Although it is the sobriquet by which the murderer is now universally known, the name Jack the Ripper did not feature in the Whitechapel murders until the last week of September 1888. Prior to that, the perpetrator was known by several names, the most commonly used of which was "Leather Apron", a name which, for a brief period of time, terrorised the district in which the crimes were occurring.
In the wake of the murder of Mary Nichols, police enquiries amongst the women at the common lodging houses of Thrawl Street and Flower and Dean Street, at which Mary had been residing in the days leading up to her murder, had uncovered the existence of a sinister character whom the Whitechapel prostitutes had nicknamed "Leather Apron", so called because he habitually wore such a garment; and who had, it was claimed, been intimidating the local street walkers with threats and acts of violence for some time.
The first mention of this menacing figure by the media was on Saturday the 1st of September, when several newspapers across the country featured the following brief account of his escapades.
The women in a position similar to that of the deceased allege that there is a man who goes by the name of "Leather Apron" who has more than once attacked unfortunate and defenceless women.
His dodge is, it is asserted, to get them into some house on the pretence of offering them money.
He then takes whatever little they have and "half kills" them in addition."
Source: The Sunderland Daily Echo, Saturday, 1st September, 1888.
On the evening of Sunday the 2nd September, 1888, the police, it was later reported, missed an opportunity to apprehend the notorious extortionist.
A Metropolitan Police constable was on duty in Church Street, Spitalfields - which is now called Fournier Street - at around 5pm, when a woman ran up to him and, pointing to a "low villainous-looking" man who was walking along the street, screamed to the officer:- "There goes Leather Apron, the Whitechapel murderer, run after him."
According to a subsequent newspaper report, the officer's initial reaction was to ignore the woman, whereupon she chided him:- "now you have a chance of catching him, you won't try."
Spurred into action by the rebuke, the constable gave chase, with the woman running alongside him, and, after about 400 yards, he caught up with the man.
At this point he was joined by two fellow constables, who asked what the matter was.
The woman began repeating over and over again that the man was "Leather Apron", the man that the police were looking for, and she told the officers that she knew him well by sight.
The man denied her accusations, and, at first, he insisted that he had never seen the woman before. However, he then changed his mind and told one of the officers that the woman was constantly annoying him in this way, and she should be careful what she was saying.
The woman though was unperturbed, and she swore that she could fetch two women who had seen him pacing up and down Baker's Row with Mary Nichols about two hours before her murder took place. Furthermore, she said that he had cruelly ill-used two unfortunates in a common lodging house in City Road the previous week, and, she claimed that, amongst the unfortunates of Whitechapel, he was well-known as a cruel wretch.
According to the newspaper reports, the man met her accusations with a sneer, and said that she did not know what she was talking about.
Then, to the astonishment of the woman and several onlookers, the police constables let the man go.
Over the next few days a reporter from The Star began looking into "Leather Apron", and, on Tuesday the 4th of September, the newspaper published his findings:-
With regard to the man who goes by the sobriquet of "Leather Apron", he has not, it is stated, been seen in the neighbourhood much for the past few nights, but this may mean nothing, as the women street wanderers declare that he is known as well in certain quarters of the West End as he is in Whitechapel."
Source: The Star, Tuesday, 4th September, 1888.
It was on 5th September, however, that the "Leather Apron" scare got underway.
On that day The Star pulled out all the stops, and published a sensationalist headline that read:-
THE ONLY NAME LINKED WITH THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS
A NOISELESS MIDNIGHT TERROR
The article that followed was both melodramatic and terrifying, speaking as it did of:-
The Strange Character Who Prowls About Whitechapel After Midnight
Universal Fear Among Women
Slippered Feet and a Sharp Leather-Knife.
Ramping up the fear factor, the report provided further information about his antics and the effect he was having on the street walkers of the district:-
"Leather Apron" by himself is quite an unpleasant character.
If, as many of the people suspect, he is the real author of the three murders which, in everybody's judgment, were done by the same person, he is a more ghoulish and devilish brute than can be found in all the pages of shocking fiction.
He has ranged Whitechapel for a long time. He exercises over the unfortunates who ply their trade after twelve o'clock at night, a sway that is based on universal terror.
