How one walking stick could unlock the secret to Jack the Ripper’s identity

jack the ripper cane - College of Policing
jack the ripper cane - College of Policing

Ever since he terrorised the streets of Whitechapel in the autumn of 1888, the mysterious spectre of Jack the Ripper has gripped the public imagination.

Yet for all the intrigue and speculation which has long swirled around Britain’s most notorious serial killer, little has ever been disclosed about his actual appearance.

Now, police researchers have rediscovered a walking cane they believe bears the only known facial composite of the man who murdered and mutilated five women 133 years ago.

The cane had originally been presented to Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline “as a mark of esteem” by his team of seven officers at the conclusion of their investigation into the killing spree.

Etched into its handle is the haggard face of a man, glaring out menacingly from beneath a dark cowl.

Police researchers believe the likeness may have been inspired by the features of a suspect supposedly “favoured” by Mr Abberline: Dr Alexander Pedachenko.

Pedachenko was a Russian anarchist and “lunatic” who had been living in London at the time of the killings.

He was named on a sign next to the cane when it was on display at Bramshill Police Staff College until it closed in 2015, at which point the artefact was feared lost.

Jack the ripper cane - College of Policing
Jack the ripper cane - College of Policing

But recently staff at the College of Policing - which trains officers across the country - discovered it buried in its archives at Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Warwickshire.

Describing the cane as bearing “the only reported facial composite” of Jack the Ripper, the college said it had now been put back on show alongside original news cuttings about the murders.

The suggestion that the cane bears the face of the killer is controversial among other Ripper historians, however.

There has been speculation that the stick was actually one of many that were hawked by penny dreadful salesmen to curious crowds near the scenes of the killing.

It has also been suggested the face was based on a mad monk character in one such sensationalist booklet, called The Curse Upon Mitre Square.

Another claim is that each of the officers who worked on the case was presented with identical walking sticks and they were bought “off the peg” rather than specifically etched from Mr Abberline.

Duke of Clarence - The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
Duke of Clarence - The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Antony Cash, of the College of Policing, said: “Finding this cane was an exciting moment for us. Jack the Ripper is one of the biggest and most infamous murder cases in our history and his crimes were significant in paving the way for modern policing and forensics as it caused police to begin experimenting with and developing new techniques as they attempted to try and solve these murders, such as crime scene preservation, profiling and photography.

“This walking cane is such a fascinating artefact which represents such a historically significant time in policing, and it’s amazing that we can put it out on display here in Ryton, alongside the original newspaper cuttings, so that our officers can see first-hand how far we’ve advanced in policing since then.”

At least five women were slaughtered between August and November 1888 in the slums of the East End, but various experts have claimed other murders may have been committed by the killer on earlier and later dates.

The five women were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.

Walter Sickert - Alan Lewis
Walter Sickert - Alan Lewis

Mr Abberline came to the Ripper investigation after spending many years working his way up through the ranks of Scotland Yard. He would later become the highest-ranking chief inspector in the criminal investigation department.

The police made several mistakes in the initial inquiry and detection techniques of the time were basic – with no fingerprinting and science unable even to distinguish between animal and human blood.

As a result, there is no conclusive evidence to point to the true identity of Jack the Ripper and the case remains one of the world’s great unsolved mysteries.

Among a long list of possible suspects are Queen Victoria’s grandson the Duke of Clarence and the painter Walter Sickert.