The Panic Begins
In the week that followed the murder of Mary Nichols lurid and sensational stories about her murder and about the possible identity of her killer began appearing in the London newspapers.
The press had attributed two earlier killings - that of Emma Smith on 3rd April 1888 and of Martha Tabram (or Turner as she was also known) on the 8th August 1888 on the murderer of Mary Nichols.
There was also general consensus amongst journalists who were covering the case that it wasn't a question of if the killer was going to strike again but rather when there would be another murder.
A Possible Suspect is Identified
The Leather Apron Poster
They had even come up with a possible suspect in the form of a man whom the local prostitutes had nicknamed "Leather Apron" and whom, they were claiming, had been making violent threats toward them, including that he was going to "rip them up."
Unfortunately the prostitutes didn’t know this mysterious man's actual name, couldn’t provide an address for him, and the only description they could give the police was that he habitually wore a leather apron and that he sometimes wore a deerstalker cap.
This wasn't a great deal to go on, albeit the police showed themselves determined to hunt out this mysterious and sinister character.
It was then that local police officer Sergeant Thicke told his fellow officers that he was certain that whenever anyone in the area spoke about "Leather Apron" they were speaking about a man named John Pizer.
Thus, the police set about trying to find Pizer, either to bring him to justice or else to eliminate him as a suspect.
The Press Find Out About Leather Apron
However, it wasn't long before the police investigation into this potential suspect was dealt a blow that would have far reaching ramifications.
The newspapers quickly found out about this lead suspect and soon journalists were in the area attempting to find out about this mysterious and sinister character.
Worried that press interference might alert Pizer to the fact they were on to him the police strove to keep this promising line of enquiry away from the reporters.
Consequently, the journalists themselves, used any means at their disposal to elicit as much information as they could from individual police officers and local residents.
Detectives found themselves followed as they went about their investigations. Bribes were offered to officers on the beat. Posing as down-at-heel residents journalists began hanging out at the Common Lodging Houses picking up on any local gossip that they could eavesdrop on.
Anyone who seemed able to provide them with any information was plied with drink in the local pubs as reporters attempted to elicit salacious details about "Leather Apron" and wheedle out as many facts as they could - or, if facts weren't forthcoming, they would simply encourage their interviewees to indulge in all manner of wild supposition and rabid speculation.
The Great Leather Apron Scare Begins
It wasn't before this journalistic tenacity had begun to reap dividends.
By the 5th September 1888 the Star newspaper felt that it had enough to bring news of this promising suspect to the populace at large and so published the first of several articles that were guaranteed to strike terror into the people who lived in the vicinity.
The article was preceded by a headline that was, obviously, intended to sensationalise the crimes.
LEATHER APRON, THE ONLY NAME LINKED WITH THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS.
The Princess Alice Pub
Then, laying on the fear factor as much as possible, it continued to paint a picture of a "Strange Character" prowling around "After Midnight" with "Skippered Feet" and holding a "Sharp Leather Night". It told its readers how there was "Universal Fear Among Women" of this character whose expression, so the article assured its readers "is sinister, and seems to be full of terror for the women who describe it.".
Warming to the demonisation of this sinister character, the article added that "...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."
The article also singled out a geographic locality in which people should keep a keen eye peeled for the elusive and infamous "Leather Apron."
"The most likely place to find him ", so two of the local street walkers had told the journalist, was "Commercial-street, opposite the Princess Alice Pub."
However, the women had also warned the reporter that he would have to "look into all the shadows" as, if he was there "he would surely be out of sight."
Consequences of the Leather Apron Scare
There was, however, one aspect of the press reporting on "Leather Apron" that would have far reaching consequences on how the police dealt with future suspects.
The Star newspaper had seen fit to mention the fact that his face was of a "marked Hebrew type".
This, coupled with the fact that the leather apron itself was a garment that was synonymous with the Jewish immigrants, who had been arriving in the area in ever increasing numbers throughout the 1880's, workers amongst the Jewish immigrants that had been flooding in to the area throughout the 1880's, fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe, began to fuel a belief that was circulating around the gentile population of the district that this type of barbaric crime couldn't possibly be the work of an English man so one of the newly arrived "foreigners" had to be to blame.
The Star's campaign to alert the populace to the noiseless menace in their midst had two effects.
Firstly, John Pizer learnt of the police suspicions through it, and the prospect of his falling victim to a baying mob, now that he was public enemy number one, so terrified him that he promptly went into hiding amongst his relatives.
The second effect was to have a far more sinister impact on the East End of London, and its repercussions would ultimately influence the way in which the police investigation was handled as the murders increased and local panic intensified.
Aware of the anti-Semitism that the press speculation concerning the murderer's ethnic origin was generating in the district, the police became alarmed that this unrest might, at any moment, erupt into full scale anti-Jewish rioting, and thus they began playing down suggestions that they were looking for a member of the Jewish immigrant community lest any public pronouncements to this effect might well spark off a pogrom in the East End of London.