The Evening News






‘Peel me a grape,’ is now remembered by most of us as a line from a woman who knew how to keep a man in his place. The phrase occurs in the 1933 Mae West movie, I’m No Angel. Rather than make her sidekick Cary Grant blink, West gives the order to her Afro-American servant. What she actually says is ‘Oh, Beulah, peel me a grape.’  Matthew Packer is remembered but not with the same generosity afforded to Mae West. The majority view is that Packer was an opportunistic liar ready to say anything that might earn him money and boost his business. Packer sold fruit from the window of his home at Berner Street.  From his home Packer could see the entrance to Dutfield’s Yard.  Liz Stride was discovered dead in Dutfield’s Yard at 1 a.m., 30th September 1888.  Catherine Eddowes was murdered in Mitre Square. Her murder happened after 1.30 a.m. but before 1.45 a.m.   The distance between the two murder sites can be walked in less than fifteen minutes but the killings occurred in different areas of London. Stride was killed in Whitechapel, and Eddowes was murdered in the City.


Because there is disagreement about both the character of Matthew Packer and the role of the police, a chronological schedule of events is necessary.   According to Sergeant White, on the day of the two murders he visited Berner Street to establish if there were any witnesses to the murder of Liz Stride. He spoke to the Packer family.  All of them said that they had seen nothing.  Two days later on the 2nd October 1888 two private detectives called Charles Le Grande and J H Batchelor arrived at the murder scene, saw the fruit shop and asked if Packer had seen anything. Packer stated that at some point after midnight he had sold half a pound of black grapes to a man and a woman. The next day, 3rd October 1888, Packer, Le Grande and Batchelor talked to the Evening News.

On the 4th October 1888 the Evening News reported what Packer was supposed to have seen. The newspaper revealed that the story was sourced by a ‘special commissioner’. The Evening News reported that Packer had seen Stride and the man standing in the rain and talking. Packer told someone, either the ‘special commissioner’ from the Evening News or the two detectives, that he had mentioned it to his wife. ‘Why them people must be a couple a’ fools, to stand out there in the rain, when they might just as well have had shelter.’   Packer had also added that the police had neither approached nor interviewed him.


Inspector Moore was attached to the Ripper investigation. The day the article was published in the Evening News, the 4th of October, Inspector Moore ordered Sergeant Stephen White to visit Matthew Packer.   Sergeant White called at the home of Packer but was directed to the mortuary where he met Packer and the two detectives.   Le Grande and Batchelor had taken Packer to the mortuary to identify the woman he had seen with the man who had bought the grapes. Because the murder sites occurred in different areas, the two women were not in the same mortuary.  Packer was first taken to the City Morgue. The fruit seller told the detectives that Catherine Eddowes was not the woman he had seen at his shop window.   At the mortuary in Whitechapel he identified Liz Stride as the woman for whom the man had bought the grapes. Sergeant White wrote this in his report of 4th October. ‘I asked for their Authority, one of the men produced a card from a pocket book, but would not allow me to touch it. They then induced Packer to go away with them.’ Later that day Sergeant White returned to the home of Matthew Packer.   Again the two detectives arrived. This time they took Packer to Scotland Yard where he made a statement to Assistant Commissioner Alexander Carmichael Bruce.


In his report dated 4th October 1888 Sergeant White described his visits to the mortuary and the home of Matthew Packer.  The same report from White contradicted what had been reported by the Evening News that morning.  In his report Sergeant White recalled that he had spoken to Packer on the day of the murder, 30th September 1888.  According to the report, Sergeant White had not been remiss on the day of the murder. Packer had said, ‘No I saw no one standing about neither did I see anyone go up the yard. I never saw anything suspicious or heard the slightest noise and know nothing about the murder until I heard of it in the morning.’


