End. Somehow a senior policeman who had resisted viewing the scenes where brutal murders had occurred was persuaded in the early hours of the morning to visit Goulston Street and read a scrawl on a wall.
Suspicion is enhanced by the action of the police that followed. The reports from PC Long, Superintendent Arnold and Sir Charles Warren were delayed for almost a week and then all arrived on the same day. The suspicious believe that the police were taking time to reinvent what happened and line up their accounts. The newspapers reported that ‘Juwes’ was how the Polish immigrants referred to Jewish people. Without any supporting evidence Warren suggested that the spelling was probably Irish. Again it feels like misdirection had occurred.
The claim by Chief Inspector Walter Dew that the writing was no more than graffiti typical of the area is unconvincing. Casual graffiti is written where it is obvious and can be seen by passers by. This is why motorway bridges and the sides of subway trains became popular locations. The writing on the wall was left in a dark doorway and next to a piece of leather apron stained with the blood of the most recent victim. The capital letters in the sentence were recorded as being three quarters of an inch high and the rest were in proportion. This is not typical graffiti and its coexistence alongside a piece of bloodied apron is an odd coincidence. It may or may not have been teasing from a killer who needed to pass some time out of sight. But, if that were the case, why would Jack the Ripper be carrying a piece of chalk?
Between the polemical arguments there is a mundane explanation that has so far been missed. The murder of Catherine Eddowes created a problem for the City and Metropolitan Police. The Metropolitan Police had authority over the clues, and the City Police had a murder to investigate in Mitre Square. The likelihood of conflict and bruised feelings in a busy and claustrophobic archway at Goulston Street on the morning of the 30th September is not remote. An argument over authority could have easily escalated into a turf war that soon became an irrational battle. Sir Charles Warren had already been bruised by his arguments with Charles Monro over the independence of the CID. The dispute at 118-119 Goulston Street may have been an unbearable insult for an exasperated and weary man.
But there are a lot of freemasons in the British Police, and a man who could be compelled to irrationality by a simple dispute with a neighbouring police force is also capable of responding to writing on a wall that suggests freemason knowledge. The dismissal of the alternative interpretation of the word Juwes or Juewes has been perfunctory. The claim that in 1888 there was only one masonic term for the three ‘ruffians’ that murdered the architect of Solomon’s Temple feels not just silly and defensive but deceitful. Conspiracy or cockup are the alternative theories of history, and that morning of the 30th September 1888 Sir Charles Warren managed to provide evidence to support either interpretation. Over the 130 years that have elapsed since that damp morning in Goulston Street the colleagues and supporters of Sir Charles Warren have not helped him.
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.