Whitechapel Vigilance Committee

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Sketch from the 13 October 1888 Illustrated London News depicting members of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee observing a suspicious character

The Whitechapel Vigilance Committee was a group of local volunteers who patrolled the streets of London's Whitechapel District during the period of the Whitechapel murders of 1888. The volunteers cruised mainly at night, assisting police in the search of the unknown murderer known as the "Whitechapel Murderer", "Leather Apron" and, latterly, "Jack the Ripper".


The Whitechapel Vigilance Committee was founded by sixteen Whitechapel and Spitalfields tradesmen who were concerned that the killings were affecting businesses in the area.[1][2] This committee was led by a local builder named George Lusk, who was elected chairman during the committee's first meeting on 10 September 1888.[3]

George Lusk, President of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.

Other committee members included Publican Joseph Aarons (treasurer), Mr. B. Harris (secretary),[4] and Messrs. Barnett, Cohen, H. A. Harris, Hodgins, Houghton, Isaacs, Jacobs, Laughton, Lindsay, Lord, Mitchell, Reeves, and Rogers. The Daily Telegraph reported on 5 October 1888 that the leading members of the committee were "drawn principally from the trading class, and include a builder, a cigar-manufacturer, a tailor, a picture-frame maker, a licensed victualler, and 'an actor.'"[5] The latter may have been the entertainer Charles Reeves.[6]

Civic duties[edit]

Members of the committee were unhappy with the level of protection the local community was receiving from the police, so it introduced its own system of local patrols, using hand-picked unemployed men to patrol the streets of the East End every evening from midnight to between four and five the next morning. Each of these men received a small wage from the Committee, and each patrolled a particular beat, being armed with a police whistle, a pair of galoshes and a strong stick. The committee itself met each evening at nine in The Crown, and once the public house closed at 12.30 am the committee members would inspect and join the patrols. These patrols were shortly to be joined by those of the Working Men's Vigilance Committee.[7]


As chairman of the committee, Lusk's name appeared in the national newspapers and upon posters in and around Whitechapel appealing for information concerning the identity of Jack the Ripper and complaining about the lack of a reward for such information from the government. Due to this publicity, Lusk received threatening letters through the post, allegedly from the murderer. Lusk is also mentioned in a letter dated 17 September 1888, reportedly discovered among archive materials in the late 20th century; however, most experts dismiss this as a modern hoax.[8]

Members of the Vigilance Committee examine the contents of the box sent to Lusk.

On 30 September 1888, the committee members wrote to the government under Lord Salisbury in an attempt to persuade them to offer a reward for information leading to the apprehension of the Whitechapel murderer. When the Home Secretary Henry Matthews refused this request, the committee offered its own reward.[3] The committee also employed two private detectives, Mr. Le Grand (or Grand) and Mr. J. H. Batchelor,[4] to investigate the murders without the involvement of the local police.


The "From Hell" letter, which was sent with half of a preserved human kidney, was personally addressed to George Lusk, who received the parcel on 16 October 1888.[9] The letter was postmarked on 15 October.[10]

Many scholars[11] of the Jack the Ripper murders regard this letter as being the communication most likely to have been sent by the actual murderer.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Begg, Jack the Ripper: The Facts, p. 119
  2. ^ Jack the Ripper - Through the Mists of Time ISBN 978-1-782-28168-9 p. 22
  3. ^ a b "Jack the Ripper Timeline". Casebook: Jack the Ripper.
  4. ^ a b Eddleston, John J. 'Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopedia' Published by ABC-CLIO (2001) pg 139 ISBN 1-57607-414-5
  5. ^ Daily Telegraph 5 October 1888
  6. ^ "Charles Reeves". Casebook: Jack the Ripper.
  7. ^ Sugden Philip 'The Complete History of Jack the Ripper' Robinson, London (1995)
  8. ^ "Ripper Letters". Casebook: Jack the Ripper.
  9. ^ "The East London Horrors. An Extraordinary Parcel". Casebook: Jack the Ripper.
  10. ^ Science Images and Popular Images of the Sciences ISBN 978-1-134-17580-2 p. 127
  11. ^ Sugden Philip, Ibid <citation #5>, p. 273
  12. ^ "From Hell: Fact or Fiction?". Casebook: Jack the Ripper.

Cited works and further reading[edit]

  • Begg, Paul (2006). Jack the Ripper: The Facts. London: Anova Books. ISBN 1-86105-687-7
  • Eddleston, John J. (2002). Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopedia. London: Metro Books. ISBN 1-84358-046-2
  • Evans, Stewart P.; Skinner, Keith (2001). Jack the Ripper: Letters from Hell. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-2549-3
  • Lightbody, Bryan (2007). Whitechapel. Milton Keynes: Author House Publishing. ISBN 978-1-425-96181-7

External links[edit]