Jack the Ripper is one of the most infamous serial killers in history, and the police investigation into the case was a large, complicated affair. At the time, there were many different powers at play and decisions were made, which could have ended up costing the police their man. The crime remains unsolved more than a century later, and many people put this down to the initial Jack the Ripper police investigation.
The differences between the standard of the Metropolitan Police in the present-day versus at the time of Jack the Ripper killings are stark. We currently live in a world of CCTV, with London being among the most-watched cities in the world. On every street corner, there are cameras and streetlights, not to mention shop signs and windows illuminating darker side streets. There’s also light from passing cars and mobile phones, leaving very few unlit, unmonitored corners of the city.
In the Victorian era, CCTV wasn’t even a fathomable concept. Police relied heavily on witness testimony, and as we know, this isn’t the most reliable form of evidence. In addition to this, streetlights were few and far between and certainly didn’t illuminate as much as modern lights do, leaving ample dark alleys for criminals to operate within.
On top of this, the first port of call for almost any crime nowadays is to look for DNA evidence. DNA technology came into play in the 1980s, 100 years after the gruesome Jack the Ripper murders. This means the Jack the Ripper police methods were primitive at best, with fingerprint profiling barely understood and no way to physically prove anyone’s presence at the crime scene through DNA. Instead, eyewitness testimonies were mostly used, as well as observations about the killings to build a criminal profile.
The trouble was, there were so many different eyewitnesses and suspects, many of whom were convincing. Without concrete evidence, getting a conviction was a seemingly impossible task.
Could it be this lack of technology available at the time that saw the Ripper walk free, or was something else at play?
The officers and inspectors involved in the Jack the Ripper investigation faced heavy scrutiny at the time of the murders and continue to be criticised for their actions to this day. Some people believe that if politics within the police force was better handled, there would’ve been more cohesion across the Jack the Ripper investigation.
The Ripper’s victims were found across several London police districts, meaning there were multiple police chiefs and inspectors scrambling for jurisdiction. Add to this the discontentment between the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Charles Warren, and the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, and it’s easy to see how things got messy when investigating the serial murders.
With so many officers involved, Jack the Ripper's police records were messy at best. Since the murders took place, a number of the original Jack the Ripper police files have been lost – something which seems unfathomable considering a serial killer was on the loose!
Could Jack the Ripper have been caught if the investigating officers communicated better and set aside their personal prejudices, or if the political views of the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the Home Secretary didn’t put them at loggerheads? Perhaps if every Jack the Ripper police report was better filed, the current Metropolitan Police Force might be able to solve the case?
There are many reasons why the Ripper may have got away with his crimes, with the police investigation being just one. In our casebook, get to know some of the major players in the original police investigation of 1888 and discover how detectives initially handled the Jack the Ripper case.