In the Whitechapel district of London in 1888 a series of grisly murders were terrorising the population and confounding the police. Far from the capital the ripples of those terrifying events were making themselves felt in the most unlikely of places – the quiet towns and villages of Cornwall. The fear was palpable – could Jack the Ripper be here in Cornwall?
From Penzance to Truro, Gwennap to Falmouth fearful folk saw Jack hiding in every dark corner and in the face of every stranger. This man became the personification of all that was evil. That notorious alias, ‘Jack the Ripper’, the name he gave himself, became a kind of the threat banded about by those trying to instil fear and it also became the first terrified thought of those on the receiving end of any attack. His shadowy presence became our stuff of nightmares and his nickname part of our lexicon.
All through those dark days in the autumn of 1888 and for years after, while this faceless monster remained forever at large, accusations, suspicions and false confessions were rift.
“It will probably never be known to the public how many persons have been arrested as the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders. Never a day passes without someone having to march to a police station to explain he is not, and never has been ‘Jack the Ripper’.”Falmouth Packet, 1st December 1888.
Fear on the streets of Camborne
For some unknown reason in October 1888 rumours began circulating that Jack the Ripper had announced that he intended to visit Penryn and would be coming to Camborne next. No matter how false or unlikely these claims seem to us now the public here in Cornwall, especially women, were frightened. The local newspapers reported that shopkeepers were complaining about the lack of trade, that the streets were deathly quiet, particularly after dark.
Around the 18th October 1888 a hapless bookseller found himself chased out of an unspecified village near Camborne by a group of angry women. The unfortunate travelling salesman had been attempting to sell copies of an anatomical guide book, which awkwardly for the time contained graphic medical illustrations of the human form. The theories that the Whitechapel murderer had some intimate knowledge of anatomy or at least showed some medical skill when butchering his victims was well known, so when the bookseller began asking ladies for their names and addresses they became even more suspicious of his intentions and the situation escalated.
“A certain book-agent, trying to get some orders, exposed some anatomical pictures of the human frame at a village near Camborne and narrowly escaped a flogging by the women of the place. These allege that the illustrations are not fit to be shown to women in that manner and having heard of the disgusting as well as brutal manner in which the bodies of the [Jack the Ripper] victims have been mutilated . . . this horrified the women.”The Cornishman, 18th October 1888
An angry mob of women formed and one “whose blood boiled” chased the salesman down the street with a poker. He left town after that.
Stranger Danger in Penzance
In December 1888 the rumour mill had now placed Jack the Ripper on the streets of Penzance and those whispers seemed to gain a certain kind of currency when on Saturday 15th December a sinister looking stranger caused a bit of a stir. The “eccentric individual” with a large black moustache and a long overcoat was reported glaring at women in the street and shouting “impertinent remarks”.
” . . . several ladies were seriously alarmed by the man’s looks and actions, no doubt intensified by reading accounts of the recent Whitechapel murders.”Royal Cornwall Gazette, 13th December, 1888
The police were called and advised the man that he should desist unless he wanted to end up in a police cell. The newspapers reported that whoever he was he left the town the next day on the early morning train to London.
The next year however Penzance was back on Jack’s travel itinerary. In late October 1889 the landlord of a public house in the town became suspicious of a stranger who was visiting his bar. He disliked the “appearance and general demeanour” of this unknown man and was convinced that he was indeed face to face with Jack the Ripper. And when this man began enquiring after a young girl he had seen in the street the landlord was convinced his suspicions were correct.
The stranger claimed to be looking to hire a maid but reading between the lines in the newspaper articles there is a definite implication that he was actually asking the landlord where he might find a certain kind of female companionship . . . Apparently the landlord told the man that he would show him where he could find what he was looking for but rather that taking him to the local brothel the amateur detective marched him straight to Penzance Police Station.
In a rather comical twist, while the landlord hurried inside to tell the police the good news, that he had in fact apprehended Jack the Ripper, he asked the stranger to wait for him outside, which he did!
” . . . the affair was rather of the nature of farce than of melodrama. It was in fact an anti climax, a woeful nipping in the bud of the ambitions of the aspiring publican. The individual whom his fertile imagination had conceived to be Jack the Ripper was able to give a satisfactory account of himself, at least and account that was satisfactory from a police point of view . . . he made it clear that whatever else he was, he was not Jack the Ripper.”Cornish Telegraph, 31 October 1889
Call me Jack
Often charges were brought and arrests made not because of mistaken identity or fear-induced paranoia but because someone actually claimed to be Jack.
Some made those claims because they wanted to intimidate, create fear or give themselves a menacing reputation and some because they were mentally unwell and actually believed it to be true. Here are just a few examples from Cornwall.
“Not many months ago one could not pass through the streets without hearing some little urchin proclaim himself proudly to be ‘Jack the Ripper’.The Cornish Telegraph, 17th October 1889
- Camborne, Nov 1888
A tramp called Hobbs was arrested by PC Warren for being drunk and riotous and for calling himself ‘Jack the Ripper’. He was sent to Bodmin Jail for 14 days.
- Penzance, Nov 1888
A fisherman called Charles Harvey from Newlyn was arrested at the Queen’s Hotel in Penzance after threatening the staff with abusive language. He reportedly told 14 year old Thomas Cock, who worked in the bar, “I am Jack the Ripper from London and I will rip you open.”
