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The Missing Hour, Found!

According to Simon Wood there is something odd about the fact that it took a whole hour for the Commissioner of Police to be informed of the murder of Mary Jane Kelly after it was discovered by police at 11.30am, on the basis that there was telegraphic communication between nearby Commercial Street Police Station and Scotland Yard.   According to Wood, the Commissioner did not receive a telegram informing him of the murder until 12.30pm.


Further, because of this, Wood refuses to believe that Inspector Abberline could have arrived at Miller's Court at 11.30am when he said he did.  Thus says Wood in his book, 'it would have been impossible for Inspector Abberline and his fellow detectives to have arrived so speedily, especially as news of the murder had not been received by Sir Charles Warren until 12.30pm'.


Pausing there, Inspector Abberline, albeit a Scotland Yard detective, was based in 'H' Division (Whitechapel) during the period of the murders (see Capturing Jack the Ripper by Neil R. A. Bell, p. 106 fn 38) so probably didn't need to travel from Scotland Yard to Dorset Street that morning.


In any event, there could be any number of reasons why Sir Charles Warren was not in a position to read a telegram on the morning of any particular day but is it actually true that it took him an hour to read this one?


In his book, Deconstructing Jack, and in his internet posts, Simon Wood bases his argument on what he thinks were two communications written by Sir Charles Warren to officials at the Home Office on 9 November 1888, one to Godfrey Lushington and one to Charles Stuart-Wortley.  Thus, after referring in his book to what he describes as a 'Memo' from Sir Charles Warren to Godfrey Lushington, Wood says:


'Warren next wrote to Charles Beilby Stuart-Wortley, Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, repeating the scant information sent to Lushington....'


In this he is quite wrong and has evidently been deceived by the layout in the Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook.  Having inspected the microfilmed file at the National Archives (HO 144/221/AA49301F), it is clear that there was only one written communication from the Commissioner to the Home Office that day.

This was a handwritten letter from (i.e. signed by) Sir Charles Warren to the Under Secretary of State at the Home Office (Godfrey Lushington).  When Sir Charles addressed his letters to the Under Secretary of State it was always Godfrey Lushington, the Permanent Under-Secretary, not Charles Stuart-Wortley, the mere Parliamentary Under-Secretary, who was the intended recipient.


In the letter, Sir Charles asked Lushington to inform the Home Secretary 'that information has just been received that a mutilated dead body of a woman has been reported to have been found this morning inside a room in a house (no. 26) in Dorset Street, Spitalfields.'

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He also stated that the matter had been placed in the hands of Robert Anderson.

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INo time is noted on the letter.  It is stamped as having been received on 9 November 1888 and was, presumably, sent by immediate courier dispatch from 4 Whitehall Place up the road to the Home Office in Whitehall.


In the same file can be found what is a Home Office summary of that same letter.  It states:


'Sir Charles Warren to Mr Lushington


Mutilated dead body of woman reported to be found this morning inside room of house in Dorset Street Spitalfields.  Information just received (12.30) 9.11.1888'.

Missing Hour Found 3.jpg

To repeat.  This is a Home Office summary of the letter written by Sir Charles Warren to the Under Secretary of State (Lushington). it is not a 'memo' from Sir Charles to Lushington.


Consequently, it would seem that the time noted in the summary of '12.30' is the time that the Sir Charles Warren's letter was received by the Home Office, not the time that Sir Charles Warren received the telegram informing him of the murder.   As Sir Charles had not mentioned in his letter the time he received the telegram, the Home Office could not have known of it.


Simon Wood has simply misled himself into thinking that the above summary was a separate letter to Godfrey Lushington, believing that the actual letter to Lushington was a letter to Charles Stuart-Wortley.  The reason for this is that Simon has got confused about terminology.  He thinks that a reference to the 'Under Secretary of State' must have been to Charles Stuart-Wortley because Lushington had the word 'Permanent' in his job title.  But that simply designates him as a member of the civil service; Wood is presumably unaware that Wortley was not a civil servant but the Parliamentary Under Secretary (i.e. a member of parliament); and Sir Charles would never have been writing letters on official business for the Home Secretary to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary.


Both Lushington and Stuart-Wortley were titled 'Under Secretaries' as this entry from the Postal Directory of 1888 shows:

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Here is Lushington's individual entry in the 'Official' section of the 1888 Postal Directory:

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And here is just one example in the Home Office files of a letter (dated 26 March 1890) correctly addressed to Godfrey Lushington, the Under Secretary of State at the Home Office (from HO 144/925/A46664):

Missing Hour Found 6.jpg

In conclusion, Sir Charles Warren only wrote one letter to the Home Office on 9 November in which he did not mention the time of day that he had been informed of the murder.  The time of 12.30 only featured in a Home Office summary of his letter.  There was, in other words, no missing hour.  Sir Charles was probably informed of the murder by telegram which he received sometime around 11.45am-12:00pm and then dashed off a letter to the Home Office which arrived with the Under-Secretary at around 12.30pm.  A perfectly understandable sequence of events.


First published: 18 November 2015

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