Someone somewhere in Whitechapel was not telling the truth. Much of what happened on the 4th of October was odd. Sergeant White agreed that two private detectives could take ownership of a witness to a murder. That day Sergeant White visited twice the home of a man who had told him four days earlier that he had seen nothing.   Sergeant White appears to have taken no action to challenge Packer about the contradiction in what may be the two statements of Packer.   Nor does the report of Sergeant White explain why it took him four days to remember the initial interview with Packer.

The motives of private detective Le Grande are also unclear. He may have been one of the detectives employed by the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee to manage the vigilantes that patrolled the streets of Whitechapel.   This, though, has never been confirmed.  In 1887 Le Grande had been sentenced to eight years in prison for a series of thefts. In 1889 he was sentenced to two years in prison for sending a threatening letter to a Harley Street surgeon and demanding money.  In 1891 he was charged with sending to wealthy women letters that demanded money and threatened to kill them.   Le Grande and J H Batchelor may have contacted Packer with the idea of selling a scoop to a newspaper but it was Louis Diemshitz and Isaac Kozebrodski who raised the possibility that Stride was holding grapes when she died.


Bruce Robinson alleges in They All Love Jack that the police did not want the Ripper identified because he was a Freemason. He believes that the report of Sergeant White dated the 4th of October was a concoction prepared after the event.   Robinson adds the dubious assumption that Le Grande and Batchelor were hired by the police with the intention of discrediting the witness Packer. Most Ripperologists believe that Packer was a liar and that Le Grande and Batchelor had one ambition, which was to tell a false story and make money.   They argue that the subsequent behaviour of Packer weakened his credibility as a witness.   His subsequent statements to the police were not consistent, and he produced fresh incidents and sightings that connected Packer to the Ripper.   Packer was willing to exploit his celebrity and improved business profile. This, though, does not mean that he told lies when he spoke to the Evening News on the 3rd of October.


The truth is we will never know if the intentions of Packer were genuine. Nor can we be certain about the behaviour of the police. The statement Packer gave to Assistant Commissioner Alexander Carmichael Bruce is different from what he told the Evening News.  The differences are slight but telling.  This time the man that bought the grapes has a rough voice and the incident occurs not before midnight but at 11.30 pm. We are entitled to be suspicious of what happened in Scotland Yard.  It is peculiar that Packer was interviewed by an Assistant Commissioner.  The Victorians did not pioneer delegation, and interviewing witnesses was not a task that would have been assigned to Assistant Commissioners. The changes in the witness statement can be interpreted as honest mistakes but they are too slight and too telling to feel authentic. Everything in the second statement that lacks consequence agrees with the first statement.   And in the statement taken by the Assistant Commissioner there is no reference to what Packer was supposed to have told Sergeant White the day Liz Stride was murdered. This is either conspiratorial or an example of why Assistant Commissioners should not be allowed to interview witnesses.

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The problem with the role of Packer in the Ripper investigation is that none of it is conspiracy theory free. We either have a corrupt police force, criminal private detectives out to make money, or both.  To claim a conspiracy to hide the identity of the Ripper is too bold.  Packer was an embarrassment to the police force because he exposed the failure of Sergeant White to interview the neighbours at Berner Street. This is why Packer was not called to the inquest into the death of Liz Stride.   Neither is it likely that the story by Packer was invention. Too much happened on the night of the murder. It is possible to imagine a story being created by Packer to earn money from a newspaper but anyone with that intention is unlikely to tell a police sergeant an account that contradicts what will appear in the newspaper. The morning she was murdered, Liz Stride was seen with different men. She was soliciting for customers. In Ripper Confidential the author Tom Wescott demonstrates how the chronology of events at the time of the murder has become confused. It is possible that Packer did see the man that killed Liz Stride. But, if he did, Packer saw a carefree assassin prone to linger. This was not the way the Ripper operated. If Packer did see the assassin of Stride, we not only have to have doubts about whether the Ripper was her murderer but wonder why such a fuss has been made about the honesty of Matthew Packer.

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.








