Mary ‘Polly’ Nichols

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’ HIS DEEDS AND TIMES

35 LEATHER APRON

 

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It began with gossip and rumour about someone who may or may not have existed. At some point conviction was added to the story.  Some women in Whitechapel claimed that they were being pestered by a violent blackmailer. The general pest that annoyed the women always wore a leather apron. Some of these women talked about Leather Apron as if they had really seen him, others as if the male bullying they all suffered could be contained in a single identity.  In 1888 the Whitechapel murders happened and more than one person encouraged by newspaper reporters assumed that the brutish monster known as Leather Apron was also the Ripper. The women who added conviction to the rumours were lodging in a doss house at 18 Thrawl Street. Their accusations were reported in the Press.  Men were arrested by the Police and exhibited to witnesses as potential Leather Aprons.

On the wall of a slaughterhouse at nearby Barbers Yard someone had written ‘the murderers are here’.  Three men from the slaughterhouse had appeared as early witnesses at the scene of the murder of Polly Nichols. Slaughterhouse workers also wore leather aprons. Amongst the three witnesses to the Nichols murder the favourite option for Leather Apron was Henry Tomkins, a rough man who made no secret of his hatred of women.  William Henry Piggott was another loud misogynist. He left in a fish shop a parcel that contained a blood stained shirt, and the oversight transformed Piggott into a potential Ripper suspect. His explanation of why he had a blood stained shirt in a parcel deserves an award. Piggott told the police that he had seen a woman fall down in a fit and, when he bent down to help her, she bit his hand and he struck her. Tomkins and Piggott may have been popular choices as villains but the women at Thrawl Street did not recognise either as the man who had bullied and robbed them. Tomkins and Pigggot went back to their working lives.

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But before then and on September 5th the Star newspaper included an article on the Leather Apron. The newspaper quoted interviews with 50 ‘unfortunates’.   The man these women described was thickset and had ‘an unusually thick neck’.  John Pizer was Jewish, slight and not tall.   He had left-wing politics and frail health. He died in 1897 of gastro-enteritis when he was 47 years old.   On September 2nd the 38 years old John Pizer was walking through Church Street when two women told a nearby policeman that Pizer was the menace Leather Apron. They also said that they had seen Pizer walking with the murdered Polly Nichols on the morning she was murdered.  Rather than arrest Pizer the policeman reported the incident to his colleagues.  According to the Star newspaper, the search for Pizer began on September 5th. Pizer returned to his family home at 22 Mulberrry Street, Mile End on September 6th, which was the day that marked Rosh Hashannah the Jewish New Year.   Those who doubt Pizer believe that he went into hiding after being alerted that the police were looking for him. They regard as suspicious his periodic absences from the home of his family. The 1881 census lists the following people at 22 Mulberry Street – Augusta, a widow aged 61 and the stepmother of John, her three children, Gabriel, Jeanette and Barnett, and two additional lodgers. When John returned home, he was found a place on the kitchen floor to sleep.   The reason why he would sometimes interrupt living with his family with stopping at lodging houses appears to be obvious and innocent.

On September 6th John Pizer was informed by his brother that the police were looking for him.   September 8th was the day Annie Chapman was murdered.   The police arrived at 22 Mulberry Street, Mile End on September 10th. John Pizer opened the door to Sergeant William Thick. Like Pizer, the surname has appeared with alternative spellings.   The Sergeant, though, signed his name Thick and without the letter e.  Pizer said this about the visit from Sergeant Thick.   ‘I opened the door. He said I was wanted and I asked what for. He replied, ‘You know what for; you will have to come with me.’

