Letters to the editor


Roots and causes of the murders suggested by readers

After the murder of Chapman the readers started to send their letters to the press about the Whitechapel case. These writings and vivid correspondence reveal much about the desires and fears of the contemporary citizens of Victorian London. It is also worth mentioning that few were interested in any kind of reward, most of them simply wanted to stop the murders.

As the Double Event increased the number of columns published about the case, the letters of the readers started to stream into the mailboxes of the Fleet Street. A great amount of these letters dealt with police incompetence or with the moral and social conditions of the Whitechapel and the poor. Many letters castigated the police being incompetent and even more reflected on the social conditions of the poor in the area. The most popular topic of these letters was the mode of detection, especially the suggestions on using blood hounds. At least a dozen of them wrote about rubber-soled boots that constables should have worn instead of the metal-soled ones in order to have their night patrols silenced.

Poverty vs. domestic violence – Explanations given by renowned contemporaries

In his famous letter to the editor, G.B. Shaw castigated the upper-class society for being insensitive towards the poor. In his ‘Blood money to the Whitechapel’ he criticized the way the rich dealt with their guilt by donating charity. Shaw declared charity to be the compensation of the poor for being previously robbed by the rich. He also called for ’better employment’ and for bolstering ‘productive industries’.

Whereas Shaw accused rotten society of being the real root of the murders, Florence Fenwick Miller saw them in the similar way in her fierce letter to the editor titled ‘Women killing no murder’, but from a different approach. Being the era’s famous feminist, she attacked the Victorian men’s society and judicial system, holding them responsible for the death of these women. She called the Whitechapel Murders ‘women killing’ and brought up several cases where men got relatively short sentences for beating or even for killing their spouses.  Dedicating a long paragraph to cite horrid crimes against women committed by men who got away with only few months of punishment, she harshly accused the authorities and the whole judicial system of Victorian England of being neglectful towards women of the society. She cited newpaper headings from the previous months and they prove that she must have been right:

John Freshfield, tearing off his wife’s ear, breaking her breast-bone and also eight of her ribs on one side and nine on the other: manslaughter, (Mr. Justice Hawkins) eighteen months’ prison. John Jones, a murder described by the judge as one “for which we might search in vain amongst the records of barbarians to find a case so bad”: manslaughter, (Mr. Justice Grantham) twelve months’ imprisonment.

Whether roots and reasons of those murders can be explained by either the poverty of the people living in the area of the murder scenes or by the harsh and frequent instances of domestic violence is difficult to decide. However, it can be stated that the indifference of the upper-class may have played an important role in not caring about these murdered women, but Shaw may have been wrong for declaring this as the real reason behind the murders. Miller was much closer to the truth. It was not just poverty, but the common attitude towards women that could have been behind the murderer’s horrid acts. A misogynist must have been much more careful committing his acts in a society that would have been more caring and more respectful towards women regardless of their status quo and profession.

A serial killer murdering women could have committed his crimes in richer suburbs, and no matter how many times Shaw’s article cited; the evidence from the cases proves that the murders were committed with rage. Letters to the authorities sent by Jack the Ripper also show that he did not consider these women as human beings, but rather objects of a play.