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On The Trail of the Bloodhouds

A question was raised on the Casebook forum recently as to why there was a two hour delay between 11.30am and 1.30pm in entering Mary Jane Kelly's room on 9 November 1888.  The simple answer, that the police were waiting for bloodhounds (or a bloodhound) to arrive at the scene, didn't seem to satisfy everyone.  However, when one looks at the facts of the matter, it becomes obvious what happened that morning.


An early mention of bloodhounds came at the Chapman inquest on 19 September when Dr Phillips was asked by a member of the jury whether their use would have been beneficial in tracking the murderer and the doctor offered his opinion they might have been put off the trail by smelling the scent of the murdered woman's blood.


Following the double event, however, the pressure for the use of bloodhounds increased. The Echo of 1 October 1888 claimed that, 'had a bloodhound of good training been laid on to the scent, directly the murdered woman in Aldgate was discovered, or, at any rate, before her poor body was removed, and another bloodhound laid on to the scent of the murdered woman in Whitechapel before her body was moved also, the two hounds would almost have undoubtedly tracked the murderer along the deserted streets of the East-end to his hiding place.'


On 2 October 1888, a letter was published in the Times from a breeder of bloundhounds based in Loughton called Percy Lindley.  He wrote: 'I have little doubt that, had a hound been put upon the scent of the murderer while fresh, it might have done what the police have failed in.'  He suggested that a couple of bloodhounds should be kept at police headquarters.


His letter caught the attention of an official at the Home Office (probably Charles Murdoch) who opened a file on the issue and suggested that the Commissioner's attention be drawn to it.


A day or so later, Percy Lindley received a personal letter from Sir Charles Warren himself (MEPO 1/48) as follows:


'I have seen your letter in the Times on subject of bloodhounds & perhaps you could answer a question I have put to many without satisfactory reply.


Supposing a hound to be brought up at once to a corpse after a murder how is he to know what are the tracks or which is the scent of the murderer or how is he to know that you want that particular track traced.


If the murderer left a portion of his clothing behind or some of his blood I can understand a dog following up or if you could show him a particular spot where had had been standing over, but on a London pavement where people have been walking all the evening there may be scores of scents almost as keen as those of the murderer.


This seems to be me to be the initial difficulty & I should be glad if you could give me a solution to it.


Truly yours,




Would a hound follow if a person on whose hands was the blood of a murdered person if he is shown the blood on the ground.  I scarcely think he could.'


On 4 October, a bloodhound owner from Scarborough, Edwin Brough, was contacted by the Metropolitan Police (Times, 10 October 1888).


On Friday 5 October, Edwin Brough wrote a letter to the Times which was published on Monday, 8 October.  In his letter he said:


'I doubt whether there are any bloodhounds in England sufficiently trained to have a good chance of tracking a man in crowded thoroughfares such as Whitechapel, and unless laid on at once the chances are that the hound will hit the wrong trail, but if a well trained bloodhound had been tried at Gateshead before the scene of the murder had been much trampled over he would have been very likely to have run the man down.'


He added that, 'The great value of the pure bloodhound is that he can be trained to hunt the scent of a man through his boots and without any artificial aid such as blood.'


On the same day that Brough was writing his letter,  Sir Charles was seeking approval from the Home Office to spend £50 on bringing to London bloodhounds who had been worked in a town.  He reported that he was getting the bloodhounds down 'at once.'  The approval for the expenditure was granted.


The public was demanding the immediate deployment of the bloodhounds and, to keep them happy, on 6 October, the following appeared in the Times:


'We have been asked to state that Sir Charles Warren has been making inquiries as to the practicability of employing trained bloodhounds for use in special cases in the streets of London; and having ascertained that dogs can be procured that have been accustomed to work in a town, he is making immediate arrangements for their use in London.'


Brough arrived in London from Scarborough with his bloodhounds on Saturday 6 October.


The argument for the use of bloodhounds was pushed further on 9 October when the Times published a letter from a William Buchanan who said he had personally witnessed the murderer of a little boy in Dieppe being tracked to his lodging house by a couple of bloodhounds in about 1861.  He concluded his letter by saying that, 'the instinct of a bloodhound, when properly trained, for tracking by scent is so marvellous that no one can say positively what difficulties in following a trail it cannot surmount'.


On 9 October, the Times reported:


'It is stated by a news agency that definite instructions have been issued to the police that in the event of any person being found murdered under any circumstances similar to those of the recent crimes, they are not to remove the body of the victim, but to send notice immediately to a veterinary surgeon in the South-west District, who holds several trained bloodhounds in readiness to be taken to the spot where the body may be found, and to be at once put on the scent.'


