Panic across London
Jack the Ripper’s targeting and hatred of prostitutes wasn’t an aberration, but was instead symptomatic of the society in which he lived. The middle and upper classes believed prostitutes were symbols of both decadence and disease. Then this view was certainly shared by the middle and upper-class opinions of the time. It was a society that saw prostitutes and the working class in general as a ‘degenerate’ community that needed its sexual activity curtailed and contained.
At the time of the Ripper killings a Government backed initiative, The Contagious Diseases Act, was put in motion, precipitating a ‘morality’ campaign aimed at the working classes. Brothels and lodging houses of ‘ill repute’ were closed down and many ‘working’ women found themselves homeless and on the streets. For a predator like Jack The Ripper, the political and social climate had made it all the more easier for him to stalk his victims.
The crimes quickly stirred up racial tensions, particularly in a place like the East End where many immigrants such as Jews and Russians lived and worked. Suspicion fell on anyone who wasn’t English, as the general belief was that the heinous killings must be the handiwork of a foreign national.
Even the mentally ill were fingered. This followed from the belief that no sane Englishman could carry out such brutal acts. As a result many men who came forward confessing to be the killer ended up being detained in asylums.
Suspicion also fell on anyone employed as slaughterhouse workers, butchers, boot makers, doctors and surgical students; in fact almost anyone who worked with knives. What the actual killer had stirred up, as a by-product of his brutal slayings, was a bubbling cauldron of xenophobia and mistrust between the classes.
When the body of Catherine Eddowes was discovered near Mitre Square, the police discovered graffiti on the wall that appeared to be linked to the crime. Written in chalk was the message: "The Juwes are not the men to be blamed for nothing".
It was not understood whether this cryptic message had been written by the Ripper himself or that it happened to be sheer coincidence that Eddowes’ body was found by the message written at an earlier date. There was also the possibility that a local citizen had come across the body and written the message to stir up racial tensions.
However, fearing that such a message would incite religious hatred and possibly ignite a riot, Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, decided to erase all trace of the message by rubbing it out. His actions although prudent were still extraordinary considering that this was a crime scene with forensic validity.
Some officers believed that the message should have at least been photographed first.
The mystery of the identity of Jack The Ripper will possibly continue for many decades until perhaps some incontestable evidence involving DNA can prove an irrefutable link.