In 1887 Matthew Arnold described the ‘New Journalism’ of Victorian newspapers as something ‘which a clever and energetic man has invented’. Arnold felt that the ‘New Journalism’ had generous instincts but was marred through being ‘featherbrained’. Frank Harris edited The Evening News from 1883 to 1887 and increased its circulation from 7,000 to 70,000. He said something similar to Arnold. ‘Kissing and fighting were the only things I cared for at thirteen or fourteen and these are the things the British public desires.’ Over a hundred years later the phrase ‘New Journalism’ was borrowed to describe the American journalism of Tom Wolfe and others.

Not every editor was as cynical as Frank Harris.  Commercial considerations prevailed for all the newspapers but at the Pall Mall Gazette the editor W T Stead was committed to social reform and was famous for his campaign against child prostitution. His campaign had a positive impact. Because of legislation that was nicknamed the ‘Stead Act’, the age of sexual consent was raised from 12 years of age to 16. ‘New Journalism’ had a different style to the dry reports of Parliamentary debates that dominated the pages of The Times and The Telegraph.   The prose was defined by shorter sentences and paragraphs, and the radical newspapers focussed on human-interest stories.  Drawings taken from wood engravings were utilised, and headlines became bigger. The poet Algernon Swinburne was offended by the new and sensational prose. Neither did he care for stories about ordinary people. Swinburne dismissed the Pall Mall Gazette as the Dunghill Gazette.


Not all the newspapers had the same priorities but campaigning editors realised that they could make news and advance political activity and reform by identifying establishment skulduggery.   The periodical Truth was founded by Liberal politician Henry Labouchére.   Truth had one objective, to report financial and political scandals.  In 1887, T P O’Connor established the radical newspaper The Star.  He appointed the talented and principled editor Ernest Parke.  Radical editors, investigative journalists and the fashion for ‘New Journalism’ all combined to hold a neglectful establishment to account. These journalists and their editors felt justified in sensationalising the crimes of Jack the Ripper. They believed that the crimes of the Ripper and the failure of the police reflected an unacceptably unequal society.  As the murders of Jack the Ripper increased, so did the activity of the newspapers.  Extra editions appeared, and the Evening News, The Star and The Echo had to keep their presses operating twenty-four hours a day.


In the years between 1801 and 1821 the annual production of newspapers in Britain had more than doubled from 7 million copies to 16.3 million copies.  In the 35 years before the murders of Jack the Ripper in 1888 the number of newspapers in Britain increased from fourteen to 168.   This happened because more people wanted to read about the latest news and because newspapers became cheaper to produce and distribute. Education was valued by the Government because it was believed that it helped ordinary people to understand their place in society and the merits of their superiors. The education offered was basic and sparse but popular religious Sunday Schools made a significant contribution to the spread of basic literacy.

Before 1695 the content of newspapers had needed Government approval. This meant that there were none.  The first British newspaper, the Norwich Post appeared in 1701.  In the first half of the eighteenth century newspapers were expensive, as much as seven pence but despite the price the number of readers increased.  Newspapers and magazines could be rented from reading societies, and coffee shops and bars also lent newspapers to their customers for a penny.   In 1833 The Exchange Coffee House in Manchester took 130 newspapers a week.  In Liverpool its first newspaper appeared in 1855.

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By the time The Star arrived in 1887 to launch its radical political campaigns it could limit its price to a halfpenny.  The daily and Liberal newspaper Morning Leader also cost a halfpenny.  By 1888 The Times was able to reduce its price to three pence and The Telegraph was on sale for a penny.  Not only were more mills producing paper, they were more mechanised and had lower unit costs.  On the railways the trains could distribute papers at speed and at less expense. There were also more outlets. Newsagents led by the growth of W H Smith doubled in number.  Insulated cable wire was laid under the Channel and the Atlantic, which meant that telegrams could bring news quickly to newspaper offices. The telephone was patented in 1876 and used by journalists from 1879. Most important of all the stamp duty on newspapers disappeared.  In 1800 the stamp duty had been 4 pence per newspaper. Some proprietors published their newspapers without paying the tax. The Government offered a reward to those who reported proprietors that broke the law. The duty was reduced to a penny in 1836 and abolished in 1855.