The veterinary surgeon in the South-west District might have been a reference to Alfred Joseph Sewell of the Veterinary Infirmary at 55 Elizabeth Street, Eaton Square in Knightsbridge.  It is important to note that the instructions on summoning the bloodhounds here to any police finding another victim of 'Jack the Ripper' were to send a message to the veterinary surgeon, not to Scotland Yard.


On the same day, a private trial was held in a London park with Brough's two bloodhounds Barnaby and Burgho (Times, 10 October 1888). It was reported that the dogs had been purchased on behalf of the police by Sir Charles Warren but this wasn't true and was corrected by letter from Mr Brough published in the following day's Times.  However, this did not mean that the dogs would not be available to the police (which is what Bruce Robinson seems to think it means in his book, 'They All Love Jack').


On 16 October, Sir Charles issued the following circular number 258 to the force (underlining added):


'The Commissioner wishes to test the capacity of dogs for following trails of criminals and proposes to try them at once on trails of any criminals in cases of Burglary.

Should any case occur in which there is any probability of dogs being used to advantage, a telegram is to be sent to Executive requisitioning for their use.'

Bloodhounds 1.jpg

It seems that the dogs were called for on one occasion, about a week or so later, when a friend of Mr Brough (Mr Taunton) who lived in Doughty Street, St Pancras, received a telegram directly from Leman Street Police Station (Times, 13 November 1888) after a robbery had been committed in Commercial Street.  However, by the time the dogs arrived, about seven hours had elapsed and officers had tramped over the crime scene so the dogs were useless and were not used.


On 19 October it was (falsely) reported that the bloodhounds were lost on a trial (Times, 19 October 1888).


At this time, Sir Charles was engaged in correspondence with Arthur Sewell, the veterinary surgeon, who, if a trained bloodhound (Barnaby) was hired for the exclusive use of the Metropolitan Police, would be looking after it in south-west London.  This correspondence, which is in MEPO 2/188, is referred to in the Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook by Evans & Skinner but not reproduced.  Yet it is impossible to fully understand the story without this correspondence. 


The first letter in the sequence is dated 20 October 1888 and was received at Scotland Yard on 22 October. It stated:


'I saw Mr Brough the owner of the Bloodhounds after I left you yesterday and he is willing to insure the dog as a guarantee against accidents instead of your guaranteeing the £100.  This if it can be done would not cost more than five or six pounds [at] the outside.  Then there would be twenty five pounds for the hire of the dog until the end of March and I should be obliged to charge 10s per week for the dog and wages [totalling £45] for the man who would always have to be kept in readiness to start at a moment's notice and any spare time would be given the dog to keep him fit and in training.


Taking all these things into consideration the hire, keep, insurance etc. it could not be done for less than £80 for the time you mentioned viz until March 31 1889.  I should suggest also that a young hound be brought at once so that he might be trained with the old one (Barnaby) and then by the end of March he would be fit to take the hired one's place.


From what I can see of the hounds they are at present very nervous in the London streets and I think it will be quite a month before Barnaby would be of any practical use for tracking a criminal in the streets.'


I am Sir,


Your obedient Servant,


A.J. Sewell'


Thus, the Commissioner would have learnt that Barnaby would not be able to be of practical use for tracking a criminal on London's streets until about 20 November.  But what was most pressing was that Sir Charles had only obtained authority to spend £50 but he was now being told the cost might be about twice as much.


Consequently, the Commissioner wrote to Godfrey Lushington at the Home Office on 23 October 1888 (as cited in the Sourcebook) to submit a revised estimate for the remained of the financial year pointing out that the previous amount, 'was suggested when I was under the impression that the dogs now placed at our disposal would be lent without charge.'


On 28 October 1888, Sir Charles received a response from the Home Office when, in a letter dated 26 October 1888, Godfrey Lushington stated that the Home Secretary had authorised the expenditure of the £100 for 'keeping trained bloodhounds for use in the tracking of criminals.'


Sir Charles would no doubt have been disappointed to have learnt on 3 November that Barnaby had been taken back to Scarborough.  But only temporarily.  In a letter dated 2 November 1888 (but received at Scotland Yard the next day), Sewell wrote:


'I have at last found an office that will insure Bloodhound Barnaby against accident or death. If I insure him for £100 the premium for 6 months would be £9.9.0 and in the event of an accident they would only pay me two thirds of the value.  Therefore it will be necessary to insure him for £150 to get the £100, the value of the dog.  I am sorry to say that Mr Brough got rather impatient and has taken the dog to Scarborough but I have no doubt he will send it back again when everything is arranged.' (underlining added)


Critically, the correspondence was still going almost up to the murder of Mary Jane Kelly.  On 8 November 1888 the following letter from Sewell, dated 5 November 1888, was received at Scotland Yard:


'Now we have found an office to insure the dog, can you definitely decide about making the final arrangements of drawing up the agreement as Mr Brough is getting anxious for the matter to be settled. The office will insure the dog for £100, premium £10, and pay the full amount in case of death.'