He is a character so much like the invention of a story writer that the accounts of him given by all the street-walkers of the Whitechapel district seem like romances.
The remarkable thing is, however, that they all agree in every particular.
Ever since the last murder, the name "Leather Apron" has been falling repeatedly on the ears of the reporters.
His expression is sinister, and seems to be full of terror for the women who describe it. His eyes are small and glittering. His lips are usually parted in a grin which is not only not reassuring, but excessively repellant.
He is a slipper maker by trade, but does not work. His business is blackmailing women late at night. A number of men in Whitechapel follow this interesting profession.
He has never cut anybody so far as known, but always carries a leather knife, presumably as sharp as leather knives are wont to be. This knife a number of the women have seen.
His name nobody knows, but all are united in the belief that he is a Jew or of Jewish parentage, his face being of a marked Hebrew type.
But the most singular characteristic of the man, and one which tends to identify him closely with last Friday night's work, is the universal statement that in moving about he never makes any noise. What he wears on his feet the women do not know, but they all agree that he moves noiselessly. His uncanny peculiarity to them is that they never see him or know of his presence until he is close by them."
Source: The Star, Wednesday, 5th September, 1888.
In the next day's edition, The Star continued its sensationalised coverage:-
The sense of fear which the murder of the unfortunate woman Nicholls [sic] has thrown over the neighborhood, and especially over her companions, shows no sign of decreasing.
A number of the street wanderers are in nightly terror of "Leather-Apron."
One of our reporters visited one of the single women's lodging-houses last night. It is in Thrawl-street, one of the darkest and most terrible-looking spots in Whitechapel. The house keeps open till one o'clock in the morning, and reopens again at five. In the house nightly are 66 women, who get their bed for 4d.
The proprietor of the place, who is also owner of several other houses of a similar character in the neighborhood, told some gruesome stories of the man who has now come to be regarded as the terror of the East-end.
Night after night, he said, had women come in in a fainting condition after being knocked about by "Leather-Apron."
He himself would never be out in the neighborhood after twelve o'clock at night except with a loaded revolver.
The "terror," he said, would go to a public-house or coffee-room, and peep in through the window to see if a particular woman was there. He would then vanish, lying in wait for his victim at some convenient corner, hidden from the view of everybody."
Source: The Star, Thursday, 6th September, 1888.
The police were now coming under widespread criticism for their inability to arrest Leather Apron, especially since he had been pointed out to one of their number just a few days before.
On the evening of Wednesday the 5th of September, according to a later newspaper report:- "the detectives showed their regret at the stupidity of the constable in failing to arrest him by eagerly searching different lodging-houses and casual wards for this "Leather Apron."
The Star went into more detail about this search:-
The hunt for "Leather Apron" began in earnest last evening.
Constables 43 and 173, J Division, into whose hands "Leather-Apron" fell on Sunday afternoon, were detailed to accompany Detective Enright, of the J Division, in a search through all the quarters where the crazy Jew was likely to be.
They began at half-past ten in Church-street, in Shoreditch, rumor having located the suspected man there. They went through lodging-houses, into "pubs," down side streets, threw their bull's-eyes into every shadow, and searched the quarter thoroughly, but without result.
The hunt continued later down in the Brick-lane neighbourhood, Florendene-lane [this is referring to Flower and Dean Street] being "Leather Apron's" preferred lodging place lately. He was not found here, however, and the search, which then took the direction of the London Hospital, resulted in nothing.
It is the general belief that the man has left the district."
Source: The Star, Thursday, 6th September, 1888.
The Star's lurid coverage of "Leather Apron", not to mention the blatant anti-Semitism of its articles, had unforeseen consequences for the district.
Since the early 1880s, there had been a huge wave of immigration into the area of Jewish refugees who were fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe.
A large percentage of them had settled in the neighbourhood where the murders were occurring, and The Star's emphasizing of "Leather Apron's" Jewish parentage and appearance fed into a growing resentment of the immigrant community that had been gathering momentum throughout the 1880s.
Thanks to the negative press coverage, there was a marked increase in this acrimony during the first week of September.
It would appear, however, that the police had by this time already identified "Leather Apron."
