Frederick Abberline

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An illustration of Abberline from an 1888 newspaper

Frederick George Abberline (8 January 1843 in Blandford Forum, Dorset – 10 December 1929) was a Chief Inspector for the London Metropolitan Police and was a prominent police figure in the investigation into the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888.

Early life[edit]

Frederick Abberline was the only son of Edward Abberline, a saddlemaker and Sheriff's Officer and Clerk of the Market, minor local government positions, and his wife Hannah (née Chinn). Edward Abberline died in 1849, and his widow opened a small shop and brought up her four children, Emily, Harriett, Edward and Frederick, alone.

Police career[edit]

Detail from a group shot of H Division at Leman Street police station in London c.1886. Authors Wolf Vanderlinden[1] and Donald Rumbelow[2] tentatively identify this as Abberline.

Frederick was a clockmaker until he left home to go to London, where he enlisted in the Metropolitan Police on 5 January 1863, being appointed to N Division (Islington) with the Warrant Number 43519. PC Abberline so impressed his superiors that they promoted him to Sergeant two years later on 19 August 1865. On his promotion he moved to Y Division (Highgate). Throughout 1867 he investigated Fenian activities as a plain clothes officer.[3] He was promoted to Inspector on 10 March 1873, and three days later, on 13 March transferred to H Division in Whitechapel. On 8 April 1878 Abberline was appointed Local Inspector in charge of H Division's CID.

On 26 February 1887 Abberline transferred to A Division (Whitehall), and then moved to CO Division (Central Office) at Scotland Yard on 19 November 1887, being promoted to Inspector First-Class on 9 February 1888 and to Chief Inspector on 22 December 1890. Following the murder of Mary Ann Nichols on 31 August 1888, Abberline was seconded back to Whitechapel due to his extensive experience in the area. He was placed in charge of the various detectives investigating the Ripper murders. Chief Inspector Walter Dew, then a detective constable in Whitechapel's H Division in 1888, knew Abberline and, while describing him as sounding and looking like a bank manager, also stated that his knowledge of the area made him one of the most important members of the Whitechapel murder investigation team.[4]

Among the many suspects in the case, Abberline's primary suspect was Severin Antoniovich Klosowski, aka George Chapman.

Abberline was subsequently involved in the investigation of the Cleveland Street scandal in 1889. Chief Inspector Abberline retired from the police on 8 February 1892, having received 84 commendations and awards, and worked as a private enquiry agent, including three seasons at Monte Carlo, before taking over the European Agency of the famous Pinkerton National Detective Agency of America, for whom he worked for 12 years.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Abberline was married twice: once in March 1868 to 25-year-old Martha Mackness, the daughter of a labourer, from Elton, Northamptonshire; she died of tuberculosis two months after the marriage. On 17 December 1876, a decade before the Ripper murders, Abberline married 32-year-old Emma Beament, the daughter of a merchant, from Hoxton New Town, Shoreditch. Although they had no children, there is no credible evidence that the couple were unhappy, and the marriage lasted until Frederick’s death over 50 years later. On his retirement from the Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1904 Abberline retired to Bournemouth.

Frederick George Abberline died in 1929 aged 86 at his home, "Estcourt", 195 Holdenhurst Road, Bournemouth, and was buried in Bournemouth at Wimborne Road Cemetery. In 2007, following a campaign for Abberline's unmarked grave to be recognised, and with the approval of his surviving relatives, a black granite headstone, inscribed and donated by a local stonemason, was erected on the grave where Abberline and his second wife Emma are buried .[6] A blue plaque commemorating Abberline was unveiled at 195 Holdenhurst Road (now divided into flats) on 29 September 2001.[7]

Popular culture[edit]

Several fictional retellings of the events surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders have cast Abberline in a lead role. The suggestion is often but erroneously made for the sake of drama that Abberline was unmarried and formed an attachment to one of the women connected to the events. The two most popular film depictions have also cast him as an addict, for which there is no known historical basis.

  • Abberline was played by Michael Caine in the 1988 television miniseries Jack the Ripper. In this, the character was an aging alcoholic whose quest to solve the murder gives him the strength to give up drinking.
  • A fictionalized Abberline was featured as the protagonist of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's graphic novel From Hell (1991–1999), and was subsequently portrayed by Johnny Depp in the very liberal film adaptation of that work (2001). The graphic novel paints him as a sulky but sympathetic policeman, different from his peers only in his moralism and being overweight, and takes pains to include little-known details of his life such as his involvement with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. The film's version of Abberline was portrayed as an intelligent detective who is ahead of his time in his deductive techniques. He is also portrayed as being clairvoyant, allowing the filmmakers to ascribe to Abberline the contributions of spiritualist and psychic Robert James Lees. Although Abberline is addicted to opium and drinks absinthe, he is a decent man who ultimately goes on a crusade against very powerful governmental and upper-class figures to stop the grotesque murders of Jack the Ripper. In the film, Abberline dies of an overdose in his late 30s; in reality, he died of natural causes aged 86.
  • Abberline was played by Gordon Christie in the 1973 television miniseries Jack the Ripper.
  • Abberline appears as a character in the anime series Black Butler named "Fred Abberline". While he is still involved in the Jack the Ripper case, this portrayal deviates heavily from the truth, not only by altering his family history (not married but engaged and with a twin brother), but also by placing his death sometime in 1889. However, the manga version of the story (and also the musicals) depicts him like a young enthusiastic and naive Scotland Yard agent who will become the successor of Lord Randall, the actual leader of Scotland Yard.
  • In the 2010 horror film remake The Wolfman, Abberline (inexplicably called Francis) is the inspector who is assigned to investigate the killings in the town of Blackmoor. Abberline is portrayed by Hugo Weaving.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ripper Notes #26, July 2006
  2. ^ Jack the Ripper: Scotland Yard Investigates, released in October of 2006
  3. ^ The Jack the Ripper A to Z by Paul Begg, Martin Fido and Keith Skinner. Pub. by Headline Book Publishing Plc (1992) pg 5
  4. ^ Dew, Walter 'I Caught Crippen' Blackie & Son Ltd (1938)
  5. ^ Begg, Fido and Skinner, pg5
  6. ^ "Headstone for Ripper-hunt officer", BBC News 4 July 2007
  7. ^ http://www.casebook.org/images/Abberline%20Plaque.pdf

External links[edit]