Victorian London

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

38 MATTHEW PACKER

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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

37 CHARLES STEWART PARNELL

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In 1911, twenty years after Charles Stewart Parnell MP died, they built an obelisk in Dublin. A statue of Parnell stands at the foot of the obelisk. Today the Parnell Society meets once a year in Parnell Memorial Park. And if that does not impress, his gravestone is marked with just one word, PARNELL. There are a few dead rock stars that have missed that trick. The admirers of Parnell described him as being ‘sparse with words’ but lethal in debate.   The British Tory Government of Lord Salisbury admired skilled debate but not when it came from its opponents. Lord Salisbury hated Parnell. He claimed that Irish Home Rule was the greatest threat to the British Empire since Napoleon.  Gladstone was different. He was sympathetic to the 57 Irish Nationalist MPs and their cause. He said, ‘There is no crime recorded in history which will compare for a moment with the means by which the Union was brought about.’

Sir Robert Anderson became Assistant Commissioner Metropolitan Police in 1888. He was an Irishman but there is no statue of him in Dublin. He was not sympathetic to Home Rule for his fellow countrymen and women. Anderson said that, ‘no one could suppose the United Kingdom will tamely consent to be swamped by a horde of paupers and agitators’.  He was concerned about threats to the income of the English landlords and their Irish descendants, the people that had created the paupers who were obliged to work as agricultural labourers.   In their first meeting the Home Secretary Henry Matthews told Anderson that it was his responsibility to find Jack the Ripper. In his memoir Anderson remembered his answer. ‘My answer was to decline the responsibility. I said, ‘I hold myself responsible to take all legitimate means to find him.’ Anderson was being a smart aleck and sidestepping responsibility.   His experience of law enforcement was shaped by his previous role in the Special Irish Department within CID and not always legitimate.

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Charles Stewart Parnell set up an organisation called the Land League, which later evolved into something called a Plan for Campaign. Its purpose was to resist punitive rents and summary evictions. The landlords in Ireland, many of them absent landlords, felt unappreciated.   Arthur Balfour had become Secretary of State for Ireland in 1887. Although Parnell advocated non-violent protest throughout his career, Balfour declared the Plan of Campaign a criminal conspiracy. On the 18th of March The Times printed the first of eight articles titled ‘Parnellism And Crime’.   In the first article it was claimed that Parnell had ‘marched with murderers’.  Subsequent articles continued the accusation during the following weeks.   The final three articles alleged that Parnell had links with terrorists in the USA.  To accompany the articles The Times published a facsimile of a letter that Parnell had supposedly written. Five years previously Thomas Burke and Lord Cavendish had been murdered in Phoenix Park, Dublin. The Times used the facsimile as evidence that Parnell had excused his previous condemnation of the killings and also that he condoned the murder of Thomas Burke.

The facsimile was a forgery.   Anderson had a friend, a young Dublin journalist called Edward Caulfield Houston. This journalist did appreciate the landlords in Ireland, whether absent or not. Houston had hired fellow Irish journalist and muckraker Richard Piggott to investigate Parnell and to find anything incriminating against the Irish politician. Piggott, Houston and an academic called Sir Thomas Maguire met in Paris and plotted.

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The accusations, which had begun in 1887, continued into 1888. Parnell avoided taking his accusers to Court but he denounced them in Parliament.   The Leader of the House, W H Smith, responded by setting up a Parliamentary Commission. Rather than it being an impartial enquiry it became a trial of Parnell. Lord Herschell objected to a Parliamentary Commission being used in this way. This did not help. Parnell was charged with conspiracy.

Anderson and his CID unit the Special Irish Department had the responsibility of collecting evidence that would support what had been alleged in the articles in The Times.  After he retired Anderson admitted that he had written some of the articles. Piggott had been required to make journeys between London and Paris.  He had been in the French Capital when Anderson was supposedly there on holiday and not worrying himself about the recent murder of the Ripper victim Mary Jane Kelly.  Holiday or not, something had given Anderson the necessary confidence to qualify his responsibility for catching Jack the Ripper. In retirement Anderson admitted that ‘we did a lot of illegal things’.