The above letter crossed with a letter sent by Sir Charles dated 6 November to which a response dated 7 November was received on probably either 8 or 9 November as follows:


'In reply to yours of the 6th inst. the cost of the insurance will be £100.  This of course has to be added to the estimate already sent in. If you will kindly let me have [a] draft at your earliest convenience I will peruse it and return it to you immediately.'


The point of setting out the above is to show that Sir Charles was deeply engaged in trying to sort out the details of the hiring of the bloodhounds right up to the day of the Kelly murder.  It rather looks like he was so deeply involved in the financial issues (and with the issues surrounding his resignation on 8 November) that he had given no thought to what would happen if there was another murder in the period before which the contract was signed to engage the dogs.


If the Times of 9 October was correct, the procedure on finding a body was, as we have seen, not to move it but 'to send notice immediately to a veterinary surgeon in the South-west District, who holds several trained bloodhounds in readiness to be taken to the spot where the body may be found, and to be at once put on the scent.'  If that is what happened on the morning of 9 November, it is no wonder that there was a delay because neither Arthur Sewell nor any other veterinary surgeon in the south-west district had any trained bloodhounds to send to Whitechapel.


Those at the scene sensibly decided that they should not enter Miller's Court for fear of putting the expected dogs off the scent.  Dr Phillips stated at the inquest:


'...finding the door locked I looked through the lower broken pane and satisfied myself that the mutilated corpse lying on the bed was not in need of any immediate attention from me and I also came to the conclusion that there was nobody else on the bed or within view to whom I could render my professional assistance.  Having ascertained that probably it was advisable that no entrance should be made into the room at that time, I remained until about 1.30 when the door was broken open...'


Inspector Abberline made clear that the reason Phillips advised not to enter the room was because of the dogs.


'I was on the scene of the murder by 11.30 on Friday, I had an intimation from Inspector Beck that the dogs had been sent for.  Dr Phillips asked me not to force the door but to test the dogs if they were coming. We remained until 1.30 when Superintendent Arnold arrived and informed me that the order as to dogs had been countermanded, and he gave directions for the door to be forced.'


The Times reported the next day that Abberline sent a telegram to Sir Charles Warren 'to bring the bloodhounds' to Dorset Street (Times, 10 November 1888).  This is very unlikely bearing in mind Abberline's evidence that he had already been told by Inspector Beck that the dogs had been sent for.  Moreover, Sir Charles Warren was hardly going to be walking down Whitechapel himself with the dogs on a leash.  Therefore, the telegram would most likely have been sent directly to the veterinary infirmary as per the original instructions, or to Mr Taunton in St Pancras, alternatively to the Executive department at Scotland Yard as per the instructions of 16 October (cited above) regarding the use of dogs for burglaries.


In this respect, it is important that the Times of 12 November 1888 reported:


'After the discovery of the murder on Friday morning great curiosity was expressed as to whether bloodhounds would be used to endeavour to trace the murderer to his hiding place, but these much-talked-of animals were not forthcoming.  In fact, no-one seemed to know for certain where they were kept. Some officers believed they were at Thornton-heath, others that they were at the Portland-road station.' (Underlining added)


The confusion - to the extent that confusion can make sense - makes sense.


The murder of Mary Jane Kelly was not quite the end of the matter of the bloodhounds because Godfrey Lushington wrote a memo dated 12 November 1888 as follows:


'Mr Sewell's charges appear to be made up as follows:-


Hire of dog = £25


Keep for 20 weeks at 10s = £10


Wages of attendant = £45


Total: £80


Insurance = £10


Total: £90


+ cost of agreement = £2


This makes a total of £90 without the cost of the agreement, and out of the £100 authorised the Commissioner intended also to purchase a young dog to be trained with Barnaby.


The charge of £45s per week for the attendant, whose whole time would hardly be required, seems exorbitant.'


Nothing more was heard of the bloodhounds after this, though, probably because, with the resignation of Sir Charles - along with the belief that the bloodhounds had got lost on their trial - and a realisation after the Kelly murder that they would not have tracked the killer in any event - the whole idea was abandoned although, on 13 November 1888, the Times stated:


'The explanation given of why the bloodhounds were not used is that they would be of no use whatever in the locality in which this murder took place. Had it occurred in an open, unfrequented part, the dogs might have had some chance of success.'


And that was it.  There were too many problems to be overcome for the bloodhounds even to have any chance of success.  But standing outside Miller's Court on that cold Friday morning in November, neither Dr Phillips nor Inspector Abberline were to know that the bloodhounds were not available.  They were not receiving regular updates from the Commissioner as to the state of the negotiations and clearly believed that the bloodhounds were still in London, even though they had been taken back to Scarborough at the start of the month.


No mystery here.


First published: 18 November 2015

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