Frederick George Abberline
(1843 - 1929), policeman and investigator.
Abberline - the name is pronounced exactly the way it is spelt, not like
the Texan cattle town - was born on
8 January 1843 in Blandford, Dorset, the son of
Edward Abberline, a saddlemaker and minor local government official, and his
wife Hannah. Edward died in 1859, leaving Hannah to raise their three surviving
Fred initially worked for a short period as a clockmaker, but in 1863 decamped
to London and joined the Metropolitan Police as a constable. He clearly
impressed his superiors, as he was promoted to Sergeant only two years
later - remarkably fast promotion for the day.
In 1868 he married his first wife, Martha Mackness, but she died of
tuberculosis only two months later.
His fortunes improved in 1873, when he was promoted to Inspector and
re-assigned to the Met's "H Division" - Whitechapel. He married his second
wife, Emma Beament, in 1876, and in 1878 was made H Division's "Local Inspector"
- effectively in charge of co-ordination all policing activity in the
Abberline temporarily moved away from the East End in 1887, when he was
promoted to Inspector First Class and re-assigned to Met headquarters at
Scotland Yard. The move was not to last, however. In the early hours of August
31, 1888, the disembowelled body of Mary Ann Nichols was discovered lying in
the gutter of Buck's Row, Whitechapel - and the name of Inspector Frederick
Abberline would become forever linked with that of Jack the Ripper.
Theoretically, the man in charge of the investigation into the Ripper murders
was Chief Inspector Donald Swanson - his appointment to the case being one of
the few actions taken by Deputy Commissioner Robert Anderson between his
sudden appointment as head of the CID that morning and his equally sudden
departure on leave to Switzerland later that afternoon. However, Swanson had
never served in Whitechapel and was generally unfamiliar with the area, so
Abberline was temporarily re-assigned back to H division in order to co-oridnate
operations on the ground. As a result, he ended up doing most of the actual
leg-work on the case, and became the officer most associated with the
investigation in the minds of the public.
It is probably fair to say that most
if not all of the actual evidence gathered by the Met in the course of the
investigation passed through Abberline's hands at some point. In spite of this,
however, he is not known to have ever expressed a definite opinion on the
Ripper's identity: His remark to former colleague George Godley at the trial
of poisoner Severin Koslowski (aka George Chapman) - "I see you've got the
Ripper at last" is clearly a joke, and his alleged statment to a journalist
that "you need to look not at the bottom of society but right at the top" is
almost certainly aprocryphal. His memoirs, written in the early 1920s, are
totally silent on the subject.
When the investigation into the Ripper crimes ran out of steam early the
following year, Abberline was again moved away from Whitechapel and put in
charge of the investigation into a homosexual brothel in Cleveland Street.
The investigation became politically sensitive when it was discovered that
Queen Victoria's grandson Prince Albert Victor, the second in line to the
throne, was a frequent client. In order to prevent a scandal, the investigation
was hushed up and the proprietor allowed to leave the country.
There are some suggestions that Abberline may have voiced misgivings about the
way the cover-up was handled and that this may have upset his superiors.
Whatever the truth, the Cleveland Street Scandal was the last significant case
Abberline investigated for the Met. Following his promotion to Chief Inspector
the following year, he was re-assigned to desk duties at the Yard. He retired on
a full pension in 1892, after 29 years' service. He was 49 years old.
Rather than relax into his retirement, however, Abberline was soon employed
again by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, who had recently opened a European
branch. He worked for Pinkerton's for 12 years, during which time he earned a
considerable reputation for cleaning up the gambling casinos of Monaco. He
retired again for the final time in 1904 at the age of 61, and moved to the
seaside town of Bournemouth with his wife.
Fred Abberline died in his house at 195 Holdenhurst Road, Bournemouth, on 10
December 1929, at the age of 86, and was buried in an unmarked grave at
Wimbourne cemetery - the same cemetery as Ripper suspect Montague Druitt.
His wife survived him by one year.
No photograph of Abberline is known to survive - the location of one is one of
the holy grails of Ripperology. He is usually described as being about 5'9"
tall, with dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and a fresh complexion; and to generally
have looked more like a banker than a policeman. A sketch found in a late
victorian scrapbook shows him as balding, with a Handlebar mustache.
Abberline was portrayed in the 1980's TV series Jack The Ripper by
Michael Caine, and in the feature film From Hell by Johnny Depp.
Contrary to these two well-known depictions, there is no historical suggestion
that Abberline abused either drugs or alcohol, and he survived for many years
after the Ripper investigations.
Abberline is today commemmorated by a Blue Plaque on the house in Bournemouth
where he spent his final years, unveiled in 2001 by the Assistant Commissioner
of the Metropolitan Police.