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Sergeant Thick walked John Pizer to Leman Street Police Station where, like the other suspects, he was shown to the accusatory women from Thrawl Street. The Prince Albert pub was located on the corner of Brushfield Street and Steward Street. The landlord and his wife had the splendid surname of Fiddymont but rather than retire to the pages of a novel by Dickens the wife was at Leman Street Police Station. The morning that Polly Nichols was murdered Mrs Fiddymont and Mary Chappell had served a pint of ale to a mysterious man who had blood spots on his hand.   Chappell was also at Leman Street Police Station. All the women present were convinced that Pizer was not the man they thought of as Leather Apron. Chappell had doubts about Piggott but, like Mrs Fiddymont, reckoned that he was not the man who had blood on his hand. But just when you think there is consensus, there is always one.  Emmanuel Violenia identified Pizer as the man he had seen arguing with a woman on the morning Nichols was murdered. Violenia also claimed that he knew Pizer as Leather Apron but under interrogation it became clear that Violenia was an unreliable witness and inside the Police Station under false pretences. The behaviour of Violenia was condemned by the Press.

At this point everyone should have gone home to forget about John Pizer and William Piggott but Sergeant Thick decided to share his thoughts with the Press. Thick lived in an adjacent street to Pizer.  He said that he had known Pizer as Leather Apron for some time or ‘years’. The other residents around Mulberry Street, though, stated that Pizer had a decent character, was quiet and harmless. No one had ever heard of him being referred to as Leather Apron. The Star referred to the arrest of John Pizer as ‘a police blunder’.

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Pizer had been taken to Leman Street at 9 a.m. but he did not return home to Mulberry Street until after 8 p.m. The next day he was interviewed by a Press Association reporter. Pizer made clear that he had never worn a leather apron.  He also said that he had no idea why anyone would call him Leather Apron and added ‘none of my neighbours have ever called me by it.’  Although he subsequently sought and received compensation from the Press for slandering his name, the day after he was released from Leman Street he made no accusations against the Police.  The strange and fortuitous identification by Violenia and what Sergeant Thick had said about the neighbours of Pizer were ignored.

What followed at the inquest was also peculiar. Coroner Wynne Baxter asked Pizer if he was known by the nickname of Leather Apron. ‘Yes, sir,’ replied Pizer.  Baxter did not ask Pizer if he was Leather Apron.  Instead the Coroner announced that the movements of Pizer at the time of the murder had been corroborated and that Pizer was clear of all suspicion.  Pizer said more than thank you. These are his words. ‘Mr Thick, that has my case in hand, has known me for upwards of eighteen years.’ Before Pizer could continue he was interrupted by Baxter. ‘I don’t think you need to say more,’ said Baxter.

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Because some writers in the past have expressed confusion about these events, the obvious should be explained. Apart from his name, Sergeant Thick had a problem. He had recruited a witness that his colleagues realised was telling lies. Thick had also told untruths about John Pizer. Compromise and perhaps threats were needed. This was the deal, Pizer would agree that he was known as Leather Apron and Coroner Baxter would make clear that everyone realised that Pizer was not the man murdering women in Whitechapel. What was perhaps not agreed was that, after Pizer was dismissed from the witness stand, Thick would add to his testimony the blatant deceit that the neighbours of Pizer referred to him as Leather Apron. And if Thick had known Pizer as Leather Apron for ‘many years’ it is odd that he had to wait to be told who was Leather Apron by two women and a constable. The East London Advertiser reported that Pizer ‘looked somewhat pale and worried after giving his evidence’ whereas before ‘he was perfectly cool and collected’. Betrayal without warning has that effect on a man.

Sergeant Thick did not pick Pizer at random to frame as Leather Apron. He was inspired by the identification from the two women in the street. At Leman Street the identification proved to be worthless. This must have been disappointing for Thick. He constructed a false case against Pizer, made inflammatory and false statements to the Press and adopted a not quite sane meddler called Violenia as an alternative witness. Thick was a dodgy policeman. The loud check suits he wore and the ironical nickname Johnny Upright may be without consequence but in The Bank Holiday Murders the author Tom Westcott not only gives a clear account of what happened to Pizer but also reveals that Thick gave positive character references to a lodging house keeper that assaulted a fellow police officer. Thick helped to keep criminals out of jail, rich scoundrels that had policemen on the payroll .  Corruption happens in a police force. More disturbing and disappointing was the assistance Wynne Baxter provided to Thick at the inquest of Polly Nichols.   Not only did Baxter prevent Pizer adding more information to his testimony he made no comment as to why Thick ensured he was always seated next to Pizer throughout the inquest.  No wonder we have conspiracy theories.  Fortunately for Pizer the other policemen at Leman Street recognised in Violenia a witness that could not be trusted.