On the 7th of September, Inspector Joseph Helson , of the local J-Division stated in a report to Scotland yard that:-
The inquiry has revealed the fact that a man named Jack Pizer, alias Leather Apron, has, for some considerable period been in the habit of ill-using prostitutes in this, and other parts of the Metropolis, and careful search has been, and is continued to be made to find this man in order that his movements may be accounted for...although at present there is no evidence whatsoever against him."
Pizer, it would later transpire, had been the man who the woman had denounced in Church Street on the 2nd of September, and the experience had so terrified him that he began to fear for his personal safety, and so, far from fleeing the district, he had, in fact, gone into hiding with his family, who lived at 22 Mulberry Street in the heart of the district.
At 6am on Saturday the 8th of September, the murder of Annie Chapman took in the backyard of number 29 Hanbury Street, and word soon leaked out that a freshly washed leather apron had been found close to the body.
The apron actually belonged to the son of one of the residents of the house, so it was not in any way related to the crime.
However, local feeling had been whipped into such a frenzy by the reports and rumours about "Leather Apron", that the anti-Semitism, which had been simmering in the district for the past few days, now gave way to full scale anti-Jewish unrest.
Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, on Sunday 9th September, reported on the events of the previous day-
As the day advanced, crowds congregated around the scene of the murder, and the excitement grew; and, unfortunately, owing to the rumours about the individual "Leather Apron," took a rather nasty turn.
Bodies of young roughs raised cries against the Jews, and many of the disreputable and jabbering women sided with them.
This state of things caused several stand-up fights, thus putting a further and serious strain on the police, many of whom began to express their fears of rioting.
Describing the scene in the district last night, a correspondent says:- "The excitement in Hanbury- street and the surrounding neighbourhood still continues, and extra police have been employed to keep a course for the traffic of the evening, but in this they are very much hampered by noisy crowds of men and boys crying, "Down with the Jews."
Sometimes there is a show of resistance, but the strong force of police on the spot are equal to the occasion, and promptly separate assailants.
Just as our correspondent was writing, a gang of young vagabonds marched down Hanbury-street shouting, "It was a Jew who did it," "No Englishman did it!" After these the police were prompt, and whenever there was a stand they quickly, and without ceremony, dispersed them.
There have been many fights, but the police are equal to it, as men are held in reserve under cover, and when there is a row they rush out and soon establish order.
As the night advances, the disorderly mobs who openly express antipathy to the Jews increase, and a request has been forwarded to headquarters for extra men. This request has been promptly attended to, and men have been sent."
Source: Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, 9th September, 1888.
The unrest in the neighbourhood, generated by the "Leather Apron" coverage, was getting out of hand, and there was a very real danger that innocent people may fall victim to the baying mobs that were roaming the streets in search of scapegoats:-
As The Daily News observed on Monday 10th September:-
The public are looking for a monster, and in the legend of "Leather Apron" the Whitechapel part of them seem to be inventing a monster to look for.
This kind of invention ought to be discouraged in every possible way, or there may soon be murders from panic to add to murders from lust of blood.
A touch would fire the whole district, in the mood in which it is now."
Source: The Daily News, Monday, 10th September, 1888.
George Sims, writing in his "Mustard and Cress" column for The Referee, on Sunday 16th September, observed, wryly:-
It is only the careful observer, the close student of our insular everyday life, the professional expert, who can thoroughly gauge the extent to which Leather Apron has impressed himself upon the public mind.
Up to a few days ago the mere mention of Leather Apron's name was sufficient to cause a panic. All England was murmuring his name with bated breath.
In one instance, which is duly recorded in the police reports, a man merely went into a public-house and said that he knew Leather Apron, and the customers, leaving their drinks unfinished, fled en masse, while the landlady, speechless with terror, bolted out of a back door and ran to the police-station, leaving the grim humourist in sole possession of the establishment, till and all."
Source: The Referee, Sunday, 16th September, 1888.
With the press commenting on the impact that "Leather Apron" was having on the neighbourhood and the nation at large, the police had been busily hunting for John Pizer, and, at around 9am on Monday the 10th of September, three H-Division police officers, led by Sergeant William Thick, marched along Mulberry Street and knocked on the door of number 22.
Sergeant William Thick
The door was opened by Pizer himself.
"Just the man I want," announced Sergeant Thick.
"What for?", asked Pizer.
