|06-19-2012, 05:30 PM||#1|
Researcher/Ripper Notes Editor
Join Date: Jul 2008
Sir Basil Thomson - The Story of Scotland Yard
Not much attention seems to be paid to Sir Basil Thomson’s book The Story of Scotland Yard (Grayson & Grayson Ltd., London, 1935). After all, Thomson replaced Macnaghten as Assistant Commissioner and head of the CID in 1913 and later became head of Special Branch (1919). You would think his words on the Whitechapel Murders would carry some weight or at least some interest. In fact, however, the only passage from Thomson’s book that seems to ever get commented on concerns an obvious mistake. Here’s an example:
“ In The Story of Scotland Yard [Thomson] wrote:
‘The belief of CID officers at the time was that [the Whitechapel murders] were the work of an insane Russian doctor and that the man escaped arrest by committing suicide at the end of 1888.’
Eleven years earlier, he gave a similar opinion to Radio Times (3 October 1924), designating the doctor a student and the suicide as drowning in the Thames. This appears to confuse Michael Ostrog (the insane Russian doctor) with M. J. Druitt (the suicide recovered from the Thames on 31 December 1888), both named in the Macnaghten memoranda.”
(From The Complete Jack the Ripper A to Z, Begg, Fido and Skinner, pages 512 – 516, John Blake Publishing, 2010).
The discussion seems to end there, apparently, because it is generally thought that if Thomson mixed up this one point then he can’t be trusted to have got other points correct. Be that as it may Thomson did write additional information on the Whitechapel Murders in The Story of Scotland Yard and, unknown to most, even re-wrote and re-edited the book when it first appeared in North America in 1936, something I’ve been pointing out for years to little interest.
Here, then, for those who may be interested are the requisite pages from the first British edition followed by the re-written pages from the first North American edition:
From The Story of Scotland Yard, Sir Basil Thomson, page 178, Grayson & Grayson Ltd., London, 1935:
…Consequently, Mr. James Munro (sic), who had lately resigned from the C.I.D., was recalled to succeed Sir Charles Warren. Munro had been for twenty-seven years in the Bengal Civil Service and for a time Inspector-General of Police. He had shown great ability in unearthing the perpetrators of the dynamite outrages, but the dynamite outrages had been suppressed, and the “Jack the Ripper” outrages had filled the public mind to the exclusion of all other questions. The name was furnished by one of the writers of bogus letters published by Scotland Yard. The murders began in 1888, always in the East End of London, and always on the bodies of prostitutes, who were ripped up by what appeared to be surgical knives of extreme sharpness. The belief of the C.I.D. officers at the time was that they were the work of an insane Russian doctor and that the man escaped arrest by committing suicide at the end of 1888. There was, it is true, another murder of the same type in 1889, but this was ascribed to the “law of imitation.” Feeling ran very high against the C.I.D. for its failure to arrest the murderer.
Ibid, page 314:
In 1888 the crimes of “Jack the Ripper” – so named from a bogus letter signed by that name which reached the police among hundreds of others – filled London with horror and apprehension. Most of the murders were committed in the poor district of Whitechapel and the women victims were of the “unfortunate” class. There was a strong feeling against the C.I.D. for its failure to arrest the murderer; it was not realized that an isolated maniac with a blood-lust makes no confidants and therefore the starting-point for investigation – the police informant – was lacking. The only clue was the fact that the man who ripped women up with what must have been a surgical knife had probably been at some point a medical student. As I have already said in the belief of the police he was a man who committed suicide in the Thames at the end of 1888. Though there was one other murder of the same kind in the beginning of 1889 it was considered that this was one of the imitative crimes so often committed after a series of crimes has deeply impressed the public mind.
From The Story of Scotland Yard, Sir Basil Thomson, page 189 - 191, The Literary Guild, New York, 1936:
…Consequently, Mr. James Munro (sic), who had lately resigned from the C.I.D., was recalled to succeed Sir Charles Warren. Munro had been for twenty-seven years in the Bengal Civil Service and for a time inspector-general of police. He had shown great ability in unearthing the perpetrators of the dynamite outrages, but the dynamite outrages had been suppressed.