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.

 

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JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’ HIS DEEDS AND TIMES

28 SIR HENRY MATTHEWS

 

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In Britain there are two government departments distinguished by euphemisms. The Ministry of Defence collects destructive weapons and uniformed warriors and uses both to kill troublesome foreigners, often in territories where there are natural valuable resources. The Home Office employs a police force to maintain order within the British homeland and to ensure that a comfortable establishment is not made too uneasy by excesses in democracy. Just in case the British people become suspicious the Home Office is denied a government minister. The person in charge of the department is called the Home Secretary. What could be less sinister than that?

Sir Henry Matthews was Home Secretary between 1886 and 1892. Opinion about his suitability was consistent and negative.   The Star newspaper described Matthews as ‘a poor and spiritless specimen of the race of smart adventurers who creep into politics by the back door.’ The rear entrance mentioned in the condemnation could have been a reference to the rumour that Queen Victoria had persuaded Prime Minister Lord Salisbury to appoint Matthews as Home Secretary. Later the Monarch stated that Matthews had ‘a general want of sympathy with the feelings of the people’. Somehow our titled equal opportunities employer and champion of democracy had failed to notice this trait when Matthews was appointed Queens Council in 1868.

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Matthews preferred to trust senior civil servants rather than the police but even the men that Matthews relied on were unimpressed by him. Evelyn Ruggles Brise was Private Secretary to four Home Secretaries. He believed that Matthews was ‘quite incapable of dealing with men’. Nothing in the English language is quite as flexible as the word quite and its use by Brise should be noted. Home Secretary Sir Henry Matthews, like his Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, was a Freemason. Both were also members of the exclusive and expensive Athenaeum Club. There is a branch of the Athenaeum Club in Liverpool. The library has 60,000 books, luxurious rooms, and membership costs £1200 a year. Meals and drinks are extra. Most Liverpudlians are unaware of its existence in the centre of the City.

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Before he entered politics Matthews was a capable barrister who possessed polished interrogative skills. His cross-examination of Sir Charles Dilke in a high profile divorce case appears to have impressed everyone including Queen Victoria. The cross-examination finished the political career of Dilke and his ambition to be Prime Minister. An ability to pick apart the decisions and motives of others is a blessing to a barrister but it can be an impediment to someone who is required to make decisions and allocate responsibilities. Indeed, Matthews may have felt he was being at his most steadfast and decisive when resisting the urging of others to take action. If there are some bureaucrats who believe that any decision is better than no decision, the majority lean towards believing that no decision is better than most decisions. Matthews belonged with the cautious.

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Sir Henry Matthews was born in 1826 in Ceylon.   He never married but was described as charming and a ladies man. Perhaps his ease and confidence amongst both men and women meant he was unable to resist letting people dangle and this conceit or weakness prevailed both in his professional and social lives.  Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren liked military uniforms and rank too much to be self-effacing. And he would have objected to being left to dangle by his Home Secretary. Despite a possible tortuous process Matthews approved several initiatives proposed by Warren. These included the reorganisation of the Metropolitan Police to include an increase in the number of inspectors and sergeants. There were, though, disagreements between the two men. Whether or not to give a reward for information about Jack the Ripper was a saga of inconsistencies and disagreements that haunted the Home Office from the 4th of September 1888 when the first request for a reward was lodged and refused. Mary Ann Nichols the first victim in the ‘canonical five’ was murdered on the 31st of August.   More serious than the arguments over the reward was the turf war between James Monro and Sir Charles Warren.   The forthright Monro was appointed as Assistant Commissioner Metropolitan Police in 1886. He was given responsibility for the CID and was also head of the Secret Department, which was known as Section D. The Secret Department managed internal security and monitored the activities of those that the Government regarded as subversives. These responsibilities gave Monro direct access to the Home Secretary.   Warren objected to one of his Assistant Commissioners being independent and having equal privileges. Monro felt he needed to keep his work discreet and, well, secret. Both men had a point, and a talented Home Secretary would have resolved the matter without too much difficulty. The solution, which was a long time coming, was to give the Secret Department managerial independence, and put someone in charge that had equal rank to the Commissioner Metropolitan Police. Instead, Matthews let the two men dangle.