"You know what for," replied Thick. "You know you are Leather Apron. You will have to come with me."
"Very well, sir. I'll go down to the station with you with the greatest of pleasure", was Pizer's response.
And, with that, the police officers escorted him to nearby Leman Street Police Station, where a large body of constables with staves drawn had been deployed in readiness for the inevitable hostility from the crowd that had surrounded the station when they learnt that "Leather Apron" was now in custody.
However, so discreet were Sergeant Thick and his fellow detectives that, according to The Illustrated Police News:-
...only a few people amongst the crowd outside seemed aware that an arrest had been made, and so quietly did the police act in Mulberry Street that few, even in the neighbourhood, connected the arrest with the murder."
Source: The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 15th September, 1888.
Sergeant Thick was insistent that he had known John Pizer for eighteen years under the nickname of "Leather Apron."
Furthermore, he was adamant that whenever people in the district spoke of "Leather Apron," they were referring to Pizer.
Pizer, on the other hand, stated that he had been unaware that he was known as "Leather Apron" until Sergeant Thick had knocked on his door on the Monday morning and called him by that name.
As Pizer was being taken into custody, police constables began searching his house in Mulberry Street.
They examined his clothing for traces of blood, but found none.
They took away five knives, which were used by Pizer in his work as a boot finisher, several of which were stained with what appeared to be blood. The knives were subjected to chemical analysis, and the supposed bloodstains were revealed to be nothing more sinister than rust.
Meanwhile, reporters had descended on Mulberry Street where they were busily interviewing Pizer's family and neighbours, all of whom steadfastly denied that he had ever been known as "Leather Apron."
They further stated that he was unable to do much on account of ill-health, and that he was by no means a strong person, as some time ago he was seriously injured in a vital part.
According to The Daily Telegraph:- "his sister declared that Piser was not a man to commit murder, and she was accustomed to trust her children to his charge."
It was quickly becoming apparent to the reporters that few people who knew him had a bad word to say about John Pizer.
As journalists were questioning his family and neighbours, Pizer himself was being questioned at Leman Street Police Station.
Although described as looking, "pale and rather dejected", he remained calm under police interrogation, and was able to provide cast iron alibis for the times of the murders of both Mary Nichols and Annie Chapman.
He had spent the night of Mary Nichols murder at Crossman's lodging house on Holloway Road.
With regard to the murder of Annie Chapman, he had, he said, returned to the family home, at 22 Mulberry Street, a little before eleven o'clock on the night of Thursday the 6th of September, two days before her murder.
Here, his brother, Gabriel, had warned him that, since he was now the object of false but widespread suspicion, it would be safer for him to remain indoors, rather than face the fury of the Whitechapel mobs, who might tear him to pieces if they spotted him out on the streets.
He had, therefore, not left the house from the Thursday night to when he was taken into custody by Sergeant Thick on the Monday morning, two days after Annie Chapman's murder.
The police were able to verify both of these alibis.
But, before he could be fully cleared of any involvement in the crimes, John Pizer had to undergo two further ordeals.
At around 7 a.m. on the 8th of September, Mrs Fiddymount, the landlady of the Prince Albert Pub on Brushfield Street - a few streets to the west of Hanbury Street, where Annie Chapman's body had been discovered an hour before - was behind the bar chatting with a friend of hers by the name of Mary Chappell, when an evil looking man had entered the premises and had ordered a glass of ale.
The man's appearance had so terrified Mrs Fiddymount that she had asked Mary Chappell not to leave her alone with him.
Turning to draw the ale, she surveyed the man in the mirror, and saw that his shirt was badly torn. She also noticed a streak of blood under his right ear as well as dried blood between his fingers.
On being served with the ale, the man downed it in one gulp and hurriedly left the pub.
The police brought Mrs Fiddymount and Mary Chappel to Leman Street to see if they could identify Pizer as the man who had come into the pub.
Both stated that he wasn't the man.
Next, a man by the name of Emanuel Delbast Violenia - described as being half Spaniard and half Bulgarian - who had claimed that, shortly before Annie Chapman's murder, he had seen a man and a woman arguing excitedly in Hanbury Street, and had heard the man threaten to kill the woman by sticking a knife into her, was brought to the police station.