The “Jack the Ripper” murders now filled the public mind to the exclusion of all other police questions. The name was taken from the signature of one of the writers of bogus letters published by the police. The victims in every case were prostitutes who were ripped up by what appeared to be surgical knives of extreme sharpness. After the second of these murders the public took alarm, and there was wide-spread criticism of the C.I.D. Altogether five (with a possible sixth) murders were scribed to “Jack the Ripper,” and no arrest was made. After the last of these murders the police had brought their investigations to the point of suspecting one or other of three homicidal lunatics. One was a Polish Jew reported by Police Constable Thompson, the one police officer who caught sight of the man in Mitre Court; the second was an insane Russian doctor who had been a convict both in England and in Siberia. The man was reported to be in the habit of carrying surgical knives in his pockets. At the time of the outrages he was in hiding; at any rate he could not be found. The third suspect was also a doctor on the borderland of insanity. His friends had grave doubts about him, but the evidence was insufficient for detaining him with any hope of obtaining a conviction. After the last of these crimes in Miller’s Court on November 9, 1888, this man disappeared, and seven weeks later his body was found floating in the Thames, the medical evidence being that it had been in the water for a month. Whether this identification was accurate or not, there is a strong presumption that “Jack the Ripper” died or was put under restraint after the last of the murders.
In blaming the detective police at this time it must be remembered that as compared with forces in other countries they work under a great handicap in not being allowed to arrest on suspicion or question the man they suspect.
In one case only, as I have already said, did a policeman have sight of the criminal. A young officer named Thompson was patrolling Chambers Street when a man came running out of Swallow Gardens towards him. On seeing the police uniform the man turned tail and made off at top speed in the other direction. An experienced officer would have pursued him, but Thompson turned into Swallow Gardens and almost stumbled over the mutilated body of Francis Coles. This error in judgment preyed upon the constable’s mind: he seemed to think that it presaged misfortune for himself. His forebodings came true. The first time he had gone on night duty he had discovered a murderer; some years later he himself was murdered by a Jew named Abrahams who stabbed him in the street. The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter, and Abrahams died in prison.
Ibid, page 334 - 335:
(This section, with the exception of some punctuation and the changing of one word, is otherwise exactly the same as the second section in the original 1935 British edition.)
There are some things to note:
It is clear that Thomson did not re-write his section on the Whitechapel Murders using the official version of Sir Melville Macnaghten’s memoranda found in the Scotland Yard files. Instead he used the information found in Major Arthur Griffiths’ book Mysteries of Police and Crime (some of the words and phrases are exactly the same) which was originally taken from the Aberconway version of the memoranda. It is no surprise, then, that Griffiths’ book appears in the bibliography of the 1936 edition of Thomson’s book but not in the original 1935 edition.
Thomson first writes that the Ripper was seen by P. C. Thompson, who he claims was “the one police officer who caught sight of the man in Mitre Court (sic).” This view is taken from Major Arthur Griffith, writing in 1898 (who took it from Macnaghten, writing in 1894) who states that the P.C. who saw the Ripper did so in Mitre Court. Thomson then goes on and, while keeping P. C. Ernest Thompson, moves the location to Swallow Gardens and the murder of Francis Coles. This may have been taken from Tom Divall’s 1929 book Scoundrels and Scallywags in which Divall states “One incident in connection with the death of poor P. C. Thompson is rather remarkable: he is believed to be the only constable who ever saw “Jack the Ripper.” Most of Thomson’s thoughts on P.C. Thompson, however, are taken from Herbert Porter Wensley’s 1931 book Detective Days (published in North America in 1933 as 40 Years Of Scotland Yard). Once more some of the words and phrases are exactly the same and Wensley’s book appears in the bibliography.
It appears that most, if not all, of Sir Basil Thomson’s writing on the Whitechapel Murders that appears in his book The Story of Scotland Yard comes not from official sources but from works published by other authors. Some may have come from conversations with detectives and officials who were there in 1888, or from those, like Macnaghten, who talked to those who had been there, it's hard to say. In the end, however, it appears that Thomson has been ignored with some justification although he does leave some interesting points to ponder.
|06-19-2012, 06:00 PM||#2|
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|06-20-2012, 03:04 AM||#3|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Manchester, NH USA
Having only the 1936 U.S. edition, I find this comparison interesting. I had given up trying to reconcile Thomson's former position(s) with Scotland Yard and the jumbled mix of "facts" he presented in the book. I've also at times been somewhat dubious of the Macnaghten memoranda on more than one level- but firstly that it may have been intended not as an entirely factual rebuttal of the Cutbush affair, but a carefully crafted deflection away from any official or unofficial "cognizance". I assume the memoranda would have been, if not instigated by, at very least approved by Anderson. And so one might speculate that there could have been a consensus amongst the police, not of the identity of the Whitechapel murderer, but of how best to confound the press and the public in perpetuity about the investigations and/or the results, positive or otherwise. And if one were to carry on with this particular conspiracy theory (as I am implying here), I'd find Thomson's statement "there is a strong presumption that 'Jack the Ripper' died or was put under restraint after the last of the murders" to be, despite the ambiguity, a most honest assessment of how close the (collective) authorities were to the real "truth".
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