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The trio of Matthews, Warren and Monro did not operate as a successful managerial team.   This does not mean that their conflict prejudiced the Metropolitan Police investigation into the crimes of Jack the Ripper. The detection of the Ripper required sharp men on the streets and some luck. Senior policemen are nowhere near as influential as they think. Read the police reports of H Division that are available today, and they provide an account of a methodical but unimaginative approach to crime detection within the Detectives of Whitechapel. Suspects were interviewed when they appeared, and facts were evaluated. In the main, rushes to judgement were avoided. More decisive action by the Home Office, though, may have prevented the deaths of some of the Ripper victims.   This could have included extra police put on the streets sooner and clear instructions for the extra men on the beat.   Additional resources were invested into crime prevention but there is little evidence of a strategy about how those extra resources could be best used.   Monro managed undercover operators and he should have been able to improve the security of the citizens of Whitechapel.   The Secret Department was interested in security but, of course, the poor that walked the streets were not a priority for a Government led by Lord Salisbury. The poor could dangle in their slums.

If the record of Sir Henry Matthews is blemished, he was Home Secretary during a difficult period.   The mistakes made in the Jack the Ripper investigation occurred because of individual failure but also because there was little precedent for what had happened. Apart from trendsetting crime there was agitation on the streets for a socialist revolution. Meanwhile many of the rich and powerful not only indulged in licentious behaviour but were also part of an establishment that imposed a puritanical morality on ordinary people.   The result was a heady mix of sex, violence, indignation and accusation.

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Bloody Sunday in Trafalgar Square in 1887 began as a protest against unemployment and the action of the British Government in Ireland. Sir Charles Warren remembered his colonial days and rather than keep the peace he waged war. 400 demonstrators were arrested, and 75 people were injured.   At least Warren and Matthews permitted demonstrations. Monro wanted them to be subject to a complete ban. There was also the Cleveland Street Scandal in 1889, which revealed a male brothel staffed by telegraph boys. The customers of the brothel were rich and included people important enough to avoid prosecution. The affair was covered-up but eventually exposed by Ernest Parke the editor of the radical North London Press. What followed was a main course in Victorian hypocrisy. The telegraph boys received light sentences, and none of their clients were prosecuted.   Parke was sued for libel and sentenced to 12 months in prison for exposing criminal behaviour that somehow did not require punishment. Sir Henry Matthews did not provide a moral lead in the affair. He looked after his masters. This was not difficult because it meant he could relax and do nothing. Matthews took a similar approach in the case of Florence Maybrick. In dubious circumstances Florence was convicted of poisoning her husband James. The arsenic in his body was not enough to kill anyone especially James. He was an arsenic addict that had developed a degree of immunity. The Press and public protested about the absence of evidence in the conviction of Mrs Maybrick.   Nowhere near as fastidious Matthews prevaricated and fudged. Florence Maybrick was left to dangle inside prison for fourteen years.

Matthews left the Home Office in 1892 and used his title as Viscount Llandaff to attend the House of Lords and do very little else in politics. He disappeared from public life. He died in 1913 at the age of 87.   His main concern as Home Secretary was protecting the status of the establishment he served and, just as important, himself.   Twelve months after his death the same people he protected took the British people into the first of two World Wars.

 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.