Jack the Ripper: Turning a Modern Eye Toward an Old Investigation Daryl R. Cozart
Of the volumes that have been written about Jack the Ripper and the literal death grip he held over the City of London, very little has focused on the efforts of the police and investigators who were obligated to capture the villain and end the reign of terror. With the exception of some short biographies of the primary police personnel and the constant attention given to the error made by Sir Charles Warren in erasing the Goulston Street writings, not much effort has been spent on the over-all police effort from a law enforcement/investigative standpoint.
Contrary to popular belief (both in 1888 and present) the officers of the Metropolitan Police and City Police were not complete idiots. There is a vision of officers running around like Keystone Cops unable to catch a stray cat, much less a heinous serial killer. The only reason this image has persisted is that they did not apprehend Jack the Ripper. However, some understanding must be had as to the position Jack put the police in. Many of the police at the time had years of experience as beat officers or as investigators. Working in such a heavily populated area as London, these officers had seen just about every type of vice, crime and depravity known to exist. They certainly were not strangers to death and murder. During the mid to late 1880's, there was a frequent stream of bodies found in alley's, floating in the Thames and cries of "murder" in the night. Some of the officers in Whitechapel in the fall of 1888 may have been recently assigned, but most police will tell you that crime is the same everywhere.
What the police were not as thoroughly experienced with was murder without any obvious motive. A robbery gone bad or a jealous husband killing his wife's suitor would have been understandable. Likewise, if Polly Nichols had died as a result of cheating a customer in the early morning hours of 31 August, it would have been understood and would have easily fit the 'typical' mold of crime the police experienced and expected on their beats. When they were suddenly faced with a new twist to an old crime, it is equally understandable that it would take them some time to adjust.
From the beginning of the killings (Tabram or Nichols, it doesn't matter which is considered 'first'), when the body was removed from the crime scene and the blood washed away long before the sun was up enough to allow the most basic of crime scene exams, until 10 weeks later, when the police kept Millers Court closed until the scene was photographed and no bystanders were allowed to wander about trampling on evidence, it was obvious that the police had realized there would be no 'smoking gun' and they needed to change their approach if they wanted to catch the fiend. Jack may have been gruesome in his acts, but those same acts caused a revolution in the police sciences by forcing the police to develop new techniques and tactics for detecting unknown offenders, rather than simply laying hands on an obvious suspect.
19th Century Police Tactics
In 1888, Police Science was in its infancy. Police agencies around the world were starting to realize that in order to stay on top of rising crime rates, they were going to have to improve on their investigative methods. Science as a whole was advancing as new discoveries were made and the police were only beginning to realize that those advances could help them in their fight against crime. Regardless of the dawn of the new scientific age, law enforcement in 1888 was still heavily dependant on the old, tried and true methods of investigation and crime prevention. An examination of these methods is vital as most are still in use today.
THE CRIME SCENE
Protection and examination of a crime scene is the most basic and common sense step at the beginning of any investigation. Even in 1888, before...
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