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The Parliamentary Commission investigating Parnell had begun on 17th September 1888, the day after Annie Chapman was murdered in Whitechapel. The Commission charged Parnell and members of his Land League and Plan for Campaign with ‘a conspiracy seeking absolute independence from England, that they had promoted agrarian agitation against the payment of rent and they incited persons to sedition and the commission of crimes including murder.’ The first half of that does not sound so bad but the judges sat for 138 sessions and put 150,000 questions to 445 witnesses.  Those in authority wanted a conviction and they were serious enough to bend a few rules.

Not every English policeman was content with the action taken against Irish agitators. Undercover men had joined the Land League with the intention of persuading others to commit crimes. Patrick McIntyre described himself as ’late of the Political Department of Scotland Yard’. He said, ‘Not a single plot in England had not been incited by the Police’. John Daly had been imprisoned in 1883 for carrying bombs.   It may not have persuaded St Peter at the gates of Heaven but on his deathbed the Birmingham Chief of Police revealed that John Daly was innocent. In 1887, Richard Piggott visited Daly in prison. Daly was offered his freedom but not because he was innocent and the authorities were embarrassed by contrite police chiefs. If he wanted to leave prison, Daly had to accuse Parnell of supporting violent sedition. Daly refused the offer and walked back to his cell. Through unofficial channels Liberal MPs heard about the visit to Daly by Piggott.   The MPs demanded to know who had authorised the visit. Home Secretary Henry Matthews said not me, boss. The Secretary of the Prison Board said that somehow he had no idea what was happening inside one of his prisons. The Secretary was Sir Robert ‘I decline the responsibility’ Anderson.

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There was a further visit to Daly but the prisoner again refused to accuse Parnell.  He stayed in prison for another ten years and fourteen years after the Birmingham Chief of Police had declared him innocent. Meanwhile the Commission was doing its competitive best to be just as sordid. Hungry and desperate Irish agricultural workers were paid to appear in front of the Commission and testify against Parnell.  Liberal MP John Morley said the Commission ‘was designed for the Public outside the Court, and not a touch could be spared that might deepen the odium.’  On 21st February 1889, Richard Piggott testified before the Commission. His two days cross-examination exposed the journalist as a fraud. On the third day Piggott disappeared.  On 1st March 1889 he was shot dead in a hotel room in Madrid. The killing was reported as a suicide but on the 28th February The Times had reported that the Police had located Piggott.  People have argued about what may or may not have happened in the hotel in Spain but in terms of establishment guilt the argument is without consequence. Whether Piggott killed himself or was executed by his employers the motive for the killing was the same, to hide the truth about the crimes Piggott had committed against Parnell.  Dr Maguire, the academic who had plotted in Paris with Piggott and Edward Caulfield Houston, was reported in Reynold’s News as dying ‘suddenly and mysteriously’ on 2nd March 1889. Irish MP Thomas O’Hanlon in Parliament asked for a post-mortem to see if the previously healthy academic was poisoned.  The question was unanswered.

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Meanwhile the Commission continued asking 150,000 questions. Parnell demanded that the accounts of the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union be presented as evidence. The judges who somehow had approved almost 500 witnesses refused the request.  The Commission put on a stubborn show but closed without making accusations. Sir Robert Anderson did not appear as a witness before the Commission. There is no evidence to indicate that while he was in post as Assistant Commissioner he did anything to establish who had written the forged letter to The Times or fabricated the evidence contained in the articles in The Times newspaper. But, despite being attributed to a Times journalist, three of the eight articles had been written by Anderson. These three articles were titled ‘Behind The Scenes In America’. No doubt Sir Robert Anderson felt in this instance that he had more than acquitted his responsibility. In the investigation to the crimes of Jack the Ripper there was less enthusiasm from the man who was loyal to his Irish homeland, or at least the parts of it owned by his landlord friends.

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.