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Why were the police unable to catch Jack the Ripper?

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    Catching a serial killer today is no easy job, but more than 100 years ago it was an even more difficult job. The police then had to face no forensics, little structure within the forces, people unwilling to help, and yet they were still expected to find the ripper. In 1888 there were no forensics, no DNA tests and no fingerprinting.

    The area in which the murders occurred was an especially abysmal place where people often walked round covered in blood due to the slaughter houses. The technology of the time wouldn’t have been able to distinguish between human and animal blood.The lack of forensic tests would also make it difficult to prove conclusively if two or more crimes had been committed by the same person. These limits were partly because of the bungling police work.

    Normally the police did not investigate cases like this under as much pressure. They only investigated this case because the rich had become concerned over the plight of the poor, as did the press. The police did not always record evidence as well as they could have done. In comparison with today’s standard procedure, few police reports were written relevant to the case, and insufficient attention was paid to forensic details and interviews.

    What could have been a crucial piece of evidence (writing near a crime scene next to a piece of bloodied apron belonging to a victim) was removed before it could be photographed; and it wasn’t uncommon for other evidence to mysteriously disappear. The writing on the wall case though was one of the greatest blunders; without the sole handwriting sample police couldn’t determine the genuineness of letters in police possession. In cases like this there was often a reward, but the Home Secretary would not allow one.He knew that they would receive more hoaxes and lies, and he also didn’t feel it was right to offer a reward to catch someone killing prostitutes.

    The bungling of the police was the product of quite a few reasons. With two police forces which aren’t sharing evidence obviously the police aren’t going to be able to do the job properly. Unhelpful public was clearly obstructive too towards finding the killer too, because between them they weren’t giving useful evidence, and anything they did say contrasted with what others said! Public also didn’t really want to help because of the polices’ reputation of being rubbish.At the time of the crime there were two police forces, one working within the central square mile of London, the other on the rest.

    With 4 of the 5 murders happening in the Metropolitan area, the Metro police thought that this was their case; but with one murder in the centre of London area the City police thought they should be allowed their say in the case as well. There was a history of rivalry between the two forces which meant information wasn’t shared properly. The forces didn’t have structure or good working practice. Of course, the police’s job wasn’t made any easier by an unhelpful public.

    They expected the police to catch the Ripper but weren’t prepared to help. The people of Whitechapel were so petrified that they looked for scapegoats, grasping onto the Jewish community to blame. The fact that a witness in the Annie Chapman murder pointed towards a foreigner, added to the fact that ‘Leather Apron’ was Jewish quickly conjured up a very anti-Semitic atmosphere. In addition, every so called witness gave a different description which meant the police were not even able to create an accurate artists impression of possible suspects.

    This lack of reliable witnesses slowed down the case.The public’s unhelpfulness was increased by the press’ interference and opinions on the case. The press of the day were sensationalist. Not only did the press publish pictures which fuelled the anti-Jewish feelings within the public, they also wrote their own hoax letters supposedly from the killer.

    This was obviously of no help to the case as the police had to follow up accusations thoroughly, making sure they don’t dismiss a possible killer. There was one name the media were especially obsessed with – ‘Leather Apron’. The Star claimed ‘Leather Apron’ was a Jewish slipper maker who required prostitutes to pay him money or he would beat them.The police ended up arresting a well known local man nicknamed ‘Leather Apron’ who had previously been arrested and prosecuted for stabbings.

    He ended being dismissed because he had alibis for all of the murders. In a murder enquiry it is to be expected there would be a number of suspects, all of which would need to be investigated. In addition to the genuine suspects police received hundreds of accusations against Jewish shop keepers in Whitechapel, all of which had to be followed up costing the police valuable time and energy.They received so many about Jewish shopkeepers because of the newspapers pictures and articles containing speculations over the killer.

    Jack the Ripper was clearly a clever killer. He managed to avoid being caught despite committing several crimes all of a complicated nature. The cleverness of the Ripper was seemingly enhanced by the bungling of the police work. In conclusion, the most important factor in the police’s failure to catch the ripper was the lack of structure and poor working practice within the forces.

    The other points discussed all made their contribution, but would not have been such an encumbrance had the co-operation and good practice we see in modern policing been in place. Even if all these impediments hadn’t been there, could the police ever have been expected to catch a murderer in 1888? It is a hard enough job today with only a few of these hindrances in place. Unless aided by competent experts and supported by law enforcement agencies, many present-day departments cannot be expected to effectively investigate and resolve such murderous incidents should they occur in their field.The Green River Killer case is an example of this.

    In the reports for it, you see events comparable with those of the Ripper inquiry. Unlike the Ripper hunt, women police officers were used as decoy “customers”. However, it was thought too dangerous for the women officers to enter a customer’s vehicle in the hope of catching the killer. In the Ripper inquiry, sufficient record keeping, and information management/co-ordination was practically absent; and in the Green River Killer case it was too late in coming.

    In both investigations, the relationship between the law enforcement agencies and their relationship with the public was not idyllic. In both investigations, police also did not have the right knowledge and resources to accurately measure the situation, grasp its significant factors, and immediately collect an appropriate reaction. Even if the Jack the Ripper, and Green River Killer investigations had possessed the needed means, their investigations could not have lasted the absence of key people, poor public relations, interagency conflict, bad judgments, missed opportunities, or the exclusion of women from highly dangerous police work.

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