The ‘leather apron’



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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.







‘The strangest part of the whole thing is that I heard no sound. As a rule I can hear the footstep of the policeman as he passes by every quarter of an hour, so the woman could not have uttered any cry without my detecting.’ These words belong to George Morris. He was the night watchman at Kearley And Tongue warehouse in Whitechapel. On the 30th September in 1888 Catherine Eddowes was killed in Mitre Square. Her body was found in a dark corner opposite the warehouse. The route, tour or ‘beat’ of a British urban policeman was arranged to last a quarter of an hour. In rural areas the local policeman had a bigger geographical area and was given a bicycle.   This itinerary or arrangement persisted in the British police force and throughout Britain until policemen in motorcars arrived in the late 1960s.

These short routes enabled individual policemen in the cities to be no more than half a mile from each other. A cry for help from the whistle carried by a policeman could be heard by a colleague.   Policemen could not vary the route but they could change the direction, which they did to avoid attack.  PC Watkins was the policeman that George Morris heard pass the warehouse every fifteen minutes through the night. Watkins may have reversed his direction or he may have been a settled and fearless soul who was content to persist with the same footsteps.   Fifteen minutes allowed a policeman to see almost everything that was happening on his beat.   Some years ago I asked a Liverpool policeman how difficult was it to detect crime. We were talking about what happened on the streets. ‘Dead easy,’ said the policeman, ‘you fall over it.’


Prostitution and thieving was common in Whitechapel. There was plenty of crime to fall over but some of it had to be ignored otherwise the policeman would have spent five minutes on the beat and the rest of time be in the station charging criminals.   And for the Victorian policeman prevention was as important as detection and arrest. An eight-hour shift meant a policeman could on an arrest-free night manage 32 trips around his area. Summer nights were preferable to the wind and rain of winter, which is why policemen were prone to make more arrests on unpleasant nights and dawdle over arrests in the police station.   Prostitutes sought dark alleys, and their business often involved brisk transactions but, because of the high incidence of prostitution, a policeman would have been obliged to either ignore much or control crime in his own way. A simple technique used by policemen was to tell the suspicious and criminal to go to bed and clear the street.

A quarter of an hour does not allow much space for a fastidious serial killer to find victims on the street and murder them.   In two of his killings on the street, Jack the Ripper inflicted injuries and mutilations that were extensive. The medical opinion was that the assaults would have taken at least fifteen minutes.   Dark nooks and crannies helped the Ripper. But, because of witness testimonies, we know that Jack the Ripper had no more than fifteen minutes to do what he wanted when he killed Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square.  The murder of Eddowes is horrific but how the Ripper avoided detection has to be acknowledged as an achievement. Because of the impact of the murders in Whitechapel, there were, apart from the usual policemen on the beat, plain-clothes detectives walking the streets.  Jack the Ripper also had to keep Catherine Eddowes quiet. His final victim Mary Jane Kelly was killed in her home. This is often referred to as an anomaly but the likelihood is that after four and possibly more murders out in the open Jack the Ripper needed to avoid the streets. Inside a home, beside a roaring fire and without the need to worry about police patrols the Ripper revealed the terrible extent of his imagination.


In Whitechapel in 1888, H Division of the Metropolitan Police Force employed 587 policemen.   The local CID accounted for fifteen men including Inspector Edmund Reid who was the man in charge of the detectives. There is a photograph of H Division CID taken while Reid was in command.  For some reason there are seventeen detectives in the photograph.  Detective Sergeant Thick is remembered because of his name.  Not that he needed it but the Detective Sergeant had a nickname, Johnny Upright. Detective Sergeant Thick arrested an early Jack the Ripper suspect, John Pizer. He was Jewish and Polish and sometimes known as Jack Pozer or the ‘leather apron’. There was no real evidence against Pizer or Pozer but the local prostitutes regarded him as a difficult and demanding customer. His odd behaviour and extreme sexual appetite made the police suspicious and possibly hope.

In the photograph of the CID at H Division that does exist all the men have moustaches and all wear waistcoats.   There are two detectives named Pearce. Detective Constable Albert Pearce is the younger of the two and he has the looks of a modern film star. The other detectives are more ordinary, and some appear as if they might have developed an avuncular nature. Middle-aged Inspector Reid looks tired, gentle and haunted, an administrator rather than a zealot. Before he was a policeman, Edmund Reid had worked as a pastry chef and a ship’s steward.  In his spare time he was fond of acting and singing.   The artistic background of Edmund Reid may have been the reason why Inspector Frederick Abberline was taken out of Central Office in Scotland Yard and assigned to the Jack the Ripper murder investigation in Whitechapel.   If Reid felt the presence of Abberline was external interference, there is little record of conflict between the two men. Presumably the arrival of Abberline allowed Reid to continue dealing with the usual crime of Whitechapel.


Sir Charles Warren was appointed the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in 1886, two years before the Ripper murders. He was an ex-military man. Little has been said of his artistic endeavours.   Although Warren was a welcome appointment he was soon unpopular with the press and public. His military priorities were not viewed as effective for policing, and he was criticised for a heavy-handed approach to radical protest. This is not without irony. Warren had Liberal sympathies and clashed with his Conservative Home Secretary Henry Matthews. The failure to apprehend Jack the Ripper prevented Warren from having a distinguished career in the police. He resigned after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly.   Well before his departure Warren assigned Chief Inspector Donald Swanson to the Ripper investigation.  Swanson was based in Scotland Yard, and his role was to keep Warren informed of what was happening in Whitechapel. Warren, though, was not adept at delegation. On the 30th of September he arrived to look at the body of Liz Stride, the first of the two victims of that night. Warren visited Whitechapel despite having in the area two Inspectors that had the responsibility of reporting to Chief Inspector Swanson in Scotland Yard. Swanson was based outside Whitechapel so that Warren would have up to date information on his desk and be able to focus on his responsibilities to Henry Matthews the Home Secretary.  Politicians are not the most adept at evaluating operational reports, and Government Ministers need careful handling, accurate information, assurance and flattery.  The appearance of Warren at the scene of the Whitechapel murders clashed with the chain of command and the responsibilities and priorities that he had created.


The other 572 policemen in H Division were overseen by Chief Inspector John West, and he was managed by Superintendent Thomas Arnold. The likelihood is that during the Ripper crimes Superintendent Arnold would have had a lower profile. The busy communication chain would have been the one that linked H Division CID to the Home Secretary.  Back in 1888 the Metropolitan Police did not skimp on managers.  Of the fifteen detectives in CID, nine were either Detective Sergeant or above. Amongst the other 572 policemen there were 66 who were either sergeants or above, and the remaining 506 constables were divided into three classes.  In 1888 the population of Whitechapel was around 78,000. This meant that for every 133 residents H Division employed one policeman and for every 154 residents there was a policeman walking the beat. These manning levels and the huge difference in numbers between the fifteen CID detectives and the 572 policemen reflect how crime prevention rather than detection was the priority of Victorian police forces. Detection had limited potential and success.  In 1888 there were no fingerprints. Blood tests could identify blood from mammals but not human blood.


The various policemen were based in four locations. These were in Leman Street, Commercial Street, King David Lane and Arbour Square. The building in Leman Street is still used as a police station.   The other three police stations are now used for residential housing.  In 2005 the empty Arbour Square Police Station was taken over by squatters. Unused police stations were popular with squatters.   The toilets and the facilities in the police canteens were appreciated by those looking for a home.  Today Commercial Street has properties worth £750,000.

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.