At one o'clock on the afternoon of Tuesday the 11th of September, Sergeant Thick gathered about a dozen men, the majority of whom were Jewish, in the yard of Leman Street Police Station, and Pizer was asked to stand amongst them.
Violenia was then brought in and, having scrutinized all the faces, he went up to Pizer and identified him as the man he had seen quarrelling with the woman.
"I don't know you; you are mistaken," protested Pizer.
Violenia, however, was adamant that Pizer was the man he had seen quarreling with the woman.
Inspector Abberline then escorted Violenia to the mortuary, where he was unable to identify Annie Chapman's body as that of the woman he had seen.
During a three hour cross-examination, Violenia contradicted himself so many times that his evidence was totally discredited, to the point that the police lost all trust in his veracity as a witness.
With that, the case against John Pizer collapsed, and, on the evening of Tuesday the 11th of September, he was released without charge.
On his return to Mulberry Street, he was greeted with enthusiastic shouts of welcome from his friends and neighbours, who were universal in their sympathy for the ordeal he had been through.
The Dundee Courier was none too complimentary about what it viewed as ineptitude on the part of the police, and published the following update on the impact the arrest of Pizer had had on the district as a whole:-
Down to this evening the police, notwithstanding that they have made a dozen or so of arrests, have failed to secure the Whitechapel murderer. The hunt is up with vengeance now, the detectives being in full cry, but so far they have succeeded only in starting a series of false scents.
It appears to have been concluded prematurely that a person nicknamed "Leather Apron" is the person whose arrest was desired by the ends of justice, but though a man answering that description has been run down, it is practically settled that he is not the criminal.
The excitement throughout the day has been intense in the district of these ineffective operations. The mob practically holds all the streets, the police being powerless to clear the thoroughfare, and as each "suspect" was marched to the lock-up, he was surrounded by thousands of people who thirsted for his blood.
The affair all round, the butchery, the incompetence of the detectives, the unreasoning passions of the people, and the general tumult is a disgrace to a civilised city."
Source: The Dundee Courier, Wednesday, 12th September, 1888.
A reporter from the Press Association managed to secure an interview with Pizer, who was more than happy to put the record straight:-
They found nothing in my possession that would incriminate me, thank God.
I know of no crime, I have been connected with no crime, and my character will bear the strictest investigation, both by my co-religionists, and Gentiles whom I have worked for."
He did, however, admit that he was the man whom the woman had accosted in Church Street on Sunday the 2nd of September.
As for the newspaper that had done so much to stir up local resentment against him, Pizer was, to say the least, somewhat scathing:-
The Star has published a portrait intended to represent me, but it has no more resemblance to me than it has to the man in the moon...I shall see if I cannot legally proceed against those who have made statements about me. The charges made against me have quite broken my spirits, and I am afraid I shall have to place myself under medical treatment for some time."
With Pizer threatening legal action against his accusers, The Star now began backpedaling, and called his arrest "a police blunder" in its edition of Wednesday the 12th of September.
"The detectives searched with unusual diligence," the article continued, "but could find positively nothing against him. And this is not surprising considering that he is not "Leather Apron," at least not "Leather Apron" who has been the terror and blackmailer of the women of Whitechapel."
That day, John Pizer appeared as a witness at the inquest into the death of Annie Chapman, which was being held at the Working Lads Institute on Whitechapel Road.
Strangely, given the previous steadfast denials by him and his family and neighbours, he began his testimony by declaring that he went by the nickname of "Leather Apron."
He told the inquest that he had arrived at 22 Mulberry Street at a quarter before eleven on the night of Thursday the 6th of September, and had remained there until being arrested by Sergeant Thick on the following Monday morning.
"Why did you remain indoors?", the Coroner, Wynne Edwin Baxter, asked him.
"Because my brother advised me to do so," replied Pizer.
You were the subject of suspicion were you not?" Rejoined the Coroner.
"I was the object of a false suspicion," Pizer fired back.
"You stayed in on the advice of your friends? That was not the best advice that could be given you." Observed Baxter.
"I will tell you the reason why," snapped Pizer. "I should have been torn to pieces. I have been released and am not now in custody. I wish to vindicate my character to the whole world."
"I have called you, partly in your own interest," replied Coroner Baxter, "in order to give you the opportunity of doing so."
