The Ripper’s Clue

The ‘double event’ was obviously shocking and controversial, but it was about to throw out further problems for the police. At 2.55am, PC Alfred Long, an officer from Whitehall’s A-Division who had been drafted in with others to increase manpower on the streets of the East End, found a piece of cloth smeared with blood and gore in the open doorway of 108-119 Wentworth Dwellings in Goulston Street, Whitechapel. With news of the two murders gaining ground, the cloth was investigated and, astonishingly, turned out to be a piece of linen apron which had been cut by the Ripper from the body of Catherine Eddowes. This revolting piece of evidence was the only bona fide clue dropped by the Ripper during the entire case and suggested that, after he committed the murder in Mitre Square, he had strode back into the East End. As much as this item was important, in the absence of forensic science, it told the police very little other than the fact that the Ripper had seen fit to venture back East after committing his foul deeds, perhaps returning ‘home’.

The discovery of the apron piece saw members of the City Police entering Metropolitan Police territory to survey the scene. But PC Long had also discovered a piece of graffiti, written in white chalk, a few feet above the bloody cloth, and the events surrounding it would bring the two forces into conflict. It was a peculiar message and read:

“The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.”

Opinion was divided almost immediately. For some, it was the words of a semi-literate local with a grudge against the local Jewish immigrants who had added his opinion to the many examples of anti-semitic graffiti in that particular area. For others, there was the real possibility that it had been written by the Ripper himself. City police wanted the writing photographed and the order was given to fetch a photographer. Superintendent Thomas Arnold of the Met was cautious, however - he was concerned that the imminent arrival of market traders and customers for the busy Sunday market on Petticoat lane would increase the risk of further inflammation of the feelings against the Jews if it was left there too long. With officers standing guard, they waited for the arrival of Sir Charles Warren, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who, on seeing the message, made the decision that the message should be erased because the real threat of violent uprisings against the immigrants was ever-present. City police argued the case for removing the word ‘Juwes’ only but Warren’s word was final and at approximately 5.30am, after the message had been copied into notebooks, it was erased by an officer with a wet sponge before the photographer could arrive. The City Police officers, at that time powerless outside of the Square Mile, could only look on in disappointment.

Warren would later be asked by the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, to explain his actions; the reply was:

“I do not hesitate myself to say that if that writing had been left there would have been an onslaught upon the Jews, property would have been wrecked, and lives would probably have been lost; and I was much gratified with the promptitude with which Superintendent Arnold was prepared to act in the matter if I had not been there.”

The ‘Goulston Street Graffiti’ as it is commonly referred to by historians, has been the constant source of debate and interpretation since its discovery. Naturally, there is the division between Ripperologists as to whether it was actually written by the murderer or not, and of course, the often raised opinion that Sir Charles Warren’s actions were grossly incompetent and evidence of a general mishandling of the Ripper case.

In the 1970s, during the height of the Royal Conspiracy theory, Stephen Knight suggested (falsely, it turned out) that the word ‘Juwes’ indicated Masonic involvement and that Warren, as a high-ranking Freemason, felt compelled to destroy an incriminating indicator of the fact. Another theory points to a French authorship, as later suspect Roslyn D’Onston suggested the word ‘Juwes’ may have said ‘Juives’, the French word for Jews. In the 1990s, author John Wilding even suggested an anagram, from which he pulled another conspiracy involving suspect Montague Druitt: “FG Abberline now hate MJ Druitt. He sent the woman to hell.”

The debate, and thus the mystery, continues...

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The Jack the Ripper Casebook