The Metropolitan Police did not cooperate with journalists during the Ripper investigations for what they thought were sound operational reasons but neither was there empathy between the two professions.   In 1888 Fleet Street was already established as the centre of the newspaper business in Britain. Printing had begun there in 1500.   The journalists were noted for their consumption of alcohol and irreverence. Fleet Street was surrounded by pubs. The area was referred to as ‘little bohemia’. Policemen did not welcome bohemians.


At The Star the owner W T Stead and his editor Ernest Parke were unforgiving towards Sir Charles Warren, the head of the Metropolitan Police.  On the 13th of November in 1887 Warren had authorised police to halt a demonstration in Trafalgar Square of 30,000 against unemployment. The numbers of police and the extent of casualties are disputed but there were a lot of policemen, possibly as many as four thousand. The tactics of the police were provocative, and their implementation was heavy handed.  People were injured, and the newspapers prepared sensational reports to complement indignant editorials.

In 1883 in London there were fifteen morning newspapers and nine evening papers. By 1888 working class readers could choose between the Weekly Dispatch, Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, The Daily Graphic, Reynolds Weekly Newspaper, The Star and others. The radical newspapers regarded the Home Secretary Henry Matthews as an ineffectual ditherer and Sir Charles Warren as a military martinet. The Times and The Telegraph were conservative and more loyal to the Government.   In The Times letters from readers and the odd article suggested that the victims, because they walked the streets instead of staying indoors, were responsible for the crimes of Jack the Ripper.



The Times, The Telegraph and Observer relied on a sober style to appeal to their affluent and educated readers. To achieve commercial success in the popular market editors filled half the newspaper with what was regarded as ‘sensational coverage’ and used a lot of what was left to earn revenue through advertisements.   Advertising had been an established method of earning income from 1750, and by 1888 the advertisements were crucial to the financial stability of newspapers and magazines.   The advertising was relentless and fanciful.  Medical quacks advertising their services and dubious products were a reliable source of income for newspaper proprietors. The Victorian middle class was fashion conscious and provided an expanding market for new creations and inventions. A middle class home was packed with gadgets and ornaments.  Little of that consumption filtered down to the working class but this did not preclude an interest from the poor.  Readers liked looking at advertisements.   The Exchange And Mart was first printed in 1868. It had advertisements and also offered readers the opportunity to sell their own items.   Saturday papers that specialised in football were also popular.  Jack the Ripper may have been killing women but people, mainly men, liked to watch football matches. The FA Cup Final of 1888 was held at the Kennington Oval, and 19,000 football fans watched West Bromwich Albion beat Preston 2-1. The match programme sold for a penny. Referee Colonel Marinden had developed a passion for football at his Eton College.


The political agenda of newspapers in 1888 resurrected the political unrest of the 1840s. That unrest had settled as the economy improved but it returned after the economy faltered in 1876 and the Great Depression arrived.  ‘New Journalism’ was inspired by the need to make money but it would not have happened without social discontent.   More than any other journalist the right wing Tom Wolfe was associated with the American ‘New Journalism’ but its success depended on the radical social and political attitudes of the 1960s.

‘Penny Dreadfuls’ were popular in the 1840s and their success in serialising crime stories would have persuaded newspaper editors of the economic benefits of sensationalism. Pamphlets appeared after dramatic murders and sold as many as half a million copies. Reporting the crimes of Jack the Ripper created business opportunities. The sacrifice of poor, exploited and unfortunate women meant that some households not only had economic security and affluence but their members had a real interest in what was being advertised in the more expensive newspapers and magazines.                          

 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.