- Truro, Dec 1888
Thomas Crow, a sailor off an American ship unloading cargo at Malpas was arrested for behaving “indecently” on Richmond Hill in Truro. PC Grigg reported that rumours were rift in the town that Jack the Ripper had arrived after Crow began terrorising women on the street by crawling around on his hands and knees and creeping up on them in his “pair of Indian rubber boots and behaving indecently”. Crow was sent to jail for 14 days.
- Penzance, January 1889
A carpenter Alfred Ford is convicted of stabbing a hawker called John Hargreaves. During the court hearing some witnesses claimed that Ford had shouted that he was Jack the Ripper while attacking the man.
- Redruth, June 1889
According to the Cornubian and Redruth Times a 46 year old man called John Buarnitt from London was arrested by PC Meagor for begging and threatening frightened women with a sharp object while claiming to be Jack the Ripper. Buarnitt was described as a burly man, 5ft 6in tall and he was sent to Bodmin for seven days.
- Penzance, July 1889
John Bennetts of Albert Street in Penzance was committed for two months for threatening to kill his father while claiming to be Jack the Ripper.
- Gwennap, Nov 1889
Richard Lane a labourer from Gwennap was charged with assaulting Mary Russell. He had apparently attacked her at her aunt’s house after telling a neighbour, Anne Bolitho, that he “had five more to rip up and they were Mary and her four children and he would serve them worse than Jack the Ripper.” Richard and Mary had been living together up until a few weeks before the assault.
The Falmouth Jack the Ripper
This is actually the story that led me to undertake the research for this article. I came across some newspaper reports with the headline “Jack the Ripper” while I was researching a group of sex workers living in 19th century Falmouth (that’s another story!). I was initially shocked at the details, so dug a little deeper.
Amelia Lewis had been born Amelia Mitchell in Penzance in 1853 and had married Thomas Lewis, an iron worker from Wales, in March 1877. The pair had had a daughter together called Emma and at one time had lived in Gas Court in Penzance. But by 1881 it is clear that something had gone seriously wrong with their marriage. Amelia and her daughter were living with her mother, no sign of Thomas, and a few years later in 1887 Amelia had the first of several arrests for disorderly behaviour on Market Jew Street. In fact by the 1891 census Thomas is recorded as living back in Wales with his “wife” Margaret, almost certainly a bigamous relationship.
Amelia on the other hand had moved to the notorious Allen’s Yard in Falmouth and was arrested in 1888 for running a brothel. Sadly Emma, aged just 13, is reportedly working for her mother. Life was on a depressingly downward trajectory for Amelia. Then in September 1890 she crossed paths with a man calling himself Charles McClintock.
At around 11pm on Monday 1st September Amelia Lewis, aged 37, was outside the “Three Tuns Inn” which once stood on High Street in Falmouth. The landlord of the pub, Thomas Gerry, had been reprimanded in the past for allowing “ladies of the night” to congregate outside his premises and it seems Amelia was there waiting for business. When Charles McClintock stepped outside she invited him to return with her to her room in Allen’s Yard, which he did.
According to the report in the Falmouth Packet after the pair had been in her room for some time McClintock suddenly accused Amelia of stealing from him. She denied taking anything and told him to check his pockets again for the money, at which point he began beating her and took out a pocket knife with a large blade saying:
“I will murder you, do you know that you are talking to Jack the Ripper”
before stabbing her twice in the face.
Amelia “began screaming murder” to which McClintock again repeated that he was going to kill her because his name was Jack the Ripper. Fortunately the racket caused the neighbours to send for the police and when they arrived they found Amelia badly beaten, cut in several places and blood all over the room and bed clothes. McClintock was arrested.
The case was heard at Falmouth Police Court a month later. Some reports describe McClintock as a former soldier, others that he was a labourer (both could be true), whatever the case he tried to claim that he had only ever hit Amelia with his fists. The magistrates ignored his protests of innocence however after the local doctor who had treated Amelia gave evidence against him and she appeared in court with two black eyes and her injured face obvious to all. McClintock was found guilty of inflicting grievous bodily harm and sentenced to three months hard labour.
Amelia continued working as a sex worker and appeared in the papers again over the years charged with disorderly conduct. Two years after the McClintock attack she was badly beaten by a seaman called James Leslie, no charges were brought. She died in January 1911 aged 58 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Falmouth Cemetery.
Charles McClintock is something of an enigma however, I can’t find any record of him anywhere, before or after this incident. It’s possible that he gave a false name.
In the months and years following the horrific murders in London there were reports of the Whitechapel Murderer at large or Jack the Ripper type killings across the country from Glasgow to Liverpool and Portsmouth to Plymouth, and all over the world too – in Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Jamaica, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Austria, America, Canada and Spain. Jack’s name lived on.
And I suppose because he was never caught that fascination, and fear, has never quite abated.
That name, the one he supposedly gave himself, became a byword for monster, as we were to learn with the serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, in the 1970s, and then the Gainesville Ripper and the Hollywood Ripper both serial murderers in the US in the 1990s. His story has been told again and again in countless films, TV dramas and books. His true identity debated over and over. Our fascination with evil seems unquenchable and perhaps most tragically of all in some ways this abhorrent human being still holds as much power over us now as he did during those first months after his emergence in 1888.
For an amazing look at the untold lives of the five women murdered by Jack the Ripper I highly recommend The Five by Hallie RubenholdI provide all the content on this blog completely FREE, there's no subscription fee. If however you enjoy my work and would like to contribute something towards helping me keep researching Cornwall's amazing history and then sharing it with you then you can DONATE BELOW. Thank you!