Although hundreds of police officers were involved in the investigation of the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper, Chief Inspector Frederick George Abberline is the name most people associate with the police effort to find the killer of five women in London’s Whitechapel.
Frederick George Abberline was born Dorset in 1843. After moving to London, he joined the ranks of the Metropolitan police in January 1863 and was appointed to N Division (Islington) His superiors were so impressed with his abilities that he was promoted to sergeant two years after joining the Force. As a plainclothes officer, he investigated the activities of Irish nationals known as Fenians. In April 1878, he was appointed Local Inspector in charge of H Division’s Criminal Investigation Division in Whitechapel.
In February 1887, he moved to Central Office Division at Scotland Yard and was promoted to Inspector First-Class in February 1888. Less than six months later, Mary Ann Nichols was brutally murdered in Whitechapel, the first of the murder victims attributed to Jack the Ripper. After Abberline was seconded to Whitechapel, he was placed in charge of the various detectives investigating the Ripper murders. Abberline’s knowledge of Whitechapel made him the most important member of the murder investigation team.
During the course of the investigation, over 2,000 people were interviewed, 300 people investigated, and eighty people detained. Because all the victims were mutilated, butchers, slaughterers, surgeons, and physicians were questioned. A report from Inspector Swanson to the Home Office stated that seventy-six butchers and slaughterers were visited as well as their employees for the previous six months.
At the end of October, police surgeon, Thomas Bond, was asked to give his opinion on the extent of the murderer’s surgical skill and knowledge. His opinion is the earliest surviving offender profile on record. Bond’s assessment was based on his own examination of the most extensively mutilated victim and the post-mortem notes from the four previous murders. Bond did not believe that the murderer possessed any kind of scientific or anatomical knowledge or even “the technical knowledge of a butcher or horse slaughterer.” In his opinion the killer was a man of solitary habits subject to “periodical attacks of homicidal and erotic mania.”
The murderer was never caught. Partly because of dissatisfaction with the police effort, a group of volunteer citizens in London’s East End called the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee patrolled the streets looking for suspicious characters, petitioned the government to raise a reward for information about the killer, and hired private detectives to question witnesses independently.
Legacy of the Ripper Murders: The nature of the murders and of the victims drew attention to the poor living conditions in the East End and galvanized public opinion against the overcrowded and unsanitary slums. In the two decades following the murders, the worst of the slums were cleared.
Abberline was subsequently involved in the investigation of the Cleveland Street Scandal in 1889. He retired from the police on in 1892, having received eighty-four commendations and awards, and worked as a private enquiry agent before taking over the European Agency of the famous Pinkerton National Detective Agency of America where he worked for twelve years. He died in 1929.