The following are serial extracts from the soon-to-be-published memoirs of Donald Hicks a young detective with the Metropolitan police’s H Division who worked alongside others to investigate the Whitechapel murders of 1888; those carried out, it was believed, by the infamous Jack the Ripper.
12th December 1888. Whitechapel.
A week later, I was ambling up the Old Castle Street working diligent on my hip swaying when I heard a loud commotion from the High Street up ahead. Turning the corner, I stopped in my tracks and aghast saw where once the Astoria stood now a blazing inferno of unholy proportions and some locals warming their hands and feet by the flame. Soon the fire brigade arrived but even they could do little to dampen the blaze since they was restricted in filling buckets full of water by the low tide of the river. Seeing the Commander I asked him if he had news of Mr. Isaacs the owner who last was seen at his desk. Regarding me with a dirty sneer he said, “Who wants to know?” I said, “Only the bloomin’ owner; he signed me half the club.” He let out a laugh and said, “Dead in his chair, love, a period put to his earthly suffering.” So, I said, “Dead, are you sure?” And he said, “Yes, dead and took everything with him. If he did give you half there’s nothing to prove it either way, so push off.”
Now returned to Old Castle Street it wasn’t long until news spread that the fire was believed to have been an act of arson to which no-one had ‘fessed up, although the night watchman said he saw: “a handsome man of about thirty four; slight moustache curled up at each end,” coincidentally fitting the description of my young surgeon acquaintance perfectly. That aside, I felt proper destitute and with not a penny to my name was tempted by the prospect of earning a small pittance by the nature of my appearance to at least get something warm inside me. I quickly decided against it but had I been aware of Detective Stevens’s raving popularity in that department would have thought myself unfulfilled in duty by not giving “joining giblets” a chance.
Turning next into Commercial Street I suddenly came face-to-face with he who had created such moral chaos, Inspector Abberline — most recognizable since his long career in the Met did have a grave effect on him and caused him to walk bowlegged. The “boss” was a sight for sore eyes despite this and I pleaded to his good sense that with no money, no food and nowhere to stay (saying nothing about my endowment now in tatters) I should return to the Yard directly.
Suddenly, the Inspector took me into an alley and explained the grave predicament facing the Met’s operation: Detective Stevens had last week resigned, become a woman and was now running a house of ill repute on the Strand; Sgt Harkness was exposed by an Irish navvy in the most unfortunate of circumstances and the despicable fellow had the young sergeant built into the East Wing of the V&A; the three others who so gallantly volunteered to work undercover returned to the Yard after only a matter of hours and were promptly dismissed. Such developments, he confided, made me his only hope and, what’s more, there was a general sense that the Ripper was to strike again soon.
Thus with a smile most strained of patience did the Inspector advocate it vital for me to keep up the ruse at least for another week, then pushing me to the ground “for added effect” he left without another word. Little did I know that within the week I too was to meet my end.
TO BE CONTINUED...the FINAL episode!