Coroner Wynne Edwin Baxter
So saying, the Coroner then took Pizer through his alibis on the nights of the murders of Mary Nichols and Annie Chapman, after which he informed the court that:- "I think it is only fair to say that the statements of the witness have been corroborated."
At that point the Foreman of the jury announced that:- "I think the Jury are of the opinion that he is cleared."
"Sergeant Thick, who arrested me, has known me for eighteen years," began Pizer. But Coroner Baxter swiftly cut him short. "Well, well, I do not think it is necessary for you to say anymore."
According to The East London Observer:- "Pizer, evidently well pleased, returned his thanks and bowed all round."
Attempting to reconcile persona of Piser the witness with the effect his alter ego had had on the district over the course of the previous week, the newspaper opined that:-
His evidence showed beyond doubt that this insignificant quiet-speaking man, with his plain tale, really was the dreadful and mysterious "Leather Apron" whose reputation had made thousands quake with terror."
Pizer was followed into the witness box by Sergeant Thick, who repeated his assertion that he had known Pizer as "Leather Apron" for many years, and that this was the name that the people of the district also knew him under.
His evidence complete, Thick and Pizer sat together, chatting "freely and affably."
At the adjournment of the inquest, Thick escorted Pizer home.
As they left the Working Lads Institute, a large crowd that had assembled outside, recognised Pizer, and, according to The East London Advertiser:- "the murmurs and mutterings which greeted his appearance boded no good."
And thus was John Piser exonerated of any involvement in the Whitechapel Murders, albeit it is more than apparent that he was the man known locally as "Leather Apron."
The supposed terror of Whitechapel, now became the very real terror of Fleet Street, and several newspaper editors began quaking at the prospect of the sizeable libel damages that many of the less sensationalist elements of the press were now reporting that Pizer would be entitled to.
Given that it was his newspaper that had been instrumental in linking Pizer's name to the Whitechapel murders, the Star's sub-editor, Ernest Park decided that it would be expedient to get to Pizer before Pizer could get to him, or, to be more precise, before any lawyers could get to either of them.
And so, as the journalist Lincoln Springfield, who, at the time, was working for The Star, later recalled, Park had Pizer brought to the newspaper's offices in Stonecutter Street, and here, according to Springfield:-
He was reasoned with sweetly, before he could get the opportunity of consulting a lawyer, or, shall I say before a lawyer could get the chance of indicating to him what wealth beyond the dreams of avarice might be his by the simple process of issuing a writ for libel.
And While "Leather Apron" was thus cozened, a small pile of gold sovereigns was arrayed within his vision, and jingled within his hearing, with the result that he took away with him £10 in gold, and left behind him, in consideration thereof, a stamped receipt for the amount in full settlement of any claims he might have against the paper in respect of the deplorable theory..."
As Springfield wryly observed:-
...the directors of the paper must always have looked back with satisfaction to a transaction in which they unjustly accused a blameless citizen of sever or eight bloody murders, and got out of the mess for £10, being little more than a pound a murder."
Although John Pizer had been cleared of any involvement in the Whitechapel murders, it was some time before he was exonerated in the court of public opinion.
On Friday the 5th of October, The Manchester Evening News reported that Pizer had appeared before Mr Lushington at the Thames Police Court to complain about one particular tormentor:-
The man Pizer, who was arrested on suspicion of being connected with the murder of Annie Chapman in Hanbury-street, and who gave a satisfactory account of himself, complained to Mr. Lushington that, since he was released from custody, he had been subjected to great annoyance.
Only that morning a woman accosted him in the street, and after calling him "Old Leather Apron" and other insulting expressions, struck him three blows in the face.
Mr. Lushington told Pizer he could have a summons against the person who had assaulted him."
John Pizer was not the Whitechapel murderer. Whether he was the man who had been threatening the prostitutes of the district is open to debate. That such a character did exist cannot be denied - albeit The Star undoubtedly exaggerated the danger he posed - and, by his own admission, Pizer was known as "Leather Apron."
Strangely, it would appear that the police never actually confronted him with the women who had initially spoken of this menacing character in order to see if they could identify Pizer as their extortionist and tormentor.
He continued to reside at 22 Mulberry Street until his death from gastro-enteritis at the London Hospital in July, 1897.