Jack the Ripper: Scotland Yard is fighting to keep 123 year old files secret



Originally posted on my Steampunk blog: Nicholas L. Garvery


Jack the Ripper is the name given to an unidentified serial killer who murdered female prostitutes in the Whitechapel district in London's East End in 1888. He slit their throats and mutilated their abdomens. He removed internal organs from at least three of his victims. The killer was also known as 'Leather Apron' and 'The Whitechapel Murderer'.

At the time, the Whitechapel district was overpopulated and had increasingly bad housing and working conditions. Crime and poverty were commonplace. Scotland Yard estimated that in October 1888 there were around 1,200 prostitutes working out of 62 brothels in Whitechapel.

The exact number of Jack the Ripper's victims is not known. At the time there was a large number of attacks on women in London's East End, so it's difficult to attribute murders to the same person. Scotland Yard were investigating eleven separate murders which they collectively called the Whitechapel Murders. Five murders which occurred in the second half of 1888 have very similar modus operandi, and are widely believed to have been the work of Jack the Ripper. However opinions vary as to whether two earlier and four later murders were committed by him. There are also several other alleged victims.

The police conducted house to house enquiries in Whitechapel, and collected and examined forensic material. They interviewed over 2,000 people, investigated more than 300 persons, and detained 80. A group of volunteer citizens in London's East End formed the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, and patrolled the streets looking for suspicious people, petitioned the government to offer a reward for information, and hired private detectives to interview witnesses. Physicians, surgeons, butchers, and slaughterers were suspected because of the nature of the mutilations. However the murders remained unsolved.

Newspaper from September 1888 when the killer was still referred to as 'Leather Apron'

Hundreds of letters, some purporting to be from the killer, others trying to help with the investigations were sent to newspapers, the police, and others. The murders were given unprecedented international media coverage. Jack the Ripper became legendary, and speculation as to his real identity continues to this day.



Trevor Marriot, is a modern day Ripper investigator, and a retired murder squad detective. He started investigating the Ripper case in 2003 and subsequently published a book on the subject. In the book he names Carl Feigenbaum a German merchant executed for the murder of a woman in New York as a new suspect (although on the cover he claims Feigenbaum was the killer). During his investigations he found several references to four thick ledgers that Scotland Yard have kept under lock and key since 1888.

In 2008 he applied to see these old case files under the Freedom of Information Act. Scotland Yard denied his request, so he appealed to the Information Commissioner who also refused. After three years trying to get uncensored versions of the case files he took the case to the Information Tribunal where it will be heard by a panel of three judges.

During the three day hearing a Scotland Yard detective inspector was heard as a witness. He gave evidence anonymously from behind a screen. The reason given for not revealing his identity was that he works in a sensitive position, he runs the force's intelligence gathering operation from informants. He said if the names of police informants contained in the files were revealed, it would discourage informants from talking to the police in the future. He said the passage of time didn't make this information less sensitive, and these informer's descendants could be targeted by criminals with a grudge.

Mr Marriot replied that a number of historical files have previously been released which contained details of informants. He said there was no evidence that descendants of informants who had been named came to harm. The tribunal is expected to take a decision later this year.

Among a long list of possible suspects was the name of Queen Victoria's grandson, the Duke of Clarence, who died in an asylum in 1892. Could information relating to him be the real reason for this secrecy?

Source: The Telegraph

» Nicholas L. Garvery

Views: 286

Comment by Jon Hartless on July 22, 2011 at 12:16pm

Nice post, Mr G. Something of a coincidence, but my next
book, due out in August, was inspired by the theories of the ‘ripperologists’
rather than the crimes of Jack the Ripper. In it, an enthusiastic ‘ripperologist’
investigates the murders as they happen, and comes up with ever more elaborate
and ridiculous theories as to who is responsible.

This is the important part of ripperology; it is just a game, in which the objective is to make any claim, and identify any new suspect or motive, with no regard to the facts. The ‘winner’ of the game makes money, or gains some notoriety, and reality can take a running jump.

Consider the ‘case’ against the Duke of Clarence. In 1888, Whitechapel was a pit of criminality, desperation, poverty, and neglect – the tinderbox of popular culture, ready to explode. As the murders continued, the mood turned ever uglier, especially against outsiders, usually identified as Jews or ‘toffs'.

Is it at all believable that a member of the royal family would drive through
the area in his fine clothes and expensive carriage and not be noticed? Or
indeed, not be set upon by a malignant mob? And that doesn’t even take into
account the court circulars showing he wasn’t in the area at the time...


I admit I like a juicy conspiracy, especially where the Ripper is concerned because it is now a ‘safe’ topic, unlike the hatred which can be whipped up by today’s conspiracies over September 11th etc, but it is still just that; a conspiracy, unsubstantiated by any half-decent
fact. I also admit that the refusal of the authorities to release material relating to the case seems utterly bizarre, but any organisation nowadays seems to exist to protect itself first, and to serve the public second. Now there’s a conspiracy to get your teeth into...

Comment by Nicholas L. Garvery on July 22, 2011 at 3:51pm

Mr Hartless, thanks for reading my post. I agree with your comment, in fact I mentioned the Duke of Clarence just to be controversial, knowing fully well he couldn't have been the killer. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_the_Ripper_suspects#Duke_of_Clarence


Comment by Jon Hartless on July 23, 2011 at 1:17am
Thanks for the link, Mr L, I didn't know about that page. My introduction to Ripperology came through The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper, edited by Maxim Jakubowski , an excellent arrangement of theories from the sensible to the extreme. In fact, most of the extreme ones have found their way into my forthcoming novella.


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