Queen Victoria






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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.








Buck Taylor was a cowboy in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. Buck rode bucking broncos. He may have been introduced to Queen Victoria. The Buffalo Bill Wild West Show toured the UK in 1885 and 1902, and Queen Victoria who heard about the fuss requested a private performance of the spectacle. The story is that Buck Taylor was interviewed by detectives in London and identified as someone who might be Jack the Ripper. The dates of the tours, though, suggest that the story is suspect. 1885 was three years before the Ripper slayed women in Whitechapel, and by 1902 interest in the Ripper murders had waned. But who knows what happened.

Buck Taylor toured around the world with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. When he was not chasing fake and some real Native Americans around European arenas, he lived 70 miles outside Austin. In 1885 in Austin Texas someone found an axe and hacked to death five Afro-American women, an eleven years old child and two white women. The murderer dragged his victims from their beds to whatever was outside, a yard or garden, and if they had enough life left in them he raped his victims. This included the eleven years old child Mary Ramey. The writer O’Henry christened the serial killer The Texas Annihilator.

servant girl 3

It is unlikely that Taylor was suspected of being the Annihilator or that the Metropolitan Police were doing their Texan counterparts a favour. The five Afro-American women and child Mary Ramey were the first six victims. The two children of Eliza Shelley, the second victim, witnessed their mother being murdered but were too traumatised to provide a description of the killer. The local police arrested 400 suspects but were uninterested in white cowboys. All the interrogated were Afro-American men. Their interrogations included being beaten and threatened with hanging.

They All Love Jack is a fine book about the crimes of the Ripper but the author Bruce Robinson can be loose with his tongue.  In a literary event in India he proposed to A N Wilson that his nominee for Jack the Ripper had also killed people in Texas. Robinson has argued that the Ripper was Michael Maybrick, a popular Victorian singer who also composed hit songs. Robinson ignores the Texas murders in the 800 pages of They All Love Jack.  What happened in Texas and how and why it was connected to Jack the Ripper must have been an afterthought for the author.   Maybrick did tour and perform in the USA but the Texas Annihilator managed to find eight victims in a twelve months period that began the day before New Year’s Eve in 1884 and ended on Christmas Eve in 1885. To accomplish these crimes Maybrick or the murderer would have needed a base in the Texan capital. This is unlikely for an Englishman appearing in musical theatres in the larger cities. Robinson has provided no analysis that relates the dates of the Maybrick tours to the murders.


The Texas Annihilator was never caught.  The method used by the Annihilator was different from that of Jack the Ripper. Although he preferred an axe the Annihilator was willing to use alternative weapons. These were described by the police as blunt instruments. Left alone with his victim the Ripper liked to disembowel a lady. The Annihilator was more interested in sex although he did push a long spike through the ear of Mary Ramey, the child he murdered.   There are some similarities with what happened in Whitechapel. These included violent non-murderous attacks on women before the murders began, the Texas police relying on witnesses rather than forensic enquiry, extra policemen recruited to patrol the streets of Austin, bloodhounds being used but failing to apprehend anyone, rewards being offered, locals forming a vigilante committee, killings that ended without the murderer being caught and local detectives who had a lot of facial hair.

The Ku Klux Klan was present in Austin in 1885 but there is little evidence of their role in the investigation. We can assume that they would have been curious and not lacking motivation in accusing Afro-American suspects. The attitude to the Afro-American community from a local press run by white people was mixed. There was sympathy for the female victims but also a belief that the crimes indicated the inferiority of Afro-Americans. One headline in the local papers referred to ‘BAD BLACKS’.   The Ku Klux Klan would have said much worse and also withheld sympathy for the victims. Throughout their investigations the police assumed that all the murders were committed by different men. As far as they were concerned there was more than one murderer, more than one bad black. This is despite the similarity of the slayings. The New York Times, though, assumed it was all the work of a single monster.


When two white women, Susan Hancock and Eula Phillips, were slain, the Texas coppers changed their approach and arrested the white husbands. The husband of Hancock was not charged but James Phillips, the husband of Eula Phillips the final victim, was convicted in court. Because there was no evidence against him and even evidence that discounted his involvement, he was later acquitted. Eula Phillips is interesting. Her husband was older, and Eula slept with other men, many of whom were successful and prominent in Austin. She also visited an Afro-American brothel in the City.  Eula may have used the brothel for no other reason than it offered vacant beds to share with her lovers. She may, though, have been charging affluent customers. It appears that the attitude of the local police was that if James had not killed his wife then he should have done.


For a while now Austin has had a hip reputation, especially by the standards of Texas. The City has a lot of students, and young white people listen to blues more than country music. I once sat in a coffee house in Austin and earwigged a conversation at the next table. The four people sitting there were discussing the limits of capitalism and American conformism. This is not typical chat in Texas or anywhere else in the southern states. In 1885 the City had an opera house, three colleges, a capital building almost built, an expanding economy and a lot of cowboy hats, horses and handguns.   In the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show there were plenty who wore cowboy hats, could ride a horse and shoot from the hip so maybe there is something in the stories about the Metropolitan Police detectives interviewing the visiting cowboys and wondering about Buck Taylor who lived a mere 70 miles from Austin Texas.

All serial killers have mythic baggage, and the Texas Annihilator was no different.  The Servant Girl Murders, as they were known, have a connection with the Cinderella fairy tale.  A footprint was left at the murders of the child Mary Ramey and the eighth and final victim Eula Phillips. One footprint was an imprint in soil, and the other was left on a plank.   The police tried to match the footprint to James Phillips but when they discovered that the foot of Phillips was too short they did what all pragmatic policemen would have done in the circumstances. They ignored the evidence.


On You Tube there is available a PBS documentary on the Texas Annihilator. The programme was part of a series called History Detectives. Time has made the images grainy but the programme is worth watching. The three investigators are competent and combine diligent research with modern profiling of serial killers.   The research discovered that the footprint belonged to a man whose small toe was missing. The profile expert decided that the killer was likely to be Afro-American, live in the area close to the scene of murders and not likely to have a position of power and authority.  The profile expert stated that few serial killers pursued inter-racial victims. The Texas Annihilator did, though, add two white women to his list of victims. The experience of the profile expert in History Detectives is of interest.   If he is right, it reduces the likelihood of Jack the Ripper being Jewish. None of the victims in the Whitechapel murders were Jewish.

Nathan Elgin was a cook who lived and worked close to where the murders in Austin occurred.   He had a toe missing from his foot and was violent to women. When he was 19 years old, he was shot and killed by the police when he resisted arrest. The police had intervened when Elgin had attacked a girl in a store and attempted to harm her with the knife he was carrying. The violent nature of Elgin, his fit to the profile of the killer and the telling detail of the matching footprint appear to confirm his identity as the Texas Annihilator.  After Elgin was killed the murders ceased. The girl in the store and two other women attacked by Elgin in 1885 survived and perhaps experienced old age. We even have a convincing suspect to whom guilt can be attributed. By the standards of Jack the Ripper it almost constitutes a happy ending.

 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.