Most people will have heard of “Jack the Ripper“, the person responsible for the gruesome murders in Whitechapel, London, during the autumn of 1888. But did you know that for a short period of time, a man from County Durham was suspected by the Police of being the Ripper?
Looking back at newspapers of the day, you can tell the country was gripped with fear when one murder followed another in Whitechapel.
The Murder on Birtley Fell
Jane Beetmore (some newspapers refer to her Beadmore or Beardmore), a 35 year old County Durham woman had recently been discharged from the hospital. She had been given medicine to take but did not like the taste so, on 22nd September 1888, she set out to buy some sweets. It would be the last walk she would ever take. The next morning her body was found in a ditch next to Ouston Wagonway.
Her injuries were severe. Her throat had been cut and her spinal cord had almost been severed. There were extensive wounds to her chest and abdomen. Her corpse was such a gruesome sight that the local Police thought she may have been a victim of Jack The Ripper. They contacted Scotland Yard in London, who promptly dispatched two detectives to the Northeast of England. Several days would pass before they ruled out any connection to the murders in Whitechapel.
Suspicion fell upon twenty-two-year-old William Waddell. Jane had recently ended their relationship and she had told friends that Waddell had pestered and harassed her since. Waddell had returned to his lodgings that afternoon in a very drunken and agitated state. He had been seen to leave the lodgings again that evening and was not seen again.
On The Run
Waddell fled to Berwick-upon-Tweed some 62 miles north of Birtley. Once arrived at Berwick, knew he would have to change his appearance in order to avoid attracting attention as his description had been published in the newspapers. He visited the secondhand clothes shop of Elizabeth Brodie of Watergate Lane on the 27 September. There he swapped the suit he was wearing for an old suit and also received a payment of 5 shillings.
He next visited the shop of Margaret Ferguson where he exchanged the felt hat he was wearing for a soft-peaked cap.
William Frederick Stock, a public analyst later testified at the inquest after he had examined the clothes that had been traded in by Waddell. He confirmed, following chemical tests that the clothes did, in fact, have stains on them that the tests proved to be blood.
At the inquest, Police Constable James Frizzel said he had been on duty in Spittal, a southern area of Berwick, and saw a man he would recognise as a prisoner in custody. Constable Frizzel described the man as wearing an old grey suit that had patches on both knees of the trousers and a double peaked cap. The PC approached Waddell and asked him “You are a stranger here?” To which Waddell had replied, “I am in search of harvest work”. When asked his name, Waddel told the Constable it was “William Lee”. Waddell told the Constable he had been working on a farm between Cornhill and Wark for the last week. Waddel added, he was heading for Ancroft, some five miles to the south to search for work.
Instead Waddell headed to Yetholm, around 18 miles southwest of Berwick.
At Yeltholm, Police Constable John Thompson had already received information that William Waddell was wanted on a charge of murder in Birtley. He had posted this information on the noticeboard outside the Police Office which had been seen by a wool dealer, William Stenhouse.
Stenhouse met Waddell on the street on the 1st October and immediately recognised the description he had seen and the two men started to chat as they walked. Waddell again stated he was looking for harvest work and seizing the opportunity, Stenhouse told Waddell if he came with him, he may be able to find him a job. Using a circuitous route, and keeping the conversation flowing, Stenhouse literally walked him into the local Police Office.
During the conversation with Stenhouse, Waddell had admitted that he had been in Berwick and also let slip his real name. He also mentioned he had been in Birtley on the evening of the murder. Waddell was arrested by Police Constable Thompson.
Superintendent Harrison and Sergeant Christie, from Blaydon Police Station, travelled to Yetholm to take Waddell into their custody.
Initially denying the murder, William Waddell was found guilty and sentenced to be ‘hanged by the neck until dead’.
During his time in prison following the sentence, Waddell confessed his crime to the Chaplain.
He was hanged at Durham Gaol on Tuesday 18th December 1888.